The title of this post is a nod to the informative and wonderful blog, LA Creek Freak. My discovery of this blog is fairly recently, if I only I had came across it sooner it might have saved me many hours of informal research. You see, for the past two years and a half I’ve been on a meandering quest to find the paths of old streams that once flowed through our urban areas.
When roaming through the city, I look for tell-tale signs: bridges, dips in the roads, large storm drains, stands of old trees, walls and houses made of river rock and street and neighborhood names with tell-tale monikers i.e. Brookside, Willowbrook, Arroyo Ave, River St, Evergreen, etc. Neighbors and long-time residents are also a great source of information. One of the more exciting clues are the actual streams themselves, they often pop up after heavy rains. The water remembers and will often follow it’s old course. It’s why some places in the city continually flood.
The search has been quite fun. Once I think I’ve found a spot, I’ll take photos, go home and check aerial views on Google maps. I’ll look at the way streets curve or sometimes I’ll notice a line of green trees marking the path of the old waterway. I often read through the Los Angeles Times archives and search for references to streams. For instance, I felt like the area around the Fourth Street Bridge and Lorena was a likely place for a stream and while doing research I found a notice by the city placed in the early 1900s, asking for contractors to bid on constructing a bridge over the “stream running at Fourth St.”
My initial interest in hidden streams was piqued after reading the Bunker Hill, Los Angeles: Reminiscences of Bygone Days book by Leo Politi. In the book he interviews a man who fondly remembers playing in a small pond at the base of Bunker Hill. The stream ran from Echo Park lake into Downtown. For some strange reason, this small bit of information grabbed my imagination and would not let go. The thought of a stream running through such an urban area fascinated me. I grew up in Los Angeles and I just assumed things were the way they were for a reason. As I got older, the history and geography of the city became more interesting. I began to wonder where other streams might have flowed.
Around the same time, I was working in the northern area of Hancock Park in a building that was being plagued with mold and water damage. Dozens of engineers came to assess the situation, each one more baffled than the next at their ineffective remedies. I wondered if perhaps, the water was coming up from underground or if the water table in the area was so high that the water had difficulty draining properly. I checked the library for books on Los Angeles streams and also for historic photos of the Hancock Park area. In many of the old aerial photos I could clearly see the dark, curvy outlines of streams. Finally, one of the engineers said “I think there might be an underground stream causing the damage.” Now that I realized such a thing was possible, I started looking around at my neighborhood and other places for signs of waterways.
I was totally excited when fellow blogger Militant Angeleno did a post on his search for the stream that runs through Hancock Park, Las Jardineras. My favorite article and the way one that really pushed me to continue on my quest was a LA Weekly article with Jessica Hall called The Lost Streams of Los Angeles. I was thrilled to read about someone who was so passionate for the old waterways of Los Angeles. She’s done an amazing amount of fieldwork and research. Through the efforts of LA Creek Freek contributors like Jessica Hall and Joe Linton a map was created marking the historic (and current) waterways and wetlands of Los Angeles. Imagine my joy, when this map confirmed the locations of many of the streams I’d been researching. For a eco-nerd like me, it was quite exciting!
In a series of posts, I’ll be presenting photographs and background information on some of the old stream locations on the Eastside and in other parts of the city. I’d like to inspire others to begin to see the city through the lenses of a new ecology, where the geography of the past and the urban planning of the future can come together more harmoniously.
The first entry for this series is Hazard Park and the wetlands/stream of this Eastside park. For those of you who do not know, Hazard Park is tucked away behind County USC Medical Center and Bravo Medical High School and is bordered by North Soto St.
In the year 2000, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about wetland restoration being planned for Hazard Park. I was surprised to discover the park’s watery origins. I would often drive over the little bridge on Charlotte and look over to see the green ditch below and the pretty piece of wild land. I just assumed it was undeveloped. When I read this area was previously wetlands, I began to look at the geography of the area in a different way. It occurred to me the little bridge I drove over was there for a reason, it made me start to think about other small bridges in the city. The bridges are remnants of a time when geography determined development, when we were compelled to give a small amount of respect to what came before us.
History of Hazard Park
Founded in 1884, the park is named for former Los Angeles Mayor Henry Thomas Hazard and was a popular place for outings at the turn of the last century. In the 1970s, it became a well-known Chicano movement gathering spot. Today, the park is home to many recreational activities but has been somewhat crowded in by the looming hospital above it and the architecturally unpleasant high school. The group of homeboys who call this park their home were once a formidable force and their membership continues till today. Something to consider when visiting the park.
There is also a small reservoir that sits on hill above Hazard Park. During the early 1900s, the Hazard Park Improvement Association was one of the most powerful homeowner organizations on the Eastside. The often battled with City Hall, the Los Angeles Water Company and famous Los Angeles water tycoon, William Mulholland. Their biggest complaint? After its construction, the reservoir was ringed by large mounds of earth piled around it which could be viewed from all over the city, sullying the beautiful views of their highland neighborhood. Another grievance, the newly constructed reservoir had been made a “swimming hole for boys and a resort for dangerous men.” Residents demanded fencing and increased patrol of their area.
Some background on the wetlands from the Los Angeles Times:
The 2-acre section, which was once part of a railroad easement through Hazard, has some vegetation that thrives in water, such as cattails, willows and sedges. In addition, researchers have found fresh-water snails and crayfish.
Several years ago, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff members discovered a variety of birds, including the Anna’s hummingbird, the northern mockingbird and the American crow, in Hazard.
“It has a tremendous potential of being developed into a nice wetlands area,” said James Henrickson, a professor of botany at Cal State Los Angeles, who noted that some degradation has occurred in recent years because of neglect and use of the railroad.
Henrickson, Campbell and others are not sure what the parcel’s source of water is. One theory suggests that the old Arroyo de los Pasos, shown on maps drawn in 1894, is the source. Another hints that a section of the old Zanja Madre irrigation system, which was built shortly after the city’s founding in 1781, provides the wetland’s water.
Arroyo de los Posos/Pasos/Pasas
The name of this stream seems to have been interpreted in different ways and I assume they are all the same waterway. It is thought this is the stream that ran through Hazard Park and from my research, I also believe it is. I’ll present more on this stream in my next post.
I took these photos last year during the rainy season. I guess there was a fire a few months later and some clueless people cut down all the riparian vegetation that had been growing, just swell, eh?
The above two photos are taken from the bridge on Charlotte. To the left is Bravo High School.
This is looking south from the Charlotte bridge. A small stream of water can be seen in the left hand corner.
Photo taken behind Bravo High School. The right hand corner shows where a small stream of water is joining the larger flow.
Examples of where water collects in small pools:
The following photos show various entrances for the water into the larger stream:
A look “downstream”
The end of the park area, looking north, upstream. All that non-native lush, green grass is not part of a riparian ecosystem.
More info and links on Hazard Park
The Hazard Park Advisory Board (213) 485-6839
Hazard Park Area Wetlands ‘Weed Whacked,’ Says Activist by EGP News
Stream Restoration Planned at Hazard Park By Joe Linton
Activists Maintain Guard Over Eastside’s Hazard Park from Los Angeles Times
Next up: Arroyo de los Posos and why our city forefathers found our Eastside waterways to be a ‘nuisance.’
Also see: The Zanja Madre by alienation