Thursday, July 24, 2014

Photo Essay: Crystal Cove Cottages, Frozen in Time

When I was invited to go explore some derelict beachside cottages in Orange County, I wasn't sure what to expect.

After all, Crystal Cove is an actively operating state park in Newport Beach.

Its historic district houses both restored cottages from the 1930s and the ones that have fallen into severe disrepair.

Unlike most of my explorations in the desert, there would be people around.

As we stood on top of the bluff leading down to the beach...

...choosing to descend its unstable side rather than risking the exposed dirt road...

...we prepared ourselves for getting caught.

We had to be quick. There were too many other beachgoers there to spy on our mission, and potentially rat us out.

Amazingly, it appears as though people have been more or less respectful of the "Area Closed" signs...

...whose orange hue acted more as a beacon to the delicious abandonment rather than a deterrent.

Trying not to disturb the natural habitat, including the unstable dunes...

...we tiptoed down rickety planks and collapsing catwalks...

...avoiding rusty nails wherever possible.

I was glad to still be under the protection of a tetanus shot from 2008.

Although it's one of the lesser-known beach destinations nowadays, Crystal Cove rose to popularity in 1926 with the opening of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Residents and vacationers alike populated the dozens of bungalows along the beach...

...which were occupied consistently from the 1920s until 2001...

...when California State Parks denied lease renewals in order to repair and renovate some of the cottages that were in dire need.

But they didn't get to all of them.

In 1979, California State Parks had purchased the land from The Irvine Company, the private real estate developer that operated Crystal Cove for decades, and was responsible for halting all new construction in 1939 (as well as closing the Cove to public use in 1962).

Because of those restrictions, Crystal Cove was able to retain its original charm and character...

...a historic landmark of vernacular architecture...

...rendered "frozen in time" without modern developments, additions or renovations.

The surf and the salty, humid air have done their damage to the cottages not yet restored...

...but despite the peeling paint... can still appreciate each bungalow's unique design scheme...

...each with its own color palette...


...and configuration.

These cottages have inspired Hollywood time and again...

...transporting audiences to Polynesia or some other tropical paradise...

...and providing the setting for the 1988 tearjerker Beaches.

The Crystal Cove Alliance and California State Parks would like to restore all of the original cottages...

...but even if they had all of the necessary money today...

...and started right away... would be at least a five year project.

While 29 of the original cottages on the south end of the historic district have been returned to their original splendor (using salvaged materials whenever possible)...

...the remaining 17 on the northern end are in desperate need of stabilization...

...and protection from the earthslides that are occurring all around them.

The boardwalk, which used to run the length of the entire cluster of cottages, has been devastated.

The sea level is rising.

Trespassers with far worse intentions than mine would easily be able to get in (though fortunately it appears as though they haven't).

But when California is having a hard enough time just keeping their state parks open...'s hard to imagine any availability for funding a restoration project of this scale.

But this would actually be the third and final phase of the massive restoration project that occurred in 2006 and 2011.

Registered guests are once again welcome in dozens of those cute cottages.

They can again walk through the pedestrian tunnel built in 1932 to get from the parking area across the PCH... their cottages...

...and back.

When we were finally discovered, we still hadn't explored a handful of the dilapidated dwellings, missing out on maybe four of five of them. But, when someone official-sounding calls out to you, "Hey, that area is closed, you have to leave!", you don't make a fuss, you just leave and move on.

We weren't terribly surprised to hear those words called out to us, anyway. I'd expected it a whole lot sooner.

Then again, they didn't seem terribly surprised to have to call out to us, either.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Photo Essay: Southwest Marine Shipyard at Terminal Island, A Japanese Fishing Village Ghost Town

I recently mentioned to a fellow LA historian that I'd been wanting to find a way to "get into Terminal Island." I'd become aware of some of its preservation issues, and I'd started to do a bit of exploration elsewhere in the LA Harbor / Port of Los Angeles area, and its lost fishing villages and abandoned canneries interested me.

