The four of us stared down at the black sludge bubbling up from the short blades of green grass that had been blocked off with black iron gates. A small gust of wind had picked up a smell, of what seemed like burned tire rubber, and found its way into our nostrils. I instinctively moved my feet around a bit as if to sidestep the process that was taking hold underneath my boots.
“This all seems very unsafe,” I said as I continued to look down at the ground that was pushing up this dark liquid from decades passed. The ground at La Brea Tar Pits looked like some sort of horror scene nestled between the picturesque LACMA and LA Brea Tar Pits museums.
My friend joking made a comment about my mildly irrational fear of falling victim to the tar that had taken so many lives long ago. “Yeah, the tar is just going to shoot up and drag you down into the earth with it.”
The research scientists and museum curators had done too good of a job depicting the last moments of life for creatures from thousands of years ago before falling victim to fossilization. Model mastodons, which resembled mammoths in a smaller form, were shown struggling and failing to climb out of the black sludge that slowly dragged them down into their graves.
Museum signs revealed stories of dire wolves that eventually starved to death in the pits after hunting for prey. Depictions of ground sloths, lured to their deaths with what they thought were lakes of fresh water, disclosed that they eventually fell victim to the black sludge swallowing them with every move for freedom that they tried to make. I looked down from the disturbing historical text to fix my eyes back on to the ground where the ancient tar was still bubbling up from the earth and into the present-day Hancock Park in Los Angeles. Truly this was the best instance of where the really old met the new and present day.
The rest of Los Angeles, although not to the extreme as La Brea Tar Pits, also merges the old with the new. Modern avant-garde buildings stand tall next to historical structures that are being brought back to relive life again in the city.
Climb up the decorative staircases of the Bradbury Building, or watch as old buildings downtown get a new spin and become lofts and mixed-use spaces. Take a walk down Broadway and watch as the city’s arts community breathes life back into the buildings’ ornamental bones.
It’s often subtle, but every town does its part in revealing a bit of its own history. Buildings tell stories of lives lived, while current culture and food paint pictures of how things moved in a particular space. The name of a town and the evolving landscape still reveals a bit of how its people have came to be, and although LA’s buildings might not be Tar Pit fossils, there are still attempts of preservation by the people that surround them.