Wo/Men At Work: San Gabriel Valley Sand and Gravel Plant, circa 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It will never be a candidate for a scenic by-way, but a drive along Interstate 605 between interstates 210 and 10 takes in a vital part of the development of greater Los Angeles for the last century or so.

We tend to overlook just where we get the material for our buildings, sidewalks, streets, walls and more, but without cement and concrete and, specifically, the sand and gravel pits that provide the raw material for them, much of our infrastructure would be considerably different.

One of the richest locations for the sand and gravel industry has been along the San Gabriel River, where huge deposits of natural material has washed down over the millenia from the San Gabriel Mountains.  In the cities of Irwindale and Azusa, companies have long mined the area for the extraction of natural aggregates used in the construction industry.

These sites aren’t pretty, but they’ve been vital for the region’s development.

This snapshot from the museum’s collection from about 1929 shows a sand and gravel plant near the San Gabriel River and close to today’s junction of interstates 210 and 605 in the city of Irwindale.

The snapshot shown here is one of many in the Homestead’s collection showing sand and gravel industry sites throughout greater Los Angeles.  This one, which appears to be from the late 1920s, was labeled “San Gabriel River Gravel pit.”

Note the construction of wood supports with tin structures and sheds, while cars that would be loaded with material are sitting on the main track at the left, which descended from the main part of the plant.  At least two long conveyors rise up to the top of the plant.

There are a couple of workers visible–one stands behind the two linked cars, while another is at an open window in the shed along that same track.

Also of note is the Pacific Electric streetcar stopped on a short spur just south of the main track running east to west.  The recent extension of the Metrolink Gold Line from Pasadena east to Azusa and Glendora uses the same line today.

Given the way the lower slope of the San Gabriel Mountains descends in the distance at the left and the caption states “San Gabriel River Gravel pit,” it can be safely assumed this location is west of the river and south of San Gabriel Canyon.  The old PE and current Metrolink line runs along the south side of Interstate 210 and the junction of that freeway with Interstate 605 would be just a bit to the northeast.

If this is the case, then the location would be in the city of Irwindale and very close to the boundary of Duarte and the City of Hope cancer center.  The city’s website notes that the city has also been called “Jardin de Roca” or “Garden of Rocks”, but also states that the city is moving from an almost-exclusive emphasis of mining with the sand and gravel industry to a diversified industrial environment.

A little bit of the community’s history can be found at the site here.  Even though there is more variety in Irwindale’s economy (which includes a massive Miller brewery), a recent decision to reopen a long-dormant pit for renewed use for some thirty-five years caused some friction with neighbor Baldwin Park–click here for more.

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