Though Huntington developed "Eagle Rock Park" as a tourist destination, the canyon was a key part of his plan to convey cheap hydroelectric power profitably to Los Angeles. (ERVHS)
Sycamores mark the former flood plain.
Contemporary map showing stormdrains. (Bureau of Engineering)
William Hammond Hall 1888 data overlaid on contemporary topos. (Bureau of Engineering)
EAGLE ROCK CREEK
The intersection of Figueroa Street and the westbound onramp for the 134 is a dramatic swathe of concrete, each lane little more than a conduit for cars whose drivers are focused on any destination but the current location. The ground we stand on is fill brought in to build the freeways. Exotic plants such as oleander, fountaingrass, and eucalyptus line the edges of the asphalt.
Only a couple generations ago, this area east of Figueroa and north of Colorado, was the well-loved "Eagle Rock Park", whose central feature was the shady canyon stream just a couple paces east.
Ludwig Louis Salvator, the Archduke of Austria, described this canyon as "a wilderness of luxuriant vegetation that forms an almost impenetrable thicket often the haunt of wild beasts" in his 1876 memoirs. Pioneer farmers who settled nearby in the 1880s would have found wild roses, wild blackberries and raspberries, tiger lilies and wild grapes growing profusely in the canyon.
Around that time, the canyon stream filled a modest lake (or swamp!) which "provided water for both domestic animals (dogs, sheep, horses and cattle) and native wildlife such as fox, coyote, cougar and deer."
The town of Eagle Rock changed forever when developer and railroad magnate Henry Huntington decided to build a streetcar line connecting it to Los Angeles. Huntington purchased much of Eagle Rock canyon. Mere rumor of his interest turned neighboring hills and orchards into valuable real estate overnight.
Under Huntington's hand, the riparian landscape was groomed for mass appeal. Underbrush was cleared. In came rustic tables and benches, ovens for barbecuing, teeter-boards, a footbridge, and pathways. Newspapers and railway guides promoted "Eagle Rock Park" as a picnic location. At various times facilities may even included a dancing pavilion , malt shop, and merry-go-round.
For two decades after the Huntington era, the canyon retained a wilderness-like character. Whether its fate was to be preserved as a public park or developed for other uses was a topic of much discussion. During this limbo period, it was referred to as "long not only a scenic problem but a moral one as well."
Eagle Rock oldtimers remember the canyon as a place for exploration. Bert Fraleigh fondly remembers "the year-round stream that ran in front of the rock, where I caught a few minnows and salamanders in the 20s..." Bob Brown would climb up into the caves on the side of the Eagle Rock, and build a fire to cook fish caught farther up the canyon.
As recently as the late 40s, the canyon could be described as a "sylvan glen." Wanda Kuenzli told me, "You could get on a rope, swing over the water, and drop into it. The brook ran almost down to Colorado. We rode horses that entire length... Trees covered the brook. They were huge..."
The following decades would bring development of the lower end of the park into a business park, the channeling of remaining creek flow into storm drains that eventually connect with the Los Angeles River, and the construction of the 134 freeway over the streambed. Nowadays, the creek is unknown even to many long-term Eagle Rock residents.
But in the parking lot along the back of a business park on the Northeast corner of Colorado Boulevard and Figueroa Street, a remaining trickle of water runs in an open streambed, relatively unharassed, for a hundred yards or so. The High voltage lines which have superseded the creek run overhead. Northward, earth is piled high in the former streambed to support the freeway up above. Though most of this former flood plain is covered with asphalt, thick-trunked sycamores continue to offer a shady canopy. The canyon is pleasantly cooler than neighboring streets. And water still flows down from the canyon, as it always has.