Floods & Frogs in the L.A. River

Regrettably, I now live out of state and can not come in person...I probably will never be able to see your broadcast. But I hope someone old enough may have similar memories of at least two things about LA River and share them in person.

Born in 1933, I grew up in Atwater and knew the River before it was carpeted with cement. I think it was in 1938 that it seemed the whole neighborhood had gathered near the top edge of the river after a colossal rainstorm. I was in my dad's arms looking down over deep rushing water that seemed almost to be threatening our feet.

The second memory was when I was probably 10, alone, unsupervised, and perfectly safe wading in knee-high water--again before the basin was cemented in--gathering tadpoles for a pond in our rock garden. One evening that summer we were entertained by dozens of young frogs who had matured out of that pond.

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I didn't live in Atwater, but in the adjoining neighborhood, the Elysian Valley. My earliest memory of the river, was when it flooded in about 1936. The level of the river had been rising all day. After dinner, my parents and grandfather walked down to the river to observe it. I was left with my grandmother. Before long, there was a knock at the door and it was the police, telling us we would have to evacuate. Within about an hour, my parents and grandfather came home. They said it would be okay because the level of he water had started going down.

I think it was probably the next summer that there was a monstrous landslide which blocked Riverside Drive and access to the tunnels through Elysian Park. It also broke the Dayton Avenue (Figueroa Street ) bridge in half. This did a good job of isolating the Elysian Valley. To get to downtown, you had to take Chavez Ravine, or to around to Allesandro Street and Glendale Boulevard.
Eventually they built a dirt ramp down the banks of the river, made a plank road over the water and another dirt ramp up the other side. It gave us access to downtown via San Fernando Road and North Broadway. All of this provided good entertainment for the neighborhood. I remember many summer evenings where the whole family would go down to the broken bridge and use the stub end as a view point to watch the work and all the large construction vehicles as they built the new bridge and worked in the bottom of the river bed.

I remember the rip-rap, the blocks of concrete, with embedded metal hooks joined together with links, which formed a protection for the river bank before it was cemented in. When the rip-rap was removed for the paving of the river bank, many neighbors carried away the blocks and used them to pave patios, or make walkways in their yards.

I remember, after the flood, how the Southern Pacific Railroad brought in many loads of rock and boulders to protect the river bank on their side of the river. The rock must have had a great content of iron or other metal, because until the river was cemented in and that rock removed, we had terrific electrical storms with lots of lightning strikes along that side of the river.

I remember a few years later, going down to the river in the summer to wade in the water, and pick cattails. It was there that I learned how to skip stones on the surface of the water, which was only a little more than ankle deep.

And I remember the storm drain gates to the river above Los Feliz, where the gates were painted like cats.