This was Cedars of Lebanon hospital, built in 1930. In 1976, Cedars merged with Mt. Sinai, moved to Beverly Hills, and became Cedars-Sinai.
In 1977, the old hospital was bought by the Church of Scientology, and today it is Pacific Area Command — PAC Base! — their west coast headquarters. In 1996, they even got the city to name this street L. Ron Hubbard Way.
Scientology has something called the Rehabilitation Project Force, which sort of like being sent to religious detention. Most people on the RPF at here do their retraining on the first floor of the old hospital. The few who do *not* redeem themselves are sent down below, into the extensive tunnel network beneath the main building that extends out under the parking lot.
These tunnels beneath us are now a punishment dungeon for a religion invented by a science fiction author. A fantasy, made physically real.
And that fantasy was born in the same time, same place, and same culture as Plan 9 from Outer Space. Ed Wood’s old office was even above the Vista Theater just a few blocks from here.
This freak culture of LA at the dawn of the cold war was a heady blend of boundless optimism and cosmic paranoia. It was hard to distinguish science fiction from reality, with sci-fi idea coming to life on a daily basis, popping into existence in the air overhead.
One of the things I write about in my essay for Latitudes was the battle of Los Angeles in February of 1942 when a UFO — a for real actual Unidentified Object — flew directly over the heart of America’s aerospace industry.
Gunners fired more than 1400 shells into the sky, showering Los Angeles with flaming shrapnel. It was the largest military assault in the city’s history. And to this day no one knows what the hell happened. It remains one of the most widely seen unexplained UFO sightings, ever.
This *absolutely true* historical event was still a big deal in the early 50s, when aerospace was the one of the biggest industries in Southern California. It could be winkingly referenced at the beginning of a B-movie like Plan 9 (“ufos over los angales!”) with a wobbly hubcap on a string getting shot at by the army.
The key thing was that something was going on, but as far as dealing with it or explaining it, your own crazy ideas were as good as any other. And people had some crazy ideas.
It was in this context that someone like Jack Parsons — an explosives hobbyist, and occultist in Aleister Crowley’s church of thelma — could be one of the inventors of modern rocketry. Because why the hell not?
And it was in this context that a pulp science fiction author named Lafayette ended up performed sex magick rituals with that same amateur rocket scientist in a Pasadena mansion.
And in this context, in 1953 —just three years before the filming of Grave Robbers from Outer Space — that L Ron Hubbard would use some of Aleister Crowley’s own religious symbols — the eight-pointed cross, the interlocked triangles, an initiatory ascent towards total freedom — to create his very own church.
And today, we stand over tunnels — real tunnels — filled with the occult fantasies from the paranoid dawn of the atomic age.