The man single handedly responsible for today's Los Angeles, William Mulholland was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1855. Mulholland spent his childhood in Dublin. He left home at age fifteen to become a sailor, arriving in New York City in the early 1870s.
In 1877 Mulholland arrived in Los Angeles. A city he deeply cared about, Mulholland's rapid (Less than 20 years) rise to the prestigous office of City Engineer started from modest beginnings, he cleared the city's water ditches. After work, he would study textbooks on mathematics, hydraulics, geology and other subjects that he later put to practical use.
By 1906, Mulholland had already put a name for himself as a pioneer in the field of engineering with the construction of the dam the Silver Lake Reservoir which utilized hydraulic sluicing to build the dam. It was a new construction idea that attracted nationwide attention. Government engineers adopted the method in building Gatun Dam in the Panama Canal Zone.
That however, was not the achievement he is to be known for. That honor was for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a 238 mile long, gravity powered (There are no pumps at all in the aqueduct) aqueduct that begins at the Owens River and flows down to deliver the precious water to the City of Angels. The first aqueduct water was presented to the people of Los Angeles on November 5, 1913 at the Grand Cascades (Now marked by a monument, it is right at the current intersection of SR-14 and Interstate 5.) with the words, "There it is, take it!" as he gave Los Angeles the water it so desperately needed (Local water sources would only hold a city of 500,000) to become the sprawling metropolis it is today.
At the peak of his career, in 1928, his career met a disastrous blow with the failure St. Francis Dam as its backup water supply came crashing down, killing more than 500 people. During the inquiry, Mulholland placed full blame on himself, and broke down sobbing several times, in the end he was found responsible for the disaster, but innocent of professional negligence and manslaughter.
After the trial, Mulholland slipped into a self-imposed isolation that would last the rest of his life. Shortly before resigning his post as city engineer, he had a survey of the Mulholland Dam done, and after finding similar problems with it, had the Hollywood Reservoir dropped to 75% capacity and the dam partially covered with dirt, thus saving it. His successor was his former assistant, Harvey Van Norman.
In July 1935, Mulholland died at the age of 87. His last public appearance was the dedication of the Colorado River Aqueduct. A project that was begun by, but never credit to him. He was displayed in the city hall's rotunda, and his memorial service was attended by thousands. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills.
Today, William Mulholland remains relatively unknown. A fountain in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles commemorates him, there's a drive (Mulholland Drive) in the Malibu area named after him, but that's about it. Hopefully soon, people will realize the huge debt Los Angeles owes to this man, especially since the St. Francis Dam collapse has since been proven to be the result of an ancient mudslide, undetectable at the time.
A good book if you want to know more about William Mulholland is "William Mulholland & the Rise of Los Angeles."