Photo from Wikimedia Commons

On Saturday, April 5, "The L.A. River: Past, Present, Future" will be explored at a Pomona College conference on the river's history, efforts to reclaim the river for the communities lining its banks and the alternate proposals for its future. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the Pomona College Rose Hills Theatre (Smith Campus Center, 170 E. Sixth Street, Claremont).

The Los Angeles River flows 51 miles through Los Angeles to Long Beach. Following two deadly floods in the 1930s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers encased all but 11 miles of the river in a concrete flood control channel. Behind barbed wire, the river became an often forgotten eyesore and wasted resource. Last fall, however, after almost three decades of community activism the Army Corps released its Los Angeles River Ecosystem Feasibility Study, which proposes a range of alternatives for the river's future.

Starting the conference will be Lewis MacAdams, who co-founded of Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) in 1985. A key figure in changing how Los Angeles perceives the L.A. River, he will talk about "Bringing the River to the People: 27 Years of Poetry and Politics Along the Mighty Los Angeles River."  Among FoLAR's projects are an annual river clean-up, the "Gran Limpieza," which brings 2,500 people to the river every spring, and an on going series of conferences and planning workshops dealing with every aspect of the river.

William Deverell, a historian of the 19th and 20th century American West, will discuss "The Problems and Promise of the Los Angeles River." A professor of history at University of Southern California and the director of the USC-Huntington Institute on California and the West, he has published numerous books and papers on the history of California, often focused on Los Angeles. He is the co-editor, with Greg Hise, of Land of Sunshine: An Environmental History of Metropolitan Los Angeles (2006), and co-editor of the Blackwell's A Companion to Los Angeles (with G. Hise, 2014) and A Companion to California History (with D. Igler, 2014).

The afternoon session, from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., will feature Mia Lehrer, landscape architect and consultant to the L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan which aims to transform 32 miles of the concrete-lined river into public green space with trails, parks and bikeways. Lehrer's firm worked with the design team and a large set of agencies to test the issues and ramifications of river revitalization. Her talk is titled "Harnessing the Momentum of the Los Angeles River through Design."

Lauren Bon, a director of the Annenberg Foundation, focuses on project-based philanthropy. Through her studio for practice, she aims to "transform resources into energy, actions and objects that nurture life." An artist who submitted a sustainability project for the L.A. River, she will conclude the presentations with a talk titled "bending the river back into the city."

The conference will end with a roundtable discussion among the speakers and the audience. This discussion will be moderated by George L. Gorse, professor of art history at Pomona College and conference organizer, and Lance Neckar, professor of environmental analysis and the director of the Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College.

Two films will bookend the conference. On April 4, at 7 p.m., Pomona will screen Psychohydrography, a film analyzing the flow of water from the Eastern Sierra Nevada and the Owens Valley to Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. A discussion with the filmmaker, Peter Bo Rappmund, will follow. On April 5, at 7 p.m., Rock the Boat: Saving America's Wildest River, an award-winning film on the Los Angeles River, will be screened. There will also be a discussion with the filmmaker, Thea Mercouffer.

The April 5 schedule is as follows:

  • 9:30 a.m. Introductions
  • 10-11 a.m. Lewis MacAdams
  • 11-12 p.m. William Deverell
  • 12-1:30 p.m. Lunch
  • 1:30-2:30 p.m. Mia Lehrer
  • 2:45 - 3:45 p.m. Lauren Bon
  • 3:45-4 p.m. Break
  • 4-5 p.m. Roundtable Discussion
  • 7–9 p.m. Film screening and filmmaker Q&A: Rock the Boat: Saving America's Wildest River

The conference is funded by the Pomona College Mellon Elemental Arts Grant. For more information, contact: or (909) 607-3914.