Hundred Year Old Hobo Graffiti

October 3, 2008 § 5 Comments

Kid Bill was here on August 13 1914

Kid Bill left his mark here on August 13th, 1914

River Bottom is Queerest Spot in Los Angeles / Hobos Washing; Junk Men SearchingThe inherent desire of the roaming tramp seems to be to leave at the places where he has tarried some mark or inscription as evidence of his visit. Scrawled in oil and tar on the concrete bases of the sewer trestle, below Fourth street, are a great number of these marks. They bear mute testimony to the visits to the river bottom of numerous notables of hobo-land. If they are to be accepted as authentic.

Los Angeles Times, August 5th 1923

Oakland Red was here

Oakland Red’s is among the most elaborate at the site.

On the underside of a bridge along the L.A. River somewhere in the heart of Los Angeles, there’s some very impressive graffiti. It’s not written in spray paint, just chalk and charcoal. It was written by hobos nearly a hundred years ago. Usually creek freak tries to give our readers detailed location descriptions and directions, so you can easily go explore for yourself, but this time I’m a little hesitant to tell folks exactly where this is – because this stuff is pretty delicate and I’d hate to see it disturbed or defaced. You may be able to find it based on hints here.

Photo by Maria Margarita Lopez

Photo by Maria Margarita Lopez

I didn’t discover this myself. Many years ago, I was leading a tour for a group of college students from Pomona Pitzer College. Their professor, Susan Phillips, studies graffiti and when we reached a certain spot on the tour, she asked me if I’d seen the hobo graffiti there. I hadn’t. She pointed it out – on the underside of a nearby bridge. It’s mostly names like “Kid Bill” and with dates from the nineteen-teens. There’s also a small drawing of a horse. Some of the writing in Spanish. The professor told me that she had searched for evidence of hobo occupation at various sites where there are water, railroads and shelter and had come across this site. One of the reasons that the writing has been preserved is because the channel was later deepened, putting the graffiti out of reach of people and floodwaters.

Photo by Ken Haber

Photo by Ken Haber

Various hobo graffiti has been studied and cataloged. Commonly understood markings signify things like safe houses, free food, kind women, etc. There are even basic glossaries on the web. Though I don’t claim to have any expertise, this graffiti appears to only be names. Here’s my transcription of what I can make out of the text: “HB,” “RHW,” “VA ?INFEN??,” “Kid StAM?N?,” ANO 1 CAMPO?ON K,” “FS,” drawing of a horse, “?ARDE?,” “HNO? OLE F? +8-13-14,” in drawing of scroll: “J.W.J. CHITO TUCSON ?i? 9?/1/21,” “Kid SMItH,” “Ki? EE? KID,” “Adentro? Culos de Sangre,” “8-12-14 +HARDEN+,” “Kid. ART THE BALLTLING? GiLdf?,” “MIKE TH???,” “KID BILL+ 8-13-14,” “R. H. WiLLiaMSoN,” “KID-FLINT,” “Kid WANNA tHE JACKASS,” “TOM D,” “?ANG??,” “OAKLANDRED,” and “Ki.”

About as long as there’s been a Los Angeles River, people without homes have taken shelter by it. The subject recurs in historic accounts. Homelessness continues to be an issue today – definitely on the river and elsewhere. Bicycling along the river in Elysian Valley this week, I passed a spot where people appear to be living. As we restore and revitalize the Los Angeles River, we’re going to need to work to solve this issue. I think that this should involve making housing and healthcare universally available. One step in the right direction is to support Mayor Villaraigosa’s recently released housing plan which includes a new policy to include affordable housing in all new development – a policy called “mixed income housing” or “inclusionary zoning.” The mixed income housing policy is also an important step to curb gentrification which can be expected to continue to follow governmental investment in the river. I don’t have the answers on this – so I’d encourage readers to comment here to advance a dialog about it.

