It’s been 53 years since an earthquake changed the landscape of downtown Anchorage. It was recent enough to remember, but long enough ago to learn some important lessons along the way. In the last five decades, the scientific and engineering community has used what it’s learned from the ’64 quake to make buildings stronger and safer.

The ground started to shake at 5:36 p.m. on that Good Friday afternoon and didn’t stop shaking for close to five minutes.

“It seemed as so it would never end,” recalled Ken Maynard, now in his 80s.

The second largest earthquake ever recorded rattled the state while Maynard was at work in downtown Anchorage.

“We tried to get out the back door, we couldn’t open the door, we were throwing our shoulders across the door and eventually it went,” Maynard said. “It was going through it’s normal position and we got out.”

Maynard was an architect at the time and one of his buildings had just been completed. It was the bank building on the corner of Fourth Avenue and E Street.

The bank designed by Ken Maynard, located on Fourth Ave and E Street. Photo: Stephen Cysewski

From bank rolls to rock and roll, that building still stands today as home to the Hard Rock Cafe. The only damage was a crack on the basement floor.

“There was a crack in the ground from Fifth and C, across to the city hall parking lot,” Maynard said.

It wasn’t anything that couldn’t be fixed; the same could not be said for the other side of the street. The north side of the street collapsed, dropping buildings by several feet.

While Maynard was in downtown, his son, Colin Maynard, was at home, watching TV while his mom made dinner.

“The earthquake started, my mom pushed the pot to the back of the oven, grabbed my sister and the chair she was sitting in and came into the living room the best she could,” Colin Maynard recalled.

In the following days he, like everyone else, saw the damage that was done, and at just 7 years old, Colin Maynard’s life was forever shaped by that day. The combination of growing up seeing his dad designing buildings and now seeing the importance of a strong structure, Colin Maynard became a structural engineer.

“Keeping the building standing up was what was more important to me, seemed more fun, more challenging,” Colin Maynard said.

Today he and pretty much every other structural engineer is using what was learned on March 27, 1964 to influence how they design buildings. Whether it is the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center or the Alaska Airlines Center, they are using stronger materials and better designs.

“The reason that we’re licensed engineers is cause we are there to protect the public, safety and welfare and make sure that the buildings we design are going to withstand the loads that they’re subject to and that that people are safe inside them,” Colin Maynard explained.

This family’s lives and buildings were spared from the earthquake, a quake that generated new engineering practices, along with a new engineer.

KTVA 11’s Melissa Frey can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.