At 4:52 a.m. on July 21, 1952 Tehachapi residents were awaken by an earthquake lasting 45 seconds and registering 7.7 on the Richter Scale (lowered in recent years to 7.5). The quake claimed 11 lives, injured others and left 70% of the buildings in the downtown business area destroyed or so badly damaged that they had to be torn down.
The telephone operator on duty at the switchboard in the telephone office across the street from the Depot, heard a rumble and saw the switchboard rocking back and forth, followed by the loud sound of water running down the street from the collapsed railroad water tower.
Starting in 1876, business in wooden structures along Railroad Street gave the appearance of a typical western frontier town, but many of these wood structures had been destroyed by fire and replaced with brick buildings. These unreinforced masonry structures crumbled when the earthquake hit. Other buildings, constructed during the 1930s of reinforced concrete survived the quake: City Hall, the BeeKay Theatre, the Kern County Library, and the TalMarc Buidling. The Tehachapi Valley Hospital on E Street was a total loss but no lives were lost.
A Tehachapi native expressed the change brought by the earthquake - "Old hotels are gone, in their place motels and inns; boarding houses replaced by restaurants; separate
dry goods stores, meat markets and a drug store replaced by supermarkets and a variety-drug store replaced by supermarkets and a variety-drug store. Not only the familiar structures but the old, slow pace of life was disrupted." An era had ended and downtown Tehachapi had a new look.