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Tim Quinn


Great to see the old tanks getting a little attention. I am appending my own attempt to write a post about them from a few months ago. It trails off a bit at the end . . .

This is number one in an occasional series, The Ghost Buildings of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has a reputation for erasing itself bit by bit. No corner escapes the worklights of the demolition crews and the flattened landscape left behind. This has left a region with a history to tell and few artifacts to provoke questions or for story tellers to hang their tales from. Each building site contains a multitude of stories, these ghost buildings re-animate our thinking about the past. Filling in vast approximations with real detail of daily life.

Our first apparition of this session is of two broad cylinders sitting on the flat riverside plain just east of Downtown. Sometimes called gasometers, they are the natural gas storage tanks of the Southern California Gas butadiene manufacturing facility at Commercial and Center Streets near the train tracks and the river. (I was wrong about this, they pre-date the rubber plant but did serve it as well as the needs of the rest of the area) This is heavy and serious industry built during World War Two to help correct the shortage of rubber for tires. The main building had a mean set of smokestacks that belched acrid smoke, and just one half mile from city hall. It continued operating until the mid fifties when it was closed because of complaints about the smoke. Downtown had become a smoggy nightmare and the rubber factory was considered the prime offender. At the same time, out in Pasadena a scientist was doing the work that would show it was automobiles that made all that smog after all.

The tanks were a prominent feature of the Downtown skyline for about twenty years. They show up in the background of photos of the train station on Santa Fe. They show up in photos of City Hall taken from downtown's ghost hills. Yet, never in a film, never in fiction. As if the tanks were less than noticeable despite their enormous size and prominent location, an aspect of the landscape equivalent to noise or trash.

Seen now in photographs, looming over the freeway across from Union Station, they evoke a Los Angeles that is all but lost. Mid-century LA was a dense smoky industrial town populated by factory workers and smelling of petroleum. In the twenties vast stretches of Chinatown's hills were covered with oil derricks, grasshopper pumps and pools of polluted water. In what is now the arts district itself were steel rolling mills and cattle pens with scattered oil pumps and derricks, as well. At any intersection in that area you were as likely to meet a freight train as an automobile.

Harry Gordon

In very flat Los Angeles, the tall tanks were conspicuous landmarks. I lived at Florence Ave and Raymond in the 1940s, and I remember the tank on 60th Street, somewhere in the vicinity of Crenshaw. I called it the "Slauson Tank," but it wasn't actually on Slauson.

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