As the 20th century neared its end a California state legislator from Los 

Angeles, not entirely in jest, urged his fellow lawmakers to save "the only 

scenic river I have in my district."  Environmentalists joined in, decrying 

construction decades earlier by the Army Corps of Engineers of a concrete 

riverbed and banks in response to numerous floods.  Some demanded removal of 

the levees.  Lurking in the background was a vision of the Los Angeles River as 

a "wild river."  

    Nostalgia ran amok.  Older residents, remembering a golden age in their 

youth when they fished, hiked or played by the river, yearned for a return to 

the time when the Los Angeles was a pristine stream, beckoning nature lovers to 

enjoy its flora and fauna.  

    In fact, the river has been as much ogre as angel throughout its history.  

Rising in the mountains adjacent to the San Fernando Valley, the 58-mile-long 

Los Angeles River drains a basin covering 800 square miles on its journey to 

the sea.  Much of the year it carries little water but periodically the river 

rages out of control, destroying life and property.  In the American era floods 

of devastating proportion washed through the city, changing the river's course 

and the nature of the landscape.  

    Even before American occupation of the city, the river played havoc with 

local inhabitants.  When the original handful of colonists sent north from 

Mexico arrived in 1781 they settled near the river, which provided a more 

reliable source of water than the rainfall in a land that was only slightly 

wetter than semi-arid.  At that time the river rarely reached the ocean, its 

flow instead emptying into numerous ponds on what was then forested marshland 

to the south and west.  In the 1820s a major flood opened the present channel 

to the sea.  Journalist and resident Charles Willard wrote:

         Prior to 1825 there had been considerable woodland between 

         the city and the ocean, which the flood {of that year} 

         destroyed by cutting a definite channel for the river and 

         draining the marshland where the trees grew.

Most of the ponds dried up.  The forests disappeared.

    With the rapid population growth of the 1880s residents began to subdivide 

stream-side acreage near what would become downtown Los Angeles.  Those who 

warned against such rash action, aware of the periodic flooding, were dismissed 

as "croakers," the then current word for alarmists and nay-sayers.  Such was 

the reception that greeted J. J. Warner's effort to alert residents to the 

danger that faced those who chose to build on the river's flood plain.  

    Col. Jonathan Trumbull Warner, also known as Juan Jose Warner, or more 

commonly J. J. Warner, first came to Southern California in 1831.  He moved 

permanently to Los Angeles in 1857 after a long stay at what is known as 

Warner's Ranch in San Diego County.  Well acquainted with the history of the 

river and the potential danger it posed for nearby residents, Warner, whose 

homestead was on the east side of Main between Sixth and Seventh Streets until 

the early 1880s, wrote for the Times what today would be called an op-ed piece.  

The article, printed below, was accompanied by a paragraph in the editorial 

column endorsing Warner's concern and specifically recommending that the city 

council consider construction of a levee "along the south bank," by which was 

probably meant the west bank.  While the Warner piece was not technically a 

letter, it is reprinted below since it resulted in a heated exchange in the 

letters column.

                         {Times, July 30, 1882, p. 2}

                                  A WARNING.

              "And the rains descended, and the floods came and beat 

         upon that house and it fell, and great was the fall of it."

              The folly of building a house upon ground subject to the 

         overflow of water was in olden time so apparent that the 

         founder of the Christian religion, in enforcing his doctrine, 

         gave utterance to the words above quoted.

              The sudden destruction of property accumulated through 

         years of toil, the homes swept away in a day, the sufferings 

         of homeless families, and the mourning for the loss of 

         beloved ones along the alluvial lands of the rivers of our 

         country, within the memory of those now living, should shield 

         me from being called a croaker, if I direct the attention of 

         the people of Los Angeles city to the risk to which many of 

         them are now exposing themselves, their property and their 

         families in the selection of places upon which to build their 


              At the time of the founding of this town, the river ran 

         along at the foot of the table land of East Los Angeles, from 

         the point where the road leading from the city to the Verdugo 

         ranch crossed it down to the covered bridge {at Macy Street}.  

         Some time after the settlement of the town the river left 

         that bed and moved to the west, and ran along the foot of the 

         hill and table land west of the present location of Alameda 

         street, down as far as Aliso street, and thence along Alameda 

         street, until past the Bliss and Wolfskill properties.

              In the third decade of the present century it again left 

         its bed and located itself on a pretty straight line, 

         extending from the Verdugo crossing to the eastern end of the 

         covered bridge.

              The flood which caused the first mentioned change 

         excavated and lowered the bed of the river about ten feet 

         where the railway leading to San Francisco crosses.  During a 

         greater part of the year a large quantity of sand is daily 

         brought down by the current of the river, and left along the 

         river-way between the central and the southern part of the 


              The oft-recurring floods of the Los Angeles river bring 

         down an enormous quantity of sand and other solid matter, a 

         great share of which, for many years past, has been spread 

         over and deposited in the southern part of the city.  As the 

         bed of the river has been lowered in the upper, and raised in 

         the lower part of the city, the current of the river through 

         the city during floods must be correspondingly lessened, and 

         consequently an increasing proportion of the sand and other 

         sedimentary matter brought down by the river from above is 

         deposited in the southern part of the city.  Consequently, 

         the same volume of water, poured into the city by the river 

         and the Arroyo Seco will now submerge the central part of the 

         city more than it would have done in times past, and a faint 

         idea of what would be the condition of no inconsiderable part 

         of Los Angeles city in case of a flood may be had by knowing 

         and considering what past floods have done.  The flood which 

         caused the removal of the river from the line of Alameda 

         street not only covered the land west of that street, but 

         left a deposit of sand and other solid matter over what is 

         now the Wolfskill property, of more than three feet in depth.

