Only 35 photographs survive from the turn of the century, Californian world of hydroelectrician, irrigation and water supply expert & conservationist, Walter L. Huber.
In the archives of the University of California, there are 13 feet (30 boxes) of correspondence, reports, documents and data, relating to dams, hydroelectric power installations, irrigation works, and municipal water supply systems, mostly in California, but including other states and the Arkansas-White-Red River Basin. They once belonged to Walter Leroy Huber (1883 – 1960).
Amongst all this civil engineering litter there are thirty five photographs which – totally unintentionally, and in the way found photographs do – evoke an aesthetic and an one-off atmosphere. It’s hydroelectric plants, creeks, intake plants, untamed Californian desert landscapes about to be hyrodrelecrified, lonely substations, transformers and arid mountain gullies, all presented in that wonderful black and grey monotone. Industrialisation meets Wild West with the added value of the odd outlier image to just to throw us off. We’ll never understand. That’s what makes things interesting.
For those interested in Huber, he was born in San Francisco, California and graduated from University of California (Berkeley) as a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1905. He started in structural design as an Assistant Engineer. By 1908, he was Chief Engineer of the University of California’s building program. Because of his hydroelectric design smarts and his knowledge of the mountains (he led parties which were some of the first to climb the Sierra peaks), in 1910 he represented Galloway and Markwart in surveying for a possible hydroelectric project on the Calaveras River. Also in 1910, he was appointed District Engineer for the U.S. Forestry Service, District no. 5 which covered all California and southwestern Nevada.
Huber’s love of the mountains made him an ardent conservationist. Thus, when the Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls region was threatened because of an application for the construction of a dam and hydroelectric power development on the San Joaquin River, Huber contacted an early environmental organisation called the Sierra Club hoping to prevent the possible desecration. He arranged a meeting between Club representatives and Chief Forester, Henry S. Graves and as Forest Service Engineer, Huber surveyed the area to be preserved. As a result of Huber’s efforts, President Taft declared the Devils Postpile an untouchable National Monument on July 6, 1911. Go Walter.
In March 1913, Huber opened his own engineering office in San Francisco. For the next twenty-eight years, Huber operated as sole principal. In 1941, he partnered with Edward M. Knapik, another University of California graduate. Huber and Knapik did extensive work for the University of California at Berkeley, Davis, and San Francisco.
Although most active in the structural, hydroelectric, and irrigation areas, Huber studied flood control and municipal water supply. He was also an authority on earthquake resistance and published works on seismic forces. He was also big on the utilization of mountain water and acted as a consultant for the Nevada-California Power Company and the Southern Sierras Power Company. During WWI he explored and surveyed the Little Colorado River. He was consultant for the California Department of Water Resources on the State Water Plan and for the War Department and employed by the City of San Francisco on its Cherry Valley Dam and Hetch Hetchy power developments; and was consultant on the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s American River power development.
In 1954, President Eisenhower named him Advisor to the President on a controversial study of the Arkansas-White-Red River Basins. He also served on the Board of Directors and as Vice President of the California Academy of Sciences. For his professional accomplishments, Huber received the Honor Award of the Building Industry Conference Board in 1953.