A(rroyo) Rosa Castilla by any other name

August 19, 2012 § 10 Comments

Alignment, Arroyo Rosa Castilla, based on 1926 and 1928 USGS Quad maps. You’re looking at over 14 miles of blueline stream.  Base image: GoogleEarth. Overlay by J.Hall.

I love to see people get creekfreaky, so it was a good day last Friday when friends posted the Eastsider’s story linking to the El Sereno Historical Society’s post on Arroyo Rosa Castilla, the creek that formerly ran along the 710 Freeway.  (Creek Freaks have long observed the propensity for Caltrans-and others-to lay major roadways in the beds of creeks – viz. Arroyo Seco/110, LA River/5 and 710 Fwys, San Gabriel River/605 Fwy, Topanga Creek and Topanga Canyon Road – and Rosa Castilla here among them).   A little sign on the freeway will tell you it is called the Sheriff’s Range Gulch.

And ESHS posted lots of great maps and photos of the creek’s former alignment – including an unattributed crop of the map created by Ann Dove of the National Park Service and me, downloadable here (go to Northeast LA map).  Please attribute properly folks, but to show there’s not hard feelings, I’ve also traced the 1920s alignment from the Alhambra 1926 and Altadena 1928 USGS quad maps and pulled them into Google Earth for your imaginings and use.  That kmz file is uploaded to the Google Earth community here. (you may have to create a log-in identity).  So you can zoom around GoogleEarth and think about the creek in relation to the places you know.  This kmz file is not without its own quirks.

Close up, Arroyo Rosa Castilla. Base: GoogleEarth

For example, as you can see in this close up of one area the stream is about 350′ too far off to the east.  You can tell by the undeveloped open space feature that remains a green gully to this day.  If you decide to go out stream seeking, use this as a guide but then follow the lay of the land, look for the low spots – topography only lies when we’ve altered it… By the way, that gully and the park look like a nice place to explore creek daylighting opportunities!  We should cross-reference this with storm drain maps to see if one crosses through there.

Back in 2002-2003, I’d gotten excited about the possibilities to put together a plan for Arroyo Rosa Castilla.  Here’s some slides from a 2003 presentation I used to shop around the idea:

Image: Jessica Hall

Like the El Sereno Historical Society folks, I’d mapped the alignment against historical aerials.  Here’s a close up of the reach running through the Repetto Hills (is that what they’re called?):

Image: Jessica Hall

Also as noted by the blogs, there’s a long reach west of the 710 Freeway.  Here there’s a wide right of way, with nice potential in the short term for a jogging/multi-use path connecting CSULA to Valley Blvd – a short jaunt admittedly, but a nice opportunity nonetheless for some greening.   With that wide right-of-way, it may also be worthwhile to study the feasibility of using that extra space to widen the channel and partially naturalize it, similar to studies I’ve been a part of on Compton Creek and Ballona Creek(yet to be written about here beyond this little announcement).

Image: Jessica Hall

But here is where I got excited.  It turns out there are two retention basins along this former creek.  I thought, why not naturalize this creek here, rather than maintain it like a moonscape, add a jogging/walking trail around it, open it up for public access?  It could still act like a retention basin, just close it down when it rains.   And the County of LA said: no.  They couldn’t afford to lose the capacity of this basin, which adding trees would do.

Image: Jessica Hall

Funny cuz if you look in Google Earth at the lower basin….

Image: GoogleEarth.

…you see trees!

Actually this touches on one of my arguments for floodplain and stream restoration.  By impounding water in basins, we cause stream velocities to drop.  As water slows, finer sediment drops out, instead of moving downstream to coastal wetlands.  These fine sediments “clog” the more porous cobble and larger rocks of these basins, reducing their efficiency in recharging aquifers.  So the basins get managed as moonscapes to keep scraping out the fines.  Natural flooding regularly scours these fines away, maintaining recharge.  And did I mention floods do it for free?  And without diesel?