              When it is considered that at that time the river way, 

         from about the point of the crossing of First street and 

         beyond the southern limit of the city, was a sand plain, 

         averaging nearly or quite a mile in width, having a greater 

         declivity than the present river bed, and without any 

         obstacle to impede the flow of the water, and that at the 

         present time the water-way of the river southerly from the 

         central part of the city is narrow, crooked and filled with 

         innumerable obstacles tending to impede the rise and rapid 

         flow of the water, it can be easily imagined what will be the 

         condition of all that part of the city on a level with 

         Alameda and San Pedro streets in the event of a recurrence of 

         a flood of no greater magnitude than either of those which 

         occurred in the third, fourth and seventh decades of this 

         country {century? - Ed.}                         

                                      J. J. WARNER

    Two days after Warner's article ran in the Times, Harrison Gray Otis took 

editorial control of the paper.  His newly created column, LETTERS FROM THE 

PEOPLE, designed to carry "brief and well-written communications upon topics of 

current interest," made its debut on Aug. 1, 1882.  The next day it became the 

vehicle for an exchange between real estate developer Alfred Moore and Warner.  

Moore, who was selling land in the Aliso tract dangerously close to the 

channel, belittled Warner's caution regarding development of riverfront 

property.  Warner, in turn, used the letters column for his response to Moore.  

    By 1884 the region immediately west of the river from Aliso Street south to 

what became Third, and from the river to Alameda, had developed into a working 

class residential area.  The Aliso tract, in that section, was located 

immediately adjacent to the river on a portion of the 104 acres once owned by 

vintner Jean Louis Vignes.  The tract was bounded on the north by Aliso Street 

{roughly the site of the San Bernardino Freeway} and on the south by First, and 

lay between Vignes Street and the river.  Several streets still carry the names 

placed on them when the tract was developed.  The sycamore cited by Warner 

stood near the Vignes adobe.  Harris Newmark, who resided in Los Angeles for 

sixty years and authored a remarkable reminiscence of that period, noted that 

the tree, perhaps two centuries old, was cut down near the turn of the century 

to make way for the Philadelphia Brew House, the brewery operated by Maier and 

Zobelein on Aliso Street.

    In 1845 New Mexico colonists settled Agua Mansa, referred to by Warner, on 

the Santa Ana River near the present city of Colton.  Devastated by the flood 

of 1862, the community became a virtual ghost town.

                          {Times, Aug. 2, 1882, p. 3}

                                  A WARNING.

         To the Editor of The Times:

              "And the flood came," etc.  J. J. Warner seems to be 

         terror-stricken about the coming flood sweeping away the 

         homes of the industrious in the central part of the city.  I 

         have lived on the Aliso tract, the most central part, for the 

         past eight years, and never saw a flood yet.  When does 

         friend Warner think his next destroying flood will come; or 

         has he or any of his friends property for sale at improved 

         prices above the bottom lands as he calls them?  Apropos of 

         the above, I sold six lots a short time ago to a lady who has 

         since built a very fine residence within a few feet of the 

         river (bed?), and when she was about purchasing some of the 

         croaking neighbors gathered round her and spoke of the 

         overflow, and tried to scare her off buying.  She was a lady 

         of very diminutive stature, but plucky enough to answer them 

         with "Bosh, when the flood comes I can swim anyhow; this 

         place is my choice, and here I will build my house."  And she 

         did so, at the cost of fifteen hundred dollars, and an 

         ornament and improvement to the place, so much so that I am 

         selling bottom land lots, so-called, rapidly ever since, 

         which makes the croakers open wide their eyes.  Mrs. Bigelow, 

         on First street, near the river, has shown great pluck and 

         enterprise in building up the beautiful cottages in her 

         orange grove facing First street.  Also, Mr. Graham is about 

         to build a $1500 residence opposite, and Dr. A. H. Millar, 

         late of Canada, has bought the corner of Vignes street, with 

         a view to erecting a substantial grocery house--but if there 

         is any danger from an overflow at any time in the future, the 

         authorities should see to it in time to prevent any disaster.  

         The city, after a heavy rain about eight years ago, 

         constructed a dam, and this summer the enterprising Mr. 

         Nadeau built a four-foot flume from the covered bridge along 

         the west bank of the river to First street, and thus would 

         take all the surplus water down to his vineyard at Florence 

         in the event of any extra rain coming; but we need not, I 

         think, feel at all alarmed about a flood.  At any rate, as 

         you say, "The matter is respectfully submitted to the city 

         council."  Respectfully, 

                          ALFRED MOORE.

                          {Times, Aug. 6, 1882, p. 3}


         To the Editor of the Times:

              The floods are not in my keeping, to come or to refrain 

         from coming at my bidding.  Nor am I a real estate broker or 

         auctioneer, interested in the sale of city lands.  Neither do 

         I know that any friend of mine has land for sale less exposed 

         to damage by floods than that on a level with Alameda street.

