Ew, ewwww that smell
November 21, 2006 2:56 PM   Subscribe

LosAngeles-talk: what's that strange, "burnt-toast" smell at night?

I've lived in the La Cienega-Beverly-Fairfax-3rd Street neighborhood (box?) for the last few years and I've yet to find anybody who knows what it is, so I thought I'd ask here.

• It will appear for three or four nights in a row.
• It usually arrives at 10 pm or later.
• It sort of slowly settles over the neighborhood...eventually seeping into the apartment. It's tough to fall asleep if you can already smell it, and at times we've woken up because of it.
• Burnt toast is how a neighbor described the smell when my girfriend asked about it. I think it smells more like exhaust or burnt clothes.

So, any ideas?
posted by tallthinone to Health & Fitness (19 answers total)
I think I know the smell, although I've never been in LA at night. Industrial NW Portland smells like this sometimes. It's very burnt, but sometimes it smells like hot dog water to me. Someone who worked in the area told me it's a hot metal smell - they said it smelled like welding, and is probably a mixture of smells coming from a variety of manufacturing companies.
posted by peep at 3:04 PM on November 21, 2006

We have it in Santa Barbara to, I always thought it was a bakery or a coffee roasting place.
posted by Iron Rat at 3:29 PM on November 21, 2006

Anyway to tell what the prevailing wind patterns are or if there is and inversion going on? Vernon is a fairly stinky industrial area.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 3:33 PM on November 21, 2006

I know nothing about LA, however I do know that in Denver a similar smell = a combo of rendering plant and whiskey distillery. depends which way the wind blows.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:36 PM on November 21, 2006

I always thought it was ... a coffee roasting place.

Possibly -- to me, the smell of roasting coffee is nothing like coffee, except at the very end. My impression though is that's usually a daytime activity.
posted by Rash at 4:27 PM on November 21, 2006

I used to live in Cincinnati and I know that smell, I always thought it was a cross between toast (not necessarily burt) and puke.

I figured it was from the DeKuyper/Jim Beam distillery.
posted by lannanh at 4:57 PM on November 21, 2006

Could it possibly be burnt molasses? Foundries pour hot metal into molds constructed of a sand/molasses mix and produce a smell I've always enjoyed.

Another possibility is a neighbor surreptitiously incinerating their garbage as a means of avoiding a bill from the trashman. Garbage incineration has a very unique smell and there aren't a lot of us left that are old enough to remember the smell from back in the day when every SoCal house had an incinerator in the backyard. We spend a few days a month at our house in Fontana and the smell of latenight bootleg incinerators has become fairly common there as disposal rates have skyrocketed.
posted by buggzzee23 at 5:01 PM on November 21, 2006


At night as the air cools you are getting a temperature inversion which is holding smoke down where you can smell it.

Where exactly is it coming from? I don't know, some industrial plant or a house with a fireplace or a house with a trash fire. Plants will often up their emissions at night though.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:07 PM on November 21, 2006

I have no idea. However, in my neighborhood (Hancock Park) during this time of year -- a team of workers seem to cover every lawn in the neighborhood with compost. It stinks.

It usually happens both in the fall and in the spring... and manages to permeate everything. If it's an occasional scent, perhaps it's fertilizer.
posted by donguanella at 5:14 PM on November 21, 2006

It's not the semen trees of Los Angeles, is it?
(scroll down the page after the link)
posted by mattholomew at 7:59 PM on November 21, 2006

I used to smell this exact scent when I lived in Columbia, Missouri. I was told that it was coming from a funeral home where they performed creamations. I never knew how I could verify this, but I did live right down the street from one, and I only smelled it during the day.
posted by c:\awesome at 8:03 PM on November 21, 2006

It could just be a good old brush/forest fire. They happen at least a few times a year.
posted by o0o0o at 9:37 PM on November 21, 2006


I smelled them the most when I lived in the Los Feliz/Silver Lake area, but they are everywhere.

I might not have caught this, if it weren't for an LA Weekly article I read years ago. It described the skunky smell as resembling burnt toast and mint.

It's neither a rendering plant, nor smoke, nor trash fires, nor semen trees, nor a crematorium.

Skunks, skunks, skunks.
posted by univac at 11:12 PM on November 21, 2006

I live in LA.

- The Semen Trees are real, but it's a summertime thing.

- A portion of the Valley smells like burnt toast/baking bread at night, up near the Anheiser-Busch brewery. This would ordinarily be my best guess, but you're too far down, unless there's some crazy thermal inversion thing going on.

- Canter's bakes their bread and delicious rugelach at night.

- If it really smells like exhaust, it could be a re-roofing job for a flat roof. These take about 3-4 days and stink like a mofo.
posted by turducken at 11:31 PM on November 21, 2006

...and like univac, I've smelled the LA skunks. But there's regular skunk smell (which everyone knows) and super-Los-Angeles-skunk smell, which means the bastards are in heat and live under your bedroom floor. This does not smell like burnt toast or burnt clothes, it smells like death. Sexy animal death, that makes you want to vomit, then crawl under the house with a WWII-era flame-thrower and smoke the vermin out.

If you have a strong constitution and a knack for understatement, it may indeed be skunks.
posted by turducken at 11:37 PM on November 21, 2006

Might it be related to the nearby-ish tar pits in the hood?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:47 PM on November 21, 2006

I don't live in that exact area, but here is my L.A. smell anecdote that might help explain it: I live near the Adams & Brooks factory (they make P-Nuttles and other candy) and I notice that they seem to run in batches, since the smell changes every few days.
Also, curiously, they have no signage at all. The only way I happened to discover where they are located was by reading the address off a package of P-Nuttles. There are lots of businesses with no signs, or cryptic signs.
posted by markhu at 11:56 PM on November 21, 2006

I too have smelled the semen tree of Southern California, in fact, there are a bunch of them here.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 9:24 AM on November 22, 2006

damn it. I was hoping there was a definitive answer in this thread. I've smelled this in industrial areas of SF and Oakland for years.

one thing I do know, it sure as hell ain't skunks.
posted by fishfucker at 12:51 PM on November 30, 2006

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