Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

May 1927: A section of the aqueduct at No Name Canyon is shown after dynamite was used to destroy 400 feet of pipe on May 27, 1927. This photo was published in the Feb. 24, 1928, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

May 23, 1924: Los Angeles Aqueduct damage is shown after an explosion about three miles north of Lone Pine. This photo was published in the May 24, 1924, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: David Mann / Los Angeles Times

May 23, 1924: An aerial photo of the Los Angeles Aqueduct shows damage from an explosion about three miles north of Lone Pine. This photo was published in the May 24, 1924, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: C. E. Haldeman / Pacific and Atlantic Photos

Nov. 18, 1924: Owens Valley residents during four-day takeover of the Los Angeles Aqueduct's Alabama Gates, a diversion channel valve head about 10 miles south of Independence. Water was diverted into the dry bed of Owens Lake.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

November 1924: Owens Valley residents during four-day takeover of the Los Angeles Aqueduct's Alabama Gates. In this photo, no faces are visible and additional details in shadows were enhanced by a Los Angeles Times artist. On the back of this print is a published caption to an artist's sketch in the Nov. 21, 1924, Los Angeles Times indicating this photo was used as by the artist.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

May 14, 1926: The site of a dynamite blast at the Los Angeles Aqueduct about four miles north of Lone Pine.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

May 28, 1927: Damage to Los Angeles Aqueduct pipes at No Name Canyon can be seen from a dynamite attack the day before.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

May 1927: A section of the aqueduct at No Name Canyon is shown after dynamite was used to destroy 400 feet of pipe on May 27, 1927. This photo was published in the Nov. 3, 1931, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

May 1927: Damaged Los Angeles Aqueduct pipes after dynamite blast at No Name Canyon on May 27, 1927.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

May 1927: Water flowing from damaged Los Angeles Aqueduct pipes after dynamite blast at No Name Canyon on May 27, 1927.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

May 1927: Damaged Los Angeles Aqueduct pipes after dynamite blast at No Name Canyon on May 27, 1927.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

May 1927: Damaged Los Angeles Aqueduct pipes after dynamite blast at No Name Canyon on May 27, 1927.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

May 30, 1927: Reconstruction work continues on the Los Angeles Aqueduct at No Name Canyon after a May 27, 1927, dynamite explosion. This photo was published in the May 31, 1927, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: George Watson / Los Angeles Times

May 30, 1927: Reconstruction work continues on the Los Angeles Aqueduct at No Name Canyon after a dynamite explosion. This photo was published in the May 31, 1927, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: George Watson / Los Angeles Times

Map published in the June 6, 1927, Los Anglees Times showing locations of three bombing sites on the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 10 days. The first dynamiting - and most damaging - took place in the early morning of May 27, when several hundred feet of a siphon was destroyed at No Name Canyon.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times / ProQuest

A feeder pipe leading to Big Pine Power House No. 3 of the Los Angeles Aqueduct was damaged by a dynamite blast on May 28, 1927, a day after the major blast at No Name Canyon. The power house was knocked out of commission. This photo was published in the May 30, 1927 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Jess Hession, then district attorney of Inyo County, left, and J. Clark Sellers, a criminologist and handwriting expert, examine dynamite found near the Los Angeles Aqueduct. This unpublished image was probably taken in 1927 or 1928. The two investigators were mentioned in several February 1928 Los Angeles Times stories.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

February 1928: In charge of the investigation of the dynamiting of the Los Angeles Aqueduct were, from left, J. Clark Sellers, a criminologist and handwriting expert; John N. Pyles, chief investigator; and Jess Hession, then district attorney of Inyo County. This photo was published in the Feb. 25, 1928, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: George Watson / Los Angeles Times

A political cartoon on Page 1 of the Nov. 23, 1924, Los Angeles Times, featuring "Miss Los Angeles," a recurring character drawn by Edmund Waller "Ted" Gale.. A group of Owens Valley residents had just ended a four-day protest takeover of the Alabama control gate of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Gates had been opened diverting water into Owens River.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Edmund Waller "Ted" Gale / Los Angeles Times/ProQuest

Sept. 15, 1976: The exterior of the Los Angeles Aqueduct Alabama Hills gatehouse after an explosion buckled the floor and blew out the windows and a door. Aqueduct water escapes, lower right, through damaged gate. This photo was published in the Sept. 16, 1976, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ben Olender / Los Angeles Times

Sept. 15, 1976: The interior of the Los Angeles Aqueduct Alabama Hills gatehouse after an explosion buckled the floor and blew out windows and a door. This photo was published in the Sept. 16, 1976, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ben Olender / Los Angeles Times

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Dynamite attacks on the Los Angeles Aqueduct [updated]

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Dynamite attacks on the Los Angeles Aqueduct [updated]

In 1905, Los Angeles officials began buying land and water rights in the Owens Valley. Construction started in 1908 and finished with the Nov. 5, 1913, Los Angeles Aqueduct opening. Over 40,000 Los Angeles residents attended the grand opening.

But while Los Angeles celebrated, Owens Valley residents fumed.

