A tree grows on Beaudry: echos of the creeks of Echo Park
October 6, 2009 § 50 Comments
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.
But the dam my have served another purpose early on.
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…?
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.