Las Vegas, NM....all of these have beautiful central plazas.
There were many things that made this area of North America desirable and not the least being the climate. Sunshine, warm temperatures and relatively low humidity made this area a good spot for settlement. The weather in Los Angeles ranks among the best in the country. Also ideal weather for growing citrus. We love those California oranges.
The one thing about Los Angeles that differs from the majority of early settlements was that there really wasn't a geographic reason for it's existence. As a comparison, San Francisco sits at the door to San Francisco Bay which is arguably the finest seaport in the world. St. Louis, MO was a busy Mississippi River port when the Mississippi was the main thoroughfare for American commerce. Houston, TX is a gateway to Gulf of Mexico commerce.New Orleans sits near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Los Angeles had no natural water supply that a growing city requires and Los Angeles had no natural harbor to compete with other west coast seaports. It had to pay to have one built. The San Pedro port was man made.
The California Water Wars erupted when the water department, to satisfy their needs, planned on diverting water from the Owens Valley, located northeast of the city. They would divert water into resevoirs and channel it into Los Angeles via an aqueduct. One big problem however was that there were farmers and ranchers in the Owens Valley and they too needed water and weren't in the mood to give it up. Many of these farmers and ranchers had traveled to California for mining but when that didn't work out turned to agriculture.
( picture below left) was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 1898. Eaton's good friend, William Mulholland was then appointed superintendent and chief engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Both Eaton and Mulholland were self taught civil engineers. The water department was created by the new mayor. Both Eaton and Mulholland knew that there was a large amount of water runoff from the Sierra Nevada's into the Owens Valley. Their idea was that this water could be trapped and sent to Los Angeles by a gravity propelled aqueduct.
The story continues where Mayor Eaton, with inside information from a friend, knew of some irrigation projects in the Owens Valley involving the federal government. With this information he bought up land in the valley as a private citizen with the intention of selling it back to the city of Los Angeles at a huge profit. Additionally, Eaton lobbied President Theodore Roosevelt successfully to cancel the government local irrigation project. Meanwhile, Mulholland misled the people of the Owens Valley into believing that Los Angeles wanted it's water only for domestic purposes, not for it's own agricultural pursuits. While this was going on L.A. was buying up as many water rights they could, sometimes using bribery and intimidation. By 1905 they had enough water rights to enable construction of the aqueduct. This was not without alot of bad feelings mostly that the rights and land were purchased at unfair below market prices. Many believe Los Angeles paid less for the rights than they actually budgeted for. Some of this ill will resulted in violence such as the attempted dynamiting of the aqueduct. The picture below right shows authorities discovering dynamite caches.
Supposedly the farmers who held out selling until 1930 received the highest prices for their water rights. That points out just how long the resistance lasted.
As part of the L.A.'s water supply transit system, the city built the St. Francis Dam in the mountains 40 miles northwest of the city. The construction lasted during 1924-1926 and was overseen by William Mulholland.
Just a few minutes before midnight on March 12th, 1926 the dam failed and what ensued was a catastrophe like non other the Los Angeles area had ever seen. Ironically, Mulholland had been at the dam site just a few days prior to the failure and this fact went on to haunt him for the rest of his life. In fact, during the prior year there were some cracks found in the dam and a bit of leakage however Mulholland and his crew felt that all was in safe limits. When the dam gave way, 12 billion gallons of water rushed through the San Francisquito Canyon and headed west to it's natural outlet in the Pacific Ocean. This deluge carried with it blocks of concrete, trees and homes. A deadly combination for anyone in it's path. Below left is a picture of the dam before the failure.
The end result of the California Water Wars was that Mayor Eaton was investigated but cleared of wrongdoing for his role in buying up Owens Valley land and water rights. His later supposed asking price to the city of $1 million for his Owens Valley holdings was the final blow that ended his friendship with Mulholland. As for Mulholland, the St. Francis Dam failure marked the end of his career.
You may also be interested in our article on our Trips Into History website regarding the Hetch Hectchy dam and reservoir controversy in California.
The classic movie "Chinatown" which many of you may have seen is based on the California Water Wars during the 1910's and 1920's and is set in 1937 L.A There was also a sequel made called Two Jakes.
William Mulholland's legacy is controversial only in as much as he was connected to the St. Francis dam catastrophe which a good a many people felt he was not responsible for. The positive side of the legacy was that he led the effort to bring much needed water to Los Angeles. It is with this legacy that he has been honored as the leading architect in the city's early growth.
When you explore the history of California you have to place William Mulholland on the list of important figures. Another interesting story about Los Angeles is the Doheney Teapot Dome Scandal.
When you're driving on Mulholland Drive L.A. you will know a bit more about the man whose street bears his name. The aqueduct system also has 107miles of bike paths which are enjoyed regularly by thousands of people. The Mulholland Fountain designed by Walter S. Clayberg in 1940 is located at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Los Feliz Blvd. in Los Feliz. It was declared a Historic-Cultural Monument in the City of Los Angeles in 1976.
(Photos are in the public domain)