“Trail of the Red Herring”: The Purity of Water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct in “The Los Angeles Graphic” Magazine of 9 January 1915

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A previous post here featured a 1929 issue of the Los Angeles-based magazine, Saturday Night, published by veteran writer, journalist and publisher Samuel T. Clover. Born in England in 1859, Clover migrated to America with his family when he was fourteen, settling near Chicago and got into journalism early, along with busking around the world at the end of his teens. After marrying Mabel Hitt in the mid-Eighties, Clover headed to the Dakota Territory, running newspapers and publishing poetry before returning to the Windy City.

At the end of the 19th century, he continued his journalistic work as well as writing works of fiction based on his global travels, but he moved his family to Los Angeles at the start of the new century and became editor of Edwin T. Earl’s Los Angeles Express newspaper. A vociferous opponent of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Clover launched the Los Angeles Evening News, but that sheet failed after he lost a $17,500 libel suit filed against him by a local judge.

In 1908, however, Clover took over the operation of The Los Angeles Graphic, a weekly magazine that first appeared in the mid-Nineties, and he ran the publication for eight years. The journal ran features on books, theater and film, society, music, art and finance as well as offered editorials and poems. Tonight’s featured object from the museum’s holdings is the 9 January 1915 issue of the journal, which had, as its associate editor, Randolph Bartlett, later a title writer for many 1920s films.

While the Los Angeles Aqueduct had been completed and in operation for well over a year, Clover maintained his antipathy for the engineering marvel that allowed the region to continue its relentless development and his “Trail of the Red Herring” editorial, which concerned separate civil lawsuits filed By Henry A. Hart and Edgar Frost, who sought an injunction against the City of Los Angeles prohibiting the delivery to residents of the water transported some 225 miles from the Owens Valley southwest to the project’s terminus because, it was asserted, the water was contaminated at its source and not properly clean by the time it reached the Angel City.

Los Angeles Express, 5 January 1915.

Clover attacked the city attorney who cross-examined a witness and “insistently and consistently interrrogated him as to the motive for the suit, intimating that interested corporations were meeting the costs of the action.” The publisher continued that municipal counsel, led by William B. Mathews (makesake of Lake Mathews, the terminus of the Colorado River Aqueduct), were more interested “to reveal an interested motive than to disprove the charges of impure drinking water” and observed that Superior Court Judge Lewis Works sarcastially castigated the lawyers by saying “the question is not who is promoting the suit, but as to the purity of the aqueduct water.”

Moreover, the editorial went on, “we cannot forget that a reputable bacteriologist of recognized ability and high standing in the medical profession has made certain grave statements regarding the aqueduct supply source,” this being the Owens River, “well calculated to disturb a community on which the water is to be turned loose.” Clover cited this testimony of Dr. Ethel Leonard, a rare woman official in the Los Angeles City Health Department but who left in 1907 during what was reported to be a crisis in the department’s “office politics.” Leonard was, at the time, thought to be “a capable scientist, but she had become mixed [up] in the office intrigues,” according to the Los Angeles Express of 12 April.

Also mentioned by Clover was Dr. Stanley Black, the City of Pasadena’s health officer “who, returning from a visit to the aqueduct intake [on the Owens River in the valley of that name], cautioned his people to shun the Owens River water, since it was disease laden.” The editor claimed that Black was not set to “serve Los Angeles a scurvy trick” and was certainly not hired by “the mythical principals” that Mathews claimed were behind the suit. He went on,

Anyone who knows Dr. Black realizes how impossible it were to enlist him in any unethical cause. He is devoted to his work, a physician of great skill and unimpeachable integrity. Why is he not subpoen[a]ed as a witness in this case? Why is he not summoned to explain just what he meant by his words of warning and what instigated their utterance?

The editorial offered “we hope the conditions said to be prevalent north of the intake have so far been abated that the menace the held for Los Angeles users of the water no longer exist.” If, however, nothing had changed, “there should be no unwise effort made to conceal the truth by drawing a red herring across the trail of the conduit” and Clover implored that “if there is danger of infection, let the truth be made known and the remedy applied.”

He insisted that “the only safe way to use aqueduct water is to take it from the head of the valley, far above the present intake,” a distance of some sixty miles and, only in this way, “will the aqueduct system be so perfected that all danger of contamination will be removed and the people of Los Angeles rendered immune from infection.”