"But..." they said, "you can just drive onto it."

"Well, I know, but how do I get in to the places?" I assumed everything would be heavily patrolled, given its proximity to both the Navy and the Coast Guard.

Of course, there's usually a way in. There's almost always a way in. And when I visited, the gate to Southwest Marine – the historic shipbuilding property which now sits abandoned, save for some movie shoots – was wide open.

Bethlehem Steel Corporation's former Southwestern Shipbuilding (Southwest Marine since 1981) can be recognized from such Hollywood productions as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Charlie's Angeles, Barbed Wire, Gone in Sixty Seconds, and Live Free or Die Hard. 

It sits across the street from the Japanese Fisherman's Memorial, a tribute to the immigrant and second-generation men (and their families) who pioneered the commercial fishing industry, and then were sent to the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar. When the Japanese returned to their "Furusato" (hometown), they discovered it had been razed by the Navy, leaving no trace.

In this vastly industrial landscape, today it's hard to imagine anyone ever living here.

Terminal Island is actually a manmade island off of the end of Long Beach, just down the shore from San Pedro (and is technically considered part of San Pedro).

The island itself is not abandoned, currently housing a federal correctional facility, a water reclamation plant, a couple of marinas, and even a convenience store.

DelMonte still has an operational facility there, and you can see plenty of shipping containers being loaded and unloaded amidst their journeys to and from China.

But streets called Tuna and Cannery and Wharf and Sardine are littered with abandoned warehouses, canneries, and other industrial facilities once belonging to Chicken of the Sea, Starkist and the sort.

Southwest Marine is considered the last shipbuilding facility of its kind, historic for having contributed heavily to Terminal Island's involvement in both world wars...

....for which minesweepers, destroyers, and cargo ships were built there.

Original development plans for Terminal Island called to demolish Southwest Marine at Berth 240...

...and if not that, to just leave it vacant...

...but ideally, preservationists would like to see it building ships again.

They'd also like to see the canneries canning again.

There are a total of 16 Southwest Marine "buildings" (including docks and cranes) that qualify to be included in a proposed historic district...

...some dating as far back as 1918 when the property was originally developed by Bethlehem Steel...

...and many from 1941 (or expanded in 1941), in the thick of World War II.

A new, amended Master Plan – approved last year by the Port of Los Angeles’ Board of Harbor Commissioners – now includes a preservation provision, a major victory for LA Conservancy and others who have been advocating to save this endangered site.

As they stand now, the buildings house equipment, supplies and signage from various eras, with signs of multiple generations of renovations, improvements, and additions.

They are surprisingly graffiti-free.

Despite the humid atmosphere of the Port, they have been relatively preserved from the elements.

There is some rust here and there...

...but it looks as though people have mostly done what they've been told, and kept out.

After all, Terminal Island is far. And no one lives there anymore.

So you have to take a special trip to get there, like I did.

The worst victims appear to be the birds.

There are feathers scattered in dense concentrations – clear signs of some poor thing getting stuck in there and struggling to get out, or perhaps attacked by some predator.

Sand bags ward off non-existent floods.

The lights don't work anymore.

Cages keep no one in or out.

Doors lead to rooms unoccupied.

Once bustling machine shops, repair shops, and blacksmith shops... serve as a dead-end for train tracks from Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads.

Wood intermingles with rusted, corrugated metal and steel beams.

Natural light pours in through broken windows.

Barbed wire has found its way inside.

Reportedly, the Southwest Marine site contains such hazardous substances as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), antimony, arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, zinc, and other metals.

There is no running water or power.

And the moan of nearby ships, the radios of Coast Guard patrolmen, and the cries of curious seagulls haunt the empty place, making you jump at the turn of every corner.

Our biggest fear was returning to the gate to find it locked, leaving us trapped in there.

But, where there's always a way in, there's also always a way out.

Related Post:
The View By Boat