Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Report on St. Francis Dam Flood.
For The Newhall Land & Farming Company.
March 24, 1928.
[Jump to Photo Index]

Report on
made by
A.M. and Geo. A. Newhall, Jr.

San Francisco
March 24th, 1928.

Mr. Geo. A. Newhall, President
The Newhall Land and Farming Company.

Dear Sir:

Pursuant to your instructions, Mr. Geo. A. Newhall, Jr. and the writer went to the San Francisco Ranch over last week-end to make a personal survey of the damage caused and the conditions now existing on this Ranch as a result of the flood following the breaking of the St. Francis dam at the head of the San Francisquito Canyon on or about 11:30 P.M. Monday, March 12th, 1928.

Leaving on the "Owl", we reached Saugus at 9:45 Sunday morning, about two hours late, and were met by Mr. H. Clay Needham who had obtained for us the necessary passes. Mr. Needham took us to the Middle Ranch House, thence he carried us in his machine over the steep and narrow road by way of Potrero and Salt Creek Mesa Field. From the latter point we had to walk about three-quarters of a mile to the upper end of the Orchard where the irrigation pumping plant was formerly located and where we were met by automobile and taken to Mr. Chesebrough's home. The afternoon was spent viewing the damage at the lower (western) end of the Ranch, and on Monday morning we were met by Assistant General Manager E.W. Newhall, Jr. who took us for a general survey of the Middle Ranch district. In the latter part of the afternoon we visited the Dam itself, following which we returned home on Monday night's "Owl".

It is not the purpose of this report to go into the conditions which caused the break in the St. Francis Dam because that is a matter that can be much more satisfactorily determined by the engineers of national repute who are being invited to form the investigating board, but it is sufficient to say that it broke, killing an unknown number of innocent persons, probably almost five hundred, and destroying an immense amount of property the value of which undoubtedly will exceed $25,000,000.


Completed about two years ago by the City of Los Angeles for the storage of an emergency water supply contained, so we are given to understand, 38,000 acre feet of water at the time the disaster occurred. In other words, sufficient to cover 38,000 acres or approximately 60 square miles with water one foot deep. To picture this amount of water, think of a river or body of water: 10 feet deep, 1 mile wide and 6 miles long; or 20 feet deep, ½ mile wide, and 6 miles long. Apparently this tremendous volume was almost instantaneously released into a canyon which for the first 3 or 4 miles was probably 200 to 300 feet wide and by the time it has reached our property line had only widened out to about 2500 feet.

Fro the sake of clarity it would seem best that we make our report following the mad career of the waters as they rushed down through the Ranch, rather than to describe the condition of the fields in the order we first saw them. So as to assist in visualizing the course which the flood took, we are including in our report a photostatic copy of the government section which we are attaching to the last divider sheet so that it can be conveniently folded out for ready reference while reading the report. The location of the Dam is shown outlined in red and our Ranch property, except for a small portion in the high foothills to the south, outlined in yellow. On this in blue appears the flooded and destroyed area, while the green indicates the farming or orchard land both undamaged or not permanently injured, although it may require from $20 to $50 per care to remove the debris and waste from a considerable portion of it.

In order that you may better understand the photographs we took of the broken Dam as it appears today, we are attaching hereto as a frontispiece a photograph of the completed Dam as it appeared before the flood, and on Plate I as photograph No. 1, the Dam after the accident from below, as No. 2, the Dam after the accident from the inside, and on Plate II, No. 3, the interior of the Dam site after the water had run out. Photographs No. 4 and 5 show the big blocks of concrete larger in size than a small house which were carried down stream from the west wing of the broken Dam some 500 to 1000 feet. Unfortunately in the taking of the latter, we forgot to roll the film forward so that the roof of a house appears in the background, but the immense blocks of concrete still visible in this double exposure are circled in ink, the largest block to which the arrow points being the same one which is shown in the center of photograph No. 4. When the Dam broke and this tremendous body of water was released, it rushed madly down San Francisquito Canyon a distance of approximately six miles to the northern line of our Ranch, carrying death and destruction in its wake, the local reports given us being that only three people who were in the Canyon below the Dam at the time of the accident escaped alive.


The continuation of San Francisquito Canyon from our northern ranch line to where it opens out into the main valley of the Santa Clara River is called San Francisquito Fields Nos. 1 and 2 comprising some 350 acres of farming land, and as the flood bore on through these fields it took with it all the soil throughout the valley, leaving in its stead a broad wash filled with sand, gravel and debris. On the map you will notice that the only parts left of these fields are certain little farmed valleys lying to the east and west of these fields colored in green, now on account of their very limited area absolutely worthless from a farming standpoint. Photograph No. 6, Plate III, is a panorama taken from above at a point on the Dry Canyon road1 and shows the sandy expanse of waste left — the very heart of the farming land in San Francisquito Field No. 2.


