The Los Angeles River. Photo by Clarence Lacy

It was after a recent visit along the great Los Angeles River I began thinking about the adaptability of the natural environment in response to large infrastructure interventions. My thoughts wandered from Los Angeles across 2,500 miles, along the Toronto waterfront to the Leslie Street Spit,  a protective barrier constructed over the past 75 years to control wave action along the city’s port and harbors. Leslie Street Spit is also home to Tommy Thompson Park, one of my favorite parks/open spaces.

Following Toronto’s growing prominence in the banking sector, skyscrapers began to climb and dominate the city’s skyline. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing well into the 1980s, international architects left their fingerprint on the formerly manufacturing and packing dominated cityscape. One of the most famous being Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Toronto-Dominion Centre.

With this construction boom, subway development, and the development of the underground city known as the PATH, construction and demolition waste needed a place.  Land reclamation and the construction of bulkheads extended the shoreline into Lake Ontario, and a new spit was created in order to protect the port from erosion and sedimentation.

The main structure of the spit is constructed with hard material. This structure holds embayments made to hold earth fill and dredgate from the harbours. In the mid-1970s, Toronto Region Conservation Agency (TRCA) began to push for a plan for the future use and designation for the land as an open space.

By this time the inactive portions of the Leslie Street Spit had undergone ecological succession. This purely accidental ‘Nature’ became a feature and amenity on the Toronto lakefront. Additionally, it became a stop for migratory birds, earning the designation as an Important Bird Area. More than 300 species of birds have been spotted at the Park, with over 40 being species breeding within the headland of the spit.

The Northern portion of Leslie Street Spit has been designated Tommy Thompson Park, with plans in the coming years to convert the entire Spit into part of the Park. Even James Corner Field Operations was involved in a Parks Master Plan for the Spit. It’s one of my favorite spaces in North America, showing the true tenacity and strength of “Nature” to reclaim and adapt to human constructed infrastructure.

The Leslie Street Spit. Creative Commons photo by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine

So, back to the Los Angeles River….

How can we use the Leslie Street Spit as a precedent for redeveloping the LA River? How do we begin to understand the ecological systems currently at play? How do we begin to deconstruct and design small changes, sowing the seeds that allow for succession of this infrastructure system? And how can we strike a balance  so it still functions efficiently, but affords ‘Nature’ a chance to thrive?

Even though some parts of Leslie Street Spit have become heavily vegetated and give the appearance of a natural landscape, the archaeology of the site presents a purely anthropogenic construction. Its less about creating a space that looks like a river or a forest, and more about the functionality of the conditions. The Leslie Street Spit is still a designated dumping ground, receiving brick, concrete, stone, rebar, and excavation waste from large projects across the Greater Toronto Area.

The current river has the potential to provide a diverse range of ecologies. We only need to augment the Los Angeles River to create the right conditions. If given enough time and opportunity, Nature’s resiliency will do the rest, creating a new adapted ecology unique to the river winding through our city.

All photos: Wendy Chan

Amongst the high rise buildings of Downtown Los Angeles are several hidden oases where one can enjoy their lunch, relax, and escape outdoors. There are many privately owned public spaces in Downtown that are hidden, each tucked in between buildings and terrace levels. Privately owned public spaces are publicly accessible plazas that building owners or developers provide in exchange for modification to the local zoning policy. For example, a developer is allowed to increase their leasable floor areas with higher buildings if they provide an outdoor space for the public. But some of these privately owned public spaces aren’t truly “public” due the plaza being locked from the public after work hours; security personal have the option to escort undesirable individuals from these supposed public spaces.

Follow the blue line…

One such terrace plaza space is located between The California Bank and Trust & KPMG building on the corner of 6th and Hope Street. The entrance is located on Hope Street and is accessible by a stairway with a blue line going through the center, leading visitors up to the terrace plaza and Sun Disk.

This plaza is enhanced with a public art component, part of the Public Art Program, organized by the Community Redevelopment Agency, and commissioned by Obayashi America Corporation with the Koll Company. The public art piece is called “Site /Memory / Reflection”. The plaque at the entrance reads, “A single work of art, “Site / Memory / Reflection consists of a numerous sculptural and architectural elements in alignment with each other. These elements draw a site together, relate it to the imagery of the Central Library, and suggest a spiritual universal whole.”

The art pieces were conceived by Lita Albuquerque in collobration with Kohn/Pederson/Fox, Langdon Wilson Architects, The SWA Group, Lonny Gans Associates, and Peter Carlson Enterprise.

The plaza is a great lunch spot, offering a shaded refuge from the sun and surrounding urban sounds of Downtown, mostly drowned out by a water feature named the Hemisphere Fountain. I often observe office workers enjoying their lunches here, conversing with their co-workers, with other Downtown denizens reading or lounging by themselves. The plaza does not appear to be gated from the Hope Street entrance, but there is a gate where the terrace plaza connects to the Central Library. The plaza is fairly quiet with ample seating, and a recommended escape during the summer heat (but it can be a bit chilly during the colder months).

Check out this public plaza oasis the next time you are looking for a spot to eat your lunch in Downtown Los Angeles!

