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UPDATE: McKeon announces drive for St. Francis Dam memorial

Posted: August 19, 2014 10:54 a.m.
Updated: August 19, 2014 5:09 p.m.

Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, announces his bid to have the St. Francis Dam site dedicated as a national memorial. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze

Standing in front of one of the few buildings to survive the wall of water when the St. Francis Dam collapsed 86 years ago, Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, announced Tuesday his bid for a memorial for one of the worst disasters in California history.

“The heroes and victims of this great disaster deserve to be memorialized,” McKeon said while announcing he had introduced House Resolution 5357 last month, which would “authorize a national memorial to commemorate those killed by the collapse of the St. Francis Dam” on March 12, 1928.

The second-worst disaster in state history behind the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, the collapse of the dam in San Francisquito killed an estimated 600 people and wiped out or seriously damaged communities from Saugus to the Pacific Ocean along the Santa Clarita Valley and Santa Clara River Valley.

“That nightmare of 1928 should be remembered,” Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste said Tuesday. “It’s a great tribute for them for America to recognize California’s great loss — a piece of history through this legislation that’s invaluable to our nation, our state and our community.”

Santa Clarita City Council members voted in early July to ask McKeon to consider introducing the legislation.

McKeon scheduled his news conference in front of the stables at Tesoro Adobe Historic Park, formerly Western film star Harry Carey’s ranch. The ranch house itself was swept away by the wall of water.

“It is historic, but many people don’t realize how important it is or the impacts it has had on our lives,” McKeon said of the dam disaster. He noted that lessons learned from the St. Francis Dam failure have been applied to modern dam building.

McKeon will leave office at the end of this congressional session following more than 20 years in the position.

He said Tuesday he realizes the bill may not pass in the time he has left before retirement, but he’s hopeful whoever replaces him will continue the effort for a national memorial at the St. Francis Dam site.

McKeon’s bill has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources in the House of Representatives.
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