John Nichols papers, 1928-2009 MVC068

Finding aid prepared by Krystell Jimenez, 2021.
This finding aid was made possible in part through funding from the County of Ventura and the Heritage Fund at the Ventura County Community Foundation.
Museum of Ventura County
August 2021
100 East Main Street
Ventura, CA 93001
library@venturamuseum.org


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

Box 1

Subject files 1928-2009

Scope and Contents

This box contains subject files that were compliled by John Nichols while researching the history of the St. Francis dam break. The original folders have been retained, and where materials were put into new folders the original titles have been transcribed in quotation marks. The subject files include clippings, articles, photographs, notes, emails, and ephemera. They are in the original order created by Nichols. Subjects include Thornton Edwards, Los Angeles Times coverage, Charles Outland's signed yearbook from June 1928, sheet music and notes for corridos written about the disaster, original and copies of reports analyzing the dam break, handwritten visitors comments from various exhibits on the dam disaster, copies of claims filed by victims and related inquests, research for a documentary, preparation materials for exhibits, committee files, a work record for the dam, materials re: the construction of the Thornton Edwards memorial in Santa Paula, and notes and preparation for memorial services. There is information on statistics for the dam, debris flow, how evidence of the disaster was destroyed, the geology of the dam site, and Pony Hurton. There are also four 3.5-inch floppy disks that contain materials related to Eric Richards, the artist who created the memorial statue in Santa Paula, press releases, research, and diagrams.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

BOX CONTAINS DIGITAL MATERIALS: Special equipment or further processing may be required for viewing. Requests to use digital materials must be made in advance. In some cases, the cost of digitizing materials must be covered by the researcher. Please contact the Research Library at library@venturamuseum.org.
Box 2

Subject files 1951-2008

Scope and Contents

This box contains subject files compiled by John Nichols while researching the St. Francis Dam disaster and creating exhibits on the topic. The folder titles are the original titles created by Nichols, and where materials had to be put in new folders the original titles have been transcribed and put in quotation marks. Topics covered include planning for various anniversaries, survivors' accounts, water history, comments from exhibit visitors, religious tracts documenting surivors' stories, engineering analyses of the dam break, William Mulholland's role, Edward Thornton, and victims' graves. Materials include newspaper clippings, articles, notes, correspondence, maps, pamphlets, guestbooks, correspondence, lists of contacts, copy of a logbook for the dam powerhouse, folk songs, poems, and corridos about the disaster, exhibit labels on the Hello Girls, reports, photographs, mailers, and negatives. There are 9 CDs that likely contain photographs of the disaster from 1928, Word documents created by Nichols on the topic, and PowerPoint presentations.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

BOX CONTAINS DIGITAL MATERIALS: Special equipment or further processing may be required for viewing some content in this box. Requests to use digital materials must be made in advance. In some cases digitization costs must be covered by the researcher. Please contact the Research Library at library@venturamuseum.org.
Box 3

Photographs and binders 1920-2003

Scope and Contents

This box contains the contents of several binders put together by John Nichols. All materials are related to the St. Francis Dam disaster, including research, notes, correspondence, photographs, negatives, ephemera, and clippings. Not all photographs are originals from the 1920s. Some photographs are reprints or copies. The contents of the binders have been foldered for preservation purposes, but original order has been maintained. The binder titles and their contents are detailed below. Other materials include loose photographs and negatives of the damage after the disaster, 2 scrapbooks, and 1 U-matic cassette tape. The tape contains footage of flood damage taken by Celestino Giacomazzi in 1928 that was transferred from 9.5mm film.
Please be advised that some photographs contain graphic images of victims.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

BOX CONTAINS AUDIO-VISUAL MATERIALS: Special equipment or further processing may be required for viewing. Requests to use audio-visual materials must be made in advance. In some cases the cost of digitization of materials must be covered by the researcher. Please contact the Research Library at library@venturamuseum.org.
Box 3, Folder 1-3

