The 13th Floor

A Ghost Town in the Middle of Los Angeles: The Story of Surfridge

Not all ghost towns reside in the middle of nowhere, deep in the forest or surrounded by vast desert plains. Some of them can exist in the heart of a bustling city. These small enclaves, once filled with neighborhood pride, soon resemble a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The town of Surfridge, located in one of Los Angeles’s most congested areas, is just such a place.


The neighborhood of Surfridge was built in the 1920’s by the development firm of Dickinson & Gillepsie as a beach-front community along a very idyllic stretch of the Pacific Ocean. This three-mile stretch was quickly populated with high-end Spanish style homes, all providing a majestic view of the Ocean. The intent was to offer an exclusive beach neighborhood to Los Angeles’s emerging entertainment elite. Celebrities such as Mel Blanc, Cecile B. DeMille, and Charles Bickford were some of the first to call Surfridge home.


Directly to the east of Surfridge was a tiny 640-acre farm with a dirt air strip known as Mines Field. During the 1920’s and 30’s both celebrities and locals would flock to this parcel of farmland to watch air shows and races, an activity very popular during the period. Then in 1928, the City of Los Angeles decided to transform Mines Field into the city’s new airport. The single dirt landing strip was quickly joined by several more, as the field took on its new role.


During the 1930’s, Surfridge became an increasingly popular address for Los Angeles’s elite.  Despite the many fortunes that were lost as a result of the Great Depression (one of Surfridge’s first real estate developers was forced to take up residence in a tent on the beach after losing everything) the community itself still continued to grow and prosper. But by the 1950’s, all of this would change.

As Surfridge grew so did it’s neighbor to the east, Mines Field airport. Now known as Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, it began taking on more air traffic as the nation officially welcomed in the jet age. By the 1960’s Surfridge became near uninhabitable as the latest jumbo jets rained down soot on the community during take-off, the take-off pattern being directly overhead of the once posh neighborhood. In addition to the soot and fuel pollution, residents also found the noise completely unbearable. Then in 1961, the city of Los Angeles began purchasing and condemning the properties under eminent domain.


Thus began the massive migration from Surfridge. In the early days, those residents who were compensated were able to move their entire homes. Surfridge homes began relocating and popping up all over the city. Those who didn’t sell early enough were often stuck in their homes waiting for a hopeful government bailout. The problem was, at the time, the city was only paying market value for homes. This meant that those who sold early were offered a higher buy-out. But when property values plummeted, those who had been waiting longer for compensation were forced to take a minuscule amount.


Many residents simply ended up abandoning their homes, this invited transients and vandals, which further lowered the property values. Some residents even reported seeing people driving into the neighborhood at night to strip the abandoned homes of building materials. By 1986, the last resident of Surfridge had left. However, a new resident quickly took it’s place.

In 1973, the El Segundo Blue Butterfly was the first insect to be officially declared endangered. Once a thriving resident of Surfridge, the butterfly’s population quickly decreased when the coastal buckwheat it ate was removed to make way for housing. With the town of Surfridge gone, the concrete slabs that once held the homes of Los Angeles’s most wealthy residents, have mostly been removed to make way for plants that will help the butterfly population grow.


In the end, all that remained of Surfridge was a small area of roads, building foundations, and dunes where people gathered to watch the planes. However, this area was closed after shortly after September 11th for security reasons.