A trickle of history runs unnoticed through El Sereno

The Arroyo Rosa de Castilla once coursed its way through the hills and canyons on what is now the eastern edge of El Sereno. Before Spanish and Mexican colonists arrived, the stream helped sustained a Tongva indian village. Under Mexican rule, the sprawling Rancho Rosa de Castilla adopted the name of the stream, which later provided essential water to a sheep herding ranch operated by Argentine immigrants, according to the El Sereno Historical Society. Today, the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla has been mostly forgotten and covered up, with the stream visible in one case for about three blocks as it flows down a concrete channel next to the southbound 710 Freeway before disappearing under a tangle of roads and freeway lanes near Cal State L.A. Now, there is an effort to raise awareness of Arroyo Rosa de Castilla and its role in El Sereno  and Los Angeles history.

While there is a street named Rancho Paseo Castilla, which runs through Cal State L.A., there are no other signs letting residents know of the existence of the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla. The fledgling El Sereno Historical Society would like to change that. On My Historic L.A.,  a website operated by the city’s Office of Historic Resources, the Jorge Garcia of the El Sereno Historical Society said it’s time for a sign:

Maybe it’s time we gave this little known and always-flowing Arroyo the recognition it rightly deserves. A plaque and/or the official recognition of its importance in the annals of LA’s and El Sereno’s history is the least we can do for the Arroy0 …

There does not appear to be any easy public access, however, to the concrete channel, which runs at the bottom of a narrow canyon between the freeway and a dirt path behind a row of homes. Garcia, who spent the past several months visiting libraries, interviewing historians and tracking down aerial photos of the arroyo, said the historical society is open to suggestions about where to place a plaque. “We would like to see it placed somewhere accessible and viewable by all, so that the public can read what the plaque is commemorating.”

Why even bother installing a plaque to honor a stream that has nearly disappeared from view as well as memory? Garcia said that the existence of the stream provided the water that allowed the cattle and sheep ranchers to remain independent. In fact, the Batz family,  which operated a sheep herding ranch on the land after 1852, was able to expand their holdings while other ranch owners were selling off land to subdividers, Garcia said.

“The fact that this Arroyo existed is what truly accounts for El Sereno’s long and unique history,” said Garcias via email. ” I also think that by making the community and public aware of what is here … will help to teach awareness and appreciation of our local history.  There is a need to conserve these special and historic landmarks, so that our future generations are able to learn about them and be able to enjoy them.”
Related Links:
  • The Little Arroyo That Forged El Sereno’s History. ESHS


  1. Rather than a plaque, I wish we could naturalize this stream in some way. I just don;t understand the channelization system. In a drought, you need to restore the water table, not send every drop of water out to the ocean.

    I realize the storm channels were put in to prevent flooding in the occasional rainy years, but they seem such overkill. At the very least, a permeable bottom would allow water to seep back into the ground.

    • I hope you’re not suggesting some aspect of LA city planning may have been short-sighted.

      • My grandmothers house is along this channel. When it rains the amount of water that flows through it is quite astonishing. Once you’ve seen the channel flowing with such force you’d understand why the channel was built, it definetly saves property and lives. If you had a permeable bottom the foundation for the walls would be eroded over time causing the channel walls to fail destroying people’s properties and probably endangering lives. This channel goes righ though a densely populated area, it literally runs through back yards.

        • *edit: the section of the channel/river I speak of is in between Copeland pl and farnsworth ave (about 4 blocks south of huntington drive , directly north of the university) not the section next csula.

  2. Thank you for a good piece of East L.A. info.

  3. I applaud the effort to raise awareness of history in a city that always forgets, and I agree with Lisa’s comments about the permeable bottom. I have no engineering credentials but it does seem likely that recharging the water table is important in our parched land.

  4. Glad to see this, once worked with a guy in grocery store who grew up in the community behind CSLA that disappeared in mid-1970s. He told me about playing in the stream there, when it was a free and open stream.

    And another guy who grew up near Atlantic and Garvey in Mont. Park — there was also a stream there, free and full of plants and life. And the one behind Virgil Jr-now-Middle-High, flowed from Shakespeare Bridge through J-Flats, behind Virgil on down to K.T.

    We actually had a lot of streams around town.

