The Long Journey from
Dublin to Los Angeles
Of those civil servants who helped develop the modern metropolis of Los Angeles in the early twentieth century, the most prominent was William Mulholland (1855–1935). For over forty years spanning the administrations of nineteen mayors, Mulholland was a central force in the creation of a municipally owned water and power system that allowed a small, otiose western outpost to swell to outsized proportions. As a selftaught and inventive engineer, he became the creator of a project that ranked in magnitude and daring with the Panama Canal.
A pen-and-ink cartoon of Mulholland drawn in 1902, about the time the City of Los Angeles had at last regained control of its domestic water supply from the private company to which it had foolishly leased its pueblo water rights thirty years earlier, portrays a sturdy man in work clothes planted in front of a pump and water trough with two buckets labeled “City Water” at his feet. By then, Mulholland had worked for that private company for twenty-four years, having advanced from anonymous ditch tender in 1878 to superintendent of the works in 1886, a position he continued to hold under the new municipal management. “When the city bought back its water, it bought me too, ” he later remarked. The authority of his stance and stern gaze leaves no doubt that he is indeed the keeper of the well, and at the height of his power and vigor, he was exactly that: the overseer and caretaker of water for Los Angeles. He brought fame (and some say ignominy) to the City of Los