The Los Angeles State Historic Park officially opened April 22, 2017 with lots of fanfare. Dignitaries such as California Governor Jerry Brown, California’s Senate President Pro-Tem Kevin De Leon, and Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti took to the podium to praise the development of the park and to kick off the grand-opening festivities. From what I read in the paper a good time was had by all.
I recently biked the park. I arrived just after it opened so there were only a handful of visitors, mostly joggers, other bikers, and a couple of families with strollers. The park had a flat oval road around it and a great view of downtown so I meandered around the paths for a while.
Like all new parks everything in the Los Angeles State Historic Park happened to be, well, new: New lawns, young trees, new buildings, and paths. There were a few new art pieces to contemplate and a cool ramp that ended high in the air so visitors could get a good view of the LA skyline. Yet, with all the impressive newness I came across a small sign that stopped me. It seemed hand written though I’m sure the designers of the park probably put it there deliberately. The sign read: Zanja Madre. The Mother Ditch. What made me curious was that the sign was on the inside of the perimeter fence. But it obviously referred to a small structure of bricks outside the park and on the other side of the Metro Yellow Line tracks.
I’m a sort of LA history buff so let me tell you why the bricks interested me. The channel they formed was an important historical LA artifact. You see, the Zanja Madre was the original aqueduct system that moved water from the Los Angele River to the fledgling pueblo of Los Angeles. In fact, its construction happened just a few months after the founding of Los Angeles, in 1781. The brick conduit followed a slope across the hillside to the north so water could flow down toward the original plaza and in different directions toward irrigation channels. (Some years later a water wheel pulled water from the river to keep a steady flow moving along.)
by the early 1900’s LA had to abandon the Zanja Madre (and the water wheel). The system just couldn’t supply enough water to meet the increasing demand. The land where the park now exists became a busy rail yard. The brick channel got buried under the slope of the hill, to be forgotten and undisturbed, until the excavation for the Metro line through China Town in 2004.
Today we count ourselves lucky. Because of the rail yard this parcel- some thirty-plus acres, never underwent development for housing. In fact the land where the current park now stands can be found on Los Angeles City Map, No 1, of August 29th, 1849. (See www.lapl.org). At that time the land was a field. (Some say it may have been a cornfield but the map doesn’t indicate it.) But the use as a rail yard ensured that the size and shape of the site would continue unbroken for two hundred and thirty some years as the city grew up around it. After the rail yard’s demise the land became the focus of activists who campaigned hard for a local park. Thanks to their vision, hard work, and determination we have it.
So when you visit the park watch for the Metro line as it makes its way to and from the nearby China Town station. It goes pass the park and over the North Broadway Bridge (one time know as the Buena Vista Viaduct), that spans the Los Angeles River. Look for the modest blue sign attached to the perimeter fence. (The only way the park’s managers could point out a unique historical artifact outside the park was to put up the sign.) Then look pass the metro track. There- see that low brick structure? The Zanja Madre, the Mother Ditch- from that ditch LA became the enormous city it is today.
While you’re downtown stop and enjoy the park (See the map below). Walk around and relax. It’s a pleasant green spot close to the downtown hubbub, has a very nice view, and plenty of history. The Los Angeles State Historic Park deserves the designation of being very new and yet, very old.
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Looking for more interesting places to take the kids and family? There are many County and City activities and venues in and around Los Angeles that offer fun and educational experiences for everyone. Click on these previous posts for great family outing ideas:
Metropolitan Features including information regarding:
– Los Angeles Zoo
– Griffith Observatory
– The Arboretum
– Exposition Park
– Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History
– Santa Monica Pier