Along the concrete banks of the Los Angeles River in the city of Maywood, lies a public park that on holidays is filled with families sitting under tents and around picnic tables, the adults barbequing while children play. With its playground, basketball and handball courts, and grassy landscape dotted with young trees, the park offers refuge in a city that is otherwise heavily industrial. Through a wrought-iron gate is the river, the 710 freeway running opposite, across the paved riverbed. From here, both freeway and river lead directly south to the Port of Long Beach.
The Maywood Riverfront Park is located on the edge of the Central Manufacturing District, a 2800-acre industrial tract connected to downtown Los Angeles and its port by freeway and railway. The residential neighborhoods abutting the factories and warehouses have historically been home to the District’s workforce. Since its creation in 1921 by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Ford, Chrysler and Lockheed have all operated plants in the development.
Pemaco Chemical Corporation ran a chemical mixing facility at 5050 Slauson Avenue in the CMD from the late 1940s to 1991. After the plant closed, a fire destroyed the warehouse but left over 400 drums and storage tanks containing hazardous materials intact. After discovering the presence of Volatile Organic Compounds in the soil and groundwater, the EPA listed the site on the National Priority List in 1999. As cleanup commenced, plans to build a community park were set into action as part of the Los Angeles River Greenway Project; construction was completed in 2008.
Today, the Maywood Riverfront Park sits on top of the Pemaco Superfund Site: as locals enjoy the park, cleanup continues in a treatment plant on an adjacent lot, behind two dirt piles covered in plastic. Still highly contaminated, this area is fenced-off, lined with barbed wire; posted signs warn of blowing dust. Across the street is a row of modest homes that mark the border between the manufacturing district and Maywood’s residential neighborhoods. In this incongruous intersection of public park and toxic waste site, post-industrial Los Angeles turns away from its past. Once the EPA determines that remediation is complete, the dirt lot will be incorporated into the rest of the park, all residue of Pemaco expunged – the consequences of industrialization buried beneath green grass and a brightly colored playground.