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St. Francis Dam Tours

St. Francis Dam Site Santa Clarita

History of the St. Francis Dam

The St. Francis Dam, located in San Francisquito Canyon, was built between 1924 and 1926 by William Mulholland to provide a reserve of water for the City of Los Angeles. Mulholland at the time was a hero to Los Angeles residents, having brought water from the Owens Valley by completing the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913. This aqueduct allowed Los Angeles to grow from a sleepy pueblo to the metropolis of the present.

Unfortunately, Mulholland was to suffer the ultimate "rise and fall" story. Resting on his considerable laurels from the aqueduct, he developed the plans for the St. Francis Dam. He was so immensely respected and popular that nobody thought to question or oversee the designs that he came up with.

Sadly, there were several fatal flaws in both the design and location of the dam which resulted in a catastrophic rupture at 3 minutes to midnight on March 12, 1928. A wall of water initially 180 feet high raced through San Francisquito Canyon and then down the Santa Clara River Valley, devastating the towns of Piru, Fillmore, and Santa Paula before emptying into the Pacific Ocean at Montalvo between Oxnard and Ventura some 5-6 hours later. The flood caused immense property damage and left at least 450 and possibly up to 600 people dead.

Mulholland was emotionally devastated by the disaster. He resigned as head of the Bureau Of Water Works and Supply (precursor to the DWP) shortly thereafter and died a broken man in 1935.

Frank Rock has spent many years researching the dam disaster. He is considered one of the leading world experts on the event. He has displayed his expertise on local TV shows "Legacy" with Leon Worden and "Points of Interest" with Phil Scorza as well as being featured in televised documentaries on the History Channel and Discovery. His yearly St. Francis Dam events have been extremely popular with both Historical Society members and the general public. Don't miss this unique opportunity to learn about the biggest news event in Santa Clarita Valley history and to travel to the actual site of the disaster!!

Editorial provided by Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.

For a roster of victims compiled by Ann Stansell of California State University, Northridge, and published by on February 22, 2014, click here.

For directions to the St. Francis Dam Site, click here.

For more information on the St. Francis Dam and dam tours held annually in March, click here.

For the St. Francis Dam National Memorial Foundation, click here.

Updated October 25, 2021
Endorsed by
County of Los Angeles SCV Chamber of Commerce California Travel and Tourism Commission
In association with
SCV Tourism Bureau
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