A tree grows on Beaudry: echos of the creeks of Echo Park

October 6, 2009 § 40 Comments

P8310050 Bicycling down 2nd Street one day, this arroyo willow caught my eye.  Located in a vacant lot at 2nd and Beaudry, the willow has taken root in the path of the former Arroyo de los Reyes.

I wrote about Arroyo de los Reyes over a year ago, with promises of telling more -as the creek’s origins are in Echo Park.  As you can see, I am slow but faithful in my follow up.  To be truthful, posts at Chicken Corner on LA Observed about Echo Park’s creeks and the lake also nudged me considerably.

Arroyo de los Reyes originates near the Catholic school on Glendale Boulevard – right by the 2 offramp.  It flowed southward, along Glendale Boulevard, occupied the area now taken by Echo Park lake, and continued down 2nd Street, crossing through downtown LA, about a block or two south of Pershing Square, where it spread and created a big muddy mess.  These flows eventually connected with the Los Angeles River, when they didn’t seep into the ground first.

There are historical photographs on the wall at Masa – look closely and you can see a dry wash along Glendale Boulevard (north of Sunset) – that’s the one actual photograph of the creek that I’ve seen.  Not clear, and most likely highly altered from its original state – other maps indicate a perennial stream.  There it just looks like a big sandy mess.

Fellow creekfreak and mega-cyclist Ron Milam forwarded me this quote, about the creek, which he found at an exhibit at the LA Public Library.  The quote is by Leo Politi, one of Echo Park’s famed writers, recalling a friend’s reminiscence:

He told me of his boyhood and how he learned to swim in a pond at Second and Beaudry streets. It was a natural pond formed by a brook that ran down from the Echo Park reservoir.  Along this little creek grew cattails and water lilies. Also there were sweet-waterfishes which are still to be found in great quantities in Echo Park lake.  He remembers frogs croaking after dark.

Another stream joined Arroyo de los Reyes at Echo Park lake – this drainage came down from Echo Park Avenue.  Rumor – and that’s all it is still – has it that there are capped springs up the street, possibly at Elysian Heights Elementary School.  I’ve scouted for signs on many a walk up to FIX, and can’t confirm anything.  But maybe one of you can.

Echo Park Lake was indeed originally a reservoir, formed by a dam, and as noted at Chicken Corner, captured stormwater runoff from the watershed.  At one time, even after burying the stream, the groundwater was quite high.  A former DWP employee told me that he took borings in Glendale Boulevard, under the Sunset bridge – and hit water at 5′ below the surface!  Not surprising, then, that in 1959, Arroyo de los Reyes struck back with a little flooding.

1959. Source: LA Public Library. Image no. 28410.

1959. Source: LA Public Library. Image no. 28410.

But the dam my have served another purpose early on.

1888-echo park

This 1888 Detail Irrigation map shows us many streams in the area – and also ditches/zanjas.  See the darker blue lines?  Most of those are ditches/zanjas.  Rusty red and fainter blue colors are streams.  So we see a ditch very clearly, also coming down Glendale Blvd/2nd Street.  Last year’s Public Library map exhibit included a map that named the ditch coming down alongside the stream:  Woolen Mill Ditch.  So, conjecture – there was a wool mill, which may have needed a water wheel, which needed a dam…?

Sheep in Garvanza. 1878.  Source: LA Public Library, photo no 69363

Sheep in Garvanza. 1878. Source: LA Public Library, photo no 69363

I can just imagine the little sheep running all over the hills, there’s great photos of them over in Garvanza.  Someone’s got to shear them, and someone’s got to do something with all that wool, yes?

Speaking of those rusty red creeks, pan over to the right of the map, and you’ll see that Chavez Ravine and Solano Canyon both had streams (not surprisingly).  Another rumor I heard in my time living in Echo Park was that staff at Barlow Respiratory Hospital could hear the flows from a capped spring in a stormdrain flowing through their parking lot – and that subsurface water flows were responsible for their parking lot needed to be fixed up a lot.  Which brings to mind that we are poised on the brink of another lost opportunity if the Barlow Hospital is redeveloped as mega-housing on the edge of Elysian Park.  Before even the Chavez Ravine debacle, it was bad enough that what was obviously once part of the extensive public common land – Pueblo Lands of Los Angeles (as marked in the map above) had been sold off, developed etc – the bright side at Barlow being that here’s a sliver of privatized land that at least served a public good – soon to be turned over to inaccessible private property?  Add to that a probable buried creek to be further lost to infrastructure.  My only solace will be if the descendents of the dispossessed Chavez Ravine dwellers get first dibs on the housing.