              Floods are not, in modern times, preceded by a Noah to 

         warn the exposed of their danger; nor are they respecters of 

         persons, but they come upon the defenceless mother, not 

         infrequently in the dark, stormy hours of night, when, 

         instead of fleeing away for safety, she is chained to the 

         spot by the moans of her still more helpless children.

              It is presumable that the people who a few days ago were 

         living on the banks of the Licking and other contiguous 

         streams, in Kentucky, felt as safe in their homes, and 

         thought as little of danger from a flood, as does Mr. Moore 

         in his eight-year-old dwelling, from which he has never seen 

         a flood.  It is probable that the people who were living in 

         this town in 1835 had not for more than eight years witnessed 

         a flood, and yet it was related by them that when the flood 

         of that year subsided, the only object to be seen upon the 

         face of the land, between the present location of Alameda 

         street and the high land on the east side of the river, which 

         was there at the coming of the flood, was the large sycamore 

         tree now standing near the Aliso mill.  All else had been 

         swept away by the water or covered up with sand or sediment.

              It is a trite saying that whatever has happened in the 

         past may again occur in the future.  There are many now 

         living in Los Angeles who do not know the magnitude of the 

         volume of water which flows through this city when the river 

         is flooded.  If all those who have seen the lesser floods 

         which have occurred at various times within the past fifty 

         years, few, if any one of them would select, or advise a 

         friend to select, for a family residence that part of the 

         city lying between Alameda street and the high land on the 

         east side of the river.

              It is not so much from an overflowing philanthropy or 

         commisseration for those weak-minded, "diminutive, boshy" and 

         natatory ladies, and others, who shut their eyes, and build 

         their homes in dangerous places, that I give the warning, as 

         from sympathy for those who, not themselves sufferers, would 

         be called upon to alleviate the distresses of the unfortunate 

         ones who have been misled by reckless and crafty real estate 

         owners or agents.  I believe that a majority of all those who 

         witnessed the flood in this city about twenty years ago, upon 

         considering the present condition of the waterway of the 

         river, the many obstructions which since then have been 

         placed therein, will concur in the opinion that the 

         recurrence of such a flood would destroy a large part of the 

         property situated in that part of the city before mentioned.

              Some idea of the devastation that would be caused in 

         this city by a flood in the river can be formed by learning 

         of the ravages which befell the settlement of Agua Mansa in 

         San Bernardino county, and of the losses of the inhabitants 

         on the Ranchito and Santa Gertrudes in the rainy season of 

         1861-62, when the new river of Los Nietos was excavated, and 

         for the time being made a navigable river.  

                                                 J. J. WARNER.

    The potential flood Warner feared and Moore dismissed came in February, 

1884.  A Times account, printed after a second flood occurred two years later 

in much the same portion of the city, gives a graphic picture of how Moore's 

Aliso lots fared.  {No copies of the Times for Feb., 1884 exist.}  The East Los 

Angeles bridge was on Downey Avenue, now North Broadway.

                         {Times, Jan, 20, 1886, p. 1}
                        THE FLOOD OF '84.
           Reminiscences of the Disastrous Overflow Two Years Ago.

              The great flood of 1884 occurred Sunday night, February 

         17th.  The season had been dry up to within two weeks of the 

         date of the flood, and the rain was at first heartily 

         welcomed.  It continued, however, until Sunday the 17th, when 

         it came down in torrents.  Cloudbursts occurred Sunday 

         morning in the Tejunga and Verdugo canons, and at 2 p. m. the 

         water reached town and a general alarm was given.  From that 

         time until evening it swept over the whole district bounded 

         by Macy, Georgia and Alameda streets and portions of the 

         Sabichi and Hollenbeck tracts near the Southern Pacific 

         depot.  The Southern Pacific railway bridges were both 

         knocked out of shape.  The approach on the east side to the 

         East Los Angeles bridge was washed away, but the bridge 

         itself was not materially damaged.  Both the Aliso avenue and 

         First street bridges were completely destroyed and the 

         covered bridge sank two or three feet in the center.  About 

         forty houses, nearly all on the Aliso tract, were carried 

         away.  The agricultural implement establishment of Rees & 

         Wirshing, together with a full stock of goods, was carried 

         down, the loss in this case amounting to $12,000.  The Aliso 

         street car bridge was also wrecked.  George Stoltz, a 

         milkman, was drowned in the Arroyo Seco, and this was the 

         only life lost during the flood.  The body was recovered 

         several weeks later.  The railroads were washed out 

         everywhere and there was no communication with the North or 

         East for two weeks.  The total loss in the city was estimated 

         at $150,000.  The City Council immediately took measures to 

         prevent the recurrence of the flood, and, under the direction 

         of the City Surveyor, a wing-dam of sand-bags was built just 

         below the covered bridge.  A few days later the river rose 

         again and carried away every vestige of the dam, but did not 

         overflow the city.  

              The sufferers by the flood of 1884 received prompt 

         relief from the charitable people of Los Angeles.  A relief 

         committee was appointed by the Council, and liberal 

         contributions of money and clothing were made for the benefit 

         of the destitute people.  Miss Louise Rial being in the city, 

         tendered a benefit for the relief fund, and a large addition 

         was made to it by this means.

