Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Practice 'safety first' when exploring historic locations

Editorial From The Signal

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

his week marks the 75th anniversary of one of the worst disasters in California history, and it happened right here in the Santa Clarita Valley.
    At three minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928 — three-quarters of a century ago tomorrow night — the St. Francis Dam broke, sending a 10-story wall of water crashing down San Francisquito Canyon. By the time the floodwaters reached the Pacific Ocean near Ventura 51/2 hours later, at least 450 people lay dead.
    The event has been remembered in books and videos and by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, which organizes an annual lecture and public tour of the dam site in San Francisquito Canyon. This year's tour was held Sunday, and it was done with a temporary permit from the U.S. Forest Service in hand.
    That's because the dam site is in the Angeles National Forest — and unlike most years, the Forest Service wants to remind the public that the forest is closed, as it has been ever since last year's Copper Fire in San Francisquito Canyon.
    Even Wednesday night.
    We mention it because every year there are people who trek up to the dam site to experience whatever it is they experience at three minutes before midnight on March 12. Some are people who are into the history of it, some are interested in paranormal activity, and some probably defy categorization.
    In any case the message this year is, night or day, stay away. Or at least, seek the proper permission in advance.
    Acknowledging the imminence of the 75th anniversary, the Forest Service on Monday issued this reminder:
    "The USDA Forest Service would like to remind people that the remains of the St. Francis Dam are located within the closure area of the Angeles National Forest."
    And it may be closed for some time.
    "Because of a fire in Spring 2002 and the resulting rehabilitation currently underway, the area may remain closed for two years," the Forest Service said.
    Individuals and groups that are determined to see the remains of the dam this week, or this year, or next year, are advised to call District Ranger Cid Morgan for approval at 296-9710.
    If that's not enough of a warning, you should know that the dam site is no place for kids. It is extremely dangerous terrain, with jagged rocks, sheer cliffs and rattlesnakes.
    And if you do decide to go up San Francisquito Canyon tomorrow night for the "experience" without prior Forest Service approval, don't be too surprised if your experience involves handcuffs.
    While we're at it we should mention that there's one other important historic site that is not a good place to visit.
    That is Beale's Cut, the 19th-century slit through the Newhall Pass, adjacent to Sierra Highway. First, it's on private property, and second, the 1997-98 El Niño weather effect that damaged Beale's Cut also impaired the footpath leading up to it. Like the dam site, it's dangerous to walk there.
    If you want a taste of local history you can explore the Internet or visit the Hart Mansion, the Saugus Train Station Museum, the Placerita Nature Center or the oil boom town of Mentryville. The St. Francis Dam site and Beale's Cut are important parts of our heritage and need to be preserved; just don't make plans to visit them in person anytime soon.

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