Directly south of the San Francisquito Canyon is the large farming area of some 200 acres known as Santa Clara Field, and the force of the oncoming flood was such that the water rushed across this field of growing alfalfa directly towards the yellow dagger shaped spot which represents the property formerly sold to the Southern California Edison Company, the northern edge of which is used as their transformer station at which such havoc took place. Attached to Plate III as photograph No. 7 is a panoramic view taken at a point about 1000 feet directly south of the point of the promontory that defines the southeastern boundary of San Francisquito Canyon, and if you will study this view carefully commencing at the right-hand you will first note the very deep gullies, in one of which Messrs. E.W. and Geo. A. Newhall, Jr. are standing. Then continuing around from the north to northwest you will note the wide wash up San Francisquito Canyon; thence to northwest, west northwest and west you will observe the absolute destruction of this field by the flood waters. While it is impossible to ascertain until borings are taken whether of not the tillable soil in the center of this field is wiped out, in all probability it will be found later on that gullies, similar to those shown at the right-hand side of the panorama were first washed out, after which the subsiding water left throughout the greater part of our farming land that was destroyed a covering of worthless alkali, sand and gravel.


In the blue stream on the map indicating the flooded area you will note a round red spot near the southeastern corner which shows the location of Round Mountain, the high jut of land just north of the railroad and highway from Saugus to Castaic, which rocky hill caused the flood waters after crossing the Santa Clara Field to strike with extra force the railroad and highway bridges and the transformer station of the Edison Company. At the transformer station2, most of which is placed on land from 3 to 10 feet above the level of the highway, everything except two galvanized iron buildings in which the large transformers were housed was carried away, and on these the water marks show that the water reached a depth there of approximately 9 feet, or from the bottom of the old river bed say about 33 feet. Even the steel towers carrying the high powered cables were torn from their foundations and carried down the river for miles, a mass of twisted steel and iron, and the steel railroad bridge, about 150 feet long I should judge, was torn from its foundations, carried down the river about 1000 feet and deposited against the south bluff, a mass of tangled structural steel. A photograph of this destroyed bridge is attached as No. 8 to Plate IV. Another evidence of the terrific force of the flood is shown by the total destruction of a reinforced concrete building just north of the railroad opposite the present transformer station of the Edison Company which was built by them when they first put in the station to house the transformers which were subsequently moved across the road, the concrete building since having been used by us as a warehouse. All that remains of this building now are a lot of broken slabs of concrete about a yard square lying on the old concrete floor, the galvanized iron roof and the rest of the superstructure having been washed away together with al the wooden cottages that formerly housed the Edison Company employees.


The heaviest destruction of farming lands — mostly old stands of alfalfa — is the group of fields3 known as Rye Field, containing approximately 400 acres, Reservoir Field, 100 acres, Triangle Field, 100 acres, Fishpond Field, 125 acres, Warehouse Field, 100 acres, Sycamore Field, 75 acres, Grapevine Field, 200 acres, all of which with the exception of some very narrow northerly portions of the Rye, Reservoir, Warehouse and Grapevine Fields were totally destroyed. Photograph No. 9, Plate IV, shows the desolation wrought at the northern end of the Middle Ranch Bluff which was formerly covered with cottonwood and willow trees but is now practically bare, and in the foreground can be seen all that now remains of the modern steel Highway bridge that formerly crossed the Santa Clara River almost directly west of Round Mountain. Following the course of the water, the stream that divided crossing the Santa Clara Field to the Southern California Edison Transformer Station, turned west to the south of Round Mountain, meeting the other part of the divided stream which followed the ordinary course of the San Francisquito Creek north of Round Mountain piled up with unusual force at Castaic, the junction of the Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and the Bakersfield-Ridge Route Highways.


Photograph No. 10 on Plate IV shows the place where at the triangular meeting of the roads the gasoline station operated by McIntyre and his son was located, of whom the father and one of the boys were lost. In the same vicinity you will recall there was the railroad warehouse, the section gang house, and a large auto camp at which it was reported there were some eight cars whose occupants were undoubtedly lost in the flood, and several other buildings. If you will look at No. 10 you will see at the present time that the highways are about 3 or 4 feet below the level of the present covering of sand, gravel, muck and debris, and there is not a vestige of any building whatsoever in that country except the concrete platform of the old section house. In the photograph you will notice several old telegraph poles bent over or broken off, but those with the lines on them have just been put in, on one or two of them the men being up the poles working at the time the pictures were taken, and at the extreme left of the photograph can be seen the hopper of a portable clam shell dredge which is digging out the highway similar to the way in which it dug out the highway directly in front of the point from which the picture was taken.


