February 9, 1971

On February 9, 1971 the Sylmar or San Fernando quake — it is known by both names — killed more people than the Northridge temblor almost 23 years later. In some ways, the earlier event was more spectacular. Shaking and straining lasted for 60 seconds and left visible ground fractures along a 12-mile surface scar.

It rumbled beneath the San Gabriel Mountains at 6:01 that Tuesday morning. A new wing at Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar was destroyed. Nearby, the San Fernando Valley Veterans Hospital, built in 1926, collapsed as well. In those two facilities, most of the 65 victims perished.

Under Aliso Canyon in the Santa Susana Mountains, the state’s largest natural gas reserve ruptured. In Newhall Pass, elevated sections of the Golden State Freeway toppled, as they did again in 1994. Thousands of residents were evacuated when the damaged dam at Lower Van Norman Reservoir threatened to fail.

In the aftermath, Olive View and the nearby Holy Cross hospital, also trashed by the quake, were rebuilt with modern buildings. Mission San Fernando Rey, the Valley’s oldest structure, required extensive restoration. The VA hospital on Sayre Street was judged a total loss and torn down, replaced by a shady memorial park with a plaque that begins, “Lest We Forget…”