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?

Nature.

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

2 thoughts on “When Hansen Dam Meant Boats and Bikinis”

  1. “Now it’s a dense thicket of shrubbery concealing horse trails and homeless encampments”

    You should have dropped Larry off.

    1. That would mean loading his dog, his mattress, and his three shopping carts of scrod into my car.
      And taking him to the drivethru.
      And to Target.
      And letting him use my shower.
      And loaning him a toothbrush.
      And some old clothes.
      He would be living in my backyard in under an hour. I wouldn’t know how to say no.
      If I were a better Christian I would welcome this. I’m a very flawed one, however.

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