By Christopher Nyerges
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
Looking at Sparkletts’ advertisements, it’s easy to think that its water comes from a faraway snowy mountain peak. However, its bottling plant is in nearby Downtown Eagle Rock.
Sparkletts is just one remnant of the water that once freely flowed in the area, until an increased population and the “development” made the water infrastructure all but invisible.
Let’s begin by looking at the topography of the Northeast Los Angeles. To the north and east of the iconic “Eagle Rock” flows the Eagle Rock Creek. It’s visible east of Figueroa, north of Colorado.
The stream was a tourist location 150 years ago when water flowed through a picturesque area of sycamores, wild roses and blackberries. The water flowed to the south, just east of Figueroa, and when it came to the hills, it flowed westward, roughly along Yosemite Drive, all the way to Eagle Rock Boulevard. Water from the stream and various springs flowed either to the Arroyo Seco or to Eagle Rock Boulevard.
Today, the temporary streams and springs are cemented over and in underground pipes because, as development increased, water was regarded as a problem — not an asset.
The significant low spot of the Eagle Rock area, near York and Eagle Rock boulevards, was known as the Cienega del Garvanza region.
In 1876, Ludwig Luis Salvador made note of a significant low area in the southern Eagle Rock area, the “Cienega del Garvanza, a small green swamp with clumps of bunch-grass and at the bottom, Sacate de Matico, which never dries out.”
By 1880, attorney Andrew Glassell began developing the Cienega as a water source by drilling wells. Water flowed from the wells without the aid of wind, steam or gas. (Glassell received a portion of the Rancho San Rafael land from the lawsuit known as the Great Partition of 1871. Glassell settled in the area with his family).
By the early 1900s, the Huggins family lived in this area. A stream cut deep through the rear of the property, feeding into a lake that sprawled onto what is now El Paso Drive. Here, the placid pool was a favorite spot for Sunday picknickers who paused to water their horses.
Bob Moffitt told researcher Lily Jane Tsong that his mother-in-law, Esther Kratz, remembered this marshy area as Skunk Hollow. She described the artesian wells as not simply bubbling out of the ground — but spurting into the air.
Numerous bottling plants sprouted up in the area. Despite the efforts to bring water from afar into the growing city of Los Angeles, Northeast Los Angeles was historically the site of many bottling companies.
In August 1925, a new water company was founded by Eagle Rock resident Burton N. Arnds Sr. and a partner.
They bottled the water at the Cienega, and their clever marketing transformed the water of the Cienega del Garvanza into not only a pure water but a “live” water. It was advertised to be 85.4% saturated with oxygen — the cause of its special sparkle, hence Sparkletts.
The water came from a well near York and Avenue 48, and the company was called the Sparkling Artesian Water Company, later changed to simply Sparkletts. Promotion of Sparkletts was so successful that, within a couple months of the opening, the Highland Park News Herald reported concerns about filling the orders.
In 1929, Sparkletts officials said a new plant would be built in a Moorish style by Richard D. King to symbolize an oasis. The new bottling plant cost about $200,000 and stretched across most of the 4500 block of Lincoln Avenue, which is just south and parallel to York. The “new” facilities increased maximum capacity to 125,000 gallons a day. The company spent one third of its income on advertising.
By the mid ’30s, at least three distributors of bottled water besides Sparkletts operated out of the old Cienega del Garvanza area.
As Sparkletts grew, though it has continued to bottle the water from the Cienega area, it expanded to other cities and states.
Whereas the original water was simply pumped into bottles, today the operation contains a few more steps. The water that flows from underground is sent into tanks across the street to the processing plant. Then it is all passed through a reverse osmosis system to remove all minerals from the water.
Though the minerals in the water give it its character, Sparketts did that so it could reintroduce its own “recipe” of minerals into the water for consistency.
The water from Eagle Rock is then injected with ozone for sanitation purposes, before being sent to the filling room, where the 5-gallon containers are filled. A state-certified laboratory runs about three dozen tests on the water hourly.
As of this writing, Sparklets bottles 45,000 bottles, or 225,000 gallons, daily. That’s nearly double the 1929 level of bottling, with no sign that the remarkable “well” is running dry.
It sounds like a large amount of water for the low spot in the landscape near York and Eagle Rock boulevards. Yet, at the average per capita consumption in Los Angeles of about 120 gallons of water per person per day, that takes care of only 1,875 people.
In a true hardship where everyone had to conserve water — getting by on 30 gallons a person per day — a daily bottling from Sparkletts would serve 7,500 people. That’s substantial, but still not enough for the large population living here, which is why the northeast, along with most of LA County, obtains its water from 300-plus miles away from three aqueducts.
This sparkling water rises up under pressure, from hundreds of feet underground, from its presumed granite sources without the aid of pumps, reservoirs or filters.
The deep underground water eventually passes through brass pipes to a point 22 feet above the ground level, where it is then sent through the bottling operation.
Sparkletts is now part of a much larger company, but its bottling plant still operates in Eagle Rock.
Sparkletts was sold in 1964 to Foremost Dairies, which was then acquired by San Francisco-based McKesson-Robbins. In 2000, Sparkletts was became a part of the Danone Group, and in 2003, DS Waters was created, with Sparkletts as one of its bottled water delivery brands.
For a tour of Sparkletts via Huell Howser, visit https://bit.ly/SparklettsVideo.