SaveSave

Lush: A group exhibition of Landscape Architecture at the Schindler House
“California’s drought is a domestic challenge, to be taken on at the level of each front and back yard throughout the state’s neighborhoods, subdivisions, and cul-de-sacs. LUSH, the exhibition, began as an invitational charrette project that uses the MAK Center’s Fitzpatrick-Leland House (R.M. Schindler, 1936) in Laurel Canyon to ask leading landscape architects across Los Angeles to consider solutions both radical and practical.”
When:  Until Aug 6, 2017
Where:  Schindler House, 835 N Kings Road, West Hollywood, CA 90069

Sabine Bitter & Helmut Weber / Edgar Arceneaux
“The exhibition’s title foregrounds an urban landscape of affective and material involvements, shifts, and movements that can be viewed as public, architectural, sociopolitical, and personal. No doubt that Banham, who came to celebrate the urban infrastructure built around the car, would love the idea of an exhibition in a garage.”
When: Until July 30, 2017
Where: Mackey Garage Top, 1137 S Cochran Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90019

Dwell on Design 2017
“Dwell on Design brings together the brightest people, latest products, and curated content in modern design under one roof. Held each year at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the exhibition and conference showcases the best in modern design materials, furniture and accessories, home technology, garden and outdoor materials, kitchen & bath, and international design. Dwell on Design features world-class speakers, continuing education classes for interior design professionals, and talks for design-seeking consumers on Saturday and Sunday.”
When: Friday, Jun 23, 2017, 10:30 AM — Sunday, Jun 25, 20175 PM
Where: Los Angeles Convention Center, 1201 S Figueroa St.

North Hollywood “NoHo” Historic Walking Tour 2017
Learn about real cowboys, pioneer families, movie television and recording stars, the Spanish conquest, Mexican ranchos, great steam trains, vast ranches and orchards, land barons, wars, architecture, and much more!
When: Sunday, June 25, 2017, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM PDT
Where: Tujunga St. & Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA

Summer Happenings at The Broad: Warhol Icon
The first program in Summer Happenings at The Broad is Warhol Icon, inspired by Nico, the German singer-songwriter, model and actress who became famous as one of Andy Warhol’s superstars in the 1960s. The program covers the breadth of her work from the Velvet Underground, through later synth collaborations, to her neo-folk approaches. Musical performances by Jenny Hval, Kembra Pfahler, Tiny Vipers and Geneva Jacuzzi evoke Nico’s experimental approaches toward music. Vaginal Davis weaves her performance with a rare screening of Philippe Garrel’s collaborative film starring Nico and Pierre Clementi, The Inner Scar, the histrionics of which are echoed in Nao Bustamante’s video installation, positioned in the lobby of The Broad.
When: Saturday, June 24, 2017, 8:30 p.m.
Where: The Broad, 221 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles 90012

Image: Park 101

Downtown Freeway Cap Park Reemerges: “The proposal to build park space above the U.S. 101 freeway’s Downtown Slot has been quiet for some time, but don’t count the project as dead quite yet. Representatives of Park 101 have begun circulating updated information on the project, which would cap four blocks between Grand Avenue and Los Angeles Street.”

As the Public Realm Merges With the Workplace, How Will Our Cities Change?: “Parks, plazas, courtyards, and semi-public places like cafés are often full of people working. Knowledge workers require significant flexibility in where and how they conduct collaborative versus focused work, and they need spaces to recharge; the public realm may help meet these demands. While an understanding of the motivations that drive knowledge workers is best left to further research, their participation in the public realm is undeniable, reflecting its value in the creation of intellectual capital.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti Thinks A Monorail Might Be The Answer To L.A. Traffic: “On KNX-AM, Garcetti praised the efficiency of a new monorail system in China, pointing to evolving technology from BYD Motors—a Chinese electric car and bus company that opened a North American headquarter in Downtown L.A. in 2011—as an improvement that could make the future of the Los Angeles monorail more viable.”

An Ohio City is Turning an Unused Highway Into a Pop-Up Forest: “Akron, Ohio hopes to fight urban inequality by removing a divisive highway. Other cities across America are looking into doing the same.”

In Praise of June Gloom, L.A.’s Most Underappreciated Weather Event: “People may praise L.A.’s copious supply of sunshine or wax poetic about the Santa Ana Winds, but if there’s one weather event in Southern California that is woefully underappreciated, it’s June Gloom. It’s the calm before the summer swelter, the two or three months of moody and mild weather that precede the scalding months of July, August and September.”

The bench in front of the Engelmann Oak at the Los Angeles Arboretum. All photos by Kathy Rudnyk.

Just as my family tree in the San Gabriel Valley has changed over the generations, the various native plant communities within the same area have also been compromised. None more apparent than Southern Oak Woodland.  This community includes principal trees such as the Engelmann Oak (Quercus engelmannii), Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), Black Walnut (Juglans californica).  Of those three, the Engelmann Oak has suffered the greatest impact, but it has the treasured opportunity to be recognized for its beauty and unique distinction to San Gabriel Valley.

