Tuesday, May 24, 2005

William Mulholland, Los Angeles, and the St. Francis Dam disaster

When I was single, I'd travel the Western states with a camera. I have so many pictures of much of the American West. I think I will always be in love with the West.

Easterners to me always seemed snobby, seeing Westerners as uncultured with a weak view of history. I'd trade open space for culture any day. Open space is something the East does not have, and it's something hopefully the West will keep if we start taking immigration problems seriously.

The Western history is interesting in fact. You just have to know where to look.

Only a few years ago, I learned about a guy named William Mulholland, after seeing the movie Mulholland Drive. If it weren't for this guy, Los Angeles would have never existed.

Los Angeles is basically desert. Mulholland managed to steal water from Owens Valley and divert it to create the city Los Angeles. The city though continued to grow faster than the water could come in so they needed more.

That's when Mulholland built the St. Francis Dam, in 1924. Well in 1926, the first cracks appeared. Mulholland dismissed them as trivial. They began to leak. No problem, he assured everyone. Dams do that. In 1928, the damkeeper Tony Harnischfeger warned folks that the leaks appeared serious. Mulholland once again assured everyone that the leaks were nothing to worry about.

In March, the dam broke, killing Harnischfeger and between 400 and 500 others. Much of Ventura County got flooded, especially Santa Paula, and bodies appeared as far away as San Diego County. They kept finding bodies for years afterwards and the last body found was in the 1990s.

What's left of the dam supposebly can be seen from San Francisquito Canyon Road. No, I don't have pictures because I've never seen it. Hopefully next time I'm visiting friends in Southern California, I'll take pictures of the wreckage.

Mulholland was tried for manslaughter. In the end, he got off because they said it was the rock formations and many people believed it was sabotage. He did die in a sort of self-imposed exile. Giving credit where it's due though, had it not been for Mulholland, Los Angeles would probably not exist as the city it is today.


Blogger Laura said...

I wish we had more open space in the Midwest & East (that wasn't filled with corn) ;-) The West is beautiful. But it won't be for long if the corporations and special interests get their way. Learn from what happened in the East to preserve the West. Don't let them get their grubby little hands on the land...

5/24/2005 7:08 AM  
Blogger Leslie said...

What an interesting bit of history. I never knew anything about the story or the movie. Nice post! I love history.

5/24/2005 9:52 AM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Laura - yeah, it's a combination of corporations and overpopulation that will destroy the West. It's really sad, and preventable if people did something about it.

Red - the movie Mulholland Drive actually was just a thriller. They did make a movie about the whole Mulholland incident with Jack Nicholsan called Chinatown. It's a hard movie to watch, very dark, noirish though.

5/24/2005 10:05 AM  
Anonymous Michele said...

There's also a movie I checked out from the library years ago about Mullholand, a 3 part (I think) documentry. I can't remember the title, but perhaps if you describe it to you're librarian, she can transfer it for you. It's fascinating. Did you know all the Bishop area was fertile farmlands and orhchards before he took their water? The guy was an incredible genius, but ruthless.
Hey, Zombieslayer, I'm Michele from Sadie, Levi, Bo and Joe's blog. I'm related to them all, except Bo. (But, he's my pal) I like your blog. Thanks for dropping in on us.

5/24/2005 12:00 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Michele, you're welcome here any time. Thanks for popping in.
Yeah, would like to check that out. The story is kind of what the Soviets were like - they'd ruin one real nice area to make another area fertile. Those poor folks in the Bishop area hated him. Surprised nobody killed him.

5/24/2005 1:16 PM  
Blogger Jodi said...

Easterners aren't so bad. I actually thought the Westerners were the snobs :-)

And glad you clarified that Chinatown was based on him. I didn't think there was a connection between William Mulholland and Mulholland Drive the movie, which I'm still trying to figure out...

