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so this is the new year

January 8, 2010

Well, here I am, flung precipitately into the next decade, without my consent and certainly without sufficient notice.  I cannot understand how these chronological errors keep happening.  About five minutes ago, it was August and I was planning to write about this really great little adventure I’d just had.  Now all of a sudden it’s January — not only January, but bloody 2010 — and I’m sitting here blinking and wondering what happened.

At any rate, while I am appealing to the cosmos for somebody to fix the timekeeping machinery, I should tell you about this adventure.  It falls into the LA’s-best-kept-secrets category, and the place is worth a visit.

Angelenos, ever heard of the Sunken City?  Not Atlantis, but the local version.  No, I hadn’t either.

Back in the 1920’s, this used to be a very tony six-acre neighborhood called Point Fermin.  It’s situated high on the headland in San Pedro, looking south over the ocean toward Catalina Island; just the kind of place where you’d want to build your Jazz Age palace.  Then, in 1929, the Associated Press reported that “A peculiar and unusual crack in the earth at Point Fermin has started rumors of exaggerated damage and thrown quite a scare into property owners within the limited district affected.”  Except that the “peculiar and unusual crack” turned out to be an enthusiastic little bugger, and before too long the 600 block of Paseo del Mar — the main street running through the neighborhood — was moving inexorably oceanward, at an estimated rate of 11 inches per day. Loose soil in the the cliff below, eroded by the steady push and pull of the waves, was causing the entire neighborhood to slide into the sea.  So much for the “limited district affected.”

With the exception of a few owners who had their big houses moved to safety, the whole area pretty much had to be given up as lost.  Its remains are still there, right next to Point Fermin Park.  They are deemed unsafe and are technically closed to the public, but I suggest to you that the city’s half-hearted fence is pretty easily overcome.  (Beaten paths through the brush around the fence’s steep edge, and person-sized tunnels every few feet underneath it, will further suggest that you are not the first to have done this.)

You can still see where the roads and foundations used to be, but now they look as if a giant has dropped them from a few hundred feet, shattering and spilling them over the cliff’s edge into the boiling tide below.  Huge slabs of concrete tilt at crazy angles; palm trees grow in and around the wreckage.  The acreage also seems to have a nighttime job as a graffiti park, layering it with an interesting feel of urban decay.

That’s me, sitting on what was once a curb and part of a street.

Photo credit to Pat McFawn, who told me about the Sunken City to begin with.

Let me tell you, my inner eight-year-old was positively giddy over this place.  I was jumping from rock to rock, planning secret forts, looking for caves and humming the Treasure Island theme song.  If you stand on the very highest point and look off into the distance hard enough, you can almost see Spanish galleons hull down on the horizon.   This is also where you go if you want to have a super-edgy photo shoot (like the two teenaged girls we saw, armed with a point-and-shoot, all smeared eyeliner and torn fishnets); scatter someone’s ashes (Remember that scene from The Big Lebowski?  They filmed it here.); sit around with a buddy, backs on a sunwarmed slab, talking cabbages and kings.   Or, if you are exceedingly nerdy, stand on a jagged boulder and recite Keats to yourself.  (It’s possible I did this.)

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

We left before it got dark, not wanting particularly to run into the graffiti artists.  But I went to bed that night with centuries shuffling through my head.  This one, where we have fishnets and aerosol cans, and where I am currently hopping about.  The last, where the Jazz Age landlords were sliding over a cliff.  The 19th, where Keats was writing dreamy verses far away in a London apartment.  And the 16th, where Cortez and Balboa were climbing stoutly up unknown mountain ranges.  All of us connected, you see — all of us obsessed with the mysterious pull of that ocean I stared into today.  The Pacific, that monster that charms cities into existence and then tears them to pieces again.

Makes you wonder what’s in store for Los Angeles as a whole, doesn’t it?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2010 10:47 am

    So, I just found your blog and fell in love with the first post. This is exactly the type of thing I love to do, and the way you wrote about it captures the “local adventure” spirit perfectly. Can’t wait to keep reading! 🙂

    • Kate permalink*
      January 19, 2010 12:32 pm

      Kim, I’m glad you stumbled in! 🙂

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