Early Floods in Los Angeles: Interview 147, J. E. Proctor, Long Beach: It was not necessary to fertilize the land…

July 16, 2016 § 1 Comment

One of the best creek freak documents around is a series of interviews made by Los Angeles County Flood Control Engineer James Reagan, around 1914. The interviews give a vivid picture of the Los Angeles basin of more than 100 years ago. We will be posting other interviews from this document in the following months.

He has been in this section of the country for more than forty years, and has witnessed some big floods. They have never done the damage that the flood last winter did, for the reason that everything is different. In the early days, and up to within the last four years, the country was covered more or less with willows, brush fences, and in some places, lakes, marshes and other small growth. In those days the water would spread out all over the country, and the velocity was very much slower, it did no damage, and in many ways did good.

It was not necessary to fertilize the land, as they are now doing. They raised 100 bushels of corn to the acre, but not now. In those days a crop of corn and California pumpkins were raised on the same land. Those pumpkins would grow so thick that it was difficult to walkaround and step between them, while it was an easy matter to go all over the place and never step on the ground, stepping on the pumpkins. The largest I ever saw weighed 214 pounds, and on our place we raised one that weighed 206 pounds.

So in this way the floods did a great deal of good. Each flood left a deposit of silt on the land that made the rich yields of those days. I am afraid the people will miss those floods, although in the last flood the land was washed very badly. That washing comes from the land being cleared off and having a freer run than before. There were no railroad embankments in those days either to hold the water either, where it is now held up, and the volume contracted into a smaller space at the openings under the railroad. And too, a flood would break out and a strong current would cut across the country carrying things before it, and in the wake perhaps putting a channel that ruined the land. Therefore part of the flood carried the big amount of silt, but the deposits were left by the last part of the flood.

On our place we have no fear of the flood that first comes, that does no damage, but it is the tail end of the flood that causes the damage. A place is started below us, and should a flood come again as last winter it will probably cut back and ruin our place. As it is we could do nothing with it this year; we could not rent it for anything.

Many peculiar things were noted in the flood of last winter. We had a chicken yard about 50 feet square, made of woven wire chicken fencing. On the inside of this fence, when the flood had gone down we found a deposit of sand and silt inside the yard about three feet deep. And another at a lower corner of the fence, a single strange of barb wire about 100 feet long, got loose except at one end, where it was held. Along this single strand of barb wire as it lay down stream had gathered a sand bar just back of the wire, or just below it, about 18 inches high.

These two things show what small obstructions can do. It gives us an idea of how little it takes to gather the silt, to form an obstruction that will soon turn the stream in some other direction.

So for a protection to the land I believe that a mat of willow roots and boughs would be more effective than anything else outside of a solid concrete wall and flood conduit for the water to travel in.

A channel 500 or 600 feet wide would probably carry the flood of last winter, but some of the others I could not say. The only objection to a wide channel is that when the tail end of the flood is running off it is liable to start zigzagging across the channel and then it is liable to cut the embankment. As long as the channel is clear and straight and enough water to partially fill the channel, everything would go all right, but the small stream that will not fill the channel will do a great deal of damage.

It is easy to get the willows to grow, they will grow anyway. The best way is to get branches as long as possible, lay them with the buts upstream, and then partially cover the with sand. They should be placed at the bottom of the embankment in the river bed, and then they will get plenty of moisture.

Mere sand banks will not do. They will melt down like sugar. But something should be done, but not any great expensive works until they work out the most effective methods of handling the water. I have worked in water all my life, and have seen some funny capers by it….

The second half of the interview, perhaps to be transcribed at a later date, describes the different qualities of well water at different strata.

 

 

 

 

Early Floods in Los Angeles: Interview 140, William Mulholland: It is no difficulty to do things when the work is carried on in harmony with Nature

July 15, 2016 § 9 Comments

One of the best creek freak documents around is a series of interviews made by Los Angeles County Flood Control Engineer James Reagan, around 1914. The interviews give a vivid picture of the Los Angeles basin of more than 100 years ago. We will be posting other interviews from this document in the following months.