              In the country the whole district from the Cerritos 

         rancho to New River was under water, and bridges and roads 

         were washed out everywhere.  There were three separate floods 

         during 1884, but the first was the most disastrous to the 


    Throughout the 1880s, and particularly after the flood of 1884, residents 

debated the question of levee construction.  The river boulevard proposed as 

part of the levee by John F. Humphreys, one of the founders of the reorganized 

Chamber of Commerce later in the decade, may have been the first suggestion in 

a long line of similar ideas.  Advocates of a river transit route have spanned 

the decades and the political spectrum, from the river highway proposed by 

socialist mayoralty candidate Job Harriman in 1911 to the riverbed freeway 

offered by Democratic assemblyman Richard Katz in 1989.  The Long Beach Freeway 

in a sense became a modern version of Humphreys' idea.  Note that Humphreys 

offered his suggestion prior to the 1884 deluge.

                         {Times, Oct. 14, 1883, p. 3}

                              Public Enterprise.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  While we should be 

         well satisfied with the wonderful growth of our city and 

         county, yet, in this fast age of "rapid transit," our 

         ambition feasts on future results, and to this end allow me 

         to call attention to an item of public benefit, a future 

         ornamental and profitable enterprise for our city, wherein 

         the passing of time adds largely to the advantages named, and 

         with comparatively no expense.  If the city will make a 

         roadway 100 feet wide along the west side of Los Angeles 

         river, out of the 300 feet in width of river bed claimed by 

         the city, say from East Los Angeles bridge south to First 

         street, or further, build it sufficiently high to protect 

         property back of it (as it is claimed high water has damaged 

         as far back as Alameda street).  The willows now standing in 

         the way of said drive could be properly secured along the 

         outer edge of the road as an ornamental hedge to protect the 

         bank, while double rows of eucalyptus trees planted on each 

         side and center would in a short time make an ornamental and 

         profitable item to our city, particularly for pleasure 

         driving, to say nothing of the wood the trees would make.  

         Can you not stir up our city authorities and the public 

         generally to immediate action in this matter, for all such 

         public improvements beautify and make the city the more 

         attractive and healthful, and it is my impression that 

         interested parties along the river will contribute largely to 

         this expense if the authorities go to work in earnest and no 

         delay.  While my individual interest in the matter is 

         comparatively nothing, I will start the list with a 

         subscription cash of $500.

                                        JOHN F. HUMPHREYS.

              [The city authorities will please consider themselves 

         stirred up.--Ed. Times.]

    The flood of 1884 stimulated interest both in levee building and in 

determining why the river flooded in the first place.  "J" recognized that 

man-made structures impeded the river's flow and called for corrections, but 

"J" also believed that leaving the river alone was not a solution.  The natural 

vegetative growth that Humphreys had seen as a partial solution to flooding was 

cited by "J" as a cause of the problem.  The blue gum "J" referred to was one 

type of the Australian eucalyptus that Humphreys had urged the authorities to 

plant along his proposed boulevard.  The tree was already well established in 

Los Angeles by the 1880s. 

                         {Times, Dec. 21, 1884, p. 5}

                          The "Herald" and the River.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir: It seems to me that the 

         Herald is trying to work off a grudge against someone in the 

         Republican party.  If it is not the Chief of Police it is 

         with work on the river.  Now, Mr. Editor, the money expended 

         on the river I think is money well spent.  Cleaning out the 

         river itself is worth the money spent.  If it had not been 

         for the river being grown with willows last winter the damage 

         would have been light, as the sand will lodge there and a new 

         channel will be the result.  The river bed should be cleaned 

         at least once a year to keep down the willows.  Another bad 

         thing in the river is these short-span bridges, street-car 

         and railroad bridges, and the sand will lodge there.  The new 

         Council should see to it if any new bridges be built that the 

         spans be at least 100 feet, so that the sand may be carried 

         down the river, and I hope that the city will keep on the 

         work and finish the gap near Mission street, and that 

         everyone having property on the river will plant at least 

         five rows of blue gum trees inside the levee next winter, and 

         if we have no floods in a few years we will not see another 



              December 19.                                     

    The city council authorized levee construction, proceeding slowly south 

along the river.  "West Side" interjected a bit of class consciousness into the 

debate upon observing the extent of levee development as the rainy season 

approached in early 1885.  The city council created the River Improvement Fund, 

cited by "West Side," in 1884.  George Rowan, a wealthy merchant, William H. 

Workman, soon to become the city's mayor, and banker/real estate developer John 

E. Hollenbeck all had extensive holdings on the east side of the river. 

                         {Times, Jan. 16, 1885, p. 3}

                               Why is This Thus?

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  Crossing the river a 

         day or two since at the First street bridge, my attention was 

         attracted to the new levee, half a mile (more or less) in 

         length, below the bridge, upon the east side, in front of and 

         protecting the comparatively narrow strip of land of Messrs. 

         Rowan, Workman and Hollenbeck (rich men all), and seeing no 

         corresponding line of protection upon the west side, where it 

         is very much more needed, and where hundreds of homes of 

         comparatively poor persons would be disastrously affected by 

         an overflow, I naturally inquired if we were to be left 

         defenseless, and was informed that such would be the case, as 

         there was no more money in the River Improvement Fund, etc.  

         Assuming that the new levee above First street should 

         withstand a flood such as we had last spring, the inevitable 

         result of the construction of the line upon the east side, 

         below the bridge, would be the precipitation of the raging 

         waters, much more than our share, upon the unprotected homes 

         of the West Side, and the result would be most disastrous to 

         individuals and probably to the city by the time law-suits 

         and bills for damages were settled.  Is not this a most 

         flagrant and glaring case of favoritism?  Others besides the 

         writer think so.  Whenever the river fund was exhausted the 

         work should have been completed alike on both sides, or the 

         one-sided levee built upon that side where most of the homes 

         and property would be protected thereby.      

