Places to Visit: Burbank’s Lake-Providencia Bridge and Compass Tree Park

April 19, 2011 § 13 Comments

The 1949 Lake-Providencia Bridge - double parentheses, one in the foreground, the other in the upper right

The Burbank Western Wash runs pretty anonymously through the city of Burbank, and a tiny bit of the city of Glendale, then enters the L.A. River at a confluence just upstream of Bette Davis Picnic Area. As far as I know, it’s all concrete box-channel. There’s not too much going on there, though the city has a few bike paths planned.

I first explored the Burbank Western Wash (sometimes called the Burbank Western Channel) while I was tracking down bridges for my book, Down by the Los Angeles River. A librarian friend found me a Caltrans list of all the bridges in Los Angeles County. I reviewed the date on each bridge and bicycled out to check out every L.A. River watershed bridge built before the mid-1950s.

The anonymous Burbank Western Wash, from Verdugo Avenue

Most of the bridges on the Burbank Western Wash are nice, but unremarkable. In my book, I described them as “unassuming, friendly, neighborhood-scale bridges.” From upstream to downstream, these include:

  • Magnolia Boulevard (now frontage road) 1949
  • Olive Avenue (now frontage road) 1949
  • Verdugo Avenue (now frontage road) 1949
  • Lake Street and Providencia Avenue 1949
  • Alameda Avenue 1949
  • Victory Boulevard 1940
  • Riverside Drive 1940 (in city of Glendale – all others in city of Burbank)

The 1940 bridges feature decorative metal railing, with concrete posts, and a modest arch below. The 1949 bridges all feature the same pleasant concrete railing, ending at quarter-circle-shaped approach walls. They’re flat – no arch. Not bad, not spectacular or flashy.

The curved concrete railing of the 1949 Lake-Providencia bridge

When I was exploring these, though, one caught my attention: the 1949 Lake Street and Providencia Avenue Bridge. It’s not much compared to, say, the L.A. River bridges in downtown Los Angeles, but it is nice in its own way – and has a sweet small Compass Point Sycamore Park adjacent downstream.

The Burbank Western Wash runs diagonally through (below) the intersection of Lake Street and Providencia Avenue. This makes for a different flavor bridge than the standard linear A-to-B bridge. In many places these plus-shaped bridges are very dull and more-or-less invisible, for examples: the Riverside Drive and Whitsett Avenue Bridge over the Tujunga Wash (in Valley Village) or the Imperial Highway and Central Avenue Bridge over Compton Creek (in Watts/Willowbrook.) I suspect it’s difficult to do much with grade in these settings – the plus-shaped bridges are all flat. For the most part, folks crossing over them don’t even know they’re there.

The Lake-Providencia bridge was the only plus-shaped bridge I found that had character. I like to say it’s shaped like a backward pair of parentheses – like this: ” ) ( “. It has the same railing as the other 1949-ers, but the others are straight lines, and Lake-Providencia is curvy. These curves make for some pleasing views and cast interesting shadows below. It feels like some thorough and intelligent engineer really analyzed the site well, and came up with a solution that pays some attention to aesthetics and to details.

(Again – to temper readers’ expectations – it’s not a huge monumental mega-bridge… it’s just a nice neighborhood scale one – I don’t want to send a bunch of people out there and have post disappointed comments!)

Another shot of the upstream railing at Lake-Providencia

Here’s a sketch of the bridge by Akiko Crawford:

Lake-Providencia bridge - drawing by Akiko Crawford

Adjacent to the bridge, on Lake Street, there’s a very small mini-park called Compass Tree Park, dedicated in 2002 by the city of Burbank. It’s small, basically a couple of benches around a small central decorative tile-and-concrete plaza… and four medium-sized sycamore trees.

The city of Burbanks Compass Tree Park

A metal plaque at the park tells the story of the compass point sycamores:

In 1817, Spanish Padres planted four golden sycamore trees at a nearby location to mark the halfway point between the Los Angeles and San Fernando missions. It was customary for travelers to rely on natural features to reach their destinations so the trees were planted to mark each of the four compass points. The trees grew to over 100 feet tall and provided shade and respite to weary travelers along the Los Angeles River. In later years a cement platform was constructed around the trees for dances and gatherings of the early valley settlers. The original trees were removed in the 1940’s and Compass Tree Park has been designed to commemorate and serve as a reminder of our early Spanish heritage.

(Note: I think there’s an error in this text. It seems to me that it’s the halfway point between the pueblo of Los Angeles and the San Fernando mission. As far as I know there was no Los Angeles mission.) 

