Why the La Brea Tar Pits are the Pits | Public Spectacle | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Why the La Brea Tar Pits are the Pits

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Fri, Dec 30, 2011 at 11:26 AM

click to enlarge If Disney owned La Brea Tar Pits.
  • If Disney owned La Brea Tar Pits.

Approximately 355,000 people visit the Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits each year, which has us wondering what percentage of attendees are grade schoolers forced there on a class trip because -- let's face it -- the Tar Pits kind of suck.

Yeah, it's cool that tar has been seeping from the ground around present-day Hancock Park for tens of thousands of years, but let's focus on the incredibly depressing mammoth sculptures instead. The trio of Columbian mammoths appear to be staging a prehistoric rendition of the opening scene of Bambi. To jog your memory of the sculptures: a baby mammoth stands at the edge of the pit, helplessly squealing to its dying mother who is stuck in the tar. Next to the baby mammoth stands its father, safely planted on the bank, offering absolutely no help to his mate. What a prehistoric jerk!

The mother mammoth had to be "rescued" in 1992, when the fiberglass she-beast broke loose during a period of heavy rains and needed to be re-anchored to her heart-wrenching post.

Fiberglass mammoths aren't the only mammals getting caught in the tar these days. Pigeons, squirrels and other small animals regularly get trapped and suffocate in the tar.

The Tar Pits are now under scrutiny for allegedly being the source of an omnipresent oil slick atop nearby Ballona Creek. According to the Huffington Post, the Tar Pits overflow when it rains and release toxic runoff into the neighborhood's storm drains, which lead to the ocean.

Before you assume that particular kind of pollution has been occurring long before humans arrived to the scene, think again. La Brea's large lake pit is the remnant of an abandoned asphalt mine.

Kerjon Lee, spokesperson for the LA County Department of Public Works, denies the Tar Pits are the cause of the oil slick, despite the Page Museum's history of water regulation fines. The Page Museum and Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County paid $15,000 in fines for releasing polluted water into the storm drains in 2006, The Los Angeles Times recently reported.

So what makes the Tar Pits a popular tourist destination?

"Growing up on the east coast, my only exposure to the Tar Pits was the movie Volcano," says L.A. transplant Sam Friedman. "So seeing the Tar Pits is kind of an ultimate novelty."

Volcano isn't the only movie that used the tar pits as a filming location. Perhaps the most memorable scene shot at the tar pits is from My Girl 2; when Nick pretends to drop Vada's ring, a gift from Thomas J. (Macaulay Culkin's character), into the tar.

Other movies featuring the tar pits include The Hammer and Miracle Mile. There's also a hilarious episode of Laverne and Shirley where Lenny meets a girl at the tar pits and Squiggy begins to feel left out, but ultimately has to save him from the tar.

Paleontological nerds might love the Page Museum's collection of Pleistocene ice age fossils, the world's largest collection from that time period. But the museum was upstaged by a group of construction workers who unintentionally unearthed a trove of fossils, including a nearly intact mammoth skeleton, while digging to accommodate the underground parking garage for LACMA in 2006. A saber-toothed cat, bison, horses, a giant ground sloth, clams, millipedes and prehistoric pollen were also recovered.

And a free bonus Spanish lesson: "La brea" means "the tar" in Spanish, so saying "Let's go to the La Brea Tar Pits today", is like saying "Let's go to the The Tar Tar Pits today". Feel free to correct your friends whenever they make the same metedura de pata (that's Spanish for 'faux pas').

Did we mention that the tar smells like cow farts?

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