                                   WEST SIDE.

              Los Angeles, Jan. 12, 1885.

    There was no flood in 1885 and work continued on the levee.  At year's end 

"R. M. M." offered another view of the role of willows as related to floods.  

His concluding sentence struck a note familiar to those who remembered the 

alarm sounded by Warner in 1882.

                          {Times, Dec. 22, 1885, p.2}

                          Protecting the River Banks.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  As there has been a 

         considerable sum of money expended since the last rainstorm 

         in removing the dirt and slush from the streets and placing 

         it along the river for the purpose of forming a levee, would 

         it not be well for the Council to continue the good work and 

         save what has been done by placing a protection to its front.  

         Certainly it would be a great pity to lose the time and labor 

         that the work has cost the city simply by a neglect to spend 

         a small sum more at once, which would make it secure.  There 

         is an abundance of willows that can be procured, say from 

         three to four inches in diameter, and if they were cut seven 

         and eight feet long, the butts sharpened and driven one and 

         two feet from the outside base of the embankment three feet 

         apart alternately, and two and a half feet in the ground (a 

         hole should first be made with an iron bar), and brush placed 

         in the interstices and between the lines of stakes and the 

         embankment, there would be little danger of a freshet 

         removing a particle of the work, and the stakes would grow 

         which would still add strength and safety in the future, but 

         should a freshet come in the condition that it is now in, it 

         would be liable to be all swept away in a very few hours 

         time; and as there are many idle men now in the city who need 

         employment, it surely would be a paying business to put them 

         to work clearing out the drift, growing willows and other 

         obstructions from the channel of the stream.  While there is 

         but little water in the river it can be done, and should be 

         done at once, as no one knows but it may be a dreadful river 

         again before the Ides of March come around.

                                                   R. M. M.

    Before sufficient work had been done on the levee to protect the city and 

barely a month after "R. M. M.'s" letter, another torrent overflowed the 

river's banks and coursed through the city.  Commenting on the city's flood 

control effort the biographer of pioneer Horace Bell wrote that carts dumped 

garbage along the riverbank "so as to form an odorous windrow, dignified by the 

name of levee.  When the rains came it floated away."

    The flood of 1886 was nearly as destructive as that of two years earlier, 

with water reportedly three feet deep at the corner of Turner and Vignes in the 

Aliso tract.  Several residents drowned and others were spared only by the 

heroic work of Deputy Sheriff Martin Aguirre.  According to Newmark:

         All of Los Angeles between Wilmington Street and the hills on 

         the east side was inundated; levees were carried off as if 

         they were so much loose sand and stubble; and for two or 

         three weeks railway communication with the outside world was 


    The flood produced a stream of letters regarding the necessity of 

controlling the river, primarily through levee construction.  Milo S. Baker, 

founder of the Baker Iron Works, offered the following advice.  He erred in 

assuming that the river was not in its natural bed in 1886.  As noted above by 

Warner, the pre-settlement channel had been along the East Los Angeles bluff, 

not along what became Alameda Street.

                         {Times, Jan. 24, 1886, p. 4}

                       The Sword, the Pen and the Spade.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  The pen is mightier 

         than the sword; but the spade beats them both.  We have no 

         use for the sword, and we have had enough of the pen.  Now 

         let us have the spade.  But when we put it into the strong 

         and willing hands of the laborer, let us first map out a plan 

         whereby our money is not thrown away when we pay for its use.  

         It is much easier, however, to find fault with what has been 

         done than to tell what should be done.

              The above thoughts have been suggested by the sad 

         experience of our city for the last few days.  While we all 

         are revolving in our minds what to do with our streets and 

         sewers, we are brought face to face with a much greater 

         problem to solve, namely: How shall we conduct the Los 

         Angeles river through our city when it gets on a bender?

              It is said water is a good servant but a bad master.  

         That it ever became master is to a certain extent our own 

         fault.  The mind endowed with good common sense, and having 

         been schooled in experience, readily understands how to be 


              To my mind the whole expenditure of money and brains 

         towards giving our river a free pass through the city has 

         been all wrong, always beginning at the wrong end.  To 

         illustrate my idea I will ask a question or two and answer 


              First, what has moved the river bed from where is now 

         Alameda street to its present bed?  The answer is, the 

         constant flow of slickens and sand being deposited in the 

         lower part of the city has forced the river up and over until 

         it is eight feet higher than Alameda street, its former 

         channel, and the whole lower part of the city is a sand bar 

         or dam (and a strong one, too,) to hold back any excess of 

         water and flood the city.  Now what is the most natural way 

         to get rid of this pond of water?  Why, tear down the dam and 

         make an outlet for this deposit of sand.

              Then your river will cut down a channel and make a 

         levee, and it will do it faster than all the Chinamen in 

         California could do with shovels.  One says build a boulevard 

         levee and keep the river in its bed, but when that bed fills 

         up with sand you may build another on top of it until you are 

         as high as Boyle Heights, unless some provisions are made for 

         the sand that is constantly being brought down.

              These thoughts are thrown out for consideration for 

         those who will have the brain work to do.  Our city has 

         borrowed some money, but already they have so many places to 

         put it I fear they will not have enough to go around, unless 

         more economy is used than municipalities generally exercise.

