Students Envision Landscaping along Dominguez Channel

March 18, 2011 § 3 Comments

Viviana Franco’s Spaces of Blight (SOB) project is turning its focus onto the Dominguez Channel in Hawthorne. Through the assistance of the Friends/Amigos of the Dominguez Watershed, From Lot to Spot/Spaces of Blight received a Wetlands Recovery Project grant to work with youth to assess a reach of the Dominguez Channel bike path, design native landscaping to abate erosion, treat runoff, and create beauty. Students and volunteers will be installing the plants over the coming months.

Check out photodocumentation of student analysis and design here.

The project complements a landscaping project underway by the County of Los Angeles along the Dominguez Channel.


New Dominguez Watershed group forms

February 15, 2009 § 1 Comment


The Gardena Willows in the Dominguez Watershed is one of several remnants of the former, large Dominguez Slough.

Last week I met up with three people who are very motivated to generate projects and attention for the Dominguez Watershed.  It’s something of LA’s orphan watershed, falling outside of most state conservancy territories, reducing funding opportunities – and therefore a lot of political interest.  It’s also a bit of a sleeper watershed – home to small South Bay cities like Hawthorne, Lawndale, Gardena, Carson, Torrance, parts of Inglewood and Compton, and unincorporated LA County, that don’t often attract a lot of attention.  The County of Los Angeles put together a watershed plan for Dominguez, funded by a Prop 13 grant.  The plan proposes many projects for the remnant wetlands of the watershed, as well as projects to address stormwater.  I don’t know what projects from the plan have moved forward into implementation.  

What’s really exciting about last week’s gathering is that its residents (and one former resident – me) are mobilizing.  Agency expertise and capacity is necessary to get big projects going, but it is the residents with a vision who will call attention to the channel and the watershed, and get political support. 

Check out our Dominguez Watershed blog – it’s just in its infancy (as is our name etc).  If you live in the watershed, get involved!

Prior posts about Dominguez:

Searching for Tom-or Joshua-down in Dominguez

December 20, 2008 § 33 Comments

OK.  I need to begin by telling you that there is an offensive and insensitive word in this post, one that I regret being here, but that is also the genesis of my search.  I apologize for its presence.

Some of you have also been looking for it.  We can see search terms that lead you to the LA Creekfreak.  And ever since that map exhibit at the Public Library, we’ve been seeing those two words, one of which is really ugly.  I bet you have wanted to know how the hell a waterbody ends up with a name like that on a federal map.  In any era.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the image below contains racist language, in a shockingly banal context.




USGS map, circa 1900.

USGS map, circa 1900.

Clearly a loaded topic, and one which links our environmental history to our racial (and racist) history, something which has been lurking in the background in a number of our posts on historical LA and its waterbodies, and which I also feel as an angelena is often not readily acknowledged.  

I have been avoiding writing about this slough in part out of the theory that it is better to let sleeping dogs lie. We have a lot of trauma in the city caused by racism, we are still living out the effects of this trauma, and unfortunately there are those creating new traumas.  All the time.  And I don’t want to re-traumatize our African-American neighbors by reviving this horrible name.  But I have also regretted that the story behind the name can’t be turned on its head, and wondered if there was a way to elevate the story to help unwind history a little.

And so this is my attempt, and an incomplete one at that.  

There has been quite a bit of speculation as to the origin of this former place name, later renamed the Dominguez Slough, and today the Dominguez Channel (the slough being all but gone).  Some have asserted that its desultory name came from the black mud that surrounded the area, but I don’t buy it.  The 1914 Reagan papers have repeated references to this Slough, one of which added the name Tom:

“The water was pouring through the bridge that caused our wreck and was running into the Nigger Tom slough…” Mr. A. C. Cook, 1914, in Reagan.

Who was this man Tom, if this name refers to an actual person?  Rudy Mattoni and Travis Longcore, in their 1997 publication, The Los Angeles Coastal Prairie, A Vanished Community, provide the following comment in a footnote: “The wetland was reportedly named after the freemen who farmed near it and the name appears on historic maps of the area (Nelson 1919).”  To further complicate matters, I went over to the CSU Dominguez Hills archives to see what information they had.  In 1977, a student researcher, Bonita Lucille Braddock Miramontes, pulled together archival resources to what she could piece together.  She had met with Bill Mason, then of the Natural History Museum (I don’t know if he’s still there), who shared the view that our  mystery man was believed to be a hog farmer who lived on the old Rancho Dominguez lands, near the slough, in the 1870s.  Bonita then tracked down Robert C. Gillingham, who wrote a history of the Rancho San Pedro.  Gillingham elaborated that he had heard this story from an old caretaker and Dominguez-Carson family members, who in turn heard it from old Mexican farmhands.  He also noted that our mystery man arrived sometime after the Civil War, but that by the 1880s there were no blacks living in the vicinity of the slough.  He also mentioned that “one conjecture is that” the hogfarmer “may have been a descendant of one of the pioneer settlers who founded Los Angeles in 1871, which included a number of negroes.” Bonita went further with her research, locating the name of a black man, Joshua William Smart, who owned property near the slough, in the Assessment Book for LA County, 1870-71.  So…Joshua or Tom?  Or someone else?or all of them?  How did they come to live there, and why did they leave?  How did the slough affect their lives and livelihoods?  How were the neighbors?

Clearly more research is needed.  Bonita listed newspapers that could be consulted, including the California Eagle, a black LA newspaper that began publishing in 1879.  There are other historical society archives to visit, and perhaps even descendants of early settlers.  I haven’t given up this thread just yet.  You see, I can’t help but think of how courageous and resilient he or they would have been, and I think his or their presence lends yet more richness to the diversity that was early Los Angeles.    

