The Los Angeles River Center and Gardens is the headquarters for many governmental agencies and non-profits, including FoLAR and the LA River Revitalization Corp. The River Center, which features lush landscaping, fountains, and a mini-park, is open every day from 7am to 9pm. The visitor center has a small river museum featuring dioramas of river flora and fauna and interpretive panels about river history, flooding and wildlife is open weekdays from 9am to 5pm and is closed on state holidays. The 1.3 mile walk is largely on city streets from the River Center to two river access points, showcasing two very different faces of the river: the all-concrete access ramp at the historic confluence of the LA River and the Arroyo Seco, and the southern tip of the scenic soft-bottom Glendale Narrows.
Los Angeles River Center and Gardens, 570 West Avenue 26, Cypress Park
Directions to the Start
Bike: There is easy access from the Gold Line (see Transit below). From the LA River Bike Path, ride to the pathís downstream end at Egret Park. Exit the bikeway, continuing downstream/left onto Riverside Drive. Cross the river and take the first left onto San Fernando. Take the first right to stay on San Fernando. Enter the river center at its side entrance, on your right past Home Depot.
Transit: Take the Metro Gold Line to the Lincoln Heights/Cypress Park (Avenue 26) Station. Transit riders should note the LA River-themed artwork at this station. Artist Cheri Gaulkeís 2003 installation, Water Street: River of Dreams, features a sculpture of a Tongva (Native American) woman gathering water, a dry riverbed, river rock, sycamore trees, and panels with river stories, including a selection of a poem by FoLAR founder Lewis MacAdams. Exiting the station, turn left (west, toward the 110 Freeway) and walk on Avenue 26. Go below the freeway, cross the historic 1925/1939 Avenue 26 Bridge over the Arroyo Seco. Cross Figueroa Street; the River Center is on your left.
Car: From the 110 Freeway northbound, exit at Figueroa (first exit after the 5 Freeway, on the left side). Exit puts you northbound on Figueroa, make the first left at Avenue 26. The River Center is on your left.
From the 110 southbound, exit at Avenue 26. Turn right on Avenue 26, cross Figueroa, and the River Center is on your left.
From the 5 Freeway northbound, exit Figueroa/Avenue 26 (on the off-ramp to the 110 North). Turn left on Avenue 26, cross Figueroa, and the River Center is on your left.
From the 5 Freeway southbound, exit Stadium Way. Turn right on Stadium Way. Turn right on Riverside Drive. Riverside crosses the river and becomes Figueroa. Turn left at Avenue 26. The River Center is on your left.
There is ample parking at the River Center. Occasionally, for large weddings or other events, the lot can fill, in which case there is street parking on Avenue 26 or San Fernando Road.
Enter the main gates of the Angeles River Center and Gardens, near the large ficus tree.
The site was formerly Lawry's California Center, one of the earliest examples of the corporate campus. The Spanish-style complex looks historical, but the buildings only date back to the 1950s and 1970s. Lawry's hosted a very popular restaurant, boasting 600,000 visitors annually. The restaurant closed, and the site was due to be demolished for the construction of a Home Depot in the 1990s. But thanks to the work of the community and local elected officials, a compromise was reached to preserve the best portions of the site, which were purchased by the State Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy/Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (SMMC/MRCA). Today it's a popular place for weddings and other events (book early because it fills up).
Through the main gates, through the doors on your right (adjacent to the small fountain) is the visitor center. Explore the visitor center, and then go through the large, open wooden doors to check out the main courtyard. The courtyard features a large fountain and colorful flowering plants. Exit the courtyard to the right of where you entered, and pass into another smaller courtyard. Continue through an arched doorway on the far side, and exits toward the parking lot. On your right is the center's bicycle staging area, featuring a bicycle work stand and bicycle parking. There is a bathroom and drinking fountain (including a doggie dish) in this area that remains open even when events prevent access to the interior of the River Center. There's also interpretive signage about the historic confluence nearby.
Walk across the parking lot to the River Garden Park, which features a small lawn area, native plantings, picnic benches and tables, and a clever water feature that is modeled after the Los Angeles River. Follow the path upstream and check out the beautiful mosaics at the mini-river's headwaters. Retrace your steps to where you entered the mini-park, then exit the River Center through the fence on your right.
