First Audubon Center and Bird Sanctuary in California
- Greetings Birders and Long-time Bird Watchers of California:
We are looking for birders that have memories and stories and mentors and inspirational teachers that were associated in some way with the Whittier Narrows Nature Center from the 1940s through the 1960s, at the first and oldest Audubon Center of California. Even your stories from the 1970s through today are valuable in order to tell the story of a continuous tradition here between a private venture of Audubon and a public venture of the Nature Centers of Los Angeles County (NCA).
We are conducting research with a history and biography focus of birders and birding regarding the very first bird Center and Sanctuary in California that the National Audubon Society got involved in during a early growth phase in 1939.
Prior to the 1940s, the National Audubon Society had a decidedly eastern U.S. focus, so this was a big deal to come to California and to skip the mid-west to boot.
This earliest California experiment by National Audubon Society today is called Whittier Narrows Natural Area/Nature Center, but it did began in 1939, as the San Gabriel River Bird Sanctuary. Later it became the Audubon Center of Southern California. And in between it has been called the San Gabriel River Wildlife Sanctuary and the San Gabriel River Bird and Flower Sanctuary as well.
As you can see it is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, as the first venture of the National Audubon Society, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Audubon Society and Pasadena Audubon Society, and a long distance from its formerly East Coast focus. The Southwestern Bird Study Club was an associate organization with an interest here too.
In case you are wondering what the very first Audubon Center was in the United States, it is in Connecticut near Greenwich. These first two Audubon Centers were purposely started near the two largest urban areas in the United States, i.e. Los Angeles and New York, because President John Baker and his Board decided to really move into educating urban youth about birds and habitat (ecology) by the late 1940s, right after World War II.
Of course, the first summer camp of the National Audubon Society was in Maine, on an island, in a very rural/wild environment. This camp closed down in winter, so it did not operate year-round, unlike the two Audubon Centers mentioned above. In addition, it was not considered one of their Centers where child education toward nature was a focus.
We are wishing to collect stories and memories of birders as children, teens, or parents, or teachers, that may have been to the Audubon Center of Southern California prior to 1969. This date is important because in that year, the National Audubon Society sold their California bird sanctuary to Los Angeles County, and it became a government-run nature center. National Audubon Society moved its staff to Sacramento, California, where it apparently teamed up to become Audubon California, as it is now today called.
Apparently, the Audubon Condor program involvement even started at the Audubon Center of Southern California at Whittier Narrows, but by 1969 it was running from Sacramento.
Of coures, now there are many Audubon centers and sanctuaries in California, but it all began in Los Angeles County, near Whittier, El Monte, Montebello, and Pico Rivera.
The original nature center buildings and residences that National Audubon Society owned at Whittier Narrows, were almost lost forever when they were condemned for demolition by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in early 1950s.
However, diplomatic negotiations ensued, and the federal government (USACE) granted a new space for the National Audubon Society, and they could continue to lease from the federal government, for a nominal fee of $1.00, approximately 200 acres of riparian woodland that supported Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Least Bell's Vireo, and Willow Flycatcher, all three now endangered, and disappeared due to cowbirds and loss of willow/cottonwood woodlands that the USACE cut down and bulldozed into oblivion during the 1950s dam construction and for consequent large urban recreation area with large picnic areas and fishing lakes that were constructed. Interestingly, it appears that all three endangered birds may be on the verge of making a comeback to Whittier Narrows at this time.
Another threat to the first Audubon Center occurred in the 1950s, this time, a wild fire in the riparian woodland came very close to burning down the Audubon Center, but it was spared. It appears that the Audubon Center had 9 lives.
But now, 2009, the State of California and County of Los Angeles, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have teamed up together to once again try to demolish the first Audubon Center of California. However, citizens of diverse ethnic backgrounds are mobilized to fight this demolition and cutting down of trees with a loss and impact to valuable bird habitat, as well as a unique teaching tradition, and the dynamic conservation history that is associated at the earliest Audubon Nature Center in California and the western United States.
We think that elucidating the history of birding and nature study at the first Audubon Center in California, through history and biography is significant in U.S. history, as a very important site for conservation history in the United States and California, and so this site will qualify as an important historical site and this may save the day for the first private/public nature center in the State of California and western United States.
Even if you do not have an association directly or personally, we would like to hear from you. Perhaps you know someone that that knew someone, so we need to hear from you, because we are telling the story of a birding traditon that has occurred continuously for 70 years.
We also know that birding began in El Monte and Whittier, with egg collecting and bird collecting and observation in the 1890s, so there is also a 110 year birding history tradition for this area of remnant river willow woodlands of Los Angeles County and southern California.
Robert van de Hoek, President
Whittier Area Audubon Society
P.O Box 931
Whittier, CA 90608
(310) 877-2435 cell phone
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