Ballona Creek – “My Little Mississippi” and sometimes Tarzan’s Africa

October 6, 2010 § 4 Comments

Ballona Creek image from Wikimapia

You know I’m a sucker for creeky oral histories. Here’s an excerpt about Ballona Creek from a site I found a while back:

For me growing up the Ballona Creek became my version of the Mississippi! Tom Sawyer had nothing on me except a lot more water.  We kids would climb down into the channel and ride our bikes are hike for miles…The creek sides were not paved and in some cases were still dirt and boulders when I was growing up. So we explored the nine miles rock by rock.  I’ll bet I used ten boxes of band aids after falling and nicking myself on those rocks.

He outlines his understanding of Ballona Creek’s alignment, turning up La Cienega to the north. There was most certainly a stream that flowed down from the Hollywood Hills roughly aligned with La Cienega and connecting to Ballona Creek, although the main channel of Ballona originated further east. I don’t know the history of when this tributary was culverted (or if there are names for it). I thought these had all been culverted by the 30s (earlier even), and am too polite to ask the writer his age, but this is intriguing…That he understood the trib as the main channel is an interesting reflection of how we read landscapes – the integrity of the creek defined the alignment.

The writer also mentions the RKO/40 Acres studios that once sat next to Ballona Creek. This link shows photos of Ballona and Tarzan’s treehouse. Note the tall sycamore standing in as an African backdrop. You’ll have to scroll down to the middle of the page get to the Ballona section. Wikimapia (apologies if we linked here before) also offers a nice photo of Ballona at this location, although the actual area mapped as the 40-acres lot is larger on Wikipedia.

RKO's Forty Acre Lot, image from Wikipedia

The LA Times recounts fun details about Ballona Creek in this 1994 article. Here’s another oral history tidbit tying into the studio-creek history, from Carl Pitti (page 3 of the linked story):

He recalls that while dove hunting along the creek in the 1940s…he came eye to eye with a tiger. The cat was on the other side of a tall fence where the studio kept animals for its Tarzan movies.

The site Ponderosa Scenery also tells us that some of your favorite episodes of Bonanza were shot here, with Little Joe and Hoss scrambling up and around the slopes of the Baldwin Hills.

Today the area is mostly industrial – including a recycling exchange facility where Tarzan once swung through the trees.


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§ 4 Responses to Ballona Creek – “My Little Mississippi” and sometimes Tarzan’s Africa

  • Joe Linton says:

    Wow! The second photo aerial – where is that in today’s roadway grid? What streets are on the right and left of the creek in the pic?

  • Jessica Hall says:

    that’s Jefferson on the left, near the entry to today’s Baldwin Hills State Park (the recycling facility today). On the extreme right (right of studio lot) is Higuera Street. Ince runs diagonally from the upper right corner towards – but not quite hitting- the creek.

    • Joe Linton says:

      aha – thanks – so top of image is west – and creek flows from bottom to top of picture! I had it upside down, and couldn’t place it. (Need to spend more time on Ballona)

  • chimatli says:

    I love the first photo! It invites dreaming of a past I never knew and longing for a future of returned waterways.

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