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.


Ben Avenue

Last Wednesday evening, August 22nd, a speeding teen from Glendale jumped the curb at Magnolia and Ben and decapitated a fire hydrant and concrete light pole. 4,800 volts of lethally electrified water gushed out. Two women, Stacey Lee Schreiber, 39, and Irma Zamora, 40, raced to help and were killed when they stepped into the high voltage water. The teen driver survived.

Curiosity and morbidity drove me over to Ben Avenue in North Hollywood yesterday. I parked near the accident corner. A woman placed flowers at a temporary shrine where many candles and hand-written notes expressed grievance and condolence.

Ben Avenue needs no more pain.

Broken sidewalks and brown lawns, dog shit and peeling paint, rattan blinds pulled down outside windows, the 5200 block of Ben Avenue is a hanging-on kind of place oddly jumbled and cheaply built, where 1940s houses sit next to 1960s apartments and nothing seems permanent but the certainty of sadness, decline and loss.

And something tragic and preventable blew in here last week, and murdered without reason, two innocent women who knew nothing but empathy for their executioner.

New Lake Balboa


Right along the Orange Line Busway, just east of Woodley on Victory, the sprinklers are broken and have been so, by my estimation, for about a year. When they are on, their broken heads flood the grounds with wasted water and are now creating a new Lake Balboa.