Warren Hall at Cal State East Bay imploded

  • August 18, 2013

By Victoria Colliver
San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

After a blast of strategically placed explosives, Hayward's landmark Warren Hall - known by locals as simply "the tower" - came cascading to the ground in seconds Saturday.

A fixture on California State University East Bay's campus since 1971, the 13-story, 530-foot building - located just 2,000 feet from the Hayward Fault - has been doomed for 14 years and empty for more than 2 1/2 years after being deemed the most seismically unsound building in the university's system.

But watching it come toppling down stirred up bittersweet emotions for residents, former students, university officials and other onlookers who came to say goodbye to Hayward's tallest structure or just to watch a really cool explosion. The building was demolished at 9 a.m.

"Years and years to put it together and it all comes down in a few seconds," said Garin Warren, 49, one of five grandsons of the building's namesake, the late E. Guy Warren, a Hayward trucking magnate who served as a trustee of the California State Colleges, the predecessor of the CSU system.

Specially timed charges

Taking down the building posed an engineering challenge because of the tower's proximity to the library and several other campus structures. The demolition contractor placed the specially timed charges so the building would lean and keep the 12,500 tons of concrete rubble and steel away from the other buildings.

All went as planned, except for a 60-foot-high section of the northeast portion of the building that remained more upright than expected. University officials said that piece would be demolished sometime during the cleanup period, which may last as long as 60 days.

"Everyone is absolutely thrilled," said Jim Zavagno, associate vice president in charge of facilities for the campus. "It's pretty amazing they were able to take down the building in such a small area."

The U.S. Geological Survey took advantage of the blast, which essentially mimics a minor earthquake, to allow researchers to more carefully study and map the Hayward Fault.

USGS crews placed more than 600 seismometers, instruments about the size of tall beer cans, around the neighborhood to register seismic activity. The implosion, which created the equivalent of a magnitude-2.0 earthquake, gave scientists the opportunity to know well in advance exactly when and where the seismic event would occur.

"If you know which areas are known to have greater amplification, for homeowners that's golden information, because they can do things that can help them prepare for a real event," said Rufus Catchings, a USGS geophysicist and lead scientist for the experiment.

Due to safety concerns, the entire campus was closed at 8:30 p.m. Friday. University officials and invited guests allowed on campus for the event had a partially obscured view from a parking lot, while onlookers gathered on a hillside outside the campus or sought out other vantage points, including a downtown Kmart.

Linda Henika, who used to work in Warren Hall, watched the demolition from the designated parking lot. Henika graduated in 1971 from what was then known as Cal State Hayward, earning her teaching credential there in 1972 and a master's degree in 1985.

"I'm sad because it's always been there," she said. "In some ways, it's like losing an old friend. It's reliable and you can see it from everywhere."

5-story building planned

The building will be replaced by a five-story structure elsewhere on campus that will serve as office space, a student service and welcoming center. The site of the building is expected to have a monument honoring the man for whom it is named.

E. Guy Warren, who died in 1972, shortly after the tower's completion, never even knew the building was named after him because it wasn't dedicated to him until 1980.

Another grandson, Rob Warren, said his grandfather appreciated history but was not held back by it, pushing instead for progress.

"He probably would have asked why did it take so long to take the building down?" Warren, 45, said. "And he probably would have tried to take a few buildings in Hayward down along with it."

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