Tracing the Course of the Eagle Rock Creek in Rockdale

October 20, 2012 § 5 Comments

In February 2010, Jane Tsong posted these photos on L.A. Creek Freak of flooding in the Yosemite Drive area of Eagle Rock in 1934, with a challenge to readers to find the location of the photographs.

Eagle Rock flood 1934Eagle Rock flood 1934

Eagle Rock flood 1934

New Year’s Day flood 1934

The 1934 New Year’s Day Flood is notorious for causing the death of at least 45 people in Montrose and La Crescenta. It inspired Woody Guthrie to write a song of that title. Several days of very heavy rain caused lethal debris flows in areas of the San Gabriel Mountains that had been burned that fall. The flooding in the Los Angeles basin as a whole was not particularly severe, but the deaths of so many people in the foothills focused people’s attention on the dangers of flooding, and gave added impetus to the comprehensive flood control planning for the entire watershed. In the case of Eagle Rock, where no lives were lost, the 1934 flood increased public pressure to complete the area’s storm drain system, and, in particular, to construct the Yosemite Drive storm drain with Civil Works Administration funds. Soon after these photographs were taken, the natural (or semi-natural) creek documented by these photographs disappeared into a 102″ concrete pipe under Yosemite Drive.

Construction of the Yosemite storm drain (USC Digital Library)

The first photograph of the flood shows F. E. Montee’s house at 4815 Avoca Avenue, on the north side of Yosemite Drive. On January 4th, the Eagle Rock Advertiser reported that the house was “almost completely undermined and the family forced to vacate.” The house survives, in a much altered state, while the path of the creek has been turned into an alley; only the large sycamore growing in the middle of this alley provides a clue to the former presence of the creek. On the upstream side of Avoca, however, the old channelized stream actually survives. Completely overgrown with invasive Tree of Heaven, it probably extends as far as Rockdale elementary school; the sides of the channel are lined with corrugated iron and it measures about five feet wide and three feet deep.

Former path of the creek at 4815 Avoca Street

Arrow points to path of the surviving open drain between Avoca St and Rockdale Elementary (Google Earth)

The second and third photographs of the 1934 flood show the creek on either side of the Yosemite Drive bridge, just downstream from Avoca Street and near to the the intersection of Yosemite Drive and Ray Court. The present day jog in the course of Yosemite Drive in this area is a vestige of the need to cross over the creek. The second photograph is looking downstream, with the silhouette of Occidental College’s Fiji Hill clearly discernable in the background; the power poles are running along Yosemite Drive, just as they do today. The third photograph is looking upstream, from the other side of Yosemite Drive, with the now demolished two-story masonry Rockdale elementary school just visible in the background.

Detail of 1934 photograph with the old Rockdale Elementary circled.

The exact location of the bridge remains a little vague, but an older  photograph of the area taken from Wildwood Drive clearly shows the course of the creek as it crosses under Yosemite Drive and heads across the land that is now occupied by the Yosemite Manor and other large apartment complexes.

View of Yosemite Drive from Wildwood Drive c. 1918. The arrow marks where the creek runs across the center of the picture (LAPL collection)

Yosemite Manor apartments. The path of the creek ran across the back part of this courtyard.

Another useful document for creek freaks is an undated storm drain map, in which the storm drains were expediently drawn over an older topographical map. The palimpsest of the old contour lines clearly describes the path of the creek as it heads towards Oak Grove Drive.

Storm drain map with the path of the creek and location of 4815 Avoca St and Yosemite Manor highlighted.

The most remarkable thing revealed by these photographs is the proximity of the houses to the creek. The potential destructive force of the creek seems to have been entirely underestimated. A portion of Oak Grove Drive (where the High School now stands) was actually built along the line of the creek, with predictable consequences!  It is sad to think that with only a little planning, in terms of prudent setbacks from the watercourse and preservation of floodplain width, the creek could have been preserved in an almost natural state for the whole length of the valley. Large parcels of land along the creek, including three school properties and the Yosemite Recreation Center, were still largely open space in the 1930s.  It is a story of missed opportunity—in fact, a version of the history of the whole watershed, in miniature.

Thanks to Eric Warren at the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society, the staff at Occidental College Library, Special Collections, and Jane Tsong’s Myriad Unnamed Streams

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