Mulholland Dam and Hollywood Reservoir

(1924)* - View showing the Mulholland Dam under construction. Photo date: February 2, 1924  


Historical Notes

The Mulholland Dam is a concrete-arched gravity dam constructed between August 1923 and December 1924.  Built under the supervision of William Mulholland, chief engineer for the City's Bureau of Water Works and Supply (later DWP), the dam’s sole purpose was creating a new water reservoir for the City of Los Angeles.




(1924)* - Aerial view shows the construction of the Mulholland Dam and the Hollywood Reservoir beginning to take form.  


Historical Notes

The reservoir formed behind the dam was called the Hollywood Reservoir (later Lake Hollywood) and would hold up to 2.5 billion gallons of water from the Owens River Aqueduct System (LA Aqueduct) and from the groundwater of the San Fernando Valley.




(1924)^** – Panoramic view looking north showing the Hollywood Hills with several large signs on display.  The “Hollywoodland” sign is in the upper-right, a large letter “H” is at top-center, and just below it and to the left can be seen a sign reading “Byrn Mawr”.  At center-left is the new Mulholland Dam, still under construction.  


Historical Notes

In the early 1920s, developers began opening virgin tracts of land for construction all around Los Angeles. To help sell these new developments, real estate agents coined fancy names like Bryn Mawr, Outpost Estates and Whitley Heights, while also constructing large signs spelling out their names with individual letters in white and red.*^*

Click HERE to see more in Early Views of Hollywood.




(1924)*^ - Aerial view showing a nearly completed Mulholland Dam at the upper-left with the Bryn Mawr residential subdivision below it.  The Bryn Mawr Sign can be seen to the right of the dam on the hillside.  






(ca. 1905)^^ - View as seen from Cahuenga Blvd looking down at a farm with man behind a horse-drawn plow.  Today, Holly Drive runs north in this area surrounded by a 1920s-built tract of homes (Bryn Mawr).  Also seen in the distance is Cahuenga Peak and the future location of 1925-built Lake Hollywood Dam (aka Mulholland Dam).  






(1924)* - Aerial view showing location where the previous photo was taken.  The highlighted trees act as a good reference point for comparison.  





(1925)^^^ - Close-up view showing the water beginning to rise behind the dam.  





(1925)* - View of Mulholland Dam shortly after it was completed. It was named after the designer William Mulholland, who was also responsible for the design of the aqueducts and reservoirs for Los Angeles.  





(1925)^^^ – View showing people on Mulholland Dam the day it was opened.  The Hollywoodland Sign can be seen in the distance.  


Historical Notes

Tuesday, the 17th of March, 1925, in addition to being St. Patrick’s Day, was also a red-letter day in the annals of the Department of Public Service. To those who were fortunate enough to be the recipients of an invitation to be present at the dedication of that monumental structure in Weid Canyon, the Mulholland Dam, the day will be forever memorable as signalizing the erection of another symbolic milestone to mark the progress of this incomparable city of Los Angeles.

Mulholland Dam, enshrining forever in imperishable stone the name and the fame of its designer and builder, Chief Engineer William Mulholland, not only ranks as one of the great engineering accomplishments of its kind in the United States, but it also stands unique in that it is located squarely in the midst of a thickly populated metropolitan area.

Because of this fact and of its standing at an elevation overlooking and dominating the entire Hollywood section and the downtown Los Angeles district, two major considerations overshadowed everything else in its design and construction – the factors of safety and beauty.

With the inflexible determination that no Johnstown Disaster should ever overwhelm the City of the Angels, the form of the Dam was, for greater safety, thrust forward upstream against the pressure to come, arching in a vast curve like a colossal bow in order to transmit the approaching future strains as a lateral stress to the wide and ample shoulders of the unyielding walls of the canyon which it spans. So great is the resultant strength engendered by this construction and so vast the margin of safety occasioned thereby that no pressure that can in the course of nature be brought to bear against it can ever overstrain or overcome the resistant qualities of Mulholland Dam. Indeed, it has been reliably calculated that if Lake Hollywood, which it impounds, were filled with molten lead instead of water, the Dam would still stand. This becomes all the more impressive when it is recalled that, bulk for bulk, lead is 11.4 times heavier than water, the weight of a cubic foot of lead being 710 pounds as against 62 ½ pounds for a like volume of water.

