Monday, October 04, 2010

The Flood of 1938 and Principal Whitten

Today's photo shows people standing on the roof of their Anaheim home during the flood of March 1938. This flood inundated much of Orange County, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The Anaheim and Placentia areas were directly in the path of the raging waters, with the small town of La Jolla being hit the hardest.
I wrote about this same flood in a post in January. Someone recently left an interesting response in the comments section of that post. "Anonymous" wrote:
"My dad and his family lived in the Mexican colony of La Jolla during the 1938 O.C. flood. The school principal, Mr. Whitten, at La Jolla School (later renamed McFadden School and today Melrose), is responsible for saving many of their lives. After the storm, the people of La Jolla collected coins and purchased a wristwatch to show their gratitude to their local hero, Mr. Whitten."
I seem to remember hearing this story before (probably from Eddie Castro). I also found a mention of it in the L.A. Times. In 1941, (Jan 16), Ed Ainsworth wrote the following in his "Along El Camino Real" column:

"Chester Whitten, head of La Jolla School, is just about the best-like principal in the State of California, and there is good reason. In the flood of March, 1938, he rounded up all the Mexican residents fo the area and got them into the primary school building as the water was rising. When the crest of the flood hit at 3 a.m., there was a foot of water in the building and his charges had to climb on tables and chairs -- but if they had been home they would have been drowned..."

Chester I. Whitten was born Feb. 1, 1903, in Kansas. He was still living in Placentia when he died at age 92 in 1995. I believe an interview was recorded with him for CSUF's Center For Oral & Public History. My thanks to Anonymous for putting him back on our radar screens.


Gustavo Arellano said...

There is a plaque at Melrose Elementary (next to the flag poles) commemorating the flood, although I can't remember right now if it tells Whitten's story or not. Speaking of which, I'll have an amazing update on the flood more than 70 years in the making sometime this week...

Center for Oral and Public History said...

We hold two oral histories with Chet Whitten, one conducted in 1974 and the other in 1982. These and many others (including Eddie Castro) recount their flood experience in La Jolla.

Gustavo Arellano said...

Here's my update:

Hopefully, Chris will do his own post on this subject!