Archaeological evidence indicates human occupation of the Los Angeles plain and coastal strip dating back 10,000 years. The park property is located in the known territory of the Tongva people, expert hunters and gatherers with a complex social system. A prosperous, adaptable and creative people, they were among the most populous and wealthy of all California Indian groups. Technological innovations and specialized skills such as canoe-building were highly regarded. Rituals, healing, artwork, songs and extensive oral literature were central to the Tongva culture. Many Tongva villages occupied the fertile basin that is now Los Angeles. One large village, Yang-na, sat within a mile of today’s park. The Tongva were renamed Gabrieleño after Mission San Gabriel was founded in 1771.
Founding of Los Angeles
On September 4, 1781, Governor Felipe de Neve founded El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula just over a mile from what is now the park. The pueblo founders used Native American labor to build the Zanja Madre, or main irrigation ditch, to bring the river water to the growing pueblo and its fields. Remnants of the bricked-in version of the Zanja Madre can still be seen adjoining the park. The area is part of the Los Angeles River watershed— about 534,000 acres or 834 square miles. Nearly 100 years later, in 1875, the new Southern Pacific Railroad’s River Station opened here. Many products and travelers arrived at this site from across the country and the world. In the 1880s, the River Station included a roundhouse and turntable, repair shops, a station depot and a hotel for traveling passengers. Other industrial plants and company stores were built around River Station. The Freight House functioned as a cargo hub for the railroad and later for transport trucks. Sam’s lunchstand (later called Millie’s) served great hamburgers to locals and workers. Several historical buildings are within walking distance of the park. On the north side, the 1890 Flat Iron Building is the second-oldest industrial building standing in the city. The oldest, the 1883 Capitol Milling Company building, stands to the south. Neighboring areas include Chinatown, Chavez Ravine, and Solano Canyon. Chinatown was moved north, to the area south of today’s park, in the 1930s after its residents were evicted to make way for the new Union Station railroad depot. Nearby Chavez Ravine residents were evicted from their homes in the 1950s; this area later became the site of Dodger Stadium. The adjacent Solano Canyon neighborhood was settled in 1866.
Sanctuary in the City
California State Parks acquired the park land in 2001. Before the development of the Interim Public Use Park plan, L.A. artist Lauren Bon planted 32 acres of corn on the vacant parkland, creating what came to be known as the “Not a Cornfield” project. The remnants of the project, now called the Anabolic Monument, functions as a vibrant and dynamic public space.
Although open for public use and enjoyment, the full design of the park is still in the conceptual phase. With input and direction from local and statewide constituents and users, California State Parks is creating a park to meet the needs of residents and visitors alike.