Fifty years ago this weekend, the failure of the Baldwin Hills Reservoir dam unleashed a giant wall of water that surged north, killing five people, destroying about 65 homes, damaging many more and leaving a lasting mark on Los Angeles.
Here are some excerpts from an article published in the next day’s L.A. Times:
A triangular-shaped wedge tore out of the dam’s face and with an ear-breaking roar a Niagara of water burst through the breach and shot 50 ft. into the air.
Terraced lots were swept clean of houses and gardens, swimming pools were wiped away in seconds.
The giant wave, up to 30 ft. high at times, cascaded down the hill with a floating mountain of debris…. Many families in the area had to be rescued by helicopter.
"Houses broke up like matchsticks and flew through the air when the water hit," said an eyewitness. "The homes disappeared so fast you couldn’t keep count."
Other flood victims told of being stranded on rooftops or driving cars that were swept away by the water. The flooding extended roughly to Jefferson Boulevard between La Brea Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard.
In the aftermath, a decision not to rebuild the dam led to a question: What to do with the reservoir site? L.A. Mayor Sam Yorty proposed turning it into a baseball stadium for the Angels, hoping to keep the team from moving to Anaheim. That didn’t work out.
Two decades later, the land became part of the new Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.
The dam collapse has another legacy too: According to a Times article 40 years after the disaster, “the live telecast of the collapse from a KTLA-TV helicopter is considered the precursor to airborne news coverage that is now routine everywhere.”
For more photos, see The Times’ Framework blog post: The 1963 Baldwin Hills Dam collapse
— Lauren Raab
Photos: (Top) An aerial photo shows flooding from the Baldwin Hills dam collapse. The reservoir is at the top of the photo. This photo was published in the Dec. 15, 1963, Los Angeles Times. Credit: Nelson Tiffany / Los Angeles Times. (Bottom) The flood rushes down the slopes beneath the Baldwin Hills Reservoir, washing out homes, on Dec. 14, 1963. Credit: Richard N. Levine