Go There: San Pedro's Sunken City

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Why you should care

Because pristine ocean views and ample rock scrambling are too good to miss. 

Go There is an OZY series of video postcards from locations with an intriguing story.

San Pedro is a sleepy suburb at the southern corner of Los Angeles. Its proximity to the busy Port of LA/Long Beach made it a preferred sailor town for those returning from sea. Bukowski spent his last days here. At its southernmost tip, near Point Fermin, there’s a so-called Sunken City, off-limits to all thanks to a heavy-duty iron fence. Despite the barrier, though, people hop the fence and find their way in.

The cliffside property once hosted a Red Car train station and plans were set for a clutch of fancy bungalows. But the ocean had other ideas. A series of landslides that began in the late 1920s and lasted into the early ’30s, gradually cracked and chipped away at the cakey, flaky mud foundations. All but two of the homes were relocated before the area was abandoned, leaving chunks of sidewalk and foundation, lampposts and railway line strewn within the cliffside crater.

Today, the scene is irresistible to the urban explorer. Visitors come for a rock scramble or a run, to contribute an intricate layer of colorful graffiti or to picnic and take in the sparkling Pacific, with ships, dolphins and the occasional whale traversing the channel toward Catalina Island.

There is some danger here and it remains illegal to enter — which undoubtedly contributes to the attraction. After a series of cliffside suicides and injuries in 1987, the city council erected that iron fence to keep visitors out. But over the years, the futility of the fence has become apparent. Earlier this year, San Pedro City Councilman Joe Buscaino floated the idea of an automatic gate to allow visitors access during the day. Buscaino has asked the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks to look into it, but the question of liability will likely remain a sticking point.

For now, we’re obliged to insist you obey city rules and please keep out.

But if go there you must, tread carefully.

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