Welcome to the new version of CaltechAUTHORS. Login is currently restricted to library staff. If you notice any issues, please email coda@library.caltech.edu
Published December 1987 | public
Journal Article

The Baldwin Hills reservoir failure

Scott, R. F.


I think it would be a good idea if I start by describing what my affiliation with Baldwin Hills was. The failure happened, as we know, in December 1963. Within a day or so after the failure the mayor of Los Angeles under (as you might understand) certain pressures formed what was called locally, "a blue-ribbon committee". It consisted of several professors from different universities around the Los Angeles area and was chaired by a retired judge. It had a lawyer in the group, and representatives of different areas among the professors: the seismic, soil mechanics (me), and geology areas, and a professor who was in the petroleum area. We did a very cursory study of the failure, in a few weeks, because we had a deadline. The mayor had angry citizens' groups to address and had to ameliorate things by showing that he was doing something, so we had to prepare a report by something like February. This meant a rather brief study of everything. The report was fairly inclusive; I will refer to one or two things in it here that Mr. Jansen did not treat, but it had to be done under a deadline. That was the end of my immediate involvement except for getting the State Board of Inquiry report a few months later with the immensely thorough job that they did in digging trenches, and generally doing things to the reservoir that it had not experienced during the failure. There followed a long gap in which Don Hudson, a seismological person, and I at Cal Tech prepared a little paper pointing out what our view was at that time on the role of fault movements in the failure of the reservoir; it appeared a couple of years later. Nothing else happened for quite some time, until in 1969 I was approached by Stan Wilson who was working at that time with Professor Casagrande for Standard Oil Company as a result of the suit which had been brought against the combined oil companies by, I think, the insurance companies and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP). Immediately after the reservoir failed, of course, there were a great many claims for damages, and after a certain amount of nudging, the insurance companies paid off on these claims to the tune of something like $15,000,000. I was then employed by Mr. Wilson on behalf of that oil company group; my checks came from Standard Oil. So I want to make quite clear what my involvement was at that time. I was paid by Standard Oil. For the mayor's Board of Inquiry I was (somewhat resentfully) not paid by anybody, of course. That is part of being a good citizen.

Additional Information

© 1987 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V. Accepted for publication December 1986.

Additional details

August 19, 2023
October 17, 2023