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Katie Devine '13 witnessed the Warren Hall implosion that occurred moments before, as evidenced by a lingering dust plume. (Photo: Monique Beeler)

Implosion sparks reflections on university's role in the life of alums and community

  • August 19, 2013

After months of planning, it took only a few seconds for Warren Hall to keel momentarily toward the Bay it’s overlooked for the past 40 years before crumbling to the ground in a plume of dust and smoke Saturday morning following a planned implosion of the seismically unsafe structure.

Thousands of onlookers gathered in parking lots of businesses along Mission Boulevard in Hayward. A smaller group joined President Leroy Morishita and university supporters such as members of the Warren family, including the son and grandsons of building namesake E. Guy Warren, in witnessing the historic moment from a Cal State East Bay parking lot outside the implosion safety zone.

Katie Devine ’13, alongside her father 2010 Alumnus of the Year Patrick Devine, held her camera up, recording the unprecedented event on the Hayward campus, then let out a whoop as the institutional landmark tumbled.

“Oh my gosh, that was awesome!” she said, as her dad gave her a one-armed hug and kissed her cheek. “Whoa, I’m, like, shaking.”

A brief barrage of loud popping sounds reminiscent of July 4th fireworks preceded the implosion. Then a pouf of smoke and light debris spewed out from the middle of the building’s south side. The tower leaned slightly, then the base collapsed on itself leaving a single ragged spire of the steel skeleton jutting skyward. The concrete cladding meanwhile dribbled off the structure’s frame onto the ground.

“Was that amazing or what?” said Patrick Devine ’89, ’91 MBA. “I grew up in Northern Ireland. It sounded like home to me.”

The piece of the building left standing reminded at least one onlooker of a sculpture.

“It kind of looks like a dragon, a Chinese dragon, doesn’t it?” said Vivian Low, a guest of the President and his wife, Barbara Hedani-Morishita. “This is quite exciting. It was very fast. I was expecting it to be louder and longer.”

For alumna Lanette Jimerson ’96, ’98, it was a particularly auspicious day for the university to launch its next chapter: It was her birthday.

Jimerson earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a single subject teaching credential in English at Cal State East Bay and pays frequent visits to the Hayward campus to mentor a current student.

“I feel connected to the university,” she says. “It was a moment in history I wanted to see.”

Jimerson was not alone in the sentiment, judging by the throngs of alumni and community members who gathered along Mission Boulevard near Harder Road to witness the event. The University Police Department estimated that approximately 6,000 people attended. For some, the atmosphere turned festive.

“They were barbecuing and they were playing AC/DC’s ‘TNT’ and people were throwing footballs,” said Ron Patton, university events and community relations specialist.

The mood in the parking lot at Kmart, where the university hosted a viewing event for staff and employees, reflected a mix of emotions about the passing of Warren Hall.

“A lot of people were telling me … ‘I heard on the news it had to go down, but we’re really going to miss it,’” Patton said.

Alumni Relations Director Penny Peak said several couples, including one with two small children and an infant worn in a front-facing pack, approached her to share their personal stories of meeting a spouse while taking classes in the landmark building.

“So many people felt sad about this,” said Peak, adding that many dropped by the Alumni Relations table to swap memories about Warren Hall and anecdotes reflecting their Pioneer pride. “I didn’t see anyone crying, but the absence of (Warren Hall) will be strongly felt.”

From the perspective of researchers, however, the demolition of Warren Hall will yield a goldmine of data.

“I’m not sure anyone has done anything like this (experiment) before,” said Rufus Catchings, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “The university has been a tremendous host. It has been a good partnership.”

At the suggestion of CSUEB Associate Professor Luther Strayer, the two institutions developed the East Bay Seismic Experiment, placing about 600 seismic sensors throughout the Hayward campus, in neighbors’ backyards and on public land along the Hayward Fault to record whatever activity occurred below ground during the implosion.

The data collected will help scholars learn more about the dimensions of the fault zone and improve the precision of the tools they use to measure fault activity, said Strayer, who teaches in CSUEB’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“Faults are not discrete,” he explained. “They are zones, they have thickness. We want to understand its geometry and understand the behavior of the sediment down below.”

“Some places will amplify the shaking,” he explained. “That allows engineers and planners to decide (whether a place) is safe or not safe.”

Catchings of the USGS estimated it would take three to four months to process the data collected during and after the implosion of Warren Hall.

While it was admittedly a bittersweet occasion for the relatives of building namesake E. Guy Warren, his family members also pointed out that Guy Warren would have been among the staunchest supporters of the university’s forward momentum.

Grandson Rob Warren, who spoke briefly to a gathering before the building’s demolition, said his grandfather cherished history, but also favored progress. As owner of a successful trucking company, Guy Warren gave back generously to his community, serving on education boards in Hayward and for the California State Colleges. Along with a friend, it was his financial backing of an engineering study that led to Cal State East Bay being built in the Hayward hills.

“He would have stated calmly that the real accomplishment is that the college is thriving,” Rob Warren said. “He probably would have asked what took so long to take the building down and would have wanted to take a few more with it.”

For those who were unable to travel to Hayward to witness the historic moment in the life of the university, alumna Katie Devine expressed condolences.

“They totally missed out,” she said.

More information about the USGS-CSUEB research, called the East Bay Seismic Experiment, is available online.

Find a collection of images and comments about Warren Hall posted on social media by alumni, along with links to national and Bay Area media coverage on Storify. Want to preserve your memories of the historic building? Learn how on the CSUEB news site.

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California State University, East Bay is the San Francisco East Bay Area's high-access public university of choice. CSUEB serves the region with campuses in Hayward and Concord, a professional development center in Oakland, and an innovative online campus. With an enrollment of more than 14,000, the University offers a nationally recognized freshman year experience, award-winning curriculum, personalized instruction, and expert faculty. Students choose from among more than 100 professionally focused fields of study for which the University confers bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as an Ed.D. in education. Named a "Best in the West" college, as well as a Best Business School, by the influential Princeton Review, Cal State East Bay is among the region's foremost producers of teachers, business professionals and entrepreneurs, public administrators, health professionals, literary and performing artists, and science and math graduates.

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