Man’s Love of Books Almost Kills Him in Quake

Times Staff Writer

Friends and neighbors said Anthony P. Cima, the 87-year-old San Diego man who was buried under thousands of books in Sunday’s earthquake, had recently counted the volumes in his room and by his tally, there were 9,900 hard cover copies, as well as stacks of newspapers and magazines in his 12-foot-square hotel-apartment room.

The reading material was stacked to the ceiling, leaving room only for his bed in a 7-foot aisle.

That made it difficult for rescuers, who didn’t reach the seriously injured man until more than 11 hours after the temblor. Firefighters first had to hurl hundreds of tomes out the second-story window and into the hall at the Hotel Monte Carlo.


It wasn’t until after 5 p.m. that hotel resident Roger Dunsheath became concerned and went to Cima’s door. Dunsheath, who weighs 260 pounds, said he could only budge it open part way.

“We busted in the door, but couldn’t get in because of all the books,” he said.

Fire Department spokesman Larry Stewart said it took firefighters about 20 minutes just to locate Cima’s foot, and another 20 minutes to get him out.

“I broke the windows and started pushing books out,” fire Capt. Larry Williamson said.

Hotel manager Robert Arnold said Cima had lived in the building about 10 years, and “he only had enough space to lie on and to sit and drink his coffee. . . .”

A friend, Sylvia MacMillan, said Cima had moved into the hotel with his books after his wife died, and had kept collecting. She said Cima was always in his room reading, but was very friendly when he ventured out.

“He was a gentleman among sometimes very rough people. He comes out every day at the same time (every morning) . . .

“The Health Department had told him to get rid of the books, but he didn’t . . . I should have thought. It just didn’t register this morning. I knew these books would kill him. It was like a fungus. They kept growing.”