"Approximately, 1996, Unocal historian Darwin Sainz mentioned the newly built Union Oil “Oilport” refinery in what is now Shell Beach (between Pismo & Avila Beaches and at 50 to 100 feet elevation) was destroyed by a tsunami in the early 1900’s. July 2009, George Plafker reported, “a bigger earthquake and a more destructive tsunami than the 1964 event are possible in the future”.
The 1812 Santa Barbara Channel earthquake produced 5 tsunami waves approximately 50 feet in height to the front of the Santa Barbara Presidio based on a Franciscan Father’s journal. A book on “Shipwrecks, Smugglers, and Maritime Mysteries” by Wheeler & Kallman reports the largest wave was 48-50 feet estimated by the USGS west of Santa Barbara near Goleta.
The “History of San Luis Obispo County, California” by Thompson & West (1883) reports 12 feet tsunamis occurred on August 13, 1868 (Peruvian earthquake) and April 16, 1877.
On November 22, 1878, turbulent water in the absence of wind produced tsunamis that broke over the Morro Bay sand spit (current quad sheet high elevations 66 to 97 feet N to S), destroyed Avila & Pt. Sal piers, damaging Cayucos pier.
A Japanese earthquake resulted in a tsunami at 12:40 PM December 9, 1907, near high tide and in already heavy seas, that stood out from the rest of the storm due to its’ enormous height. It wrecked the Ventura pier (12-13-1907, SLO Tribune) and the Oilport pier (12-13-1907, SLO Tribune & 12-6-1976 also 12-14-1907, Santa Maria Times & 12-10-1907 SLO Telegram) at Shell beach and destroyed the Oilport refinery (Darwin Sainz, personal communication).
Before 7 AM on November 26, 1913, tsunamis wrecked the Monterey area including waves 10 to 15 feet above the Del Monte wharf. At Seaside, “Immense domes of water and foam shot up above the general height” … “appearing from here to be higher than the highest sandhills along the shore.”(12-2-1913, SLO Tribune) Current quad sheet high elevations are 120 feet.
These reports of historic tsunamis represent wave elevations significantly higher than the 1964 Alaska earthquake tsunami that is typically used for emergency planning for tsunami inundation in California. Since it appears 4 much larger tsunamis occurred in the Central Coast area in 1812, 1878, 1907 and 1913; it appears we may have become complacent during this recent period of tsunami quiescence. Emergency planning for Central Coast tsunamis should be anticipating tsunami waves in the 50 to 100 feet elevation range."