Neither the city nor the county knows exactly how many still exist, and nobody has any idea where all of them are located. According to the city's General Services Department, the oneguy with a map retired several years ago, and he took it with him. And the only working one in the county appears to be on Catalina, which uses it to call out the volunteer fire department.
Fifty years after V-J Day, Los Angeles' roughly 200 air raid sirens--that's the best estimate officals can come up with--look rather silly: two circular tiers of speakers, protected by aluminum visors and painted a now-dingy yellow, sitting atop a two-story-high steel post, they resemble gargantuan patio heat lamps.
Mounted during World War II and the Cold War, the sirens were an auditory staple throughout the '50s and '60s. Upon hearing their extended moan, schoolchildren were expected to dive beneath their desks. By the late '80s, the Emergency Broadcasting System had rendered the sirens obsolete. Since they weigh at least 200 pounds and are wider than the bed of a pickup truck, the city decided in 1988 that dismantling the sirens would be be too costly. (The few that have been torn down have been in neighborhoods like Venice and San Pedro, where the sea air was rusting out the supports.) One weathered pole on 1st Street near Larchmont wears its uselessness as a badge: "Not approved to be connected (is in hazardous state)."
But the sirens be on the verge of a rebirth. This summer, Santa Clarita Valley homeowners proposed commandeering some of the sirens to notify them of breakouts at the nearby Peter J. Pitchess Detention Center. An advisory committee came up with a novel solution: What about commandeering L.A.'s archaic sirens?
"If we can recover them," says Sgt. Lester Boal of the Los Angeles Emergency Operations Bureau, who has undertaken the task to track down 10 sirens, "that ought to bewilder the heck out of drivers on the freeway. It'll certainly let locals know it's time to button up."
Perhaps there will be other future needs for these rusty beacons: to announce the presence of a pregnant Medfly in the vicinity? To mourn the closing of another Googie's treasure like Ship's? Or even to round up reporters at the Criminal Courts Building when a verdict is handed down?