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William Mulholland

Born: 11-Sep-1855
Birthplace: Belfast, Ireland
Died: 22-Jul-1935
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Illness
Remains: Buried, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, CA

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Engineer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Los Angeles Aqueduct

Military service: British Merchant Marine (1870-74)

William Mulholland was hired as a ditchdigger by the Los Angeles City Water Company in 1877, rose to become a foreman, then was made superintendent of the Bureau of Water Works and Supply (now the Department of Water & Power) when the city took control of the water agency in 1902. He was a vociferous reader and self-taught civil engineer who designed and oversaw construction of the Owens Valley Aqueduct, the staggeringly huge 12-year project to construct the 233-mile, 164-tunnel system of concrete waterways that brought water from distant Owens Lake through the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains to the San Fernando Valley. The project was originally conceived by Fred Eaton, Mulholland's boss at the Bureau of Water Works, and Eaton handled most of the legal details while Mulholland began planning the aqueduct in 1905. With slide rules, pack mules, and the backbreaking labor of thousands of men, construction began in 1908 and ended in 1913, at a cost of about $23M. From the city's perspective Mulholland was a hero, having accomplished an engineering marvel that allowed the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles to grow in what had been a large semi-desert area. When a new thoroughfare opened access to the Hollywood Hills in 1924 it was named Mulholland Drive in his honor.

To his detractors, however, Mulholland is remembered as the man who stole Owens Lake. Planning for the aqueduct was secretive and deceptive, and locals in Owens Valley were falsely told that the project was intended to provide them with better crop irrigation. In reality the aqueduct drained the 110 square mile Owens Lake, making it into a dry dustbowl, and had catastrophic effects on what had been farmland surrounding the lake. In what was called California's "water wars", farmers struck back against construction of the aqueduct with repeated acts of violence and sabotage, but the city's interests were much more powerful and better-funded than the farmers', and the aqueduct's completion was never really in doubt.

Mulholland also designed the St. Francis Dam, a curved concrete gravity dam in San Francisquito Canyon, a few miles from what is now Santa Clarita, California. It was designed to create an artificial lake almost three miles long, holding some 38,000 acre-feet of water to further quench Los Angelinos' thirst. Mulholland, however, expanded the dam's planned capacity twice during construction, without adequately increasing the dam's structural base. It collapsed a few minutes before midnight on 12 March 1928, sending about 52 million tons of water into the valley below, killing almost 500 people and making much of Ventura County into soggy mudlands. Mulholland had said there was no danger when, in response to reported leaks, he inspected the dam the day before its collapse. He retired in the aftermath of the disaster, and told reporters, "If there was an error in human judgment, I was the human, and I won't try to fasten [the blame] on anyone else. I envied those who were killed."

Father: Hugh Mulholland (postal worker, b. 1827)
Mother: Ellen Deakers Mulholland (d. 18-Sep-1862 tuberculosis)
Brother: Thomas Mulholland (postal worker, b. 1853, d. 1891)
Brother: Hugh Patrick Mulholland (British Navy officer, b. 1856)
Mother: Jane Smith Mulholland (stepmother, b. circa 1835, m. 1865)
Daughter: Mary Mulholland (half-sister, b. 1867)
Brother: Joseph Mulholland (half-brother, b. 1869)
Brother: Michael Mulholland (half-brother, b. 1871)
Wife: Lillie Ferguson Mulholland (b. 1879, m. 3-Jul-1890, d. 1915, seven children)
Daughter: Rose Ellen Mulholland (b. 1891, d. 1977)
Son: William Perry Mulholland (b. 1892, d. 1962)
Daughter: Lucile Mulholland (b. 1896, d. 1968)
Son: Thomas Ferguson Mulholland (b. 1894)
Son: Richard James Mulholland (b. 1903, d. 15-May-1905, spinal meningitis)
Daughter: Ruth Mulholland

    High School: O'Connell School, Dublin, Ireland (dropped out)

    California State Official Los Angeles Department of Water and Power:Chief Engineer (1902-28)
    Los Angeles City Water Company to Superintendent (1877-1902)
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    Ran Away From Home
    Naturalized US Citizen (Oct-1886)
    Stroke (Dec-1934)
    Irish Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Parkinson's

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