A former army fort near the Port of Los Angeles offers sweeping ocean views and is a stark reminder of America’s Cold War history.

The first thing you notice at Angels Gate Park in Los Angeles’ San Pedro neighborhood is the giant bell.

Officially called the Korean Bell of Friendship, it was a gift to Los Angeles from South Korea. It’s modeled on the Bell of King Seongdeok, a massive bell made in 711 A.D., and was given to Los Angeles in 1976.

The bell is an impressive sight, and from its pagoda and surrounding patio the park offers sweeping views of the surrounding ocean. It’s one of the more pleasant, but lesser known, parks in Los Angeles, and it’s just down the street from the graffitied ruins of Sunken City.

But Angels Gate Park isn’t just a perch with a pretty view. In fact, it has a much darker history: during the Cold War, it was an army base and Nike missile facility.

Angels Gate’s history as a military facility goes back to the late 1880s. In 1914, the area officially became Fort MacArthur and was equipped with large guns meant to defend Los Angeles.

When the Cold War came along, the site was further fortified, this time with Nike missiles — anti aircraft weapons that could be fitted with a nuclear warhead. The launch doors, rails, and other remains from that era are still prominent features at the park.

An old Nike missile site at a park in Los Angeles.

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In the 1950s and 1960s, Fort MacArthur was actually just one of many such sites scattered around urban Los Angeles. Many of those sites are still visible today, but the weathered remains at Angels Gate Park are among the easiest and most pleasant to access. (Unfortunately, those doors are not open to the public.)

The significance of Fort MacArthur as a military installation started waning in the 1970s, and eventually it was decommissioned. However, the park that it became still includes old concrete gun platforms and barracks, the latter of which have been turned into a youth hostel.

Like many great places, Angels Gate shows how layers of history are embedded in the fabric of our cities. And between the friendship bell and the old military structures, it’s a good reminder of geopolitical tensions of the past, as well as optimism for the future.

A totem pole in LA's San Pedro neighborhood.

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If you go:

Angels Gate is free to visit and open daily from sunrise to sunset. It typically takes me about an hour to get there from downtown Los Angeles (map here), and makes a good stop on your way to Sunken City.

Related reading:

Sunken City: The ruins of a neighborhood that nearly slipped into the ocean

The High Tower Neighborhood: Romantic serenity in the middle of L.A.

Socialists tried to create a utopia near LA. These ruins are all that’s left

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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