The Los Angeles River is a short, largely seasonal river flowing through Los Angeles County, California. Its headwaters are in the southwestern San Fernando Valley. From there, it flows eastward until turning southeast near the Hollywood Hills, in the city of Burbank. Prior to 1825, it then turned southwest, joining Ballona Creek and discharging into Santa Monica Bay. However, during a catastrophic flash flood in that year, it changed its course to its present one, turning straight south just east of present-day downtown Los Angeles and discharging into San Pedro Bay. (Prior to another major flood in 1862, it was joined by the San Gabriel River in present-day Long Beach, but in that year the San Gabriel carved out a new course six miles to the east, and has discharged into Alamitos Bay ever since.)
Until the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Los Angeles River was the primary water source for the Los Angeles Basin, and much of its channel was dry except during the winter rains. Unpredictable and devastating floods continued to plague it well into the 1920s, leading to calls for flood control measures. The Army Corps of Engineers duly began an ambitious project of completely encasing the river's bed and banks in concrete, with only a trickle of water usually flowing down its middle. Ever since, it has primarily served as a flood control channel, fed by storm drains. The only portions of the river in which it is not completely paved over are in the flood control basin behind the Sepulveda Dam, near Van Nuys, and along its last few miles in Long Beach.
The river has become a source of embarrassment for many Angelenos, with graffiti lining its walls, garbage strewn along its bed, homeless persons and heroin addicts camped out underneath its bridges, and drag races (immortalized in the film Grease) taking place in its channel. Environmentalists have often called for its restoration, but as doing so would require many residents of southern Los Angeles County to relocate, it is unlikely that the river's current configuration will undergo substantial changes in the future.
Communities along the banks of the Los Angeles River include:
The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth