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School Sculpture Garden Commemorates '94 Quake

Cal State Northridge artworks feature rubble from parking structure ruined in the disaster.

January 31, 2003|Massie Ritsch | Times Staff Writer

Nine years after the Northridge earthquake devastated its campus, Cal State Northridge has merged twisted rebar and buckled concrete into a garden that honors the power of nature and the determination of humans.

The Lauretta Wasserstein Earthquake Sculpture Garden -- named for a late faculty member -- weaves native grasses and other plants into pieces of a campus parking structure that imploded during the 6.7-magnitude quake in 1994.

Artist Marjorie Berkson Sievers conceived the design after the temblor damaged her own house, leaving a crack in a bathroom wall. Soon, a vine crept in. She thought of Machu Picchu in Peru. "You have ruins, and all of a sudden they become a part of nature and they become beautiful in their own way," said Sievers, who has two art degrees from Cal State Northridge.

As the university rebuilt its campus -- the earthquake damaged every one of its 107 buildings -- Sievers collected rubble and waited for permission to install the garden. Cracked columns from the parking structure were "just so amazing looking," she said.

Sievers and landscape architect Paul Lewis built the work into an otherwise smooth, grassy hillside near the campus bookstore.

The sculpture garden, which will be dedicated Feb. 9, is also a memorial to Wasserstein, a health sciences professor who died of breast cancer in 1989. Her family and friends funded the project.

Cal State Northridge was about a mile from the epicenter of the earthquake. Although two students died when an off-campus apartment complex collapsed, there were no deaths on campus.

The garden is the university's second remembrance of the Northridge quake. In front of a science building, on another pillar saved from the collapsed parking structure, are the names of staff who helped the campus recover. Four weeks after the earthquake, studies resumed in portable classrooms.

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