William Mulholland Memorial Fountain
1940 – Walter S. Claberg
Riverside Drive and Los Feliz Boulevard – map
More than 3,000 people showed up on the night of August 1, 1940, to watch the nine-year-old granddaughter of the late William Mulholland, Patricia, press the button that would begin the flow of water through the giant fountain dedicated to her famous ancestor. It would’ve been awesome had she told the crowd, “There it is. Take it,” but my guess is she didn’t.
Located in the middle of nearly four acres of land at the intersection of Los Feliz and Riverside, the William Mulholland Memorial Fountain honors the self-taught engineer who, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, “slaked the Southland’s thirst.”
Born in Belfast in 1855, future thirst-slaker William Mulholland came to L.A. in 1877 and, living in a shack near where his memorial fountain is today, soon got a job with the City Water Company as a zanjero (he was a ditch tender). Mulholland worked his way up in the company and, when the city took over water supply operations in 1902, he was appointed chief engineer of the Municipal Water Bureau.
From 1908 to 1913, Mullholland took on the Herculean task of overseeing the construction of the more than 230 miles of the $24 million Los Angeles-Owens River Aqueduct. This included surveying the land, raising bond issues, acquiring/swindling the land and water rights from Owens Valley property owners, and supervising more than 5,000 workers. A decade after that water gushed, he also conducted the survey which ultimately led to the Colorado River to L.A. aqueduct, bringing sweet, sweet water to thirsty Angelinos (in 1941).
In March 1928, the two-year-old St Francis Dam, built during Mulholland’s tenure, collapsed, killing around 450 people. The engineer took the blame and resigned by the end of the year. (WARNING: The Weid Canyon Dam, AKA the Hollywood Reservoir Dam, HCM No. 421, shares the design of the doomed dam from San Francisquito Canyon. In fact, after the Santa Clarita River Valley disaster, Mulholland “ordered the water lowered in the Hollywood Reservoir… subsequent studies found its base also lacked sufficient width to “withstand uplift and earthquake loading, or against basal sliding,” elements that may have contributed to the failure of the Saint Francis.” I hope you folks living beneath that Hollywood Hills dam saw Earthquake, and not just for Lorne Greene acting the part of Ava Gardner’s father.)
According to his L.A. Times obituary, William Mulholland took his last drink of water on July 22, 1935, in his home at 226 South St Andrews Place. (Here’s where I need to point out that the night I was taking this picture, an old-timer across the street said Mulholland never lived there. He – the old-timer, that is, not Mulholland – then rattled off all the home owners in the house’s history, saying that, in 1935, the owner would’ve been a man named Grant.) In any event, here’s the house. I wish I lived there. (Pay no attention to the photographer's shadow.)
The fountain’s dedication ceremonies nearly sixty-eight years ago featured both the L.A. Police Band and the city’s Civic Chorus in addition to speechifying by a whole string of city officials and Times publisher Harry Chandler.
The fountain measures ninety feet in diameter, and its water reaches a height of fifty feet. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on March 30, 1940, with Mulholland’s daughter, Rose, taking first-spade duties.
To fully appreciate why the landmark, restored and rededicated in 1996, is sometimes known as the ‘Kool Aid’ Fountain, you need to swing by the intersection at nighttime. As you can tell by the shots here, the fountain sports a whole rainbow of colored lights, and it’s sure a terrific place to spend a few moments in the evening.
Mulholland, Catherine William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles University of California Press 2000 Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA
Pitt, Leonard and Dale Pitt Los Angeles A to Z 1997 University of California Press 2000 Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA
“Mulholland of Aqueduct Fame Dies” The Los Angeles Times Jul 23, 1935, p. 1
“Los Angeles Remembers Famous Aqueduct Builder” The Los Angeles Times Mar 31, 1940 p. A1
“Thousands See Dedication of Mulholland Memorial” The Los Angeles Times Aug 2, 1940 p. A1
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