BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Kern County earthquake of 1952 not only impacted architecture but it also impacted the local economy.
The third largest earthquake in recorded California history, magnitude 7.3, devastated the small towns of Tehachapi and Arvin, but it wasn’t a one-and-done affair.
Seismic instability stuck around for more than a month, breaking off facades, bringing down walls, remaking brick and mortar personality.
The earthquakes of 1952 also cost Kern County’s two leading industries millions of dollars.
Hundreds of oil wells were damaged – some their casings crushed and stopped producing altogether. Some started spitting out sand or salt water – although one well inexplicably doubled its output.
Oil operations returned to their normal level of operation in two or three weeks. However, with the Paloma refinery, south of the city, on Millux Road, the only significant and long lasting casualty. It lit the July 21 dawn with the orange glow of a $2 million fire, visible from the center of town 20 miles away
Far worse was the agriculture industry, which took nearly a decade to regain its momentum. Aqueducts throughout the county cracked and split apart, washing out rural farm roads, drying out irrigation lines and depriving thirsty grapes and cotton of water at a crucial point in the growing season.
The result was a $12 million drop in 1952 crop value from the previous year, the first such decline since 1940. The next year saw a further decline of $24 million.
In fact, crop values did not surpass the county’s pre-earthquake level for eight years.
The presence of so many oil company-affiliated geologists made the Tehachapi earthquake and its aftershocks the most thoroughly studied seismic incident in human history.
So seismologists benefited. The Kern County economy did not.
Kern County agriculture eventually became an economic behemoth – the first or second ranked county in the nation for farm revenue, depending on the year and the criteria, with $7.6 billion in commodity revenues as recently as 2o20.
For an 8-year-stretch of the 1950s, though, it struggled — thanks to the Kern County earthquake of 1952.