The day after I saw the newspaper item about the drought, I found this picture in the collection at the Los Angeles Library website. It is dated 1956, and it shows a flooded street in a far southern district of the city. I had an aunt and uncle who lived near this area, in Compton, during part of the 1950s, and their house, part of a new tract at the time, flooded each year they were there. The mid-1950s were very wet in Southern California.
Throughout its history, floods have been L.A.'s most common disasters, even more frequent and destructive than the notorious brush fires which have periodically removed entire neighborhoods from the hilly sections of town. Cumulatively, the floods have probably been more costly and more deadly than the region's spectacular but infrequent earthquakes. The cliche has been that Southern California is a place where the rivers flow underground eleven months of the year and through the streets the other month. It's fundamentally true. The region has spent a fortune on flood control projects (the concrete-lined Los Angeles River being only the most obvious example), but in these efforts has always fallen behind its own expansion, thus guaranteeing itself a long history of flood disasters.
But this particular photo, which is probably no more than some anonymous resident's snapshot of the scene, did not recommend itself to my attention merely as a nostalgic reminder of those childhood occasions when I saw not only similar flooded streets, but bridges being overflowed and houses sliding down soggy, slippery adobe hillsides. I found far more import than that in this picture.
It can be seen that somebody has drawn something on the photo; two horizontal lines and three vertical lines in what looks like heavy pencil. I find that this does not detract from the picture but, like some sort of abstracted glyph of arcane meaning, enhances it. I won't critique this anonymous photo, but will allow it to speak for itself, and I'll add only the fact that, after looking at it for but a few minutes, I came to consider it one of the most beautiful and evocative visual works I've ever seen.
|South Los Angeles Flood, 1956
A flooded street in the vicinity of South Main Street and 208th Street in Los Angeles, winter of 1956.