There’s a Secret Rock Climbing Wall on the Side of a Government Building Downtown

It’s visible from a major street

Piper Technical Center is big. Located across the street from Union Station and pretty unapproachable-looking, it’s home to the city archives, the nation’s largest rooftop heliport, and also, apparently, a rock climbing wall. Walk along Caesar Chavez and the holds are easily visible—a series of protrusions running up the eastern-most corner of the building.

If you’re curious enough, you might call Piper Tech to ask about the climbing wall, and you’ll likely talk to Sandra Avalos, secretary to Captain Sean Parker of the LAPD’s Air Support Division. She’ll tell you that “often times we have SWAT doing exercises here, repelling down and doing all kinds of stuff,” and she’ll refer you to the LAPD’s Metropolitan Division.

If you call at the right time, you might get put on the phone with SWAT officer Joe Witty. He’ll confirm that yes, it is, in fact, a climbing wall that was added sometime around 1999, but he’ll note that it hasn’t been used in forever. He himself hasn’t climbed on it since maybe 2002.

“The SWAT lead climbers wanted to practice climbing up a rock face if they ever had to rescue someone at the top of a cliff,” he’ll say. “Since then we’ve realized there’s not a lot of rock faces in L.A. If they need to do anything like that, they’ll do it out at Stoney Point.”

The route, he’ll point out, is also super easy. It’s made with all “bomber holds”—climber-speak for particularly solid, easy-to-grip holds. Witty would rate the climb about a 5.5 (on the Yosemite Decimal System, of course) which, if you’ve been to any of the roped climbing gyms in town, you know is about the lowest rating you’ll find.

For reference, here is a video of a toddler climbing a 5.5 route.

Thus, the SWAT climbing wall was abandoned and all but forgotten years ago—and no, there is no chance they will ever open it up to civilians. Not even a little bit of a chance, no matter how nicely you ask.

Thomas Harlander is a staff writer at Los Angeles magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram. He recently wrote: Rediscovering L.A.’s Lost Neighborhood of Bronzeville