This photo album, made by Angelenos Julius Goodwin Oliver and William Henry Frick, illustrates a road trip that the two curious citizens undertook to observe the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1915. The Aqueduct was opened on November 5, 1913, and the magazine Boom: A Journal of California has dedicated its fall issue to the centennial; the photo album, which is held in the Huntington Library, is the topic of a piece by Boom’s Annie Powers.
The photos are taken in a self-consciously playful spirit of adventure. The caption of the first page reads: “Starting of the EXPEDITION?, among the tears of our sorrowing relatives.” The two friends stop often to provide their Model T with “nourishment,” and cheerful photos of this process are interspersed with the record of the aqueduct.
But in their exploration of the places changed by the new infrastructure, the two men’s images capture some of the political stakes of the siphoning of water from the Owens Valley to a burgeoning Los Angeles.
Oliver and Frick note places along the route where the city of Los Angeles had purchased water rights, land, and the right of way for the aqueduct’s placement. Proudly, they note the capabilities of the current and planned reservoirs, and capture images of the stretches of lined canal. They seem to have been particularly enamored with the miles of steel and concrete siphons. One image depicts Oliver standing on top of one such stretch of siphon, a tiny, faraway figure, with the riveted steel dominating the foreground.
The photo album ends with an image of a female relative watering the lawn of a graceful house—a harbinger of the Los Angeles to come. Poking gentle fun at the niece who didn’t come along for the ride, the caption reads: “1837 Canyon Drive, and the Slacker using the water.”
Many more aqueduct-related documents can be found at UCLA's new Los Angeles Aqueduct Digital Platform.