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What’s Going on with Arcadia’s Lake Baldwin?

– Low water levels and a deluge of pollutants cause concern over Lake Baldwin. – Courtesy photo / meltwater (CC BY 2.0)

Part 1: The history

By Galen Patterson

The Los Angeles Arboretum is home to many locally historic treasures. Original buildings from centuries ago, resurrected Native American structures, and peacocks rumored to be descended from the original exotic pets of local land baron Elias “Lucky” Baldwin to name a few.

However, one such treasure lies deep in the heart of the arboretum and mostly under thick layers of mud and rock. This local treasure is known as Lake Baldwin.

Millennia ago, Native inhabitants of the San Gabriel Valley lived in Arcadia, before it was known as Arcadia of course. According to the Arboretum, a village known as Aleupkigna, which translates into “the place of many waters,” existed on arboretum grounds. The inhabitants were the earlier ancestors of the Tongva tribe. The Tongva tribe was named Gabrielino by Spanish inhabitants because of their proximity to the San Gabriel Mission, which was tasked with converting them to Christianity.

The existence of a village on the grounds is confirmed by the Tongva (Gabrielino) council.

The land was propelled into modernization by Hugo Reid, a Scottish man with Mexican citizenship in 1840. Reid was married to a Gabrielino woman and together they built an adobe house next to the lake. By 1875, “Lucky” Baldwin purchased the land and erected his own empire in the area, including Queen Anne’s Cottage in 1885, a structure which still stands today, well maintained and iconic.

Many early motion pictures were filmed at Lake Baldwin, beginning in 1936 with “Tarzan Escapades” until the more recent “Meet the Fockers” from 2004.

It is a well-known fact that Lake Baldwin is important to Arcadia. It gave life to early inhabitants and provided what a Hollywood studio set could not. However, Lake Baldwin was at its peak condition 12-15 feet deep. Now, the lake is barely visible.

One could blame the natural drought crisis California currently finds itself in, but the problem is deeper than that: Lake Baldwin is full of sediment.

The lake can be naturally classified as a sag pond, which means it is a natural collection of water from a depression that usually accompanies the type of geographic fault-lines typical to Southern California. This means water has always naturally collected there, and along with natural water collection comes sediment.

Furthermore, Lake Baldwin acts as a watershed, or engineered drainage, for 155 acres of surrounding suburban land. The current inhabitants of those 155 acres rely on Lake Baldwin’s storage expectancy to reduce the risk of extreme flooding.

A matter of equal importance is the fact that chemicals from homes and streets of washed-out suburbia collect at the lake as well, leading to a possibly serious problem Arcadia’s ecosystem may have to face. Now, people are mobilizing to do something about it and every party involved expects the project to take years, incredible amounts of money, and inter-government-departmental cooperation to fix.

More on this story next week.

June 6, 2018

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Galen Patterson


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