Monday, April 28, 2008

A River Ran Through It: In Search Of Sacatela Creek

A late 1920s-era photo from the LAPL Photo Database shows an aerial view of Sacatela Creek (upper-right corner) in what is now the Koreatown area. The tracks that cross it are part of the "H" Line of the Yellow Cars. The street running towards the top is 1st St; the street towards the left is Bimini Place and the street towards the bottom is 2nd St. The large building is the Bimini Baths.

It all started last week during the Wilshire Center Urf Day festival, when the Militant mentioned that the Los Angeles Eco-Village had a historical display of what their neighborhood looked like in years past. The Militant saw the same picture as above and was incredibly curious about this "Sacatale" [sic] Creek that was in the caption.

According to this 2006 LA Weekly article, Sacatela Creek ran from its source in Los Feliz's Franklin Hills south through to Koreatown. Like the Los Angeles River, it was tamed by being converted into a storm drain, and the creek bed filled in 1930. The Shakespeare Bridge on Franklin Avenue and the Myra Ave. Bridge on Sunset Blvd were originally built to cross the creek. The storm drain still carries water today.

The Militant plotted it out on da Gmapz Pudomiter here:

Like Richard Dreyfus' Roy Neary character from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Militant was suddenly obsessed with finding out more on this lost part of our geology, even to the point of creating a model of the creek out of mashed potatoes (Okay, only kidding there, but that almost happened...)

But the Militant decided to do a little militant investigation and rode his bike to retrace the route of the old creek and to reveal any evidence of its existence. So here goes.

In Los Feliz, the creek began in the little valley under the Shakespeare Bridge (pictured left), built in 1926 when there was still a body of water running underneath. A storm drain opening lies right there at the end of Monon St. The creek continued south underneath where the Lycee International de Los Angeles and Prospect Studios (formerly KABC-TV's Studios) stand today. It then ran under where Myra Avenue runs, which is flanked between two inclines. The street is broken up by Thomas Starr King Middle School, which - surprise - has storm drain openings on the north and south ends of its campus.

The southern end of the school faces a continued Myra Ave., which, according to this 1929 photo, once ran uninterrupted before the school expanded. Look towards the bottom end of Myra and you'll see a little bit of the Sacatela Creek bed.

The creek then ran through today's Myra Avenue (now flanked by the Laguna and Sunset at Silver Lake condos) which runs underneath a bridge which carries Sunset Blvd. - a bridge constructed to cross over the creek (pictured right).

The diagonally-running street ends at the intersection of Hoover St. and Santa Monica Blvd. in East Hollywood. Here, a recently-constructed apartment complex stands at the corner.

Further Militant research reveals that this apartment (pictured left) is an affordable family housing complex run by a local Filipino non-profit agency that opened in 2004 and that the design of its corner structure is inspired by a typical rural Philippine bamboo hut. The name of the complex? Sacatela Village Apartments.


The rest of the creek's path was difficult to discern at this point, so the Militant only had topographical clues to work from. Obviously gravitational forces make it difficult for water to travel up in elevation, so the lowest point in the area was the assumed path of the creek. With nearby Hoover St. to the east being of a higher elevation, the creek could only flow slightly west of here.

To the southwest lies Dayton Heights Elementary School, just south of Melrose Ave. The Militant doesn't know what the big deal is with all these schools along the creek's path, though perhaps it was an attractive place to put an institute of learning. The lowest point in this area is Madison Ave., which dead-ends at the 101 Freeway. And what do we see here at the end of the cul-de-sac?

Yo, it's not just a storm drain, but A BIG MUTHA OF A STORM DRAIN! And here's the best part...
The big mutha of an opening allowed the Militant to reach his Militant Cam inside and take a snap. Here, the sound of trickling water accompanied by the cool, musty scent of algae greets the curious observer.

Behold, for we have found it...Sacatela Creek.

At the other side of the freeway is a similar storm drain facility and Madison Avenue continues again, past the PATH homeless shelter and crossing Beverly Blvd. Speaking of which, the LA Weekly article also mentioned the intersection of Beverly, Silver Lake, Virgil and Temple as a former body of water. Silver Lake Blvd. was once a creek itself, and the Temple St. bridge which crosses over it is yet another reminder of a street's riparian origins.

Across Beverly, the Militant spots an orange DWP truck parked on the street and a couple crewmen climbing in and out of a manhole cover.

Going south, the creek crosses yet another school - Virgil Middle School - and at the lowpoint of 1st St. we see yet another storm drain grille. Madison Ave. dead-ends (here, pictured right, water seems to percolate out of nowhere...hmmm....) at a berm upon which stands an apartment complex, which is exactly where the visible creek is situated in the 1920s photo at the top of this post - which means the land its built on is just fill, and might not be a good place to be during a big earthquake. Just sayin'.

The water spot is most likely a remnant of Bimini Springs, upon which a large early 20th-century bath house was built and was a famous local resort spot, attracting Hollywood celebrities and the like and was served directly by a Yellow Car line. Eco-Village residents described the history of the baths, which were segregated until after World War II, but then closed down in 1950 when whites stopped coming because they didn't want to swim with teh c010r3d. Hmph.

Today, Bimini Slough Ecology Park, located next door to the Bresee Foundation's offices on Bimini Place recreates the feel of Sacatela via a man-made creek, adorned with native flora.

The creek ran south-southwest, behind the Ralphs Supermarket, the Shatto 39 Lanes bowling alley and the Islamic Center of Southern California, then running west between Wilshire and 6th St.

