Biography of Charles H. Lee
San Francisco, CA Biographies





Charles H. Lee, nationally known consulting hydraulic engineer of San Francisco, was born in the city of Oakland, California, February 1, 1883, and is a son of Rev. Hamilton and Genevieve (Littlejohn) Lee. John Lee, the American progenitor of the family, who emigrated to the new world from England in 1634, was one of the founders of Farmington, Connecticut, while later representatives of the family participated in the Revolutionary war. Rev. Hamilton Lee, father of Charles H. Lee, was born in New York city in 1843, was reared in Peekskill, New York, and attended Williams College of Massachusetts. Coming to California in 1876, he first took up his abode in Santa Barbara, where he preached the gospel as a minister of the Episcopal Church for four years, while subsequently he occupied pulpits in Oakland and vicinity until the time of his retirement. He is now a resident of Pacific Grove, this state. In 1882 he married Genevieve Littlejohn, of Oakland, California, who was born in 1852 in Peoria, Illinois, where her family was early established. Mrs. Lee died in 1901, at the age of forty nine years, leaving four children: Charles H., of this review; Mary, who is the widow of Frederick M. Hess and resides in Bishop, California; John M., of San Francisco; and Dewitt, of Berkeley, California.

Charles H. Lee pursued his early education in the schools of Berkeley, California, and entered the College of Civil Engineering of the University of California, where he specialized in hydraulic and sanitary engineering and received the degree of Bachelor of Science in 1905. Throughout the intervening period of twenty six years he has been actively engaged in practice as a hydraulic and sanitary engineer, and he has gained distinction in the science of hydrology and its practical application to engineering problems. He has developed a new field of engineering activity in the testing of earth materials as used in construction and in this connection has established the Pacific Hydrologic Laboratory. During the past eleven years he has had offices at 58 Sutter street in San Francisco. His professional record is concisely set forth in the following paragraphs :

1905-1906: Hydrographic aid United States Geological Survey stream gaging in California.

1906-1912: Assistant engineer Los Angeles Aqueduct.

1912: Assistant engineer State Conservation Commission of California; investigation of underground water conditions and water spreading in southern California, reports in 1912 Report of California State Conservation Commission.

1913-1917: Consulting engineer in private practice in Los Angeles, including hydro-electric power, irrigation and public water supply.

1917-1919: First lieutenant and captain with American Expeditionary Forces in France, serving with troops and on special details from the Chief Engineer A. E. F. and the Chief Engineer First Army.

1919-1921: Executive member and president California State Water Commission, and later chief of Division of Water Rights, State Department of Public Works.

1922-1931: Consulting engineer in private practice at San Francisco, specializing in sanitation and water supply. Conducted courses in water supply engineering at the University of California in 1923.

A contemporary writer, reviewing the professional activities of Mr. Lee in detail, said: "In his early work he was connected with the Water Resources Branch, United States Geological Survey, and acquired an intimate familiarity with the surface and underground water resources of California. He did. important pioneer work in extending the scope of research in underground water to include quantitative determinations of supply which could be permanently depended upon for economic use. His report on 'An Intensive Study of the Water Resources of Owens Valley, California,' published as a Water Supply Paper by the United States Geological Survey in 1912, described the first practical effort to predetermine the yield of subsurface water from a closed geologic basin. This report is still regarded as a standard reference work. The actual development of the underground supply of the Independence Basin by the city of Los Angeles during the past twelve years of subnormal precipitation has confirmed the findings of this early engineering investigation.

"A similar report on the 'Geology and Groundwater of the Western Part of San Diego County, California,' in which the late A. J. Ellis participated with Lee as geologist, was published by the Survey in 1919, and this report has been of great value in the development of the water resources of San Diego county.

"Mr. Lee has been connected with a number of large enterprises. He was one of the first engineers to be employed by the Bureau of Los Angeles Aqueduct and remained on the staff of that organization until the completion of the aqueduct from Owens Valley to the city of Los Angeles. Subsequently he has acted as consultant to the Department of Water and Power, City of Los Angeles, on Owens Valley water supply matters.

"When various sources of water supply were under investigation by the East Bay Municipal Utility District, he prepared an exhaustive report on the water rights and water supply of the Hetch Hetchy project of the city of San Francisco, and more recently has been acting in a consulting capacity in connection with the Mokelumne River supply. He is a member of the Engineering Commission on Sanitation and Drainage of the city of Oakland, which is advising the city on its difficult problems of sewage and storm drainage. He also acted as consulting engineer for the city of Berkeley in connection with the recent additions to its sewer system.

"One of the most important phases of investigation by the State Department of Public Works in connection with the proposed salt water barrier in Upper San Francisco Bay relates to the losses by evaporation and transpiration to be expected from the large fresh water lake which the barrier would create. Mr. Lee was selected by the state engineer to make this investigation and his exhaustive report is a distinct contribution to this much debated subject.

"During the World war he served as captain with the Twenty sixth Engineers, a special service water supply regiment. He was ordered to France on special duty with General Pershing's staff soon after the United States entered the war, and during eighteen months of foreign service became intimately familiar with the geology and water resources of France. He was very active in helping solve the many difficult water supply problems which arose both along the lines of communication and in the zone of the armies. He spent much time in the latter and participated in the two major engagements of St. Mihiel and Argonne. At the close of the war he was selected regimental historian.

"Upon return to California he was appointed by the governor of California as president of the California State Water Commission, and later chief of the Division of Water Rights, State Department of Public Works, in which capacities he was in intimate contact with water development during its most active period in the history of the state. He reorganized the administrative work of the Commission to handle sudden increase in applications to appropriate water, and during the drought year of 1920 initiated a field study of salt water intrusion into the delta of the Sacramento San Joaquin river, which was continued from year to year and was later greatly enlarged in connection with the proposed salt water barrier project. Early in the season of 1920, when it became apparent that there would be a severe shortage of supply on the Sacramento San Joaquin River system, he was instrumental in obtaining the appointment of a state water supervisor, whose duties included waste prevention in the diversion and use of stream flow. This activity was productive of so much benefit that its scope has subsequently been enlarged and the work made permanent."

In January, 1911, in Berkeley, California, Mr. Lee was united in marriage to Miss Katherine Newhall, daughter of Charles S. and Katherine (Luther) Newhall. She passed away in July, 1920, leaving one son, Charles Hamilton, Jr. On the 1st of October, 1921, at Mill Valley, California, Mr. Lee was again married, his second union being with Evelyn May Grundy, a native of London, England. They are the parents of two children, Allan Eustace and Constance Evelyn, and reside at 1988 San Antonio avenue in Berkeley.

Mr. Lee supports the republican party where national issues are involved but casts an independent ballot at local elections. He is active in the work of civic and development organizations such as the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, the State Chamber of Commerce and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and his name is also on the membership rolls of the Sierra Club, the Engineers Club of San Francisco, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Water Works Association, the California Sewage Works Association, the American Seismological Society and the National Research Council of the American Geophysical Union. Aside from his work and his family, Mr. Lee finds great diversion in mountain hiking, in fishing and gardening, which pleasures he enjoys at every opportunity.

From:
The History of San Francisco, California
Lewis Francis Byington, Supervising Editor
Oscar Lewis, Associate Editor
The S. J. Clark Publishing Company
Chicago-San Francisco 1931


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