Wo/men at Work with “The Intake,” Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, September 1926, Part Two

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Continuing with this post on the contents of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power employee publication, The Intake, for September 1926, it is noted that the organization had, as many companies and other entities did at the time, a comprehensive education program that was just announced and was ready to begin offerings that month.

There were three categories of courses, including Engineering (water, power, hydraulics, electricity and drafting and charting), General Business (economics, statistics, general accounting, cost accounting and business practice, and General (math, psychology, geology, American history, municipal government, public utilities, English, public speaking, law and auto repair and maintenance) with some accounted to be major and other minor classes. Separately, there was brief reference to the value of taking extension courses at the University of California’s Los Angeles branch, then held at what became Los Angeles City College.

Also of note were the rosters of the Employees’ General Committee, with divisions within the bureaus of power and light and water works and supply as well as a joint bureau covering accounting, commercial, consumer service, legal and purchasing departments, as well as the officers (the chair was Walter S. Baird who wrote a history of the construction department featured in part one of this post) and standing committees. These latter included thirteen groups, such as athletic, entertainment, the mortuary fund, pension, personnel improvement, relief and benefit and, interestingly, one for income tax. A general committee report was also included in the publication.

Another important feature was a piece on a proposed retirement system for employees of the City of Los Angeles, based on a mandate from the recently approved city charter on July 1925 calling for a pension plan. A five-person board was established to pave the way for introduction of a compulsory system by July 1927 that would only exclude elected and appointed officials not under a civil service designation and temporary and emergency workers, while police and fire department personnel were also exempt.

Among the benefits to be offered were general and accidental disability, general and on-duty death, and a service allowance for retirees of at least age 60 with ten years or more of service. Annuities were to be paid out monthly until death with an option for reduced payments so that a designated heir could continue receiving the benefit after the death of the retiree. A table showed the contributed percentage from an employee’s paycheck for the system, with ages ranging from 16 to 59 and graduated from as low as 3.25% to as high as 7.24% for men and 3.56% to 8.14% for women. Upon dismissal or resignation, all contributions were paid out with 4% interest for the former, while for the latter there was a six month delay in payment and a series of twenty-seven questions and answers were also provided in the article.

After brief pieces on service pins for 1, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years as badges of honors for employees, as well as a list of 29 employees with 25 years or more of service (including the chief engineer William Mulholland, whose career would be marred two years later by the horrific St. Francis Dam disaster,) there was special recognition of former state senator Reginaldo del Valle for his reelection as president of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners. A member of the board for nearly twenty years, from the time the Los Angeles Aqueduct project was launched, and president for the previous five years, del Valle was one of the very few Latinos in a position of power and prominence in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, an excerpt from the August 1926 issue of SUNSET (the capitals were part of the title), the well-known magazine, featured the daughter of the board president, Lucretia del Valle de Grady (1892-1972). It was noted that Lucretia was for four years the main female lead of Señora Yorba in John Steven McGroarty’s Mission Play, which was performed at San Gabriel for about two decades from 1912 to 1932 and seen by some two million people. She performed in the first years of the production, which romanticized the history of the California missions and honored the Franciscan priests who ran the institutions, while the plight of the native people was largely bypassed. Lucretia was an accomplished stage actor generally before her marriage and the short piece included a photo of her with her four children, called “Her Northern Jewels,” because the family lived in the Bay Area, where she was prominent in civic affairs and Democratic Party politics.

In a “Correspondence and Contributions” section, informal reports, written with a light touch and interspersed with humor and illustrations comprising photos and cartoons, were presented by the many divisions within the power and light and water works and supply departments, as well as the construction division. The Editor’s Page, however, posted a “Lest We Forget or Misunderstand” statemen that read,

The Chief Mission of The INTAKE is the Furtherance of a Common Interest and the Broadening of a Common Sympathy. Looking to this end, The INTAKE endeavors to abolish, as it were, the four walls, the ceiling and floor which seem to cabin and crib and confine our interests and sympathies to our respective Divisions and Sections, and substitute thereof a Broader Outlook and Acquaintance with the Activities and Life of the Whole Department.

In large-scale bureaucracies the persistent problem of balkanization, so the idea was to try and unify the many employees of the department with general news on “Sports and Pastimes,” and a special promotion of a 50% discount for images taken by noted local photographer Albert Witzel, some of whose photos are throughout the issue. A section titled “Mayonnaise” offered more humor, trivia and other material.

Reginaldo del Valle (1854-1938)

The centerfold consists of a portion of a remarkable set of panoramic photographs in 1869 by Stephen Rendall taken of Los Angeles from Poundcake Hill at Temple Street and Broadway near where the County Courthouse, built in 1889 and razed after damage from the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, stood. Because George W. Hazard reissued the photos in 1905 with large black numbers indicating houses, businesses, city offices and other landmarks, these were then copyrighted under his name. The previous two issues of The Intake shared the other pair of Rendall’s excellent panorama.

For this issue, the “Do You Remember?” offering was a view encompassing much of what was then the southwest section of the town of roughly 6,000 persons. At the left was the city council chambers in the former Rocha family adobe, which was sold by Jonathan Temple to the city and county in 1853 and which was used for several years as the courthouse before his Market House, finished in 1859, was sold to both entities. In the rear yard was the jail, denoted here as brick, but which was adobe on the first level and brick above that (incidentally, not unlike sections of the Workman House at the Homestead.)

