Category Archives: History

Image of the Week – 3/9/15

St. Francis Dam site in 2006 from the reservoir side. The crumbling remains of the wing dam are visible on the ridge to the right.
St. Francis Dam site in 2006 from the reservoir side. The crumbling remains of the wing dam are visible on the ridge to the right.

March 12, 2015 will mark the 87th anniversary of the collapse of the St Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon, Los Angeles County, California. The collapse occurred just before midnight on March 12, 1928. It is still California’s second largest disaster in terms of lives lost. Approximately 500 people died in the ensuing flood which flowed to the ocean near Oxnard, CA along the Santa Clara River Valley. Only the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire exceeds the number.

Road Building in San Gabriel Canyon

In the 1930’s, Los Angeles County began construction of an additional roadway over the San Gabriel Mountains via the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. About half of the roadway, complete with with four larger bridges and a tunnel, was constructed. Work had progressed as far as “The Narrows” by 1938. However, the March 2-3, 1938 storms caused much of the roadway to be washed out. The project was then abandoned, leaving a large arch bridge stranded many miles upriver. The tunnel still exists as well, just north of the “Bridge to Nowhere”, though it has been sealed at both ends.

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1936 arch bridge – The Bridge to Nowhere
1936 stamp on the arch bridge.
1936 stamp on the arch bridge.
Looking over the arch bridge to the tunnel site.
Looking over the arch bridge to the tunnel site.
Abandoned and partly destroyed bridge over the river.
Abandoned and partly destroyed bridge over the river.
Bridge over Cattle Canyon on the East Fork Road. This is similar to what the removed bridges north of here would have looked like.
Bridge over Cattle Canyon on the East Fork Road. This is similar to what the removed bridges north of here would have looked like.
1934 USGS Camp Bonita map showing the roadway completed to about 1 mile south of the “Bridge to Nowhere” site.
1940 USGS Camp Bonita map showing the now stranded bridge location.

In the 1955,  a new road building project commenced in the canyon. This new alignment would stay high above the canyon floor until it got nearer to the “Bridge to Nowhere”, allowing that earlier work to come to some use. Progress on this roadway was slow, mostly due to poor funding. Convict labor was used for most of the project, similar to many other road building efforts at the time in Los Angeles County. Two tunnels were constructed as well. These still exist and are mostly intact. This project too was cancelled in the late 1960’s, leaving another large scar in the canyon. This road is presently known as Shoemaker Canyon Road.

Stone railing along Shoemaker Canyon Road.
Stone railing along Shoemaker Canyon Road.
Looking toward the higher peaks of the San Gabriels along Shoemaker Canyon Road.
End of the pavement and open section of Shoemaker Canyon Road.
End of the pavement and open section of Shoemaker Canyon Road.
1961 and 1964 tunnels in view.
Partly graded roadway and tunnel along the "Road to Nowhere".
Partly graded roadway and tunnel along the “Road to Nowhere”.
Date stamp on the first tunnel.
Inside the longest tunnel, from 1961.
Grading along the "Road to Nowhere".
Grading along the “Road to Nowhere”.
Northern tunnel from 1964.
Northern tunnel from 1964.
1966 USGS Glendora map showing the “Shoemaker Canyon” roadway under construction.

Today, the canyon is protected from future development through the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area. Even without this protection, the geology of the canyon makes for a very expensive project. Maintenance would also be costly, as seen with State 39 through San Gabriel Canyon and above Crystal Lake. In time, all these structures and cuts will wash away, leaving the canyon with only bits of concrete and asphalt to show what was once here.

Remnants of paving in the canyon.
Remnants of paving in the canyon.