L.A. Unfolded: Great Maps at the Central Library
October 16, 2008 § 6 Comments
“Maps are not always accurate, are not without prejudice, and are rarely perfect, but they teach us about our place in the world.” Glen Creason, Los Angeles Public Library History Department Map Specialist, from exhibition article in the Library Foundation‘s Aware, Fall 2008
Creek freak got a chance to check out the new L.A. Unfolded map show at the downtown Los Angeles main library. It’s very fun, and reveals plenty about the historic courses of our waterways. The exhibition is up right now in the library’s 2nd Floor Getty Gallery, and continues on view through January 22nd 2009.
As a River aficionado, I especially enjoyed the Map of the Los Angeles River from Los Angeles City Limits to the Pacific Ocean, Office of Engineer M of W, LA & SLRR (Maintenance of Way, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad), dated June 1919. It’s about 5-feet by 2-feet, drawn in fine black and red on delicate semi-transparent white linen. The outline of the river’s channel is in black on the (unfortunately poor quality cell phone) picture on the left below. The 1919 map actually has the contours of the later concrete channels penciled in (hopefully they weren’t available as early as 1919 – the concrete channelization didn’t get underway until the 1930’s,) though they’re hard to see in this photo.
Another very beautiful map is the Map of the City of Los Angeles 1884, by H. J. Stevenson “U.S. Dept. Surveyor.” [Actual period after the word surveyor.] It’s about 4′ tall and 2 1/2′ wide and in full color. The river’s channel has plenty of curvy meander in the areas above and below downtown… but the railroads are already present downtown and the river has been straightened from about 1st Street to below 6th Street. The map also labels the Zanja Madre (Spanish for “Mother Ditch” – the original ditch/canal that brought water from the river to the pueblo) running through the Cornfield (now Los Angeles State Historic Park) site.
How our waterways are labeled indicates how we perceive them. The river becomes harder to find as the years advance. A 1938 Los Angeles Harbor map labels a mere “Los Angeles County Flood Control Channel” with no indication that it’s the mouth of the Los Angeles River. It calls the present day Dominguez Channel “Gardena Valley & Nigger Slough Drainage Channel.”
There’re lots more maps – from hundreds of years ago to the present day, representing sites from the original Pueblo to Japantown to the murals of East L.A. Even maps showing California as an Island. It’s a great exhibit that I highly recommend and look forward to spending more time with.