When the CEO from LA based meal-replacement startup Soylent, decided to plop a red shipping container on top of a Northeast LA hilltop that’s cherished for its open space, not everyone was welcoming.
Less than 4 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, sits an undeveloped series of hilltop ridges in Montecito Heights that lead from the top of Montecito Road to the avenues of Lincoln Heights. The land provides nearly 360º breathtaking views of DTLA, Century City, Long Beach, Griffith Park, the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and Los Angeles River watersheds, and many mountains, including the Santa Monicas, the San Gabriels and the Hollywood Hills.
It’s officially known as Mt. Olympus but most people call it Flat Top (or Flattop).
This mostly undeveloped area of open space has always been a popular place for local residents to walk their dogs, take a hike, or watch the sunset.
Having lived in the area since 2001, I can attest to just how important Flat Top is to those who live here. Sure, Ernest E. Debs Park (282 acres), which is the seventh largest park in Los Angeles, is only a 1/2 mile away but there’s something about Flat Top that just can’t be denied.
It’s the place I prefer to go walk my dogs…
…take in another beautiful sunset…
…discover random art…
…or catch a glimpse of the Space Shuttle Endeavour making its final flyover before touching down in its new home.
The radio tower and the land that surrounds it, was once owned by the Foursquare Gospel Church, who purchased the land back in the 1920s in order to erect three radio towers that would broadcast the sermons of its founder, Sister Aimee Semple McPherson.
McPherson (October 9, 1890–September 27, 1944) was a Canadian-American LA–based evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s who founded the Foursquare Church. She has been noted as a pioneer in the use of modern media, especially radio, and was the second woman to ever be granted a broadcast license. She used radio to draw on the growing appeal of popular entertainment in North America and incorporated other forms into her weekly sermons at Angelus Temple in Echo Park. She was said to be the most photographed woman of her time and was one of the most fascinating evangelist to ever live. You can learn more about this incredible woman by checking out the tours I took of Angelus Temple in Echo Park and of her castle in Lake Elsinore.
The hilltop comprises nearly 100-acres of land, 37 of which was owned by the church.
Back in 2012, the church notified the residents of the surrounding communities that it was preparing to develop Flat Top with three dozen homes on new streets that would loop around the existing transmission towers.
Opposition to the proposed development was strong and by 2014 the church agreed to sale the 37-acre property to North East Trees for $1.4 million. The undeveloped hillside will eventually become public parkland with plans to incorporate native plants and trees along with some benches so people can enjoy the views.
Neighbors became concerned after Robert Rhinehart, founder and CEO of Soylent, bought a small parcel of land at auction back in December for $21,300.
He soon moved a $1,500 red shipping container onto the land, which lacks water and electrical hook-ups.
While Rhinehart described the container as an “eco home” and an “experiment in sustainable living,” neighbors and the city have described it as a nuisance.
The glass windows have all been shattered…
…and almost every square inch of it has been covered in graffiti.
Neighbors have also reported criminal activity and while Rhinehart says he’s hired private security to conduct regular inspections, there was no evidence of this when we visited over the weekend.
A mattress was found on one end of the container…
…and this girl wasted no time with making herself comfortable.
The smoke from the Sand fire in Santa Clarita added even more drama to the scene.
The views sure were nice…
…and with so many broken windows to choose from…
…there’s always something new to look at.
LA city officials report that the proper permits were never secured for the container and that charges could still be filed against Rhinehart if he doesn’t remove it. A hearing between the city and Rhinehart was held back on June 28th but he wasn’t willing to remove the structure at that time.
I actually think the container looks pretty nice up on the hill but I also understand the concerns the neighbors have with it being a safety issue and attracting criminal activity. This same area was a haven for such activity back in the 1980s until the church and community came together to make Flat Top more secure. Perhaps that same spirit of coming together could benefit both sides in the this situation?
As we took in the last remaining moments of the sunset, I thought about all the hard work that went into preserving this beautiful hilltop as open space.
Thank you everyone for keeping Flat Top wild, funky & free. LA needs all the open space it can get.
UPDATE: The shipping container wasremoved by Rhinehart in July 2016.