The LA River, a favourite Hollywood backdrop, cleans up its act

A plan to beautify a stretch of river stimulated famous by dozens of movies is the springboard for an upsurge of bars, cafe and music venues in Los Angeles Elysian Valley, also called Frogtown

Visitors to Los Angeles would be forgiven for not knowing that the city has a river. For decades the stretching of sun-beaten concrete operating from the Simi Hills to Long Beach has been little more than a glorified cyclone drainage, best-known as a backdrop for dozens of movies, including Grease, Chinatown and Terminator 2. Not for long: $100 m of state funding has just been dedicated to revitalising the LA River, extending the existing bike track to Downtown, improving access and creating a sprawling 51 -mile wildlife habitat.

This is in addition to the city’s acquisition of a 42 -acre parcel of land, a former railway yard due to be converted into grassy wetland, which Michael Atkins of Friends of the Los Angeles River( Folar) tells will be the” greatest park in LA “.

Glendale
Glendale Narrows along the LA River, one of the few places the river is not paved and home to birds and wildlife. Photo: Peter Bennett/ Green Stock Photos

Angelinos may have to wait up to 10 years until the park and the regeneration program is complete but it seems that the river is dedicating itself a head start. Pedalling along the Elysian Valley in Central LA( an region known locally as Frogtown ), I pass blue herons, cormorants and lush vegetation that has pushed its route through crackings in the concrete. For the individuals who don’t know their sandpiper from their bufflehead, The Frog Spot, a waterside kiosk run by the Friends of the LA River, offers free nature walks.

Bicycle
Bicycle track along Los Angeles River. Photo: Education Images/ UIG via Getty Images

It’s not just the river that is undergoing a renaissance- the quiet riverside neighborhood of Frogtown itself is also enjoying an upsurge, home to Latino and Asian families whose pastel-coloured bungalows butt up against warehouses, artists’ studios and a pickle mill. Overlooking the water, the recently renovated Spoke Bicycle Cafe offer a welcome shady retreat. Just a block away is Wax Paper, a micro-cafe in a shipping container. Opened 20 months ago, it was one of the pioneers of the Frogtown scene and is a friendly neighbourhood joint with an entire menu named after radio hosts. Nearby, The Left Bank is a boutique packed with vintage gems( and a free backyard comedy night ). As I pedal the four miles to Griffith Park and back, I cruise past a row of modern industrial live/ work units- evidence of riverside living’s appeal.

Wax
Wax Paper, a micro-cafe in a shipping container

At the end of the ride, I’m more than ready for an ale at Frogtown Brewery. Nearing sunset, I park my bike outside a Frogtown favourite, Salazar, a former mechanic’s shop converted into a stylish alfresco Mexican restaurant.

” You could never do this on Sunset Boulevard ,” tells owned Billy Silverman , nodding towards his outdoor patio. Next doorway a band is audio checking at Zebulon, the iconic Brooklyn music venue that decamped here in April. It builds the most of its cavernous new space with an nearly nightly array of international musicians.

Although the neighborhood will benefit from better access to the river and its wildlife , not to mention a car-free route to Downtown LA , not everyone in the community welcomes the changes. There has been tension over recent property prices, a lack of parking and tales of greedy landlords charging exorbitant rent. However Michael Atkins of Folar is optimistic about the long-term benefits of revitalisation to all its residents:” Our mission is to make sure that people can interact with the river and bring them closer to the wildlife. We want to do something grand for Angelinos .”

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