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§ 40 Responses to A tree grows on Beaudry: echos of the creeks of Echo Park

  • Joe Linton says:

    ay… another beautiful story, Jessica! Thanks! Everyone should come hear you speak this Friday at noon at Farmlab!

  • Matt says:

    This is so exciting. Thank you for helping me to envision a greener Los Angeles.

    Under the pavement, the beach!

    Er well, the stream! I couldn’t resist referencing the situationists.

  • [...] A tree grows on Beaudry: echos of the creeks of Echo Park « L.A. Creek Freak (tags: losangeles echopark water history geography mapping) [...]

  • Darrell Kunitomi says:

    Many thanks for keeping the memory of what was once here alive. I’m a native Angeleno who fished Echo Park Lake as a boy. Rode the RTD #44 bus on Temple east from where we lived, Commonwealth and Beverly to fish on Saturdays. It was marvelous.

    I know the good ol days came with certain attitudes and restrictions of the day. IOW, not all Americans were as free and equal as we would have liked. But there was a fine time after WW II when our city was cleaner, less crowded and safer from random acts of violence. And a kid going to a public school did not have to worry about a classmate carrying heat. I went to public schools in the center of the city, and it was safe.

    Back to the ol days, there was good nature in the city — vacant lots with springtime weeds were a playground. Butterflies were all over, flitting through Los Angeles. Crawdads at beautiful Ferndale park, landscaped grounds, no taggings, a wonderland. And a patrolling ranger.

    Things change, I know. But it’s good to look back. IMHO.

    • Jessica Hall says:

      Thanks for your comment. I am very glad for the civil rights advances we’ve made, but the incredible violence that we as a city (and nation) take so casually is an infuriating tragedy. And I wonder sometimes about the lack of nature in our lives here – how that affects us. Clearly there are terrible acts of violence in isolated, rural places – so don’t want to over-romanticize nature either – but I do believe that in paving our streams, we paved childhood, took away something people often bond around, at a subtle level reduced our sense of commitment to one another and something bigger than ourselves.

      That said, even in LA, there is so much opportunity for restoration – if only we can muster the political will to make it happen.

    • Glenda Cox says:

      I, too, grew up in Los Angeles in the 40’s and 50’s. It was a wonderful place to grow up. You mentioned Ferndale Park. I would like to know where it is or if it is still there. As a kid, I didn’t pay attention to where my Dad was driving. It was one of my very favorite places to go and we went there often. When guests from out of town came to visit, we always took them there as one of the great places to visit. I still have pictures of our family in the park. I grew up in the Silverlake area of L.A. My old home is still there.

      • Jessica Hall says:

        There is a Fern Dell near Western and Franklin, that takes you into Griffith Park. There is a pretty stream there, historically spring fed – today, I’m told, augmented with other water.

  • Darrell Kunitomi says:

    Fight on, gently. Don’t lay down, unless it’s in front of a developer’s ‘dozer. Turn the other cheek, when launching a spinning, back-kick to opponent’s jaw.

    Zen is fine, after your foe calls 911. Kidding.

  • LA MapNerd says:

    Re: The Woolen Mill Ditch

    From A History of California and an Extended History of Los Angeles and Environs, Vol. 1, by James Miller Guinn, 1915:

    ECHO PARK

    Echo park, containing thirty acres, is another park evolved from the city’s refuse lands. In 1868 the city council contracted with the Los Angeles Canal & Reservoir Company, a corporation, with a capital of $200,000, of which George Hansen was president and J. J. Warner, secretary, to construct a system of reservoirs and canals in the northwestern part of the city. The reservoirs were to be filled by water from the river conducted in a canal. A dam, twenty feet high, was built across a canon near the head of the Arroyo de Los Reyes and a ditch following the canon of this arroyo down to Pearl street, now Figueroa, was constructed. This zanja in later years was known as the Woolen Mill ditch.

    Los Angeles had an ambition to become a manufacturing city. The water brought down by the ditch could be used for power to propel machinery and for irrigation. The ditch was extended down to the southern part of the city. For this improvement the company was to receive several thousand acres of hill land in the northwest part of the city. In 1873 a woolen mill was built on the line of this ditch near Figueroa and Fifth streets, and for a decade or so manufactured a fair quality of blankets. Then it was turned into an ice factory. Competition froze it out. The Woolen Mill ditch disappeared before the march of improvement and all the city has left for its leagues of land is a pond or reservoir now known as Echo Lake. The other reservoirs that appear on the old maps as reservoirs 1, 2, and 3 were never completed. The land surrounding reservoir No. 4 (Echo Lake) was converted into a park and the land below the dam—about four and one half acres—belonging to the city was converted into a children’s playground. Echo Lake is the largest body of water in any of the parks. It is a favorite boating resort and a few deluded fishermen occasionally angle for carp in its turbed waters.

