Los Angeles Aqueduct Centennial - CHINATOWN Screening

It was November 5, 1913 when the Los Angeles Aqueduct first opened.  The project was supervised by William Mulholland (you may have driven on the road named after him - MULHOLLAND DRIVE - that winds through the mountains that separate the L.A. basin from the San Fernando Valley, and runs by the home to countless stars including Jack Nicholson) and it carries water from the Owens Valley in the Eastern Sierra to a reservoir in the San Fernando valley.  

The aqueduct was built to handle the population growth of Los Angeles which was expanding at a rapid pace and was outgrowing the water supply.  

The building of the aqueduct had consequences though as the transfer of water to Los Angeles caused the Owens Valley to dry up.  Agriculture became difficult, and farmers in the valley tried to have the aqueduct destroyed in the 1920s.  This, as well as other legal conflicts that sprang up in the 40s, 70s and even as late as 1994 became known as the California Water Wars.  

In 1974 CHINATOWN - a neo-noir directed by Roman Polanski from what is often thought of as the best American screenplays ever written by Robert Towne (backed up by the Oscar he won for Best Original Screenplay) was released and was inspired by the California Water Wars.  The movie was produced by Robert Evans who also coincidentally has a book coming out, THE FAT LADY SANG, next week on November 12.  

Jack Nicholson plays J.J. “Jake” Gittes, a private investigator hired by  a woman claiming to be Evelyn Mulwray (Diane Ladd) to tail her husband who also happens to be the chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.  Gittes’ investigation creates a scandal which brings out the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) and leads him to uncover a much deeper and sinister conspiracy.

It all leads to the classic line “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown”

The movie as well as the water crisis was paid a homage in the animated feature RANGO directed by Gore Verbinski and featuring the voice talents of Johnny Depp as the lead character.  It makes a great companion piece to CHINATOWN.

On Thursday, November 7th the American Cinematheque commemorates the centennial with a screening of CHINATOWN at the Egyptian theater in Hollywoodas well as well as a 10 minute historical short film produced by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.  

William Mulholland’s Great Granddaughter, Christine Mulholland, will be on hand to introduce the screening and there will be a booth set up by the L.A. DWP with more information about the aqueduct and Los Angeles’ water supply in the lobby.

The show starts at 7:30pm, and DCP print of the film will be screened.


For more information on the LA Aqueduct Centennial, please visit laaqueduct100.com.


aqueduct. neenach, ca. 2013. by eyetwist
Via Flickr:
nikon D7000 + nikkor 18-200mm. processed with nik color efex + nik silver efex.

November 5, 1913, the Los Angles Aqueduct opens with 40,000 Angelenos in attendance. (See LA Times for more great pix). At this event, William Mulholland utters his famous words, “There it is Mr. Mayor. Take it.” Though, his granddaughter, Catherine Mulholland would later clarify (skip to 9:00 on this YouTube video) that he lost his prepared speech in the wind and that short phrase was all he could think of to say.

We close out Los Angeles Aqueduct week at L.A. Times Past with this incredible 1931 photo from the Department of Water and Power. It shows painters working in the Bee Canyon Siphon section of the aqueduct before the installation of a new generating unit in one of the system’s power plants.

Read about the aqueduct’s 100-year history here: ‘There it is – take it: A century of marvel and controversy’

Meet the man who dynamited it in 1976: Los Angeles Aqueduct bomber reveals his story

And see more archival photos: The origins of a 100-year-old story

Matt Ballinger

Photo: Painters in the Bee Canyon Siphon section of the aqueduct. Credit: L.A. Department of Water and Power

California Place Collection, ID: CP2014-006.01

Title: Penstocks, San Francisquito Power Plant No. 1

Creator: Mulholland, William, 1855-1935; others

Waterways: Los Angeles Aqueduct

Dates: 1911; 1917

Coordinates: 34.593137852926574, -118.45401048660278

Dangers: Trespassing; Dehydration; High Pressure Water; Dam Failure; Wildfire

Area_status: Closed to public

Water: Strange in the desert; frozen to alfalfa; frozen to my cheek a window morning; dark commute

Watch on latimespast.tumblr.com

This is historic film from the L.A. Department of Water and Power on the construction and opening – 100 years ago Nov. 5 – of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. More here: latimes.com/aqueduct.