A splashing homage to controversial aqueduct that redefined L.A.

As water from the Eastern Sierra began gushing down a hillside into the San Fernando Valley on Tuesday, an actor dressed as William Mulholland hollered on cue, “There it is! Take it!”

Exactly 100 years after the opening of the aqueduct that would transform the young city and its surrounding orchards and dust-and-tumbleweed ranches into modern Los Angeles, the 1913 celebration of its completion was reenacted at the Santa Susana foothills site where mountain water still splashes down a sluice.

In 1913, 40,000 people celebrated the aqueduct’s opening at the sluice, just off the 5 freeway. For the reenactment, actors portraying Mulholland, Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times and other key players in the aqueduct’s construction read from their original remarks.

Descendants of Mulholland, Chandler and late 19th-century Mayor Fred Eaton joined them on stage. A brass band of men in period costumes played “Swanee River.”

“I’m very moved,” said Christine Mulholland, a great-granddaughter of the aqueduct’s chief engineer. “I keep getting chills.”


She recalled passing by the sluice in the back of a station wagon as a child and hearing her father say, “There’s grandpa’s waterfall.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti marked the occasion by promoting efforts to reduce the city’s water imports. He said the city should replenish groundwater by removing some of the pavement that covers the San Fernando Valley.

“Our city’s destiny has always been linked closely to water,” he told a few hundred invited guests.

The aqueduct’s century of controversy was played down. John Eaton, a great-grandson of the former mayor, alluded to the whiff of scandal surrounding the project, but did not dwell on details.

Christine Mulholland applauded the city’s reparations to the Eastern Sierras’ Owens Valley, where the dust bowl left by L.A.'s diversion of water has angered people for generations.

In a twist of history, the one thing marring the reenactment on an otherwise picture-perfect day was thick swirls of dust kicked up by dry gusts of wind.


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