Probably a periscope for an underground lair
October 7, 2009 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Help identify a mysterious piece of infrastructure in Los Angeles. What is this squat metal pole?

This is on Colorado Blvd. in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of LA. I've seen another similar pole up the street on a sidewalk, and I imagine there are more of them that I haven't noticed. The area also has a rusty old air raid siren up on a pole, so I imagine this isn't a siren. Old fire department equipment? A vent?

I see this when walking our dog, and I'm just curious because I like local weirdness & local history. Educated guesses are welcome. Thanks!
posted by dreamyshade to Technology (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
That is a methane vent. You usually see these around public landfills.

Further reading on LA methane vents:
posted by word_virus at 12:11 PM on October 7, 2009

There's one of these on my walk to work; it's right on top of some kind of underground infrastructure that I assume (from the sound and occasional smell) is natural-gas-related. Probably a dispersal vent.
posted by Lazlo at 12:15 PM on October 7, 2009

You might be interested in this field guide to roadside technology. It's a lot of fun, and informative as hell.
posted by dersins at 12:20 PM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Could be a vent for an underground vestibule that contains a natural gas pressure
regulator for an entire building. Note that there are at least 3 utility covers on
the sidewalk in front of it.

Regulators often leak trace amounts of gas, and the odorant seems to diffuse through
the rubber seals that are associated with pressure regulators, like Lazlo says.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:14 PM on October 7, 2009

The vent word_virus links to is certainly the same, though there are no underground tar deposits in Eagle Rock like there are down near Park La Brea. But there are utility vaults under the median on Colorado Blvd., so maybe it vents something nasty from down there. (Or perhaps it has something to do with the "medicinal" pot dispensary in the background of the picture! Isn't that the one near Tritch Hardware?)
posted by turducken at 10:22 PM on October 7, 2009

There is actually a landfill in Eagle Rock, right over near the actual rock. How close is this to there? (Also, hello neighbors!)
posted by so_gracefully at 10:46 PM on October 7, 2009

Thanks, neighbors and fellow nerds! Perfect.

This looks exactly like the Park La Brea methane vent (I like that whole blog, by the way), and I found some articles about methane's potential for causing trouble all over LA: "Methane percolates upward through the underground of Southern California from the Puente Hills to Newport Beach" and "up to Chatsworth, all the way to Venice, down to Wilmington and out to Boyle Heights." Those pages mention that methane blew up the Wilshire-Fairfax Ross store in 1985 [.pdf] and caused the infamous construction problems with the Belmont Learning Complex. (Some of you guys probably share my memory of seeing the half-finished Belmont building from the freeway thousands of times.) Both structures were built over old LA oil fields, not just sabotaged by natural methane in the ground.

I couldn't find anything about oil drilling in this particular area, but I learned that we have our own inactive fault line (the "Eagle Rock Fault") — see Figure 1 in this PDF — which might contribute to methane issues in the neighborhood. Or these could be for natural gas instead of methane; some vents for natural gas [from this page] look related (and some don't).

dersins: Thanks for the recommendation. I have Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, but I just looked up methane in the index and it doesn't include any pictures of methane vents! Maybe I'll have to expand my library. (My wishlist already includes A Field Guide to American Houses and The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification...)

turducken: Hehe yeah, it's in front of Tritch — here's a larger crop of the photo (doesn't Tritch have the best smell? I've liked that place since I was tiny). I don't remember whether the similar vent on the corner of Eagle Vista Dr. and Colorado has corresponding utility vaults.

so_gracefully: The landfill is across the freeway to the north, so I imagine it's not related to these vents, but there is also a large reservoir to the north-east-ish (Google Maps satellite view for reference). There are a few large complex vents on Eagle Vista Dr. — here's a photo of one — and I believe they're either for natural gas or something related to the reservoir.
posted by dreamyshade at 2:03 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ha! Eagle Rock in the house. I walk by that vent on Eagle Vista that dreamyshade linked all the time. (I saw some guy with a clipboard noodling with it last week.) The landfill so_gracefully mentions is actually up in Scholl Canyon in Glendale -- the noxious fumes there are vented through a dozen huge pipes that hold up the netting for the driving range at the Scholl Canyon golf course. (You don't know they're there until the wind shifts.)

(I'm waiting for the post that asks what this local landmark is.)
posted by turducken at 10:25 AM on October 8, 2009

In reading about these vents, I also learned about sewer gas destructor lamps, which are neat (examples in context). And there are lots of tall old "stinkpipes" in London, and I like this landmark ineffective vent in Australia.

(And I agree with some of the Curbed commenters about Eagle Rock's concrete poles — they're much more distinctive and interesting than a bunch of condos would be. Still, my favorite mysterious hyper-local landmarks might be the creepy pile o' house and the ghostly fenced-off Arbor Dell Rd., both along Blue Hill Rd.)
posted by dreamyshade at 1:13 PM on October 8, 2009

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