August 30, 2012

Photo Essay: Trespassing Through Southland's Military History (Updated for 2023—Silo Added)

[Last updated 6/18/23 1:59 PM PT—Photos of the Nike Missile #55 silo added at bottom of post]

I don't think I was actually trespassing. Even though all of the signs warned me that it was U.S. Property.

Considering that now the Nike Missile Site LA-55 has been redeveloped into Point Vicente Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, I wasn't apprehensive.

August 28, 2012

Photo Essay: San Pedro's Sunken City

Los Angeles is known for its tremendous and daring architecture, with dwellings often built off the sides of cliffs, cantilevered over hills, and seemingly dangling in mid-air.

The people who live in those homes rely on a healthy balance of physics and stable ground beneath them. They risk wildfire, wind, earthquake, mudslide, and other force majeure which may move the earth, or sweep their homes away.

I've noticed this more in the Hollywood Hills - as evidenced by architecturally-significant places like the Stahl House - but it holds true for the greater Los Angeles area shore communities as well. Many locations by the Pacific Ocean lie along dangerous bluffs. In one area of San Pedro, the southernmost tip of Los Angeles, the road ends not because you've reached the ocean: it's because the land beyond it, once inhabited, is slipping into the ocean.

Facing inland, you can see a few houses on the public side of a protective gate which are safe. For now.

But on the forbidden side of that gate, another community was not so lucky. The flat land that remains looks like an archaeological site of the ancient Roman Empire.

Beyond it, you can see how close the city's infrastructure is to the current edge of the cliff, and how it couldn't have been so close to the edge before.

The ground appears to have just fallen away - or broken off.

And that's exactly what happened to this abandoned portion of the San Pedro shoreline, just east of Point Fermin.

In 1929, the land started to slip, and by the 1940s, the slippage was so severe, the city had to fence off the area.

This is Sunken City.

The last slide incident happened as recently as 2009, when a chunk of land collapsed, sending a dust cloud up in its wake.

Fortunately, when the initial collapse happened, all but two homes were able to be saved (i.e. moved). But sidewalks, roads, and foundations crumbled.

And what is left is a ghost town of the most ghostly sort.

Trespassers frequent the area for vandalism, underage drinking, dogwalking, and photo shoots.

No matter how sturdily you build a fence around a place like Sunken City, people will always find their way in.

Some people walk too closely to the edge and fall off.

Others jump.

Signs warn of unstable and slippery surfaces, steep drops, and other perils that await.

Even in the rubble, the surfaces continue to crack and shift.

It's hard to resist wandering through its steep crevices.

It is an other-worldly landscape.

At some point, the city's (former) infrastructure intermingles so closely with the bluffs that they are indistinguishable from one another.

How long until it is all whisked away completely?

Related Posts:
Another Lost Civilization

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August 27, 2012

Photo Essay: Automobile Driving Museum's Ridealong Sunday

Car culture is intrinsic to California life.

Sure, there are those who move from New York and refuse to (or cannot) adapt, and walk, bike, or hitch a ride to wherever they need to go. But regardless, their lack of driving limits their California experience. While they save on gas and reduce their carbon impact on the environment, they lose out on the freedom of the road.

The advent of motorized vehicles tremendously impacted not only the infrastructure of major California cities like LA, but also the architecture. Eye-popping styles like Googie and California Crazy emerged, drawing attention to gas stations, car washes, motels, and eateries with flashing neon lights and oddball shapes. The train may have brought people to LA, but the car brought them out of it. And in the early- to mid-20th century, it seems like all people wanted to do was get out of LA - to Vegas, Palm Springs, the Salton Riviera, or along the Mother Road all the way to Chicago.

There are car museums and shows throughout the country, but nowhere does it seem more fitting to visit one but in LA - and not only view the cars, but actually ride in them.

Tucked away behind LAX, near Nash Street in El Segundo which once was a center of activity in automotive manufacturing, is the Automobile Driving Museum, which not only preserves and displays a variety of "orphan" vehicles, but lets you actually sit inside of them and go for a spin.

1951 Nash Super Statesman

1951 Nash Super Statesman

1930 Ford Model A Coupe

1926 Pontiac

(Year??) Buick

1940 Packard 120

1955 Packard 400 hardtop coupe

1958 Packard Hawk hardtop coupe

1947 Packard Super Clipper

1936 Auburn Super-Charged Speedster

1959 Edsel

1937 Chrysler Royal Sedan


(Year??) Morgan Plus 4

1952 MG Mark II TD roadster

1982 DeLorean DMC-12

When people ask me why I love LA, one of the first things I say is, "Well, I love driving." I've driven many a rental car, moving truck, and racecar since I got my license 20 years ago, and the truth is, I just love cars - not only my car - but every Jeep, Fiat, Prius, Escalade, and crazy, chromed-out coupe with 30-inch fins, oh yeah.

