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Weird LA: The Stuff We Missed

I hope you’ve enjoyed our exploration of some of the interesting things to see around LA; we plan to continue to show you around town as we find things to show you. Meanwhile, here’s a look at a few destinations we had to skip due to distance, traffic, or time constraints.

Photo by Jennifer Gaillard.  Used under a creative Commons license.

Photo by Jennifer Gaillard.
Used under a creative Commons license.

The first thing we cut from the tour was Sunken City. It’s way down in San Pedro, and I didn’t have any other destinations in that area (though if the Big W weren’t on private property, it would have been a whole ‘nother story, but we’ll get to that), so we had to scratch it. Sunken City is, or rather was, a neighborhood overlooking the ocean, which one day in 1929 decided to stop overlooking the ocean and fall in. The 600 block of West Paseo Del Mar Road just dropped right into the drink. It’s weird and disconcerting; they have a barricade and they don’t want people walking around on the edge (it’s still unstable and more is likely to fall at any time), but everyone crawls under the fence and explores it anyway. For the film nuts, this is where the Dude and Walter scatter Donnie’s ashes in The Big Lebowski.

"It's a big dubba-ya, I tell ya!" Photo by MGM/UA.

“It’s a big dubba-ya, I tell ya!”
Photo by MGM/UA.

A bit north up the shore from San Pedro is the little town of Palos Verdes, a very upscale neighborhood with two interesting sites, neither of which you can see. First is the Big W, which you may remember as the location of the buried treasure in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The W was formed by four palm trees planted at angles to each other. Sadly, the trees are now gone except for one stump, and the entire area is a private residence enclosed by a solid (and tall) wall, making it impossible to see anything from the street. You can hike a trail along the cliffside and see the area, but there’s not much to see.

A vintage postcard from the heyday of Marineland.

A vintage postcard from the heyday of Marineland.

Not far away, you can find some hints of the remains of Marineland of the Pacific, which was at the time the world’s largest oceanarium, an aquatic research center and entertainment destination. Opening a year before Disneyland in 1954, it was California’s first major amusement park. The TV series Sea Hunt was filmed there. Marineland was more educational and less entertainment-oriented than Sea World, more focused on the realities of sea life and a lot less on showing us how cute and funny seals and dolphins are. As a result, it wasn’t as popular. In 1987, Sea World bought Marineland, making great promises about upgrading and refurbishing the place. It turned out that all they really wanted were Orky and Corky, the breeding pair of killer whales who were the stars of the park. (Corky was the first killer whale to give birth in captivity.) They slipped Orky and Corky out in the dead of night, moved them to San Diego, and then shuttered the place. Corky was renamed “Shamu” (all the performing killer whales at Sea World are named Shamu); Orky died about a year later after fathering two females, Orkid (short for “Orky’s Kid”) and Kayla. A resort called Terranea was built on the property about five years ago, but some remnants (at least a dolphin statue) are still there, and most of the building names relate to the history of the location.

Continuing up the coast, past Santa Monica, Venice and other beach communities, you get to Malibu, the home of lots of movie stars. Once you pass through the Malibu Colony, eventually you get to Calabasas, a much more rural area, which is the home of Malibu Creek State Park, which used to be the Fox Ranch. Movies and TV shows were often filmed there, most notably Planet of the Apes and the TV series M*A*S*H, the set of which has been preserved as a tourist destination.

photo by Konrad Summers   Used under a Creative Commons license.

photo by Konrad Summers
Used under a Creative Commons license.

Over the Malibu foothills in the west San Fernando Valley stands a weird little installation on the campus of Pierce College; a collection of crudely-sculpted western figures from a long-ago-bulldozed place known as “The Old Trappers Lodge.” When the Lodge was facing destruction, somebody arranged to move the statues to the college campus, and an anonymous donor provides for their upkeep.

Even further west is what used to be Corriganville, the Simi Valley ranch once owned by western star and stuntman Ray “Crash” Corrigan. Corrigan, who later became one of the great “gorilla men,” playing apes in a wide variety of movies, purchased the property in 1937 and began renting it to movie studios as a location for hundreds of cowboy movies and TV shows. In 1949, he opened it to the public as an attraction featuring stunt shows, Native American crafts, stagecoach rides, pony rides and boating on the lake. In 1988 much of the ranch was acquired by the City of Simi and converted into a park.

Walt Disney's stuio on Hyperion Ave in Silverlake.

Walt Disney’s studio on Hyperion Ave in Silverlake.

Closer to downtown LA is the site of Walt Disney’s first animation studio at 2719 Hyperion Avenue in Silverlake. Previously operating out of a small storefront, Walt and Roy purchased the lot in 1926 and the studio opened in 1929; by 1939 they had outgrown the space and began moving to the current location in Burbank. Today the site is a Gelson’s Market.

Across the road from the Hollywood Bowl stands the Lasky-DeMille Barn, Hollywood’s first movie studio. Built in 1901 as part the Northam family citrus farm near the intersection of Selma & Vine, the property was sold to real estate tycoon Jacob Stern in 1904; Stern began renting the barn to movie producers in 1913, and the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company signed a lease by the end of the year. By 1926, the Lasky company had become Paramount, and the Stern-DeMille-Lasky barn was moved to the studio’s new lot on Melrose. After several decades as part of the western set on the Paramount lot, the barn was named a historic landmark in 1956; it was moved to its present location in 1983. Today the building is home to the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

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