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Today in
S.C.V. History
November 28
1950 - CalArts grad Ed Harris ("A Beautiful Mind," "Apollo 13," "Westworld") born in New Jersey [link]
Ed Harris

Commentary by Dr. Alan Pollack
| Saturday, Sep 13, 2014

Dr. Alan PollackOn a trip to Pittsburgh three years ago I visited the site of a horrific dam rupture that took place in 1889 in Johnstown, Penn., killing more than 2,000 people. In reading further about that disaster, I was struck by the many similarities to a disaster that struck much closer to home.

On March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam ruptured a few minutes before midnight in San Francisquito Canyon just north of today’s Santa Clarita. A huge wall of water crashed down the canyon and coursed 55 miles through the Santa Clara River Valley, devastating everything in its path including vast swaths of Saugus, Castaic Junction, Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula before emptying into the ocean between Ventura and Oxnard. On that one tragic evening, at least 431 people lost their lives.

In both disasters there was major intrigue leading up to the events, tremendous loss of life, wanton destruction of property, and unmitigated bravery and heroism. But I saw one glaring difference.

The Johnstown Flood site is now a National Memorial complete with a National Park Service visitor center, museum, rangers and documentary film theater. At the St. Francis site, after 86 years, there is sadly … nothing but the ruins of the dam.

Damkeeper Tony Harnischfeger and his young son Coder (left) were among the first to perish when the dam collapsed just before midnight March 12, 1928.

Damkeeper Tony Harnischfeger and his young son Coder (left) were among the first to perish when the dam collapsed just before midnight March 12, 1928.

It is time that we appropriately memorialize the hundreds of lives lost on one tragic evening in 1928.

Now with the help of the amazing legislative expertise and dedication of Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, the support of Mayor Laurene Weste and the Santa Clarita City Council, and a committee of dedicated volunteers consisting of Frank Rock, Leon Worden, Darryl Manzer, Ann Stansell, Prof. James Snead, Lauren Parker, Evan Decker, E.J. and Kim Stephens, Don Ray and myself, we are on the verge of making this dream come true.

Dianne, Linda Castro and I traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this year to meet with the staff of U.S. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita. As a result of that meeting, on July 31 Rep. McKeon introduced H.R. 5357, the Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial Act, “To authorize a national memorial to commemorate those killed by the collapse of the Saint Francis Dam on March 12, 1928…”

You can read the text of the bill [here].

We now want to reach for the stars and see if we can get this bill passed in the remaining days of the 113th Congress.

Entire Santa Clarita Valley families were wiped out in the 1928 dam disaster.

Entire Santa Clarita Valley families were wiped out in the 1928 dam disaster.

We need your help right now to make this happen. There is nothing more powerful to stimulate action in a gridlocked Congress than a letter writing campaign from constituents like you. Below is a sample letter which we feel will help Rep. McKeon persuade his fellow colleagues to release this legislation from committee for a vote in the House of Representatives. We are also working to introduce the same bill in the Senate.

Please copy and paste the letter, sign it and print your name and address. Scan the signed letter on your computer, attach to an email and send it to Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel at Zuliebear@aol.com. Please also send me a copy at alanpoll@att.net.

There is no need to be a registered voter, no age limit, and children are encouraged to sign and draw pictures on the bottom (but please do not include the addresses of any children). Adults need to sign the letters and print their names and addresses or the letters won’t count.

The St. Francis Dam in better days. It was up San Francisquito Canyon Road, 7 miles north of today's Copper Hill Drive.

The St. Francis Dam was located up San Francisquito Canyon Road, 7 miles north of today’s Copper Hill Drive.

Please note that the letter also expresses support for the proposed Fish Canyon wilderness, which is a pristine mountainous area adjacent to the dam area. This wilderness area is not included in the present legislation, but may be a separate legislative bill introduced in the near future. We encourage your support for the wilderness area, as well. This area, if preserved, can support additional recreational opportunities for visitors to the dam site. Feel free to modify the letter as you see fit to best express your views and wishes.

Together we can bring a long deserved National Memorial to the St. Francis Dam site. Please help us as soon as possible. We have only a few days to get this done in the current congressional session. Thank you so much for your support on this noble endeavor.


Alan Pollack, M.D., is president of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.





[DATE], 2014

The Honorable Howard “Buck” McKeon

United States House of Representatives

266 The Old Road, Suite 203

Santa Clarita, Ca. 91381


Re: Support for the Proposed St. Francis Dam National Memorial and Fish Canyon Wilderness


Dear Mr. McKeon:

Thank you for your introduction of the Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial Act. Nothing could be more exciting to our community than recognizing the importance of this legislation and remembering the people who died as a result of the disaster. We admire your courage in bringing this legislation forward and look forward to the bill’s passage this year. We thank you for doing something to recognize this disaster that no one else has had the courage to undertake in the 86 years since it occurred.

By passing this bill, you will be leaving behind a great legacy in Santa Clarita. Many people will be learning about this horrendous event for the first time. Children will be able to visit the visitor’s center and museum and learn about their local history. This is tremendously important to Santa Clarita and all Californians. It is a great thing to honor those who died, and to memorialize the site for future generations. We applaud your actions.

Thank you, too, for pushing the Castaic Wilderness closer to legislation. These areas are important habitat, a source of water for Santa Clarita, and the only available potential wilderness we have left in the district. Preserving it in perpetuity is of great importance. It is also adjacent to the dam site. We hope that eventually it can be connected via single track trails to provide overlooks of the dam ruins.

Thank you again for your important legislation. We look forward to the passage of this important bill.






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1 Comment

  1. Whoo Hoo!!! Writing my letter!!! Thank you for letting people know about this!! Such an important legislation, and so long overdue!!!

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