William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles

By Catherine Mulholland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 21
A Stormy Decade Begins
1920–1923

THOUGHTS OF BOULDER DAM

The fight for municipal power in Los Angeles and the later campaign to build the federal project of Boulder Dam occurred during the politically reactionary years of the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations and produced some of the ugliest political hate campaigns in the history of the West. Permanent scars yet remain on the reputations of those who battled in those wars, for the private interests proved almost insuperable adversaries against the advocates of public ownership. Not until 1936, a year after Mulholland's death, would the municipalization of power in Los Angeles be fully realized, nor did the Chief live to see the completion of Boulder Dam and the Colorado River Aqueduct. In those years of struggle when hopes rose only to be dashed, skillfully crafted propaganda campaigns against the city's aims so artfully manipulated public sentiment and made such deep inroads into the popular psyche that many of the spurious charges not only were believed but have long since grown entrenched. As Tom Sitton has written in his biography of municipal power champion John Randolph Haynes, “The legacy of this struggle is a never-ending parade of historical accounts, some expounding conspiracy theories and others staunchly defending Los Angeles in its quest for Owens Valley water. 1

In early April 1920, Mulholland left for Washington, D. C., with Scattergood, Mathews, and the president of city council, Ralph Criswell, to appeal to the Senate for passage of the aqueduct right-of-way bill. At the

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