The raging, muddy torrent did not discrimiate among homes, cars, giant oak trees or anything else that stood in the way.
Seven miles up San Francisquito Canyon Road from today's Copper Hill Drive, construction on the 700-foot-long, 205-foot-high St. Francis Dam started in August 1924. With a 12.5 billion-gallon capacity, the reservoir began to fill with water on March 1, 1926. It was completed two months later.
At 11:57:30 p.m. on March 12, 1928, the dam failed, sending a 180-foot-high wall of water crashing down San Francisquito Canyon. An estimated 431 people lay dead by the time the floodwaters reached the Pacific Ocean south of Ventura 5½ hours later.
It was the second-worst disaster in California history, after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, in terms of lives lost — and America's worst civil engineering failure of the 20th Century.
This photo is one of several that were in the possession of the late Betty Houghton Pember, daughter of Opal and Lloyd Houghton, whose Hap-A-Lan dance hall was used as a makeshift morgue after the dam break. The dance hall, located at the northwest corner of what is now Railroad Avenue and Market Street in downtown Newhall, was razed soon thereafter, at least in part because of the bad memories. Houghton sold the property to the Masons, who built a courthouse (now known as "Ye Olde Courthouse"), with a meeting hall above.