August 30, 2012

Photo Essay: Trespassing Through Southland's Military History

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.

Those signs are probably just another relic of the military history that surrounds Los Angeles' southernmost points, along the shores of the Pacific Ocean, very close to what is now the Port of Los Angeles - then known as the Los Angeles Defense Area.

Los Angeles was once defended by a ring of 16 Nike sites ("The Ring of Supersonic Steel"), part of the government's air defense system which was ready to launch anti-aircraft missiles (largely as part of the Cold War) primarily in the 1950s-1970s. By 1974, when all of the Nike missile sites across the United States were decommissioned, some had been completely obliterated, the land converted into commercial and/or residential use. Some sites still stand abandoned. Others remain part of air force bases or other governmental and/or military property.

Many that have been supposedly "obliterated" have been turned into parks, and still house some hidden treasures of their military past - like Nike Missile Site LA-55 in Point Vicente Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.

It's hard to imagine that RPV - an affluent Los Angeles suburb replete with golf courses, nature reserves, modernist architecture, and winetasting - would also house this United States Engineering Department battery.

Built into a hillside, with stunning ocean views that the local affluents surely enjoy, there are several impenetrable entrances to the battery, on each side of the hill.

Its strong metal doors are now rusting, but still locked, steadfast.

Around it, there are various other industrial archaeological relics, like pipes...


...and some kind of vent (?) that seems to exhibit some marine growth.

There are also poles. Everywhere poles.

Some poles are protected by barbed wire, and protected by a covering that seems to have suffered under exposure to the sunny seaside elements.

There are a few other warnings...

...though no real perils as far as I could tell.

Most of the relics you have to really look for - sometimes under trees.

Some bits and pieces do lie out in the open, not yet consumed by the encroaching earth...

...though the sidewalks appear to be disappearing into oblivion.

And more poles.

As are many of them, this former Nike missile site is perched high above sea level...

...overlooking the Point Vicente lighthouse, one of the several lighthouses along California's coastline (including the Point Fermin lighthouse in neighboring San Pedro, right next to Sunken City).

San Pedro, of course, was also home to Fort MacArthur (now in Angels Gate Park) and Nike Missile Site LA-43 (now in White Point State Park) - both of which require some future exploration.

I think people - not only residents and tourists, but those who formulate opinions without ever having visited - forget that Los Angeles is very much a port city, and with its sprawling shoreline, has always been vulnerable to attack (particularly during and after World War II). And because of this, LA has always had somewhat of a mixed blessing relationship with the ocean: it hasn't always been Gidget and Baywatch.

Fortunately, at least for the timebeing, we have the luxury of enjoying a military site like this one, whose main purpose is now recreation.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: In Search of LA's Military History, Part 1
Photo Essay: In Search of LA's Military History, Part 2

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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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