It was the need for water in a rapidly expanding city that brought the so-named Silver Lake neighborhood into being. The story of how Irish immigrant and self-taught engineer William Mulholland transformed Los Angeles into a modern metropolis is the stuff of legend. Soon after his arrival in 1877, Mulholland landed a job as a deputy zanjero for the Los Angeles Water Company (LAWC), the private company that controlled the municipal water supply and quickly moved up the ranks. By 1880 he was supervising construction of a new iron pipeline. By 1883, he had been elevated to superintendent, and after the city took control of the company in 1898, he became the first head of the Los Angeles Water Department, forerunner to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He would also oversee the 8-year construction of the Owens River Aqueduct, the monumental project that brought water from the Sierra Nevada through hundreds of miles of newly-bored mountain tunnels to the thirsty city, exponentially expanding its water supply.
To meet the water needs of the rapidly-growing city, Mulholland began planning for a new reservoir project in the Ivanhoe Hills residential project in 1889. Construction began on two interconnected reservoirs, separated by a spillway; the first, Ivanhoe Reservoir, was completed in 1905; the second, the Silver Lake Reservoir became operational in 1906. Combined, the two reservoirs supplied enough water to serve the city for twenty-one days. Besides their practical value, the open-faced reservoirs became the focal point of the community. Lots for sale with “lake” views commanded the highest prices as new residents flocked to the new subdivision. And it was Mulholland that bestowed the name “Silver Lake” on the reservoir in honor of Herman Silver, the former President of the Los Angeles City Council and Board of Water Commissioners whose role in wresting control of the city’s water supply from private interests was of paramount importance.
Adapted from Silver Lake Chronicles: Exploring an Urban Oasis in Los Angeles, Michael Locke with Vincent Brook, History Press, 2014. Please do not use this material in any media without my permission. © All rights reserved.