by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The very powerful Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) was shaken to its core recently when F.B.I. agents raided a couple months back the department’s Bunker Hill headquarters and offices in the City Hall East complex as part of a probe concerning a disastrous rollout several years ago of a new billing system and other matters.
Just a few days ago, an Office of Inspector General for the DWP was announced with Mayor Eric Garcetti pledging that the move would “help us make certain that the organization is always working to uphold the highest standards of integrity and improve customer confidence.”
The DWP has been a juggernaut of a public utility for over a century dating as far back as the planning and execution of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, truly an engineering marvel of its time when it was completed in 1913 and transported water well over 200 miles from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles.
For years, the department was held up as an exemplar of what a public utility could do in providing efficient and effective service on a grand scale. Over time, however, it has been accused of paying lavish salaries and benefits, using ratepayer funds for non-profits created in conjunction with the department’s employee union which had questionable spending, and more.
Today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection hearkens back to the period when the DWP was considered a model of its kind, specifically through the publication “The Intake” published by the department’s employees (the museum has nine issues of the newsletter from the last half of the Twenties.) This 15 September 1926 issue was a “Picnic Special,” printed to highlight the company picnic held three days later at the Encino Hot Springs resort at the historic Rancho Los Encinos.
The announcement noted that the event, held by the department’s Board of Water and Power Commissioners, headed by state senator Reginaldo F. del Valle, one of the few Latinos in California politics,
will find no room for dull boys [and, presumably, girls]. It will be an occasion resembling a family reunion . . . Business and Shop Talk will be knocked in the head, handcuffed, shunted into an underground sub, the switch turned and the combination thrown away. KING PICNIC will checkle with infectious stimulation and the conquest will be on.
Befitting the massive organization that was the DWP, the picnic was organized by the “Board of Control of the Employees’ Association of the Department of Water and Power” and a committee of thirteen men was tasked with eight sub-committees, including finance and site selection, refreshments and commissary, entertainment and athletics, decorations and more.
It was promised, the publication averred, that “nothing will be left undone to fill our “horn of Plenty’ and then to blow our message to a gathering of the finest aggregation in Los Angeles,” the department’s work force. One of the program elements, planned by a committee that did include a woman with five men, included in the newsletter were field sports, almost always a major focus of employee picnics.
Eighteen events were listed, including races separately for boys and girls and men and women; a shot put contest for girls; a softball game; broad jump contests; a horse and rider race; a “Ladies’ Nail Driving Contest,” but not one for men; and a “Fat Man’s Race” where it was added that “no biting or kicking allowed.” Obviously, the latter event would not even be considered today.
Also provided were rosters for the Employees’ Association’s Board of Control, with one divided by the water works and supply and power and light divisions as well as a joint bureau for such areas as the legal department, accounting section, purchasing area and the consumers’ service division among others. The second denoted the many standing committees, including athletic, pension, relief and benefit, entertainment, income tax, and mortuary fund, as just some examples.
Another common feature of employee newsletters were words of wisdom bestowed by the executives of the organization. So, there was a short note of “Appreciation” by William Mulholland, the legendary chief engineer who oversaw the aqueduct project and the department.
Mulholland, while stating that the picnic was “an expression of appreciation of the members of our organization” then added that “it can be said for most of the employees that they really require no acknowledged recognition.” Rather tellingly, he noted “we look upon the performance of their daily tasks as evidence of the loyalty at all times and in all matters.”
“The Chief,” as he was commonly called, did allow that the event was a way “to cement such friendships as have obtained among our co-workers” and that “these ‘Get-togethers’ allowed for these relationships to be fostered and developed.”
Mulholland’s use of the word “loyalty” was a very common one in employee newsletters and another short article in the publication was, in fact, about that concept. Department official H.C. Gardett of the Construction Division wrote that his section was “not too busy to rest on its oars, draw a deep breath and do a marathon to Encino Hot Springs for relaxation and the opportunity to extend the hand of fellowship.”
He added that workers get caught up in their individual role in an organization and after often not mindful of the work of others. So, he was pleased to report that his division “can boast of association in the loyalty of the entire personnel of the Department of Water and Power,” whether enjoying the picnic or “when we must all roll up our sleeves and turn on the steam that ‘does things.'”
Department General Manager Ezra.F. Scattergood wrote about “Service,” another major feature of employee publications; Mulholland’s assistant Henry Van Norman waxed fondly about “Good-Fellowship,” saying “I have long sought the opportunity of meeting more of the employees of the Department and becoming better acquainted;” and T.A. Panter opined that “Co-operation” was manifested when employees gave their all “with a tact and courtesy which makes the family spirit, ever striving for a higher goal” the key to the organization’s progress.
Words and phrases like “family” or “football team” or “the spirit of hospitality,” were other examples of commonly articulated values that were pervasive in many companies and public organizations of the era. William W. Hurlbut, a department engineer who was the subject with his family of a post here in August 2018, used the gridiron analogy in conjunction with “a unified college spirit backing up the line 100 per cent strong” for the company’s “relations with the public.” J. Hunter Clark highlighted hospitality as a key part of the picnic in that he would stimulate “an even greater spirit of hospitality in an organization already recognized” for that attribute.
