When Hansen Dam Meant Boats and Bikinis

Wait. There was an actual lake there?  There was waterskiing? I can’t find it on Google Maps. When did that go away?

There were bathing beauties?  And trout fishing? Who took that way from us?


Hansen Dam was erected in 1949 as a flood control mechanism.  By flood, it was intended to retain not only water, but sediment, giant boulders, chunks of trees, automobiles, houses, and everything else that came tumbling out of the mountains after a storm.

In layman terms it was built to be a giant garbage pail.  Slowly, inexorably, over the decades the pail filled in until the “lake” was reduced to a depth of several feet.

The original body of water, not unlike the Salton Sea, was an accident of construction, as burrow pits for obtaining gravel for the retaining wall filled with rainwater.  It was expected to last 50 years.

From the Los Angeles Times: “in 1969, Los Angeles County had some of the worst flooding in its history. Two bridges near the dam at Foothill Boulevard and Wentworth Street collapsed and seven homes in Big Tujunga Canyon were washed away….A forest fire and heavy rain in the winter of 1981 and the spring of 1982 brought 5 million to 10 million tons of sediment into the basin and the lake shrank to less than 30 acres, according to Corps documents. That summer the swimming beach was closed because the water had become stagnant and unhealthy.”

As so much of the post-war Valley, Hansen Lake was disposable, built to last a generation. Now it’s a dense thicket of shrubbery concealing horse trails and homeless encampments. Burrow into the depths and one loses all sense of geography and time, like a secret a passage to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. 

There was an attempt during the seminal year of 1994 to fund a dredging and restoration, but it met with local resistance wary of attracting “outsiders”.

Outsiders = dusky hordes of immigrants who don’t have swimming pools. So, no lake.  Short California history lesson: that didn’t stop the dusky hordes.

Today the picnic areas on Sunday are filled to capacity with competing banda troupes, horse dancing charros, smoking grills of barbacoa, and peasant women wandering through the grass picking wild chard.

The top of the dam itself is a popular jogging trail, which was not its original function, either.

Valley 2.0: all will be re-purposed.

Historical photos courtesy of CSUN archives

Charreada and Charred Rubber

Charros at work, Hansen Dam
Charros at work

Mrs. UpintheValley and I took the dogs for a spin around and through the Hansen Dam basin today.  Near dark we returned to the parking lot to find…horses dancing to live banda music.  This was a spectacle neither of us had encountered before.  We watched with slack-jawed gringo fascination as they trotted in circles in time with the music.


Then plumes of smoke appeared in the parking lot, summoned forth by squealing tires.  The band kept playing, as though it wasn’t happening.  The horses kept dancing.


This burning of rubber -brake and gas pedals to the floor- went on for five minutes…then ten minutes. Unabated.  Like an eight-year-old throwing a tantrum, if an eight year old was given a bottle of El Jimador,  a Chevy Silverado and a dare.

In a test of wills between musical instruments and internal combustion engines, the rubber burners had the advantage of decibel range. And yet! The charreada continued as though this impromptu monster truck rally wasn’t actually taking place fifty feet away.  It was then I noticed the Park Rangers had set out cones to segregate these….completing claims to The Commons.  The trucks had their own appreciative audience as well.  A woman at one of the picnic tables told us this happens every month.  She shrugged it off as the natural order of things.

A buck is a buck
A buck is a buck

Homes for Vets, Sylmar


Habitat of San Fernando Valley is putting the  finishing touches this week on a 12-home build site for veterans in Sylmar.


We were joined by a group of very polite CSUN students from Saudi Arabia, including Abdul, who’s father owns a construction company and translated Arabic terms.



Eleven days until she gets a new house.