It turned out that Hart was a leader in the “Peoples Aqueduct Investigation Board” that sought to prove corruption in the development of the project and, when he and attorney Ingle Carpenter, also a member of that board, tried to stop the delivery of water in August 1914, the action was dropped because Hart was not a resident of the areas within the aqueduct delivery system. Frost did live in that zone, but it was learned that he was a detective in Carpenter’s employ and the lawyer then hired Dr. Leonard, then living and working in Chicago, where she got her start in scientific endeavor, to prepare her critical report on the water’s quality.

The trial before Judge Works, which began on 5 January, lasted forty days, with many witnesses heard on both sides and a transcript spanning over 6,300 pages. The main point of contention was whether the system’s reservoirs allowed enough storage time to prevent the buildup of unhealthy bacterial levels, especially the massive Haiwee Reservoir some 17 miles south of Owens Lake. Notably, a July 1915 review of the matter by sanitary and hudraulic engineer Charles Gilman Hyde presented to the city’s Board of Public Service Commissioners recorded that Dr. Black testified for the City, while Leonard, who wanted a fee and travel expenses for appearing in the previous summer’s proceedings, had to appear by subpoena.

The Express of 20 March in its report on the conclusion of the trial noted that

The severest defeat ever administered to the hidden enemies of the Los Angeles aqueduct, who have conducted a campaign of misrepresentation since construction of the great water system was begun more than ten years ago, has been administered in the local superior court . . . trial of the suits came to a close with the arguments of the attorneys who summed up the greatest mass of evidence ever presented in a local court.

After a half-hour, Judge Works handed down his decision, denying the injunctions sought by the plaintiffs and observing that the aqueduct was designed and constructed so that those receiving the water “are assured of a wholesome, palatable and entirely sanitary water supply.”

Express, 20 March 1915.

The plaintiffs argued that water only took between two and four days to pass through Haiwee, while the City responded that the ime frame was actually just over 400 days, more than amply guaranteeing purity of the water. Works’ decision stated that “the great weight of the evidence demonstrates that Haiwee reservoir is remarkably efficient as a great purifying unit in the aqueduct system” with several other downstream reservoirs, including at Franklin Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains above Beverly Hills.

Works also denied the plaintiffs’ demand that the City seek a state health permit before allowing any water to be delivered to customers, saying the city had the constitutional rights and powers to build and maintain its own water system without state interference. The coverage ended with the note that Hart and Frost paid the $6 filing fee for their suits, but, otherwise, incurred no expenses and the Express referred to the fact that “numerous references were made during the argument to the ‘concealed interests’ behind the actions.” A later motion for a retrial was denied by Works and the matter ended.

The July 1915 report, which went into great detail in presenting the technical aspects of water storage and decontamination, as well as findings of numerous studies of aqueduct water with regard to its purity, along with observing that the population of Inyo County as so small that any contamination was minimal and easily alleviated by the aqueduct’s safeguards, printed Works’ full text of his decision statring that there was no better summary to be offered in rebuttal of the claims made by Hart, Frost, Carpenter and their purported hidden partners.

There are other items of interest in the magazine. President James A. Blaisdell of Pomona College was praised for his fundraising as highlighted by “the gratifying announcement that a million dollars have been pledged to its campaign fund,” though another $100,000 was needed to secure an aditional $150,000 from the General Education Board of New York City, established by the incredibly wealthy John D. Rockefeller, whose Standard Oil Company empire was split up by anti-trust legislation at the start of the decade, and his namesake son.

It was added that, given the economic situation of the previous couple of years, Blaisdell deserved credit for what was thought to be “a hopeless task” turned into “an extraordinary achievement.” Moreover, becuase Pomona was still a relatively youing institution, having graduated its first class some twenty years prior, the campaign showed that it was a stellar example of “where a college so quickly emerges from youth to manhood.”

Of the funds, $160,000 came from an unnamed source in Chicago, while the town of Claremont, where the school is situated, came up with $100,000. The First Congregationalist Church of Los Angeles donated $50,000—the school was affiliated with that denomination when established in 1887—while Appleton and Amelia Bridges of San Diego provided $100,000 for a music hall in memory of their daughter, Mabel, who died at 22 while a student at the college.

