Q&A with author about LA “deceit”

Historian Mary Austin and her husband raised major questions about LADWP land and water rights purchases.

Historian Mary Austin and her husband raised major questions about LADWP land and water rights purchases.

‘Vision or Villainy’ Author Talks about Mary and Stafford Austin and LA’s Celebration

Abraham Hoffman, author of “Vision or Villainy,” an award-winning work on Owens Valley water history, will discuss two “bookends” that can be used to mark the start and finish of the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct: Los Angeles’s initial land purchases in the Owens Valley in 1904-05, and the celebration at the Cascades in 1913, to mark completion of the Aqueduct.

The public is invited to the free presentation by Hoffman, on Saturday, June 22, starting at 7 p.m. in the American Legion Hall in Independence. There will also be a question and answer session, and copies of Hoffman’s book will be for sale.

Stafford Austin was more than Mary’s husband in 1905, when he worked in the Federal Land Office in Independence. He is the one who became suspicious of the land deals of Fred Eaton, who Austin believed gave the appearance of being involved with the federal Bureau of Reclamation,which was considering an irrigation project in the Owens Valley. When it turned out that Eaton (a former mayor of Los Angeles) was buying land and water rights that would become part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Stafford Austin wrote numerous letters to his bosses in the Interior Department, and other federal officials, including President Theodore Roosevelt, to expose what he felt were the deceitful actions of Los Angeles. Mary Austin also wrote letters to officials, other writers, and contributed numerous articles to newspapers and other publications that highlighted the controversy about the nature and timing the land deals and other aspects of the aqueduct project.

aqueductcascadeStafford and Mary were in the thick of the controversy surrounding the initial round of land purchases, and were critical of the plans for the massive, 233-mile long Aqueduct from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles. But, as Hoffman will discuss, once Mary Austin became a noted literary figure, and left Independence, her husband and family, her biographers “inadequately researched the parts played by the Austins” in the controversy.”

As a researcher and writer whose work on the Owens Valley and Los Angeles has spanned nearly three decades, Hoffman has a wealth of knowledge about that particular topic, and he will share his insights in light of the 100th anniversary of the completion of the LA Aqueduct.

Hoffman will also discuss, “Dedicating the Aqueduct: Los Angeles Celebrates the Arrival of Owens River Water, Nov. 5, 1913.” That day was when about 30,000 people watched Owens River water pour down The Cascades and officially arrive in Los Angeles. That day also featured the most famous five words ever uttered by William Mulholland, Chief Engineer of the Aqueduct Project. “There it is – take it,” he said when the water came streaming down the concrete channel.

Dr. Hoffman has been writing scholarly and popular articles since the early 1970s about the water issues that have intertwined the history of the Owens Valley and Los Angeles. One of his more recent works is “Mary and Stafford Austin, and the Owens Valley,” published in the Journal of the Southwest. His award-winning book, “Vision and Villainy: Origins of the Owens Valley—Los Angeles Water Controversy,” is a standard work for those interested in the water history of the Owens Valley. His newest book, “Mono Lake: From Dead Sea to Environmental Treasure,” will be published in 2014. Hoffman teaches history at Los Angeles Valley College.

The free presentation is sponsored by the Eastern California Museum and the Metabolic Studio. Hoffman will be available to sign copies of “Vision or Villainy: Origins of the Owens Valley—Los Angeles Water Controversy,” which will be for sale at the event. The Legion Hall is located on the west corner of U.S. 395 and Kearsarge Street, in Independence. For more information, call the Museum at 760-878-0258.

Photos: Mary Austin. The Cascades, Nov. 5, 1913. Courtesy Eastern California Museum

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