The cities of Santa Clarita, Piru, Fillmore, Bardsdale and Santa Paula along with National Historic Site Rancho Camulos will mark the 90th anniversary of the St. Francis Dam Disaster with special events throughout March 2018.
At least 431 people were killed in and around those communities when the dam collapsed at 11:57 p.m. on March 12, 1928, about 10 miles north of Santa Clarita.
A wall of water from the dam coursed down San Francisquito Canyon through Castaic Junction and into the Santa Clara River Valley before emptying into the Pacific Ocean between Oxnard and Ventura, creating a 55-mile path of death and destruction.
The St. Francis Dam’s failure is considered one of the worst American civil engineering disasters of the 20th century and remains the second-greatest loss of life in California history, after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
Legislation to create a St. Francis Dam memorial and monument on the site has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is now in Senate committee. Dam historians hope the legislation passes in time for the 90th-anniversary commemoration.
Visit the St. Francis Dam website for a roundup of related information.
The following events are scheduled to take place in March:
Annual St. Francis Dam Lecture and Bus Tour
Date: March 10, 2018
Time: 11 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Location: Saugus Train Station
Speakers: Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, Dr. Alan Pollack
Please arrive at Heritage Junction at 10:30 a.m. to check in and secure your seat for the presentation. Heritage Junction address: 24101 Newhall Avenue, Newhall 91321.
11 a.m. to 12 p.m. – PowerPoint presentation by Dr. Alan Pollack and Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel at the Saugus Train Station freight room
12 p.m. – Q&A session with Alan, Dianne and dam expert Frank Rock
12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. – Bus Tour to the Dam Site with Alan, Dianne, and Frank.
We will hike to the Tombstone ruins, the Western Wing Dyke, the Pyramid formation, Block 16. Visit Powerhouse 2 (exterior only).
Please wear long pants, long sleeves and tennis shoes/hiking boots. Water and a snack will be provided. You are welcome to bring your bag lunch to eat on the bus. A hat and sunscreen are recommended. Bring hiking poles if you have them. You will have a choice of hikes which may include walking in brush, on uneven surfaces, and up a steep hill.
Return to Heritage Junction by 3:30 p.m.
Reservations: Please call 661-254-1275 or pay online at www.scvhs.org.
Cost: $40 per person, pre-paid, ($45 at the door, per person). Price includes a snack and bottled water.
Funds raised will benefit programs of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. Because this tour is a very popular fund-raiser, it is impossible to guarantee that seats will be available for purchase on the day of the tour. Order your tickets now.
Alan Pollack has been featured on Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum” and local television.
Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel has been featured on SCVTV’s “Points of Interest.”
Frank Rock has been featured on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel and local television.
St. Francis Dam Events — Santa Paula
Date: March 12, 2018
Time: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Location: Ebell Park, at the corner of East Main and Seventh streets in Santa Paula
A St. Francis Dam Disaster Candlelight Memorial will be held on Monday, March 12, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Ebell Park, at the corner of East Main and Seventh streets in Santa Paula.
The memorial will be a gathering of the community to remember those who lost their lives in the 1928 dam disaster and to pay homage to the survivors and heroes of the tragedy.
The free event, hosted by the Santa Paula Historical Society, is open to the entire community.
Santa Paulans and many other unidentified dead were recovered in the city and are buried in a special section at Santa Paula Cemetery.
“Now, more than ever, it is important for us to remember this path of destruction,” said Edward Arguelles, a retired history teacher of 35 years who serves on the Santa Paula Historical Society board. “It reminds us that life is fleeting and that it can be taken quickly.”
The March 12 memorial will include a sea of yellow, blue and red electric candles in luminary bags representing those who died. Some of the candles will be placed by early arrivals to the event.
Selected students from every Santa Paula school will place 16 red candles at Ebell Park, each one representing the identified Santa Paula victims, and a children’s choir will sing at the remembrance.
Peggy Kelly of Santa Paula, who has written extensively about the dam disaster, will present her short documentary about Police Chief Thornton Edwards, who rode his Indian motorcycle through town warning residents about the flood.
Also, John Nichols of Santa Paula, author of “St. Francis Dam Disaster,” will talk about “the nature of heroic acts before and after the St. Francis Dam disaster and how they are unique to that disaster and have similarities to all disasters. It puts us in touch with our basic humanity and connects us with everyone else during the disaster and during the recovery,” he said.
A metal sculpture of two Santa Paula police officers on motorcycles called “The Warning,” at Santa Paula’s 10th and Santa Barbara streets, commemorates the heroic actions of police, telephone operators and community members to warn people of the impending torrent the night the dam burst. The sculpture by Eric Richards was commissioned by the Santa Paula Historical Society and dedicated in March 2003.
Arguelles said the idea for the memorial came to him suddenly as he contemplated an event that would bring the community together. “I was struck by the color of water, candles and light,” he said, as he imagined an event that would provide “perspective and conceptualization of the magnitude of the disaster.”
St. Francis Dam Events — Fillmore
Date: March 17, 2018
Location: Fillmore, California
Opening Ceremony and Dedication of Commemorative Plaque
Time: 9 a.m.
Location: Fillmore City Hall, 250 Central Avenue, Fillmore, CA 93015
Our day’s events commemorating the 90th anniversary of the St. Francis Dam disaster begin with the unveiling and dedication of a brownstone boulder embedded with a plaque to honor the dead and remember the survivors. Local officials will participate, and Fillmore Unified School District essay winners will be announced.
Presentation by Jon Wilkman
Time: 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Location: Fillmore City Council Chambers, 250 Central Avenue, Fillmore 93015
Jon Wilkman, author of “Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles,” will give an informative and interesting account of the collapse of the St. Francis Dam and its aftermath. He will be available to sign copies of his book, which will be for sale.
