Experiencing Los Angeles and the Walk of the Pobladores
by Anthony Bevilacqua, Park Ranger, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
As a park ranger I’ve really become an enthusiast for long walks, and I mean all sorts of long treks, from hiking to the top of high mountain peaks, to leisurely strolls among the giant Sequoias, and quiet ramblings on creek side trails. These are all types of walks most people think of when walking in a national park, and as I said I like them all, but more recently I have come to enjoy exploring the historic areas of Downtown Los Angeles by foot—on my own time and as part of my new post and duty station working out of the Community Outreach Office for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SAMO) in LA. So when I heard that every year the city of Los Angeles celebrates its birthday with a nine-mile trek from the San Gabriel Mission to the El Pueblo State Historical Monument, where my office is located, I was immediately interested in participating.
Nine miles didn’t sound that bad, but getting up before 5 a.m. to be ready for the 6 a.m. departure did not sound so appealing. However, in a fortuitous meeting with our partners at the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail just a few days before the walk was about to take place, I found inspiration in the Anza story and how it related to the story of the first Pobladores, or the “settlers” in Spanish, who founded the little Pueblo of Los Angeles on September 4, 1781, soon after arriving from the Mission San Gabriel.
The walk is held every year around the city’s birthday to commemorate the pobladores and their journey—not just the trek from San Gabriel, but the long journey from present day Mexico that took many months. And also we celebrate the people that made up the group that would become LA’s first citizens. This was a diverse group from the beginning; among the 44 people there were African, Spanish, Mestizo, and Native American families. I decided that I would do the walk in honor of this journey and others like it such as the Anza expedition. And even today people all over the world still make long journeys to escape hardships in their native lands and to look for a better and safer place to live.
My mind was set and I would do the walk. I recruited a friend and fellow colleague, Luis Rincon, Park Interpretive Specialist with California State Parks, also stationed downtown at the LA State Historic Park. We met at the mission a little before 6 a.m. on Saturday August 30, groggy-eyed but excited. It was still dark, but the mission was buzzing with activity as people filled in to get registered and prep for the journey. A youth group from the mission played Marimba music to help get our gears moving and after Father Tony gave his blessing to keep us all safe, we were off.
There was a shared feeling of, “Alright this is nine miles on concrete, so let’s get moving,” and the crowd did just that. We motored through the first three miles along the sidewalks of Alhambra. Immediately I noticed the connection of present-day journeys—our path paralleled railroad tracks used by the industrial lines. After Alhambra the sidewalk disappeared for a moment when we hit the city limits of Los Angeles and entered into the small hillside community of El Sereno. Luis grew up in El Sereno and attended Wilson High School atop the Ascot Hills. The school boasts the highest elevation in the LA Unified district—you can see Catalina from up there! Luis shared stories and his local knowledge as we walked through this cool old LA community.
Now we were getting close as we passed the lake at Lincoln Park and approached downtown. We walked in between the communities of Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights, and I felt as if we were getting this backdoor tour of LA that many Angelenos have never seen. We’re always driving in LA and when you’re on foot you really get to see where things lie in relation to each other. You can see how the surrounding geography shaped the city as it is today. From a small rise I could see the saddle in the hills of the Elysian Valley where we believe the Portola and the Anza expeditions traveled through a narrow gap along the river.
At Union Station we met up with Mayor Eric Garcetti and the rest of the ceremonial group which included Aztec dancers and members of the Tongva tribe. We all walked together across Alameda and up to the gazebo at El Pueblo where we gathered to hear the mayor give his speech. He recognized the first village that was there even before the settlers arrived, that of Yang’na, the Tonga village positioned upslope from river to avoid the occasional flooding. It took the new settlers a few years to figure this out and only after the pueblo got swept away two times. Then the mayor reminded us again that the city of LA was a diverse city from the very first day, when that group of pobaldores brought their different ancestries to set up the little sleepy pueblo that has now become the diverse megalopolis it is today.
Luis and I were a little tired but elated and proud to walk the route of LA’s history.
The author (center) arrives at El Pueblo
The Walk of the Pobladores, Aug. 30, 2014
Commemorating a historic journey along-side a modern-day one