1949: A $72 Million Dollar Flood Control Plan to Waterproof SFV

Van Nuys Blvd. 1938 flood

Flooded area at Ventura Boulevard and Colfax Avenue in Studio City. 1938 (LAPL)

After March 1938 Flood: Lankershim Bl. looking north near Universal City. Photo: by Herman Schultheis

After the disastrous 1938 floods, the City of Los Angeles worked with the State of California and the Federal Government, specifically The Army Corps of Engineers, to encase the rivers of Los Angeles in a waterproof lined concrete sewer to expel waters during the rainy season.

These December 1949 photographs, archived at the LAPL in the “Valley Times Collection”, show the splendid progress of turning natural riverbeds into something distinctively man-made without natural life.  The cost, at the time, was $72 million, which is perhaps $800 million today, but sounds like a bargain, since the Getty Center mountaintop gouge and railroad itself cost $1.3 billion dollars upon completion in 1997 and the widening of the 405 five years ago was a $1.6 billion dollar project that has since added one lane in each direction and shaved 10 seconds off each commuter’s journey.

And let us ponder that our latest crisis, homelessness, will be remedied by taxpayer dollars close to $5 billion.  Not the Federal Government, not the State of CA, but taxpayers, you and me will shell out to well-meaning bureaucrats and post-collegiate interns, $4.6 billion to build housing — 10,000 units in 10 years — and “provide supportive services” for homeless people.  When every person in need on every continent around the world, every down and out person from every state, city and town in the US, Canada and Mexico, arrives in Los Angeles, we will see how well this plan goes down.  It once was against the law to dump garbage in parks, to set up tent cities on sidewalks, to sleep on benches, under bridges, but now this is a behavior eliciting “compassion” because that’s how you are directed and asked to speak of it. You must not condemn what your own eyes tell you is wrong.  Let it grow, let it expand, then create new programs to fight it, until it becomes unstoppable.

A city that once built hundreds of miles concrete rivers to stop flooding, cannot erect temporary shelters and police the filth and disorder and rampant grossness of the ever growing homeless situation. 1949 was a different time, for Angelenos were not intimidated and cowered into attacking threats that endangered the growth, health and well-being of this city.

Lankershim and Cahuenga

Riverside and Whitsett
Laurel Canyon Bl. near Ventura.

The concreting of the LA River in the San Fernando Valley allowed the development of housing right up to the edge of the old slopes. No longer would houses and apartments face potential destruction from heavy rains and overflowing waters.  Soon the freeways would come through, another onslaught of concrete that helped transform the San Fernando Valley from a place of horses and orange groves to one of parking lots and 10-lane local boulevards.

Today, in many parts of the LA River, most notably in Frogtown and along some sections of Studio City, there are naturalizing effects going on, and residents are biking, hiking, and even boating where it is permitted in the once fetid waters of the river.


The Departing Storm

The ladle shaped storm that began to pound the Southland on Friday, February 17, 2017 arrived like a landing jet over the Pacific. It circled, counter-clockwise, landing onto Los Angeles, dropping horizontal blasts of wind, and pounding sheets of rain. It blew down trees, power lines, cable and telephone wires, flooded roads and carried away cars. And drowned our sinned and parched city in a cascade of baptizing waters.

A few died in strange and tragic ways. A man on Sepulveda was electrocuted fatally after strong gusts brought down a tree that hit an electrified power line. Another man was drowned in a raging creek at Thousand Oaks.

What minor choices of life, where to walk, what path to take, might bring us to death?

In Studio City, at Woodbridge St at Laurel Canyon, an aged sewer burst under water pressure and pulled out the soil underneath the road. A 30-foot wide, 20-foot deep hole emerged, sucking two drivers and their two vehicles into a subterranean river. People in those cars were rescued. Thankfully, nobody died or were seriously injured.

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Here in Van Nuys, on Hamlin Street, late yesterday afternoon, the departing storm closed its one-woman show, packed its bags, and headed east.

Solar klieg lights were aimed on the darkened sky as its magnificent performer paraded off stage, led by a chorus line of tall, skinny palm trees, lined up to bid good-bye to the wind and the fury, the destruction and the drama.

It was a thrilling show, taking our eyes off the irrationality in Washington, and bringing us back to the true leader of the planet, one who never relinquishes power, but whose atmospheric whims are capricious, indifferent, and violent, but somehow understandable and predictable.


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Between the Rains

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It was a perfect day to stay in, a rainy Sunday, windy and wet.

Chicken Cacciatore with mashed potatoes would come later in the day, but sometime in the middle of the afternoon, I went outside, between the rains, and walked around the neighborhood.

Gutterless Columbus streamed slow, dark rivers, past neglected houses and errant yards.

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On Haynes, an impromptu lake formed at the end of the street, temporarily transforming a ranch house into a lakeside cabin.

Blown down palm fronds littered Hamlin Street.  And up in the sky a patch of blue, like the eye of God, looked down on Earth.

Lord knows we need rain.

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Rain in Van Nuys: November 14, 1952

From the USC Digital Archives come these photographs of flooding in Van Nuys at Tyrone and Sylvan Streets (a block east of the Valley Municipal Building) after heavy rains.

Caption reads: “Mrs. Agnes Snyder removes debris from car on flooded street. Wayne WIlson (bare foot) crosses St. Overall views of flooded Tyrone Ave. — cars submerged. Kids in stalled car.”

There are smiles on the faces of people, a lack of jadedness, that seems characteristic of that era. The hardship is harmless, nobody is getting hurt, the flooding is inconvenient and messy, but they are making the best of it.

Imagine the same situation in today’s Van Nuys.

A herd of fatties stuck inside their SUV, DVD player and boom boxes blaring, everyone on their mobile phones, three enormous women with tattoos, dressed in black leggings, broadcasting their “movie” on their smartphones with scowling and angry faces, never knowing how to live in the moment.

1952 Floods: Centinela/Slauson and Centinela/Sepulveda

From the USC Digital Archives.

1952 Floods in Los Angeles.



Van Nuys flood area, 1952

From the great USC Digital Archives Collection comes this January 18, 1952 photo of flooding on Van Nuys Blvd at Hatteras Street.

Pure lard and sausages are advertised in a community and time when obesity was rare.