                                                    M. S. BAKER.

    Unfazed by the second flood in two years, Alfred Moore returned to the 

letters column a few days after the latest catastrophe with disparaging remarks 

about real estate development in the hills immediately west of downtown.  Since 

he was still promoting riverbottom land, he may have felt compelled to deride 

the hill lots as a means of defending his land promotions in the flooded area.  

John E. Preston, proprietor of a stable, offered a response.

                         {Times, Jan. 28, 1886, p. 2}

                     Some Extreme Suggestions of a Split.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  "Impossible to build a 

         sustaining levee and bridges for Los Angeles!"  So say some 

         of our sapient citizens--amongst the rest, Colonel Baker and 

         Albert Brown, the undertaker.  But that is all bosh.   But, 

         suppose that is the case--what then?  Why, the west side of 

         the city would be cut off from the outer world, and would go 

         to wreck.  The east side (and that's where the city should 

         have been) would take the lead and be the city proper, as it 

         has an entire back country to sustain it, and the high mesa 

         lands would be the terminus of a grand central system of 

         railroads, whose tracks and depots could never be flooded 

         out.  Aliso avenue would become the Main street, and Brooklyn 

         avenue the Spring street, of the new Los Angeles; whilst the 

         western side, or old Los Angeles, would become deserted--as 

         they have no back country to support it; Wilmington, Santa 

         Monica and the mountain ranges is all they could depend on, 

         and that would be very poor dependence.  It is true, the 

         courthouse and city buildings might remain where they are; 

         and if no approaches to them could be had in winter, so much 

         the better--for the less these places are used by the people, 

         fortunate are they.

              It is a high boast some folks make who live on the 

         western hills of not contributing a dollar towards levees, as 

         the fools in the bottom lands have no business there; but I 

         say, with Mayor Spence, make a general extra tax levy for the 

         purposes we desire, and the whole city is kept entire, east 

         and west.  Refuse that plan, and the west will be left out in 

         the cold, and not the east, as some silly folks suppose.

              Refuse a general tax levy for levee and bridge purposes 

         to connect the entire city, and William Workman and other 

         great property owners on the east side would ask no better 

         thing, as the valuable $500 front foot property from Spring 

         and Main would be rapidly transferred to the east side, where 

         all would be safe, and those gentlemen would soon be 

         millionaires.  For what do the general public care to go to 

         Los Angeles except to do the trading, attend courts, and see 

         the sights?  If the business centers were transferred to that 

         side, then all the people care for would be accomplished and 

         nobody hurt except the noodles on the western hills, who 

         would not vote a dollar for their own protection.  I care 

         little for myself (and many of my neighbors are like me) 

         whether I live east or west of the Los Angeles river.  I want 

         to be safe and expect to be protected in my property and 

         person for the taxes I pay.

              If it is not possible to give us protection to cross or 

         live by the river, then let us divide right here and now; let 

         us have a city on each side, and my word for it you will soon 

         see which will be the one to prosper.  But unite us in ties 

         of crossing and bridges and we have but one common interest 

         to serve, viz.: the good of the whole; divide us and the 

         western portion of the city must fall and be a fit dwelling 

         for the bats and the moles.  Words to the wise should be 

         sufficient.  Yours very respectfully,     

                                   ALFRED MOORE.

                                 Of the Aliso tract.

                         {Times, Jan. 29, 1886, p. 2}

                       The "West Side" Gets in Its Work.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  The letter in 

         Thursday's edition of your paper from Alfred Moore, 

         disparaging the western hills, reminds me of the tale of the 

         "eleven obstinate jurors."  The concourse on the hills at the 

         auction sale yesterday certainly numbered eleven to one of 

         those attending the late auction sales of Boyle and Brooklyn 

         Heights.  Mr. Moore talks of the "silly folks and noodles."  

         Is it best to be high and dry and earn those nicknames, or be 

         wise men in the East, and drowned out?  Can Mr. Moore name 

         one city where the east side is to be compared with the west?  

         Now, why should those not living in the river bed pay a tax 

         to protect those who do, from choice, when there is plenty of 

         land on the hills that can be bought at a lower price than 

         river bed lots.  If we were crowded, and obliged to reclaim 

         and utilize every available acre, then the case would be 

         different, and all should be taxed alike.  Yours obediently,

                                             J. E. PRESTON.

    Several letters revealed that there was a division among the residents 

regarding the city's obligation to provide relief, primarily in the form of a 

levee, to those living in the potential flood zone.  When those who had 

suffered in the 1886 flood filed claims against the city for the damages they 

had incurred, the council tabled the petition.  Was it a question of lowlanders 

v. highlanders, or was flood prevention of importance to all residents?  "G. 

W." and "Angelnos" disagreed.  The latter's proposal to "wall up and properly 

control" the river anticipated work the Los Angeles County Flood Control 

District would begin several decades later.   John Hizlip, erroneously referred 

to as Hazlip by "Angelnos," led a group of property owners holding riverfront 

land north of Macy Street.  Their offer to give a fifty foot wide right-of-way 

to the San Gabriel Valley Railroad provided that it would build a levee had 

been rejected.

                         {Times, Jan. 28, 1886, p. 2}

                                 RIVER VIEWS.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  I have heard some talk 

         about actions against the city for losses incurred in 

         consequence of the late washouts, through the levees having 

         given way.  It seems to me that a very little consideration 

         will demonstrate the folly and injustice of such threats.

