|Photos by Leor Levine|
WANT TO SEE THE FUTURE? THE GLENDALE NARROWS HAS a non-concrete bed for eight long miles, full of lush greenery. The logically scenic setting for the most new parks, it's the best place to go to envision a greenway through the heart of L.A.
Here, where the river squeezes between the Santa Monica Mountains and the San Rafael Hills, the water table runs too close to the surface for a concrete cap (the water would punch through), and the Army Corps of Engineers stopped de-greening it in the 1970s. The cobblestone bed in this soft-bottom stretch hosts willow groves, cattails, sycamores and up to 140 species of birds. Mallards, mergansers, egrets, a flowing river, towering mountains, parks, art, power lines, billboards, bridges and traffic -- as with the fabled view from the Griffith Park Observatory, here you can see the natural beauty and the terrific energy of a huge city in one frame.
Glendale plans to build the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk -- a park and multi-use trail with stops where you can read about Glendale, the river and their history -- to connect the city to the river and beyond. After that, it plans to seek funds to extend the trail south and add a pedestrian bridge to Griffith Park. (ETA start 2001)
Great Heron Gate, Rattlesnake Park
Of the 12 new parks in the Narrows, North East Trees built 11, and all since 1997. This urban forestry nonprofit has never met a square foot of land it couldn't put a park on -- and build about as fast as a Labrador retriever puppy grows. These "pocket parks," from small to tiny to mini, feature native plants, meandering paths, creative rockwork, and artworks by L.A. painters and sculptors. NET designs with community input, and hires at-risk youth to do construction. The parks are, in a word, stunning. They've turned a no man's land into neighborhood open space. River restorers on other stretches bus in to see them. NET has shown how little land is needed to get going -- and has modeled what parks on the L.A. River (or in any urban space) can look like.
The two-year-old Los Angeles Riverwalk, a 1.3-mile greenway dotted with NET pocket parks, is the county's first demonstration project for its L.A. River Master Plan. Use the equestrian trail at the south edge of North Atwater Park to access the north end.
The Anza Picnic Area -- with a horse corral, a bench and grand "Guardians of the River" entrance gate by sculptor Michael Amescua -- is named after the leader of the first overland colonizing expedition from Sonora to San Francisco, in 1775. The National Park Service's Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail follows the route, and NET is marking the L.A. River section with two illustrated signs by painter Nancy Romero (one here), and three murals to come.
Highly recommended is the Passive Fitness Area, a string of miniparks with bright signs that teach yoga stretches; it leaves intact pioneering neighborhood meditation and succulent gardens built in 1998. Bring "suppleness to the spine" while reading quotes from Emerson, Mandela and, of course, Ovid ("Take rest: A field that has rested grows a beautiful crop"). Nettie Carr, a Friends of Atwater Village leader, commissioned Rafael Escamilla's mural at the north-end entrance.
At the south tip of the Riverwalk, the tiny park at Sunnynook Footbridge has a bench by sculptor Brett Goldstone. The footbridge -- old, very cool -- connects to another over the 5 freeway to Griffith Park.
North of Los Feliz Boulevard, especially, you can see the channel's indigenous cats -- the faces painted on storm-drain lids, which look uncannily like cat heads. After 1960, when a Burbank woman painted the first with her family (so the legend goes), graffiti artists trespassed often to follow suit, and starting in 1969, Leo Limon's bright-colored entries would earn him an underground rep as the "L.A. River cat artist." He turned legal in 1998: The city funded Limon, who'd become a Chicano-art-movement leader, to work with at-risk kids to restore old faces and paint dozens of new ones. Limon wants to repeat the program with kids in other communities up and down the river. For now, he's drifted south and painted three cats at Knox Street -- and plans to redo these regularly, as a sort of revolving exhibit. â