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Santa Clarita CA
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S.C.V. History
March 5
1864 - L.A. Star newspaper report: County supervisors have accepted Beale's Cut as complete [story]
Beale's Cut

| Monday, Dec 14, 2015

The Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society will be hosting Jon Wilkman, who will give a talk on his new book about the St. Francis Dam disaster:”Floodpath: The Deadliest Man Made Disaster of 20th Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles.”

The talk will be given at Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, at 2 p.m. at the Old Town Newhall Library, 24500 Main St., in Newhall, California.

A visionary and controversial quest for water made modern Los Angeles possible. But the failure of the St. Francis Dam on March 12, 1928, the worst American civil engineering failure of the 20th century, was a horrific reminder of human limits – a lesson that is all but forgotten today. In Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles, Jon Wilkman, an Emmy-Award winning documentary filmmaker and author of books about Los Angeles, revisits a deluge that claimed nearly 500 lives. Based on more than 20 years of research and driven by eyewitness accounts, combining urban history and life-and-death drama with a technological detective story, Wilkman’s narrative reads like a thriller, grounded on historical fact. Floodpath will be published by Bloomsbury Press on Jan. 5, 2016.

“Documentary filmmaker Jon Wilkman gracefully combines engineering explanations and a who’s who of turn-of-the-century Los Angeles elites with a riveting account of what is called the deadliest man-made disaster in America during the twentieth century.

The man at the center of the story, no nonsense William Mulholland, rose from a ditch digger to become the man in charge of meeting the thirsty city’s growing need for water in the face of litigation and even downright violence. While Wilkman recounts Mulholland’s career and the context surrounding the construction of the dam, he hits his stride with a detailed narrative of its violent collapse, a disaster that unleashed a firestorm of criticism and questions only partially answered by an emotion coroner’s inquest. While the massive disaster may have been largely forgotten, its foundation in both hubris and opportunism remains relevant today.

Award-winning documentary filmmaker, Jon Wilkman, offers a well-researched account of a little-remembered California tragedy. He tells the dramatic story in the context of the rapidharte-St_Francis_Dam_xxxx27ly growing city, whose ceaseless need for water had until then been met by the legendary, self-trained civil engineer William Mulholland (1855-1935), who managed the city’s water system for 50 years. An iconic, sometimes arrogant figure, Mulholland had supervised the building of the Owens River Aqueduct (1913), which gave rise to modern L.A. At 72, he created yet another expansion of the city’s water system with construction of the St. Francis Dam, which he deemed safe. Drawing on archives and interviews with survivors, Wilkman re-creates the disaster, its huge flow of “rocks, mud, debris, and mangled bodies,” and the stories of victims stripped naked by the flooding waters. The author also details the ensuing search-and-recovery efforts as well as the many investigations into the disaster’s suspected causes, which range from landslides to deliberate dynamiting. A coroner’s jury refused to indict Mulholland, who accepted blame for the disaster and retired, a broken man.

Visit the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society at SCVHS.org for more information.


About Jon Wilkman

JonWilkmanAfter graduating from Oberlin College, Jon began his career in New York with the CBS News documentary unit. During his seven years with CBS, Jon worked with Walter Cronkite on the award winning “Twentieth Century” and “21st Century” series, as well as “Of Black America,” hosted by Bill Cosby. Other television projects include writing, directing and producing the WCBS “Eye on New York” series, and the Emmy Award- winning documentary “Countdown to a Contract.” During this time, he wrote the book, Black Americans: From Colonial Days to the Present.

In 1971, Jon formed Wilkman Productions, Inc. For PBS he worked as a program producer on the Emmy Award-winning “Great American Dream Machine” series and was the Producer/Director of the Sigma Delta Chi Award-winning 90-minute PBS documentary “Attica.” He also wrote, produced and directed the “What About Tomorrow?” series for ABC, “Voices of America,” an 8-part look at American regional life for McGraw Hill, “Transistor,” documenting the history of the transistor for AT&T, and “American Images” for the United States Information Agency, winner of a CINE Golden Eagle Award.

Returning to his hometown, Los Angeles, in 1978, Jon continued work for television and commercial clients. He was producer, director writer on seven HBO specials, including “Scandals,” “Spies” and “Real Detectives,” among others. He received Emmys for two public television series, “Turning Points” and “The Los Angeles History Project,” developed in association with KCET.

Other Wilkman Productions projects include the NBC television special, “L.A. Law,” hosted by Jane Pauley, and documentary elements to the historically based dramatic films “Fatherland,” “American Stories,” “Witch Hunt,” and “Winchell,” all produced by HBO Pictures. Jon has a special interest in history. With his late wife and partner, Nancy, he produced, directed and wrote a three-hour biography of Thomas Edison (“The Edison Effect”) for the History Channel and A&E.

Recent history-based documentaries and television specials include a 7-part series for Turner Classic Movies entitled “Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood.” (www.tcm.com/moguls), which was nominated for three Emmy Awards; also, the PBS documentary, “Chicano Rock! The Sounds of East Los Angeles,” winner of the 2009 Best Documentary at the Reel Rasquache Festival of the U.S. Latino Experience in Film and Art, a four-part PBS series, “The Port of Los Angeles: A History,” “With Heart and Hand: The Restoration of the Gamble House,” and “At Issue: Immigration.”

Jon is co-author of two books, written with his wife Nancy: Picturing Los Angeles and Los Angeles: A Pictorial Celebration. His most recent book, Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles, will be published by Bloomsbury Press on January 5, 2016. It was written as a companion to a new documentary in development, “The St. Francis Dam Disaster.”

In addition to an active career as a producer, director and writer, Jon has lectured on film history and the production of documentaries at Fordham University, taught nonfiction writing at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and classes about the history of Los Angeles for UCLA Extension. As part of his interest and involvement in local history, he is an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Historical Society of Southern California, founded in 1883.

Jon was a three-term president of the International Documentary Association, during which he founded the First International Documentary Congress in association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America, West.

The Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society is pleased to present Jon Wilkman at the Old Town Newhall Library! The general public is welcome. Admission will be free. For more information on this and other upcoming programs from the SCVHS, please call Alan Pollack at 661-254-1275. Website: www.scvhs.org.

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  1. Wil did a interview with the newspaper many years ago about the display he had at San Fran Fire Station up Bouquet Canyon.

  2. Wow I never knew that, how sad 😞. Where exactly was that?

  3. I knew! My grandma told me about it.

  4. In sanfran canyon the water went all the way to LA

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Wednesday, Mar 3, 2021
Rancho Camulos National Historic Landmark officials will host a virtual presentation commemorating the March 12, 1928, St. Francis Dam Disaster via Zoom on Friday, March 12, starting at 4 p.m.
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ARTree Community Arts Center is returning to some in-person instruction, beginning Monday, March 22.

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