Archaeology and EDM at the Cornfield
October 15, 2014 • North Chinatown
This week LA Downtown News reported about an archaeological find in the Cornfield, technically Los Angeles State Historic Park, a sliver of land happily saved from becoming luxury condos in the 1990s. It has been an empty field for decades, and unless you lived nearby, you might only know about it because it’s used as a venue for EDM concerts and Cirque Berzerk. If you ride the Gold Line north from Union Station, you zip right along the side of the Cornfield. I’ve seen Downtown and Chinatown residents out there getting their jog on, and the park is currently undergoing a renovation into a more developed space, which is why they were digging it up this summer.
A few years ago I was in the park at dusk and asked one of the rangers if they’d been gassing the ground squirrels that seemed to have burrows all over the park. “Oh, no, we don’t do that,” he said. It might not have been him personally, or it might not have been intended for the public record, but somebody was gassing them, because there were empty gas cartridges on the ground. Presumably the critters don’t fit with the new plans for the space.
The archaeological find included ruins of a Southern Pacific railroad building and a trash pit. Before the Spanish arrived, the site was a low spot where the LA River flooded into from time to time; early nonindigenous settlers used it for agriculture, and the Zanja Madre, the aqueduct that brought water from the river to the Pueblo, ran right through the Cornfield. A chunk of the Zanja Madre was uncovered in 2001 in the Cornfield, and another chunk was found earlier this year in nearby Chinatown; you could see it for a while from the Chinatown Metro station in the luxury-condo construction site just north of the station. Apparently the Cornfield was also where a lot of early migrants first arrived in Los Angeles, as it was the end-of-the-line train station as well as the Union Pacific rail yard.
It would be fun to see some of the 19th-century trash recently unearthed at the Cornfield. Unintentional time capsules are much more interesting than the planned ones, which usually contain Bibles, coins, photos, and newspapers—all things that readily travel through time without need of being sealed in a canister in the ground. Last year a contractor in San Marino found a 66-year-old wallet lost or hidden inside the wall of a house, and it was full of fascinating things that don’t typically survive through time, including the owner’s pay stubs and a 1940s driver’s license with a thumbprint instead of a photo.
Now isn’t the time to visit the Cornfield, as it’s essentially a construction site. Let’s hope the renovations improve the space and make it user-friendly; the worst-case scenario would be a disaster like Pershing Square after its most recently renovation in the 1980s. With any luck they’ve hired better planners for the Cornfield, and it’ll become a public space worthy of more than pop-up concerts and circuses.