Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
Dam and Reservoir Under Construction
Bouquet Canyon

Construction has started on the Bouquet Canyon dam and reservoir in this series of photographs from September 1932.

An earth-fill dam, the Bouquet (pronounced BOO-kay) dam was to replace the ill-fated St. Francis Dam, a concrete gravity dam approximately 7 air miles to the west-southwest, which collapsed 4½ years earlier.

Los Angeles city voters approved a $38 million bond measure for water infrastructure in 1930 (two years after the St. Francis failure), of which $4 million was earmarked for the Bouquet reservoir project — $3 million to construct the dam and reservoir and $1 million for 4 miles of 94-inch-diameter steel pipe to connect it to the Los Angeles (Owens River) Aqueduct.

Initially slated to be a bit smaller than the St. Francis, the Bouquet dam and reservoir ended up being roughly the same size, the dam face rising 225 feet above the bedrock and impounding 34,500 acre-feet (12 billion gallons) of water. It opened March 28, 1934.

L.A. officials spent much of 1932 on preliminaries. As planned, the reservoir would have inundated portions of Bouquet Canyon Road. So, at the city's request, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a realignment of Bouquet Canyon Road in September (about the time these photographs were made) — over the objections of Leona Valley residents who were upset that their commute would take longer.

By that time, the federal government had canceled 45 mining claims on the 1,000-acre project site, also at L.A. City's request. The government reportedly determined there were no valuable minerals on the claims, which had been filed in 1926 and 1927.

We don't know who made these photographs (approx. 3½x4½-inch negatives and a few same-size prints). Perhaps they were associated with Frank R. Wicks and George Ames, a pair of mining engineers hired by the L.A. Board of Water and Power Commissioners earlier in the year; it is evident from the hand-written captions on the back of some prints, and from the nature of the images themselves, that the photographer was interested in the geology of the site.

Prints with captions are as follows (Boquet is cq):

1-D54 (LW3573L) — "Face of the excavation at Boquet Canyon. Lines of boulders in the gravel face are faintly shown crossing the view and demonstrating the absence of recent fault movements."

2-D54 (LW3573D) — "A view taken near 1-D54 showing the same feature."

3-D54 (LW3573M) — "The exposed rock floor at Boquet Canyon."

4-D54 (LW3573C) — "Clearing the bed rock and packing down the earth fill at Boquet Canyon."

5-D54 (LW3573E) — "Excavating the east abutment at Boquet Canyon. Cars are parked on new fill."

In describing the earth-fill Bouquet Dam and distinguishing it from the concrete-gravity St. Francis Dam, The Signal newspaper in December 1932 likened it to the earthen dams in the San Fernando Valley, about which "there has never been any question of their safety." You needn't be an expert, The Signal said, "to see that this dam could not go out. ... If by reason of earthquake the face might be cracked, no force could make a fracture great enough to let the water out in a body."

The earthen Lower Van Norman Dam in the San Fernando Valley partially collapsed in the 6.6-magnitude Sylmar Earthquake of 1971. Luckily it wasn't completely full at the time. It was never again used for municipal water storage.

Click to enlarge.

Power Board Plea Sifted by Council.

The City Council has referred to its Water and Power Committee the request of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners for authority to employ Frank R. Wicks and George Ames, consulting mining engineers, for work on the Bouquet Canyon reservoir project.

Click to enlarge.

Work Will Begin Soon on Dam Job.

Preliminaries Nearly Complete for $3,500,000 Bouquet Structure.

Saugus, April 9. (Exclusive) — Work on the construction of a new city reservoir in Bouquet Canyon north of here, to cost about $3,500,000, will be under way shortly, it is stated by H.A. Van Norman, head of the Los Angeles Water and Power Department. The clearing of minor rights of way and the receipt of funds from recent sale of $1,000,000 in water bonds are details to be settled before work begins, it is stated.

Plans call for an earth-filled dam 210 feet in height with a storage capacity of 30,000 acre feet. This will be a little less than the capacity of St. Francis Dam which it is intended to replace.

Click to enlarge.

Hearings on Claims Get Under Way.

Cancellation of Mining Holdings in Bouquet Dam Area Government Aim.

