Ruins of the St. Francis Dam, looking east, showing the top of the tombstone (the center section that remained standing) and behind it, the road that ran around the eastern perimeter of the reservoir.
3x5½-inch glossy print from 1928.
Construction on the 600-foot-long, 185-foot-high St. Francis Dam started in August 1924. With a 12.5-billion-gallon capacity, the reservoir began to fill with water on March 1, 1926. It was completed two months later.
At 11:57:30 p.m. on March 12, 1928, the dam failed, sending a 180-foot-high wall of water crashing down San Francisquito Canyon. An estimated 431 people lay dead by the time the floodwaters reached the Pacific Ocean south of Ventura 5½ hours later.
It was the second-worst disaster in California history, after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, in terms of lives lost — and America's worst civil engineering failure of the 20th Century.
DI2817: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph from Sharon Divis Collection. Print on file.