Lucretia del Valle de Grady (1892-1972) and her four children.

Also of note was St. Vincent’s College’s second site near what was then recently established, but not well developed, as the future Pershing Square; the future location of the Los Angeles Times headquarters; the locale of what became the Third Street Tunnel; a section of the wooden pipe line for the recently established (1868) private water company that, after its 30-year lease expired, was absorbed by the city.

A caption noted that Rendall’s image, done in sections and stitched together for sale by advance subscription, was likely the first large-scale of the Angel City attempted. It observed that the view “has become notable as an historical souvenir, growing scarcer and scarcer with the passing years.” As a document of the city as it was in the early stages of its first development boom, which lasted until the mid-1870s when the inevitable bust included the failure of the Temple and Workman bank, the statement breathlessly added,

The extraordinary rise of Los Angeles, from the straggling small town of the sixties with a population of some 5,000 [the 1870 census recorded 5,728, but these are almost always undercounts], to the present vast, modern metropolis of today, with its million and a quarter of inhabitants, is almost miraculous . . . by those of us who have lived here for a generation or longer, this growth is viewed with a feeling almost akin to awe. We feel that we are in the midst of a wonder almost beyond comprehension. It has far transcended our wildest imaginings. Nothing like it ever entered our dreams. And now, all of us, old-timers and newcomers alike, recognize that all this growth, development and progress are but forerunners of greater things to come and that a WORLD METROPOLIS is here in the making.

For employees “who have the love of Los Angeles in their hearts and believe in its ultimate destiny,” they were encouraged to buy a copy of the panorama for just a dollar so they could have a “unique souvenir of the WONDER CITY.” As noted in the first post and the history of the construction division, there were times in which the need for water and power were such that it was a struggle for the department to keep up with the relentless growth.

In a short article titled “City’s Water Needs Shown,” a paraphrasing of remarks given by Mulholland to the Water and Power Commission emphasized that use of the precious fluid grew by 4 1/2 billion gallons each year with use of 165 million gallons daily, double the use of 1921, as the population of the Angel City correspondingly doubled in the previous five years. With such a dramatic increase, Mulholland told his bosses that “it is necessary for the Water Bureau to develop its existing resources to their fullest extent and provide more extensive facilities for water storage and its distribution to an ever growing number of consumers.” As an illustration of how much consumption there was, it was pointed out that if all the water used daily in the city was placed in the city block comprising Pershing Square, its depth would be 124 feet.

Another piece of interest concerned the recent creation of a power line carrier telephone system to keep communication open with generating stations and distributing substations. This came in the wake of an accident where a test drill severed phone lines in underground cables of the telephone company building at Hill and 4th streets. The result wasn’t just a matter of delay in expense for business operations of the department, but could have been disastrous if a mass outage was to have occurred with the generation and distribution of power reliant on phone service for communications.

Engineers with the Power Bureau Operating Division devised a radio power line carrier telephone system, which allowed for continuous communication not dependent on standard phone lines and forestalling the need for a separate system of physical lines that would have required great expense and time with the system made operational in 1925. The transmitting and receiving system was based at San Francisquito Power Generating Station #1 north of Los Angeles and at the Central Receiving and Distributing Substation #1 on North Main Street near the Los Angeles River.

From the latter, a private cable ran two miles to the lead dispatch office in the department’s building in downtown. Storage batteries kept continually charged provided the power supply and the system was automatically operational with an operator merely turning a switch to handle calls. Four transmitting and receiving sets, weighing some twenty pounds each, were for use in the field, though these involved more manual operation than the main ones and required antennae and protective equipment. It was noted that there were two occasions when regular phone line communications at San Francisquito went down due to lighting and other storm-related issues, but the radio system operated perfectly.

Other material in the publication concerned details on the workings of radios, overseas travel by employees, sports (bowling and volleyball as well as a separate piece on “Women’s Pastimes and Athletics”) and an inside back cover section of quotations from prominent literary figures like Ben Jonson, William Wordsworth, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the lone woman, the noted American figure Margaret Fuller, author of the 1845 book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which held very advanced ideas for the time.

The back cover offered “Epicrackles,” a play apparently on “epicycles” and which featured some snappy prose by “Crispi Bacon” as he dissected the problem with alibis. Here is a representative sample of the dialogue, which overdoses on alliteration and hipster lingo:

An Alibi stamps you a shoddy “second” and they tie a markdown tag on you and place you in the Bargain Basement. An Alibi-shooter is a dude that shoots “duds.” He muffs, then bluffs. The more artistic the Alibi the more asinine the artist. He hunches away on the “Moss-back” throne; a “Bust” of pancake batter. He is a yawner instead of a deep-breather. With an attic full of Alibis he loses life from Aliblexy. Born as a pedigreed prince, he ends as a “Hot Dog,” mustarded for crunching Fate . . . The zeniths of America are clamoring for Alibi-shy men .. . Alibis clutch the Conscience like the dope habit . . . the only man an Alibi can fool is the gink who makes them, and being a mumbling mummy, let him R.I.P.

The Museum’s collection has seven more issues of The Intake, so we’ll look to feature more of these in future posts.

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