Trees of the Elysian

Tina Lernø, Librarian, Digital Content Team,
postcard image of Elysian park
A colored post card showing a small stand at the Fremont entrance to Elysian Park. The hill above the entrance is landscaped with shrubs and flowers. Adolph Selige Publishing Co., St. Louis, [1909]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection

Friday is National Arbor Day: a day to celebrate trees. When we look around Los Angeles today with its beautiful tree-filled parks and palm-lined streets, it's hard to imagine it being any different. But when Los Angeles was first settled, it was a landscape mostly devoid of trees, with only chaparral and scrub as far as the eye could see. The four species of trees that made up the landscape were relegated to coastal regions and waterways: Coastal Live Oak, California Sycamore, California Bay, and California Black Walnut.

But as the area became settled, a leafier Los Angeles eventually emerged. Like our fair city's denizens, much of our trees and flora were transplants, and the species we think of as natives came from elsewhere. Our collection of palm trees? We have Mexico and the Canary Islands to thank! Bougainvillea, oranges, and Jacarandas? All are from South America (mainly Brazil). Our Eucalyptus trees are from Australia.

Elysian Park, the oldest and among the largest of our parks, rose up in much the same way: transplanted and random. The area was originally 550 acres of scrubby hills and ravines. At some point, it was a rock quarry and older maps show a Jewish cemetery as well. What few trees had grown there were long gone to firewood and house building, and the area was considered unattractive and unsuitable for much. The land was purchased on the cheap to become parkland, the only thing they could think do with the expanse. The mayor at the time, Henry Hazard, personally led the charge to beautify the park and make it something the city's citizens could enjoy. "Between 1886 and 1892, the city parks commission and private groups together planted more than 150,000 trees—a number mostly accounted for by inexpensive eucalypts but also including deodar cedars, live oaks, pines, cypresses, and pepper trees." As the landscape grew and changed, many amenities were added, like restrooms, footpaths, campgrounds, and a grand entrance. "The park became even more colorful in 1893 when the Los Angeles Horticultural Society created the City Arboretum in Chavez Ravine. A haphazard planting of rare trees from around the world, the arboretum transformed Elysian Park's western canyon into an exotic forest." There remain 138 identifiable varieties still standing today which you can visit and marvel at.

The park eventually became a welcome retreat from the ever-growing sprawl of the city, and is still a favorite spot to hike, picnic, fly kites and gaze at what most of us think of as "our" trees.

Enjoy these photos and maps from our collection highlighting this unique arboreal area.

Carriage ride in Elysian Park
A group of ladies and gentlemen enjoy a ride through the park in a large carriage drawn by six horses, [1879]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Palm trees in Elysian Park
Palm trees line both sides of this unidentified road in the park. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Trees in Elysian Park
A view of rows of palm trees and other trees taken on the occasion of a Housing conference, [1950]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
View from Elysian Park
View from Elysian Park, [1937]. Herman J Schultheis Collection
Scenic view of Elysian Park
View of a rugged and scenic Elysian Park, a facility of the Los Angeles City Recreation and Parks Department, [1962]. Herald Examiner Collection
Flowers in Elysian Park
A color postcard shows the flowers bordering walks and drives in this scene in the 548 acre Elysian Park. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Scenic road in Elysian Park
This color postcard shows a road bordered by tall trees in Elysian Park. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Beside the lake in Elysian Park
In the lower left a man's feet and legs can be seen as he rests on the ground in the shade of a tree with the lake beyond. Also on the ground is his rifle. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Reservoir in Elysian Park, 1876
The water reservoir in Elysian Park in 1876, built by the privately-owned L.A.. Water Co. This was the company's first water storage facility. Photo shows a bridge over the reservoir, [1876]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
A couple takes the time to sit on a bench an enjoy the scenery at Elysian Park in 1913.
A couple takes the time to sit on a bench an enjoy the scenery at Elysian Park in 1913. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Long line of girls in Elysian Park
A young bugler in medieval costume stands at the front of a long line of little girls dressed for dancing at the park. The line stretches (3 wide) down the road and around the bend. A sign points to the Picnic grounds. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
View of L.A. municipal auto camp, Elysian Park
View of the auto camp in Elysian Park. Various models of cars are parked next to tents. Several buildings, possibly containing restrooms, are visible throughout the image. The camp was reported to contain eighty-one sites, [1922]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Stone Quarry Hills view of Los Angeles
Map of the 35 Acre tracts of the Los Angeles City Lands Hancocks survey situated on the Southern Slope of the Stone Quarry Hills, [1868]. Library Map Collection

This early map (listed as Official Map no.4) shows an Israelite Cemetery and a Roman Catholic Cemetery just outside of the ravines.

vintage map of Los Angeles
Map of the City of Los Angeles by H.J. Stevenson, US Dept Surveyor, [1884]. Library Map Collection

1884 surveyors map separating the ravines into Chavez Ravine, Sulphur Ravine, Cemetery Ravine, Solano Ravine and Reservoir Ravine. The Hebrew Cemetery appears on this map, but not Calvary.

1887 map of Los Angeles
Map of the City of Los Angeles, by V.J. Rowan & Theo Koeberle, [1887]. Library Map Collection

This map shows the park divided into numbered sections as in the 1884 map, and includes the owners for each segment. Two separate cemeteries are depicted here, Hebrew Cemetery and Calvary Cemetery.

1909 Map of Los Angeles
City Map of Los Angeles, [1909]. Library of Congress. Library Map Collection

This not totally to scale map from 1909 shows Elysian Park seemingly on the outskirts of town.

Vintage map of Los Angeles
Guaranty Trust & Savings Bank map of Los Angeles, published by Fred B. Bain Inc. S.F. [1918]. Library Map Collection

Both cemeteries are gone from the 1918 map, and Echo Park Lake has been added. The squiggles depicting parkland are visible for both Echo and Elysian Parks.

1928 topological map of Los Angeles
Topographical map of Los Angeles by C. A. Ecklund, [1925]. Library Map Collection

Topographical map showing three separate reservoirs in the park.