  5. Good piece of history, although i grew up on the happy side of Sereno!!!!!!! Budau & lombardy!!!!! Good stuff………..

  6. Having lived in the area since 1958 I also have fond memories of “the creek”, which is what we called it then. Lots of frogs and other wildlife lived there then. I don’t ever remember it overflowing its banks and threatening property despite some years of heavy rains. It would be great of it could at least be partially restored to its natural beauty. What a shame they built the Long Beach Freeway on top of it, to be followed shortly by Cal State L.A. demolishing the neighborhood next to the creek in order to expand its campus.

  7. When we moved into the area 27 years ago, my son and I walked along the channel. I don’t remember which of my neighbors told me that they remember when there was no channel but a stream that ran though the area that is now CSULA. I’m asking neighbors if anyone has photos of the hills before CSULA was built.

  8. It’s good to hear that so many still remember how beautiful the stream used to be. It’s also encouraging to hear that other residents or former residents also want to see the stream restored at some level. While we know it would be almost impossible to see the entire stream restored, to even have the area along the 710 freeway restored and accessible to the public at some level would be a momentous moment in the Arroyo’s history. Not to mention El Sereno’s history.

    As members of the El Sereno Historical Society, we consider the proposed 710 freeway extension a catastrophic threat to the Arroyo’s existence and future. All the current plans have El Sereno as the primary route for the 710 extension. As residents of El Sereno and members of the E l Sereno Historical Society, we are vehemently opposed to any part of El Sereno being used for the 710 and are opposed to the 710 extension overall.

    So much of El Sereno’s history has been lost just in that very area; the native village of Otsungna was said to exist along that stretch where the 710 ends. All evidence of this village has been lost due to the freeways, the University’s, and housing development construction. The old adobe (built in 1776) was also built along that stretch of the stream. Any remnants of it has also been obliterated. Now the stream itself is set to be destroyed, all for a project that neither Alhambra, El Sereno, South Pasadena, Highland Park, or Pasadena want. Metro and Caltrans need to have a better alternative(s) than just shoving this extension down everyone’s throat.

    We hope the public helps us spread the awareness needed in order to stop the 710 from further destroying a unique and important part of El Sereno’s and Los Angeles’s history.

  9. Miguel Rodriguez

    I use to live in Boyle Heights in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I remember walking across the 10 freeway overpass to El Sereno to see friends, or play baseball in a park close to Wilson High School. It was a nice park and nice to walk around in the area too. I hope something will be done to keep this arroyo from disappearing from history. It would be great to be able to view the arroyo and I will have to take a ride out there and take photos for myself.

  10. My parents grew up in East Los Angeles as did I. My mother told me of being taken to a creek by her grandmother to cool off and collect plants. She called the creek Burdick or Berdict. I’ve pinpointed it to running along the Southern side of the I710 freeway below Sybil Brand. I’ve actually seen cranes (the bird kind) flying from there. If you google the ELA and zoom in near the I-710 you can see a channel. I guess this must be a continuation of Arroyo Rosa del Castillo. It sure would be great if it was wild again.

  11. Clara u were pretty close , it was called birlake , we used to walk there from city terrace along the tracks and swim there .

  12. My name is Chris Ekman. I love your article about this creek and wash. I grew up in Alhambra on Primrose Avenue. I always loved and enjoyed this creek and wash . I always knew it by the name Laguna Channel. I have gone down in the basin and seen the creek and wash up close. I know that there are frogs down there. I am so happy you are acknowledging it. A major part of it runs under Alhambra and underground through Alhambra Park and through Emery Park and South Pasadena. My mother remembers when this part of it was open above ground also. This part of it needs to be acknowledged also. A plaque is a very good idea. I love history and like to seeit preserved and acknowledged.

  13. I grew up on the corner NE of Hellman & Ross in Alhambra the 1950’s – right across Hellman Ave from the brginning of the lower, short branch of “the creek”, as it was known (see the aerial picture on this website).

    The land itself was known as ‘the fields’. We used to fly our kites there as the oat sprouts were coming up in early Spring. Later in the year they cut and baled the oats.

    Just passed where the branch met the main part of the stream, in the trees pictured, there was a damned-up swimming hole and after tht a hobo camp. Never saw the creek flood. Area creek flowed through was ‘V’ shaped, so it couldn’t really flood anyway.

