Los Angeles in the 1900s

Mayor Frederick S. Eaton



From the Los Angeles Examiner, March 13, 1934


Grew Up With City, and Won Fame as Father of Aqueducts and Builder of Parks


By Otheman Stevens

Former Mayor Frederick S. Eaton died yesterday, aged 78 years.

He was really the genius of the city. It was his fortune to be the sixth American child to be born in this pueblo at his father’s home on what was Fort Moore, “up on the hill,” and he became city engineer, mayor and, above all, the creator of the Owens River water supply, and with Bill Mulholland as its builder.

By developing the idea and winning the support of “Bill” Mulholland, he saved Los Angeles from the strangling restraint of a water supply insufficient to continue the tremendous growth of the city; just as his successors in vision and efforts brought about the signing of the Boulder Dam bill by President Coolidge, which made possible the Colorado water supply project now under construction — which again will enable the town to keep on expanding and given it promise of a colossally metropolitan future.


Fred Eaton’s father was Judge Benjamin Eaton, a study early-time settler here who transmitted to his boy those qualities that marked the pioneers and gave their children a heritage of effectiveness.

The little stream of the Los Angeles River had reached its limit of service, or nearly so, when in 1899 the city bonded itself for 2 million dollars to buy the privately owned company that then provided water, and it was only a few years later that the town bonded itself again to provide funds for the Owens River project, which was originally entirely Fred Eaton’s idea.


As city engineer and again as superintendent of the Los Angeles Water Company, Mr. Eaton saw the water crisis before it arrived, and he saw the then only feasible source of supply was Owen’s River.

His plan won not only the support of the engineering genius of “Bill” Mulholland, but of the public mind, so much so that Mr. Eaton was elected Mayor because of the water idea, but it developed that he made a corking good executive, particularly in his wisdom advancing every sound project for public parks, for he knew the city would soon have the water for these playgrounds for the public.

Last evening in talking about Fred Eaton, Dr. John R. Haynes gave him unreserved credit for thinking of and putting over the Owens River aqueduct project and of securing the aid of “Bill” Mulholland.


To get the proper perspective of that honor, the reader has only to imagine the warped confined advance the city would have haltingly made if that project had not been thought of and had not been conceived.

Los Angeles would today be ten or more years backward, just as it would have

had to stand still and shrink if the Colorado water plan had not been adopted.

So it can be said within reason that what Los Angeles is today, what it has done since 1913 when water was turned into the aqueduct, is due to the man who died yesterday and died with his financial resources sadly reduced, and his later years full of trouble and controversy.

It is likely that future students of the city’s history will give Mr. Eaton nearly as much credit for the city’s park system as for his work in providing sufficient water supply.


As the writer recalls events, though with some vagueness as to details, Mayor Eaton had propulsive force in the making of about every park in the town.

Having accomplished his life mission, Mr. Eaton in 1908 retired to his Long Valley ranch, where he expected to live out his life tranquilly.

Such was not Fortune’s reward. Mr. Eaton had a succession of domestic and financial troubles and lately had been living with his son, Burdick Eaton, the father’s finances, it is said, having been reduced by ill fortune to approximately nothing.

Besides the son, Burdick, at whose home he died, Mr. Eaton is survived by five children — Harold, a Long Valley rancher; Mrs. Helen Armstrong and Mrs. Dorothy Cahoone, children of his first wife, who was Mrs. Helen Eaton, from whom he was divorced and who lives in La Crescenta.

His second wife, Mrs. Alice Lawson Eaton, resides in the city and is the mother of two sons, Fred and Henry Eaton.

Funeral services will be held tomorrow at 3 p.m. at W.A. Brown funeral chapel, 1815 S. Figueroa Street. The body will be cremated at Rosedale Cemetery, and the ashes will be buried, fulfilling Mr. Eaton’s wish, in Long Valley.

From the Los Angeles Herald-Express, March 13, 1934

Funeral services will be held tomorrow for Frederick S. Eaton, pioneer and former mayor. The arrow in this picture, made in 1853, points out his birthplace, an adobe atop Fort Moore hill. [Note discrepancy from Times story, below.]

Mr. Eaton’s parents settled here in 1850 and lived in this adobe house, where he was born four years later. Los Angeles was then a straggling village of a few houses shown in this picture, the earliest picture of Los Angeles in existence. The adobe house later became the city jail.

At 14 Mr. Eaton made the design for the old Plaza and later planned improvement of Pershing Square.

Photo shows Mr. Eaton, noted as “the father of the Los Angeles aqueduct” and builder of the first street railway in this city. He died after several months’ illness.

From the Los Angeles Times, March 13, 1934


Frederick Eaton, Father of Present Water System, Los Angeles Native Son, Passes

Frederick Eaton, sixth white child born in Los Angeles, former Mayor of the city and known as the “father of the Los Angeles Aqueduct,” late Sunday night succumbed to an illness of several months at the home of his son, Burdick Eaton, with whom he had been residing at 123 North Mariposa Street. [Click for map.] He was 79 years of age.

