St. Francis Dam on March 11, 1928. This new contender for the title of "last photo of the intact dam"
is submitted (on April 16, 2005) by Gene W. Majors of Placentia, Calif., who writes:
"My parents were at the dam on Sunday, March 11, 1928. They were on one of their many 'Sunday drives'
that they took with my father's parents. They had been married less than a month and March 13, 1928,
was my mother's 19th birthday. My grandfather noticed something strange about the dam and pointed
it out to my father. The story I was told when I was young (I was born in 1946) is that my grandfather
saw muddy water coming from the outlet in the dam and told my dad that they needed to get out
of there right away. From the material I've read about the dam and its failure, this must have been debris
stirred up by the submerged landslide that eventually lead to the dam's failure.
When they were down the road from the dam my dad stopped the car and my mother took a picture of the dam."
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.