Elleni Sclavenitis is a filmmaker and artist whose works explore the intersection of immigration, society and culture through subjective and historical perspectives. Visit Industrial Los Angeles here or visit her website for more on her projects.
Before moving here, I imagined L.A. as the land of perpetual summer, with palm tree-lined streets, white stucco dingbats and five-lane freeways. I thought, as many outsiders do, that the defining industry here was Hollywood. However, as I settled in, I realized this was only a mirage shimmering on the surface of the city. Los Angeles does not yield its history as other cities do with placards and monuments, but rather, it requires action on the part of the observer, a delving-in through literature, archives and stories. Industrial Los Angeles is the manifestation of my quest to know the city, to excavate its past and understand its present form.
This project took root a few years after I moved to Glendale, when I discovered my drinking water was contaminated with chromium-6. I learned of this, as one often learns of these things, at a party, from a neighbor. When I got home that night, I began anxiously searching for more information online. Over time, the focus of my research evolved from water quality to the source of contamination, and eventually to Los Angeles' industrial past. With that, I was led to the Lockheed Corporation plant in Burbank.
Lockheed's massive facility had operated in the Valley for over 60 years, employing tens of thousands of people; in many ways, it was the architect of the region, as subdivisions grew to accommodate the workers. Despite the plant's central role in local history, it has all but disappeared from the face of the city. I began searching for traces of Lockheed in the landscape: first, visiting the mall where the plant once stood - a mall where I had shopped before, not knowing why there were planes decorating the tops of store signs - then seeking out the fighter plane monument to Lockheed that sits in a nearby public park, and other remnants of Burbank's aerospace past. I eventually made a short essay film documenting my exploration of Burbank, reflecting on the erasure of history in the San Fernando Valley.
But Lockheed was just one part of Los Angeles' industrial past: in the course of researching, I learned about the vast network of corporations that forged Southern California economically, socially and politically. As I followed the threads connecting Lockheed to these other companies, I began visiting and photographing different sites marked by industrial production. I compiled my photos and writing into a series of essays that trace the presence of manufacturing in Greater Los Angeles. Wanting to share what I had discovered - a past masked by the present, a landscape that eludes interpretation - I created a website, to be accessed by other seekers and excavators of Los Angeles history.
Top photo: Fly DC Jets, Boeing Plant, Long Beach, California. Photo by Elleni Sclavenitis.