Cornfields and Chinatown

The Cornfields is a highly visible and important historic site for the region. The former rail yard was slated for warehouse construction, but in the late 1990s, FoLAR and the Chinatown Yards Alliance successfully led a campaign to halt the development. California State Parks purchased the site and has begun to create a park commemorating its cultural and natural history.

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Starting Point

Chinatown Metro Gold Line Station, corner of Alameda Street/North Spring Street at College Street, Chinatown Los Angeles

Walk Directions

From the upper level of the Metro Gold Line Chinatown Station, there is an excellent panoramic view. Go to the north (Pasadena) end of the station. The Cornfields Yard, a flat, banana-shaped 32-acre former rail yard connecting Chinatown with the LA River, is to the right of the Metro tracks.

The river is difficult to see, but it's there below the arches of the North Broadway Bridge at the far end of the Cornfields. In the late 1990s, FoLAR and other groups successfully sued to stop a planned industrial development here. In 2001, California State Parks purchased the site and formed a community advisory committee to develop a plan for the park.

From the Metro station, to the left of the Cornfields, you can also see the hills of Elysian Park (see the side trip this walk). Behind the row of palm trees is Dodger Stadium. Farther left is Chinatown, and the downtown skyline, including Los Angeles City Hall, is behind you.

Directly west of the Metro station is Capitol Milling. At the time of its closure in 1999, Capitol Milling was the oldest continually operating business in the city of Los Angeles. The initial building on the site dates to 1831. The original mill was powered by water from the LA River, delivered via the Zanja Madre. This business went through incarnations as Steams Mill, Eagle Mills, and, in 1883, Capitol Milling. The site is now slated to become mixed-use downtown loft living.

From the station platform, descend to the ground level and walk left (north, toward the Cornfields) onto Alameda, which turns slightly to the right and becomes North Spring Street. Walk along the perimeter fence, with the Cornfields on your left. Between Sotello Street and Mesnager Street on your right (across the street) is a small historic marker acknowledging this site as the historic River Station Terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad established in 1876. The entire Cornfields site, called the River Station Area, is designated as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #82.

Continue walking north on North Spring and veer left onto Baker Street. Walk to the end of Baker and look up at the magnificent North Broadway Bridge. When it opened in 1911, this bridge was called the Buena Vista Viaduct. The bridge, which featured a newly invented open spandrel arch (instead of a fully filled solid arch, there is space between the arches and the roadway), was technologically innovative for its day. It had the longest concrete arch in California when it was built. The bridge predates Merrill Butler's tenure as city bridge engineer. It was designed by architect Alfred F. Rosenheim, though it is generally credited to Homer Hamlin, who served as the Los Angeles city engineer from 1906 to 1917.  

In 1998 through 2000, the city of Los Angeles did a fantastic job of retrofitting, rebuilding, and reinforcing the bridge. This included restoring long-lost ornamental features such as the four decorative pylon pedestals it the ends of the bridge. You may be able to spot cliff swallows that form the nests on the underside of the bridge.

Directly ahead of you, at 1800 Baker Street, is what is historically known as Midway Yard. These yards are currently temporarily serving as the maintenance yards for the Metro Gold Line. In the future, when the Gold Line has been extended to the east San Gabriel Valley, Metro plans to relocate the maintenance yards to the eastern end of the line, freeing up this important site to connect Elysian Park with the LA River Greenway.

At this point, you're very close to the river, but it's not easily accessible due to railroad tracks that line both sides of the channel through much of downtown. The tracks are active, with dozens of Amtrak and Metrolink trains daily. FoLAR has called for Los Angeles to study the long-term feasibility of consolidating, raising, and/or building underground portions of the railroad tracks, in order to reconnect downtown with the river.

Walk south (away from the river) on Baker Street. Take the first left onto Aurora Street (unmarked). On your right, the three-story red brick building at 1727 North Spring Street, is the Woman's Building. Established in 1975, the Woman's Building was an important space for feminist art, hosting groundbreaking gallery and workshop projects for many years. It still serves as artist studio space.

Turn left on North Spring and ascend the North Spring Street Bridge. This bridge was constructed in 1927 to relieve crowding on the North Broadway Bridge. It was designed by Major John C. Shaw, Los Angeles city engineer from 1925 to 1930, although Merrill Butler's name also appears on the plaque (on your left at the far end of the bridge). Restoration in 1992 included repair and replacement of railings and lighting. Check out the views of the North Broadway Bridge to your left, and the Main Street Bridge to your right.

Just past the end of the bridge, turn left onto the stairway into Downey Recreation Center, cross the site, and ascend the steps on the far side. Turn left onto North Broadway.

As you cross the North Broadway Bridge, you encounter views of the North Main Street Bridge, the Cornfields, and the downtown skyline. The views are especially nice from the large central belvedere (viewing platform).

Continue walking south. On your right, across the street at 1039 and 1051 North Broadway, respectively, are St. Peter's Church and Casa Italiana. The area that is known today as Chinatown has many layers of history. Prior to its 1938 inauguration as "New Chinatown," it had been home to waves of immigrants from Mexico, Croatia, and Italy. Los Angeles' Chinese communities were relocated to the current site to make way for the construction of Union Station.

Turn right on Bernard Street. Check out the information stanchion in front of the Chinatown Heritage and Visitors Center (411 Bernard Street; 323-222-0856; open Sundays 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.). This stanchion is one of 15 on a self-guided walking tour of Chinatown. It's a project of Angels Walk LA and provides valuable historical information, including a section on the Cornfields and the Zanja Madre.

If you're up for it, you can do the entire 1.9-mile Chinatown walking tour (follow directions on the stanchions), or you can just check out the five stanchions on your way back to the starting point. Return to North Broadway and turn right (south). At Chinatown's East Gate, turn left onto the crosswalk. Turn right to continue south on the east side of the street. Turn left onto College Street to return to the starting point.

Directions to the Start

Bike: There is no river bike path in this area. Consider hiking to a Metro Gold Line station and bringing your bike on board.

Transit: Take the Metro Gold Line to the Chinatown Station.

Car: Exit the 110 Freeway at North Hill Street in Chinatown. (This exit is on the left for the southbound 110.) The exit puts you southbound on Hill. Turn left on College Street and left again on Alameda Street (which becomes North Spring Street). If the park is open (interim use expected to open in 2006), turn left and park in the park's lot. If the park is not yet open, street parking is available on Alameda/North Spring or College.

Alternately, exit the 5 Freeway at Pasadena Ave. in Lincoln Heights. Turn southwest (toward downtown) on Pasadena Ave., which merges into North Broadway just before the LA River. Continue on Broadway into Chinatown, turn left on College Street, and follow the directions above.

Nearby Dining

Carnitas Michoacan
1901 North Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90031-2526
(323) 225-2729
Homegirl Cafe
130 Bruno Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 617-0380
Pho87 Restaurants
1019 North Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012-1405
(323) 227-0758
Grand Start Jazz Club
943 Sun Mun Way
Los Angeles, CA 90012-1722
(213) 626-2285
Yang Chow Restaurant819 North Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012-2309
(213) 625-0811