And then because not only of its commanding position, dominating the city and the cynosure of all eyes for miles around in its enframing background of circling hills, but also because “a thing of beauty is a job forever,” it was determined to make Mulholland Dam sightly and beautiful, as well as solidly and safely utilitarian. How well, this determination was carried out and the vision realized all who have seen the superb structure can abundantly testify.

Constructed of solid concrete, 200 feet in span and 160 feet in thickness at its base, bedded upon the everlasting rock, the white walls of Mulholland Dam tower upward 200 feet into the air between the precipitous hillsides of Weid Canyon to a thickness of 16 feet and a span of 975 feet at its crest, culminating in a roadway flanked on either side by four foot balustraded sidewalks, thus proving a twenty-four-foot viaduct over the entire structure.

Beginning construction in August 1923, the dam proper was completed on December 24, 1924, just in time to figure as the most elaborate, graceful and costly Christmas token for the municipal stocking, ever tendered to the city of Los Angeles. in all a total of 172,800 cubic feet of concrete were poured, at a cost to the city of $1,250,000, in round figures, being at the rate of slightly more than $6 per cubic yard, as against $10 to $12 per cubic yard, the average cost of similar concrete structures elsewhere.

Filled to it full height, Mulholland Dam is capable of impounding 2,500,000,000 gallons of water, a supply sufficient to cover 8,000 acres of land to a depth of one foot. Primarily, the purpose of this vast flood is to furnish gravity pressure for Hollywood and the northwest and the foothill section of the city, all of which will be supplied by direct connection. As one link in a chain of fifteen storage and distribution units, Mulholland Dam and Lake Hollywood will from now on constitute one of the most vital portions of the entire water supply system of Los Angeles.

While the Aqueduct is also available, the present source of supply is from a battery of sixteen wells, drilled and drilling, tapping the enormous accumulations of water seeping form the excess of surface irrigation into the deep and almost bottomless gravels of the San Fernando Valley. Lake Hollywood is now being filled through nine miles of 36-inch pipe from eight completed wells, the level standing at 120 feet on the day of the dedication, or considerably less than one-half the rated capacity of the reservoir.^




(1925)*^ - Hollywood Reservoir and Mulholland Dam during dedication ceremonies, showing a far shot of the assembled crowd with the dam wall prominent in the middle of the picture. March 17, 1925  





(1925)* - Hollywood Reservoir and Mulholland Dam are shown with a crowd walking across the dam during the dedication ceremony.  An American flag can be seen draped over one of the towers.  





(1925)* - Hollywood Reservoir and Mulholland Dam during dedication ceremonies on March 17, 1925. William Mulholland is shown standing in the car. To the rear are several riders on horseback.  





(1925)* - Hollywood Reservoir and Mulholland Dam during dedication ceremonies, showing dignitaries in a car with Los Angeles City seal on the door. To the left are flags and the edge of a dedicatory plaque can be seen.  





(1925)* - William Mulholland standing in an open automobile in front of American flags at the dedication of the Mulholland Dam and Hollywood Reservoir. Click HERE to see the William Mulholland Biography.  


Historical Notes

Coincidence?  Dedication ceremonies were held on St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17, 1925.  And, of course, William Mullholland was Irish (born in Belfast, Ireland, on September 11, 1855).




(1925)* - Caption reads: Graceful arches and landscaping make Hollywood Dam an object of beauty as well as of service in providing a valuable reserve water supply for Hollywood and other districts of Los Angeles.  





(2020)^.^ – View showing The Bears of Mulholland Dam as they appear today.  





(n.d.)^ - Close-up profile view showing the ornamental bears on the outside wall of Mulholland Dam.reference point for comparison.  


Historical Notes

The ornamental bear heads on the spandrel walls are emblematic of the California native wildlife.^



(1925)* - Mulholland Dam and Hollywood Reservoir seen here with the clouds reflecting off the water.  





(1925)^^^ - View looking out over the Hollywood Reservoir toward the Mulholland Dam.  A large sign behind the dam reads “BRYN MAWR”.  


