Ye Olde Student Life: Massive Flood Devastates Claremont

The Pomona College Greek Theater after the 1938 flood (Courtesy of Pomona College Photo Archive, Claremont Colleges Library)

Claremont has experienced an unusually wet winter this year, but the hydrophobic among us can at least take solace in the fact that our morning commute to class does not (yet) require a boat. Prior to the completion of San Antonio Canyon dam in 1956, Claremont was periodically inundated with flash floods, the largest and most destructive of which was documented in this front-page article from our March 3, 1938 issue. Classes at Pomona College remained in session “for all who find it feasible to participate,” but they were cancelled at Scripps College. Reports in subsequent issues estimated the damage in Claremont at $275,000, equivalent to $4.8 million today.

Storm floods Claremont

Claremont lies under mud and debris this morning after the biggest storm in history joined melting snows from the mountains to sweep Pomona valley last night and yesterday with so much water that local hyd[r]ographers were unable to measure its volume.

Nearly 7½ inches of rain fell in 24 hours to 6 o’clock last night at the city hall rain guage [sic], raising the storm total to nearly 10 inches, almost equal to the season total from August through February. The weather bureau predicted more rain today. Flood waters from San Antonio creek, swollen by the storm and melting snows due to recent warm weather, burst check dams at the mouth of San Antonio canyon, poured across Monte Vista avenue below Baseline road and spread along Foothill boulevard into Claremont, where it augmented other storm waters to inundate streets and sidewalks with a raging torrent.

Pomona College suffered principally on the men’s campus, where Clark hall patio lay under 3 feet of water, fraternity and other basement rooms in Clark hall filled to various depths, first floor rooms in the south side of Clark hall received several inches of water, and streets and athletic fields accumulated rocks swept in from the land above town. Scripps College suffered as flood waters poured from Foothill boulevard across the athletic field and campus into basement and first floors of several buildings. Other college buildings on both campuses remained comparatively dry as flood waters swept closely by. No estimate of damage to the colleges or the town was available. – Many buildings in town were barricaded against the flood waters where they swept over curbs, which were battered at several intersections by debris hurled by the torrent.

On campuses and throughout Claremont the storm had humorous aspects despite the damage it caused. Collegians sported attire from boots and overcoats to bathing suits. Some sloshed in protective covering from head to toe, others waded barefooted, barelegged, and grinning. Adventurous spirits improvised boats and bobbed about on swirling seas.

More serious were grim crews that responded to emergency alarms yesterday afternoon in an attempt to divert San Antonio creek flood waters past Claremont along Foothill boulevard by barricading streets with sandbags.

Claremont residents joined county forestry forces in the battle but their efforts were largely in vain. College men hurled their energies against the tide on campus with stone and sandbag barricades but also with small success.

What little gains they made during afternoon and early evening were lost when a levee which encompasses the check dams at the mouth of San Antonio canyon fell before swollen creek’s onslaught, releasing additional flood waters to sweep aside barricades.

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