If only the County could have been as aggressive in erasing housing covenants and other forms of discrimination as it was in erasing this glaringly embarrassing and insulting name from the maps.  If only they didn’t have to erase the history of Tom/Joshua when they did this.  

I will write more about the slough and its story another time.  For now, I’d just like to point out to you that it was so large as to extend from Carson (think Victoria Golf Course) to Torrance (Madrona Marsh), Gardena, and parts of Compton, with fingerlets in Hawthorne and West Athens(fragments still remain at the Devil’s Dip/Chester Washington Golf Course).  Other bits of remaining marshland include the Gardena Willows near Vermont and Artesia, and what’s called Albertoni Farms in Carson, a bit of slough in the middle of a trailer park.  

I think it would be pretty cool if one day,  a park or greenway or remnant wetland was properly named after Tom X, or Joshua Smart, or whoever our mystery man is.  Smart Creek has a nice ring to it.

Finding the lost creek in your neighborhood

October 18, 2008 § 1 Comment


Compton Creek

Compton Creek

If you’re a Creekfreak, and you’ve not figured out where the water used to flow in your neighborhood yet, then this post is for you.  From 2001-2003 I mapped the old streams and wetlands of the LA area in Illustrator, and began to lay them out for public consumption.  And then got sucked into other projects.  So here they are, in all their imperfection – but quite legible if you are a map reader.  Just go to the side panel to the page labelled Find a former waterway or wetland near you!


These maps are based on 62,500 scale 1896-1906 USGS maps, 1888 Detail Irrigation Maps, and slightly informed by later 24,000 scale USGS maps.  The overlay maps are not definitive:  the 24,000 scale maps, circa 1919-1930s, show streams not indicated on the earlier, larger scale maps, while showing at the same time considerable stream and wetland losses to development.  In other words, I have a lot more drawing to do.

But this is about you, dear Creekfreak.  If you live in the following areas, you may find a creek or wetland on one of these maps in your neighborhood:

Eagle Rock     Glassell Park     Highland Park     Lincoln Heights     

Cypress Park     Pasadena     South Pasadena     Alhambra

Boyle Heights     East Los Angeles     Downtown     Echo Park     

Silverlake     East Hollywood     Hollywood Hills     Koreatown

Mid-City     West Adams     Culver City     Baldwin Hills

Cheviot Hills     Mar Vista     West Los Angeles     West Hollywood

Beverly Hills     Bel Air     Brentwood     Santa Monica

Venice     Marina del Rey     Inglewood     Hawthorne

Gardena  West Athens     Willowbrook     Watts    

Compton     South Gate     Lynwood     Vernon    

Maywood     Torrance     Carson     Lomita     Wilmington

Long Beach     San Pedro     Palos Verdes     


Happy searching!  And let us know what you think!

Why creeks – a personal view

September 21, 2008 § 3 Comments


What shapes our understanding of the world, of LA?

What shapes our understanding of the world, of LA?

My last post, Rivers Lost to City, noted that we’ve been losing creeks for a long time. In fact, so many have been literally buried in the last century that most angelenos don’t even realize we ever had streams, much less that some still exist, and as a native I can also say that it’s hard to understand why it even matters.  In a city that has so many problems, why put time into this one?  

The answer for that will be highly individual, I can give you some institutional reasons, but will start with a personal one, which may take on the tone of a tent revival confessional.  

I grew up in Hawthorne, and as a kid never experienced nature there.  Hawthorne had some good people, but my impression of it was marked by a sterile landscape of front lawns and hostile grey streets, bullies & gangs, cruising perverts.  A mask of boredom concealed fear and anger.  My inheritance from this place was a desire for structure, safety, walkability, and beauty.  These things were interpreted within the limits of my experience, as they are for all of us, and I sought a career in architecture to manifest them.

The best days of my childhood were completely disconnected from this, spent in a creek in Kentucky, that ran next to my grandfather’s house.  We splashed, swam, caught tree frogs, dodged copperheads and imaginary cottonmouths, clambered along steep ledges, and tried to fish.  We’d collect fossils and old bricks that we found in the creek, screeching and oohing and ahhing over all the discoveries and stimulations of the place.  But that was Kentucky, there was nowhere here I knew of to transfer those vivid moments.

So fast-forwarding a bit, learning of a creek in Hancock Park touched something deep, and amidst the upwelling of questions about what LA was before we paved it, and how we came to make the decision to bury so many of our waterways, was a real sadness tinged with outrage, to think that there could have been places here for youthful exploration and escape, for me and so many other children. And indeed earlier generations have those memories and connections. This is vital, for it is through this play and discovery that we understand and interpret the world around us, relate to other creatures as beings with their own integrity, purpose, and right to exist, and perhaps most importantly, come to know what it means to feel alive. 

I won’t deceive you, I still have enough Hawthorne-infused cynicism to believe that creeks in our urban neighborhoods, like every other unsupervised place in the city, could become a dumping ground for illicit activity, and that they pose unique hazards of their own.  And so we obviously need to be vigilant and wise about how we introduce our children to waterways, and how we conduct ourselves.  

But creeks connect high and low, they unite neighbors, like the folks in Brookside Estates, who love and tend to their little creek in Hancock Park. They sustain life to a wide array of plants and animals, including us. Creeks are as old as the land itself, their vitality and character are essential to the sense of place so many long for in Los Angeles.

Do you love a creek?  Would you like to protect and restore our creeks?  Tell us!  


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