Ventura County resident Catherine Mulholland, a granddaughter of William Mulholland and a vocal protector of his legacy, was memorialized Thursday morning prior to a private family interment at Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth. Mulholland died in Camarillo on July 6, aged 88.
In 2000, Mulholland published William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles, in which she painted a softer image of the engineer who rose to become chief of the Department of Water and Power and in the 1910s oversaw the construction of the 230-mile aqueduct that carries water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles. The elder Mulholland was viewed by some as having expropriated water from farmers in order to feed a burgeoning metropolis. He left the DWP in disgrace in 1928 after another of his projects, the St. Francis Dam northeast of Castaic, collapsed and killed more than 400 people. After his death, he was often portrayed unflatteringly, most famously in the 1974 film Chinatown.
On Thursday, however, Catherine Mulholland was remembered mostly as a mother and aunt who was passionate about teaching and writing and the history of the San Fernando Valley, where she grew up and spent many of her later years.
“She introduced me to a world I was so unaware of,” her nephew Tom Mulholland said as he spoke in front of a few dozen people inside Oakwood’s quaint Mission-style chapel. Behind him, Mulholland’s marble urn was surrounded by a floral wreath.
Tom Mulholland, at times holding back tears, spoke about Catherine Mulholland’s “infamous bun” and his numerous visits to see her in San Francisco and Berkeley, where “Aunt Katy” attended college at the University of California and briefly pursued a doctorate after earning a master’s degree from Columbia. Catherine Mulholland was a curious, worldly person who befriended people of different ethnicities at a time when interracial mixing was not always considered appropriate, he said. It was through her that he gained greater insight into the Philippine, Mexican, and black communities of the Bay Area.
Tom Mulholland also praised her for helping shape the family legacy.
“William Mulholland remains a living idol … Los Angeles’ greatest visionary,” he said. His aunt understood the “physical ramifications of [William Mulholland’s] vision.”
Glenn Kirby, the senior minister at West Valley Christian Church in West Hills who lead the service, said Mulholland’s three passions were writing, the DWP, and CSUN, to which she donated thousands of family books and memorabilia in 2008. Mulholland, he said, was a fiercely loyal friend who loved debating, swimming, and playing the piano.
“A lot of you may not have heard her play,” Kirby said. “She was good.”
Others remembered Mulholland’s causes and how she personally affected their lives.
“She introduced my parents,” Kati Rubin said before the service. The 51-year-old Tarzana resident also recalled how Mulholland personalized communications with handwritten cards.
During his eulogy, Los Angeles city councilman Tom LaBonge recalled her continued support for the DWP.
“On behalf of the city council, I want to stand up and tell the family we love Catherine Mulholland,” LaBonge said. He presented the family with a certificate honoring Mulholland. “We wouldn’t be a city without William Mulholland … The Mulholland name is so important.”
Connie Ager recounted Mulholland’s service at the Chatsworth Historical Society, where they volunteered together.
“When she was devoted to something, she was really into it,” said Ager, 60.
In about an hour, however, an 88-year-long life had been remembered and celebrated.
“We could say hundreds of pages more,” Kirby said, “but we could be here all day.”