  • Darrell Kunitomi says:

    The cutting of the 101 was the beginning of the end, IMHO. And the loss of the Echo Park Library building, at Temple and blvd. Tennis courts came in. At least the old rec center is refurbed and opened. Now comes the lake’s turn.

    Last sentence of above, full of snark. He say crap, I say carp, and more.

  • Darrell Kunitomi says:

    To add — just drove past lot in photo on my way into work — sorry to report, but the lot got a going-over, plants are missing.

    May they forever return.

  • Colleen Miyano says:

    “They pave paradise & put up a parking lot!” Sad…

  • When I was a young fellow attending Elysian Heights Elementary School on the north east corner of Baxter & Valentine was a bottled water company. It was called the Elysian Springs Bottling House (it was the scene of a shocking murder in December of 1904 according the Los Angeles Times). While in room 8 I could see truck coming and going. It was later closed and the land bought by the school. There are now classrooms in that corner. The garage doors, which were on the Baxter Street side, were used in a movie once “Hearts of the West” starting Jeff Bridges which came out in 1975 so it was around at least until then. So there was some sort of well/spring on that site.

    • Jessica Hall says:

      Thank you for this amazing information! A bottling company at Baxter! Wow!

    • Martin Scott says:

      I really appreciate the comments about Elysian Spring Water Co..
      I recently found an old 5 gallon bottle with the word “Elysian” molded to it. I have found out some stuff about the company, but not nearly enough. Your share has helped me put a little more of the puzzle together. I found the Company opened sometime in 1878.. But that is all I know other than the killing (1907) and the lawsuits (1930,1934).

  • Lane Barden says:

    Hi Jessica,

    So sorry I missed your farmlab talk. keep us posted about your next one. Thanks for your story about the Arroyo de los Reyes. I had no idea. I found in my research on the LAR that road and city workers had dug up riversand downtown and I assumed it was from an extreme River flood. This makes more sense.

    BTW, maybe you know this but Leo Politi was also a painter and children’s book publisher, winner of two Caldecott awards. His son, Paul Leo Politi wrote Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me of You) recorded by Little Caesar in 1961.

    over and out,

    Lane Barden

    • Jessica Hall says:

      Thanks, Lane, for your comment. I thought Politi was a writer (children’s books) but no didn’t realize he was also a painter.

      Sand in downtown – some may have come from Arroyo de los Reyes, but I’ve also read accounts of boulders being hit by excavators – about where the LA River was reputed to have crossed over to the Ballona watershed – during those untold number of years when that was its course.

  • Lane Barden says:

    The Los Angeles Central Library did a show of his paintings several years back. I think they have them in their collection. A lot of them were paintings of the sadly ill-fated Victotian Bunker Hill neighborhood (now California Plaza – Yikes!)

  • LA MapNerd says:

    Ooh, I found another bit in Guinn’s “History”. From the section on Central Park (today’s Pershing Square):

    After the conquest of California by the Americans, a portion of the pueblo lands lying between First and Twelfth streets, Main and Grasshopper (now Figueroa) streets, was subdivided into lots and blocks by Lieutenant Ord; Central Park is block 15 of Ord’s Survey.

    This survey was made in 1849 and a number of the lots fronting on Main, Spring and Fort streets were put on sale. The maximum price for Ord Survey lots, 120×165 feet, in the “days of ’49” was $50 each. With the decadence of mining and the decreased demand for cattle— the chief product of the South—the city became a case of arrested development.

    Ord’s Survey lots on Main, Spring and Fort streets could be bought in the early ’60s at the price of ten years before, namely, thirty to fifty cents per front foot. There was no temptation to invest in lots beyond the settled portion of the city; consequently the blocks west of Hill street remained practically intact.

    There was another reason why settlers did not locate on lots on Olive and Charity (Grand avenue) streets near the base of the western hills. The Arroyo de Los Reyes, rising in the northwestern part of the city, debouched into the plain at the base of the hill on which the old Normal School stood. It crossed Olive street north of Sixth and cut a corner off the prospective park, then it zigzagged in a deep channel through the blocks between Hill, Olive and Charity streets down to Washington street.

    In the spring of the year there was considerable water in it and innumerable frogs nightly held concerts along its reedy brink. As the season advanced, millions of mosquitoes hatched in the stagnant pools of the arroyo of the kings and made night a horror to the dwellers on its banks. These appurtenances to real estate in that locality made it undesirable for first-class residences.

