A buried creek’s dilemma: to be daylighted or drained?

December 28, 2021 § 3 Comments

A buried creek’s dilemma: to be daylighted or drained?

[Opening digression: I was just texted an image predicting rainfall for LA for the next few days – it looks like you could get hammered (rainfall-wise – what you do with alcohol I have no predictions for), so this post may seem ironic, misplaced, bad timing? You’ve got a trough heading your way and if it doesn’t keep moving…well let’s just hope that it does. The focus of today’s post is dry-weather flows…]


To those of us who recognize stormdrains (or, some of them) as body-snatched creeks, and who long for a water management approach that would incorporate daylighting or naturalization of concreted waterways and nature-based treatment that doubles as streetside landscaping, floodable parks, greenways, etc., well, prepare to be disappointed. Or enraged? Whichever, it’s a familiar feeling. At least we’re not alone on this.

The City of LA recently issued an IS/MND (Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration) and awarded a contract to start work on diverting low flows from certain stormdrains. The low flows – aka urban slobber in some circles – would be pumped from the storm drains into the sewer system, so that they can be treated for pollutants. From there, like the rest of the region’s wastewater, it either gets discharged into flood control channels rivers, is infiltrated to groundwater, or reused (such as purple pipe irrigation). So you can see how it closes some loops and ticks some sustainability boxes.

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Tragedy at the Elysian Springs

October 26, 2009 § 4 Comments

Thanks to Creekfreak readers who added so much richness of detail to the post, A tree grows on Beaudry. If you are intrigued by Echo Park’s former Arroyo de los Reyes, Elysian Springs and Woolen Mill Ditch, I recommend you scroll through the comments there.  One reader, David Kimbrough, confirmed the rumor of springs at the Elysian Heights Elementary School – near Valentine and Baxter.  He followed up by sending Joe and me a fascinating and creepy Los Angeles Times news clipping from 1904, which I am summarizing for you here.

Los Angeles Times, 1904 (LA Public Library via D. Kimbrough)

Los Angeles Times, 1904 (LA Public Library via D. Kimbrough)

If you’ve ever felt that there’s something slightly haunted about Echo Park, this may be (partially) why.

On the evening of December 27, 1904, Columbus C. Champion, 67, committed fratricide, shooting down his brother Thomas in a “deadly fusillade…in front of the Elysian Springs bottling plant,” for whom Thomas worked as a water delivery man.  Columbus, called “Lum,” lived on property next to the bottling company. Due to Lum’s tyrannical nature, “not only were the members of the murdered man’s family in terror of the surly and churlish relative, but the whole settlement in the little valley through which runs the Echo Park electric line seems…to have dreaded some such tragic outcome as that which took place last night.”

Lum had already been abandoned by his wife, son and father several months previously, and neighbors believed it was “worth almost any effort to keep on good terms.  It is said he has terrorized the neighborhood on numerous occasions…”  Earlier in the day, he fired BB shot at his niece, threatening to kill the entire family, which precipitated the deadly confrontation with his brother.

Thomas, returning to the Elysian Springs Bottling Company, rode his wagon with his son Sam past Lum’s property.  “At once the old man rushed out of the house and began to abuse his brother. Sam Champion, fearing for his father’s safety, secured a revolver from the home, and started up to where his father and uncle were quarreling.  The younger brother (Thomas) was trying to ward off the attacks of Lum, and just as Sam arrived his father told Lum to go back into his own lot and leave him alone, or he would knock him down.  With an oath, Lum started toward the cottage, crying out that he would kill the whole outfit.  He quickly reappeared with his gun, and when within twenty feet of this brother fired the load of shot into his breast.  Thomas sank to the ground and expired almost immediately.”

The villain was unrepentant and actually joking with the police who carried him away.

A tree grows on Beaudry: echos of the creeks of Echo Park

October 6, 2009 § 50 Comments

P8310050 Bicycling down 2nd Street one day, this arroyo willow caught my eye.  Located in a vacant lot at 2nd and Beaudry, the willow has taken root in the path of the former Arroyo de los Reyes.

I wrote about Arroyo de los Reyes over a year ago, with promises of telling more -as the creek’s origins are in Echo Park.  As you can see, I am slow but faithful in my follow up.  To be truthful, posts at Chicken Corner on LA Observed about Echo Park’s creeks and the lake also nudged me considerably.

Arroyo de los Reyes originates near the Catholic school on Glendale Boulevard – right by the 2 offramp.  It flowed southward, along Glendale Boulevard, occupied the area now taken by Echo Park lake, and continued down 2nd Street, crossing through downtown LA, about a block or two south of Pershing Square, where it spread and created a big muddy mess.  These flows eventually connected with the Los Angeles River, when they didn’t seep into the ground first.

There are historical photographs on the wall at Masa – look closely and you can see a dry wash along Glendale Boulevard (north of Sunset) – that’s the one actual photograph of the creek that I’ve seen.  Not clear, and most likely highly altered from its original state – other maps indicate a perennial stream.  There it just looks like a big sandy mess.