The other key component of the publication to note was the DWP’s “Educational Program” and the “Announcement of Courses” for what was another feature found in other organizations of the era: an employee education program.
The first quarter of the 1926-27 year offered over twenty classes in the areas of engineering (water, power, hydraulics, electricity, drafting and charting); General Business (economics, business practices, statistics, accounting and machine operation); General Culture and Science (mathematics, psychology, geology, history, English, law, public speaking and more); and Practical Courses (auto repair and household economy.)
A signal part of such programs was that the betterment of the education of the employee would also benefit the company and considerable effort was clearly put into the development and maintenance of the program, which included over two dozen instructors, among them Mulholland, Scattergood, Van Norman, Hurlbut and Panter.
No tuition was charged, but a $1 per course administrative fee was forwarded to the Employees’ General Committee Fund. Courses were offered starting at 4:30 p.m. and some concluding as late as 9 p.m. for those employees who were willing to devote some of their off time to their betterment (and that of the department).
As to the location of the picnic, the historic Rancho Los Encinos headquarters on Ventura Boulevard near Balboa Avenue was also the location of a native village situated near a sacred hot springs (a recent post here on the Bimini Springs resort west of downtown is of interest in this context). The rancho was then developed in this portion of the San Fernando Valley under the ownership of the de la Osa, Garnier and Amestoy families throughout the 19th century.
In summer 1922, the Encino Hot Springs resort was opened by a company of that name with the hope that it would attract a clientele of the type that went to Bimini, the San Juan resort in the Santa Ana Mountains east of San Juan Capistrano, La Vida in Carbon Canyon in Brea, and Alvarado in modern Rowland Heights, among others.
The springs were part of the headquarers complex including the de la Osa Adobe, a two-story limestone house built by Eugene Garnier, his stone-lined lake, and other elements. In 1924, W.H. Hay developed his 40-acre tract nearby that ushered in the beginnings of the town of Encino, though the remoteness of the area limited its growth in the years before the Great Depression burst forth in October 1929.
Still, there were occasional mentions in local newspapers of events and activities associated with Encino Hot Springs. In December 1925, for example, a cafe opened and publicized a Christmas chicken dinner “cooked as only a southern colored chef knows how to cook it.”
After mention of the historic nature of the springs and ranch, including the de la Osa Adobe and Garnier stone house “set back from the highway, like a hacienda, among orange trees, and guarded by tall and massive palms,” it was added that “a fine Filipino stringed orchestra contributes much to the southern atmosphere.” This strange reference appears to imply that the Filipinos, presumably dark-skinned, were some kind of minstrel-type act in a bizarre mashup with the “southern colored chef” stereotype.
In September 1927, an article pointed out that, among “a score of families,” meaning twenty, who’d settled in Encino in the last few years, the Encino Hot Springs cafe was joined by another racially-themed restaurant, Mammy’s Shack.
Another historical reference of interest came in November 1925 when “a Mexican laborer digging on the Frank Meline [Meline was the subject of a recent post on this blog] Company’s tract” at the corner of Ventura and Balboa came across a large stone mortar. The Southwest Museum of the American Indian’s director came out and determined that there was a native burial ground at the site, just west of the springs and ranch headquarters.
At the end of 1930, it was announced that an Englishman named E. J. East took out a lease of the 101-acre property including springs and historic structures with grand plans for a “dude ranch.” East pledged to expend $50,000 on improvements including new structures “where use will be made of the hot springs for medicinal bath purposes.”
A few months later, however, in April 1931, it was revealed that East only spent a few hundred dollars towards the project and then headed back to England. B-movie Western actor Bill Cody (said to have been born in Winnipeg, Canada to Icelandic parents!) and his associate G.J. Kahn were then left to do something with the lease and wound up being jailed on charges of grand theft as they sold concessions to horse riding academy owners and boxing promoters for what was christened “Rancho de Bill Cody.” It was even claimed that the Los Angeles Olympics planning committee for the 1932 Games were linked to the project, but the scheme quickly collapsed.
In the early 1940s, efforts were launched by Encino residents to have the ranch headquarters and springs preserved. In 1946, the state earmarked $25,000 for the project if matching funds from local sources could be raised, so a drive was launched by an Encino Historical Committee.
The organization commissioned a study of the springs and its waters and announced plans that called “for a pagoda to be erected around the spring, with seats and drinking facilities for visitors.” The de la Osa adobe was to be restored and opened as a museum and the Garnier house was designated as a community meeting space, with the park to be operated by the state.
That plan became a reality in 1949 when Los Encinos State Historic Park was opened. It remains a state park seventy years later, with tours of the adobe offered by appointment Wednesday through Saturday including occasional self-guided tours when staff are available; school tours given Wednesday through Friday; and spring and fall special events held. More information is available on the state park website page for Los Encinos.