|Two women pose amidst the wreckage at the entrance to Garage Court 6. Building # 32 in the background has suffered extensive damage - nearly a third of the building has disappeared. Baldwin Hills Village, December, 1963. (Author's collection)|
(Helen Spears moved into
in August 1942. She and her husband “Doc” were long time residents, living at 5482 Village Green for nearly fifty years. This article by Helen Spears is reprinted from a 1970’s issue of the Village Green newsletter. Photographs accompanying this post are from Kodachrome slides from my own collection, as well as in the Village Green archives) Baldwin Hills Village
Saturday, December 14, 1963.
On the way to Flavio’s Beauty Shop in the Baldwin Hills Arcade, I notice the
La Brea Avenue gutters. They are running full of muddy water. The flow has no resemblance to the drainage usually running down the hill or to the larger one which occurs when an outlet pipe from the Baldwin Hills Reservoir is serviced.
Workers have been checking a leak in the face and bottom of the dam since yesterday – it seems to be enlarging. Periodically we get radio and television reports as to their findings. The news is unnerving. During my hikes in the hills since the dam was placed in service in 1951, the sight of 292 million gallons of water in the reservoir lake behind a dirt fill dam in somewhat geologically unstable land has seemed questionable. Oh, well, “not to worry”.
With shampoo finished and curlers in place, I am sitting under the dryer when the bull horns start sounding their urgent message to evacuate the area. A cordon of slightly less than 100 motorcycle officers has assembled in the parking area around the Thriftimart and begin going house to house throughout the hills and lower areas warning people to leave.
|Flood waters at the corner of La Brea and Rodeo.|
Patrons in the beauty shop are becoming increasingly restless. Hair still wet, I gather my belongings, implore other shop occupants to depart, and head for home. I find some of my neighbors departing. The man next door says he does not plan to leave, and calmly carries his waste basket to the trash yard. I have no time to try to be persuasive.
Quickly, I pack a suitcase with clothing for my husband and me. He is out somewhere Christmas shopping. Documents related to my job are gathered, Venetian blinds and inside doors are closed against the possible intrusion of water.
|A very rare Kodachrome image of the actual Baldwin Hills Dam Break. December 14, 1963. (Author's Collection)|
Where shall I go? La
is impassable. The Fedco corner is too low-lying. Traffic is heavy. I remember the Brea Washington Boulevard and La Brea intersection near my auto mechanic’s shop is at a higher elevation. Circuitously, I arrive at Franc’s Drive-in on the southwest corner, park my car, and run inside for the television report. It is and helicopter observers give the Dam just a few more minutes.
I run out to the parking lot where I have a full view of the Dam at almost an equal elevation. Slowly at first, the water starts. Then the crumbling takes over and a huge water wheel cuts a V-shaped notch. A wall of water hits the first house on the east side of the canyon which runs down
Cloverdale Avenue. One by one each house is devoured until none is left. I watch this spectacle alternately outside in the parking lot, and inside on television where details are intimately shown by the helicopter camera.
|Building 33 suffers the most damage - half the building is destroyed (Village Green Archives)|
Water roars down the canyon, bouncing off the east wall and engulfing houses on the opposite side. Continuing down the steep hill, the flood gains momentum and hits
Coliseum Street at Cloverdale. At Duray Place it spreads out fan-like to cover almost all at varying levels. The flow runs diagonally across to Baldwin Hills Village Rodeo Road and Hauser Boulevard in large volume, and flows on into Ballona Creek. It swirls around on the west and toward Santa Rosalia on the east. Baldwin Hills School
A few hours later, only a sea of mud remains. Passage along Coliseum is no longer possible with both Duray and Cloverdale cut across to a depth of fifteen feet. Underground pipes are bent and hang suspended in the holes. Great chunks of concrete, parts of houses, autos, refrigerators, stoves, clothing, papers, and old organ with foot pedals, sofas… everything… lies scattered about.
|Damage to the three-bedroom unit at Building 31. (Author's Collection)|
Police Chief William Parker is glad he made the decision to evacuate the area. He took the initiative even though risking becoming a laughing stock later if his judgment proved wrong. Both Mayor Samuel Yorty and his second-in-command are out of the city.
