In Southern California, ‘water began it all…’

October 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

El Molino Canyon, 1887. Courtesy The Huntington Library.

Several years ago, as I started to research historical water flows in Northeast Los Angeles, Jessica Hall recommended I talk to Michael Hart. At that time, Michael Hart was Vice President, General Manager, and Zanjero of Sunny Slope Water Company. Sunny Slope Water Company is situated on the same water-bearing land on which was built La Presa (‘The Dam’) nearly two hundred years ago to regulate water for the San Gabriel Mission.

Hart was not only running a modern water company, but also teaching visitors about its unique history. Hart gave me a tour of the Mission dam– I will always remember him showing me a handprint left in wet cement probably by one of many Tongva who built the dam.

Hart’s office seemed like an archive of regional water history, and I was impressed by his patience in helping me interpret the diverse bits of technical and historical information I had been having trouble piecing together. When I left his office, I felt I was emerging from a long journey.

Over the last seventeen years, Hart has compiled the location of Mission dams, zanjas, and agricultural fields in a series of watercolor views and maps. These will soon be exhibited alongside related documents curated Alan Jutzi, in a small show at The Huntington.

A couple of my favorite photographs in the exhibition give us possibly our only photographic views of the Tongva village of Akuuronga. One shows Native Americans in front of their dwellings, while another shows settlers in front of theirs, and what appears to be the Tongva village in the far distance. Yet another photograph shows the familiar San Gabriel Mission, but also a marsh lined with thick vegetation, just a couple steps away! Especially intriguing is some research by Gary Cowles documenting the handing down of Mission lands to those of Indian descent, which was apparently the intent of the Mission fathers at the time of secularization. As I understand, these folks did not remain property owners for long– one of the many stories in this material which await to be told by patient researchers.

A year ago, I published two cursory posts on the topic of this Artesian Belt: An Artesian Belt in San Gabriel, and Grading and Draining: The Transformation of the Shorb Ranch. Michael Hart’s paintings along with Alan Jutzi’s research in preparation for this show will give us a deeper understanding of this area’s complex history. Alan and I have a lot of work to do in a short period of time, as the show will open November 19!

El Molino Canyon, 1887. Courtesy The Huntington Library.

§ 2 Responses to In Southern California, ‘water began it all…’

  • anonymous says:

    Cool, Jane!

    By the way, a quiet force in locating these wetland resources has been Anne Dove of the National Park Service. She is the one who shared old water resource maps with me and pointed me towards Mike Hart, who I never had the chance to meet up with. Glad you connected with him and that his work is now going to be put on view.

    Anne also collaborated with me on the Arroyo Seco/North East LA bilingual historical creek overlay map, which is downloadable here at LA Creek Freak.

  • Jeff says:

    I love La Presa! Can’t wait for the show. Thanks Jane.

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