Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
You may soon be able to (legally) explore part of Los Angeles that began sliding into the sea in the 1920s.
In her 2000 work on Los Angeles, the UCLA architecture theorist Dana Cuff gives La La Land a new nickname: “Lurch City.” Modern cities—and particularly Los Angeles, she argues—are the products of “convulsions,” series of disruptions in which old visions of the metropolis suddenly lurch to make way for new ones. This seems particularly true in L.A., which bloomed quickly (its population grew 200-fold between 1870 and 1970) and seems always on the cusp of natural disaster—fire, earthquake, flood and now, drought.
In late 1920s, the ground below a six-acre tract of bungalows in the Los Angeles community of San Pedro began to (somewhat slowly) lurch into the sea. By 1941, authorities had fenced off the area and declared it inaccessible to visitors. Only two houses ended up sliding into the ocean, but the small neighborhood’s buckled roads and broken pipes remain.
Despite laws barring them from what’s now called Sunken City, Angelenos haven’t stayed away. Today, the area is covered in graffiti, ready evidence that hikers, artists, curious tourists, and local teenagers trespass in the area all the time.
But a new proposal would see Sunken City reopened to the public. According to LAist, Councilmember Joe Buscaino has asked L.A. park officials to allow urban explorers access to Sunken City during the day, and to install a gate that would automatically lock at sunset. Neighbors argue that by regulating access to the area instead of banning it, Los Angeles will create a safer environment for those who are going to visit, legally or not.
For now, Sunken City remains a reminder that any city on the coast is fragile, and subject to the whims of the lurching ground below.
Want to take a better look for yourself? A 2013 video from the YouTube series Tom Explores Los Angles allows viewers to virtually wander around Sunken City—without breaking any laws.