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25 Photos of the Los Angeles River Before It Was Paved in 1938

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[All photos via the amazing LA Public Library photo collection]

This is the year and especially the summer of the Los Angeles River--on January 1, it officially became a river again (not just a flood control channel); this May it opened for recreation for the first time in 75 years; at the end of this month the Army Corps of Engineers will announce their plans for some kind of enormous makeover that could involve unpaving large sections; and it finally just feels like there's a critical mass of politicians, planners, architects, and plain old Angelenos who are working to make the river great. (Also it caught fire at one point.) The river hasn't been great in a long time--since before it was ever encased in concrete; for Los Angeles's first several decades, it was mostly either a parched little trickle or a terrifyingly swollen menace.

Then, after an especially destructive flood in March 1938, officials took action, as described in The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth:

The first Los Angeles River projects paid for by the federal government and built under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were completed a few months after the flood. Work was finished in October 1938 on three projects to lower the river's bed twenty feet, widen its channel and pave its banks for a little over four miles upstream from Elysian Park. Three months later, construction was completed on the first segment of what would eventually be a continuous trapezoidal concrete channel to carry the river from Elysian Park to Long Beach.We know what that concrete channel looks like, now let's take a look back at a more natural river in a very young LA (and then, after that, forward to a river we can hang by without worrying about our houses falling in). Here's our slideshow soundtrack recommendation. · LA River Rising [Curbed LA]