Seeking to cancel forty-five mining claims in Bouquet Canyon, the United States government yesterday began hearings in a contest before the Register of the United States Land Office in Los Angeles. The claims embrace 1,000 acres of land on the site of the Bouquet Dam and reservoir being built by the Department of Water and Power. Some of the claims are on property owned by the city.

Engineers and mining experts representing the government and the Department of Water and Power declare there is no mineral on the claims which were filed in 1926 and 1927.

H.P. Deckant, assistant solicitor of the Department of Agriculture, San Francisco, represents the government. The city entered the contest as intervener. E.P. Werner, City Attorney; Mark Herron, assistant City Attorney; and Paul Friedman and A.A. Scott, deputies assigned to the Department of Water and Power, represent the city.

Click to enlarge.

Board Clears Path for Dam.

Supervisors Abandon Part of Bouquet Canyon Highway.

Clearing the way for the early completion of the new $5,000,000 Bouquet Canyon Dam, which replaces the ill-fated St. Francis barrier, near Saugus, the Board of County Supervisors yesterday granted the request of the Department of Water and Power of the city of Los Angeles for the vacation of a highway which crossed the dam site.

This action by the Supervisors removed the last obstacle in the way of completion of the project, for which bonds were voted in 1930. Numerous mining claims filed on 1,000 acres of the site recently were voided by the Federal Land Office.

Will Rush Completion.

Work on the project has been under way for the past eight months and about 25 per cent of the job is finished, according to General Manager Van Norman of the Water and Power Department. The schedule calls for completion in eighteen months.

Van Norman stated that the work is being done by the regular bureau force of employees, by force account, and that the 300 men now employed will be able to handle the job. This announcement was made, Van Norman said, because he does not wish to disappoint job seekers by having them report at the site, only to find no work.

Claims Not Valid.

Armed with the Federal Land Office's decision making invalid the mining claims, Van Norman and W.A. Scott and Paul Friedman, deputies in the office of the City Attorney, yesterday appeared before the Supervisors with a request for the abandonment of approximately one and one-half miles of the Bouquet Canyon road where it interferes with the building of the new dam.

Van Norman said the Water and Power Department is ready to replace the roadway with one built as a by-pass around the dam. He assured the Supervisors the new road will be better than the one to be abandoned and that it will parallel the present highway and there will be no change in the grade.

Protest on Road.

Attorney Stephen Monteleone was present to protest on behalf of a number of property owners who object to the abandonment of the highway. He contended the Supervisors had no legal authority to abandon the road, which, the protestants asserted, was serving several hundred persons in the canyon.

The city officials, however, declared there would be no interruption of road service by the abandonment of the highway, or while the dam is being constructed. This, they declared, would be put in writing in an agreement with the county, whereupon the abandonment was ordered on motion of Supervisor Quinn.

Stand-by Reservoir.

The reservoir is designed as a stand-by water reservoir, and tunnels have been constructed through the hills to San Francisquito power plants No. 1 and No. 2. Due to the enlargement of the aqueduct, a new generating unit, adding 20,000 horsepower to the city's system, has recently been installed in No. 2, making 170,000 horsepower in all.

The reservoir, when completed, will hold 30,000 acre feet of water, or 10,000,000,000 gallons. It is about sixty miles north of the city along the line of the aqueduct, south of Elizabeth Lake. Its principal function is to act as a reserve near the city in the event of failure in the aqueduct or the supply.

The dam is an earth-fill structure with concrete faces. The top of the dam will be 3,008 feet above sea level and 185 feet above the stream bed. At the crest the dam will be fifty feet wide and 1,200 feet long.

Click to enlarge.

Bouquet Canyon Dam.

Action of the Board of Supervisors in abandoning one and a half miles of the Bouquet Canyon highway, to clear the way for a new city reservoir, removes the last obstacle to the construction of this needed water storage project, which in a measure replaces the ill-fated St. Francis structure, though it is not so near the city. The new dam is to be a relatively low earth-fill structure, 185 feet above stream bed at its highest point. This is considered an extra safe type of construction, when well built. About 25 per cent of the work has already been finished and it will be completed in about eighteen months.

