St. Francis

MEMORIAL SITE — The St. Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon collapsed in 1928, killing more than 400 people and severely damaging towns downriver.

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST — Long-awaited legislation making the site of the 1928 St. Francis Dam disaster a memorial and national monument was signed into law 91 years to the day after the disaster.

The provisions were included in the Natural Resource Management Act signed by President Donald Trump on Tuesday.

The dam collapsed in 1928, killing 400-plus people and sending a wall of water through the Santa Clara River Valley in one of the worst civil engineering failures of the 20th Century. The national memorial designation has been pursued for a number of years, with legislation first introduced by former Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, in 2014 and again in 2016.

Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, continued the effort with the first legislation she introduced after taking office in January. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Thousand Oaks, who also co-sponsored legislation with Knight.

“The St. Francis Dam Memorial has been a priority for Santa Clarita for years. I’m proud that in the 116th Congress we’re able to deliver this piece of legislation and amplify the stories of the tragedy. Our local partners were critical to getting this done, and I’m thankful for the work of my predecessor, Steve Knight, to advance this concept in the 115th Congress,” Hill said. “I am also grateful to Congresswoman Julia Brownley for her leadership on this issue, and Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein for their leadership in the Senate.”

The House bill, introduced into the Senate by Harris and Feinstein, was incorporated into the Natural Resource Management Act, which was passed by the Senate on Feb. 12 and the House on Feb. 26.

“The Saint Francis Dam collapse was one of the most terrible tragedies in California history, yet the events of this historic day are not widely known,” Brownley said. “From the victims who sadly lost their lives, to the telephone operators and highway patrol officers who tried to warn their neighbors of the danger of the oncoming water, creating a memorial will ensure that Californians for generations will come remember this part of our history and it will serve as a reminder of the critical importance of our nation’s infrastructure.”

The secretary of agriculture must present recommendations to Congress within three years on the planning, design, construction and management of the memorial, which is to include a visitor center and educational facilities within 353 acres of National Forest lands designated a national monument.

The 1928 dam break trails only the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in number of deaths in a California natural disaster.

Today, remnants of the 180-foot-tall, 6,700-foot-long dam litter the creek bed beside San Francisquito Canyon Road about five miles south of Green Valley.

Completed by the city of Los Angeles in 1926 under the direction of William Mulholland to hold water delivered by the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the St. Francis Dam collapsed at 11:57 p.m. March 12, 1928.

A flood of water and debris traveled 55 miles down San Francisquito Canyon and the Santa Clara River Valley, flooding the towns of Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula before emptying into the Pacific Ocean between Oxnard and Ventura.

The dam’s collapse destroyed the reputation of Mulholland, who was the chief planner of the aqueduct from Owens Valley to Los Angeles.

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