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Five Great Departures: L.A. River Moments

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The L.A. River is the length of an epic poem.

More literally, the L.A. River is the length of about two marathons.

The River is 51 or 52-miles-long, depending on who is doing the telling.

(See Alicia Katano and see Shelly Backlar, for example.)

(And here's a fantastic outside blog post on the matter by the ever-expert Joe Linton.)

However precisely long, the River offers a slew - or a slough - worth of access points.

As until last month, an outsider looking in, I'd say the same holds true for Departures: LA River.

Maybe don't tell the folks presumably ecstatic over the increased visitor "time on site" analytics, but it was me who spent a recent weekend happily reading, viewing and listening to every bit of the Departures: L.A. River content that Juan Devis, Justin Cram, Yosuke Kitazawa, Gary Dauphin and the rest of the Departures team captured, posted, and extraordinarily muralized.

Like the River itself - thanks George Wolfe and friends - Departures can be happily navigated from beginning to end.

That means arriving at this page and continuing through the six chapters and their various sub-chapters until reaching the final L.A. River piece.

Or, like Lewis MacAdams, Patt Patterson and Roger Wong cut fencing along the River, just jump right into Departures at any place of interest or convenience.

During some upcoming Mondays, we'll suggest a handful of alt routes - tributaries - that run through the Departures: L.A. River package.

Today, though, for folks not so able to oxbow, we'll move now more like a snowy egret going after a gopher - less meander, more velocity.

Here, then, are five - of many - great Departures: L.A. River moments; each one stands on its own but better still, each can also serve as an effective entrance point to the package as a whole.


Anyone still claiming the River is lifeless? Various interviewees wax effusive (wax effluent?) about algae, crayfish and ducks, but ecologist Dan Cooper is the only Departures: L.A. River speaker who talks up the dining habits of the voracious great egret, or casmerodius albus.

"The great egret will actually come up onto land and eat gophers," Cooper says. "They are omnivores. They'll eat crickets and mice and anything they can catch."

Cooper also breaks down what else distinguishes the great egret from its river co-inhabitant, the snowy egret. The great egret, it turns out, is larger in overall size, has a larger beak and has all-black legs. The snowy egret, Cooper says, has yellow feat.

See the video below; visit the Departures page here.


Juan Devis' first "Departures" package was about Boyle Heights. Searchable remnants reside still across the web.

The piece featured incredibly elegant video portraits of neighborhood residents - ladies at the beauty salon, for instance, gentlemen at the billiard hall.

Devis' technique is to turn his fixed camera on his subjects and continue recording. The subjects hold poses, fidget, stay proud, get frustrated - depending on circumstances and personalities.

Video portraits remain an essential Departures element. Departures: L.A. River features particularly captivating and more produced than usual short-form video portraits that introduce the various interviewees. (Check this intro out, for example.)

Departures: L.A. River also features longer - usually a minute or so - visual poems about various bridges that span our mostly strait-jacketed water body.

Take the Glendale Hyperion Viaduct video portrait, for example. Here, birds chirp off camera and one flies through the shot. Automobiles cross the distant bridge, but far more prominent in the composition is a can't miss reference to the region's public transportation heritage. Graffiti is visible, as is concrete galore. Good luck, though, locating water.

See the example below, of the Glendale Hyperion Viadcut; visit the Departures page here.



A once-mighty watershed won't be restored by activists and artists and ecologists alone.

The rest of the people of the region will need to be involved, too. For a million - or about ten million - different motivations.

In this Departures: Richland Farms entry that is also part of the Departures: LA River series, Cliff Williams sits, clad in an apron and visor, at a table at the restaurant he owns. (Sign outdoors: "Cliff's Five Dollar Ground Beef Only Burrito Special.")

Williams talks about how he twice turned down offers - once from the city, once from the state - to sell the land he owned next to the restaurant and adjacent to the Compton Creek, the ultimate L.A. River tributary.

Williams didn't buy the municipal pitches for parkland, turning both offers down.

"I was going to put a laundrymat there," Williams says.

When he couldn't get that business up and running, though, Williams says he gave in and sold. Now he's rooting for park progress - and not only for nature's sake.

"Once they develop it, it should be real nice for the whole community," Williams says. "To have people passing by on bicycles, and walking up and down the Creek, It should bring me some business, anyway. I'm hoping that's what happens."

See the video below:


Who better to bemoan L.A.'s potential paradise lost than landscape architect Mia Lehrer, of Mia Lehrer + Associates. She and her team have been involved with many River-related projects and bids.

Here, Lehrer describes what might have been for all of L.A. - an emerald necklace for the City of Angels.

As various others tell too throughout Departures: LA River, the legendary Olmsted family developed plans that would have turned our region's riverscape into the sort of wetlands and park space that other Olmsted-client cities such as New York and Boston possess.

"It was a wonderful plan," Lehrer says of the conception of Frederick Law Olmsted's sons John and Frederick, Jr and their* partner, Harland Bartholemew. "It really looked at ways of connecting citizens to the mountains, and connecting different existing open spaces and new opens spaces and the beaches," Lehrer says.

Lehrer also describes how a "mysterious" fire at the Chamber of Commerce managed to burn most of the copies of the Olmsted plan on the eve the plan was due to be presented to state leaders in Sacramento.

See the video below; visit the Departures page here.


Departures: LA River includes live art by Leo Limon and friends (See video "¾: Cats"), live hip-hop from The Congretation here, and poetry from L.A. River revival icon Lewis MacAdams.

Departures: LA River also includes this poem, "The Concrete River," from the incomparable Luis Rodriquez.

With apologies for messing up punctuation, here's a brief excerpt:

"Our backs press up against a corrugated steel fence along the dried banks of a concreted river / Spray painted outpourings on walls offer a chaos of colors for the eyes // Home for now, hidden in weeds furnished with stained mattresses and plastic milk crates / Wood planks thrust into thick branches serve as roof."

Also, as an added bonus in the video - in the distance, along the bridge that bisects the shot, a pedestrian appears. Pedestrians along the river are rarely at a premium - and spotting even a lone walker anywhere in the Departures package is like a parlor game.

See the video below; visit the Departures page here.


Recently by Jeremy Rosenberg:

More Than Just A River


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