The Bouquet Canyon reservoir is said to be mainly a water-supply project and most of the costs are being met from water funds; though it is understood some power funds have been used to pay for land. Bearing in mind previous experiences in which power costs have been loaded onto the water users, so that the Power Bureau could make a good showing on paper, the general public will do well to reserve the right to ask some time for a reallocation of costs, if a business administration ever replaces the political control of the Water and Power Commission. The probabilities are strong that the Power Bureau will get more benefit from Bouquet Canyon reservoir than it will pay for and that the division of costs as arranged is not equitable.

However, it is reasonable to suppose that the reservoir is needed for water storage, and might have to be built anyhow, so that this readjustment is not perhaps pressing, and should not in any event delay construction.

Click to enlarge.

Road Work Is Approved; to Help Jobless.

Los Angeles, Sept. 29. (By City News Service) — Clearing the final obstacle from the path of the $5,000,000 project, which will give major aid to unemployment relief when work is begun, the board of supervisors has approved relocation of the Bouquet canyon road to permit construction by the city of Los Angeles of its Bouquet canyon reservoir.

The new reservoir, which will replace the tragic St. Francis dam, which burst several years ago, will be constructed by the city department of water and power out of the $38,000,000 bond issue voted in 1930.

A.A. Scott, deputy city attorney, stated the federal land office had invalidated mining claims within the dam site, and that this action coupled with the approval of the supervisors for relocation of the good road will permit early construction.

A group of property owners in the affected area protected the road abandonment, stating it would compel them to travel about two miles farther on the new road route to be built.

Click to enlarge.

Big Dam Massive Work.

The big dam in Bouquet Canyon is well under way, something like 400 men in all being employed. It will form one of the greatest of the city reservoirs on the present water system, when completed.

The dam is of the earth fill, and as Dave Menzie described it, is just as if a hill 175 feet high is being placed right across the canyon. The first part of the work consisted in digging a four foot trench clear across the valley, and into the mountain on each side, sinking it to bed rock at all points, and cutting down well into it, besides extending into the rocks of the mountain sides. Into this trench a concrete wall was built up to the surface, and leveled across the valley. Below this, and extending 700 feet down the canyon, is being built a clay bank, which is rolled and packed till it is impervious to water. This starts at the wall, and rises one foot in height to three feet in distance, making an angle of 333 decrees, the lower edge rising to about 175 feet, making a long, low slant up stream. Then the top is made level twenty or thirty feet, and from then down stream it drops off sharply for about 400 feet more. So much for the earth dam.

Now, beginning at the concrete wall on the up-stream side, the slanting upper side of the dam is faced with heavily reinforced concrete, from six inches to a foot in thickness, the steel reinforced cement rods being attached to the wall mentioned before. This makes the reservoir like an immense bowl on the dam side the earth bracing it. At the top of the dam a wide concrete roadway is formed, and on the lower side of the dam, cobblestones are laid to a thickness of several feet, completely covering the dirt. The spillway, of concrete, and faced so there is no possibility of washing is built so that the water can never rise within several feet of the top of the dam.

The water will come from the aqueduct, of course, and to convey it to the reservoir a four mile tunnel is being drilled. In this work three shifts are employed, but only a few men can work on each shift, about twenty five constituting the whole force.

The work is about twenty five per cent completed at this time, it is stated. To make room for the work, the Bouquet Canyon road had to relocated, and the Spunky Canyon road rebuilt for some distance. A city owned road through Cherry Canyon is another part of the project that had to be built.

It is easily apparent to anyone, even if not an expert, to see that this dam could not go out, even if a crack developed, enough to let the water trickle out. The pressure is downward, not lateral, and if by reason of earthquake the face might be cracked, no force could make a fracture great enough to let the water out in a body.

This is the same type of dam as the three reservoirs in the San Fernando valley, and being of later construction, and with the big St. Francis dam disaster in mind, is much more carefully constructed than these three, and there has never been any question of their safety. Under the law, the plans had to have city, county, state and national engineers' approval, before the dam was started.

LW3573: Download original images here. Purchased 2019 by Leon Worden (Holabird Americana, Lot 5164, March 11, 2019).


Construction 1932 (Mult.)


Construction 1933


Construction 1933-1934 x4


Opening 3-28-1934


Reservoir ~1937


Reservoir 1930s


Reservoir 1940

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