So far, I've gotten to ride in a '51 Buick Super, a '68 Lincoln Continental, and an '85 Mustang. In the latter, I asked my docent driver, "How fast does this puppy go?" and he replied, "We're not going to find out," as he carefully rounded the corners under the Century Freeway. He did kick it into Turbo for me, though.

I wish I could ride in them all. Maybe, if I visit the Automobile Driving Museum every Sunday, I'll be able to experience a good selection of the rest of them.

But what I really want to do, is drive all of them.

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August 25, 2012

Photo Essay: The Long Way to the Highest Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains

I'm not much of a peak bagger.

I don't plan on checking Baldy or Whitney off my hiking list. I don't think I could handle it. At this point, I'm not even ready for Mt. Wilson. The Bridge to Nowhere hike, clocking in at only 11 miles, nearly did me in. I'm still waiting for my toenails to fall off.

But, I do like the opportunity to climb small mountains and surmountable peaks, if they're not too far or too high, or if I'm not too alone.

After spending three weeks in the desert very much alone, I didn't know what else to do upon my return to LA but climb a mountain. When in doubt...

For a hot summer day, which felt suffocatingly humid compared to Joshua Tree, I chose Mt. Allen, the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains - otherwise known as Sandstone Peak.

There are two ways to summit Sandstone Peak: a short, steep, direct out-and-back from the parking lot, and a long, meandering, circuitous, more gradual loop along the Backbone Trail. I chose the latter, in favor of its diverse scenery and more gentle climb, hoping the temperature would be less severe at the higher elevation, and that the ocean breeze - though heavy with moisture - would cool me off.

The trail from the parking area starts out steep and rocky...

...and dry and high, though lush with vegetation.

It was nice to see something so green after several weeks in the brown desert.

Soon enough, the winding Yerba Buena Road - the only way to get to the trailhead - is revealed below, cutting its way through the mountains, just a few miles off of the PCH and away from the beach.

Like the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains, Sandstone Peak was created 10 million years ago by volcanic eruptions, and is comprised primarily of igneous rock.

It is known for its interesting geological formations, including Split Rock (on the way to Sandstone Peak along the Mishe Mokwa Trail), Balanced Rock (accessible via an unmaintained trail off the Mishe Mokwa Trail) and Skull Rock.

Like much of the rest of Los Angeles - and, in fact, much of California and Nevada - this area was once under an ancient ocean.

The ocean is still very much present - in the views below, and in the air -, though the trail passes through some shaded, almost wooded areas that make you momentarily forget where you are.

But you are quickly reminded, as the Backbone Trail constantly encounters exposed rock, either up above or underfoot, sometimes greatly eroded.

Even Sandstone Peak itself was once 10,000 feet above sea level. Now, looming above all other peaks in the Santa Monica Mountains, after 10 million years of erosion, it stands at a mere 3111 feet.

The hike is a long walk for sure, altering between steep, rocky, sun-exposed sections, and steep, rocky, shaded sections.

Upon arriving to the spur trail to Sandstone Peak, you are greeted by a sign and a set of innocuous-looking stairs that are easy enough to climb.

Then, the trail nearly disappears altogether. You have to find a clearing, and then tip-toe up a breakneck incline of pure rock towards the plaque at the top.

I barely rested on my way to Sandstone Peak, planning to break out a tangerine at the top. I hadn't encountered any fellow hikers the entire way - except for a group of singing youths on their way down as I headed up - until I reached the summit, where a couple of hikers had just arrived and were signing the register, snapping photos and taking in the view.

Legs wobbling and head spinning, I stopped for a rest on a rock. I took a couple of photos of my own. But I didn't linger. Sometimes you just want to be alone at the top of a mountain, and not have to share that experience with strangers who don't seem in a hurry to leave.

I started to head down, nearly paralyzed with fear. I was going to have to crab-walk my way down, and these two hikers were going to have to watch me. My trekking pole shuddered in my grip. I breathed heavily, exhaling noisily.

"If you see me on all fours, I'm probably fine..." I called out to them over my right shoulder, not looking back for their reactions.

I descended down the Sandstone Peak trail quickly enough, and soon Yerba Buena Road came back into sight. The way down felt so short, I wondered if I should've hiked straight up to the peak rather than taking the long way. But I'd seen so much that day. I wouldn't have wanted it to be over so quickly. After all, it wasn't just about reaching the peak. It was about the climb.

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