It's been said (not so much in these words) that Los Angeles is a big sprawling mess of a city. That's bad if you need to drive from Silver Lake to Marina del Rey on a Wednesday afternoon. But it's good if you like surprises.
L.A. is complicated! It has so many nooks and crannies, so many false bottoms and winding roads, you can live here all your life and still find something new every single day.
Here are just six of the many things you may not know have been sitting here this whole time:
6) Gandhi's ashes
Gandhi was, of course, cremated after his assassination in 1948. Hindu tradition holds that one's ashes are to be dumped into a body of water. As a crowd of millions watched, Gandhi's ashes were deposited into the muddy green Ganges River — at least most of them were.
To appease the mourning Indian public, steel urns containing Gandhi's ashes were sent all over the country for public services meant to end in their dispersal in local bodies of water. This does not seem to have happened in every case, and portions of the ashes were kept by government agents and friends of Gandhi. Some made their way to the Aga Khan, who enshrined them at his palace in Pune, India. [Paramahansa] Yogananda in Los Angeles, who had a friendship with Gandhi spanning decades (he is said to have initiated Gandhi into the practice of Kriya Yoga in 1930), received his portion of remains from Dr. V.M. Nawle, a journalist who was friends with both men.
Yogananda was responsible for introducing millions of Westerners to both meditation and yoga. In 1936, he founded the Self Realization Fellowship, which is based in Mount Washington but has more than 500 temples and centers around the world, including the Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in the Pacific Palisades. There you'll find the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, featuring a 1,000-year-old Chinese sarcophagus containing Gandhi's ashes.
Some people aren't so cool with the ashes being kept on dry land. But his great-grandson Tushar Gandhi has said the ashes should be left alone.
"Taking these out would require breaking the shrines, which the family does not want," he told The Guardian in 2008. "I hope there are no more out there. The family is aware that the ashes could be misused by politically motivated people and damage the Mahatma's name."
5) The largest section of the Berlin Wall in the United States
Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, sections of it have ended up all over the world. The largest portion in the United States sits on, of all places, the front lawn of the SBE Entertainment building (formerly the Variety building) at 5900 Wilshire Blvd.
The 10 concrete slabs were painted by four different artists and donated by the Wende Museum.
4) An abandoned Nazi compound
Tucked inside the hills and overgrown brush of Rustic Canyon, you'll find a burned-out, graffiti-covered compound: the fabled Murphy's Ranch. During the late 1930s, according to the L.A. Times, "A small group hoping to establish a Nazi utopia built an elaborate infrastructure that included a 395,000-gallon concrete water tank, a 20,000-gallon diesel fuel tank and a power station."
But this was no Waco; a day after Pearl Harbor, police raided Murphy's Ranch and, according to the Daily Mail, "rounded up the the 50 or so American fascists who were living there."
It's now owned by the city of Los Angeles, and it's a great place to go for a hike.
3) A shit-ton of oil
California may be full of hippie-dippy environmentalists, but it's also the third largest oil-producing state in the country, and much of the oil is in Los Angeles.
There's the one next to Beverly Hills High School, all painted in flowers, which is scheduled to go offline at the end of the year. There's an even better-disguised one on the northwest corner of Pico and Doheny. The Packard Well site at Pico and Genesee looks like a plain, if windowless, office building, but below the ground there are 51 wells; in 2008, they produced 491,000 barrels of crude oil.
Other wells don't even bother covering up, especially in the Signal Hill area of Long Beach, where there's an oil derrick next door to a McDonald's.
2) A decommissioned missile base
During the Cold War, America had something like 265 Nike missile sites all over the country, ready to shoot down invading enemy aircraft and prevent Red Dawn from ever becoming a reality. Now, according to Wikipedia, "Many Nike sites are now municipal yards, communications and FAA facilities (the IFC areas), probation camps, and even renovated for use as Airsoft gaming and MilSim training complexes. Several were completely obliterated and turned into parks. Some are now private residences."
Los Angeles once was defended by 16 Nike missile sites; now, there's just LA-96C, aka San Vicente Mountain Park. It's a nice place to go for a walk and see some guard towers and a really cool launching pad/observation deck, from which you can check out a gorgeous, 360-degree view of Los Angeles.
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1) Prohibition-era smuggling tunnels
The Prohibition era saw the population of Los Angeles double, from just over half a million to 1.2 million people. Maybe it's because everyone was drunk.
There were something like 11 miles of service tunnels underneath downtown L.A., allowing bootleggers to supply illicit speakeasies with booze while the cops, the prosecutors and even City Hall all looked the other way.
Today, the tunnels are officially closed to the public. But if you're super sneaky (and careful!) you can explore them a bit. On the east side of Hill Street, at the northwest tip of Grand Park, you'll find a tiny sign for the Hall of Records. Take the elevator down to the bottom, and look for the words "SOUND HORN" painted on the concrete walls. There are other exits feeding out to other government buildings. On rainy days, some government employees use the tunnels to stay dry.