The following is a transcription of Mulholland’s interview by F. Z. Lee, on October 2, 1914.

As Mr. Mulholland said, he has never had anything to do with the river other than in connection with the water works, where their supply came from for many years.

There seems nothing strange or mysterious about handling the floods of the river if the lesson from nature was followed. It is no difficulty to do things when the work is carried on in harmony with Nature, but when man begins to obstruct the laws of Nature and to work against them, then there is great difficulty.

We had no trouble with the Los Angeles River until 1877-78. Up to that time the channel of the river was clear of willows and other growth that would cause the water to change about from one side of the river to the other. When the floods came they spread over the gravel beds of the river and ran along smoothly without obstruction. There were some willows along the banks of the streams but none out in the channel. The channels remained the same all the time.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Resources for armchair creek freaks

May 18, 2016 § 1 Comment

Rattlesnake Island, 1896, USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer

Rattlesnake Island, 1896, USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer

When this blog first started, those of us interested in what our neighborhoods used to look like in the far past had to trek to libraries and archives all over town to find old maps, then figure out a way to photograph or scan the most useful. To understand how these maps related to the contemporary landscape, I used to superimpose scans of old maps over contemporary ones by using Adobe software- a slow, cumbersome, and inaccurate process!

Since then, there has been an explosion in the quality and quantity of map resources online. Best of all, some have already been georeferenced (digitally located in physical space), which means that anyone can very casually compare any neighborhood now to what it was 100 years ago by using a slider.

Here are some of my favorite places to look for old maps of Los Angeles:

USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer   (click on the area of the US that you want to view, then choose a USGS map from the timeline to view)

William Hammond Hall’s irrigation maps at the David Rumsey Map Collection (some of the LA area maps have been georeferenced, but if you have the interest, anyone can contribute by georeferencing new ones….such as the one of San Bernardino pictured below)

Ballona Historical Ecology (Ballona Creek only)

Here is a modest effort of my own from way back, a synthesis of William Hammond Hall’s sketch of the North Branch of the Arroyo Seco with elevation data of the same area created in ArcGIS, then shared through the old Google Maps interface. It was a disappointment that the shared map was not readable with a phone due to the quirky layout of the old Google Maps interface… but when I have time maybe I’ll start playing with some of the new map-customization tools online…

I am fascinated by the messiness of the historical landscape before it was flattened and filled, with water confined to neatly linear paths. There are so many notations mapmakers used to depict the ways water manifested in the historical landscape. William Hammond Hall’s maps go beyond mere notation, into the realm of artistic representation. In contrast, USGS maps of contemporary Los Angeles use a limited and inflexible set of icons to depict water: blue lines for waterways (thin or thick, solid or dashed), and blue amoebas for lakes. Does the simplicity of these icons reflect what we’ve done to our surface water; or has what we’ve done to our surface water reflect our simplistic cultural idea about how a water body is supposed to look like and behave?

Early aerial photos are another great resource for armchair creekfreaking. UCSB’s collection of aerial photography, which spans the last century, is now easier than ever to access online. Just zoom in to an area that you would like to see, then select an area to browse aerial photos in the collection. Look for photographs taken before the great stormwater engineering projects of the midcentury.

Let us know of other good resources you know, or any wish-list map projects to consider in the comments section…. there is another great map viewer in development that visualizes percolation, alluvial geology, water quality, and other topics, whose link I’ll post very soon…

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San Bernardino and Vicinity Irrigation Data, 1880, William Hammond Hall, David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Water is a Living Archive: Examining myths of where various urban streams come from: Pt. 1: Kellogg Creek

July 2, 2014 § 3 Comments

Have you ever heard rumors that water in various urban streams in Los Angeles originates in significant part from irrigation runoff?

