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Crews in Chinatown on Saturday removed a 40-foot section of brick pipe that was once part of the so-called Mother Ditch, Los Angeles’ first municipal water system.

The unique piece of L.A.’s history was discovered April 10 by workers at the future site of Blossom Plaza, a five-story mixed-use project on North Broadway.

“People pick up steel beams all day long. People pick up concrete all day long. Nobody’s ever picked up a piece of the Zanja Madre,” said construction manager Nate Arnold, referring to the aqueduct’s Spanish name.

The open-air system, which was built in 1781, delivered water from the L.A. River to El Pueblo de Los Angeles. It was enclosed in 1877, about 27 years before being abandoned.

Workers on April 26, 2014, removed a 40-foot section of brick pipe that was once part of Los Angeles’ first water system. (Credit: KTLA)

After the discovery was made earlier this month, a nonprofit organization agreed to subsidize the 60,000-pound pipe’s removal and preservation.

“Our preference, initially, was to leave it in place,” said John Yi, spokesman for the Annenberg Foundation’s Metabolic Studio. “But when we found out that absolutely wasn’t an option, we wanted to do whatever we could to save the piece intact and to relocate it.”

Metabolic Studio is hoping to build a 70-feet-tall public art installation that would double as a water wheel.

The proposed site of the art project is in a section of the L.A. River at the boundary of Chinatown and Lincoln Heights. A functional water wheel existed in the same area during the 18th century.

“It’s unfortunate, when you say the words ‘Zanja Madre’ to Angelenos you often get blank stares,” said Ken Bernstein of the L.A. Office of Historic Resources. “This is so central to the history of our city.”