              First of all, the rents in the washed-out districts are, 

         comparatively, very low, and real estate is also, relatively, 

         cheap--in consequence of liability to such disasters as have 

         just occurred.  As the present occupiers and owners bought 

         their land and rented their premises well aware of the risk 

         they ran, and have already received their compensation in low 

         prices, they must not complain.

              Again, why should the general taxpayers of the city be 

         called upon to pay for the improvement of other people's 

         property, and allow such other people to enjoy the full 

         benefit to be reached by such improvement?  The only 

         conditions on which the city could be expected to carry out 

         such improvements should be by having such property owners as 

         are benefited rated for the improvements and pay in cash, or 

         let the property thus improved be held by the city as 

         security for expenditures on improvements, giving the owners 

         so many years in which to repay such expenditure, whether 

         free of interest or not is a matter of reflection.

              I have a piece of land one extremity of which is rather 

         precipitous.  If I should fall down that declivity I should 

         do worse than get a soaking (at least from my point of view).  

         I should break my neck.  I do not, however, call upon the 

         city to put up a fence.  I shall, of course, do that myself.  

         I bought the land aware of this existing drawback, and take 

         my precautions accordingly.  It seems to me (I may, however, 

         be wrong in my views) I have as much right to ask for such 

         protection at the public expense as the owners of land on the 

         river bank, but I take the view that it seems to me any 

         well-regulated mind ought to take, and bear the expense 


              I suppose a levee would increase the value of river-side 

         property in places 1000 per cent, and I do not see the logic 

         of being taxed to thus enrich other men.  There is one point 

         that should be borne in mind: If the city undertakes to 

         construct these levees at the expense of the general tax-

         payers, they admit, in principle, their liability for losses 

         already incurred in the washouts, present and past, but if 

         they decline one responsibility they cannot be held liable 

         for the other, and I cannot come down upon them to fix my 

         fence.  If our river was a navigable river, and the whole 

         community would benefit by the proposed levees, then, of 

         course, each member of the community should contribute his 

         proportion to meet the expense; but when, as before stated, 

         only a few owners will be benefited, then it seems only right 

         that those few owners should bear the cost.  If the owners 

         object, the State ought to give the city power to purchase 

         all such lands at a fair and equitable valuation, and the 

         capital requisite to purchase must come out of rates, but 

         then the increased value of such lands, after the 

         improvements are effected, will leave a large margin of 

         profit to the city.

                                     G. W.

                          {Times, Oct. 2, 1886, p. 2}

                              The Levee Question.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  All candid people now 

         admit that the levee question is a most important one to the 

         future prosperity of our city.  On an inspection of the 

         topography of this city it will be observed that the Los 

         Angeles river flows through the corporation about midway, 

         from north to south, and by a closer examination with the 

         levee, it will be found that nearly every foot of real 

         estate, off the hills, south and east of Main and Pico 

         streets, is jeopardized by a river flood--in fact, involving 

         millions of dollars of property and the very future existence 

         of our "Angel City."  I know it is not considered in good 

         form, by a few selfish, purse-proud people here, to parade 

         our municipal ghosts before the world; but I am satisfied 

         that the masses of the people are with me, and think as I do, 

         that frauds and humbugs of every kind should be exposed, and 

         particularly those of a public nature, in order that we may 

         have progress.  This ridiculing the necessity of leveeing the 

         river because "it is purely a question of the people living 

         in the river bed, and should therefore be paid for by them," 

         and such maudlin municipal statesmanship, should be replied 

         to in this manner:  Your story is false.  This levee question 

         concerns the whole city of Los Angeles, and strangers should 

         know it, that this whole city is liable to an inundation in 

         the future, embracing even the business blocks of our best 

         streets, unless we wall up and properly control the Los 

         Angeles river.

              Happily for us, this can be securely and cheaply done.  

         Mr. Hazlip et al. propose to continue the railroad levee down 

         the west bank of the river, for the contiguous city 

         lands--the same offer the Council heretofore made to the 

         railroad company--or at $2 per lineal foot. 

              The Council should accept this proposition, unless they 

         will do the work themselves, or can get some better 

         proposition, and do it all at once, before the winter rains 

         set in and we have a recurrence of the disastrous floods of 

         two years ago.  Truly Yours,


              Los Angeles, Oct. 1, 1886.

    While their parents debated the merits and cost of flood control, younger 

residents found the river an attractive place to spend their time, accounting 

for the later nostalgic recollections of oldtimers who had grown up near the 

channel.  "Observer," however, had misgivings about the lack of parental 

supervision that seemed inherent in allowing youngsters to venture there.

                         {Times, Oct. 14, 1886, p. 2}

                              Boys in the Brush.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  In a little space in your 

         valuable paper I wish to call the attention of the parents of 

         some fifteen to twenty boys and girls, whose respective ages 

         range from six to sixteen years, and who are almost daily 

         along the river and on the railroad bridge in front of the 

         Beaudry vineyards.  The parents of those children are 

         certainly very remiss in their paternal obligations, or they 

         would see to it that their children spent their time in a 

         more profitable and respectable manner than playing hoodlum 

         in the willows and along the river; and for profanity and 

         obscenity one would have to go beyond the confines of this 

         great Republic to find their equals.  And if their parents 

         cannot, or will not, place them under more rectitude, the 

         police should be instructed by the City Council to keep a 

         wary eye on their notorious conduct, and put a stop to it at 



    That the Los Angeles River was a pristine stream in a wild condition is 

belied by the letters column and newspaper accounts of the 1880s.  The city 

dump occupied the foot of First Street near the river.  To the north, stray 

dogs were kenneled until disposed of at the animal shelter's riverfront 

location.  In addition, as "Pro Bono Publico" noted, other detestable uses took 

place elsewhere along the channel or its banks.

