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Surfridge: LA's forgotten ghost town

"Restricted Area" sign on the edge of Surfridge
James Kim/KPCC
A lamppost just outside of Surfridge
James Kim/KPCC
Empty roads in Surfridge
James Kim/KPCC
Sandpiper Lane in Surfridge
James Kim/KPCC
On the border of Surfridge at night
James Kim/KPCC
A map of Surfridge
James Kim/KPCC

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In the 1970's, when author Denise Hamilton was going to Loyola Marymount, she'd drive along the coast on Vista Del Mar, sandwiched between LAX and Dockweiler Beach. To her right was the Pacific Ocean, but to her left "was this abandoned-post apocalyptic suburb where there were no houses." Hamilton said. "It was imprinted in my mind as this ghost town right at the fringe of the continent." 

The haunting image of a fenced-off territory, filled with cracked sidewalks, empty roads and busted streetlights stuck with Hamilton, and in 2011, she set the climax of her book, Damage Control, in Surfridge.

We were on Sandpiper Lane now. This was a neighborhood with street grids and lights and fire hydrants, but no houses or people, just cracked concrete foundations where homes had once stood. "What is this place?" I said. A jet went by, rattling the windows of Anabelle's Jetta. The streetlights still stood, their lamp glass busted, watching over the empty streets. The whole development was fenced off by rusting barbed wire and signs that said, "No Trespassing, Danger, Do Not Enter." "Isn't it cool," said Anabelle. "It's like a doomed forgotten city, right in the middle of L.A."

Surfridge began in the 1920's, when Fritz Burns, a young realtor from Minneapolis, developed the land into a neighborhood for the wealthy. Cecil B. DeMille and Carmen Miranda owned homes in Surfridge. But as the city began to prosper, so did the airport across the street.  As LAX grew closer to Surfridge, noise from the jets rattled the windows of the homes. In the sixties and early seventies, the airport purchased all the houses there, began clearing them off the land, and fenced off the deserted town.    

A neighborhood local named David Dukesherer wants to rescue Surfridge from oblivion. Dukesherer says he's "appalled by the lack of knowledge that locals had of our town."  Dukesherer lives in Westchester, has written nine books on LAX and the surrounding neighborhoods, and has been collecting newspaper articles and vintage maps of Surfridge for fifteen years.

He was in high school in the seventies as his neighbors and classmates were losing their homes as LAX expanded. Dukesherer remembers his mother getting the neighbors together and saying, "We have to fight this initiative." He says people would meet in town halls, church halls and living rooms and say, "We don't want to see our street be wiped off the face of the map."

Dukesherer grew up in Playa del Rey, just three miles from Surfridge. He and his friends would hang out on the sandy beach in front of the opulent neighborhood. "This is where we came to surf. This was our backyard."

Dukesherer wants people to drive around and see the streets, lampposts and location to understand what it once was and to keep the town from being forgotten. "It's something you have to see." He gives free tours and seminars for anyone interested in Surfridge. "It was one of the most exclusive millionaire's enclaves anywhere! And it's gone."