William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles

William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles

William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles

William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles


William Mulholland presided over the creation of a water system that forever changed the course of southern California's history. Mulholland, a self-taught engineer, was the chief architect of the Owens Valley Aqueduct--a project ranking in magnitude and daring with the Panama Canal--that brought water to semi-arid Los Angeles from the lush Owens Valley. The story of Los Angeles's quest for water is both famous and notorious: it has been the subject of the classic yet historically distorted movie "Chinatown, as well as many other accounts. This first full-length biography of Mulholland challenges many of the prevailing versions of his life story and sheds new light on the history of Los Angeles and its relationship with its most prized resource: water.

Catherine Mulholland, the engineer's granddaughter, provides insights into this story that family familiarity affords, and adds to our historical understanding with extensive primary research in sources such as Mulholland's recently uncoveredoffice files, newspapers, and Department of Water and Power archives. She scrutinizes Mulholland's life--from his childhood in Ireland to his triumphant completion of the Owens Valley Aqueduct to the tragedy that ended his career.

This vivid portrait of a rich chapter in the history of Los Angeles is enhanced with a generous selection of previously unpublished photographs.

"Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction Book of 2000


Los Angeles…No ordinary rules explain its past growth or set limits to its future expansion. It has been, and will be, a law unto itself.

William E. smythe, The Conquest of Arid America

A historic dispute

William Mulholland presided over the creation of a water system that changed forever the course of Southern California history, and in so doing he became the focus of a controversy that has never died. When Los Angeles went water hunting and laid claim to the waters of the Owens River over two hundred miles away, its actions so conflicted with competing interests that they gave rise to a struggle of mythic proportions. Reading the varying accounts of this action reminds one of the classic paradox All Cretans are liars, said the man from Crete. Who lies? Does everyone lie or does everyone one tell the truth? Even if the dead could be brought back, could they tell us what we want to know? Writers who have scrutinized the same public documents, official records, and private correspondence have arrived at contrary conclusions, so the existing literature on the story of Los Angeles's water is not only voluminous but also often dissonant.

When I began research for this work in 1989, four books on the subject especially deserved serious consideration, each offering different yet valuable versions of the water story. the important pioneer effort was The Water Seekers (1950), by Remi Nadeau, a highly readable work that subsequent scholarship has somewhat superseded. Water and Politics: a Study of Water Policies and Administration in the Development of Los Angeles (1953), by Vincent Ostrom, is probably the best and most . . .

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