I ENVY THE DEAD

By Michael Collins

Los Angeles magazine’s “LA to Z” issue – December 2007

Saint Francis Dam

William Mulholland’s epitaph. The DWP chief spoke these words at a D.A. inquiry into the Saint Francis Dam disaster. Shortly before midnight on March 12, 1928, 12 billion gallons of water exploded from a reservoir near present-day Santa Clarita. The water wall was 78 feet high as it came through San Francisquito Canyon, carrying farmhouses, trees, construction camps, animals and residents. Mulholland, until then a local hero for building the aqueducts that watered L.A., had pronounced the dam safe only hours before. He resigned in disgrace and died seven years later. Engineering studies in the ‘90s suggested Mulholland many not have been at fault for the disaster, which was caused by soil conditions of which he was unaware.