It’s true that car wash and irrigation runoff are often seen flowing into storm drains. Dry season (summer) is the time these activities are most likely to take place. In the case of the Los Angeles River, a good deal of the river’s dry season flow comes from point source discharges rather than groundwater: one report says this figure is about 80% (Arup, 2011). Point sources include storm drains which convey irrigation runoff and carwash runoff, but also effluent from wastewater treatment plants. Flow data collected in 2000-2001 by Stein and Ackerman (2007) indicated that on the average, half of dry season flow in the Los Angeles River originated as effluent from wastewater treatment plants and half from storm drains.

As Josh Link puts it, the Los Angeles River, the end of pipe destination for a good deal of imported tap water, is effectively a  « Read the rest of this entry »

L.A. Aqueduct Centennial: Events of the Day

November 5, 2013 § 3 Comments

A crowd of 30,000 arrived by car, wagon, and buggy for dedication ceremonies at the Sylmar Cascades on November 5, 1913. The San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce distributed bottles of Owens River water to the celebrants. The Southern Pacific charged $1 for a round trip ticket from Los Angeles to the site of the San Fernando Reservoir near Newhall. (Los Angeles Public Library Image Archive)

A crowd of 30,000 arrived by car, wagon, and buggy for dedication ceremonies at the Sylmar Cascades on November 5, 1913. The San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce distributed bottles of Owens River water to the celebrants. The Southern Pacific charged $1 for a round trip ticket from Los Angeles to the site of the San Fernando Reservoir near Newhall. (Los Angeles Public Library Image Archive)

As many local creek freaks know, today marks 100 years since William Mulholland presided over the dedication ceremony for the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct at the Sylmar Cascades where he famously proclaimed “There it is Mr. Mayor. Take it.” The City of Los Angeles and local organizations have planned a number of events to mark the occasion. A handful of them are listed below. Also below is a list of informative and/or beautiful sites dedicated to the history and significance of our relationship with the Owens Valley. As always, feel free to add anything in the comments. Thanks and enjoy!

LINKS:

There It Is – Take It! (a fantastic audio tour of the Owens Valley)

There It Is. Take It. (BOOM)

The Owens Valley Timeline (BOOM)

L.A. Aqueduct Centennial Page (LADWP)

The L.A. Aqueduct at 100 (KPCC)

A Self-Guided Tour of the L.A. Aqueduct (KCET)

The Construction of the L.A. Aqueduct (some great old photos)

The Lake Project (David Maisel)

CENTENNIAL EVENTS:

Today, 12:00pm: Commemorative Reenactment at the L.A. Aqueduct Cascades

The reenactment event at the Cascades is open to the media and invited guests only due to space limitations. A public celebration will be held at LADWP headquarters downtown, where a live simulcast of the Cascades event will be shown on monitors located around the perimeter of the building.  Attendees can view the lobby exhibit dedicated to Water and Power history, centered on the L.A. Aqueduct, and enjoy refreshments and celebratory Centennial cake. The reenactment can also be seen live on Channel 35 or online at LAaqueduct100.com.

Today, 5:30pm: Opening of Just Add Water

The Natural History Museum presents large-scale watercolor works by Los Angeles artist Rob Reynolds, inspired by the L.A. Aqueduct that brought water to a thirsty region.

Today & Tomorrow, 9:30am – 5:00pm: Free Days at the Natural History Museum

Free admission on both days. Every visitor will receive a bottle of water commemorating the opening of the L.A. Aqueduct and have the chance to be a part of the next 100 years by signing a register destined for a new time museum time capsule.

Tomorrow through December 6th, Aqueduct Futures Project

Created in collaboration with 130 Cal Poly Pomona students who designed landscape strategies to enhance the resilience and adaptability of Los Angeles’ aging water infrastructure. Aqueduct Futures Project establishes a road map to resolve the conflict between the City and the Owens Valley. On display at the Bridge Gallery located at Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring Street, Downtown L.A. Closing reception to be held on December 3rd from 9:00am to 11:00am.