    Remember both wooden footridges over the main channel (where 710 is now) at Hellmsn Ave and Bohlig Rd. In late 50’s, a school bus had its brakes go out coming down Bohlig toward the bridge. The driver tried to straddle the bridge, but the bus fell off and down into the creek killing the driver and one student, if my memory is correct.

    Also remrmber Gravois Grammar School at base of then LA State, now CSULA – the Diablos then, now the Golden Eagles.

    Hiked to top of hill that is now the college with my dad around 1952. Have picture of our house taken from there that day.

    • Lou,

      I moved to El Sereno in 1955 when I was 9 years old. I lived on Berridge Road between Lillyvale Avenue and Mariondale Avenue. I spent many days at the creek each year with my collie dog. I went to Gravois Grammar School and later Woodrow Wilson High School. The creek was a beautiful place teeming with wild life. It had several species of water turtles, I remember four kinds. Some grew quite large with red marks on the side of their heads. There was one kind I called a Terrapin, there was another that may have been a mud turtle, and one day I saw a large green turtle staring up at me from just under the surface of the water. There may have been many more kinds of species. Years later when I learned that they had destroyed the creek I remember thinking there might have been some unique species down there that had never been identified. The turtles would sun themselves on the creek banks and dive in before most humans could see them. No one I knew knew about them. It took me many days and hours to catch a few of them over the course of several years. I took them home and tried to raise them as pets, and I regret it now. The creek waters ran south along the east edge of the hills that became the Los Angeles State College, some years later after construction the name was changed to Cal State LA. I believe construction began in about 1959 or 1960. The college bought my house in 1963, my senior year in High School, for expanding the parking area.

      My street, Berridge Road, ran into Gravois Avenue and then terminated at the creek. There was a high wooden bridge to cross over it to Hellman Avenue walking East on the way to Alhambra. From that wooden bridge if you walked South along the creek it was incredible how many distinct ecological niches there were in a few short miles. I never saw a fish in the water but it was full of pollywogs and tadpoles that grew to be either small tree frogs or the larger toads. There were large red, blue, and green dragonflies all over. Tiger swallow tail butterflies were constantly flying up and down the creek banks as were Monarchs and other butterfly species. There were cotton tail and jack rabbits. Coyotes could be encountered along with possums. Huge garden spiders would make their webs across the paths. About an 8th to a quarter mile south from the wood bridge, just up on the east bank, there was an abandoned oil well with creek water in it. Inside, there was a large colony of crawdads. They had survived in there but I never saw one in the creek although an old man who visited down there on weekends told me that there had been many in the creek itself some years before. Another 1/8th to a quarter mile further South on the West bank, there was a long large stand of pine trees that were always full of doves. Another 1/8 of a mile south back on the east bank was a stand of Eucalyptus trees where hawks would rest high up in the branches and down below from them, in a grove of milkweed below, one could see Monarch butterflies mating and laying eggs. Another 1/8 mile further south the creek flowed into a concrete tunnel that went under a bridge that the rail road had built. On the other side was a large water hole where people would swim that was located close to City Terrace. The creek banks were very wide across and there was never any danger of flooding, it could handle massive quantities of water if need be. When they built the 710 along Highbury Avenue that ran along the West edge of the Creek they destroyed countless colonies and species of animals, plants, and nature. They should have left the beautiful creek and its biota undisturbed between Highbury Avenue and 710 and kept it as a nature preserve. The photo of the creek above is the stretch along Highbury Avenue that you can access off of Valley Blvd. The last time I was in LA for my 50th class reunion in 2013, I parked my car on Highbury Avenue and took the liberty to walk between two houses and look at the creek. It was sad to see it in the square concrete “ditch”.

      I believe it was October 1957 when the All Saints school bus lost it’s brakes at the top of Bohlig Road while taking the grammar and junior high students home and it went speeding down the hill headed East to the intersection with Highbury Avenue and then straddled the “other” high wooden bridge that went over the creek. It took out several feet of handrails and then rolled over and dropped 40 or 50 feet into the creek bed. I ran to the accident with many others and watched them extract the buss driver who died some days later in the hospital. I think about 3 or 4 students eventually died. I knew one of them who lived up the street from me. My other friends on the bus survived after long recovery periods. The Newspaper articles covering the crash called the creek by the name of “Dorchester Creek”. I had never heard that name before until years later when I searched and read some articles about the bus crash. I had never heard of the name “Arroyo Rosa de Castilla” either till today and that is how I found this site. We just called it “the creek”.