Final rites will be conducted . . . under the direction of Ramona Parlor, Native Sons of the Golden West, of which he was a charter and life member. Rev. Rufus Keyser will read a brief eulogy following the fraternal ritual. . . .

The little house in which he was born stood at what is now the intersection of First and Spring Streets and later was transformed into the first city jail. [Note discrepancy from the above Herald-Express story.]

His early education was gained in the Los Angeles grade schools, but he had developed a trend for engineering and attended Santa Clara University.

When he was 14 years of age he entered into a competition sponsored by the city and was awarded a prize of $100 for his original design for the old Plaza.

The Plaza was later constructed along the plans suggested by Mr. Eaton and, with the exception of encroachments of the modern city, still stands.

At the age of 19, Eaton married Helen Burdick, member of another pioneer family, and took his bride to live in a hacienda on a two-acre farm at Second and Spring Streets.

He was the first superintendent of the city water department and one of the

Image from the Los Angeles Public Library photo collection.
city’s first engineers. As chief engineer for the Los Angeles Railway, he built the first electric railway in the city.

. . . he . . . was credited with having planned every park in the city, with the possible exception of East Lake [now Lincoln Park].

In 1865 . . . his father, Judge Benjamin S. Eaton, who had acquired large acreage in the hill lands now embraced by the city of Pasadena, undertook the experiment of planting a vineyard on the dry soil.

The vines grew, but he decided it would be best to introduce water for irrigation, and he brought a supply down from what is now known as Eaton’s Canyon.

As the vineyards grew in acreage, the elder Eaton and a group of associates began the colonization of the hill lands, and within a few years the modern city of Pasadena crowned their efforts.

Judge Eaton, who died October 9, 1919, was one of the founders and the first president of the Los Angeles County Pioneer Society.

Gaining some of the colonizing and real-estate enthusiasm of his father, Mr. Eaton in 1873 purchased the old home of Cyrus Burdick at the northeast corner of Second and Spring streets and built the Burdick Block, one of the first modern business blocks in the city.

In 1899, when Los Angeles had a population of 102,749 persons, Mr. Eaton was elected mayor and served two years. [That figure was actually reached in the 1900 census; see this story.]

. . . in 1893 he took an excursion into Inyo County and visualized what could be done for Los Angeles in the way of water development.

. . . Mr. Eaton moved to Owens Valley, and in 1904 began to gather in options on water-bearing properties in the southern portion of the district.

“So strong was his faith in the outcome of the enterprise,” says William A. Spaulding’s history of Los Angeles, “that he expended more than $30,000 of his own money.

“Mr. Eaton’s original scheme was to combine a private and municipal water system, the city to be awarded 10,000 miner’s inches of water and the remainder to belong to Mr. Eaton and his associates.

“He proposed that this surplus water should pay toll for its transmission through an aqueduct to be built and paid for by the city.”

. . . the Board of Water Commissioners . . . insisted upon municipal ownership and control. Later the board sent its own engineer, William Mulholland, to make an investigation of the Owens Valley. . . .

In May 1905, the Board of Water Commissioners entered into a contract with Mr. Eaton for the acquisition of his property . . . .

Mr. Eaton later purchased 9,000 acres of land in Long Valley, north of Bishop, where he established Eaton’s Ranch and the headquarters of the Eaton Land and Cattle Company. . . . A few years ago, ill fortune struck Mr. Eaton . . . and he was declared a bankrupt.

Only yesterday the receivership of the Eaton Land and Cattle Company was terminated with the approval of Superior Judge Wilson . . . .

Mr. Eaton in 1904 married Alice Slosson, by whom he is survived. He leaves two daughters, Mrs. Helen Armstrong and Mrs. Dorothy Cahoone of La Crescenta, and four sons, Burdick Harold, Fred and Henry Eaton.

Mayors of the City of Los Angeles

Click on a name to read his obituary.
The Mayor
Dates of Birth and Death
Served as Mayor
Sept. 23, 1855–March 12, 1934
Dec. 15, 1898–Dec. 12, 1900
1859–April 7, 1937
Dec. 16, 1896 - Dec. 15, 1898,
Dec. 12, 1900–Dec. 8, 1904
and 1919-1921
1858–March 7, 1944
Dec. 8, 1904–Dec. 13, 1906
1866–Dec. 25, 1948
Dec. 13, 1906–March 11, 1909
1859–April 24, 1944
March 15, 1909–March 26, 1909
1839–Aug. 2, 1923
March 26, 1909–July 1913
To read more about any of these men, go to the Site Search Engine and type in the mayor’s last name.

The best single source for biographies of all Los Angeles mayors (through Tom Bradley) is Biographical Dictionary of American Mayors, 1820-1980, edited by Melvin G. Holli and Peter d’A. Jones, published by Greenwood Press in 1981.

Los Angeles history