Historical Notes

Similar to the “Hollywoodland” sign, the "Bryn Mawr" sign was put up to advertise a new housing development below and around the Mulholland Dam (completed Dec. 1924) in the Hollywood Hills (Click HERE to see more).




(ca. 1925)++ – View looking down from the Hollywood Hills showing: the upper and lower sections of the Hollywood Reservoir, Mulholland Dam, and the city below.  





(1926)^ - Aerial view of Hollywood looking north. The Mullholand Dam and Hollywood Reservoir can be seen at upper center-right.





(1925)^^ -  View of Hollywood looking north from Rossmore Avenue and Rosewood Avenue showing Vine Street from its north turn near Melrose Avenue. At top center-left is a clear view of the Mulholland Dam sitting high up in the Hollywood Hills.





(1926) – Aerial view looking north along Highland Avenue as it heads north into Cahuenga Pass with the Mulholland Dam and Hollywood Reservoir clearly seen in the distance.





(1928)^ - View looking north from over the intersection of Yucca and Vine streets, showing the Mulholland Dam straddling the Hollywood Hils canyon. The Art Deco style Mountain States Building (now Yucca Vine Tower) is seen in the foreground.





(1929)*^ - Front view of Mulholland dam in the Hollywood Hills, the most beautiful of a score of storage basins in Los Angeles' water system. The Hollywoodland Sign can be seen in the background.





(ca. 1930)*** – Photo by Hiromu Kira titled “The Thinker," showing a man sitting on the vast, elegantly curved wall of the Mulholland Dam.  





(1928)* - View of Mulholland Dam and Hollywood Reservoir (also known as Lake Hollywood) both designed and built by engineer William Mulholland, for which the Dam is named after.  





(ca. 1920s)*^ - View of Hollywood Reservoir with Hollywoodland Sign clearly visible on the right side.  





(ca. 1930)*^ – View showing the "Hollywoodland" Sign in the distance as seen from the edge of the Hollywood Reservoir.  





(ca. 1929)*^ - An overview of the hills with the Mulholland Dam and Hollywood Reservoir off on the right, partially hidden by the steam shovel sitting at the top of the near hill. Note the brackets in the foreground. They are supports for the Hollywoodland Sign.  





(ca. 1929)*^ - Panoramic view of Hollywood and West Los Angeles, as seen from Mt. Lee. Lake Hollywood (Hollywood Reservoir) and “Hollywoodland” is in the foreground.  





(n.d.)^^ – View looking south showing Hollywood Reservoir and Mulholland Dam surrounded by a multitude of pathways.  The city can be seen beyond the reservoir in the distance.  





(ca. 1929)*^ - Profile view of the Mulholland Dam. A man can be seen looking over the rail.  





(ca.1929)* - Mulholland Dam being reinforced by adding tons of dirt shortly after the St. Francis Dam disaster.  


Historical Notes

The Mulholland Dam was reinforced with tons of earth on the downstream side as a precaution after the similar St. Francis Dam burst in 1928. Later studies confirmed that the St. Francis disaster was not caused by a faulty design.

Click HERE to see more in St. Francis Dam Disaster.




(ca.1929)* - Reinforcement of Mulholland Dam in the aftermath of the St. Francis Dam disaster.  





(1930s)* - View of the Mulholland Dam shortly after the front of the dam was filled in with dirt for additonal reinforcement. Trees and shrubs have been planted.  





(ca. 1935)*^ - View of the Hollywood Reservoir and Mulholland Dam. Note how the trees and shrubs have grown in just a few years since planted.  





(1933)* - Construction of the Lower Hollywood Dam spillway pipe.  





(1933)* - View of the spillway in the upper Hollywood Reservoir.  


Historical Notes

At the upper end of the reservoir is Hollywood Knolls Pumping Plant which serves the higher areas with water. Eventually, it will pump water to Hollywoodland and nearby sections. Water will be pumped from this plant to tanks above 1,100 feet elevation. This plant is in additon to the Hollywod Reservoir Pumping Plant located at the base of the dam.*




(ca. 1929)* - Hollywood Reservoir Pumping Plant - Dwarfed by a comparison with Hollywood Dam, which towers immediately above it, a new pumping and chlorinating plant is nearing completion in the hills of Hollywood. The new concrete structure, modern in design, will replace the existing corrugated iron Vinecrest pumping and chlorinating plant. Regular service to the Hollywoodland district and emergency service to the Las Palmas system, will be provided by the new plant.^  





(ca. 1930s)* - Interior of the Hollywood Pumping Plant.  





