Minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam collapsed, sending more than 12 billion gallons of water surging through California’s Santa Clara Valley and killing some 400 people, causing the greatest civil engineering disaster in twentieth-century American history. This extensively illustrated volume gives an account of how the St. Francis Dam came to be built, the reasons for its collapse, the terror and heartbreak brought by the flood, the efforts to restore the Santa Clara Valley, the political factors influencing investigations of the failure, and the effect of the disaster on dam safety regulation. Underlying all is a consideration of how the dam—and the disaster—were inextricably intertwined with the life and career of William Mulholland.
Norris Hundley Jr. (1935–2013) was professor of American history at UCLA. Donald C. Jackson is Cornelia F. Hugel Professor of History at Lafayette College.
"Readers will find much to like in this carefully-crafted, exhaustively-researched, liberally-illustrated, and engagingly-written book... an important and welcome addition to the pantheon of scholarship on California Water History."—Southern California Quarterly
"[Heavy Ground] does something unexpected. It opens a new perspective onto William Mulholland... [bringing him] to life in all his sharp-elbowed, stubborn glory, saddened and perplexed by the St. Francis Dam debacle yet prideful until the end."—Wall Street Journal
“Heavy Ground offers a penetrating analysis of the 1928 St. Francis Dam disaster. William Mulholland had designed the dam—so critical to Los Angeles’ hydraulic ambitions—and his reputation was destroyed when the dam’s late-night collapse killed more than 400 people living downstream along the Santa Clara River. But historians Hundley and Jackson do more than pick through the wreckage: theirs is an engrossing narrative, thoroughly researched, extensively illustrated, and deeply satisfying—the single best study of a very dark time.”—Char Miller, Pomona College