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California Water Collections

"More than gold and oil, railroad and freeway construction, the film and aerospace industries, water distribution has shaped the development of California's cities and countryside. Nowhere is the vital significance of water more obvious than in Los Angeles…"

--William L. Kahrl

Los Angeles Aqueduct opening day, 1913Water history, particularly the controversy surrounding water rights and access, has dramatically and incontrovertibly shaped the growth and development of Los Angeles.  Nearly 100 years ago, the dedication and opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct on November 5, 1913 was the culmination of many years of work on the part of William Mulholland and others at Los Angeles' Department of Water and Power. More than any other civil engineering project, the Los Angeles Aqueduct's opening resulted in rapid growth throughout the greater Los Angeles region.

The water that flowed into Los Angeles through the aqueduct proved to be a powerful enticement for tourists, investors, and settlers, who would not only stimulate economic growth, but would ultimately shape the character of the city. Over the next several decades, the lure of seemingly endless fresh water would eventually lead to the annexations of outlying communities, including much of the San Fernando Valley, and increasing the city’s sprawl by more than fifteen times its original size.

At the source of the Aqueduct in the Owens Valley, this history has been interpreted through a very different lens.  Conflicts over what some see as questionable practices by federal and local officials ultimately led to violence and sabotage by Owens Valley residents in the 1920s, and fueled a debate which has continued for more than ten decades.

Special Collections and Archives holds several collections that document various aspects of this important history, some of which the library has received special funding to process and digitize. These include the Catherine Mulholland Collection, Andrae B. Nordskog Collection, Duane Georgeson Collection, Homer Halverson Collection, and many others. Representing many sides of numerous complicated water issues in greater Los Angeles and southern California, these materials provide a unique glimpse into water politics and policy in Los Angeles over the last 100 years. Stay tuned over the coming weeks and months for more information about each collection as we process and open them for research.

Mules hauling cement to mixer at Deadman's Syphon, ca. 1908 - Catherine Mulholland Collection
Aqueduct workers pose at the Elizabeth Tunnel, ca. 1910. Catherine Mulholland Collection.
Map of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, 1908. Catherine Mulholland Collection.
Letter to William Mulholland from Harry Brook regarding the Aqueduct and earthquake safety, April 20, 1906. Catherine Mulholland Collection.
Letter to Harry Brook regarding the Aqueduct and earthquake safety, April 23, 1906. Catherine Mulholland Collection.
Letter to Harry Brook regarding the Aqueduct and earthquake safety (p. 2), April 23, 1906. Catherine Mulholland Collection.
Letter to Harry Brook regarding the Aqueduct and earthquake safety (p. 3), April 23, 1906. Catherine Mulholland Collection.
Letter from George Chaffey to the Los Angeles Board of Public Works protesting Aqueduct construction at Cottonwood Creek, January 15, 1908. Catherine Mulholland Collection.
Harrison Gray Otis, Ellen Beach Yaw, and William Mulholland at the dedication and opening day ceremonies for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, 5 November 1913. Catherine Mulholland Collection.
Letter from Andrae B. Nordskog to President Calvin Coolidge (pp. 1-2), March 25, 1928. Andrae B. Nordskog Collection.
Letter from Andrae B. Nordskog to President Calvin Coolidge (pp. 3-4), March 25, 1928. Andrae B. Nordskog Collection.
"Owens Valley, where the trail of the wrecker runs," by Frederick Faulkner, March-April, 1927. Andrae B. Nordskog Collection.
Letter from Andrae B. Nordskog to Mr. Jess Hession, Assistant Attorney General, regarding the release of the the Watterson brothers, January 8, 1933. Andrae B. Nordskog Collection.
Letter to Andrae B. Nordskog from C.E. Baen, May 14, 1931. Andrae B. Nordskog Collection.
The Gridiron newspaper, June 17, 1927. Andrae B. Nordskog Collection.
Letter to Andrae B. Nordskog from the Department of Corrections, December 10, 1959. Andrae B. Nordskog Collection.
Letter to Andrae B. Nordskog from A. H. Koebig, Chairman of the Engineering Coomittee for the Southwest Water League, March 25, 1935. Andrae B. Nordskog Collection.
The Gridiron newspaper, June 3, 1927. Andrae B. Nordskog Collection.

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