Prow of the Dominator in California (photograph by Adam Ness)
It’s amazing how an event that captured the public’s attention so much in the 1960s could be so easily forgotten in the decades that followed.
The S.S. Dominator caused a sensation in the South Bay of Los Angeles when it ran ashore on March 13, 1961 at Rocky Point in Palos Verdes Estates. Stuck there, its cargo load of wheat expanded so much it broke the hull. The captain and his crew had to abandon ship when it started taking on water, and the Coast Guard hadn’t been able to tow them out. Then the thing burst into flames. The wet, gloppy, oatmeal-like wheat attracted so many flies, they became a neighborhood nuisance. The flies attracted an invasion of lobsters, which then attracted an influx of swimmers and fishermen. Scavengers tried to salvage whatever valuable materials they could before the Pacific Ocean tide washed it away.
But fascinatingly, that never happened. Over the last 50 years, people have mostly forgotten the Dominator shipwreck, and many born after the incident, or who have recently moved to the area, don’t even know how to get to it.
The Los Angeles Obscura Society set off on Sunday morning of Fourth of July weekend, early enough to reach the site of the wreckage by low tide to see as much of it as we could without getting too wet. Below are some photographs from our exploration of this overlooked shipwreck.
All photos by the author, except where indicated.
Group shot at the start of our journey on the cliff in Palos Verdes Estates
Bluff Cove Trail down to the beach
The appropriately-named Rocky Shore Trail, on our way to Rocky Point
One of many storm drains we passed along the way
First signs of the wreckage
Main site of the wreckage, which spans over a half mile along the beach and out into the ocean
Detail (Photo by Todd Eric Andrews)
Our new playground
King of the world!
Major kudos to our hiking crew, who kept in good spirits throughout our four hour, physically challenging excursion to the underbelly of West Coast beach life. Everyone who made it all the way (which was almost everyone in the group) said our amazing journey was worth it. Now hopefully each of them will go back and show it to someone else.
The Obscura Society is the real-world exploration arm of Atlas Obscura We seek out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Join us on our next adventure, and keep up with LA Obscura Society events on our mailing list.