(1930s)** – Postcard view showing the Mulholland Dam in the Hollywood Hills.  





(1935)* - View Mulholland Dam seen rising above the pumping plant after it was reinforced with tons of dirt. The landscaping is beginning to take hold.  





(1941)* - Landscaping completed at the Mulholland Dam and Hollywood Reservoir.  





(1941)**– Postcard view showing two men walking over the Hollywood Dam and one car heading in the direction of the camera.  The Hollywood Reservoir is in the background behind the dam and one large home is seen on the hillside on the other side of the reservoir.  





(ca. 1940s)*^ - Partial view of Mulholand Dam with the Hollywood Hills in the backgrond. Photo by Herman Schultheis.  





(ca. 1930s)* - Partial view of the Hollywood Dam on the Hollywood Reservoir, overlooking the Bryn Mawr residential subdivision immediately adjacent to the Dam. A backward Bryn Mawr Sign can be seen on the left portion of the hillside, and behind that facing south, the sprawling city is visible as far as the eye can see.  





(ca. 1938)*^ - This panoramic view taken from behind the Hollywoodland Sign captures the structure of the letters as well as Lake Hollywood on the right.  





(1940)**^ - Aerial view looking southeast showing the new Cahuenga Pass Freeway with the Mulholland Dam and Hollywood Reservoir seen at upper left.  





(1967)* - View of Upper Hollywood Reservoir.  





(1967)* - Upper Hollywood Reservoir showing water flowing into intake.  





(ca. 1950)** - Aerial view of Hollywood, north of Sunset between Highland and Gower before the second section of the Hollywood Freeway was built (1954). The Hollywood Reservoir (middle right) is in the hills above Hollywood.  





(ca. 1960s)*^ - Aerial view of Hollywood and its surrounding areas after the second segment of the Hollywood Freeway was completed (1954). The Mulholland Dam and Hollywood Reservoir are seen in the hills above Hollywood (upper center-right).  


Historical Notes

Due to more stringent safety and water quality regulations, both the dam and reservoir are no longer being utilized as they were when they were originally built. Two of the world’s largest underground tanks now store treated water, with new pipelines linking the tanks to the distribution system. 




(1957)^ – Aeiral view giving a closer look at the Hollywood Freeway, Mulholland Dam and Hollywood Reservoir.  





(ca. 1968)^.^ - Water-level view of Lake Hollywood and the Mulholland Dam.  





(2012)^* - View looking down at Lake Hollywood and the Mulholland Dam with the Westside city skyline in the background.  





(2019)^.^ - Panoramic view as seen from behind the Hollywood Sign showing Lake Hollywood and Mulholland Dam. Photo courtesy of Stephen Nu  


Historical Notes

TIn 1989, the Mulholland Dam and Lake Hollywood Reservoir were designated LA Historic-Cultural Monument No. 421 (Click HERE to see complete listing).




(2020)* – Lake Hollywood Reservoir as seen from behind the Hollywood Sign. Photo by Ted VanCleave  





(2021)* - Lake Hollywood with the Hollywood Sign and Mt. Lee in the background.  





(2021)* – Looking down at Lake Hollywood and Mulholland Dam. Photo by Howard Gray  




Click HERE to see more in Early Los Angeles Water Reservoirs.




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References and Credits

* DWP - LA Public Library Image Archive

^ LADWP Historic Archive

*^LA Public Library Image Archive

*# Water and Power Associates

^^ USC Digital Library

**Calisphere: University of California Image Archive

++KCET: Hand-Colored Lantern Slides of Old Los Angeles

^* Mark Luethi

***LA Times: Making Waves - Japanese American Photography, 1920-1940

*^*The Daily MIrror: Hollywood Hills Signs

**^Noirish Los Angeles -

^**Huntington Digital Library Archive

^^^UCLA Library Digital Collection



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