The LA River Field Guide, which was just released a few weeks ago, features "Departures: LA River," an interactive collection of interviews, video, maps, and imagery. Juan Devis, Director of Production & Program Development at KCET, is the the brains behind this multimedia approach. He wanted to give people access to an "aesthetic visual grammar" for what Devis calls the "vast contradictions of the Los Angeles River." "Departures" also contains guides for horseback riding, biking, and walking along the banks of the much-maligned, often misunderstood waterway.
For many Angelenos, the river is an unwelcoming place with a bad reputation to boot. But to Devis, the LA River Revitalization Corporation, and other groups who collaborated on the LA River Field Guide, the river is already an ideal place for picnics, photography, community events, and sightseeing. If efforts to redevelop and "re-green" the river push through, there's no telling the kind of unifying force it could be for our sprawling, disjointed, and marvelous metropolis.
Slideshow captions courtesy of KCET's Egret Park, Elysian Valley guide, one of the many mapped paths found in the LA River Field Guide. Photos by Huffington Post. Interview with Juan Devis continues below.
Start at Egret Park, a triangle-shaped pocket park, designed by Lynne Dwyer. The park marks the downstream end of Elysian Valley and the last of the soft-bottomed Glendale Narrows. The formerly barren spot was transformed into a mini-park by North East Trees in 1997. The park, maintained by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy/Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (SMMC/MRCA) features interpretive signs, showing native birds and plants and the native American history of the area.
Painted on the far side of river is the Anza Mural by Frank Romero. The piece commemorates the 1775-76 Juan Bautista de Anza expedition, incorporating iconography based on Tonga symbols for mountains, river, and dolphins. Walk upstream (away from the freeway). The path you are walking on is shared by bicyclists and pedestrians; watch out for bicyclists.
On your left in about a tenth of a mile is Steelhead Park, also a collaboration of NET and the SMMC/MRCA. Steelhead Park features a Brett Goldstone-designed fence with silhouettes of steelhead trout. Steelhead were plentiful in the Los Angeles River until it was paved with concrete in the middle of the last century. Friends of the L.A. River founder Lewis MacAdams is fond of stating that we will know that FoLAR's job is done when the steelhead return to the river.
Steelhead mini-park features De Anza expedition interpretive signage and a small outdoor classroom constructed from reused broken concrete. The park is designed to collect rainwater, which soaks into a small yarrow meadow in the middle.
Continue walking upstream through one of the nicest areas of the entire river. The water meanders from one side of the channel to the other. Ducks, coots, swallows and other birds make their homes here. On your left are sycamores and cottonwoods planted by North East Trees in the late 1990s.
There are a number of pocket parks along this section; all are collaborations of North East Trees with the SMMC/MRCA. At 0.6 mile, the end of Meadowvale Street has been converted into Duck Park. The park features an artistic bench, native vegetation, and decorative stonework. Can you spot the throne? Just past Meadowvale is Riverdale Park, a well-used site with benches overlooking the river and river rock stairs connecting to the end of Riverdale Street.
Further on (even with Eads Street, though only accessible from the river) is a small park informally known as Good Stuff Park. It was named for the frequent aroma of fresh-baked bread that used to waft over the area from commercial bakeries nearby. At mile 1.7 (recognizable by a large eucalyptus tree on your left), is Elysian Valley Gateway Park (see Walk 11), one of the earliest pocket parks along the river. This is the turnaround point for this walk, retrace your footsteps to the start.
Near the starting point, at the corner of Oros Street and Riverside Drive, is one more NET and SMMC/MRCA park project called Osos Park. The pocket park features native trees and plants, and life-sized silhouettes sculptures (designed by Michael Amescua) of native fauna that would have inhabited the area historically, including grizzly bear and deer. To get to Osos Park, exit the river at Steelhead Park. Walk southeast on Oros Street to Blake Street.
Huffington Post: What role does the LA River play in unifying the metropolis right now? What role could it play if efforts to revitalize the river push through?
Juan Devis: The LA River, like the Venice boardwalk, could be a leveler, linking communities of diverse social, racial and economic backgrounds together. If revitalizations efforts pull through, the Los Angeles River could transform the city in ways that we cannot anticipate.
HP: Is the LA River a joke to most Angelenos? What are some of the most common misconceptions you encountered when compiling your guide?
JD: Last week my daughter’s 2nd grade class went for a River School Day Clean Up and many parents at the school did not understand why we would do such a thing. For many people, the river is still (and only) a flood control channel, a system of drains, a movie backdrop and safe haven for heroin addicts. For me, the river is a post-industrial fact of LA where everything –- good, bad and ugly -- coexist as one.
HP: The LA River has long been used as the set of films, music videos, commercials, and fashion shoots. What do you think is the attraction of the vast expanse of concrete and murky water?
JD: When you are down at the river you feel safe; there’s a different sense of scale down there, you are physically and physiologically below the city. And the concrete creates an industrial desert zone, which in a way is magical.
HP: Does the LA River represent Los Angeles?
JD: Los Angeles was founded where it is because there was a river running through it. The Tongvua Indians nourished in it, the Spaniards where delighted by it’s abundance and beauty. In the 20th century we gave our back to it. Now it’s time to re- claim the river.
JD: If LA residents begin to see the river as a resource we will be able to change our built environment as much as our social environment. This guide is a tool for people to recognize the river as part of the social tissue of our city and themselves.