Santa Clarita City Council Requests St. Francis Dam To Be National Memorial - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 1:53pm

Santa Clarita City Council members requested that Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, consider introducing to legislation the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928 as a National Memorial.

The request came from the Santa Clarita Valley Community Hiking Club President Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel. The matter was referred to the City Council Legislative Subcommittee.

The City Council Legislative Committee officials met July 1 and considered the request, recommending that the Santa Clarita City Council officials and Santa Clarita Valley Community Hiking Club request McKeon to consider sponsoring legislation to "authorize a study to ascertain if the sites and events associated with the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928 meet the criteria for designation as a National Memorial, as a unit of the National Park Service," according to the city of Santa Clarita agenda report.

In addition to the dam site, officials are requesting that the wilderness areas surrounding the dam site be included in the memorial.

"The Community Hiking Club believes that it is appropriate to honor the individuals who lost their lives during the flood, as well as preserve the dam site and surrounding areas, through designation as a unit of the National Park Service," according to the agenda report.

Designating the site as a National Memorial protects the site to preserve for future generations.

"The St. Francis Dam was one of several reservoirs constructed as part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct project, which brings water from the Owens Valley, located in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains to Los Angeles," according to the agenda report. "The dam and reservoir were intended to have the capacity to store one year's water supply for Los Angeles in the event of a drought or other disaster eliminating the ability of Los Angeles to access a water supply."

No additional funds other than those provided in the fiscal year 2014-15 city budget are needed for the action of the site becoming a national monument, according to the agenda report.

The St. Francis Dam construction began in August 1924 and was completed in 1926 under the supervision of William Mulholland.

Water filled the dam on March 1-7, 1928 and the dam remained intact for several days.

On March 12, 1928 at 10:30 a.m. the damkeeper, Tony Harnischfeger noticed an excessive amount of water leaking and notified Mulholland. After Mulholland inspected the dam, he deemed it safe but commented that it needed some repairs.

That same day, at 11:57 p.m., the dam collapsed sending a 140 foot wall of water through the San Francisquito Canyon, through Santa Paula and into the Pacific Ocean near Ventura.

Hundreds of people died in the event.

A year later, "Mulholland takes full responsibility for the worst U.S. civil engineering failure of the 20th century and resigns his office," according to SCVHistory records. "During the coroner's inquest he had said, 'The only people I envy in this whole thing are the dead'."

Today, the ruins of the dam are still visible when driving down the San Francisquito Canyon. Hikers, including the Santa Clarita Valley Community Hiking Club regularly visit the site, climbing to the top of one of the hillsides where the top of the dam still exists.

Information courtesy SCV History and Santa Clarita City Council Agenda Press Release