Fellow creekfreak and mega-cyclist Ron Milam forwarded me this quote, about the creek, which he found at an exhibit at the LA Public Library.  The quote is by Leo Politi, one of Echo Park’s famed writers, recalling a friend’s reminiscence:

He told me of his boyhood and how he learned to swim in a pond at Second and Beaudry streets. It was a natural pond formed by a brook that ran down from the Echo Park reservoir.  Along this little creek grew cattails and water lilies. Also there were sweet-waterfishes which are still to be found in great quantities in Echo Park lake.  He remembers frogs croaking after dark.

Another stream joined Arroyo de los Reyes at Echo Park lake – this drainage came down from Echo Park Avenue.  Rumor – and that’s all it is still – has it that there are capped springs up the street, possibly at Elysian Heights Elementary School.  I’ve scouted for signs on many a walk up to FIX, and can’t confirm anything.  But maybe one of you can.

Echo Park Lake was indeed originally a reservoir, formed by a dam, and as noted at Chicken Corner, captured stormwater runoff from the watershed.  At one time, even after burying the stream, the groundwater was quite high.  A former DWP employee told me that he took borings in Glendale Boulevard, under the Sunset bridge – and hit water at 5′ below the surface!  Not surprising, then, that in 1959, Arroyo de los Reyes struck back with a little flooding.

1959. Source: LA Public Library. Image no. 28410.

1959. Source: LA Public Library. Image no. 28410.

But the dam my have served another purpose early on.

1888-echo park

This 1888 Detail Irrigation map shows us many streams in the area – and also ditches/zanjas.  See the darker blue lines?  Most of those are ditches/zanjas.  Rusty red and fainter blue colors are streams.  So we see a ditch very clearly, also coming down Glendale Blvd/2nd Street.  Last year’s Public Library map exhibit included a map that named the ditch coming down alongside the stream:  Woolen Mill Ditch.  So, conjecture – there was a wool mill, which may have needed a water wheel, which needed a dam…?

Sheep in Garvanza. 1878.  Source: LA Public Library, photo no 69363

Sheep in Garvanza. 1878. Source: LA Public Library, photo no 69363

I can just imagine the little sheep running all over the hills, there’s great photos of them over in Garvanza.  Someone’s got to shear them, and someone’s got to do something with all that wool, yes?

Speaking of those rusty red creeks, pan over to the right of the map, and you’ll see that Chavez Ravine and Solano Canyon both had streams (not surprisingly).  Another rumor I heard in my time living in Echo Park was that staff at Barlow Respiratory Hospital could hear the flows from a capped spring in a stormdrain flowing through their parking lot – and that subsurface water flows were responsible for their parking lot needed to be fixed up a lot.  Which brings to mind that we are poised on the brink of another lost opportunity if the Barlow Hospital is redeveloped as mega-housing on the edge of Elysian Park.  Before even the Chavez Ravine debacle, it was bad enough that what was obviously once part of the extensive public common land – Pueblo Lands of Los Angeles (as marked in the map above) had been sold off, developed etc – the bright side at Barlow being that here’s a sliver of privatized land that at least served a public good – soon to be turned over to inaccessible private property?  Add to that a probable buried creek to be further lost to infrastructure.  My only solace will be if the descendents of the dispossessed Chavez Ravine dwellers get first dibs on the housing.

Rivers Lost to City

September 20, 2008 § 7 Comments

Click on image to enlarge article

I did a double take on this title.  Was this the Judith Lewis piece, Lost Streams of Los Angeles, featuring, among other things, my creekfreaky research and advocacy for LA’s buried streams?  

No, this is a 1924 Los Angeles Times article, a wistful and racially peculiar (to be charitable, we’ll call it naive) obituary to the streams that were being buried at that time.  While not making any strong environmental case for preserving these streams, the author nostalgically laments the decline of a more pastoral era, stating: “And so the romance of the city goes – the prosaic storm drains and high priced lots have run the alluring arroyos out of business.”  

The story also fills in this Creekfreak on a long-simmering mystery – the name of the creek that used to flow through Lafayette Park – Arroyo de la Brea (Tar Creek).  Worth noting the name, as there is a parking lot across the street from Lafayette Park that oozes tar to this day. If you’re into weird urban geology, ask the car rental company permission to go to the back of the lot and take a look.

From the City of Los Angeles Navigate LA archives

For the curious, here’s a stormdrain map of a portion of Arroyo de los Reyes, the downtown creek mentioned in the article.  I am working on the connection of this to Echo Park-historical maps clearly show two streams that joined where Echo Park lake is today, with a perennial creek flowing along the path that is now Glendale Blvd to 2nd Street.  But the maps lose the flow around Figueroa.  This description here may fill in the gap – and we Echo Parkians may now have a name for our buried creek!

More later on lost rivers – and more importantly a City effort to preserve what’s left.

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