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?

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Another Lost Civilization

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1 comment:

  1. “Mother” Nature, or Gaia, is ancient, complex and a self-correcting, living ‘system.’

    We humans are but simple, fragile, short-lived, viral organisms scurrying and scratching her surface, in feeble attempts to “progress” and evolve and make something that endures.

    Past attempts from every continent illustrate this, from the pyramids of Giza and Cahokia, to the serpent, ‘stick figure’ and other mounds of North and South America and Australia, every human civilization has built large monuments-usually to the dead, in attempts to “transcend time.” But, like the old saying about taxes…death comes for us all.,