L.A.'s Historic 'Mother Ditch' Discovered in Chinatown


Portions of the 'zanja madre' at Blossom Plaza, Chinatown, April 14, 2014 | Photo by William Preston Bowling

Last week, the construction crew for Chinatown's Blossom Plaza development uncovered a momentous find: about 200 feet of the Zanja Madre (or the "Mother Ditch"). A lifeline for early Los Angeles, the Zanja Madre carried precious water from the Los Angeles River right into the blossoming pueblo that would one day grow into the busy metropolis we know as Los Angeles.

Video courtesy of Miguel Luna

"We're trying to determine how best to keep the whole structure intact, preserve it and have it be displayed for the benefit of the public," said Fredy Ceja, Communications Deputy for Councilman Gilbert Cedillo, whose Council District 1 includes Chinatown.

As a result work on Blossom Plaza, a $100-million project from Forest City Enterprises that would create 237 apartments in the area, has momentarily drawn to a halt. Forest City's archeological team has been photographing and documenting the discovery in preparation for a full report.

Though there is no set timeline for any resolution, the work stoppage will not go on for long, says Ceja. "We want to do both. We don't want to impede on the development at Blossom Plaza, but we also want to make sure we're able to preserve the piece."

The district office is already in talks with artist Lauren Bon, who's exploring the possibility of incorporating this find into Metabolic Studio's $10-million Water Wheel project, which will erect a 70-foot steel water wheel to irrigate the area. The office is also working with Forest City, the Office of Historic Resources, and State Parks to see whether it can be incorporated into the pre-existing plans for Blossom Plaza or Los Angeles State Historic Park, which just began its overhaul.

L.A.'s original aqueduct was completed in 1781, within a month of the founding of the pueblo. Originally an open, earth ditch, the water source was used by residents for regular duties such as washing and cooking, as well as irrigating crops. Over the years, the ditch has undergone a few alterations, including constructing a brick tunnel that would enclose the waterway, remnants of which were found by the construction crew.


Portions of the 'zanja madre' Blossom Plaza, Chinatown, April 14, 2014 | Photo by William Preston Bowling

Photo courtesy of Miguel Luna

Photo courtesy of Miguel Luna


Story continues below

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading

Full Episodes