May 31, 2013

Photo Essay: Compton's Historic Urban Garden Oasis

I was running late on Saturday morning, as usual.

I was in too big of a rush to make a monthly 11 a.m. garden tour, and I left my headlights on.

But if you're going to drain your car battery in Compton, it might as well be in the parking lot of the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum.

It's amazing that this place comes straight outta Compton, which turns out to be the first privately-owned ranch in Southern California - and therefore the birthplace of private landownership, years before the homestead act. It was originally the seat of Rancho San Pedro, the first Spanish land grant in California (granted to Juan Jose Dominguez, a Spanish solder, in 1784).

The adobe itself was built in 1826 by Juan Jose's nephew, Manuel.

But the real attraction for me and my visit was the garden tour.

Most of the gardens date back to the days of Gregorio Del Amo, who was married to one of Manuel's descendants, Maria Susana Delfina Dominguez.

A horticulturist, Del Amo imported all kinds of plants to the sprawling rancho grounds...

...regardless of where they came from or where they might best thrive.

Many took a lot of watering.

At the time, in the early 20th century, his collection of plants and flowers was a kind of catalogue...

...that attracted visitors - and shoppers - from all over to peruse his offerings.

Some of the existing gardens are comparatively new, like the cactus garden, which seems to have more things you shouldn't touch...

...than things you should.

The cactus garden was a later addition in the 1970s, built as a nod to Del Amo.

Volunteers continue to maintain it - and the rest of the grounds - today...

...and try to both restore its features to their original splendor...

...taking care of historic trees that predate most you'll find in LA... well as reintroducing more native plants that won't require quite so much watering and maintenance.

The original grounds were quite ornate...

...including a Japanese garden and a grotto...

...of which there is a campaign to save and restore as well.

In the meantime...'s a peaceful walk past edible flowers...

...and the biggest Bougainvillea tree you have ever seen...

...whose bright fuschia flowers cascade down its thorny, woody core like a hot pink lava flow...

...covering up decades' worth of pale, dead petals around the back and underneath.

This is what happens when you leave something alone for 50 years. When you don't trim it back, it just grows and grows.

But it also dies.

It's nice to see that some people are paying attention to something beautiful in a largely industrial part of Compton, a city not known for its peacefulness.

It's not only somewhere nice to go, but also somewhere nice to stay...and wait for a AAA truck with jumper cables.

Related Post:
Compton's Hidden Agricultural Riches: Richland Farms

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May 30, 2013

Photo Essay: Follow the River

When I was in Temecula last weekend, I wanted to do some hiking, but the Santa Rosa Ecological Reserve was closed for hazardous conditions, so I was forced to find another trail.

In nearby Fallbrook, just inside the San Diego County border, there is a grouping of land parcels protected by the Fallbrook Land Conservancy, though its trailheads are hard to find even when driving right past them. I managed to find the well-marked parking area for the Santa Margarita River Trail, though the river itself wasn't immediately obvious. A depression in the earth looked more like a beach.

But I followed alongside the soft-bottom path...

... hopping between its scattered rocks...

...until I found water - a visible, audible, free-flowing stream that suddenly appeared...

...and then disappeared again behind the overgrowth.

Tiptoeing along the path, I was teetering along the precipice of...something...

...not sure where I was going, my only guide a cell phone picture of a map at the trailhead.

I only knew I had to keep following the river.

And if I followed the river, rather than diverting off at the various junctures I passed...

...I wouldn't get lost.

I kept trudging through the loose remnants of the old riverbank...

...slogging past wildflowers...

...until I found myself inside the depression itself, tree roots exposed by the river that once flowed here. I was no longer following the path of the river, I was in the river. But the river was not there.

I decided to turn around here, rather than trying to rediscover water, and seeing the Santa Margarita to its inevitable end. It was a short hike, but sometimes it's nice to know where you're going.

