Archive for February, 2001
Stand on any corner in Los Angeles and ask a few passersby about the Los Angeles River; you’ll learn a lot about the city. Most, like Cris Beam, will say, “River? There’s no L.A. River.” A handful, like architect Dean Larkin, know the river well. “It makes me sad,” he says. “Other cities and towns are built around these beautiful rivers. Our river is a concrete scar. I always thought the term river was loosely applied.”
A few like it for its perverse industrial nature. “I first realized the L.A. River was cool when I was a kid and the game show Truth or Consequences had a competition,” says television writer Alexa Junge. “A guy in a man-made boat had to get from some point in L.A. to the ocean via the river. Another guy got to go on a cruise from L.A. to San Diego. They would show the guy on the cruise with women in bikinis serving him grapes, and then they would show this other guy in a wagon in the concrete river.”
Since the city was settled in 1781-and it was settled there because of the waterway-the L.A. River has been treated worse than just about any natural landscape in the country. It has been water faucet, sewer, dumping ground, and gravel provider. As L.A. grew, the river outlived its usefulness, and its sporadic nature-dry for half the year and then sometimes flooding violently in the winter-became untenable. So its earthen bed was replaced with a 51-mile-long concrete flood channel hidden below a nearly constant maze of highway overpasses. The only people who seem to visit it these days are graffiti taggers and anyone who needs to get rid of a dead car, an old fridge, or a broken air conditioner.