Following down the valley to the west about a quarter of a mile from Castaic, we next come to a point where the S.P. railroad tracks are literally turned upside down. Photograph No. 11 is taken from the south side of the track looking northeast, and at its right-hand side you will notice that the track is set right side up. In the center is where the actual turn was made and in the left-hand you will see the ties on top of the rails. Thus the overturned tracks continued for a matter of about a quarter to a half mile. Photograph No. 12 shows all that remains of the highway and railroad bridges over Castaic Valley Creek, the piles on the latter being twisted off as though a giant had broken them in the same manner that a small boy minus a pocket knife would break a twig off a tree. Continuing along the blue stream of the flood, we now find ourselves almost to the Los Angeles Ventura County Line, or to the field which is known as[:]


This field, although flooded deeply as will be hereafter described in connection with the loss of life at the Southern California Edison Construction Camp, suffered comparatively little damage. There is, however, a considerable amount of debris deposited on it but we do not believe that the present crop other than in the part of it that is now being used for the new Construction Camp will be materially damaged. All of this field south of the railroad track, however, was very badly damaged with the exception of[:]


This Orchard is located in the eastern tip of the County Line Field south of the railroad tract [sic] and Photograph No. 13 shows its condition as it now appears. The land is quite badly washed but most of the trees which at this season of the year have not yet put out their leaves are standing. Directly south of the track in the right foreground you will notice a long black object which is part of the Castaic Valley Creek trestle of the Southern Pacific planted there by the flood, a distance of something like 3½ miles from where it originally stood. The cost of reconditioning this Orchard and removing the debris will probably be in excess of $25 an acre, excluding the loss for trees killed or washed out and also the reconstruction of a new pumping plant to supply irrigation water.


Just west of the Los Angeles-Ventura County Line is the S.P. siding known as "Kemp", and the land immediately south of this we had rented to the Southern California Edison Construction Camp for a crew of some 150 to 200 men who were putting in new power lines. This Camp, as shown on the map by an arrow, was located close to the railroad track and just east of the curve where the railroad runs into a cut in the high promontory which we designate as "Blue Cut", and from our observations it seem [sic] to us that the terrific loss of life and damage caused to this Construction Camp was due to the backwash of the water when it struck the Blue Cut Promontory and was diverted first north and then southwards back across the track into the body of the stream again. This can easily be explained by the narrowing down of the stream again and one of the witnesses told us that the water when the flood first struck them must have been at least 20 feet deep, in fact the water marks on a remaining telegraph pole there seem to bear out his statement. Photograph No. 14, Plate V, is taken from the south bank of the river and shows the present Construction Camp north of the railroad track, but this gives a pretty accurate idea of what the washed out Camp must have looked like, on the south side of the track, however. Panorama No. 15 shows the site of the old Construction Camp looking westward toward Blue Cut, and Nos. 16, 17, and 18 give some slight indication of the terrific force with which this backwash of the flood waters engulfed the men, showing respectively a freight car torn from its trucks and tipped over, a group of reels of copper cable, weighing approximately 26,000 lbs. each moved from alongside of the railroad track out into the middle of the field, 500 feet or more, and a close-up photograph of a few of the wrecked automobiles that belonged to the old construction gang. In panorama No. 15 you will notice these automobiles scattered all over the entire field and at the left a steam crane being used to right some of them. An interesting point is that while the automobile bodies, machinery and tops were very seriously damaged, we did not see a single instance where one of the tires was broken.


West of the Blue Cut Promontory lies what is known as the Blue Cut Field which was being farmed by Joe Gotardi5, 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 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. Photographs Nos. 19 and 20, Plate VII, show them looking for their lost ones. Opposite the Blue Cut Promontory on the south bank of the river, the water seems to have attained its greatest depth anywhere on the Ranch and as near as we could judge it reached a height of something like 60 feet. Panorama No. 21 shows the level of the flood water above the river bottom by the white line along the hillside just as clearly as though a gang had gone in and cleaned out all the brush and vegetation on a line marked out by surveyors.


