A Los Angeles River Christmas Story – 1889
December 20, 2010 § 5 Comments
I’ve been enjoying reading Catherine Mulholland’s William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles, published by the University of California Press in 2000. It’s a biography of Catherine’s grandfather William Mulholland (1855-1935) who was the engineer responsible for much of Los Angeles’ early water supply engineering and vision, including our securing of water from the Owen’s Valley.
Here’s a Los Angeles River Christmas story from 121 years ago. L.A.’s creek freaks will know to expect some flooding in century-old Los Angeles River winter tales.
From William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles, starting on page 49:
[I]n 1890… [William Mulholland] received a gold watch from a grateful water company [the private Los Angeles Water Company that later became the city of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power] for services beyond the call of duty when he had braved the torrential rains of Christmas Week, 1889-1890, to save the city’s water supply.
During the downpours, the Los Angeles River had changed its course and broken the water connections at Crystal Springs [present day Griffith Park]; or as company president [William Hayes] Perry explained, “The Los Angeles River got on a tear, cut a new channel through an alfalfa patch, and came rushing down upon the brick conduit then forming the head of the system with such force that it was knocked into a cocked hat.” The water brought with it such an accumulation of sand and detritus that it filled the conduit until only a small opening “about as big as your arm” remained. If it had closed completely, no water would have flowed to the city, and so the morning before Christmas 1889, “William Mulholland, superintendent of the company, jumped out of bed when the alarm was given, … and he didn’t get a chance to undress and go to bed like a Christian for four days; but he got the conduit open, and the city was not without its regular supply of water for a minute.” Perry estimated that in two hours’ time, the damage had amounted to $100,000, adding , “I did not know but that the city would have to go back to water carts for its supply.”
In the footnote, Catherine Mulholland notes that the quotes’ source is the Los Angeles Times, July 16, 18, 1890. Further she notes that the “gold watch remains in the Mulholland family.”
Another recommended book on William Mulholland and L.A.’s water supply history is Remi Nadeau’s The Water Seekers.