SFD circa 1920 - 1930s

Box 3, Folder 4

SFD Book 2: St. Francis Dam Disaster Photos – Collection of John Nichols circa 1928, 2000

Scope and Contents

Second label: "Book 2 – Images 42-72".
Box 3, Folder 5-6

SFD Snaps - From Leslie Greiner circa 1928

Scope and Contents

Photographs pertaining to damage caused by the St. Francis Dam disaster.
Box 3, Folder 7-8

SFD Clearwater: St. Francis Dam Disaster Photos – Collection of John Nichols 1928-1930, 1998-2003

Box 3, Folder 9

SFD Disaster: St. Francis Dam Disaster Photos – Collection of John Nichols circa 1928

Box 3, Folder 10

SFD Modern Prints: St. Francis Dam Disaster Photos – Collection of John Nichols. Recent Acquisition of Negatives – Modern Prints circa 1928

Scope and Contents

Also written on front label: "Eric Daily owes me the original negatives. (He can't find)."
Box 3, Folder 11

SFD Book 8: Book 8 (231-235) 1928

Scope and Contents

This binder contains four letters for the Santa Paula Chronicle describing the photos they are attached to, as well as the work involved in pipe repairs after the dam disaster.
Box 3, Folder 12

SFD Book 3: Book 3 Images 73-94 undated

Scope and Contents

Side label: St. Francis Disaster – Clearwater Photos Note in binder: Gift from Al Hudson. His father was appointed by C.C. Teague to review damage. Clearwater and appraiser.
Box 3, Folder 13-14

SFD Book 4: St. Francis Dam Disaster Photos – Collection of John Nichols circa 1928 circa 2000

Scope and Contents

Second label: Book 4: Images 95-188 Include 1 CD, labeled: St. Francis Dam – Raggio Family photos. Please credit Raggio Family Archives.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

FOLDER CONTAINS DIGITAL MATERIALS: Special equipment or further processing may be required for viewing. Requests to use digital materials must be made in advance. In some cases the cost of digitizing materials must be covered by the researcher. Please contact the Research Library at library@venturamuseum.org.
Box 3, Folder 15

SFD Book 7: Recent Donations to the Santa Paula Snapshot Museum. St. Francis Dam Disaster Collection 2000

Scope and Contents

Second label: Book 7 (Images 233-230).
Box 3, Folder 16

Unlabeled binder 2003

Scope and Contents

Not labeled. Contains ephemera, pamphlets, memorabilia, napkin from dinner, and photographs.
Box 4

Oversize and audio-visual materials 1892-2001

Scope and Contents

This box contains oversize materials, including loose pages from a ledger, newspaper clippings, a Red Cross notice from disaster relief, and photographs of pages of a ledger documenting a work log. Other materials include 5 VHS tapes, 3 compact cassette tapes, and one 9.5-mm film. The tape contains footage of commemorations of the disaster, news specials, and Power Point presentations. The cassette tapes contain lectures and an NPR story on the disaster. The 9.5-mm film contains original footage of the flood damage from 1928.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

BOX CONTAINS AUDIO-VISUAL MATERIALS: Special equipment or further processing may be required for viewing. Requests to use audio-visual materials must be made in advance. In some cases the cost of digitizing materials must be covered by the researcher. Please contact the Research Library at library@venturamuseum.org.
Box 5

Posters and exhibit materials 1998- circa 2003

Scope and Contents

This box contains oversized posters and exhibit materials including labels, posters for upcoming exhibits, PR materials for Nichols' book, a photocopy of an original report on restoration, bound copies of reports and statistics on flood control since the dam disaster, bound photocopies of newspaper articles, and memorial brochures documenting materials in an exhibit.
Box 6

Newspaper clippings 1928 - 2009

Scope and Contents

This box contains newspapers and clippings that are either original coverage of the disaster immediately following the dam disaster or coverage of anniversaries or memorials in the decades since 1928.