October 04, 2012

Photo Essay: Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, Oil Adjacent

After having explored a bit of LA County's oil history in Pico Canyon and Towsley Canyon, and having stumbled upon the oil-soaked controversy of Orange County's Coyote Hills, I decided to finally explore the park that abuts the first oil rigs I ever spotted in LA, driving up La Cienega from LAX Airport: Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.

It's a large community park in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles, adjacent to (and I suppose partially on top of) the Inglewood oil field. A large portion of it is comprised by the filled-in basin of the former Baldwin Hills Reservoir, now known as Janice's Green Valley.

The reservoir cracked and leaked in 1963, flooding hundreds of homes below and killing five people. The tragedy has been attributed to nearby oil drilling, which has been known to cause unstable conditions like faulting and ground movements.

After the reservoir broke and completely emptied, the city reduced its dependence on such small local reservoirs, and so it was never refilled with water. Two decades later, it was instead filled with earth to form the valley, though most sports activities are still prohibited on it.

Much of the Kenneth Hahn SRA is peaceful and serene, though at its higher elevations, reminders of its industrial and urban surroundings persist.

You can briefly escape them with a quick wander through the Native Garden, down the access road...

...past the Gwen Moore Lake...

...with its geese, ducks, pigeons and egret...

...but through the trees...

...there's something there, pounding away, repetitiously, mesmerizingly, unavoidably...


Does it seep into the parkland, where children roll, tumble, and tussle in play? Do they mind the view, or how the sound punches through their eardrums?

Oddly, the park doesn't hide the oil; the oil actually hides the park. Unless you follow the ubiquitous signs along La Cienega, you would not know where the Kenneth Hahn SRA is, unable to see past the looming rigs. And once you get inside the park - if you can find it - it's hard to escape the adjacent oil.

It's one of the few areas where LA's history is not-so-hidden.

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