Turn left onto the sidewalk of San Fernando Road. Across the street from you is the tail end of Taylor Yard. Across the tracks and behind the Metrolink maintenance building is the river, not yet visible. Continue walking past Home Depot. Turn left (east) at the first corner, where San Fernando Road turns east. Cross San Fernando Road at Figueroa/Riverside, continue east on the south side of San Fernando.
Look above you at the Figueroa Street Viaduct. This 59-ft wide, 803-ft long viaduct with Art Deco ornamentation was completed in 1936. The 200-ft girder river span was the longest of its type in the nation. The structure was planned in the late 1920s for connecting the downtown portion of Figueroa Street with what was then Dayton Avenue (now renamed North Figueroa). In the late 30ís this central portion of Figueroa became the Pasadena Freeway, the first freeway in the west.
Just after walking under the Pasadena Freeway, you arrive at the confluence of the Los Angeles River and the Arroyo Seco (pronounced Uh-ROY-oh SAY-co, which means 'dry creek' in Spanish). This confluence figures prominently in the earliest written account of the Los Angeles region. As Blake Gumprecht tells the story in The Los Angeles River: It's Life, Death, and Possible Re-birth: in 1769, the Portola expedition's Father Juan Crespi describes the Los Angeles River as a "good sized, full flowing river with very good water, pure and fresh". Crespi describes the beds of the LA River and the Arroyo Seco as being "very well lined with large trees, sycamores, willows, cottonwoods, and very large live oaks" as well as sage and wild roses.
It was the beauty and plentiful nature of this site (already well known to our indigenous residents) that appealed to the Spanish. This resulted in their settling nearby today's El Pueblo or Olvera Street. Infused with water, flora and fauna from the river, that backwater outpost grew into the thriving metropolis that Los Angeles is today, so we can say that we are here due to this confluence.
Today the site serves as a confluence of imposing infrastructure: freeways, railroads, utility power lines, bridges, and concrete levees. FoLAR, the LARRC and others have pushed for establishing a confluence park here, a portion of which is under construction at the corner of San Fernando and Figueroa. The park will commemorate the historic significance of the site, and to restore the spot to, again in the words of Father Crespi, a "very lush and pleasing spot in every respect".
You can view the confluence by looking to your right from the 1913 San Fernando Road Bridge over the Arroyo Seco. On some rainy days, the Los Angeles Fire Department's special Swift Water Rescue Unit can be found here, ready with jet skis, ropes, nets, and other accoutrements, poised to try to rescue anyone trapped in the river's deadly storm flows.
Walk back (west) along the south sidewalk of San Fernando Road. Cross Figueroa/Riverside and turn left onto the far/upstream sidewalk of the Riverside Drive Bridge (one of at least five Riverside Drive bridges, so it's generally known as Riverside/Figueroa). The 60-ft wide, 200-ft long gracefully curving Riverside/Figueroa Bridge features ornate railing and lampposts.
The first modern bridge at this site, known as the Riverside-Dayton Viaduct, was completed in 1929, and featured a large arch over the LA River. The 1929 bridge was twice severely damaged by landslides: first in November 1937 and then again in the floods in March 1938. It was also subsequently re-worked with the armoring of the river and introduction of the 110 and 5 Freeways. In the repair work after the 1938 floods, the high central arch was demolished and replaced with a much less aesthetic girder truss underbelly.
Looking to your right from the bridge, you will see the downstream end of the soft-bottom Glendale Narrows. Directly ahead of you (across the on-ramp connecting the 5 and the 110 Freeways) is the steep hillside of Elysian Park, the city of Los Angeles' first and oldest park.
Walk across the river, turning right as the bridge curves. Descend the sidewalk into Elysian Valley. Compare the graceless bulk of the 5 Freeway bridge with that of the historic 110 Freeway. Enjoy the shade of native trees planted by North East Trees on your right as you enter Egret Mini-Park.
If you wish to continue walking, head north on the bike path. Otherwise, retrace your steps back to the River Center.