Locals reflect on the St. Francis Dam collapse 89 years later

A group files past "block 19", left, an 18 foot high piece of the St. Francis Dam as the group takes a historical tour of the site of the 1928 disaster on Saturday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Almost 89 years ago, the St. Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon failed. The floods swept away the lives of 431 people with it.

“We should be thinking of all the people who died and just remembering them,” said Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel.

Erskine-Hellrigel, along with Dr. Alan Pollock and Frank Rock, led the annual St. Francis Dam bus tour on Saturday. Over one hundred participants listened to the team’s lecture, bused to the site of the disaster and informed of the break and the stories that went along with the flooding.

“We’re working on things that might help this 89-year period where this event was forgotten,” Dr. Alan Pollock said.

Historian Frank Rock, left, uses a megaphone to describe the events of the March 12th, 1928 St. Francis Dam disaster as two bus loads of attendees stand near Power Plant no. 2 on San Francisquito Canyon Road as they take a tour of the dam site on Saturday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Pollock, who has written various articles on the history of the dam, explained that politics in Los Angeles swept some of the dam’s history “under the rug.”

“It’s a deep, dark, piece of California history that needs to be uncovered,” Lancaster resident Jim Scimonetti said.

The dam failed a few minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928, but locals still feel the importance of understanding the history of the catastrophe.

“We’ve heard lectures and seen pictures,” said Willa McClure. “Now we want to view the site with our own eyes.”

McClure is a new member of the Santa Clarita Valley, and explains that learning about the new area that she calls home helps integrate herself into the neighborhood.

Executive Director of the Santa Clarita Valley Community Hiking Club Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, right, leads a tour at the St. Francis Dam site during a historical guided tour of the March 12th, 1928 disaster site on Saturday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“It makes you feel more a part of the community,” McClure said.

The bus tour lasted approximately three hours, with over 100 attendees ranging from children to grandparents.

“That’s what I love about this tour, there isn’t a certain age group,” said tour-leader Frank Rock. “We have kids strapped to mothers and people as old as 90 who have taken the tour.

“It’s fascinating because it’s a disaster in your own backyard.”

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