    So I guess not everyone wants to live next to a creek. :-)

  • [...] By Jessica Hall Thanks to Creekfreak readers who added so much richness of detail to the post, A tree grows on Beaudry. If you are intrigued by Echo Park’s former Arroyo de los Reyes, Elysian Springs and Woolen [...]

  • Thank you much for this great article.

    My partner & I recently opened a youth & culture center at 132 S. Beaudry Avenue…We incorporated the willow tree into our logo :-)

    Come by. Would love to meet you!

    Best,
    Vanessa Acuna

  • Jessica Hall says:

    lovely! Thanks for letting us know, and I hope to drop in to the center sometime!

  • Daniel says:

    Hi there, I just read your article doing some research on Echo Park and this was really helpful!

  • Tina Mata says:

    As always, such a pleasure, I am so grateful for your the passion and time invested in this blog Joe, and for all those who contribute as well.

    My grandfather was born and raised in Echo Park arround the turn of the century. The maps , stories and research bring life to our families oral tradition.

    Thank you

    Tina
    Mid Wilshire

  • [...] The story starts with a buried river called the Arroyo de los Reyes, which originates off of Glendale Blvd. near the 2 terminus. It flowed down Glendale, to where Echo Park Lake now is, and into downtown down 2nd Street where it ends up just south of Pershing Square and eventually connecting to the LA River (Source: LA Creek Freak). [...]

  • RC says:

    Awesome article!

    I’m doing some Historic Echo Park research and I’m wondering if there’s a larger version of the detail of the 1888 Irrigation Map pictured above — I’ve been looking through the LA Engineering vaults as well as the LAPL, and I can’t seem to find the right one —

    Any help?

    Thanks much — !

    RC

    • Jessica Hall says:

      Hi RC, the map actually comes from state archives in Sacramento. I have a digital copy, very large file. If you want to email me the area you’re looking for I can send you a crop or yousendit.com it to you.

      • RC says:

        Hi Jessica!

        Thanks for your reply —

        I’ve been searching through the State Library Archive Online, but have been unable to find the map online.

        If you downloaded it and it’s available online, I’d be happy to download it myself, otherwise, if you could yousendit to the email address on the post, I’d really appreciate it.

        I’d probably go for the whole file if you didn’t mind, since whatever was cropped out I’m sure I’d need to see next :-)

        Thanks much!

  • tina mata says:

    Jessica, Joe Linton, Ron Milam, thank you. I have spoken to you of my family being raised in Echo Park and Mid Wilshire near the turn of the century, bathing at the Bimini baths, gathering watercrest from the LA River at dusk for dinner time. My husbands family arrived as migrant farmworks from Mexico and walked this land earlier. We as a couple remain deeply connected to this land. G-d help us to be wise stewards given our education, resourses, assests in people, our access to institutions, our health. Jessica, Joe, Ron, your lives and writings continue to inspire and invite us, chalange us to live and continue to become our best selves. Thank you sister. Thank you brothers.

    Tina Mata

  • In 1887 an El Niño year brought severe flooding to the Los Angeles. Most of the bridges across the LA River were damaged (except the covered bridge at Macy Street – now César Chávez Blvd.). On Februray 16 of that year the LA Times ran an article about the damage. The story was a north to south review of the various bridges, beginning with Downey Street (now North Spring) down to Santa Fe Depot. The story ends with a paragraph about Reservoir No. 4 (i.e. the future Echo Park Lake). It says…

    “President James McLoughlin of the Second-street Cable Road appeared in Council yesterday, and stated there was great fear that Reservoir No. 4 would break and cause great loss of life and asked that the reservoir be kept not more than half full in winter months.

    The Zanjero is running water off from Reservoir No.4 as fast as he deems prudent, so that any solicitude as to a break is useless, unless very heavy rains fall. Early this morning he reported that he had lowered the reservoir a foot.”

    I cannot tell is this story is mountainous mole-hill or represents a real possibility. Today the idea of mighty Echo Park Lake being emptied onto what is now Glendale Blvd. and sending a torrent of flood waters down toward Pearl Street (later Figuroa) seems plain silly. However perhaps things were different then. I do know that Reservoir No. 4 was more than bit larger than is modern Echo Park Lake.

    It is a mystery.

    • Jessica Hall says:

      Once again, a fount of amazing enviro-urban history. I don’t know either, about the seriousness of a flood risk today. Back then the stream was an open channel; today, a stormdrain follows its path and would likely carry the flood flows.

  • DarrellKuni says:

    Update, depression — 8/11: the lot is asphalted over.

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