Tomorrow, 5:30pm: Time Capsule Creation at the Natural History Museum

To be held on the steps of the NHM 1913 Building. Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the L.A. Aqueduct and NHM, with remarks by civic leaders, a ceremonial lighting of the Expositon Park Fountain, and a display of materials that will be placed in a time capsule that will be opened in 2113.

Through a chainlink fence: the Arroyo Seco back and forth in time

August 12, 2013 § 6 Comments

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Fig. 1a. Looking North from Avenue 43. 2013. Hieu Nguyen. Note Southwest Museum on left and a narrowed stream channel.

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Fig. 1b. Looking North from Avenue 43. 1901-1916. Minerva Classics. Note Southwest Museum on left, and tracks in streambed used for quarrying during harbor construction.

As part of coursework for Dr. Susan Mulley’s  Research Methods seminar in the graduate program in Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, Hieu Nguyen chose to examine landscape changes to the Arroyo Seco through the technique of repeat photography. By comparing historical photographs to contemporary views taken from the same location, Nguyen hoped to detect changes in the parkway landscape throughout the years. “I was mainly looking for vegetation changes, urban development, physical deterioration, and obstructed viewsheds.”

Nguyen had treated the Arroyo Seco in a previous Urban Planning project, and was drawn to the topic again because of “the history, design, and uniqueness of the parkway’s scenery.”

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Fig. 2a. Looking Northeast from Marmion Way. 2013. Hieu Nguyen.

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Fig. 2b. Looking Northeast from Marmion Way. 1935. Los Angeles Times.

Narrowing down available historical photographs to 10-15 that could be feasibly be physically located, Nguyen headed into the field. But things did not go quite as expected. Nguyen’s narrative offers a poignant view at how physical access to the arroyo has changed:

During the trip, I found out that I could not locate all of the camera angles that I intended to shoot due to the urban development, fencing, private properties, etc.  For one photo, the walkway was so narrow, I had to grab onto the handrail on the bridge to keep myself balanced while I was taking the photo as the cars were passing by me at 40-50 mph.

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Fig. 3a. Looking Northeast from Pasadena Avenue. 2013. Hieu Nguyen. Note deepening and narrowing of the streambed.

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Fig. 3b. Looking Northeast from Pasadena Avenue. 1955. Los Angeles Public Library. Note California sycamores lining the floodplain in the distance.

For another photo, I had to climb down the Arroyo Seco Channel to get the camera angle that I wanted.  However, I was not satisfied with the angle and wanted to take it from the other side of the shallow running water way.  So I tried to jump across, almost slipped and got myself all wet from knee down.  But when I went home and overlaid the historical photo and the current photo, I realized that the current angle was incorrect because the channel bed today was much lower than the historical one due to the flood management and channelization of the Arroyo Seco (Fig 4a).

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Fig. 4a. Looking Northeast from Avenue 26. 2013. Hieu Nguyen.

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Fig. 4b. Looking Northeast from Avenue 26. n.d. Los Angeles Public Library Herald Examiner Collection.

One of my biggest disappointments was finding a lot of chain link fences on the bridges along the parkway. Because most of my camera shots were taken from the bridges, most of the photos were obstructed by the fences (Fig. 1a). Nonetheless, my professor, Dr. Susan Mulley, and classmates all agreed that the fences were significant landscape changes to the grand viewshed of the originally designed parkway and an important part of my research analysis.

Just as starkly, the historical photographs themselves show a channel that was anything but pristine. Creek Freak co-founder Jessica Hall notes that the Arroyo Seco was once characterized as a shallow and broad river. But even the earliest of the historical photos above already show levees and other substantial encroachments onto the Arroyo’s broad floodplain, which confine flow to a narrowed and deepened channel.

