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Video: Flying Over The Once-Mighty Los Angeles River

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Once upon a time the Los Angeles River ran wild. It had a mostly free course across the Los Angeles Basin, and routinely flooded during the wet season. Today, most of us know it as a concrete channel of industrial runoff that flows through the heart of the city.

Photographer Chang Kim has put together this spectacular video, titled Where the water once flowed, of drone footage showing the once mighty river. It opens with a startling image: an expanse of gray concrete bisected by what you realize is the green-ish flow of the river.

Kim told LAist that he was inspired to make the video after moving to Los Angeles five years ago from New York, surprised to discover the river's mere existence. He said he began photographing the river in 2013, shot the aerial footage in 2015, and says he's still shooting the river as an ongoing project.

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The Dayton Avenue railroad bridge collapsed in Elysian Park, during the flood of 1938. (Photo from the Herman J. Schultheis Collection, via the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
In the winter of 1861 and 1862, it rained for 28 days straight in Southern California, and the flooding was so severe that it wiped out practically all agriculture along the Los Angeles river, and mail was not delivered for five weeks.

Its days as a wild river came to an end after the Los Angeles flood of 1938, when a winter storm dumped four inches of rain in Southern California over three days and wiped out over 5,600 buildings and killed up to 115 people in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties. Later that year, after the flood waters had receded, the Army Corps of Engineers began to channelize the river in order to prevent another disaster from happening. Twenty years and 3.5 million barrels of cement later, the river was totally entombed in concrete, as most Angelenos know it today.


Workmen are shown rushing the final stages of the mighty flood control project in the Los Angeles River bed. Photo shows huge derricks putting big rocks on the river banks below the 23rd Street bridge. The sloping banks have been lined with rocks and cement to prevent rushing waters from eroding the earth. Photo dated: December 2, 1938 (Photo from the Herald-Examiner collection, via the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
On Where the water once flowed, Kim writes:

It’s a dead river or merely a flow of water containing industrial discharge. I see endless blocks of concrete and the unpleasant odor causes me some headache. Since the concrete landscape is so straight and uniform, I get no sense how far I’ve come and it’s eerily quiet. I’ve seen only a few people wandering around. The shallow water in strange color doesn’t seem to flow at all. Suddenly I hear water flowing through the greens ahead of me. Since the border between the concrete and the greens is so clear, it looks like a mirage in the desert. The shopping carts in the greenish murky water, the blue herons flying between wastes and dead trees, all kinds of vegetation submerged in the water that reminds me of Southern river landscapes all confuse me. The ever-changing landscapes seem to try to tell me something poignant and forgotten.

The first part of Kim's video takes the viewer up through its course where the river is distinctively entombed in concrete and practically a lifeless stream. But suddenly life bursts into view once it gets into the Glendale Narrows, one of the few portions of the river with an earthen bottom. It's overgrown with trees and vegetation, and you can see the waterway being used by humans and birds alike. "I was intrigued by its uniformity
and architectural characters," Kim said. "After some research I learned about its history and contexts, and became fascinated by the various aspects of the river (concrete, wild life and vegetation, industrial discharge, clean water, and so on...) that were often in extreme contrast."

This video comes at the precipice of huge change for the river, which includes an 11-mile revitalization between the Valley and downtown, a huge development in the Arts District, and Frank Gehry's 50-mile masterplan for the river.

[h/t: Arch Daily]