Charles Lee Powell, Engineer
1863 – 1959
Charles Lee Powell was born in Virginia during the Civil War, and was a third cousin to General Robert E. Lee. The Powell family had enjoyed considerable wealth prior to the war, and hence the children were raised motivated to rise above the economic hardships experienced after the war. Charles Lee Powell was a pioneering, self-taught engineer who invented and patented new methods for building concrete structures underground.
He is credited with building much of Los Angeles’ early infrastructure, including the Second and Third Street Tunnels and the Angels Flight funicular railway in the historic downtown Bunker Hill district. In addition to landmark structures, Powell’s firm built one of the first modern sewerage systems in downtown Los Angeles, replacing the open redwood sewer trenches that had served city residents. As a contractor, he was admired for implementing numerous worker safety measures in what were often extremely dangerous underground construction projects. Additionally, Powell purchased real estate in Los Angeles, the Imperial Valley, San Diego County and New Mexico.
Powell remained committed to a strong work ethic throughout his life, working until his death at age 96. Powell made provisions in his will for a charitable foundation that would carry forward his legacy of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.