One of the contemporary commemorative compass point sycamore trees, standing tall

Until I chanced upon this park, I’d never heard of these compass point sycamores. It’s a beautiful image: a setting sun casting light on foot-travelers dancing in the outdoor room formed by giant sycamore trees, alongside a flowing stream. Doing some searching on-line there’s very little information about those sycamores – only items referencing this park itself: the city of Burbank’s 1999 Historic Preservation Plan and a city document showcasing Burbank’s parks, which, on page 22, features a sad photo of the stump of the last remaining compass point sycamore.

I am curious where the actual trees were located… that “nearby location” almost certainly unrecognizable at this point. Anyone out there know more about this? Anyone aware of any images? photos? maps? Please comment.

If you’re biking through Burbank some day, and you want to check out a pleasant curvy bridge, and sit a bit in the shade of some tall trees, visit the Lake-Providencia Bridge and the Compass Tree Park.

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§ 13 Responses to Places to Visit: Burbank’s Lake-Providencia Bridge and Compass Tree Park

  • Charlie Hohn says:

    are they California sycamores or London Plane trees. Nice trees either way… but I hope they are the native type.

    • Joe Linton says:

      I don’t know… the plaque refers to “golden sycamores” which I am not familiar with either.

      • LA MapNerd says:


        Several sorts of trees are called ‘sycamores’. Most of the ones we’re familiar with here are members of the Plane Tree family (genus Platanus).

        The London Plane tree, Platanus × acerifolia, is a hybrid of the North American Sycamore (P. occidentalis) and the Oriental Plane Tree (P. orientalis).

        Our native Western Sycamores (P. racemosa) are also members of this family.

        The tree usually called the “Golden Sycamore”, though – the ‘Sycamore’ of England and Ireland – is actually a European-native maple: Acer pseudoplatanus. (It’s sometimes called the ‘Sycamore Maple’.)

        As you can see from its species name, pseudoplatanus -“false Plane tree” – it does rather resemble a Plane-family sycamore.

        (Note also the London Plane’s species name, acerifolia – “maple-leaved”. Even though they’re not closely related, there are clearly some resemblances between the genera. :-))


  • […] to next month’s Bike to Work Week. L.A. Creek Freak suggests a visit to the double parentheses of Burbank’s Lake-Providencia Bridge. Bikeside’s Mihai Peteu calls for better — aka separated — bike lanes; Long Beach […]

  • Cory says:

    First let me start by saying: Joe you rule! Burbank needs alittle love!

    I submitted an application for a Class 1 path along this portion of the burbank western channel in the 2009 Call for Projects which we have been awarded with a funding year of 2015. At this bridge we will actually be widening the sidewalks as part of the project to allow for an at grade crossing but our intention is to leave the bridge intact. I like it too! A portion of the project is funded through CDBG (Victory to Alameda). There was a groundbreaking a few weeks ago and construction should be underway shortly.

    • Joe Linton says:

      Wow… I will have to do a post on the Burbank Western Wash bike path segments at some point soon… I didn’t realize how far along they are. Burbank needs its own blog to tout its accomplishments… which are good… but I don’t always hear much about them where I am sitting in L.A. Please tip us off to stuff like river (or bike) groundbreakings, ribbon-cuttings, etc.! Maybe I can come visit and get an update/tour one of these days?

      • Joe, Looking for info on the Burbank channel brought me to this post after I chanced to discover a pretty dang brand new bike/ped path segment between the Victory and Alameda Avenue bridges.

        I blogged about it here:

        You’re spot on about Burbank needing to toot its own horn better. If I hadn’t arbitrarily looked right up a side street from my bike on Victory and seen a skateboarder zipping along the path I would’ve missed this wonderful addition that not only serves cyclists passing through, but brings to new life the neighborhood’s streets north of the channel that previously dead-ended into it.

  • Cory says:

    When I get back to work I will do some digging to see what I can find out about the park and the trees.

  • LA MapNerd says:

    According to the notes accompanying a photo of <a href=""last of the four compass trees in Burbank at the Oviatt Digital Library, the last tree was located at 715 S. Lake St, just about a block southeast from Compass Tree Park.

    They note that although the tree had been severely trimmed because of deteriorating limbs, the owners donated the tree to the Burbank Historical Society, who relocated it to somewhere on West Magnolia. (Doesn’t say exactly where.) Don’t know if it still survives today.

    (It’s the same pic as the one of the “stump” in the Burbank Parks document you linked to, but if you look, you can see it’s still sprouting leafy twigs.)

    It must be the halfway point between the LA pueblo and the San Fernando mission, because it’s too close to San Fernando to be the halfway point between San Fernando and San Gabriel, as the Burbank parks document claims.

  • LA MapNerd says:

    Whoops. Mucked up the link. That should be:

    Last of the four compass trees in Burbank

  • […] project brings cyclists and pedestrians up close to several historic bridges built in the 1940s. These Burbank historic bridges are pretty unassuming and modest (and dwarfed by contemporary […]

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