Photos from the Vault

A mysterious grave from 1899 was discovered during construction of Lopez Dam

Earl Wood from Wood Funeral Home holds a religious emblem found in a grave in 1967 during construction of the Lopez Dam. The grave in Lopez Canyon was marked “La Maria, 1899.” The remains were moved to Arroyo Grande District Cemetery.
Earl Wood from Wood Funeral Home holds a religious emblem found in a grave in 1967 during construction of the Lopez Dam. The grave in Lopez Canyon was marked “La Maria, 1899.” The remains were moved to Arroyo Grande District Cemetery.

Water is the story that never dries up in the arid West.

The dual role of flood control and water storage spurred the Lopez Dam project in 1965 after two decades of study.

On the North Coast, Whale Rock reservoir provides water for Cayucos, San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly and CMC.

This week it was revealed in a Tribune story that California’s Division of Safety of Dams is ordering a comprehensive assessment of spillways and structures including Lopez and Whale Rock dams, in the wake of the Oroville Dam spillway breakdown.

The following is a collection of short posts on the creation of Lopez Lake that were previously re-published in online form.

1968 1-9 Lopez dam concrete
An intake pipe, left, rises behind Lopez Dam during its construction in 1968. Jim Vestal Telegram-Tribune

A Telegram-Tribune story from Aug. 18, 1965, by Pat Keeble said:

“Twenty years of study culminated Tuesday when the Board of Supervisors officially approved the $16 million Lopez Dam project and set an election date of Sept. 28.”

The story said Avila Beach and Shell Beach wells were in overdraft and seawater was migrating in.

Margo Dodd (her civic activism is memorialized in the park named after her), of Sunset Palisades supported the project and said, “We have had the ‘pleasure’ of cleaning our teeth with saltwater.”

The article said that the owner of a $30,000 house could expect to pay $20 more per year for water.

We have had the ‘pleasure’ of cleaning our teeth with saltwater.

Margo Dodd

Voters approved the project, and land was acquired, some from willing sellers and others through the condemnation process.

What the builders could not know was that they would be putting the finishing touches on the project as the epic rains of 1969 filled the lake.

Filling the dam was expected to take more than one season, but as it turned out Lopez Lake would be full at the end of the rainy season. The structure saved downstream dwellers from the ravages of Arroyo Grande creek.

As construction proceeded, a mysterious grave was discovered in the canyon.

Mark Hutchinson, San Luis Obispo County's deputy director of Public Works, takes The Tribune on a tour of the cement Lopez Dam spillway, designed to release water and protect downstream communities from flood. He also talks about the steps taken t

This unbylined story is from the Telegram-Tribune, Jan. 10, 1968:

‘La Maria’ leaves Lopez

ARROYO GRANDE — “La Maria” left her grave in Lopez Canyon Tuesday, displaced by the water project which will soon submerge the site a mile upstream from the new dam.

Two employees of the county Flood and Water District — Bob Grant and Jerry Thomas — disinterred the remains, which were taken to Wood Funeral Home. All that remains of the skeleton — leg and arm bones and part of the skull — will be interred in the Arroyo Grande District Cemetery at county expense.

The supervisors will be asked to authorize a suitable marker for the mysterious occupant of the grave, which was discovered last summer. The bones are believed to be those of a girl. Its headstone, with only the words “La Maria” and the date 1899 legible, is to be placed in the museum proposed for the project grounds. Six silver or lead crosses, which fastened the lid of the now disintegrated coffin, also may go to the museum.

After the grave was discovered, an effort was made to identify its occupant. No clues turned up, so a court order was obtained to transfer the burial site at county expense.

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942, dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com, @DavidMiddlecamp

Visit www.sanluisobispo.com/photos-from-the-vault to see old photos and read selected archives.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune

  Comments