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When Cabrillo Anchored At PLAYA DEL REY

Juan Cabrillo

Over centuries of revision, some history, no matter how incorrect, remains unchallenged despite its falsehood. George Washington cutting down the cherry tree, Columbus discovered the world was round, Newton’s apple, and Abner Doubleday inventing baseball, are a few good examples.

Take for example the story of the great explorer Juan Cabrillo, who a great many residents of the town of San Pedro, CA would have you believe, was the first European to step onto local California soil at that location. They have even named a beach after him.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was a Portuguese explorer noted for his exploration of the west coast of North America on behalf of Spain. Cabrillo was the first European explorer to navigate the coast of present day California in the United States.

Cabrillo set sail with three ships from New Spain (Mexico) on 27 June 1542, and anchored in San Diego Bay. He later reached Santa Catalina Island (7 October), which he named San Salvador after his flagship. On sending a boat to the island "a great crowd of armed Indians (Tongva) appeared and befriended them”. Nearby San Clemente was named Victoria Island, in honor of the third ship of the fleet. The next morning, October 8, Cabrillo came to San Pedro Bay, which he named Baya de los Fumos (Bay of Smokes), after the clouds of smoke from burning chaparral; clearing land for crops.

But he never made land here.

The following day they anchored overnight in Santa Monica Bay at the mouth of what would be later called The Los Angeles River. That river and dozens of smaller streams meandered through broad valleys to the sea. They carried so much fresh water to the sea that the Spanish explorer could haul fresh water (floating on seawater) aboard ship with buckets

Today, the Los Angeles River does indeed enter the Bay of San Pedro/Long Beach. So how is it that Cabrillo anchored at the River, but not in San Pedro.

The Los Angeles River (also known as the L.A. River) starts in the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains and flows through Los Angeles County, California, from Canoga Park in the western end of the San Fernando Valley, nearly 48 miles southeast to its mouth in Long Beach. Several tributaries join the once free-flowing and frequently flooding river. It now flows through a concrete channel on a fixed course.

The river provided a source of water and food for the Gabrielino Indians (Tongva) prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The Gabrielinos were hunters and gatherers who lived primarily off fish, small mammals, and the acorns from the abundant oak trees along the river's path. There were at least 45 Gabrielino villages located near the Los Angeles River, concentrated in the San Fernando Valley and the Elysian Valley, in what is present day Glendale. In 1769, Gaspar de Portolà, during his 1769 expedition of Alta California, named it El Río de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula, translated as, The River of Our Lady Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula. It was thus referred to as the Porciuncula River.

The river was originally an alluvial river that ran freely across a flood plain that is now occupied by Los Angeles, Long Beach, and other townships. The river turned southwest after leaving the Glendale Narrows, where it joined Ballona Creek and discharged into Santa Monica Bay at Playa Del Rey. Cabrillo probably encountered Native Tongva here as well. A large documented Tongva settlement; Saanga, was located near Loyola Marymount University, below the Westchester Bluffs and at Playa Vista.

During a catastrophic flash flood in 1825, its course was diverted to its present one, flowing due south just east of present-day downtown Los Angeles and discharging into San Pedro Bay. In a way, who can blame historians for thinking San Pedro was the correct spot. The river, after all, exists there today.

But it would appear that along with San Diego, Catalina Island holds the honor of where Cabrillo first landed in California; and offshore, near our area, Playa Del Rey can boast the same local mainland landmark.

As for the once mighty Ballona Creek, the major tributaries to the creek and Estuary include Centinela Creek, Sepulveda Canyon Channel and Benedict Canyon Channel. Most of the creek's minor tributaries have been obliterated by development or paved over and flow into Ballona Creek as a network of underground storm drains, and finally into the Pacific Ocean at Playa Del Rey.

PHOTO: JUAN RODRIQUEZ CABRILLO (March 13, 1499 – January 3, 1543). After visiting Southern California, Cabrillo’s fleet traveled north and explored the Monterey and San Francisco region. On 23 November 1542, the little fleet arrived back in "San Salvador" (Santa Catalina Island) to overwinter and make repairs. There, around Christmas Eve, Cabrillo stepped out of his boat and splintered his shin when he stumbled onto a jagged rock while trying to rescue some of his men from attacking Tongva warriors, who had turned unfriendly since his first visit. . The injury became infected and developed gangrene, and he died on 3 January 1543 and was buried on one of the Channel Islands; probably San Miguel, but to this day no one is sure where. (Photo, Wikipedia).

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