Los Angeles Aqueduct at 100

Water is intimately tied to the growth of Los Angeles and no more so than during the first quarter of the twentieth century when Los Angeles assumed control of water in the Owens Valley (in the Eastern Sierras), as a critical source for the city’s growth. After buying up valley properties and water rights, the City of Los Angeles built an aqueduct to export the water that brought water 300 miles south to Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Aqueduct’s opening celebration took place on November 5, 1913. Control of the Owens Valley water, of course, lead to the infamous water wars between valley residents and the City of Los Angeles, shaping one of the dominant themes of Los Angeles history, now mythologized in such media as the film “Chinatown.”
Los Angeles Aqueduct canal in Owens Valley
Big Pine reparation claim documentTo commemorate the centennial of the construction of the
Los Angeles Aqueduct on November 5, 2013, the William H. Hannon Library received
generous funding from the Metabolic Studio to accomplish the digitization of materials in its collections relating to the history of water in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The Digital Library Program collaborated with the Department of Archives & Special Collections to digitize portions of three collections from its holdings for this grant – the J. D. Black Papers, Big Pine Citizen Newspaper Collection and the Werner von Boltenstern Postcard Collection.


The J. D. Black Papers – one of the preeminent collections within the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles (CSLA) Research Collection at LMU – consists of the photographs, personal and organizational papers, and publications that J. D. Black, and to a lesser extent, his family members collected on Black family history, as well as on the history of their hometowns, Bishop and Big Pine of the Owens Valley of California, and the areas surrounding the Owens Valley, such as western Nevada. The papers yield a historically rich resource for studying the Owens Valley and its history due to its chronological breadth (spanning the 1880s to the 1950s), J. D. Black’s close ties to the valley led him to collect photographs of the Owens Valley and surrounding areas, and his active participation in and documentation of one of the key political events in California in the 1920s, the water wars between the City of Los Angeles and the valley’s people over water rights.  Map of Bishop properties offered for sale at public auction

Rare photographs, records from valley organizations opposing Los Angeles that Black helped to lead, correspondence, and scrapbooks with clippings from defunct valley newspapers are some of the materials comprising this collection. The J. D. Black Papers offer unusual testimony to the water wars and the sentiments of valley residents, since Black
was a lifelong resident of the Owens Valley and a fierce advocate for its stand against Los Angeles’s ownership of its water. In short, his was a voice for the valley, one which the digitization of his materials in the Black Papers will make better known.


The Big Pine Citizen was the weekly newspaper of Big Pine, California, a town in the northern Owens Valley of the California Sierras.  The collection holds issues from the years 1922, and 1924 to 1928, the decade in which the “Owens Valley Water Wars” between the City of Los Angeles and the people of the Owens Valley over the control of land and corresponding water rights was at its height.  Thus the newspapers here contains much information, from the viewpoint of Owens Valley residents, on Los Angeles’ control of the Owens Valley water supply. The newspaper also carried articles on local matters, such as social events, sports, and meetings of county and town governments.

Big Pine Citizen, November 5, 1927

The Werner von Boltenstern Postcard Collection is one of the largest publicly-accessible collections of its kind in the United States. It contains approximately one million postcards from around the world, dating from the beginnings of postcard production in the late 19th century. 46 early postcards depicting the Los Angeles Aqueduct or towns within the Owens Valley were digitized for this grant project.
Evening on the Owens River near Bishop California

For research consultations about and access to the primary source material please contact the Department of Archives and Special Collections at 310.338.5710 or Special.Collections@lmu.edu.

And finally, here are some fantastic local resources with more information about the Aqueduct at 100:

KCET: http://www.kcet.org/socal/los-angeles/la-aqueduct/

KPCC: http://www.scpr.org/water/

LADWP: http://www.laaqueduct100.com/