The silent mystery of LADWP's buildings

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In 1940 writer Henry Miller returned to the United States after living in Europe for many years. Soon after, he embarked on a fresh-eyed tour of his native land, writing about what he'd encountered and experienced. His account was published in his 1945 book, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. One of the most memorable sentences from the book was his opinion of Los Angeles. He wrote, "Los Angeles gives one the feeling of the future more strongly than any city I know of. A bad future, too, like something out of Fritz Lang’s feeble imagination."

I agree with Miller, except I'd replace "bad" with "fascinating," and "feeble" with "fabulous."

When our sponsor Toyota loaned me a 2014 RAV4 Electric vehicle, I thought it would be interesting to visit the power receiving and distributing stations of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which are hiding in plain sight all over the city. Most were built in the 1920s and the architecture reminds me of the art deco style of Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece, Metropolis, a science fiction movie that explores the concept of power in a literal and metaphorical sense. And since the RAV4 Electric was getting its juice from the LADWP, an idea for a photo gallery tickled my feeble imagination. I made a map route, grabbed my camera, unplugged the vehicle (with 93 miles of range in the batteries), and drove into a previous century. (It didn't take long, either, because the acceleration is impressive.) My photos and notes are below.

(Location A on map) Station 10, on Hawthorne Street, is less than a minute's walk from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It towers over the dingbat apartment building and a makeup artist school that flank it. The front door has an accordion-gate and signs warning anyone thinking of entering the building to turn back.

(Location B on map) Distributing Station No. 55 on the corner of 3rd St. and Formosa looks like a screenshot from Portal, and was as eerily silent as the other LADWP buildings I'd visited, despite being situated on a busy intersection. Dire warnings affixed to the imposing metal door discourage the curious from attempting to enter.

(Location C on map) Across the street from an auto body shop stands Station No. 6, erected in 1924. Looking more like a youth penitentiary than a power station, the neglected palm trees are appropriate garnish.

(Location D on map) Unlike the other LADWP sites I visited, the Daly Street Customer Service Center in Lincoln Heights is one of the few buildings that non-lizard people are allowed to enter. Built in 1937, its translucent emerald letters are wondrous to behold, despite an accumulation of grime and water spots. It had been shut down for years, but was re-opened in 2008 to the joy of post-art-deco architecture aficionados. It was closed on the day I visited, but I peeked through the window and it was as ugly as a Soviet-era doctor's office.

(Location D on map) I couldn't find Receiving Station E, but I found Receiving Station ≈ E in North Hollywood, which means it is approximately equal to E and therefore good enough for my purposes. Parking was forbidden on either side of the street in front of the building, so I parked a block away and walked across a dusty field of power transmission towers to take a picture. I was curious to find out what was inside the urns, but decided that the risk of having a scaly-skinned Distributor or Receiver leap out to suck the soul from my body wasn't worth it. I snapped a photo from the bottom of the stairs and walked briskly back to the RAV4 and drove away.

Back home, I wondered what was inside these distribution stations. This website has a few interior photos, and they look straight out of Metropolis!