Skip to content
CityLab
Government

The Politics of Disaster at Los Angeles' St. Francis Dam

In 1928, more than 400 people were killed in a massive dam break in L.A. County—and the tragedy is barely recognized. That might finally be changing.
 Bodies of victims of the St. Francis Dam disaster.
Bodies of victims of the St. Francis Dam disaster. Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society

Ask most Angelenos what they think of when they hear the name William Mulholland, and they'll probably mention the curvy road in the Hollywood Hills that bears his name.

Mulholland Drive has one of the best 360-degree vistas of the tentacled metropolis: To the southwest, Hollywood, West L.A., and downtown. To the northeast, the San Fernando Valley, and further on, the Santa Clarita Valley—close to the terminus of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the 233-mile pipeline that first brought water from the Owens Valley to the thirsty city back in 1913. The Aqueduct was Mulholland's construction, and its payoff—the explosive growth and viability of Los Angeleshas grafted his name onto the prime arteries of the city.