November 04, 2023

Photo Essay: A 'Haunted' Underground Tour of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Circa 1912

I've toured the 111-year-old Los Angeles Athletic Club in Downtown Los Angeles twice now, including once in 2012 upon its centennial, but there's one spot I hadn't gotten to yet: the basement. 
So, we took the opportunity to attend LAAC's Roaring Twenties Masquerade right before Halloween, which offered a "haunted underground tour" in addition to the masked revelry upstairs.

It was nice to return to the clubhouse, with its variety of intimate spaces...

...perhaps where silver screen stars like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, and Charlie Chaplin (who lived there for years) might've gathered in the 1920s and '30s.
And then our guide took us to the bottom floor, where a boneyard of signage, artwork, and equipment welcomed us as we disembarked from the elevator.

It was hard to tell whether the offices down there were still being used, as it had the (perhaps intentional) feeling of being abandoned—some cobwebs for real for certain, with others added as decoration for the season.

I imagine service staff must use these stairwells and hallways for... something. 

I kind of delighted in knowing I was in an off-limits area at all, even if I didn't know exactly what anything was for. 

Our tour guide pointed to one set of pipes and said, "See that? That steam is part of what helps powers your jacuzzis."
And then on cue, the air erupted into a hot and moist billow, rising from under the floor towards the ceiling, as heat tends to do.

Flashlight in hand, I illuminated some of the other inner workings of the LAAC's bowels...

...around water heaters and temperature gauges.... circuits of electrical switches...

...and steam traps, valves, and spigots.
Voltage abounded. 

It takes a lot to keep the Los Angeles Athletic Club running, after all...

...since it's not just a fitness club, but also a private social club, residence, and even hotel. 

And since the building dates back to the year 1912, stuff probably needs constant repair. 

Wiring must be upgraded to today's standards.
Settings must be adjusted.

There's the old shell of a vintage elevator, with a few mechanical parts left inside its metal cage—but a dirt floor and a blocked path upwards. 

Likewise, at least one stairwell had been closed off at the top (though reversibly so).
And plenty of stuff was lying around that looked like it hadn't been used in quite some time. 

Perhaps not everyone—or everything—was happy with the invitation we'd received to explore those nether regions. 

But that didn't stop me from going as far as I could off the beaten path, eventually finding myself under the 7th Street sidewalk. 
It's got those glass blocks that let daylight into the basement to help illuminate it without electricity—though, because I was there in the 9 o'clock hour at night, I could see only by the light of my own torch. 

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