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William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles Paperback – May 6, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Controversial, self-taught engineer Mulholland (1855-1935) was almost singlehandedly responsible for transforming Los Angeles from a dusty pueblo of 9,000 souls into a teeming megalopolis. The tough-as-nails Irishman, who ran off to sea as a teenager and arrived in California in 1877, began as a ditchdigger, rose to become waterworks superintendent and, in 1913, gave L.A. its first abundant water supply by building the Owens Valley Aqueduct with an army of 5,000 men. Critics charge that the aqueduct, which diverted water to L.A. across desert and mountains from the Owens River 233 miles northeast, was created through devious land deals, water thievery and cronyism. Owens Valley farmers and ranchers, who felt their water had been wrongfully taken from them, committed acts of sabotage, dynamiting sections of the aqueduct in 1924 and 1927 (the 1979 movie Chinatown dealt with parts of this saga). In this sympathetic, scholarly biography, the engineer's granddaughter attempts to refute these charges, which she labels "myths," but her explanations are not always convincing. In a densely detailed narrative unfolding against a backdrop of land booms, earthquakes, oil drilling, local scandals, labor unrest and the rise of the Progressive movement, she portrays Mulholland as a pragmatist with integrity, guided by an overarching vision. She uses recent research pointing to geological conditions undetectable by 1920s technology to exonerate him of the 1928 St. Francis Dam disaster, which unleashed a flood that killed 500 people and destroyed Mulholland's career. Though the scent of whitewash hovers over its pages, this biography will appeal to readers of regional history, city politics and environmentalism. 40 b&w photos. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

The remarkable life of the self-taught, Irish-born civil engineer who led the long, extraordinary effort to bring water to early Los Angeles.Catherine Mulholland (The Owensmouth Baby, not reviewed), William's granddaughter, researched her highly detailed biography from office files, vintage newspapers, city archives, and interviews covering the early history and rise of a great city. William Mulholland's story began with the discovery of a rich water source in Owens Valley. The transportation of this liquid gold to distant Los Angeles was made possible by the massive engineering feat of the Owens Valley Aqueduct-a project that took over a decade to build amid disheartening problems involving financing, hostile landowners and politicians, a biased media, and some radical sabotage. The author describes an unflappable man of iron character, construction expertise, and courage. Mulholland was an avid reader and yet a man of action-a dam builder, a solver of problems who planned and directed the application of the hardest and most dangerous physical labor in planting pipelines through wild deserts and the blasting miles of tunnels through mountainous countryside to finally bring precious water and hydroelectric power to the fast-growing city. In 18 years, Mulholland rose from obscurity to become a leading citizen. His later years were saddened by the mysterious collapse of one of his dams, a tragedy that took 400 lives. Part of the author's intent in creating this biography was to correct what she claims are misleading and distorted themes in the 1979 movie Chinatown.A comprehensive account of a mostly forgotten era, casting new light on Mulholland's legendary achievements for the city of Los Angeles-as well as an enlightening addition to the history of the American West. -- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (May 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520234669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520234666
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Parker Benchley VINE VOICE on December 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
One of the great stories in American history was the transformation of Los Angeles from a sleepy, anarchic California town into the megalopolis of today. And in any history of this transformation, the figure of William Mulholland looms large, for it was he who almost single-handedly brought about this transformation by providing Los Angeles with the one thing it needed to grow: an abundant water supply. This was accomplished by building an aqueduct to divert water from the Owens River to L.A. But this was no peaceful project; residents of Owens Valley, farmers and ranchers, felt the water had been appropriated from them through cronyism and legal bullying. They retaliated by blowing up sections of the aqueduct in 1924 and 1927. Mulholland himself met his own downfall with the collapse of the St. Francis Dam in 1928, a disaster that killed over 500 people and destroyed Mulholland's career.

These are but parts of a great story in American history, but one would never know it from reading his granddaughter's tome, for the vivacity of the times is thoroughly lost in needless detail; almost a year by year survey of her grandfather's accomplishments. Instead she is more intent on refuting the critics' charges, painting Mulholland as a pragmatist guided by a progressive vision of what Los Angeles could become. Because of this stand, her arguments are not altogether convincing; the Owens Valley residents tend to be painted as villains exploited by villains on the press that seek Mulholland's downfall. In the Preface we are given warning of this bias when she takes previous books on the subject to task. Her attempt at exonerating her grandfather for the St.
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Marshall on October 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
You would think a biography by a grand-daughter may tend to the less objective side. Catherine Mulholland's work is a referenced account of the fight for municipal control of water, and subsequently power, in the early 1900's in Los Angeles. Mulholland takes you by the hand, almost as if you were on an tour with "The Chief", through Willaim Mulhollands childhood, departure from Ireland, to eventual settlement in Los Angeles. From there she cronicles the water needs of the pueblo (pop. 10,000); Mulhollands rise from digger to the designer of the Los Angeles Aquaduct; his management of the political arena to the St. Francis Dam. It was the 'over success' of Bill Mulholland to bring water to a desert that allowed the expotential growth of Los Angeles in area and character. Discriptions of the water works are fascinating - some surviving parts of it still are in use. If you have ever wondered what the real story was behind the film "Chinatown", this is it.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Dana Willis on December 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Catherine Mulholland sets the tone of the book in the preface, where she focuses on putting previous publications in their place, and states her reliance on newspapers of the time. As pointed out in an earlier publication (Water and Power by W. Kahrl) newspapers are an unreliable source of information because they tend to reflect the bias of the publisher at the time. Mr. Kahrl relied on official records and documents whereas Ms. Mulholland relied more on newspaper accounts and less on official documents.
In large part the book covers the life and times of William Mulholland, but it certainly leaves the reader with the impression that he did only good in his lifetime. Unfortunately the book ignores or does not respond to much of the criticism heaped upon Mr. Mulholland by more contemporary publications, and instead focuses on his positive contributions. In this respect the book is not entirely well balanced. Although well written I fear that this book is an attempt by the family to have the final word on the history of a complex man who was more dimensional than the author allows.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
The interest for reading the book was to learn the man behind bringing water to Los Angeles that led to making it one of the most known cities in the world. As much as Ms. Mullholland stated the projects her grandfather William did, it lacked details in laypersons terms the design features that made them among the world's great engineering feats. You wonder if the author was hiding family secrets. She only tells of the names of her wife and children, never giving much about their lives. At most she mentions her grandmother's illness that led to her death.
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By Ambie on February 2, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ms. Mulholland is a finely skilled researcher and writer. I supposed in this she has to be. No stone unturned. Well done.
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