New South Dam walking path will offer the best views of the Silver Lake Reservoir

View from the South Dam taken in 2017 before fencing was installed | Photo by Sandy Driscoll

SILVER LAKE — Residents will be joined by some political heavyweights on Saturday morning when a new walking path atop the South Dam of the Silver Lake Reservoir is dedicated and opened to the public.

The opening of the South Dam path between Silver Lake Boulevard and West Silver Lake Drive has been welcomed by those who want to create more opportunities for public space and recreation now that the reservoir is no longer serve to store potable water.

The dam was opened up one day last May to give the public an idea of the space and the unobstructed views of the water and surrounding hillsides. Since then, a four-foot high chain link fence has been installed on both sides of the path in preparation for the grand opening.

The Saturday morning dedication, scheduled to begin at 10 am near Silver Lake Boulevard and Rockford Road,  will be attended by several political notables, including Congressman Adam Schiff, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell.

In addition to taking a stroll atop the new dam path, officials from the LADWP, which oversees the property, will also lead a 2.2-mile-long guided walk around the Silver Lake Reservoir starting at 11 am.

The original version of what’s called the South Dam was built in 1907 by William Mulholland, who was responsible for many of the city’s early dams and aqueducts.

For most residents, the South Dam, which was rebuilt in the mid 1970s, doesn’t look like a dam at all. It appears like a tall, grassy hill that looms over the Silver Lake Recreation Center and Silver Lake Dog Park.  When the reservoir is filled, the dam holds back and prevents about 750 million of gallons  from pouring down a canyon and through the homes, shops and cafes that line Silver Lake Boulevard.

Here is some historical information about the original South Dam from stories that appeared in the L.A. Times over the decades:

Concerns about a “water famine” before the Owens Aqueduct brought water to the city prompted the construction of the Silver Lake Reservoir and the South Dam in what was called Ivanhoe Canyon. The new, 767-million-gallon storage basin was several times larger than the adjacent Ivanhoe Reservoir, which was the city’s largest until the new dam and reservoir were completed.

Legendary engineer William Mulholland designed the earthen dam, which was strengthened by a three-foot-thick wall of concrete and steel plates.  “While an ordinary earth dam probably would be adequate, the location of the reservoir is such that more than the usual margin of safety is deemed desirable, as a break would cause disaster similar to the Johnstown flood,” said the L.A. Times.

The original dam was 56-feet high, 950-feet long and 300-feet wide at its base.  It was built at an estimated cost of $80,000.

Instead of having teams of workers dig out and haul dirt to build up the dam, Mulholland set up a trio of high-powered water cannons  to “melt” away layers of dirt. The muddy mix created by the water cannons was then pumped into the interior of the dam as part of the hydraulic-fill method.

The South Dam was completed in 1907. An L.A. Times story from Nov. 25 of that same year said that water was expected to start flowing into the reservoir behind the “staunch dam” within a few weeks. “Stupendous” said the headline.

The reservoir was taken out of service in 1973 because the dam failed to meet quake standards.  A new dam made of compacted soil was built and dedicated in Sept. 1976.

The top of the South Dam pictured in 2017 | The Eastsider

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