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Photo Essay: Marine Corp Air Station & North Hangar, Tustin - Closed (Updated for 2023, North Hangar Destroyed By Fire)

[Last updated 11/16/23 6:02 PM PT—Added information about November 7 fire and destruction of North Hangar]

"Where can't I go?" I asked the Orange County Parks ranger, stationed by the south doors of the North Hangar.

"You can go pretty much anywhere," he said, shrugging. "You can't get into the buildings, but that's pretty much it."

"OK, so I just won't hop any fences..." I said, as I waved and set off on my exploration.

And although it's currently owned by the Navy, the former Marine Corp Air Station - built in 1942, and then known as Lighter Than Air Station Santa Ana - is embarking on a groundbreaking transformation courtesy of Orange County and the City of Tustin. [Update 11/161/23—That transformation still hasn't happened.]

And what's better - OC Parks is inviting the community (and looky-loos like me willing to drive a couple of hours) to come check the closed, once-restricted property out.

Slated to be a transformed into new regional park (as well as other land uses, both residential and commercial), the former MCAS is an 1500 acre parcel of land in Tustin that includes included two huge blimp hangars, and a total of 200 buildings, seven of which OC Parks plans to adaptively reuse.

Of course, the plan to turn the MCAS into a regional park has been in the works since 1963.

Since being shuttered by the federal government, a few portions at a time between 1991-9, the base itself hasn't been used for much of anything...

...its structures predictably crumbling and peeling.

Of course, the entire base isn't abandoned per se, and not entirely vacant.

Some of its buildings are being used guessed

The only recent visitors appear to have been the birds.

Like any other military base, the MCAS was a full-service, self-contained community of non-commissioned officers and their wives who lived and worked there...

...ate and drank there...

...and had children there.

As many as 4500 once lived there, and the base employed nearly 5000 military personnel and civilians.

Primarily a helicopter base, the MCAS Tustin was a major training facility on the West Coast, playing a critical role in wartime operations as recent as Desert Storm.

Building 171 was once the center of aircraft operations, with its historic five-story control tower...

...which is slated to be preserved (despite being built at what is considered a "late" date of 1964).

Other buildings won't be so lucky...

...though even a couple of non-historic buildings (a garage, classrooms, the crash rescue building) are being proposed for adaptive reuse.

There are some signs of wildlife that have returned to the base - whose construction laid giant concrete slabs upon agricultural land - including a few cottontails that appeared at dusk...

...and, of course, the birds that love to invade abandoned buildings.

The pièce de résistance of the base is the historic North Blimp Hangar (Hangar #1, which burned down in a fire that ignited on 11/7/23 and is currently in the process of being simultaneously extinguished and dismantled)...

...Building 28...

...whose construction was completed after nine months in 1943.

This hangar actually has been in use since the base's closure in the '90s...

...mostly for blimp maintenance and new blimp construction (e.g. Goodyear) ...

...and, of course, as a soundstage for movies (e.g. The Hindenberg), TV shows (JAG, The X-Files) and commercials.

The hangar is massive.

Photos don't do it justice.

Both hangars are one of the largest wood structures in the U.S., and the world's largest unsupported timber-constructed buildings...

...made primarily out of Oregon Douglas Fir...

...with nearly 300,000 square feet of floor space each.

That makes them three football fields long, and one football field wide, each.

Both hangars are 18 stories high.

But, based on current plans, only one hangar may survive: Hangar #1. [Plans are unsure for Hangar #2, which was not damaged in the November 2023 fire.]

The park site is only slated to occupy 84.5 of the available 1500 acres on the MCAS property, and before anybody moves in or children start playing there, the contaminated groundwater plumes (largely as a result of seepage of fuel and solvents once used there) need to be addressed. [Update: This is one of the concerns of the fire, with toxic fumes spewing out and the distribution of contaminated debris.]

And then, the MCAS Tustin can be transformed into the dream development of the City of Tustin, Tustin Legacy.

We shall see.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Hughes Aircraft Company Campus

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