    "Cosmopolitan" offered the ultimate solution for the channel's use.  

During the great debate over construction of a municipal sewer system at the 

end of the 1880s, "Cosmopolitan" saw the river as a means of resolving the 

dilemma of sewage disposal.  While letters on the sewer debate are contained 

elsewhere in this anthology, "Cosmopolitan's" letter is placed here because it 

reflects the way many residents looked upon their river.  For yet another 

vision of the river's future, see G. W. Brigg's unique proposal in the chapter 

on sewers.

                          {Times, Dec. 6, 1887, p. 2}

                           A Wholesale Misdemeanor.

              Los Angeles, Dec. 5.--[To the Editor of The Times.]  

         Yesterday was dumped into the river channel, just below 

         Seventh street, the remains of eighty animals burned and 

         suffocated in the terrible catastrophe at Covarrubias' 

         stable.  Forty tons more or less of dead horse to putrify and 

         breed typhoid fever in that vicinity and on the adjacent 

         Boyle Heights.  Now, it is contrary to city ordinance to bury 

         even one dead animal within the city limits, but the Herald 

         says the Street Superintendent made an exception in this case 

         and gave permission.  Now, I assert the Street Superintendent 

         could no more give such permit than I could.  Neither could 

         our Mayor, Chief of Police or any other official authorize 

         the violation of any city ordinance, and I call upon our 

         worthy Mayor, Chief of Police and City Attorney to vindicate 

         the law in this and every other such case and bring the 

         guilty parties to justice.  Otherwise we may quickly look for 

         pestilence "if not war and famine" in our hitherto healthful 

         and beautiful city.

                                     PRO BONO PUBLICO.

                         {Times, July 24, 1889, p. 3}
                             Los Angeles Drainage.

              Los Angeles, July 15.--[To the Editor of The Times.]  

         The proper drainage for the city of Los Angeles is, of 

         course, the course of the Los Angeles River.  This 

         proposition, considered in all its bearings, can hardly be 

         disputed.  If not self-evident it is capable of 

         demonstration, at least so it appears to us.  The river runs 

         directly through the city from end to end, much as the Thames 

         runs through London, or the Seine through Paris, the Spree 

         through Berlin, the Danube through Vienna, the Tiber through 

         Rome, and as the Euphrates ran through Babylon, and so on ad 

         infinitum.  The Los Angeles River is not a very formidable 

         stream in dry times, but it sometimes swells to an enormous 

         volume, bearing away buildings by the score, if not hundreds.  

         Though not navigable for commerce, it affords for all seasons 

         an abundance of water for all the purposes required by the 

         city--as for domestic uses, for fires, for flushing sewers, 

         and for irrigation, besides which a goodly stream ever runs 

         to waste, so to speak.  The water required for flushing the 

         sewers of the city is the water to be considered in 

         connection with the question of drainage, and that water can 

         properly be returned to its natural channel when it has 

         accomplished the purpose for which it was diverted, as is the 

         case generally with water in cities similarly situated.  How 

         soon, in any case, it shall be returned or what additional 

         service, as of irrigation, it shall be required to perform 

         during its diversion is a matter resting in the sound 

         discretion of the authorities having the matter in charge, 

         but what we mean to insist upon is, that the course of the 

         Los Angeles River is the natural and proper outlet for the 

         sewage of Los Angeles city.  It is of little concern whether 

         the flushing water ever finds its way back to unite with the 

         other waters of the river or not.  The proper outfall for it 

         may be in the stream far below the town, or it may be on the 

         sandy bottom lands or arid plains adjoining the river away 

         off to the south or southeast of the city.  To such 

         disposition of the sewer water no one would have a right to 

         complain, for it would be precisely the drainage provided by 

         Nature.  The water would go in that direction if not diverted 

         or used at all, and why should it not be permitted to flow in 

         the same general direction after it has served its purpose of 

         cleansing the city?  But a still more important question is:  

         Why should a portion of the river's water, even though laden 

         with garbage, be turned aside, at great expense, and to the 

         annoyance of whole communities, and be conducted over hill 

         and through dale to the distant ocean?  That sort of a scheme 

         savors too much of jobbery.  It is not charged that such is 

         the motive, but only that it has such an appearance to one 

         perched upon the top of a lamp-post.  There is a natural way 

         to get through with this business, and an unnatural way.  The 

         former can excite no hostility, while the latter is sure to 

         meet with opposition, because it is not in accordance with 


              The people living along the Thames below London, or 

         along the Seine below Paris, are doubtless annoyed by the 

         corruption of the river water, but their complaints are 

         silenced by the laws of Nature governing the flow of the 

         river, and so would be the people occupying the borders of 

         lower Los Angeles River should they be disposed to find fault                                               

         because the good city of Los Angeles neglected to contract 

         for their delectation a new river of brick, leading off in an 

         entirely different direction, to the ocean.