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Nichols (John) papers, 1928-2009
MVC068  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance/Source of Acquisition
  • Processing Information
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Scope and Contents
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
  • Separated Materials

  • Contributing Institution: Museum of Ventura County
    Title: John Nichols papers
    Creator: Nichols, John
    Identifier/Call Number: MVC068
    Physical Description: 6.87 Cubic Feet (6 boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1928-2009
    Abstract: John Nichols of Santa Paula, California is a local historian, photographer, and writer. Much of his work has focused on the St. Francis Dam disaster and his research on the 1928 dam break led to the 2002 work for Arcadia Publishing titled The St. Francis Dam Disaster. Nichols is also a gallery owner and dealer in vintage photographs. He and his wife own the John Nichols Gallery in Santa Paula. The 1928 St. Francis Dam disaster remains the second-greatest loss of life in California, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Built in 1924-1926, the concrete gravity dam collapsed shortly before midnight on March 12, 1928, releasing a wave of water that killed at least 431 people and devastated farms in the Santa Clara River Valley. The disaster changed how civil engineering projects are regulated and is deeply intertwined with water history in California. This collection contains materials compiled by John Nichols during his work and research related to the St. Francis Dam disaster. Materials include photographs, notes, newspaper clippings, articles, correspondence, ephemera and memorabilia, subject files, posters, and exhibit materials.
    Physical Location: Stored off-site and advance notice required for timely retrieval. Please contact the Research Library reference desk prior to your visit.
    Language of Material: English .

    Conditions Governing Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE: Open for research. All requests to access materials must be made in advance by contacting the Research Library staff via email: library@venturamuseum.org.

    Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

    Property rights to the physical object belong to the Museum of Ventura County. Literary rights, including copyright, have not been determined. Contact the Research Library for further information: library@venturamuseum.org.
    CONTAINS AUDIO-VISUAL AND DIGITAL MATERIALS: Advance notice required. Researcher may be required to bear the cost of digitization or creation of an access copy.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], John Nichols papers, (Collection MVC068), Museum of Ventura County, Research Library, Ventura, California.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    John Nichols; gift; 2021.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Krystell Jimenez, 2021.
    Our collections are processed using MPLP methods so that we can prioritize access for users and identify potential priorities for more detailed processing. If while using our collections you think there is something that should be added or amended in the finding aid, we welcome your input. You can notify staff in the reading room or send us an email at library@venturamuseum.org. Be sure to include the collection number and name and the box number you were working with in your email.

    Biographical / Historical

    John Nichols of Santa Paula, California is a local historian, photographer, and writer. Nichols began writing for local newspapers in 1990 and has written articles for several publications since. He has also been involved in organizing and curating exhibits for several Ventura County museums, as well as organizing events for the annual Ghostwalk in Santa Paula. Much of his work focused on the St. Francis Dam disaster for the California Oil Museum. His research on the 1928 dam break led to the 2002 work for Arcadia publishing titled The St. Francis Dam Disaster.
    Nichols is also a gallery owner and dealer in vintage photographs. He and his wife own the John Nichols Gallery in Santa Paula. His photographs are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Ventura County, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the University of Texas Austin, the Santa Paula Art Museum, the City of Ventura, the Community Memorial Hospital of San Buenaventura, and numerous private collections. He has also served on several boards, including the board of directors of the Santa Paula Art Museum, and the board of directors and Fine Arts Committee of the Museum of Ventura County.
    The 1928 St. Francis Dam disaster remains the second-greatest loss of life in California, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The concrete gravity dam was built between 1924 and 1926 in order to serve Los Angeles' growing need for water. The dam collapsed shortly before midnight on March 12, 1928, releasing a wave of water that swept from San Francisquito Canyon outside Santa Clarita, through the Santa Clara River Valley, and to the Pacific Ocean in Ventura and Oxnard. The flood swept away homes and bridges and killed at least 431 people. While the official count of 431 is very high, some historians believe the true death toll may be much higher when taking into account undocumented agricultural workers who lived in the area and the number of people who were swept out to sea and never recovered.
    Designed by William Mulholland, the dam failure changed much of how civil engineering projects were regulated and led to a licensing system for civil engineers. It also led to concerns over the Hoover Dam, which is the same design as the St. Francis Dam, and reignited debates over Los Angeles' use of other counties' water. The disaster relief took some time and deeply impacted Ventura County. In some cases, victims' remains were still being recovered as late as the mid-1950s and as far away as the Mexican border. In one case remains thought to be a victim of the disaster were found in Newhall in 1992. The disaster was followed by an investigation and survivors filed claims against the city of Los Angeles. While Mulholland did accept full responsibility, he was cleared of any criminal culpability by the Coroner's Inquest. For further details and a history of the disaster refer to Man Made Disaster: The Story of St. Francis Dam by Charles F. Outland, Heavy Ground: William Mulholland and the St. Francis Dam Disaster by Norris Hundley, Jr., and Donald C. Jackson, and Nichols' own book, The St. Francis Dam Disaster.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection contains materials compiled by John Nichols during his work and research related to the St. Francis Dam disaster. Materials include photographs, notes, newspaper clippings, articles, correspondence, ephemera and memorabilia, subject files, posters, and exhibit materials. There are several folders that were originally binders put together by Nichols to document various aspects of the disaster and its effect on water management in Ventura County and California. While many photographs in the collection were taken by Nichols, not all are his and the original photograph should be credited.

    Organization and Arrangement

    This collection has been organized at the collection level. Folder labels are original titles and subject files are in original order. All the materials that were in binders have been kept together as they were originally organized.

    Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    COLLECTION CONTAINS AUDIO MATERIALS: Special equipment or further processing may be required for viewing. Requests to use audio materials must be made in advance. Please contact the Research Library at library@venturamuseum.org.
    COLLECTION CONTAINS DIGITAL MATERIALS: Special equipment or further processing may be required for viewing. Requests to use digital materials must be made in advance. Please contact the Research Library at library@venturamuseum.org.
    COLLECTION CONTAINS AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS: Special equipment or further processing may be required for viewing. Requests to access audio-visual materials in collections must be made in advance. Please contact the Research Library at library@venturamuseum.org.

    Separated Materials

    This collection originally included memorabilia for the 75th anniversary of the disaster: a mug, a green t-shirt for a tour of the flood path, and a sugar spoon found in a Santa Paula backyard following the flood. These materials have been added to the museum's object collection.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Dam failures -- California -- Los Angeles County
    Saint Francis Dam (Calif.)
    Disaster relief
    Documentary photography
    Edwards, Thornton, 1894-1988