Construction workers digging for a new development near downtown Los Angeles uncovered a brick pipe that further excavation revealed to be a stretch of the city's centuries-old original water system.
The site in Chinatown was home to the former Little Joe's restaurant until construction began on the $100 million Blossom Plaza. Digging unearthed the so-called "Mother Ditch," or "Zanja Madre," a 90-mile network that fed water from the Los Angeles River to the burgeoning city starting in 1781.
Workers this month found about 73 feet of the 4-foot-diameter brick pipe, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday (http://lat.ms/1fiuClP ). It was about 12 feet beneath the site's surface.
The Zanja Madre was originally an open ditch fed by a small dam built in the river, the city's main water source at the time.
Decades later, a 40-foot water wheel was constructed to increase the ditch's gravitational flow to a brick reservoir near Olvera Street. From there the network of pipes fanned out, carrying water to homes and to fields for irrigation.
The system was shut down in 1877.
City Councilman Gilbert Cedillo, who represents the Chinatown area, said a 40-foot section of the Zanja Madre will be removed Saturday from the site of the mixed-use apartment and storefront project and preserved for future display. The plan is to exhibit sections of the Mother Ditch at Blossom Plaza, at Los Angeles Historic State Park and at Metabolic Studios' planned Los Angeles River Water Wheel replica project, he told the Times.
Cedillo said the preservation of the Zanja Madre section is significant because it "served as the lifeline to the survival and early development of Los Angeles. "
Bits and pieces of the old water system have surfaced over the years. In 2005, workers constructing the Gold Line light rail extension came across a section of the Zanja Madre. About 75 feet of the uncovered pipe remain visible next to the trolley line and Broadway.
Another remnant can be seen in the basement of Olvera Street's 1818 Avila Adobe.
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