William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles

By Catherine Mulholland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Private Water
Company and Its Owners
1878–1879

THE IRISH APPRENTICE

When William Mulholland began his job with the Los Angeles Water Company as a deputy zanjero, he tended the main supply ditch from Crystal Springs, then the chief source of the city's domestic water supply. Paid $1.50 a day and housed in what he once described as “a shack near the Old Sycamore Tree” (the latter then a historic landmark in early deeds and records), he settled in for two years of work and study that were to lead to his career as a hydraulic engineer. The locale remained important to him. Visiting as an old man over fifty years later (after the Saint Francis Dam disaster had ended his career), he pointed out a sturdy oak to a young woman then writing a graduate thesis on the domestic water system of Los Angeles. After telling her how he had rescued it as a tiny three-inch seedling about to fall into the ditch he was digging, he approached and, apparently moved by the memory of that life-affirming act, reached out, “touched it lovingly and looking at it, said half to himself, 'I saved its life once. I wonder if it is conscious of my presence today?'” The old Chief's closest friends and associates later acknowledged his affinity for the place when they chose it as the appropriate site for the William Mulholland Memorial Fountain, erected in his honor by the City of Los Angeles in 1940 and restored and rededicated in 1996. 1

In that shack by the river, he had, for the first time in his life, a place of his own. There, after a day of clearing brush and debris, removing dead animals from the stream, and keeping the flow in proper channels,

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