If you head north along the Los Angeles coastline,you can find a once posh neighborhood that slid into the sea back in the 1930s. On the way, you’ll see a lot of loading cranes on the horizon, just like the ones Oakland pridesters like to wear on their hoodies and t-shirts. In fact, there are many more of these cranes in the Los Angeles harbor than there are in Oakland, where I used to live. Whatever. As far as I’m concerned, they’re either symbols of dirty transoceanic shipping that can be found in almost any port city, or they’re symbols of George Lucas’s frenzied imagination of imperialmilitary might. Either way, it’s hard to see where pride or geographic specificity figure into it.
After the cranes, and at the end of Fermin Park, is a tall fenced gate and barricade. Past the fence, the road continues to an abrupt end, and well below that is the so-called sunken city of Los Angeles. Between a dozen and two dozen homes were destroyed in quakes and ongoing slides as the cliff here gave way. A manhole cover sits two inches from the edge of a cliff. Between several improbable palm trees, tall grass, blooming fennel and wildflowers overtake broken, wildly angled and heavily graffiti’d roads, pipes and curbs.
On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I stayed at a bland beige corporate hotel chain with paper coffee cups that thanked me for making a difference. The cups were allegedly made of 100% recycled material, and despite there being no other choice for a cup in sight, I nevertheless apparently now get to save the world and make a difference just by drinking my coffee. No, thank-you, green capitalism. Thank-you for caring.
I had several days to kill, so I decided I was most interested in seeing Los Angeles in ruins. This involved spending almost as much time on freeways, in traffic, as it did actually seeing things of interest, but I mitigated that misery with a good soundtrack that included Darker Than Blue: Songs From Jamdown, 1973-1980, and a lot of very loud Jane’s Addiction.
Not far from West Hollywood, in one back corner of Griffith Park, are the bizarre ruins of the old Los Angeles Zoo (1912-1965), where I made my first stop. WPA workers in the 1930s hand-sculpted a variety of animal-scaled stone (concrete) caves, stairways and cages for the zoo, perhaps attempting to approximate the feel of the animals’ native cage environments. They also courteously placed several picnic tables just in front of the bars, so visitors could sit down and enjoy lunch without having to move away from the entertainment.