Thursday, February 7, 2013

Eastern California Museum Preps for L.A. Aqueduct's 100th Anniversary

Construction of the intake for the L.A. Aqueduct. (Photo: Eastern California Museum)

by Zach Behrens

100 years ago this November, as he stood among a crowd of tens of thousands at the edge of the San Fernando Valley, William Mulholland said a line that's gone down in the history books: "There it is--Take it." The engineer said it as crisp Sierra Nevada mountain water from more than 200 miles north flowed down the San Gabriel Mountains onto the valley floor, forever changing, or, as some would say, giving birth to the Los Angeles we know today.

It took five years to construct the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which today delivers about half of the city's water supply. Nine months before its opening Mulholland was at the other end of his engineering marvel near the Owens Valley town of Aberdeen celebrating a different, but equally important, milestone: the opening of the intake, where water from the Owens River is diverted into the aqueduct.

A photo caught the moment. A small crowd stands atop the intake while Mulholland mans one of the four gates locks. Bessy van Norman, wife of aqueduct supervisor Harvey van Norman, christens it by breaking a bottle of champagne over the water.

That captured moment is among about a dozen large photos put on display this week at the Eastern California Museum in Independence. It's a sneak peak at what's to come later this year when the small, but fascinating, museum opens a yearlong exhibit dedicated to the centennial of the aqueduct's opening. It's also timely: the intake opened February 13, 1913. (The L.A. Department of Water and Power will hold a small celebration at the museum on Friday, February 8 after a regularly scheduled meeting between them and Inyo County takes place)

The exhibit will mainly focus on the construction of the aqueduct, says museum administrator Jon Klusmire. As for the controversial and sordid history, he explains it's not quite "history" yet: "It's still going on."

While no opening date has been announced, the photos and some aqueduct realia are currently on display. The museum and LADWP also plan events throughout the year leading up to November 5 anniversary.

More: And while traveling near the museum, make sure to check out There It Is--Take It!, a self-guided car audio tour through the Owens Valley along U.S. Route 395 examining the controversial social, political, and environmental history of the Los Angeles Aqueduct system. Kim Stringfellow at KCET's Artbound has the details.