Fillmore Historical Museum Display
Time: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: Fillmore Historical Museum 350 Main St., Fillmore 93015
Fillmore Historical Museum will have artifacts, videos, and visual displays of the St. Francis Dam and its victims and survivors.
Lunch & Shopping Opportunities
Central Avenue restaurants will be available for lunch and include American, Mexican and Japanese cuisine. Local businesses including unique shops and antique stores will be open for shopping.
Bus Tour to St. Francis Dam site
Time: 12:30 p.m. (to Santa Clarita) to 5:30 p.m. (return to Fillmore)
Location: Location will be given when reservations are made
Expert guides will review the history of the Dam, and its victims and survivors, on the way to and from the Dam site. See the pathway the flood took, and hear about the communities and individuals it affected.
Cost of the tour is $30 per person, and seating is limited. To reserve a seat contact the Fillmore Historical Museum at 805-524-0948. Water will be provided on the bus.
The center section of the St. Francis Dam in Saugus remained standing after the dam collapsed on the night of March 12, 1928, sending hundreds of SCV residents and others to their deaths.
St. Francis Dam Events — Piru & Rancho Camulos
Prayer Service, Remarks by Archeologist Ann Stansell, and Cemetery Tour
Date: March 18, 2018
Time: 11 a.m.
Location: Piru Cemetery, 3580 Center Street, Piru
A prayer for St. Francis Dam disaster victims who are buried in the Piru Cemetery, readings and remarks by archaeologist Ann Stansell will begin the program.
This will be followed by a tour of the cemetery led by John Avila and placement of floral remembrances at the victim’s graves led by Debi Chessani of the Piru Cemetery Association.
Story Sharing by Survivors and Descendants
Survivors and descendants or friends of victims and survivors from throughout the flood path are invited to join with anyone interested in preserving the history of this important event to share their stories.
Maria Christopher will coordinate the Story Sharing. Irma Torres will provide Spanish translation as needed.
A picnic is planned. Attendees can also enjoy music, corridos, and Rancho Camulos museum tours as well as visit the special
Camulos Connections exhibit
Time: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: Rancho Camulos Museum, 5164 E. Telegraph Rd., Piru
All welcome. Reservations required. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org/ or call 805-524-7500.
Floodpath Faces – Presentation by Archeologist Ann Stansell
Time: 3 p.m.
Location: Rancho Camulos Museum, 5164 E. Telegraph Rd., Piru
Archaeologist and historian Ann Stansell’s comments will focus on her Master’s thesis research to accurately identify the number of victims and their burial locations as well as how the victims have been commemorated and remembered throughout the 54-mile flood zone through community memorialization and grave markers.
Screening of 1928 Delores Del Rio “Ramona” Movie
Time: 4:30 p.m.
Location: Rancho Camulos Museum, 5164 E. Telegraph Rd., Piru.
While sad news of the St. Francis Dam collapse filled the newspapers, images of the beautiful Delores Del Rio as Ramona filled the silent screen. The silent movie screening will be hosted by film historian Hugh Munro Neely, who was involved with the discovery and restoration of this lost film.
Rancho Camulos is a National Historic Landmark, acknowledged as the setting for Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel “Ramona” and therefore is known as the “Home of Ramona.” Neely will also talk about the film viewing experience in the Santa Clara River Valley in that era.
A donation will be appreciated. Visit http://ranchocamulos.org/.
St. Francis Dam Disaster 90th Anniversary Flood Plain Tour
Date: March 25, 2018
Time: 9 a.m.
Location: Meet at Heritage Junction, 24101 Newhall Avenue, Newhall 91321
* Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, Executive Director, Community Hiking Club (Santa Clarita), Board of Directors, Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society
* Dr. Alan Pollack, President Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society
* Ann Stansell, Archaeologist with National Park Service, Board of Directors, Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, Docent at Rancho Camulos
Tennis shoes and comfortable/casual attire are recommended. Sunscreen and a hat are optional, but also recommended. You will be doing some minimal walking on this trip. You may bring snacks/lunch on the bus.
Cost: $55 per person prepaid only. Reservations: Call 661-254-1275 or visit www.scvhs.org.
* Powerhouse 1/Powerhouse 1 Village
View of the Powerhouse and village, with a walk around the small park to view equipment used in the building of the aqueduct and the St. Francis Dam. Photo opportunities.
* St. Francis Dam
Short hike to the dam foundation overlook for photos.
* Powerhouse 2 Village
View from bus. Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel will tell you about the Lyman Curtis Family and the Ray Rising Family.
* Powerhouse 2
Brief walk to the 2 plaques at Powerhouse 2 and the Forest Fire Station.
* Harry Carey Ranch site (Tesoro Del Valle)
Walk around the grounds of Harry Carey’s ranch.
* Edison Substation
A brief stop for photos.
* Magic Mountain Ridge Route Bridge Washout
Brief walk to see where the flood took out the bridge. (Subject to permission of Magic Mountain.)
* Santa Paula Oil Museum
A half hour allotted for viewing the museum exhibits.
* Santa Paula Cemetery
Ann Stansell will talk to you about the St. Francis victims buried on this site, known and unknown.
* Bardsdale Cemetery
Ann Stansell will talk to you about the St. Francis victims buried on this site, known and unknown
* Rancho Camulos
Mini-tour of the Rancho by a docent
* Gottardi Ranch
The loss of five members of the Gottardi family is one example of the many tragedies that occurred as a result of the breach of the St. Francis Dam. You will hear their stories.
* Edison Kemp Camp/Blue Cut
This is the site of the single largest loss of life in the floodplain.