Excerpt: A Los Angeles Origin Story by a Man Who’s Been Pressed at Gunpoint to Guess by Andrew Dalton

Chapter 3, Part 1: Colonizers and Dreamers, Friends and Appetite-Havers

William Mulholland was a man of great appetites, and even greater appetites. He was known to smoke a pipe and chew tobacco at the same time, except in the evening, when he would chew tobacco, smoke a pipe and puff a cigar all at once. He could drink any man under the table, drink that man’s wife over the table and adopt his children in the aftermath. (He had hundreds of children, and adopted scores more, and most of those children had children and most of those children had dogs. Big, husky hunting dogs, many of whom had dogs of their own.)

His money was in water, and sugar and sugar water, which was sold by the bucketload during prohibition and made his great fortune into a greater fortune.

He traveled on a’ one of those hand-powered railroad thingies, sitting on a lounge chair of leather stuffed with swan feathers, crewed by exotic immigrants of various faraway lands, like Ireland. And Idaho. Except when he was unsatisfied with the speed, and would take off his shirt, and manpower — practically horsepower — the damn thing himself.

Mulholland traveled in such a fashion and manner — despite miles and miles of trains that would get backed up behind him — because he loved to bask in the sun. And he longed to build a place where he could bask permanently, baskingly. So he headed Southwest. Toward the Pacific. Into the sun.

But another man, of similar mind, had beaten him there.

Hiram “Doc” Hollywood had come to California from the Topeka World’s Fair of ’88 to build a dream factory that would bear his name. But dreams were a rough business. In his years of efforts he could never figure out the formula to get the dreams into the heads of the sleeping people (something his protege Leonardo “Leo” DiCaprio would one day do), and when the dream market took a beating in the Panic of ’96, Doc Hollywood switched to movies.

Movies, and hills. What Hollywood really loved was hills. Almost as much as another local rival, Jed Beverly, loved them.

The hill, invented in England during the Industrial Revolution, was a booming market in the early 20th century. Doc Hollywood built his in the middle of the Los Angeles basin, and capped them with a large sign of wood and whitewash reading “HOLLYWOODLAND,” doing all the work himself because he was paranoid of underlings, and most other things.

So paranoid, in fact, that years after he had erected his sign, he knocked down the “LAND” part because he became convinced a great flood would leave his hills, and his sign, under the ocean and the “LAND” would be a lie.

There was indeed a flood coming to the arid land that would eventually be known as Los Angeles. But it was not the Noachian deluge Doc Hollywood expected. It was a Mulhollandaise deluge. The two men would become close friends, then close rivals, then close enemies, then friends again, though not close friends. It was a friendship, and an enemyship, that would change Los Angeles forever. ….

The second installment in this series by Andrew Dalton is available here: “Excerpt: A Los Angeles Origin Story by a Man Who’s Been Pressed at Gunpoint to Guess,” featured in our “Life’s Rich Pageant” issue.


Andrew Dalton is a journalist and fabulist who lives in modern-day Los Angeles with his partner and their three children.