In the entertainment section, there was reference to the welcome home, after several months in New York, of “America’s Sweetheart,” actor Mary Pickford. The article noted that the star was to be the recipient of “a mammoth demonstration on the part of the local ‘screen fans’ given under the auspices of the Southern California Motion Picture Exhibitors’ Association” during that group’s second annual ball (the first was held in May 1914) the following week at the original Shrine Auditorium. It was added that “the line of the grand march will go past a throne which to be erected for little Mary, and homage will be paid her as the line passes by,” led by actors Carlyle Blackwell and Dorothy Gish.

Also of interest is a piece about the director D.W. Griffith, whose unabashed apologia to the Confederacy and blatantly racist film, though a technical marvel of the time, The Birth of a Nation, also known as The Clansman, was released just a month later. The article noted that the magazine took the auteur to task for purportedly saying “the stage is dead,” but then learned that there was an extensive quote by Griffith that said that “the motion picture . . . is boundless in its scope, and endless in its possibilities” even with not having the use of speech, though that was about a dozen years away.

He added that “the other advantages of the motion picture over the stage are so numerous and powerful that we can well afford to grant the stage this one point of superiority.” When it came to content, however, Griffith asserted that “when the plays of other days, and of these days are exhausted, as they will be, motion pictures will come into their own.”

In the Music column, W. Francis Gates recorded that “it was a sadly disappointed audience that wended its way from Trinity Auditroium Tuesday evening” because, while “John McCormack is one of the few musicians who make money for a manger [promoter] in Los Angeles,” the famed Irish tenor’s cold led to a cancellation of his concert on the 5th. Lynden E. Behymer, an enormous figure in the Los Angeles music scene of the era, was going “to have to make good on future seats or refund the cash” and this was presumed to be “a hard knock” and “hard lines” for the impresario, though McCormack did have performances scheduled for the 9th and 12th.

Also discussed by Gates were upcoming presentations by the National Grand Opera Company at Temple Auditorium, organ recitals by Archibald Sessions at a church, the presentation of a suite for an orchstra by the Temple’s organist, Ray Hastings, and the third series of concers at the Trinity by the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra.

Beatrice de Lack Krombach, in her Art column, noted that “never have the walls of the gallery at Exposition Park been hung more choicely than at the present time,” thanks to such works as an Aubusson tapestry of the Siege of Troy by the ancient Greeks loaned to what was then known as the Los Angeles Museum of Science and Art since its opening in 1913 by Anita Baldwin McClaughry, daughter of the late capitalist Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin.

Krombach declared that the work “is the most wonderfully preserved art object it has been my privilege to enjoy,” but warned that readers had to see it the next day before it was to be replaced by a portrait of McClaughry. The columnist, hwever, was not at all taken by a work by Jerome S. Blum as his “Beach at Bordifhera” was said to show the artist as having “the post-impressionistic disease in an aggravated form.” His “Reflections” had the “fresh green colors of spring,” but, she continued, “energy is wasted.”

More impressive to her was “Peasant and Grandchild” by Myron Barlow, who “exhibits a most uncommon understanding of the psychological penetration necessary for the proper rendition of figure painting.” Works from Cullan Yates, Robert Reid, C.P. Townsley, Georges Charpentier, Jonas Lie and Granville Redmondwere also discussed, though Krombach was discouraged by the “crowded effect” in the space “due to the newly-placed sculpture pedestals,” which could, with “adjustment of the light forces,” have been placed next to the columns in the rotunda of what is now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

In the “Week’s News in Perspective,” items “of local interest” include the report that 100,000 persons attended the Tournament of Roses without any accidents reported; that an effort was being mounted to declare Santa Catalina and other Channel Islands to be beyond the three-mile limit “and so not governed by county or state laws;” that “jitney” bus operators booed when the city council met about regulating traffic; and that there was an increase in imports and exports at the Port of Los Angeles despite the onset of the world war in Europe the previous summer.

This issue of The Los Angeles Graphic may be more notable for its editorial on the Los Angeles Aqueduct water purity trial, but some of its other material provides an interesting window to life in the Angel City in the mid-1910s, at least as filtered through the editorial work of Clover and and Bartlett (and interpreted by this blogger, as well!)

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