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Philip Scorza Presents | L.A. Water Story and the St. Francis Dam Disaster

Uploaded 01/30/2016

L.A. Water Story and the St. Francis Dam Disaster

In this 11-minute video, Santa Clarita historian Philip Scorza and Alexa Shaw tell the story of L.A.’s thirst for water and the St. Francis Dam Disaster that resulted from it.

(c)2014 Philip Scorza | SCVTV
4 Comments for Philip Scorza Presents: L.A. Water Story and the St. Francis Dam Disaster


  1. Robert Beachutt says:

    Hardin Rich, YOU are the St. Francis Dam Disaster historian.

  2. Cathy Reves says:

    Mr. Rich, wow, I didn’t know all of that! I have to say, after reading your exceedingly well written reply, I have a much greater understanding of the truth surrounding the Aqueduct, Water Wars and so much involved with the St. Francis Dam.
    I’d also like to add that its refreshing to read the real historical facts and not just listen to someone’s story as they see it. I think its very clear here who really is the historian and one who is not only highly knowledgeable on these subjects, and at least as important, one who backs up their words with facts using the history. Kudos and thanks!

  3. Hardin Rich says:

    More true to the historical record, Fred Eaton was far more that a mere “mover and shaker” in the idea of bringing water to Los Angeles from the Owens Valley. In 1905, the Board of Water Commissioners report to the City Council, they made it clear that the credit for originating the thought and plan to use the Owens River was to go entirely to Fred Eaton. Eaton proposed the idea, several times, to a skeptical Mulholland. It was not until 1904, during a time of one of our region’s severe droughts that Mulholland and he made a trek to see the “great water supply” the Eaton had talked so much about. They made their way north to the Owens River following the route the water was to take. Eaton who had been Chief Engineer and superintendent of the Los Angles Water Company as well, the city’s first elected City Engineer, by this time had already determined the route the water would take. Much more took place after this before any such buying of land and water rights in the Valley. What of in 1904, when Eaton began his own campaign obtaining options and contracts on the water bearing land in the lower part of the Owens Valley? Why are not the others who had a large role in this mentioned here such as J.B. Lippincott, the Bureau of Reclamation, president Theodore Roosevelt? Not to mention the true fomenters of the animosity, Wilfred and Mark Watterson, the owners of the banks in the Valley that held the mortgages on at least 80% of the ranches. Unfortunately, the aqueduct story is far too complicated to be compacted it into a short summation. I do hope that you will seek out and read the true history.

    Stating that the dam was originally to be 185 feet tall, then increased to 205 feet is a completely inaccurate according to the historical record. The dam’s original design and built heights are well documented and, the public records remain available today that support the fact that the crest was to be built originally to an elevation of 1825 feet above sea level. One change was made, apparently during construction, which increased this elevation the height of 1835 feet above sea level. As such, the dam would have stood 175 feet and did stand 185 feet, respectively, above the floor of the canyon. As common for the time, little written plans or considered today as “blueprints” were made, we should not guess or make unsupported statements and speculation should be withheld. Similarly, the same restraint should hold for what changes may or may not have been made to accommodate this 10-foot increase, as well as statements regarding the base thickness. In short, where the historical record is silent, as it is somewhat in these matters, we should not interject our opinion as its voice. This is not to say, well informed and supported opinion should not be included; however, it needs to be made clear if opinion is what is being presented.

    While it is correct that the reservoir was filled to within 3 inches of the crest of the spillway on March 7, 1928, what is not stated is that this was not the first time the reservoir was brought to near maximum capacity. For most of the month of May 1927, the reservoir was brought to and held just three feet below of the crest.

    While undoubtedly, Thorton Edwards and Stanley Baker are to be given credit for saving lives with their actions, should not Ventura County Deputy Sherriff and Deputies Carl Wallace and Ray Randsdell be given the same?

    Looking to the historical record, we find that Van Norman called the Mulholland home shortly after being given the news that the St. Francis had gone out. As well, from the record we know the chief operator of Power House #1 reported this at 1:09 am. As such, it is more to reasonable believe that Van Norman called much earlier than as stated here, at 2:30am. In his testimony at the Coroners Inquest, Mulholland stated that he was above the dam site “within two hours after it went out.”

    This is an interesting video and narration. Had it been done with more attention paid to the historical record and without the melodramatics of the dual voice over at the end, it would have been even moreso.

  4. Adam Tunney watch this!

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