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This old missile site might have saved LA during the Cold War




LA-55 in operation
LA-55 in operation
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For nearly 50 years, a cold war between the US and the Soviet Union kept the superpowers on the brink of nuclear war. In the event of that war, Los Angeles with its factories, oil, dense population, and star power made it a prime target. 

That's why the Army set up 16 missile defense sites around Southern California in the 1950s called the "Ring of Supersonic Steel." If Soviet bombers came close, five-ton Nike missiles would be loaded onto the launch pad and fired.

If that happened, it might have come from LA-55 in Rancho Palos Verdes — one of the best preserved of the 16. It was built in 1956 and remained in use until 1974.

The post hasn't been used for defense in more than 40 years. But a lot of the old base is still hidden in plain sight. 

"It's not as good as it was when I was a little kid, but it's still got so much original fabric," says Francisco Lacy, a guide at the Fort MacArthur Museum in San Pedro. 

Francisco Lacy
Francisco Lacy
Austin Cross

Lacy came to learn the features of LA-55 in an unusual manner. As a boy, he enjoyed exploring the site.

Some of the old structures are still in use: the barracks are now used as city offices. But, just off the beaten path, it's a world frozen in time.

Missile Assembly Building

Missile assembly building (LA-55)
Missile assembly building (LA-55)
Austin Cross

Missile Elevator

Launch Elevator (LA-55)
Launch Elevator (LA-55)
Austin Cross
Elevator button (LA-55)
Elevator button (LA-55)
Austin Cross

"These Nike missiles were stored in underground magazines, they were brought to the surface on elevators, and they would be able to push them on rails to their launch position," Lacy explains. 

Sentry Dog Kennel

Sentry dog kennel (LA-55)
Sentry dog kennel (LA-55)

Magazine Entrance

Magazine entrance (LA-55)
Magazine entrance (LA-55)
Austin Cross

Generator Room

Generator room (LA-55)
Generator room (LA-55)
Austin Cross

In the 1950s, a surprise attack wasn't an uncommon fear. Many still remembered the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During the Cold War, with the added threat of nuclear holocaust, the stakes seemed even higher. 

It's been 60 years since the site was put in place. However, tensions and fear of this magnitude are slightly more difficult to imagine.

As intercontinental ballistic missiles replaced planes as the bomb delivery method of choice, sites like LA-55 fell out of favor. 

Francisco Lacy, however, sees a romanticism in this otherwise dark chapter of American history. 

"Being here at night, the tensions, the Cold War high, you got the guard dogs going around looking for Soviet spies — that's why I love the Cold War. The stakes were so high, and the weight of it all is fascinating," Lacy says. 

"Never thought I'd see the day when we were like that again."

Press the blue play button above to take an audio tour of LA-55.