The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth

Blake Gumprecht, Author Johns Hopkins University Press $54 (384p) ISBN 978-0-8018-6047-8
For those even aware that it exists, the Los Angeles River conjures up an image of a barren concrete channel--a place best suited for Hollywood car chases and gang brawls. There was a time, however, when the L.A. River, which runs from the San Fernando Valley into the Pacific, had an entirely different image, not to mention a different course. Before modern flood control programs fixed the river's path with high cement walls, it ran variously south and west, at one time emptying into the Santa Monica Bay. In this exhaustive and lively investigation, Gumprecht, a geography professor and former Los Angeles Times reporter, charts the waterway's evolution from a ""beautiful stream, wandering peacefully amid willows and wild grapes"" to the refuse-strewn, ""ugly, concrete gutter"" it is today. Gumprecht describes the crucial role that the river played in the settlement and growth of L.A.--both as a water source and as a symbol of the region's Arcadian promise--and, conversely, how the river was remade in the image of the metropolis itself, becoming depleted and degraded by the very development it made possible. Like fellow L.A. historian Mike Davis, Gumprecht scatters an archive of startling photos throughout the book, from a man holding a 25-pound trout caught in the river in 1940 to the scene of a riverbed drag race broken up by the police in 1950. Conjuring images of Roman Polanski's Chinatown, Gumprecht's river ""biography"" breathes vitality into a subject that in the hands of a less enthusiastic author might be drier than the industrial wasteland that he describes. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-8018-6642-5
Show other formats
Discover what to read next