Skip to Main Content


Leland Stanford (president of the Central Pacific Railroad and former governor of California) and his wife Jane established Stanford University in 1885 as a memorial to their only child, Leland Jr., who died from typhoid fever contracted while vacationing in Florence in 1884. In 1906, fifteen years after opening, the university had just completed an aggressive building program and was poised to refocus its attention on academics when, at 5:12 a.m. on 18 April, those plans were radically changed. The first shock waves of the earthquake did not cause immediate alarm, but the continued shaking intensified as the peninsula segment of the San Andreas fault, only a few miles away, ruptured. Several of the buildings, only recently completed, disintegrated. Chimneys in both the men's and women's dorms buckled and fell, carrying sections of floors down with them. Remarkably, there were only two fatalities on campus, a student and a university employee. In response to the damage, university President David Starr Jordan cancelled classes for the remainder of the year and closed the university. It was soon realized, however, that only the showier buildings built after Leland Stanford's death were badly damaged; the main buildings of the Quad were still functional. The university would reopen and resume classes on their normal schedule in the autumn.

The 1906 earthquake prompted awareness at Stanford that its location so close to an active fault is no place for seismically unsafe monumental architecture. Over subsequent years, the university would not only build safer buildings, but would research earthquakes and engineering methods for withstanding earthquakes. In contrast to 1906, no Stanford buildings were destroyed in the 1989 earthquake (much smaller than that of 1906, but nonetheless a significant earthquake), and campus was closed for only one day.

This field guide describes a walking tour (about one hour) of the Stanford campus showing selected effects of both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes and describing how the Stanford community responded to the subsequent challenges. The tour is on paved paths and is accessible to pedestrians, bicyclists, and wheelchairs (Fig. 1).

You do not currently have access to this chapter.

Figures & Tables




Citing Books via

Close Modal
This Feature Is Available To Subscribers Only

Sign In or Create an Account

Close Modal
Close Modal