Wedding portrait of Piru-area rancher Joseph Lewis Gottardi and Frances Abalos, January 13, 1912. (Ventura County marriage records list her name as Francisca Avalo, but this is likely erroneous.)
Joseph survived the St. Francis Dam Disaster of March 12-13, 1928; Frances perished, along with
five of their six children. Her body was swept downriver to Santa Paula. This is the only known photograph of Frances.
Photograph from the collection of their granddaughter, Frances Guadagno Clausen (daughter of Alivna Gottardi Guadagno).
Joseph Lewis (Joe) Gottardi, an Italian immigrant born May 30, 1886, lost his wife and five of his six children in the St. Francis Dam Disaster during the wee hours of Tuesday, March 13, 1928, when the floodwaters hit the infamous Blue Cut near the Los Angeles-Ventura County Line. That's where the water hit a mountain of solid rock and bounced back to do some of its most ferocious damage, killing 84 men in a nearby Edison camp. It's also where the Gottardis made their home and rented farm land from The Newhall Land and Farming Co.
The Gottardi family members lost in the flood are buried alongside each other in the Piru Cemetery at 3580 Center Street where another child, Paulina Gottardi, was already buried. Born July 5, 1916, Paulina died in infancy one month later on Aug. 18, 1916.
Joe Gottardi would join them in a nearby plot 34 years later. He died Jan. 13, 1962.
Killed in the flood were:
Frances Abalos Gottardi (mother), born in Texas on March 13, 1890, married January 13, 1912
Reno Gottardi, born Sept. 9, 1914
Joe Gottardi Jr., born July 23, 1917
Richard Gottardi, born July 23, 1919
Pauline Gottardi, born March 7, 1921
Lenore Gottardi, born Dec. 24, 1923
In their report of March 24, 1928, on the St. Francis Flood for The Newhall Land and Farming Co., company co-owners Almer and George Newhall write:
"West of the Blue Cut Promontory lies what is known as the Blue Cut Field which was being farmed by Joe Gotardi [sic], one of our tenants, all of which to the south of the railroad was totally destroyed. It was in this field that Joe Gotardi had his home which was carried away and from which he and only one of his daughters were saved. Apparently they escaped when the house touched ground near Pepper Avenue, the approach to our Orange Orchard on the south side of the river, because on Sunday [March 18] we found him with several of his friends trying to find the bodies of his wife and his family in or around some of the destroyed trees of that area."
In mid-1929 the city of Los Angeles settled personal injury and wrongful death claims for victims and/or family members. Joe Gottardi and surviving daughter Alvina filed claims totaling $450,000 for the deaths of their wife/mother Frances Abalos Gottardi and the five deceased children.
The city paid them just $25,000.
According to the 1930 U.S. Census, Joseph Gottardi (as Guttardi) emigrated to the United States in 1906. His occupation was listed as bean rancher.
The 1930 Ventura City Directory shows Alvina as "Elvina." It lists Joe as "Jose" and identifies him as "laborer."
Alvina (b. Dec. 5, 1912, in Piru) married a train conductor named Victor V. Guadagno (b. May 7, 1910, in Illinois) in Ventura County on January 7, 1934. They had at least two children (daughter Frances and son Ronald) and were living in Los Angeles in 1940.
Victor died Feb. 22, 1999, in Santa Paula. Alvina died August 7, 2003, in Camarillo.
FC1101: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph. Online only, courtesy of Frances Clausen.