In this case, however, it is probably also a question of maintaining capacity for flood storage.  It would be a fun study to see how semi-naturalized channels, daylighting, and upstream stormwater BMPs might be able to offset peak flood volumes and enable these basins to be more wild and restored than they currently are.

Speaking of wild – and I obviously can’t and don’t recommend you try this – at the 710/10 interchange one can see a glimpse of something untamed going on.  It kinda sorta looked natural inside that donut hole of the offramp.  (Remember can’t and don’t – I don’t want this on my conscience.)

Image: Jessica Hall

Further downstream, where the open concrete channel runs along a former women’s prison/failing hillside, there’s more trail/upland habitat opportunities.  Walking that one morning, I was stunned by the abundance of LBBs (little brown birds) as Edward Abbey calls them.

Clearly there’s a lot to find out about this creek and its tributaries.  I hope community members run with the possibilities.

USGS quad map, circa 1896.

It would be great for the residents of El Sereno and East LA to host their own “Tales of the Arroyo Night” open mike session for reminiscing the old creek, and the other creeks of East LA (two ran past Evergreen Cemetary, and at least one flowed into Hollenbeck Park) and environs (Arroyo de las Pasas and Arroyo del Portosuelo through El Sereno and Lincoln Heights).  I once met a man at a Latino Urban Forum holiday party who talked about playing in Rosa Castilla, catching frogs.  Another man’s grandmother remembered the “river” running past where El Mercadito is today.  These memories can be powerful drivers for open space and restoration projects.


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§ 10 Responses to A(rroyo) Rosa Castilla by any other name

  • Mike Letteriello says:

    Missed you guys for awhile there. Glad you came back with an article like
    this. Have had so many conversations with, ahem, guys my age who
    “used to catch frogs” in some forgotten watercourse. Keep that restoration dream alive! (As if you ever would get blase about it.)

  • Shelley Luce says:

    The EIR/S for the 710 freeway expansion is on the street and comment period is open… this may be a chance to put these suggestions out there again. Might be good mitigation projects?

  • Abe Murillo says:

    Does anyone know, on how wide the Arroyo Rosa Castilla was from the beginning of the 710 fwy?

    • Jessica Hall says:

      I don’t know about width, but you can calculate flow for a range of storms and then design/estimate a width based on regional width:depth ratios or by using streams of similar size/characteristics as a reference.

    • Ray Sessler says:

      1950’s……Between Valley and the 10………..In some places the swimming holes were 20 ft across. Generally it was maybe 6-8 ft. The hill (now CSULA) we called Andrew’s Farm. Just North of Valley was Star Hill.
      Great memories!

  • jim says:

    The area just immediately north of the west bound I10 that you identified as being wild is just that. In the 1960’s it was a full on swimming hole with local kids swarming all over it.

  • clara solis says:

    Check beyond the 710 website ‘re talk about arroyo. My mother remembers the creek in ela. I also spoke. WITH A 72 year old man who remembers swimming in it
    He remembers the dump that was where Sybil brand is located. My mother as a child got burned in the garbage there. A man saved her. The 72 year old also mentioned that the hillside east of the 710 was flat. Dirt from the 710 built up the area where corporate center is. I have some recent photos on my website of the arroyo. Look under letters. I haven’t finished this section so I posted these. I have more photos.

  • Chris Ekman says:

    My name is Chris Ekman. I grew up in Alhambra. I used to live on a street called Primrose Avenue. I have always been interested in this creek and wash.Part of it goes underneath Alhambra Park, where it used to be open. This part of the creek needs to be acknowledged as well. I really enjoyed seeing your coverage with history and maps. You have some good ideas.

    • Jessica Hall says:

      I, too, have noticed the topography at Alhambra Park and believe there is a stream in a culvert underneath it. A stream would be a nice addition to that park!

      Is there an above-ground stream on Primrose?

  • Jay says:

    Now that the 710 is dead, there is talk from Alhambra about closing the freeway stub from the 10 to Valley Blvd. Maybe they can tear out the concrete and restore the creek?

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