Such encroachments suggest that channelization did not happen in one fell swoop– attempts to control the flow of winter stormwater dated from the beginning of development in the Los Angeles basin and intensified with the changes in stormwater flow regime wrought by devegetation and proliferation of impermeable surfaces. The Army Corp’s famous post-1938 feats of flood control are merely the culmination of this history of efforts at confinement. The final result–  a smooth and clean channel so conveniently free of vegetation or anything that might obstruct the swiftest flow of precipitation toward the sea. Gone is the disorderly seasonal dynamism of the original floodplain connecting the foothills to the coast. Channelization creates a streambed as neat as a conveniently placed pipe. One might imagine that streamflow originates from a magical tap in the foothills, rather than from the seeping of precipitation into the soil, and its slow under- and aboveground migration to the sea, which happens to leave in its wake a messy mosaic of vegetation and wildlife habitat.

Nguyen’s photographs also illustrate how armoring of banks with concrete did more than just alter hydrology and habitat. Channelization thoroughly severs any natural functional relationship between various parts of the larger watershed — literally paving the way to the radically featureless flat urban landscape we know today.

From the Society pages: Botox on the Beach?

July 13, 2013 § 10 Comments

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Broad Beach in 2012 with stone revetment wall, Google Earth

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Broad Beach in 1994 with wider beach, Google Earth

A recent article in the society pages of Vanity Fair details the woes of property owners along Broad Beach in Malibu, where the narrowing of a beach by 60 feet over the last decade has alarmed wealthy residents. Property owners built a 13-foot high stone revetment wall to protect their houses. Now, they are planning to spend $20 million out of their own pockets to import 600,000 cubic yards of sand, hoping to widen the beach by 100 feet.

Apparently even the residents understand the addition of sand (“beach nourishment”) is at best a temporary solution. To maintain the width of the artificial beach, nourishment would have to be supplemented every 5-10 years—a cosmetic solution that JPL climatologist Bill Patzert called “botoxing the beach.” (Cohan and Grigoriadis 2013)

Nor are revetment walls a real solution. Though they appear to protect property immediately behind them, they actually reflect wave energy to other parts of the coast, where erosion is then accelerated.

Some attribute the erosion of Broad Beach to winter storms. Impending  sea level rise certainly will not help.  « Read the rest of this entry »

Never Built: The Santa Monica Causeway

January 30, 2013 § 7 Comments

Hearing the plug on NPR last week for the upcoming exhibition Never Built at the A+D museum, I was reminded of a very bizarre project that I came across in a 1968 issue of California Tomorrow’s excellent journal Cry California, for building a causeway across Santa Monica Bay. The caption to the picture reads: “Santa Monica Bay is the preposed site of a massive earth-filled causeway that would take 120 million cubic yards of fill from the Santa Monica Mountains. The plan would serve developers and oil interests primarily. The plan is actively supported by the City of Santa Monica, the County of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Mayor Samuel Yorty. While the program was blocked by the Los Angeles Council, the proposal is by no means dead.”

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Sure enough, this project turns out to be included in the Never Built exhibition, though we can be relieved that this particular “visionary work” never left the drawing board. In that sense, this project would seem to run counter to the apparently positive tenor of the exhibition; the curators write wistfully  of “a reluctant city whose institutions and infrastructure have often undermined inventive, challenging urban schemes.” While this certainly applies to projects like the celebrated Olmstead plan for preserving the flood plains of LA’s rivers as parkland, I assume that the curators have not uncritically equated “visionary” with “good.” Obviously, the visionary can cut both ways: the critical point is how to sort out the good visions from the bad ones. Unfortunately, plenty of bad visions have been realized in Los Angeles, but some of the worst, like the Santa Monica Bay Causeway, were stopped. The role of historical groups such as California Tomorrow in generating a discussion about how to develop California responsibly should not be forgotten.

More about the history of the Santa Monica Causeway can be found online here.

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Update: I just found a more modest version of this proposal (parkways instead of freeways on the causeway!) in the admirable 1930 Olmstead plan for Los Angeles. The idea was most likely a vestige of the original plan to put the Los Angeles harbor at Santa Monica.

Tracing the Course of the Eagle Rock Creek in Rockdale

October 20, 2012 § 5 Comments

In February 2010, Jane Tsong posted these photos on L.A. Creek Freak of flooding in the Yosemite Drive area of Eagle Rock in 1934, with a challenge to readers to find the location of the photographs.

