Week 240: Lower Arroyo Seco

June 13, 2021

 Lower Arroyo Seco Bike Path Recreation & Transportation Corridor, 5.2 miles. 

The Arroyo Seco is a 24.9 mile intermittent stream, seasonal river, and watershed running from the San Gabriels near Mount Wilson, through Pasadena to DTLA where it empties into the L.A. River. Arroyo Seco was a major transportation route to the L.A. River long before Portola gave it its name in 1770, and when the "Indiana Colony" was founded in 1874 the Arroyo Seco corridor became the fastest direct route between Pasadena and DTLA. Barbara and I have hiked other parts of Arroyo Seco so today we tackled its two mile bike path from Montecito Heights to Hermon. A walk and talk hike loaded with environmental, recreation, and transportation history, we started at the Avenue 43 bridge and headed north on Homer Street to the bike path entrance next to the Montecito Heights Recreation Center. The entrance provided a good photo op—a platform of river stones, removed from the banks long ago when the flood control channel and Pasadena Freeway were constructed, stand as iconic symbols of the area. 
Above and behind in the distance, the 1914 Southwest Museum, an actual National Treasure founded by journalist, writer, preservationist, and Western cult figure Charles Fletcher Lummis. As we started on the path, across the channel to our left was Sycamore Grove Park—popular in the late 1800s as a gathering place for events so crowded and wild that it was dubbed a "hamlet of debauchery." Historians speculate that one reason Highland Park annexed to Los Angeles in 1895 was to gain access to a police force large enough to control the rabble rousers. Sycamore Grove became a city park in 1904 and remained a popular gathering place for speeches, sports, and picnics into the 1930s, especially for state society picnics (in 1930, of the 1.3 million people in LA, 50% had lived here less than 5 years and 90% were Angelenos for less than 15 years.) Railroad tracks ran through the corridor starting in 1895, but in the 1920s two important factors affected SoCal: the population of Los Angeles had more than doubled, and the pervasive influence of the automobile, especially in CA, overtook train travel. Cars inspired highway construction and plans were made for the Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway) along the flood channel. Making automotive and environmental history, early construction was done by depression era WPA workers, and the Arroyo Seco Parkway—the first time a parkland was lost or cut up by a flood control channel and freeway—opened on Dec. 30, 1940. The nation's first freeway, it's on the National Register of Historic Places, a National Historic Engineering Landmark, and a National Scenic Byway. On the right side of the bike path we passed Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, Sycamore Grove Park, and ended at Hermon Park near the Avenue 60 bridge. We walked up to Hermon (Arroyo Seco) Park then followed Avenue 60 to Monterey Road. A left on Monterey took us to the Monterey Trailer Park, a L.A. Historical-Cultural Monument, the only CA trailer park with historical designated status. In 1923, a gas station owner created an "auto camp" next to his station for people to camp for the night. Two years later, motels (a California invention) entered the picture, so he converted the auto camp into a trailer park, and voila, history. Set among two redwoods and Monterey and Cypress pines, trailers in the park date back to the 1950s. We retraced our steps, stopping to comment on some of the old homes and stone structures along the way. If you're into walking through history it's a cool hike, but the bike path is really better as a bike path, extending even farther than we walked. Yet it was a gorgeous morning and—for me—connected some "I get it now" geographic dots.  The next time you're driving the 110 and have to take one of its insane fast-hook exits, try to remember the old road has big time history.



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