the ghost streets of LA
December 6, 2015 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Other times, it actually takes on solidity and mass in the form of oddly skewed, diagonal slashes of houses.  The buildings that fill it look more like scar tissue, bubbling up to cover a void left behind by something else's absence.
posted by the man of twists and turns (31 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
Basically every time I look at pictures of Los Angeles from above, I get an almost uncontrollable desire to play Sim City.

(but uh so the thing documented here, the "this bedroom exists in this way with walls at this angle because 70 years ago there was a streetcar route that went through here" effect, is probably the reason why I wasted so much time playing Sim City as a kid — the pleasure of seeing semi-chaotic organic-ish growth that's subtly shaped by decisions you made and forgot about 70 years (of game time) previously.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:27 AM on December 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Here's one in San Francisco, I spent a pleasant afternoon once walking along and noticing how the old line had shaped the buildings. Do you see it running diagonally from bottom left to upper right?
posted by vacapinta at 10:33 AM on December 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Streets? I would put money on rail-lines. (Also, eponysterical.)
posted by benito.strauss at 10:36 AM on December 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


The right of way was probably rail, yeah. My guess is commercial rail. Someone knows, it wouldn't take much research to figure it out.

See also San Francisco scar tissue, a very nice image treatment by Metafilter's own Mike Migurski. More info on these SF railroad remnants here and here.
posted by Nelson at 10:40 AM on December 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


This pops up in a Walter Mosley book, I can't remember which one now but the fact of it still sits there in my concept of Los Angeles.

Also, of course, I knew this was going to be a BldBlog article.
posted by From Bklyn at 10:44 AM on December 6, 2015


What's kind of cool is, a lot of abandoned rail lines, which might fade away into these subtle scars, are being re-illuminated by the various rails-to-trails programs nationwide.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:46 AM on December 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Though they're not all rail lines. This kink in the road (that I grew up with) turns out to run along a rancho border dating from 1834, when the huge (1,200 km2) Rancho Los Nietos land grant was broken up. (I think it runs between Rancho Los Alamitos and Rancho Los Cerritos.) You can follow it pretty clearly for about a mile to the Northeast where it runs into the Los Coyotes diagonal, another old border that has become a fairly major street instead of fading into the background.

The grid in Orange County is even more unremittingly regular than in Los Angeles, so these occasional diagonals stand out even more.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:52 AM on December 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love this kind of thing. It shows up in old houses, too. We used to live in a house that had been built in 1910 or thereabouts, and it had these odd quirks from various remodels people had done over the years—a room that had a wall that was partially brick because it used to be on the house's exterior, an oddly-shaped little bathroom that had been made from a coat closet, one of those little pass-throughs for milk delivery that could still be opened from the outside but had been covered on the inside during a kitchen remodel. Some of these things were really obvious—like the brick wall—and some of them you'd notice when you were looking at something for the hundredth time and suddenly saw a connection or a gap. It was like doing archaeology.
posted by not that girl at 10:58 AM on December 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


My town has kind of the opposite of this. Scars of anticipation, I guess? Grand 1970s plans, half-finished and long since abandoned, for the seamless suburbanization and regionalization of a once-standalone town that has since glommed into the Greater Toronto Area in a more spontaneous and organic (in the sense that cancer is organic) fashion. We have a couple major thoroughfares that'll just stop at an obstacle -- ravine, creek, railroad -- and continue on the other side without a link. Every once in awhile a promise is made to finally finish one connection or another, but I doubt it'll ever happen. In the meantime, other plans come along -- highways, subdivisions -- that obstruct those old plans, either financially or physically, and create new dead ends of their own.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:14 AM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


> What's kind of cool is, a lot of abandoned rail lines, which might fade away into these subtle scars, are being re-illuminated by the various rails-to-trails programs nationwide.

My old home town has one of those as well. I think it's an interesting comparison. If you look at this, the old rail line cuts from top center to lower right, nipping a corner off Cypress College. Zoom in and you can see it's not paved. I think they stopped the Red Line that used to run on it in the 1940s/50s, pulled up the tracks in the 70s, and are just now turning it into a walking trail. It's like a Heidelberg dueling scar that being cultivated for the scar tissue. Meanwhile, the rancho border only exists as fragmented pieces that you aren't likely to notice until someone points them out. (I confess that I once held a ruler up to the Google map just to be sure what I was seeing was actually two segments of the same line.)
posted by benito.strauss at 11:17 AM on December 6, 2015


The old hometown of Hamilton, ON has a ghostly web of radial rail lines, gone for decades. Some survive as parks (formal or informal) that serve as mile-long foot or cycle shortcuts across the city. Others are less obvious from the air: the one I linked runs northeast from the core lines, while the counterpart on running southwest is mostly invisible in an aerial view, but when you walk the streets it crossed you notice that in every block there are a couple of mid-twentieth century homes in the midst of the Victorians. An attentive or intellectually curious pedestrian or driver might notice that the pair of newer buildings is just a little further down each block.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:27 AM on December 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Canals are another thing that causes ghosting. Not so much in L.A., obviously, but basically everywhere east of the Mississippi. If it's called "Canal Street," you can bet it was either once a canal itself, paved over, or a canalside tow road. (Tow roads tend to become hiking trails.)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:29 AM on December 6, 2015


Awesome; another vivid example of cities being palimpsests.
posted by lalochezia at 11:39 AM on December 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Chicago has them too, where train lines used to move materials back and forth to the various factories around the city. You can see the old train line that runs southwest from Wrigley Field here to the Finkl and Sons steel mill that used to be by the river.

