Preserving JFK’s Landmark Speech at San Luis Dam: DWR Commemorates Historic Presidential Visit with Newly Remastered Video


Video remaster still of John F. Kennedy speaking at groundbreaking of the San Luis Dam on August 18, 1962.

Remastered video still of John F. Kennedy speaking at groundbreaking of the San Luis Dam on August 18, 1962.

On August 18, 1962, President John F. Kennedy joined then-Governor Edmond “Pat” Brown and other State and Federal officials to celebrate the landmark groundbreaking of the San Luis Dam, a joint Federal-State reservoir and part of California’s State Water Project (SWP). The facility, San Luis Reservoir, continues to serve to this day as a critical piece of California’s water management, storage, and delivery system.

To mark the anniversary, this year DWR is unveiling a newly remastered video of the speech that uses cutting edge video editing technology to give viewers a glimpse into the past and to better preserve it for the future.

In his historic speech, Kennedy emphasizes the importance and significance of this infrastructure and of managing water resources in California to benefit communities, the economy, agriculture, and conserving natural resources– a point that remains as relevant today as it was 61 years ago. The SWP is considered an engineering marvel that has helped fuel California’s population boom and economic prosperity since its initial construction.

Kennedy’s speech provides a glimpse into what the West’s landscape looked like at that time and DWR and its Federal partners’ vision for the future.

“…We can see the greenest and richest earth producing the greatest and richest crops in the country, and then a mile away see the same earth and see it brown and dusty and useless, and all because there's water in one place and there isn't in another,” Kennedy said.

He continued to comment on the importance of successfully managing critical water resources in California.

“I know of no better trip…particularly those of us who live in the East, where water is everywhere and is a burden, to realize how very precious it is here in the western United States.”

The President also applauded the uniqueness of this joint Federal-State reservoir – the first of its kind. He describes the project as an engineering and inter-governmental achievement, and notes that California is a leader in natural resources management and conservation.

“What this project also symbolizes is the state working with the federal government, the local communities working with the state. This program is unique in this area. There is no other project in the history of the United States where a state has put in such a large contribution to the development of its own resources, and where the national government has joined with the state… This has brought your state to be the pioneer in the United States in the field of development and conservation of our natural resources. California, in this area, is number one, and it has helped make possible the San Luis project, which joins all of us together as full and equal partners.”

The San Luis project was completed in 1967. Today, San Luis Reservoir, with a storage capacity of more than 2 million acre-feet, is the largest off-stream storage facility in the United States.

DWR Digitally Remasters Video

This is still a seminal moment in California history as many of the themes from Kennedy’s speech are still of tremendous importance today. Kennedy recognized the acute yet all-encompassing task that governing California’s water represents. It is because of this long-lasting connection that 61 years later DWR Television Specialist Ryan McKinney decided to remaster the video through a series of cutting-edge techniques.

McKinney discussed the hard work, passion, and process that made this all possible.

“When I came across a copy of President Kennedy's 1962 speech at the groundbreaking of the San Luis Reservoir, I felt an immediate connection to the words,” McKinney said. “I was struck by its significance of this speech as an artifact of California and American history.”

McKinney worked with federal partners at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to get this remastering project off the ground.

“We first tried restoring the grainy film copy we had back in 2021, but without access to a better original version, the results were underwhelming,” he said. “This May, we learned the Bureau of Reclamation had a higher-quality scan of the footage in their archives. We managed to get a copy and over the past three months, in my spare time, I have been working to restore this slice of history.”

McKinney’s techniques and software used included:

  • Cleaning the film using Neat Software and removing 85 percent of scratches, grain, and blotches
  • Using Topaz Video AI for sharpening and restoring the footage and blowing up the video to 4K without distortion
  • Relighting the speaker's faces at the podium in a 3D environment using Davinci Resolve
  • Cleaning up the audio using Adobe Audition

McKinney reflected back on his role in restoring this piece of DWR history.

“Now, seeing this speech remastered, I'm filled with a sense of pride, not only as an American and a Californian, but as an employee of the Department of Water Resources,” he said. “I’m proud to work for an organization that for over 60 years has been continuing to push the boundaries of technology, science, and engineering. It is deeply fulfilling to play even a small part in this legacy through projects like restoring this piece of our shared history.”

Watch the full remastered version of Kennedy’s speech from this landmark moment in California history on DWR’s YouTube channel.