Santa Paula Event to Honor Heroes of Disaster

Eric Richards
March 16, 2003: Sculptor Eric J. Richards discusses his two-figured statue, The Warning, at the 75th anniversary event in Santa Paula. Photo: SCVTV. Not part of press release. Click to watch unveiling.

St. Francis Dam Memorial Project
And the Santa Paula Historical Society
P.O. Box 842
Santa Paula, CA 93061

Contact person: John Nichols (805) 525-7804

For Immediate Release

The public is cordially invited to the unveiling of "The Warning," a monumental forged steel sculpture by Eric J. Richards that will honor the spirit of heroism and commemorate the 75th anniversary of the St. Francis Dam Disaster. The sculpture depicts two police officers riding a Harley Davidson and an Indian motorcycle in the act of warning the sleeping citizens to fell to high ground as devastating floodwaters swept through parts of Santa Paula on March 12, 1928 [sic].

The unveiling will take place in the new Railroad Plaza on the corner of 10th and Santa Barbara Street in Santa Paula on Sunday, March 16 at 2 p.m. There will be a program at the gazebo, the dedication of a memorial tree, the unveiling and a reception at the historic Depot. Survivors of the disaster will be arriving in town for the ceremony aboard the Fillmore & Western Railway Company historic trains.

"The Warning" by Santa Paula sculptor Eric Richards (as seen in 2018). Click to enlarge.

The St. Francis Dam Memorial Project, spearheaded by the Santa Paula Historical Society, commissioned the sculpture. It is hoped that eventually there will be additional pieces of public art to honor the spirit of heroism that arose during and after the disastrous flood.

Many stories of heroism and courage have been told and retold over the past 75 years. This monument honors all of the acts of heroism that occurred and, along with the companion memorial tree, is a fitting memorial to the victims on the 75th anniversary.

Shortly before 1:30 a.m. on March 13, 1928 and urgent message of imminent disaster reached the night operator Louise Gipe in Santa Paula and was quickly relayed to police officers Thornton Edwards and Stanley Baker, city officials and then homes in the lower portions of town. Among the many heroic acts that evening were the actions of these two motorcycle officers who rode through the night to warn the sleeping citizens in the low lying areas of Santa Paula that a torrent of water was about to inundate their homes. Their heroic efforts saved hundreds of lives. Their wild ride that night was stopped at 3:05 a.m. when the 30 ft. high wall of water swept through Santa Paula on its way to the ocean. The monument depicts that specific moment in time.

While the wild motorcycle ride was occurring Louise Gipe and the rest of the "Hello Girls" bravely stayed at their post knowing only that the wall of water was over 100 feet high when it left the dam. They had no way of knowing how high the floodwaters would be by the time they reached Santa Paula. They only knew that their neighbors must be warned.

All was confusion in Santa Paula as whistles blew, sirens screamed and horns honked. Fire Chief Sam Primmer also rode madly around town on his motorcycle calling to sleeping residents to abandon their homes and head for higher ground. Many heard and yawned, looked at the cloudless sky, thought it was a prank and went back to sleep. They did not live to regret it.

Sam Primmer's 17-year-old son, Charles, broadcast all day on his ham radio set to lighten the telephone switchboard load. Lou Baumgartner of the American Red Cross broadcast his appeals for help over Primmer's set.

Nick Baxter of Santa Paula, a disabled veteran of World War I, made the first rescue before daybreak when he plunged into the chilly water at Harvard and Barkla Streets and rescued Soledad Luna, an 11-year-old girl who was lodged in a walnut tree. His record for that first day of the disaster was three lives and three bodies.

These are just a few of the many acts of heroism that the monument honors. Donations to the project can be made to the Santa Paula Community Fund (memo to SFD Project) and mailed to SFD Memorial c/o Santa Clara Valley Bank, 901 E. Main Street, Santa Paula, CA 93060.


Press Release: Santa Paula Event to Honor Heroes
Video: Santa Paula Dam Survivors 3-16-2003
L.A. Times 2-9-2003
L.A. Times 2-16-2003
The Signal 3-16-2003

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