      • Mary Favela & Oscar Holguin and kids

        I live in university hills now and have been here since I was 13, moved to el sereno for some time but made my way back with my husband who has lived here all his life, and my sister named, The Creek,Fern Gully we were there a lot it was so green. A peaceful nature sound is my memories until my lil sister got excited over the pollywogs,frogs and tadpoles, she had lots of energy.Miss those days.Now my kids stomp these grounds hanging out with kids from all of us here that used to run a muck here, there were no fences back then so these hills a cardboard box or trash can lid and down the hills we went. Love this place although times have changed.

      • You won’t find this address on Lillyvale ave but I lived there from birth to my senior year moving to orange county.
        Attended Gravis grammar school all saints and san Gabriel mission.
        Herald examiner paper boy 1961-1967 still friends with other kids on Lillyvale ave.
        I was one of the young victims of the bus accident that crashed and ended up in the creek in 1957.
        So many memories of the old neighborhood friends and cactus pet on valley blvd.
        The corner market and gas station growing up.
        I have enjoyed reading all the comments posted I new the creek very well what a blessing it was to experience it.

        • Lenny,

          The school bus crashed on Monday, September 30, 1957. I went to Gravois Elementary and right after class that day I ran to the Bohlig Road Bridge and watched the volunteers pull the bus driver, Meldon Smith, 53, and the kids from the wreck. I have several articles from that time. It says that you lived on 2303 Lillyvale Avenue and that you were 7 years old. It says your sister, Sally Ann, 8, was also injured on the bus. I lived on Berridge Road right around the corner to the right from Lillyvale Avenue. You can contact me at kimbillro@cut.net.

    • Lou, somehow I came across your note on the accident involving All Saints Catholic School bus on October, 1957. I was one of the kids that should have been on that bus that day but was home sick (thank the dear Lord). I grew up on O’Sullivan Drive at the top of the hill and have so many fond memories about the neighborhood there. A few years back I was able to take then my 95 year old father up there to the home he built for our family and to my surprise it was being remodeled at the time and open so we were able to revisit the old homestead. In the basement, my dad had wrote in a beam my mothers name and his along with mine and we were able to see and take a picture of it. I am not sure you will ever see this but for the first time, I was able to read about that day back when that bus accident happened. One of my best friend, she was in my class LINDA May was in the hospital with severe injuries but made it through and returned back to school. My direct email is lannynaz@aol.com I would so look forward to any information you might still have of the area or the thought you still live up there.
      Best to you and your family!
      Lanny Astgen

      • Lanny,

        Looked at website today. Forgot I had even made that post. I replied in more detail to your provided e-mail.

        To answer possible questions of others: We moved to Rosemead in 1959, and I moved out of the area entirely in 1978. Now in WA State…and yes I do have some photos of the area, including the creek.



        • Lou,

          I lived on Berridge Road that is where Lillyvale avenue ended. Do you remember Mary and Juan Carrillo? Ned and Jay Hoffman? A kid called Frankie? They lived on Lillyvale avenue. I knew many of the kids on the All Saints School bus that crashed into Dorchester Creek on Monday afternoon October 03, 1957 I believe it was. Did you know Jim and Judy Sauhamel, Mike Gurrola, or Lyle Christie who were on the school bus? Please feel free to contact me at kimbillro@cut.net.

  14. The school bus crashed on Monday, September 30, 1957. I went to Gravois Elementary and right after class that day I ran to the Bohlig Road Bridge and watched the volunteers pull the bus driver, Meldon Smith, 53, and the kids from the wreck. I have several articles from that time. It says that you lived on 2303 Lillyvale Avenue and that you were 7 years old. It says your sister, Sally Ann, 8, was also injured on the bus. I lived on Berridge Road right around the corner to the right from Lillyvale Avenue. You can contact me at kimbillro@cut.net.

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