Four Seasons at the Port

Last week – on Twelfth Night, a day we Shakespeare lovers always observe – we took one of our favorite urban walks at the Port of Los Angeles. After a bout of puffer coat and gloves weather, it was good to be out on a mild winter evening with beautiful light. Also, refreshing to leave behind for a while the disturbing U.S. political events of the day.  

I’d just finished reading Anthony Doerr’s fine memoir, Four Seasons in Rome, which catalyzed the realization that here we were in our fourth season of Covid-19 LA. Living in another fascinating city, but unlike Doerr in Rome, restricted by the pandemic from freely exploring its attractions, or even escaping to the natural world of our coastal environment with its fabulous beaches, trails and walks by the ocean.

As the months went by and Covid cases burgeoned, our radius shrank: Parks, trails and beaches closed, and when they reopened, crowds returned, many people failing to wear masks or observe social distancing. We stopped taking many of our usual walks and hikes, and the port became our primary getaway –– a reliable, sparsely frequented safe haven of solitude and space.

Even before Covid, we regularly walked there, forging various interesting routes, enjoying the colorful industrial landscape and constant hum of maritime activity. Fortunately, we like finding new things in familiar places, and our regular rambles at the port during the pandemic have not disappointed.

There’s so much to explore and photograph in our vast harbor landscape. Here is a mini tour of the routes we’ve taken through the changing seasons of the pandemic.

We’ll start with this peaceful, tree-lined city park with its spacious promenade, the scene of our Twelfth Night walk last week. It’s one of those quiet retreats you find in every city; once inside its leafy seclusion, you scarcely notice the busy thoroughfare that runs right next to it.

We’ve walked here so many times in the past year that we’re among the regulars who recognize each other despite the masks and exchange a friendly greeting, a few words, a wave, in Covid camaraderie.

Keep going past the shady benches, stone chess tables and a now dormant fountain, where children jump and squeal in the spray during a normal summer. On your left, you’ll come to the City of LA fireboat station, where you can sometimes catch sight of that big sophisticated boat at rest. You might even hear a loudspeaker staff alert that fresh cookies are available in the station kitchen.

Our final stop on this route is the small pier just past the fireboat station, dwarfed by a massive container ship in the photo below. Notice the people, similarly dwarfed, getting a very close-up look at the ship.

The pier offers great views of sea and sky, the port’s extensive shipping operations and the fascinating movement of maritime traffic.

Moored nearby are the tugboats that maneuver the giant cargo ships entering and leaving the port. Behind the tugs (below) is the 1,500-foot-long Vincent Thomas suspension bridge that crosses Los Angeles Harbor.

From this small pier with big views, you can see historic Warehouse No. 1, completed in 1917. Its distinctive tower, with a welcome greeting in many languages, is visible from miles away. The landmark building and its environs are the next route on our tour.

As the port’s only bonded warehouse, Warehouse No. 1 played a crucial role in LA’s entry into international trade. It’s a striking old structure with its many balconies, lion gargoyles and layers of grunge.

Here is a close-up of one of the lion gargoyles on the side of the warehouse in the photo above.

I like industrial landscapes and find art in them, so I always enjoy walking in this area and photographing interesting buildings and details. On one of our 2020 rambles, this sculptural outdoor warehouse equipment and its textural setting, like the gargoyles, appealed to me.

Walking this familiar route through three seasons of the coronavirus pandemic has not been without its elements of surprise. In spring, we encountered these companion flags, torn and battered, flying in the wind. They struck a chord as an apt symbol for a country in the midst of a deadly worldwide pandemic. With the rise of Covid cases and deaths, and our socio-political turmoil, the symbolism still feels apt.

On another spring walk, I found this bright explosion of California poppies at the curb of a drab industrial building. A cheering burst of color on an overcast day.

One summer afternoon, a whimsical “art installation” appeared on our route.

Who knows what we’ll find in this fourth season?

Copyright M. Vincent 2021

Port of Los Angeles tugboats at golden hour photo and Warehouse No. 1 photo copyright Brad Nixon 2021. Used with kind permission.

All other photographs copyright M. Vincent 2019-2021.

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