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Eagle Rock flood 1934

New Year’s Day flood 1934

The 1934 New Year’s Day Flood is notorious for causing the death of at least 45 people in Montrose and La Crescenta. It inspired Woody Guthrie to write a song of that title. Several days of very heavy rain caused lethal debris flows in areas of the San Gabriel Mountains that had been burned that fall. The flooding in the Los Angeles basin as a whole was not particularly severe, but the deaths of so many people in the foothills focused people’s attention on the dangers of flooding, and gave added impetus to the comprehensive flood control planning for the entire watershed. In the case of Eagle Rock, where no lives were lost, the 1934 flood increased public pressure to complete the area’s storm drain system, and, in particular, to construct the Yosemite Drive storm drain with Civil Works Administration funds. Soon after these photographs were taken, the natural (or semi-natural) creek documented by these photographs disappeared into a 102″ concrete pipe under Yosemite Drive.

Construction of the Yosemite storm drain (USC Digital Library)

The first photograph of the flood shows F. E. Montee’s house at 4815 Avoca Avenue, on the north side of Yosemite Drive. On January 4th, the Eagle Rock Advertiser reported that the house was “almost completely undermined and the family forced to vacate.” The house survives, in a much altered state, while the path of the creek has been turned into an alley; only the large sycamore growing in the middle of this alley provides a clue to the former presence of the creek. On the upstream side of Avoca, however, the old channelized stream actually survives. Completely overgrown with invasive Tree of Heaven, it probably extends as far as Rockdale elementary school; the sides of the channel are lined with corrugated iron and it measures about five feet wide and three feet deep.

Former path of the creek at 4815 Avoca Street

Arrow points to path of the surviving open drain between Avoca St and Rockdale Elementary (Google Earth)

The second and third photographs of the 1934 flood show the creek on either side of the Yosemite Drive bridge, just downstream from Avoca Street and near to the the intersection of Yosemite Drive and Ray Court. The present day jog in the course of Yosemite Drive in this area is a vestige of the need to cross over the creek. The second photograph is looking downstream, with the silhouette of Occidental College’s Fiji Hill clearly discernable in the background; the power poles are running along Yosemite Drive, just as they do today. The third photograph is looking upstream, from the other side of Yosemite Drive, with the now demolished two-story masonry Rockdale elementary school just visible in the background.

Detail of 1934 photograph with the old Rockdale Elementary circled.

The exact location of the bridge remains a little vague, but an older  photograph of the area taken from Wildwood Drive clearly shows the course of the creek as it crosses under Yosemite Drive and heads across the land that is now occupied by the Yosemite Manor and other large apartment complexes.

View of Yosemite Drive from Wildwood Drive c. 1918. The arrow marks where the creek runs across the center of the picture (LAPL collection)

Yosemite Manor apartments. The path of the creek ran across the back part of this courtyard.

Another useful document for creek freaks is an undated storm drain map, in which the storm drains were expediently drawn over an older topographical map. The palimpsest of the old contour lines clearly describes the path of the creek as it heads towards Oak Grove Drive.

Storm drain map with the path of the creek and location of 4815 Avoca St and Yosemite Manor highlighted.

The most remarkable thing revealed by these photographs is the proximity of the houses to the creek. The potential destructive force of the creek seems to have been entirely underestimated. A portion of Oak Grove Drive (where the High School now stands) was actually built along the line of the creek, with predictable consequences!  It is sad to think that with only a little planning, in terms of prudent setbacks from the watercourse and preservation of floodplain width, the creek could have been preserved in an almost natural state for the whole length of the valley. Large parcels of land along the creek, including three school properties and the Yosemite Recreation Center, were still largely open space in the 1930s.  It is a story of missed opportunity—in fact, a version of the history of the whole watershed, in miniature.

Thanks to Eric Warren at the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society, the staff at Occidental College Library, Special Collections, and Jane Tsong’s Myriad Unnamed Streams

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. « Read the rest of this entry »

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