Once found throughout the San Gabriel Valley, the Engelmann Oak has most recently suffered greatly from insect and fungal pathogen damage, followed by poor cultural practices like overwatering. Urbanization and stress caused by drought and fires have also posed a greater threat to these legacy trees. The population has also been afflicted by a lack of availability in the trade until now. I was so inspired by seeing beautiful Engelmann Oaks at The Huntington Botanical Garden, Los Angeles County Arboretum, and this year’s Theodore Payne Annual Native Plant Tour, that I wanted to learn even more about its roots within the Southern Oak Woodland native plant community.

On the right: A young Engelmann Oak at the Huntington Library Botanical Garden.

For some unknown reason, my family and I have always enjoyed learning about our ancestors. Maybe it’s because we are all scientifically and oddly inquisitive – a family of nerds right at home in the land of JPL, CalTech and SpaceX. And we are all also surprisingly of sturdy stock like an oak tree.

My late grandfather respected the oak so much that he asked that the California Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) be etched onto his tombstone. He also planted a White Oak (Quercus robur) close to his home. Exploring the genealogy of the Genus – Quercus and its relationships has helped me learn more about my own roots within Southern California.

Sadly, you can’t just go to Ancestors.com for answers about the roots of an actual tree. You need to go to a library of natural history. So off I went on a Saturday to the Los Angeles Arboretum. I culled the stacks and found a manuscript written by Bruce M. Pavlik titled, A Natural History of Southern California Oaks, with Emphasis on Those Occurring within the District.  After reading it, I hiked around the park for further inspiration about the Southern Oak Woodland native plant community.

Published in 1976, Pavlik’s manuscript shared many of the same concerns about the California native oaks within the Los Angeles district that are threatened today. Most significantly, he called for the protection of Engelmannn Oaks in response to the rapid urbanization of the San Gabriel Valley in the 1970s.  Prior to development, Engelmann Oaks were only threatened by horse and cattle grazing, which destroyed any opportunity for seedlings to flourish into trees around the valley floor. The young trees survived only along the ridge lines, because it was too dangerous for cattle and horses to graze upon their foliage.

Within its family tree/taxonomy, the Genus amongst California native oaks resides in the order of Fagales, consisting of the families Betulaceae and Fagaceae.  Birch (Betula), Alders (Alnus), and Hazelnut (Corylus) reside in the family of Betulaceae, and they are the closest of relatives of California native oaks.  Within the family Fagaceae are the Genus of oaks and their relatives, such as Chrysolepis, Quercus, and Lithocarpus.

The mid-sized, evergreen Engelmann Oak has the distinct characteristics of a California Live Oak, yet, instead of green leaves that are slightly serrated, it has vibrant blue-grayish-green leaves that are rather long in length and relatively unserrated edges.  The tree’s acorns have a slightly hairy underside on the cap. The acorns of this particular tree were harvested last by the native peoples for food, as acorns from other species like the Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) and Coastal Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) tasted better or offered more nutrients.  Unfortunately for the Engelmann Oak, it was most preferred by the locals as firewood, as its wood seemed to burn the longest of all local hardwood trees.

An Engelmann Oak finds a few admirers during the 2017 Theodore Payne Native Plant Tour.

These impressive trees are rarely found north of Pasadena, and only along the northern side of a foothill, generally in thick stands within shallow soil supporting aromatic plants White Sage (Salvia apiana), California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), and California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica).  Along the valley floors and around mesas, Engelmann Oaks were surrounded by California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) and Purple Needle Grass (Stipa pulchra) growing around the base of these majestic trees. I bet this was a very beautiful sight my ancestors enjoyed living in San Marino, Sierra Madre, and Monrovia prior to the mid-1850s. Engelmann Oaks were once spotted along a 50 mile wide beltway from Pasadena, all the way to Mexico, always at least 15 to 20 feet from the nearest coastline.

The Engelmann Oak shares the growth rate of the Coastal Live Oak, growing about 8’ in 5 years.  Of all the oaks, the Valley Oak grows the fastest at 15’ in 5 years. Lucky for us, the Engelmann Oak is now available to purchase from a local tree nursery, and it can still be found around growing within neighborhoods of Duarte, Pasadena, Azusa, and Glendora. The Los Angeles Arboretum and the Huntington Botanical Garden have a few that you can see, touch, study, and enjoy.  I really found walking through the tree’s dense pillow of foliage debris lining the way toward a bench underneath the massive tree at the LA Arboretum unlike anything I have ever done in Los Angeles.

Two Engelmann Oaks discovered in Pasadena using Google Earth.

I went onto Google Earth to continue searching for more EEngelmann Oaks within the area, looking out for a particular hue that helps identify the trees from others.  The Engelmann Oaks are fairly easy to spot based upon their color of foliage depicted on Google Earth.  It was like finding members of your family tree that you did not know existed. The activity made me want to look for even more Engelmann Oaks and determine how to enable further protection of them or build more colonies of these special trees unique to San Gabriel Valley.

Engelmann Oaks can help make the San Gabriel Valley a better and more beautiful community, while strengthening the native plant community of the Southern Oak Woodland. So hopefully everything I’ve shared above will compel others to appreciate and plant some of these wondrous native oaks.

SaveSave

SaveSave