The constant flooding of 6th and Mariposa (pictured left, circa 1920s) was one of the reasons for turning the creek into a storm drain. Sound familiar?

Today, the 6th and Mariposa intersection is home to "DWP Distribution Station 61" and, until recently, an establishment called "Creekside Cafe."

There's been talk, from Eco-Village resident activists and even Cal Poly Pomona planning students, of digging up (known as "daylighting") Sacatela Creek as part of the the process of taking our region's topography back to da old school. Interesting concept, though the LAUSD will probably be the first to cry foul, with four school properties (to date at know the land-grabbin' LAUSD!) built right through the creek's path. Maybe after the Big One, we'll talk about it. Maybe the Big One will cause the creek to daylight itself.

Nevertheless, this is an example of not only man-made history, but natural history, being torn down (in this case, encased in concrete and filled in). But knowledge and awareness of history nevertheless enriches the Angeleno and puts both memories of the past and visions for the future into perspective. For what once was is sometimes better than what never was, and what could be will always be better than what is.


The Hollywood Jedi said...

Thats remarkably close to the Jedi Temple!

Matt said...

awesome post

bgfa said...

Very cool. Thanks.

Militant Angeleno said...

Matt, BGFA: Thanks! Seriously, this post required about five days worth of Militant research!

Robert90033 said...

Great Coverage! My compliments MA! By the way the L.A. Weekly had an article a few years back on this very topic, the lost streams of Los Angeles. You can check it out here:

Militant Angeleno said...

Robert: Thanks, but the LA Weekly article was already referred to twice in the post :)

chimatli said...

Militant, what an incredibly awesome post! Coincidentally, I've spent the last few months researching these hidden and buried creeks around Los Angeles too, mostly through old books and photographs but I haven't actually gone out to look. Your post and photos have inspired me to actually get out there in the street to find these landmark features. Looking forward to reading more on your future discoveries.

Will Campbell... said...

Phenomenal post. I'm giving it much deserved shout over on L.A Metblogs.

Militant Angeleno said...

Chimatli: How Militant of you! You may or may not qualify as an official Operative one day!

The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Database is your friend (heck, your taxes help fund it, might as well use it). Type in a subject, place name or street name into the "Search" box and change the pulldown menu to "Photo Collection."

On the topic of lost creeks, you might want to research "Hazard Creek" which ran though Boyle Heights, if you haven't already.

WALT! said...

I'm always awed when I pass the area of Wilshire and Mariposa, where the Equity Skyscraper stands, and think about how back in the 1920'a there was a swimming pond there.

Mike said...

Franklin Avenue may or may not have loved this post. (OK, you got us -- we loved it.)

Militant Angeleno said...

Mike: Of course...the creek began right by your blog's namesake :)

Militant Angeleno said...

Walt!: Thanks for the historical perspective. Wonder how big was the pool...during non-flood seasons, that is.

Raul! said...

Thanks for the great post!

philpalm said...

Country Club drive is right over a previous river that went to LA High. My old home on Serrano near 10th Street was near a lake that has long disappeared. But evidence that it was there is evidenced by Salamanders still flourishing there around 1978.

295bus said...

Cool post. I'm sorry I missed this originally, but anyway--there are some nice sources for historical topographical maps. Take a look at this page, for example:

Calmer said...

Great posts on the Sacatela and the Jardines. I ran across it doing a search on the Sacatela. I grew up near the former Sacatela (the existance of which I sadly only discovered after I left LA), and older neighbors used to tell me that a creek ran behind our back yards. Looking on-line at a old North East Trees site (no longer up) I found from the old Geological Survey maps the path of the seasonal stream they were discribing. At the south side of the T-intersection of Kenmore and Beverly (in front of the bakery) there's a large and deep storm drain that used to facinate me as a child. Now I know why it was there. Well, the post and pictures made this transplanted Angeleno very happy and nostalgic! Keep spreading the news about these great LA features!

carrolls said...

From a fellow obsessor-over-history, nice work!

Ashtonian said...

What a wonderful blog.
Very interesting

Anonymous said...

Militant, Awesome story followed the route the other day on foot and got strange looks as I listened to manholes along the way.IN 1974 I worked under the Shakespear Bridge clearing brush for a 98 yr old man who grew up fishing for Southern Steelhead trout in the creek.He said it was better to skinny dip in the river though. Rocket of Los Feliz

angel said...

Militant Angeleno: This is truly a public service. I have worked in this area for almost 30 years and I always wondered why there was a Shakespeare Bridge and why there was a Sunset Blvd bridge over Myra. You can feel that something was there at some point, but you had no clue as to where to go to find out.

Thanks for your 5 days of hard work. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey I live down on Commonwealth and Clinton and I noticed that there are some train tracks coverd on the middle of the street. I have always wonderd what it was for? Do you know why?

CB said...

Loved your blog post, got interested in the Bimini Baths and from the old circa 1920 photos, Sacatela Creek. You saved me allot of time as I was wondering where it started and where it ended. I loved creeks growing up! Thanks for the leg work, pictures and more. Excellent job!

Anonymous said...

yep as a photog with the weekly la independent (its used to be a good) newspaper i photographed around the bimini site, interesting to learn about the area. thanks for providing more info


Militant Angeleno said...

Anonymous (Dec 1): Those tracks are the remnants of the "A Line" of the old Los Angeles Railway (a.k.a The Yellow Cars). The streetcars ran from East Hollywood to Downtown Los Angeles to West Adams. That particular line closed in 1946. Some more info:

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