For several thousand years, the hills surrounding this small tributary of the Los Angeles River were home to the Hahamog'na people, the river's banks a rich source of both steelhead trout—now extinct in the area—and medicinal flora.
When Gaspar de Portolà arrived to the area in 1770, he named the river the Arroyo Seco, or dry stream. The name was misleading, though, as the Arroyo flooded regularly, leading the Spaniards to settle away from its confluence near Downtown Los Angeles. Perhaps they should have learned a lesson or two from the Hahamog'na, whose homesteads were perched high up on the hills.
As the city grew, the Arroyo Seco corridor grew as well—part of the land boom that was transforming the entire region. It also served as the main transportation throughway between Pasadena, Downtown Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Mountains and Valley, making the area attractive to non-city dwellers who wanted to be close to urban hustle and bustle.
Afraid that regular floods would threaten residents and property values, engineers channelized the Arroyo Seco and built one of the first freeways in America—the Arroyo Seco Parkway—alongside the river's existing path, replacing the natural environment with a man-made one in the process.
The Spine of Civilization
Christopher Nyerges recounts the significance of the Arroyo Seco as a source of nourishment, community and transport to the Indigenous people who lived along its banks.