Communication becomes a great problem. Where is my husband? I try calling home. Telephones are working, but there is no answer. From the mechanic’s home I call
where our families live, to assure them of my safety, and to tell them to relay any call from my husband – but what if---? I dismiss that morbid thought. Long Beach
The hours drag, fraught with news of the destruction. Finally, at that night, a message comes with good news. My husband is safe in a home on
Carmona Street on the hillside just east of La Cienega.
Water had overtaken him at the Fedco corner. He had heard no forewarning. Fearfully, he abandoned the car and attempted to climb a nearby telephone pole. Finding that unwise, he continued up the hill, clothing wet and muddy, and was taken into the home of a kind lady who gave him dry trousers and slippers to don. Later, a hot dinner was served to him and three other evacuees.
|Wrecked cars and garage buildings. (Author's Collection)|
The mechanic’s son offers to drive me in his “hot rod” to pick up my husband. We start out only to be turned back time after time by the impossibility of gaining traction on slippery streets. As we pass Ballona Creek, masses of debris and household articles float along in the still large volume of water. We find our way, fan-tailing as we go, up La Cienega to a road normally closed. In passing we observed my husband’s car which has been washed south from the intersection at Rodeo and La Cienega along with many other autos, and two truck operators offering to haul people out for exorbitant sums.
My companion and I reach our destination. At long last my husband and I are together and safe!
We make our way back to my husband’s blue station wagon and hitch it to the back of the car we are using. When we reach the garage, the mechanic and his son spend what remains of the night draining all possible sludge from the body and engine. They rehabilitate the wagon, and today, after 240,000 miles, it is still going merrily along.
We spend the night in a
Crenshaw Boulevard motel and try to return to the Village on foot the next day. We give up after falling time after time in the slippery clay-mud. It is two feet deep in places.
We try again the next morning when it has dried a little, going through police block and proving our residence to get a pass in a command tent set up nearby. No one will be permitted into the area for some time except for residents. Sightseers are turned back and property protection is well organized.
When we reach home, we cannot enter until mud blocking the door is shoveled away. The patio is covered with sticky silt as are all the garage courts. We have parked some distance away. Inside, the apartment only two inches of mud covers the kitchen floor and a part of the dining room carpet. Water had come in the door only through the mail slot! Everything else is OK.
|The Administration Building on Rodeo Road. (Author's Collection)|
The next day we meet and escort a carpet man to take out the sodden mess to be cleaned. Villagers have to vouch for all tradesmen and friends who enter.
The man next door who would not leave had remained with his wife in their three-bedroom apartment. Two policemen had come to encourage them to leave and were trapped by the onrush of water. The men carried the electric organ, antique furniture and a valuable glass collection upstairs. The officers were rescued later in the afternoon by a police helicopter which landed on the roof of the dining room. Their police vehicle had been washed away.
Searches are in progress for missing persons. One is found under a stack of automobiles and debris at the end of a Village garage court immediately below the canton. Another is found in one of the apartment buildings. Three others drowned in an excavation on
Rodeo Road. Only five lost! What a miracle! Chief Parker was right.
One friend was discovered perched on top of her piano in her downstairs apartment during the height of the flood. She was rescued.
Many residents had absolutely nothing left and about 500 cars were “totaled” in the area. Thirty-nine police motorcycles and some patrol cars were lost as officers fled for safety on foot before the wall of water.
For several days, residents clean and wash articles, shovel mud, hire workers to help dig out courts and garages, and move belongings from homes flooded to ceilings and devoid of window glass. No looting occurs.
|Building 33, Building 32 in the background. (Village Green Archives)|
Soon the Army Corps of Engineers sets up headquarters nearby with trucks, skip loaders, scrapers, tractors, and very efficient personnel. Rehabilitation has begun.
After six months, almost every apartment is refurbished and occupied. Landscaping has replaced mud. Most of the trees withstood the current and new grass and shrubs appear.
OUR VILLAGE LIVES AGAIN and later becomes VILLAGE GREEN.