In an Oct. 18, 1987, article, Times staff writer Eric Malnic wrote about the Owens Valley opposition:

While some city officials began quietly buying up land and water rights from unsuspecting ranchers in the Owens Valley, others successfully lobbied Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt to abandon plans for a federal reclamation and irrigation project there.

The president of the Inyo County Bank, Wilford Watterson, suspected what was happening. When he saw Los Angeles City Clerk Harry J. Lelande on the street in Bishop, Watterson pulled a pistol and demanded that Lelande hand over the deed to an important piece of Owens Valley property. But Watterson was too late; Lelande had already mailed the deed to the county courthouse.

A few days later, on July 29, 1905, The Times broke the story of Los Angeles’ plans to grab Owens Valley’s water in what was to become a continuing campaign by the newspaper for construction of the aqueduct…..

In the decade that followed, Owens Valley residents got madder and madder as Los Angeles bought up, piecemeal, more and more of their land and water rights. The rage further intensified on May 10, 1924, when Los Angeles filed a suit accusing some of the valley’s farmers of “wrongfully diverting” water into their irrigation ditches.

Ten days later, the farmers answered the suit with dynamite, blowing up a spillway gate near Lone Pine.

Six months later, in their most publicized move, between 60 and 100 Owens Valley men took over the aqueduct’s Alabama Gates, a diversion channel valve head about 10 miles south of Independence. They opened the floodgates, emptying the water into the dry bed of Owens Lake, and stood guard four four days before departing, feeling that their point was made.

Efforts by Los Angeles to ease the situation by offering to buy all remaining tributary land in the Owens River area at fair market price did little to dispel the anger, and over the next three years at least seven more blasts damaged the northern end of the aqueduct.

Then came an unexpected development.

Unknown to anyone else in the valley, Wilfred Watterson and his brother, Mark–leaders in the “water war” against Los Angeles–had been diverting bank funds to shore up their crumbling enterprises. Their thefts revealed during a routine audit, the two were charged on Aug. 13, 1927, with embezzling $450,000.

Following the Wattersons conviction, attacks on the Los Angeles Aqueduct ceased for several years.

In early 1928, Jess Hession, Inyo County Dist. Atty. Jess Hession filed charges against six Owens Valley residents for their part in one of the 1927 bombings. Following a preliminary hearing, all charges were dismissed on March 19, 1928.

Following a Nov. 1, 1931, explosion on the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Los Angeles Times in a Nov. 3, 1931, article reported on the years of dynamite attacks:

Sunday night’s blast touched off on the Grape Vine siphon marked the eighth actual dynamiting of the Owens Valley Aqueduct system in a series of outrages directed against the city’s water supply system outside the city of Los Angeles….

By far the most spectacular and disastrous dynamiting came when the No Name siphon was blown out on May 27, 1927. This job was engineered by someone who knew how to do a real job of dynamiting. At least two cases of blasting gelatin were floated down the siphon. The time fuse on one of them burned as scheduled and the resulting explosion tore a great hole in the siphon. For some reason or other the second case did not reach its destination. It was found within the tunnel leading to the siphon after the explosion. The fuse on it had failed.

The great gap rent by the explosion let the water out the siphon so fast that before air could get into it through the manhole above, a great vacuum had been created and about 300 feet of the monster steel pipe collapsed like so much tin…

On Sep. 15, 1976, the Los Angeles Aqueduct Alabama Hills gatehouse was bombed. One male juvenile was later arrested and convicted in this bombing. Writer Louis Sahagun interviews the 1976 bomber in Los Angeles Aqueduct bomber reveals his story.

For a really good overview of the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the years of Owens Valley opposition, check out Malnic’s 1987 article The Aqueduct: DWP Smoothes Out Rough Edges on 74-year-old Engineering Marvel.

The above gallery contains 21 photographs and illustrations. These two previous From the Archive post covers Building the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the opening ceremonies Los Angeles Aqueduct: ‘Mighty achievement’ 

[This post updated on Feb. 27, 2013, with additional text and 11 additional photos.]

4 Comments

  1. February 8, 2013, 10:30 am

    Fascinating pictures! There should have been at least a comment on why people might have been damaging the pipeline. If I recall… people in Owens Valley were a little mad about LA using subterfuge to take their water supply.

    By: Rebecca
  2. February 9, 2013, 8:26 am

    If only we knew why people were blowing up the water system! Maybe some other related incidents? When and why it ceased? Relationship to the movie, Chinatown. Incredible photos and story with great potential. Too bad you left us with such poor- or rather non existent- reporting!

    By: lizard@sprynet.com
  3. March 1, 2013, 12:33 am

    This post has been updated with 11 additional photos and additional text explaining the Owens Valley opposition. Thanks for your comment. Scott

    By: Scott Harrison
  4. July 28, 2013, 12:38 am

    They are draining all the water out of bishop to supply a city that is proven to be in the worst spot possible

    For a city . Such as Los Angeles . They turned water into money when water is natural and shouldn’t be turned into a million trillion dollar profit . Especially turn out valley from green to desert

    By: Ray huarte

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