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Original location of the Air Raid Siren on State Route 1 (Lincoln Boulevard) in the Westchester area of Los Angeles.

CALTRANS SAVES AND DONATES HISTORICAL COLD WAR ERA ARTIFACT

Issue Date: 06/2008

A 1951 Air Raid Siren Is Moved From An Ongoing Caltrans Project Area to the Fort MacArthur Museum in San Pedro

By Noah M. Stewart, Associate Environmental Planner (Architectural History)

For many, the 1950’s are remembered as easier times, except for serious concerns brought about by early Cold War era national security.

Fast-forward 57 years, to 2008, when Caltrans District 7 has taken responsibility as a good steward and preservationist of an artifact from the Cold War era.

Earlier this year, on February 21, while working on the widening of State Route 1 (Lincoln Boulevard) in the Westchester area of Los Angeles, Caltrans engineers Eloy Castillo, Construction; Anthony Ng, Design D; and Gabe Hamidi, Project Management; found themselves in a trying situation. There was an old air raid siren within the project area that needed removal and the team was concerned it might have historic value.

As there was no guidance for the siren’s treatment, Castillo, Ng, and Hamidi contacted District 7 cultural resources staff in the Division of Environmental Planning (DEP) for help, who immediately visited the site and discovered that indeed the siren was of historic vintage.

After preliminary research, cultural resources staff developed a creative plan to approach the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the state regulatory agency with the responsibility for historic resources. In addition to writing a historical document about the air raid siren, Caltrans DEP proposed to donate the object to a local museum, preferably one that focused on the region’s military heritage. SHPO agreed and the siren was offered to, and subsequently accepted by, the Fort MacArthur Museum located in San Pedro’s Angels Gate Park (www.ftmac.org).  This museum is dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the history of Fort MacArthur, a U.S. Army post that guarded the Los Angeles harbor from 1914 to 1974. The museum has plans to restore the siren to a working condition.

One of an approximately 200-strong system when installed, long-time Angelenos will remember the two-minute wailing that started at 10 AM on the last Friday of every month. The siren itself is a fairly mundane object – appearing to be no more than a large yellow speaker at the top of a telephone pole, however its historical value speaks volumes.

The system was installed in early 1951 as part of the City of Los Angeles’ fledgling Civil Defense program.  This was part of a national effort to prepare civilians for a potential Soviet attack on the United States following the Soviet Union’s first successful atomic bomb test in the fall of 1949. The system ultimately grew to approximately 400 sirens throughout Los Angeles County until they were abandoned in 1985 due to a lack of funding for their removal, most were left in place.

On March 26, the siren was successfully relocated to the Fort MacArthur Museum. And while it may be some time before the siren can be publicly displayed, many remain throughout the City of Los Angeles; two are within walking distance from the Caltrans District office in downtown Los Angeles: one near City Hall, on the corner of Temple and Spring Streets, and the other is on Olive Street, between First and Second Streets.

Castillo, Ng, and Hamidi, and District cultural resources staff, were recognized by Greg King, Chief of Cultural and Community Studies Office, Headquarters Division of Environmental Analysis, for their outstanding work to put into action the four core values of our organization: Integrity, Commitment, Teamwork, Innovation.

In a letter from King to those involved, he stated: “The attitude you exhibited towards doing the right thing, that is having a stewardship philosophy towards resources, buys a lot of credibility with our partnering agencies, and reflects very well on our Department as a whole.”

Another view from Pacific Coast Highway, State Route 1, the sirens original home. The siren has not seen this much action since 1951.  On March 26, the Air Raid Siren was successfully relocated from the project site to the Fort MacArthur Museum in San Pedro. Before delivery to the Fort MacArthur Museum, the siren was stored at the Caltrans Field Office.Through one of Caltrans Mission of Stewardship, preserving this historical Air Raid Siren demonstrates show how the Department preserves and enhances Californias resources and assets. Caltrans Department of Environmental Planning works to ensure that its commitment to stewardship is met. District 7 three Architectural Historians. (from left): Noah Stewart, Kelly Ewing-Toledo and Claudia Harbert, work to identify and preserve Californias historic resources, just one aspect of the Departments goal of Stewardship.