5/24/2005 1:22 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

No, Chinatown was more based on how L.A. stole its water from somewhere else. It added the incest and organized crime bit too. I have no idea if William Mulholland had any connections to organized crime, but I assume not.
Mulholland Drive was just a thriller, named after the 2nd most famous street in L.A. I guess Sunset Blvd is 1st.

As for Easterners, I like you all. I just like to make fun of you because you talk funny. ;)
(Yeah, I'm well-aware we're a bunch of shallow flakes).

5/24/2005 2:03 PM  
Blogger Slade said...

Mulholland Drive: Freaky and confusing...I am STILL trying to disect that movie...but it was interesting. I'd like to go "out West" someday and do some sightseeing, but I must admit, I love the trees and rolling hills of the east as well as the mountains of W.V...ohhh and the east coast is my favorite place to visit.

5/24/2005 2:58 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

I don't know...I have mixed feelings about Mullholland...I think he was sort of a devil incarnate.

I don't think that people realize that Southern California, including LA, is nothing more than a desert. It's always been ironic to me that the main basketball team from LA that moved out here were named The Lakers, since there are no lakes in LA...even the LA river is long gone.

Chinatown is an awesome movie. I love noir films.

If anyone is interested in a readable history of California and the quest for water, I recommend Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. For an early history of this subject, read The King of California by Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman.

5/24/2005 5:39 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

I'm a noir fan as well. I'm working on noiring up a script I wrote and shelved a few months ago to see if I can give it some life. And death. ;-)

5/25/2005 4:36 AM  
Blogger Levi Nunnink said...

Los Angeles, and Southern California in general, for all its pluses seems like a bad idea the way it's currently set up. The smog, the draining of Northern California's resources, Kobe Bryant (Sorry, I'm a Kings fan.).

5/25/2005 8:16 AM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Levi - that's why we need to be in two separate states. They're simply stealing our water.
I'm not a fan of pro basketball, but if I were, it would be the Kings. I hate the Lakers and their fans are just as fair weather as Seattle Mariner fans in baseball.

5/25/2005 10:09 AM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Jason - hope you get it done. I love noir. We need more of it. May you be the one to bring the genre back.

Slade - I'll have to dig deep for my notes. At one job I had, we compared notes on what each character, item meant.

Heather - One of these days I'll read Cadillac Desert. You're not the first person to recommend it.

5/25/2005 10:12 AM  
Blogger Bo Salisbury said...

Dear Mr. Zombieslayer... excellent bit of history and accurate observations. I grew up in Southern California in the 50's and 60's and never felt like I belonged. Every fall, we would go to school and see the colored leaf decorations and pictures of folks doing "fall chores." Then, the teacher would redecorate the room with winter scenes and read us stories about coal trucks and snowmen and bundling up and furnaces. Then, spring would come along and everything in the schoolroom was green and alive. Then, out to the playground and my tract house and my hot, smoggy world; the ground was brown and the hills were brown and the sky was brown and, if you looked straight up, there would be a faint patch of blue. I felt "dry" and would welcome anything that hinted at weather; wind, rain and sub-70 degree temperatures.

My family didn't travel, but my new wife did and she took me places I only read about. When our son was 2.5, we moved to the Sierras. From '93 to '96 we lived in a fishing village in Maine. I cannot picture myself living in a brown place again, but the Lord knows. I am not an outdoorsman, per se. But, I feel like I need to be surrounded by green... green grass and trees. And, I like a good fall and winter.

By the way... I read your profile... you like metal? Did you ever listen to the late 80's or 90's shred-head stuff?

5/25/2005 5:42 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Bo - I like the best of every sub-genre of metal, from glam to black, and everything in between.
As for shredders, I liked Yngwie's earlier stuff before he went too poppy. Paul Gilbert's good. Alex Skolnick (formerly of Testament) is amazing. Caught one of his guitar picks.
Took a lesson with Jason Becker once. It's really a shame what happened to him because he was such a genuinely nice guy.

5/25/2005 5:54 PM  
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5/25/2005 6:21 PM  

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