This afternoon was the first installment of my Sepulveda Pass Class at the Skirball, being taught by Eric Greenberg of the Autry. The focus of today’s class was on the land; I want to jot down some of the interesting stuff we covered (plus a few other things) before my befuddled brain forgets them:
- The class opened with an exploration of how the passes and cayons formed geologically through the interaction of the tectonic plates. We also explored how the mountains in Southern California tend to be transverse — that is, they run roughly east-west, not north-south.
- We looked at the nature of fire in the pass. We explored the nature of controlled burns and their benefits… and why they are unlikely to happen in the pass.
- We talked about the Tongva Indians and their relationship to the pass. They had a natural relationship to the land and understood the role of fire. The pass also served as their summer home as it was cooler in summer. [ETA: On FB, Erik clarified my last statement: “Tongva peoples of the valley and other sites migrated to hilltops and mountaintops for cooler climes. The pass was one such place, but surely not the only one.”]
- One of the shaping forces was water — specifically, the Sepulveda Canyon Dam that collapsed in 1914 and innudated the Soldier’s Home in Sawtelle (now West Los Angeles). Mr. Greenberg didn’t have that much on the dam (in particular, the specific location), so I decided to do a little quick research of my own. Note that this is not the Sepulveda Dam that was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers. However, the Wiki page on the Sepulveda Dam does note that one of the impetuses for the creation of the Sepulveda Dam were the big floods of 1914. This is of interest because 1914 is the year that the Sepulveda Canyon Dam collapsed. Google books provides a bit more information on the failure by presenting a page from Inland Flood Hazards: Human, Riparian, and Aquatic Communities by Ellen E Wohl [Ed]. This notes that the Sepulveda Canyon Dam was an embankment dam built higher than 15m, and failed due to overtopping in 1914 (hmmm, the same year as a flood… coincidence? I think not!). There’s also a reference to the dam from Image Santa Monica (which points to a microfiche article) which notes: “A dam, which was built in Sepulveda Canyon to supply SM with water, broke and flooded Sawtelle. Portions of the dam are still visible…” There was a similar reference in a history of Ocean Park, which noted “The Santa Monica Land and Water Company was formed in 1898 to provide a better water system. Deeper wells were dug at the Arcadia plant and at the Sycamore Springs in the Canyon. A dam was built in Sepulveda Canyon, but in a long rainy period one winter it burst and seriously flooded the town of Sawtelle.” That site also has some references (search for “Water Systems”) on reports done by J.D. Schuyler: Report on stability of Sepulveda Canyon Dam, under construction by the Santa Monica Water Co. 1907. Lastly, unrelated to the Sepulveda Canyon Dam was a neat presentation on Dams and Disasters, where a number of Southern California dams are mentioned: Big Bear Valley Dam (pg 9), Hemet Dam (pg 16), Chatsworth Park (pg 21), San Fernando Dam/Lower Van Norman (pg 24), Chatsworth Reservoir (pg 51), St. Francis Dam (pgs 59-65), San Gabriel Dam at the Forks (pgs 68-71), Pacoima Dam (pg 73), Weid Canyon/Mulholland Dam (pgs 76-78), Bouquet Canyon (pgs 81-86), Baldwin Hills Reservoir (pgs 119-125), Lower San Fernando Dam (pgs 133-137).
- One of the pictures Erik showed was the opening of the Sepulveda Blvd tunnel in 1929. This raised (to me) the question of whether Sepulveda was a state highway project. The article I found noted that “The eight-year project built eight miles of new highway at a cost of $550,000” and that it was opened by the Mayor. My site notes that “Sepulveda Pass was paved and became a state highway route in 1935,” which makes sense as the legislative route was added in 1933.
- Related to the pass, I also uncovered a cool picture of Route 405 in what had to be 1962. This shows the freeway — still signed as State Route 7! — going NB at the intersection with US 101. One of the comments on the photo was really interesting: “I used to drive on the dirt road, that became this freeway, that was formed by hauling the dirt from the “big cut” in Sepulevada pass thru Roscoe. It was the biggest cut in the world at that time . I did the land surveys along this road while working for California Division of Highways in 1961. I found that the cut would not hold at 45 degrees on the shoulders , so they had to haul twice as much dirt out of the Sepulveda pass. The mountains were actually collapsing. That was the reason that the road bed is so high in much of the valley. The general contractor, Guy F Atkinson, made a fortune hauling all that unexpected dirt out of the Sepulveda pass. I used to drive at about 80 mph thru this part of the freeway while it was still dirt with no cement on it. The only other traffic on this road was the dirt moving “double Euclydid” that held many yards of dirt. Sepulveda was jammed with cars, but I was flying by a big dirt road.”
- Lastly, Erik talked about the establishment of UJ and Stephen Wise in the pass. We looked at both how UJ moved westward and how Stephen Wise was established. Lastly, he noted that the land graded from the hilltop to create Stephen S Wise was used to fill the small canyon used for UJ. We talked briefly on the establishment of the Skirball and the urban legend that it was built on a dump (by many of us know that the real dump was a little bit to the south (here’s the EIR)). [ETA: The Project Description notes that “Beginning in 1960, County Sanitation District No. 2 of Los Angeles County conducted sanitary landfill operations in a series of canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains, immediately west of Sepulveda Boulevard, between Rimerton Road and Chalon Road in the City of Los Angeles. The landfills served the residential, commercial and industrial refuse disposal needs of approximately one million people living in the San Fernando Valley, the Santa Monica Mountains and in the West Los Angeles area from Santa Monica to Inglewood. Since the latter part of 1965, the refuse operation was conducted on private property in four canyons commonly referred to as Mission Canyons 4, 5, 6, and 7. In 1970, Canyons 4 and 5 were closed to land filling and a golf course was built over them, which is part of the current Mountaingate Country Club. Landfilling in Canyons 6 and 7 was completed by 1978, and in the same year, landfilling operations began in Mission Canyon 8, which continued until 1982. In 1972 the City Council approved a zone change for an 870-acre area, referred to as Mountaingate, that changed the number of residential uses allowed from 1,174 to 870 units. In March 1973, the Los Angeles City Planning Department prepared an environmental impact report (No. 85-3310-GP/ZC) for the golf course on Mission Canyons 4 and 5 with adjacent residential development. […]” The EIR was for Mission Canyon 8 development. The space for the Skirball was N of the landfill, just at the exit of the Sepulveda tunnel. However, the vacant land that became the Skirball was used by random people for dumping stuff (I remember this because I drove past the site regularly in the 1980s).