History

Legendary Zanja Madre revealed in Chinatown dig

zanja-madre-william-bolling.jpgPhoto of the Zanja Madre in Chinatown by William Preston Bolling and Friends of the Los Angeles River.

Crews excavating on the former Little Joe's restaurant site in Chinatown have uncovered the 19th-century brick pipe that used to carry Los Angeles River water into the young town. An archaeologist on the Blossom Plaza development project between North Broadway and North Spring quickly identified the four-foot diameter brick pipe as probably part of the Mother Ditch, or Zanja Madre. The zanja was an open ditch from the Rio Porciuncula in the pueblo days and the first decades of the American era in Los Angeles, but the ditch was enclosed in brick late in the 19th century. Before he built the Owens Valley aqueduct that finally rendered the Zanja Madre unnecessary, William Mulholland worked as a zanjero, or tender of the zanja.

The news began to break last month and was confirmed last week, via Friends of the LA River and others. Nathan Masters compared photos to the old maps and concluded it looks like the real thing. "Historical maps also seem to confirm that the Zanja Madre once ran through the site, located along College Street between Broadway (previously "Calle de Eternidad") and Spring (once "Calle Principal")," he wrote last week for Gizmodo.

From Bob Pool's story in Tuesday's LA Times:

The antiquity was uncovered April 10 as workers were beginning construction on the Blossom Plaza, a five-story mixed-use apartment and storefront project on North Broadway. About 73 feet of the Mother Ditch have been exposed at the project site....


City Councilman Gilbert Cedillo, who represents the Chinatown area, said a 40-foot section of the Zanja Madre will be removed Saturday from the Blossom Plaza site and preserved for future display. The plan is to exhibit sections of the Mother Ditch at the Blossom Plaza, the Los Angeles Historic State Park and at Metabolic Studios' planned Los Angeles River Water Wheel replica project, he said.

Cedillo said the preservation of the Zanja Madre section is significant because it "served as the lifeline to the survival and early development of Los Angeles."

He praised Blossom Plaza's developer, Forest City Enterprises, for taking pains to hire an archaeologist to monitor the excavation work and cited the willingness of Lauren Bon of Metabolic Studios to finance the Zanja Madre's excavation.

The Downtown News has also been all over it.


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