Indigenous people – Pre Spanish contact
The Tognva tribes, also called the Gabrielinos, were the indigenous people of the region. They lived in villages, mostly near perennial water sources such as the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, and traversed the nearby lands as hunters and gatherers. There were no villages or campsites in the Ascot Hills although it is likely that the hills provided food sources such as small game, berries, seeds, and nuts. Although the Tongva were not farmers, there is evidence that they altered the landscape to enhance hunting by regularly setting fire to the brush. In this way, these indigenous people converted much of the woody sage scrub plants to grassland and possibly reducing the canopy, number of trees, and under story plants in the woodlands.
Spanish – Mexican Period
The missions were key to the Spanish extension its colonization of California northerly from Mexico. In the settlement of the Los Angeles basin, most of the land was deeded to the San Gabriel and San Fernando Missions. In 1781, ten years after the founding of the Mission San Gabriel, some of the mission lands were granted to the newly established settlement, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula (Los Angeles). The pueblo was granted a township, a six miles by six miles square area. The western boundary of the park aligns with the eastern boundary of the pueblo lands. Thus, the park remained a part of the land under the control of the San Gabriel Mission. With mostly hilly terrain, the land was used for grazing of livestock rather than being cultivated farmland. In 1831, the mission lands were divided off into ranchos that were deeded to former military. The park land became part of the Rancho Rosa de Castilla, named after a the stream, the Arroyo Rosa de Castilla which lies along Eastern Avenue and presumably the native rose that grew along the banks of this stream. Livestock grazing including sheep cattle and horses was the primary use of the hills during the Spanish and Mexican Rancho periods. This land use contributed to the changes in the natural landscapes, as preferential grazing reduced the numbers of native grasses and other native species while Mediterranean species were introduced that would take their place.
Most of the rancho properties were sold off to developers following severe droughts in the 1870’s. The City of Los Angeles was incorporated in 1879, and suburban community development proceeded outward from the rapidly growing city. The eastward development including Lincoln Heights, Rose Hill, and El Sereno (first called Bairdstown after its developers, the Baird brothers) followed along the new roads and transportation corridors. The interurban rail system built by Henry Huntington called the big Red Cars was a key to development of El Sereno as an independent community. However, population growth soon out stripped the local water supplies and led to the annexation of these communities into the City of Los Angeles, which had developed the Los Angeles Aqueduct to tap water supplies from the eastern Sierra Nevada and Owens Valley. The Ascot Hills remained undeveloped mostly due to the steepness of the terrain and limited access.
Water Utility Infrastructure
The site has in the past and continues to play an important role in water supply. In the Rancho period the upper valley a small stock water reservoir was located in the valley to collect local runoff and possibly spring flows. In 1910, the Los Angeles City Water System purchased the property and constructed an earthen dam in the upper valley for a water reservoir to store and supply water for the growing urban communities. A pumping station and chlorination facilities were constructed in the valley below the dam, and a small residence for an onsite reservoir security and maintenance employee was built on the ridge north of the reservoir. The earthen dam was constructed with rudimentary techniques of that era, mostly using mules to compact the soil. In the 1970’s the dam was analyzed and deemed to not meet modern earthquake safety standards. The reservoir water storage levels were subsequently reduced and the reservoir taken out of service. In the mid 1980’s a large steel water tank was constructed in the reservoir site and the earth from the dam was placed around the tank so that only roof of the tank is now visible. The slopes of the earth fill were re vegetated with mostly native plants such as California Buckwheat to control erosion. However, the reservoir site contains many non-native trees and shrubs that were planted over many years. LADWP has multiple water mains, up to 36-inches in diameter to convey water to and from the reservoir/tank that traverse the site, and overhead power lines traverse the site to bring electrical power to the pumping station and related facilities.
The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) has main trunk lines delivering imported water that traverse the park site. The Palos Verde Feeder is a 51-inch diameter pipeline delivering Aqueduct water to a terminal reservoir in the Palos Verdes Hills and was completed in 1938. Another large pipeline called the Garvey-Ascot Feeder was completed by MWD in 1953. This 60-inch diameter pipeline connects to the Palos Verde Feeder pipeline to a terminal reservoir in the Puente Hills.
The southerly portion of the valley was also used by LADWP for various training operations. The LADWP equipment operators in training had made excavations into the base of the east hillside, and the cut banks are now a back drop for the new park amphitheater.
Other remnants of past utility facilities are visible at many locations in the park. Utility poles are used for retaining walls along one of the LADWP service roads, and similar utility poles construction surrounds a small garden/ picnic site in the upper valley. There are also various concrete foundations left from abandoned structures in the valley. The largest of these forms a large rectangle on the flat area west of the gravel parking area. This flat area was terraced into the base of the west ridge to serve for construction staging and this foundation remnant is possibly that of a large warehouse. Also, a field of broken reinforced concrete rubble, possibly remnants of past utility construction, is deposited in the southern-most draw in the west ridge. The concrete rubble is mostly large pieces that would require heavy equipment to dig out, thus its removal is deemed not practical.