San Pedro is an industrial city and a beach city. There are surfers and there are oil workers. There are port authority workers and there are vagrants. There are police and there are skateboarders. So you have a diverse city that knows how to make things happen, people in that city that know how to build things.
Channel Street Skateboard Park is located under the Channel street exit ramp bridge and began its life when an industrious skateboarder slapped a bag of concrete between the junction of a bridge pillar and the asphalt parking lot in which it is anchored. I am not sure how long ago that was, but it has been at least 10 years since that unauthorized awesome act. Since then skateboarders have been rolling to that spot under the bridge and shredding, slowing adding more and more. A curb here, a quarterpipe there, a bowled corner over there. Some how, local authorities allowed it to grow and continue.
Today Channel Street Skate Park is much more than patchwork of mixed concrete, it is a compact area of unique curves and transitions connected by a spine section. Long and narrow, the park is all transition with a network of bowls with metal coping and pool coping. It is definitely a challenge to skate. Some of the transitions and bowel corners offer nice little surprises for a new rider. This park is one of a small group of DIY (do it yourself) skateparks that have been built in this country with little or no help from community government.
Channel Street Skatepark is an excellent example of skateboarders taking matters into their own hands and fulfilling a need – besides its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. But take a trip there yourself and you see that no one is saying 'sorry'. Nope, its more like a proud 'Look what we did' to a local government that neglected to act. As an industrial city, San Pedro has a hardened side, so this is not a place for a soccer mom to take her 5 year old with a Penny Board. As a beach city, San Pedro has a relaxed and easy going side, so the locals at Channel Street are pretty friendly and not too worried about competition.
One more thing that I like about the park is that it is a work of art. There are tile mosaics on the walls next to murals and other found objects embedded into the walls. A side from the deliberate art, the curves and corners of this park are unique works of skate-able art. Its a gathering place for all types of people. Maybe now that this skatepark has been constructed, it will draw the port authority workers, oil workers, vagrants and police over to watch the skateboarders. This skater built park may also have an unintended result of building something else – relationships.
On the edge of an immense urban city and just before the Pacific ocean washes its westerly wave against these high cliffs of San Pedro, there lays a neighborhood quietly positioned on its peak. Merely a seagulls caw away from the port district of Los Angeles, a breezy neighborhood is unaware of certain disaster! Sunken City of San Pedro!
There are lots of family fun things that you could do in San Pedro. For example lets visit the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, The Korean Bell of Friendship, The Vincent Thomas suspension bridge, the Fermin Point Lighthouse or perhaps the USS Iowa battleship harbored there. But nope, I want to check out the Sunken City - a mix of dirt and churned up concrete roadway. Am I strange or just a little off? I could just be drawn to disaster. But really, is this a true sunken city?
The name brings up images in my mind of grand ancient cities that have been lost for centuries with an unlimited bounty of treasure and wealth. So, is that what we have here in San Pedro? No, not really. Instead of a Sunken City, I would call this more of a “Recessed Block”. Heck, its more of a washed out street. I still think it pretty cool though. So how did this happen you ask? Well, I am no historian or geologist, but I have this wiki thing on the inter-web just like everybody else, so lets see what I can glean from this.
1929 was the year that residents in this area noticed that their plots of land were slowly creeping toward the Pacific. Some accounts described land slumping 11 inches per day, so it was by no means a sudden occurrence. History shows that the city was able to move the impacted homes out of harms way before the landslide ate them whole. But you can see that evidence remains of the concrete foundations, paved city streets and gutters that now act as willing surfaces for modern street artists to make their mark.
The area is restricted access, but that does not deter loads of meandering people from entering the area, to explore, paint and even throw a football around. Its sort of like a outcast's playground. Some play pretty hard here, especially at night. The area is littered with discarded cases of beer, broken bottles, fast food wrappers and spray paint cans. Sunken City is a hide-a-way and a party place and while it might be family fun for some, it is a final resting place for others – so if you plan to visit this recess, step carefully.
Fellow photographic pal Joaquin and I often trek to the lesser travelled environs of the Southern Californian desert. "Desolate" is a prime criteria when deciding the destinations. Anza Borrego, a state park spanning 3 California counties fits the title nicely....at least for what we mostly saw. I coaxed Joaquin out this way because I had heard of large metal sculptures ascending from the desert floor in random unexpected places near Anza Borrego in Borrego Springs. This is August in the desert in California – 105 F temperatures are normal, however, we where blessed with over cast cloudy weather. I love clouds, I love em in my photography, especially when shooting landscapes or weird enormous metal animals out amongst the tumble weed.
Joaquin was skeptical, but we soon came upon several sculptures of elephant with large tusks, just off the highway near Borrego Springs. There were 3 of them. A family. Seemingly strayed from the herd, frozen, their gaze welded facing west. There is nothing marking these beasts. No signage to tell you what this exhibition is all about. Nothing about the artist. No signs telling you to 'no touching', no ropes, no curbs, no fences. Truly a sculpture that seems to have been dropped off in the middle of no where's ville, like it was abandoned. I like that.
But yet these elephants are in good company. Not too far from here is a pack of wild horses dancing in the desert, a giant eagle protecting its nest and t-rex with his dino friends making a prehistoric reptilian fight club of sorts. Once you find one or two of these hand crafted sculptures, you'll discover more only a welding rod's throw away. In order to get to some of these sculptures, off road trails or short hike are the only ways. Its worth the effort. Joaquin was beginning to be impressed.
On the other side of Borrego Springs, just down the road a bit is a second grouping of more eclectic works of art. A herd of camel, more elephants, and a strange scene with several field workers tending to grape vines – truly odd. I saved the best for last though: a two story tall scorpion about to sting a cadillac sized grasshopper sitting in the middle of a sandy brushless several acre area. Yet again, there are no signs of any kind, no fodder to foul up your view and spoil your contemplation of these wonderfully detailed pieces of art.
"...a strange scene with several field workers tending to grape vines – truly odd."
It was at this point that Joaquin admitted to me that the grasshopper sculpture was his favorite. I liked it a lot too. Our final destination, seemed to be the most recent addition to this huge outdoor gallery: A Sea Serpent. This is the largest of the works, spanning the paved road allowing travelers to feel like they are surrounded by the scaly beast.
The serpent mimics those ocean dwelling dragons that where have said to have taken down many ships in the dark waters of the early days of sea voyages. It is undoubtedly an impressive and ambitious work. Joaquin and I struggled to find a shot that would capture the awe of the serpent. We snapped a few, feeling satisfied, then we left – still not knowing who or where this desolate collection sprang from. A mystery which only adds to the reverent and enigmatic feeling that comes to you when standing in 105 F degree desert near these creatures. We must move on, more of the California desert awaits.
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