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Found LA: In Search of Water at Hansen Dam Lake

Hansen Dam was our second Found LA adventure of the day, the first being Historic Stonehurst Neighborhood.

First, some background. The Hansen Dam Flood Control Basin was completed in 1940 to control the flow of the Big Tujunga Wash and Little Tujunga Wash. Today, it is a recreational facility consisting of a 9-acre lake for boating and fishing, a 1.5-acre swimming lake, equestrian center, trails, soccer fields, a golf course and a basin ecosystem that includes many endangered species.

Some specs for those who are into that sort of stuff:

Built: 1938-1940; at the time was the largest earth-fill structure in the world.
Size: Over 2 miles long, 1139′ wide, 102′ tall
Original holding capacity: 16 million gallons

All my friend Lori and I wanted to know was WHERE IS THE WATER?

Aren’t dams built to hold back large bodies of water?

Did Lori not take her canoe certification test for the Red Cross in a large body of water behind that dam?

Where in the world did it go?

As we walked across the 2+ mile dam craning our necks and straining our eyes trying to find the lake, we decided we’d better take the 3pm tour to find out!

Apparently flooding in 1969 and 1980 carried in enough sand to fill in most of the lake.

Oh. Well…such is life, right? It’s still really cool that you can ride your bike, skateboard or rollerblade across the top of the damn or rent a horse and ride the trails.

After lunch at Rigo’s Taco we had a good hour to kill before the tour so we walked around the recreation center and checked out the massive swim lake (capacity 2,800!!!!) and fishing/boating lake, which was really weird because it was sooooo manufactured.

It’s a good thing we explored on our own because the tour only took us to see the new ranger station and back out onto the dam. I think the Ranger said it’s the first new Ranger Station built in L.A. in like 30 years! It’s designed to break loose and float away in a flood. I was so unimpressed by it I refused to take a picture. Ranger Stations should look like something out of Yogi Bear cartoons, not space age origami.

There were four other bloggers on the tour, one is a favorite blog of mine, Avoiding Regret! If you live in Los Angeles and don’t follow Sandi’s blog or Twitter, you should.

By the time the tour ended, Lori and I had been walking for 7 or 8 hours and all I could think about on those last two miles to the car was iced coffee. We were desperate enough that we were willing to go to Starbucks, but there was not a Starbucks to be found in that area. My GPS said the closest one was nearly 4 miles away, in the wrong direction.

By the time we found The Back Door Bakery & Cafe in Sunland it was dark and cold so we ended up with a mocha and cappuccino.  We were just happy that we didn’t have to settle for Starbucks.

Further Reading:
Eden by Design by Greg Hise and William Deverell (If only people had listened to Olmstead and Bartholomew in the 1930s, what a different place the SFV would be today!)
San Fernando Valley; America’s Suburb by Kevin Roderick

Click individual photos to enlarge/read captions.

Don’t forget to read about our first Found LA adventure of the day, Historic Stonehurst Neighborhood.

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Found LA: Historic Stonehurst Neighborhood

Sunday, October 20, 2013 was LA Commons third annual Found LA: Festival of Neighborhoods. This year’s theme was “The River of Your Imagination” so each adventure was connected to the L.A. River in one way or another. There were 18 different adventures to choose from and my friend Lori and I went on two of them: Historic Stonehurst Neighborhood and Hansen Dam.

Stonehurst is a neighborhood in Sun Valley, which is in the Northeastern part of San Fernando Valley.  It’s generally bounded by Sunland Boulevard, Wentworth Avenue and Chivers Avenue. Our tour guide, Mary Benson, grew up in the area. The cute little stone houses were built between 1923 and 1925 using boulders from Tujunga Wash. Unfortunately, Stonehurst only got their Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) designation a few years ago, so a lot of the history is gone or severely altered. However, don’t let that deter you from checking them out. There are still a few cute little gems to see and lots of horses! Horses everywhere you look!

As an added bonus, one homeowner, Suzanna Wood, invited us inside to see the  work she’s done so far. My favorite room, of course, was the kitchen with its original cabinets, pine floor and tile counter tops.  We couldn’t thank her enough for sharing her wonderful home with us, but she said it is equally satisfying for her to have people see and appreciate the effort she’s put into restoring her home.

After the tour, Lori and I decided to walk across Hansen Dam and have lunch. You can read about that here.

Stone Mason: Dan Montelongo
Developer: Pep Rempp
Famous Resident: Actor Adolphe Menjou

Further Reading:
Stonehurst: A 1920s Era Stone House Neighborhood by Albert Knight (If you find it for sale, let me know!)
It Took Nine Tailors: An Autobiography by Adolphe Menjou

Click on individual photos to enlarge/read captions.