If you look carefully in some sidestreets and alleys you can even find the abandoned train tracks, right in the middle of the gentrified neighborhood.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:43 AM on December 6, 2015


Very cool. I'll be sifting Google Maps around the NYC area for this effect when I have a spot of time. Also, I wonder how Edward Soja w/ his "trialectic" view of urban space would assess this phenomenon. Brooks further thought.

Also: eponysterical!
posted by foodbedgospel at 12:57 PM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


it wouldn't take much research to figure it out.

Yep. This 1928 map shows that the "P.E. RY" (Pacific Electric Railway) ran along that route .
posted by Knappster at 1:17 PM on December 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


My town has both the "new" and "old" types of these: diagonal slashes across the land from rail sidings connecting old businesses to the main lines, visible even out into the rural areas if you trace them along as changes in shading on the farmlands and occasional gniches in a road. Although one diagonal has been preserved as the Gallagator Linear Trail.

The new type is a side-effect of the housing booms and busts of recent decades: staccato streets making dashed lines across the map as "Annie Street" appears in every housing development, then disappears again into some farmer's field, only to reappear on the far side in another housing development. Incidentally this is hell for a pedestrian or bicyclist who is forced to divert onto one of the busy, heavy, pollution-filled We Like Cars Corridors to get anywhere.
posted by traveler_ at 1:17 PM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huh. I always wondered about that weird street/parking lot on Sunset near Guitar Center.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:28 PM on December 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I both love the artifacts and am saddened by the loss of rail right-of-way, a very expensive thing to re-acquire if it is ever needed again for future use.
posted by maxwelton at 2:07 PM on December 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I love this kind of thing. It shows up in old houses, too.

Stewart Brand wrote a whole book about this: How Buildings Learn. Really fun examination of the way buildings change in their lifetimes. He makes a strong case that adapatability and repurposability are overlooked virtues in good architecture.
posted by Nelson at 2:27 PM on December 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I both love the artifacts and am saddened by the loss of rail right-of-way, a very expensive thing to re-acquire if it is ever needed again for future use.

In the aforementioned home town, one of the streets in the downtown core had a rail right-of-way, but public opinion began to turn against it after a 1953 derailment. In a very meta twist, the iconic photo of it has become a mural at the intersection where it happened.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:02 PM on December 6, 2015


The house next door to mine was built before the street plan was finalized and the builders thought that it would be on a corner and so it faces a side street that never got built. Instead the street was built three houses west and my house got built where the street was going to go. This means that their front porch and door faces my house; I'm sitting in my kitchen right now and can look out my side window and see their front door looking back at me.
posted by octothorpe at 6:49 PM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love the streets of Los Angeles. Nice post.
posted by univac at 9:56 PM on December 6, 2015


I'd like to know the story behind this one.
posted by univac at 10:03 PM on December 6, 2015 [4 favorites]




Tip: Google Earth allows you to switch between current and historical "satellite" images. In the SF case, you can go back to 1938 and see the railroad through the mission as it existed then.

While you're there, check out all the streets that have been widened, where all the buildings next to them have been moved, rotated, or destroyed. San Jose Ave, Geary, Lombard, etc.
posted by alexei at 1:30 AM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Some of the weirdness in central LA along the Wilshire corridor is the vestiges of the Ballona watershed, which was an occasional (seasonal?) diversion of the LA river.
posted by carsonb at 8:58 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Long Beach residents lobbied to keep part of an old Red Car line as open space.
posted by sweetmarie at 11:42 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Liverpool has lots of these, some of which I only learned about from this thread earlier this year, featuring side-by-side modern satellite photography and historical maps. It's amazing.

For instance, the office I currently work in was built on top of the former Liverpool Airport (where the Beatles landed after their American tour, greeted as heroes). I've walked around the whole area during my lunch breaks and found parts of the old runway and hangars. It's surreal.

The other day I was in an off licence and was asked "do you believe in ghosts?"

"Not really," I said. Not literally, anyway.
posted by Acey at 11:51 AM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not always even that oblique. For years I lived on Trolleyway, on the beach in Playa Del Rey near LAX, which used to be part of the Los Angeles Pacific Railroad.

Had car culture not completely reshaped LA in its ungodly image, the city would be a very amazing place to get around.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:39 PM on December 7, 2015


(And vacapinta, the trace you point out in San Francisco also allows for one to view the amazing treehouse near 24th and Capp. Plus my dude is from San Diego and his sister lives in Tewkesbury. Small world!)
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:46 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


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