4235 Monterey Road
ABOUT THE PARK
THE PARK TODAY [circa 2000]
Activity in the central and northern portion of the park is low-key. During the week, neighbors walk their dogs; teenagers, friends, and families use the picnic area. For example, families often group several picnic tables together and string up piñatas to celebrate birthdays, and small groups of children play soccer. Many people walk up to the reservoir and along the ridgeline, where they view the striking scenery of the Los Angeles Basin and surrounding mountains. Weekends are the times of heaviest use. More adventuresome people hike throughout the northern area of the park via the fire roads, or footpaths.
In addition, the Department of Recreation and Parks operate numerous neighborhood parks, historic sites, camping sites, sport facilities, and several museums within the Griffin-Metro District. These include a number of small, local public parks, such as Sycamore Grove Park, Arroyo Seco Park, and San Pascual Park. Lincoln Park is approximately two miles from Debs Park; Hollenbeck Park is slightly farther. Established in the 1940's, these are small handsome, older urban parks with mature trees and grassy lawns but little or no understory for wildlife. The smaller, neighborhood-based parks offer after-school and weekend programs and enrichment activities. For example, the Tierra de la Culebra, an outdoors environmental sculpture and community art park, provides after-school art and reading programs for youth. Local libraries also provide literacy and reading programs.
There are also two Recreation Centers adjacent to Debs Park (Montecito Heights, Rose Hills). The centers have indoor and outdoor facilities for active recreational pursuits such as basketball, soccer, tennis, baseball, with staff to organize and supervise activities. Ramona Hall Community Center also provides community meeting space and educational programming and is located next to Sycamore Grove Park.
City parks in east and northeast Los Angeles have numerous active recreational amenities, such as fishing ponds, golf courses, tennis courts, bike and equestrian trails, public amphitheaters, Frisbee golf courses, and dog runs. They provide open space for soccer or ball games and recreational centers with baseball diamonds, basketball courts, and other organized recreational space. All of the local school5 sites provide some form of recreational facilities for youngsters, especially paved playgrounds that are used extensively for organized after-school sports and games. However, there are very few opportunities in northeastern Los Angeles for the kinds of unstructured outdoor activity commonly available in the Santa Monica Mountains, or further north in Pasadena (in Eaton Canyon, or the Hahamunga Watershed Park).
THE PARK'S HISTORY
At the time of European contact in 1769, the Tongva/Gabrielino American Indians lived in the Los Angeles Basin. The Gabrielino are, in many ways, one of the least known groups of California native inhabitants. Like the prehistoric culture before them, the Gabrielino were a hunter/gather group who lived in small sedentary or semi-sedentary groups of 50 to 100 persons, termed rancherias. Location of an encampment was determined by water availability. Within each village, houses were circular in form, and constructed of sticks covered with thatch or mats. Each village had a sweat lodge as well as a sacred enclosure. Their subsistence relied heavily on plant foods, supplemented with a variety of meat, especially from marine resources. Food procurement consisted of hunting and fishing carried out by men, and gathering of plants and shellfish by women. Hunting technology included use of bow and arrow for deer and smaller game, and throwing sticks, snares, traps, and slings. Fishing was conducted with use of shellfish hooks, bone harpoons, and nets. Seeds were gathered with beaters and baskets, and food was stored in baskets. It was prepared with manos and metates, and mortars and pestles. Food was cooked in baskets coated with asphaltum, in stone pots, on steatite frying pans, and by roasting in earthen ovens. To date, there is no official record of uncovering such artifacts at the Park.
Following the establishment of Mission San Gabriel Archangel in 1771, the Spanish deeded most of the Los Angeles Basin to the mission. Ten years later, some of this land was granted to the el pueblo de la Reina de los angeles de Porciuncula (pueblo de los angeles). Over time, with the Mexican government ruling, the former mission land grants were broken up and given to individuals. The pattern of dispersal between the Spanish and Mexican land grants did not always adjoin one another. There were several large sections of land left over, termed Public or Open Land. One such Public Land existed between the pueblo de Los Angeles grant and the Rancho San Pasqual grant. The northern portion of Debs Park once fell into this Public Land section. The southern portion of Debs Park, also known as Rose Hill Park, was located in the historic pueblo de los angeles grant.
Rancho San Pasqual was granted in 1843 by Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltorena to Manuel Garfias. The parcel consisted of some 13,700 acres. The upper reaches of the Arroyo Seco down to approximately what today is Avenue 60 were part of the land grant. In 1857, Garfias sold the rancho to D. B. Wilson, also known as Don Benito. One half interest was later sold to Dr. John S. Griffin. The north side of the Arroyo Seco was granted to Jose Maria Verdugo in 1784 by Governor Fages. The grant consisted of over 36,000 acres. Because of the geography, the parcel cut a triangular wedge into the pueblo de Los Angeles grant, being bordered by the Arroyo Hondo (Arroyo Seco) on the east, and the Los Angeles River on the west.
While the Park remained undeveloped in the late 1800s, surrounding landmarks were under construction. Dr. John S. Griffin in 1873 purchased neighboring Rancho San Pasqual in 1858. In 1895, Charles F. Lummis purchased three acres of land and began construction of his famous El Alisal home three years later. Plans for the Southwest Museum began in 1911. Construction started in 1913 and was completed the following year. Casa de Adobe, the Southwest Museum, a typical rancho was completed in 1919. In 1878, the Arroyo Seco, was described as a dry river surrounded by many species of wild plants. However, as early as 1895, the arroyo was surveyed for a highway route. By 1911, attempts were made to preserve the arroyo as a park, however development plans of neighboring communities prevailed. Plans for the roadway were approved in 1924, work began in 1931, and then was halted the following year by the Depression. Ultimately, in January 1939 the first section of the Arroyo Seco Parkway was completed from Fair Oaks to Glenarm. WPA funding provided for landscaping and erosion control. The final portion of the road was completed in December of 1939 and the new route was dedicated in 1940.
In 1928, a dozen or so residential structures were planned in the southern "panhandle" portion of what today is Debs Park. A map printed only four years later suggests that development plans for the southern area had been abandoned. Only two very short east-west streets had actually been constructed. By 1957, the northern portion of the now Debs Park was part of the Arroyo Seco Park that ran along the south side of the Pasadena Freeway.
In 1949, the City of Los Angeles began acquiring land to develop a park on the site. Additional parcels were added until 1963. Under the City's ownership, the park was named the Rose Hill Park. The land remained open space and undeveloped. In 1968, the City of Los Angeles leased the park to the County of Los Angeles to develop as a regional park. The agreement was for a twenty-five year lease. When returned to the City in 1994, the County had invested $900,000 into park improvements, and renamed the park the Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, in recognition of the former County Supervisor. Under the City of Los Angeles ownership today, the park remains an important recreational and open space resource.