Our Orange Orchard Units Nos. 1 and 2 are situated on the large mesa south and just east of the western line of the ranch colored in green and contain nearly 400 acres of orange and lemon trees most of which are now in bearing. We are particularly fortunate that the flood water took a turn to the north after passing Blue Cut Promontory where it followed the line of the railroad and highway until it left the ranch property. As a result of this, while we have lost everything on the north side of the river, only about 40 acres of our orange land has been destroyed. At the western end of panorama No. 21 was formerly located the irrigation system pumping plant for the S.F. Orchard, of which all that now remains is a concrete slab with the ruined duplicate set of motors and pumps as shown in No. 22, Plate VIII. Nos. 23 and 24 show the condition in which the destroyed part of our Orchard now appears, while No. 25 taken from the south bridgehead of the Ranch bridge on the road leading from the highway to the Orchard Ranch Houses shows the desolate waste now left between it and the State Highway on the north, also in the foreground how the bed of the living stream was moved about 300 feet north and 6 to 8 feet lower than when it formerly ran under the Ranch bridge.


Of the Orchard Ranch buildings, only 3 cottages used by some of the hands and their families were carried away, but fortunately all those in them were awakened just in time to escape with their lives. The Bunk House was torn loose from its concrete foundation and would have gone down stream except that it was stopped by three Eucalyptus trees which did not give way. Photograph No. 26, Plate IX, shows the Bunk House in its present condition, and contrary to its appearance, it is completely wrecked and will have to be rebuilt. The Orchard barn was only moved a few feet but the side walls are so wrecked that the entire building will have to be taken down and rebuilt although the roof is in perfect condition. No. 27 shows its present condition, and you will note the side walls lean badly. Three horses were in the barn at the time, two of whom [sic] broke their halter chains and escaped, the third horse breaking its neck when trying to free itself. Photograph No. 28 shows the overturned and broken spray wagon, wrecked heaters, and garage, the galvanized iron plates of the latter being bent double in places by the force of the water. Inside the garage at the time of the flood were two automobiles, both of which were badly damaged if not rendered absolutely useless. In order to get across the river which is still about 2 feet deep and 20 feet wide, it has been necessary to build a temporary bridge, which was accomplished on last Sunday and Monday, photographs [sic] No. 29 showing it under construction.


Returning again to the north side of the river, we find the State Highway and railroad to the west of Blue Cut Promontory very badly washed out, photograph No. 31 showing the latter, and still further to the west all our farming land on the north side of the stream is totally destroyed as far as the ranch line, as shown in panorama No. 30. Photograph No. 32 shows in still greater detail what happened to our driveway to the Orchard Ranch which connects with Pepper Avenue at the point where it leaves the State Highway on the north side of the river. Pecan Orchard No. 1 which lay just west of this driveway is totally destroyed (see Photograph No. 33).

In conclusion we beg to report that the closest estimate we can make of the used lands irreparably destroyed is as follows:

Irrigated alfalfa land     1000 acres
Dry farming land     600 ''
Orange Orchard     400 ''
Pecan Orchard No. 1 and
Orchard land to have been planted this year
    80 ''
Totally destroyed     1720 acres

in addition to which it is going to require a very large expenditure to reclaim the partly damaged portions of the different fields as well as to put in several field irrigation systems besides a complete new pumping plant for the Orchard irrigation system.

  Respectfully submitted

/Almer M. Newhall/

Assistant to the President


[Inside back cover: Camulos photograph]


    1. Seco Canyon Road in Saugus. [BACK]
    2. At the so-called "Edison Curve" on Magic Mountain Parkway. [BACK]
    3. Today, the Valencia Industrial Center. [BACK]
    4. Castaic Junction, where State Route 126 meets Interstate 5. The town of Castaic has since moved north. [BACK]
    5. Correct spelling is Gottardi, according to the family grave markers in the Piru Cemetery. [BACK]

Contributed in November 2000 by Ms. Prudence Noon, President, The Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation · Martinez, Calif.
RETURN TO TOP ]   RETURN TO MAIN INDEX ]   PHOTO CREDITS ]   BIBLIOGRAPHY ]   BOOKS FOR SALE ] is another service of SCVTV, a 501c3 Nonprofit • Site contents ©SCVTV
The site owner makes no assertions as to ownership of any original copyrights to digitized images. However, these images are intended for Personal or Research use only. Any other kind of use, including but not limited to commercial or scholarly publication in any medium or format, public exhibition, or use online or in a web site, may be subject to additional restrictions including but not limited to the copyrights held by parties other than the site owner. USERS ARE SOLELY RESPONSIBLE for determining the existence of such rights and for obtaining any permissions and/or paying associated fees necessary for the proposed use.