This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Should you invest in land in Phoenix, or in the San Fernando Valley of LA in 1911?


Time-travel with me, and let's ponder where we should invest our money in land. Let's go back to 1911.

If you're a Phoenix history buff, you know the importance of that year. 1911 is when the gigantic Roosevelt Dam was built on the Salt River, insuring, as Theodore Roosevelt said, "Water for 100 years!" And it's done that, and more.

The Roosevelt Dam in 1911, northeast of Phoenix, Arizona, on the Salt River.


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Of course, since it's 1911 in our imaginations, we could also look at the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. But in 1911, there wasn't a steady supply of water there. It was a dry and dusty place, where a few brave people were doing the best they could with wells, and when it rained (which wasn't much then, and still isn't now).

So, as you would expect, without a steady supply of water, land was pretty cheap in the San Fernando Valley. You could certainly get a lot more of it, along with a lot more people laughing at you for being dumb enough to invest in a dry, dusty, valley. In the Phoenix area, they may have laughed a bit before 1911, but once they saw the dam, they weren't laughing any more, they were investing.

Water changes everything in the desert. Before the Roosevelt Dam was built, there were dams in the Phoenix area, but nothing like that one. It was huge, paid for by the Federal Government, and people who were thinking of investing were suddenly a lot less nervous.

Meanwhile, in 1911, the Los Angeles Water and Power Chief Engineer, William Mulholland, was working on an aqueduct that would bring water to Los Angeles from the Owen's Valley, hundreds of miles away, through pipes. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't have thought that they had a chance. I sure wouldn't have invested in land in the San Fernando Valley, hoping that someday that there would be water!

But the Owen's Aqueduct was successful. By 1913, water came pouring through the San Fernando Valley, and into Los Angeles. It continues to be a controversial project, but it changed everything. Water transformed Los Angeles. And by 1915, as the San Fernando Valley was annexed to Los Angeles, water transformed that area, too.

As it turns out, you would have been better off investing in the San Fernando Valley than in the Phoenix area. Land values there are much, much higher nowadays. It was a long shot, but it paid off for some people.

The Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades in 1913. Still there, you can see it at Foothill Boulevard and Balboa, in Sylmar, in the northeast San Fernando Valley


Image at the top of this post: 1911 ad for the Los Olivos subdivision, Phoenix, Arizona.