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Hunting for history in a region known for burying its treasures
Photograph by Dave Lauridsen
Warner Bros. Theatre
The movie marquee-style sign outside is your first clue this wasn’t always a jewelry bazaar. Bijoux vendors hawk their wares in a room adorned with gilt scrollwork and oval ceiling coffers left over from the site’s days as a Pantages theater. Debuting in 1920, the venue became the Warner Bros. Downtown Theatre during the Depression. Mosey past display cases and you’ll find another kind of bling: a grand proscenium framing the void where Gold Diggers of Broadway once played. » 401 W. 7th St., downtown.
Linda Vista Community Hospital
The shuttered six-story building has been empty since 1991 after serving railroad workers for much of the century. Opened in 1904, then razed and rebuilt in the moderne style a couple of decades later, it’s devolved into an eerie time capsule whose corridors and empty chambers are haunted by film crews and ghost hunters. Trespassing’s verboten, but you can spot a weathered 1961 Mercury Comet parked in the back, a reminder of promises left to decay. » 610 S. St. Louis St., Boyle Heights, 323-526-4222.
Thirty acres of rare foliage, exotic birds, and kitschy fairy-tale sculptures, the first Busch Gardens flourished above Pasadena’s arroyo from 1905 to 1937. The land is a subdivision today, but not all is lost. At the corner of Busch Garden Drive and Arroyo Boulevard, a stone entry post skulks in the shrubs across from an aged skein of cactus. A bit farther down Busch Garden Drive is a slope decorated with the garden’s stone pools, which have become planters. The park’s half-timbered mill survives, too—out of view. » Busch Garden Dr., Pasadena.
The mother ditch, or zanja madre, was the dirt gully that gave life to Pueblo de Los Angeles, channeling water from the Elysian Hills beginning in 1781. A portion has been preserved in an Olvera Street basement, but you can spot a brick-capped segment near its starting point, clinched between the bluffs of Broadway and the train tracks on the western edge of Los Angeles State Historic Park. Uncovered by a Gold Line construction crew, it hides behind chain-link; just head toward the yellow banner. » 1245 N. Spring St., Chinatown, 323-441-8819 or parks.ca.gov.
It started as a six-acre neighborhood of bungalows atop the San Pedro cliffs. Then one day in 1929 the earth started to move—as much as a foot a day. What’s left is a landscape riven with deep cracks and fissures and eroded into Bryce Canyon-like badlands. Slabs of graffiti-covered concrete from foundations and sidewalks point straight down now, with remnants of brickwork and electrical connections still visible. The palm trees add just the right postapocalyptic touch. » End of Pacific Ave. and Carolina St., San Pedro.
Big Horn Mine
First discovered in the 1890s on the eastern shoulder of Mount Baden-Powell near Wrightwood, the gold mine would by 1906 form the nucleus of a community complete with cabins and a post office. Alas, these days only bats are permitted in the mine, whose tunnels are lined with wood supports and iron piping. But it’s worth hiking the 4.4-mile round-trip to see the dramatic two-story stamp mill and narrow tracks suspended on precipitous slopes. » Look for the Mount Baden-Powell trailhead at Vincent Gulch off Angeles Crest Highway in Wrightwood.
Film editor and historian Robert S. Birchard on studio landmarks that hide in our midst
Thomas C. Regan Studio
“I rediscovered the long-forgotten Regan Studio when I found a box of old pictures relating to a studio I’d never heard of. It seems hard to believe a studio that never finished or released a picture would still be standing—the “castle” of Panorama City, now American Legion Post 817.” » 13553 Reedley St.
“From Essanay, Lubin, and Kalem in the nickelodeon era to Charles Ray Studio and Allied Artists to KCET and beyond, the Hollywood property has been used as studio space since 1912. It got its brick makeover in the 1920s.” » 4376 W. Sunset Blvd.
“Like many film companies churning out one- and two-reelers in the early silent era, Vitagraph had facilities around the country. The masonry structure, now part of a Santa Monica youth hostel, was a Vitagraph office in the early 1900s.” » 1438 2nd St.
“The concrete stage in Silver Lake is now a public storage facility, but it is also the last remnant of Mack Sennett’s original Keystone Studios and what was L.A.’s studio row in the 1910s.” » 1712 Glendale Blvd.