No Man’s Land

Desultory Heroics


By Steven Stoll

Source: Orion Magazine

A chainlink fence topped with razor wire surrounds fourteen acres of thistle and grass at East Forty-First Street between Long Beach Avenue and South Alameda Street in Los Angeles. These two city blocks occupy a transitional environment of sorts. In one direction the sight of small houses stretches for miles toward the Pacific Ocean, but turn around and the neighborhood becomes industrial, consisting of a textile factory, a scrap metal recycling company, trucking terminals, and warehouses. The tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad run parallel to Long Beach Avenue. There are few trees or anything green and growing but the drought-resistant thistle.

In 1986, the City of Los Angeles acquired the land from a group of owners through eminent domain, but then folded plans to build a waste incinerator when the community resisted. The land ended up in the holdings of the Harbor Department…

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