“As it begins with nomads, it ends with nomads. Tribal people lived for thirty centuries in a peripatetic minuet with the river and the water. In the twentieth century, other tribes took up residence along the angled concrete verges.” Patt Morrison, Rio L.A.: Tales from the Los Angeles River

(updated 9/5/2013 to correct information regarding professor)

Hanging with Friends of the Isar River

October 3, 2008 § Leave a comment

Tonight I attended a forum on the Isar River hosted by Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) and Goethe-Institut Los Angeles.  These groups flew out a half dozen Germans who told of their successes in die Revitalisierung der Isar in München.  The Isar River in Munich was channelized with concrete sides and has now been “renaturized”, with concrete removed, and both habitat and flood protection enhanced.

The Isar River in Munich, Germany

The Isar River in Munich, Germany

The forum began with introductions from FoLAR founder Lewis MacAdams and Munich Vice Mayor Hep Monatzeder (more on him below.)  Then followed a brief promotional documentary film which showed how popular and successful the renewed Isar is.  One interesting part of the film showed that, during recent excavation, they actually found unexploded bombs from World War 2.  That’s one obstacle that we probably won’t have to face locally.  Similar to the US Army Corps of Engineers they built large-scale models of the their river so they could test various scenarios that were difficult to model via computer.  There was apparently a very tricky confluence that resisted computer modeling.

There were subsequent presentations by Ralf Wulf, head of Munich’s Engineering Department and Dr. Klaus Arzet, head of Munich’s Water Management Department (which seems to function somewhat analogously our regional water board – mainly charged with assuring waterway health.)  Both of these civil servants came off as genuinely proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish on the Isar.  They were fortunate to have a large grassy floodplain area along the river to work with – which they used to give the river channel a wider cross section (to do this in Los Angeles, we’ll need to purchase a lot of real estate – probably a good idea in today’s market, no?) They spoke of removing the concrete lining, but actually burying the broken concrete on-site as what they called “backward hidden protection” (basically the banks are still reinforced – the reinforcement is broken concrete riprap underground and further away from the river.)  They were happy that fish ladders (built to bypass a flood control dyke) served well as wading pools for kids.

They were followed by Larry Hsu, of the L.A. City Bureau of Engineering, who presented an overview of the city’s Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan.  Hsu has a lot of technical expertise, but wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as his German counterparts.  The experts assembled then took plenty of questions from the audience.  The Germans told the story of how they learned a great deal about the project when large storms hit the halfway-completed project in 2005.  It held up well (with some minor damage to a pedestrian bridge) and it showed them how water behaved on the ground differently than it did in their computer simulations.  When asked about economic benefits of the project and Dr. Arzet responded that the project wasn’t so much about getting the city a “pay off” but that the results were good because the “people are happy.”

As things were winding down, Lewis invited me to join some FoLAR folks and the German crew for dinner and drinks at Pete’s.  I got a chance to talk more with Klaus Arzet and Ralf Wulf, who were very intrigued with why things have been done the way they have in Los Angeles.  They’re both very charming and it seems like the project thrives on an excellent balance between their skills.  Arzet is a water ecosystems scientist, Wulf a civil engineer.  They both approach the project with a matter-of-factness – as in, of course, it was our job to make this all work.

I’ll close with my impessions of Vice Mayor Monatzeder (pictured below.)  He’s a Green Party official whose long time in office has provided continuity for the multi-phase Isarplan project.  When I asked him what accomplishments he was proud of, he spoke of the Isar’s transformation, but also of increasing bicycling’s modal share from 6% to 14% (by building bike paths, bike lanes, and even bike service stations) and for increasing use of renewable energy.  Sounds like a lot of great work.

Hep Monatzeder, Vice Mayor of Munich

Hep Monatzeder, Vice Mayor of Munich

The Isar River team will be at FoLAR’s RioFest this Saturday night – rumored to feature all-you-can-eat bratwurst tacos.  FoLAR will also be releasing its recently completed study on local fish.  All this and music by Very Be Careful!  Creek Freek wouldn’t miss it.

(Post-script: Nate, from Amigos de los Rios, was also there and scooped me with his blog account here!)

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