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BREATHING ROOM

An unexpected rush

June 19, 2003|David Colker

The waterfall -- fed by a series of languid, waterlily-filled ponds -- comes to a roaring end as it spills over a lush hillside with such force that it provides a cooling mist and drowns out the shrieks of wandering peacocks.

An exotic, tropical locale?

No, we're in the quiet suburb of Arcadia, home of the 127-acre Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. The main attractions for hordes of schoolchildren and others are the wildly diverse gardens, lakes and 19th century cottages that have been used as settings in scores of Hollywood productions, from the cheesy (TV's "Fantasy Island") to the far more notable (the "Roots" miniseries and Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious"). And then there are those peacocks (how can creatures that beautiful make such an ungodly sound?), supposedly descendants of a pair brought onto the property by former owner Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin.

But you can get away from the crowds by walking through the well-kept herb garden to come upon Meyberg Waterfall, named for horticulturalist Manfred Meyberg, who died in 1956.

This is where waters cascading down the hill are divided by craggy rocks and sent into an ever-rippling pool. Even on hot summer days, a wall near the pool provides cool, shaded sitting. Or you can head up the hillside on a meandering path, stopping on wooden bridges on the way.

It's unusual to come across a dramatic waterfall in Southern California, and indeed this one didn't exist before 1969. That's when Meyberg Waterfall -- over which 40,000 gallons of water recirculates every hour -- was constructed. But the waterfall and man-made pools were so skillfully blended into the landscape that it doesn't hurt the effect.

Maybe it's not totally natural, but you can look at it as a great piece of architecture.

-- David Colker

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