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Vernon - Exclusively Industrial

(originally published 5/19/2010)

All photos and text ©Peter Bennett - All Rights Reserved

What can I say about Vernon that hasn’t been said before? Actually a lot I would guess. Vernon is not the type of place that would inspire many people to prose, but I found it interesting enough to make several trips to photograph what I consider a pretty bizarre place. I first mentioned Vernon here a few weeks ago when I posted about the Toxic Tour, much of which took place in Vernon. It is an strange place because it is a completely industrialized town, according to the last census it has a population of 91, and you would be hard pressed to find them. What you do find is street after street of factories, food processing plants, warehouses, railroad tracks and abandoned buildings. People are very scarce except at closing time, when one or two intersections host a few folks waiting for a bus or a ride home. Just so you know, Vernon’s official slogan is “Exclusively Industrial”.

Vernon almost from the beginning was fated to be an industrialized city, the site of the town was picked because of the confluence of railroad lines. Founded in 1905, by the 1920’s twenty-seven slaughterhouses lined Vernon Avenue and major industries such as Bethlehem Steel, US Steel, Alcoa glass and Studebaker made their home there. Needless to say there is a vested interest in keeping the town industrial, as the tax revenue from Vernon is quite a bit higher than equal sized residential communities. Leonis C. Malburg, the grandson of the city's founder, John B. Leonis, was Vernon’s Mayor for over fifty years until he was convicted of among other things, voter fraud, and had to resign last year. There is a lot of money to be made in a town like Vernon, but you gotta hand it to a guy who tries his hand at voter fraud in a city of less than a hundred.

There is an old water tower that looms above everything else, and although I could not get a lot of historical background on it, I would guess that the tower was the center of town at some point and is the last vestige of what was. I’m a sucker for old railroad tracks and if you throw in an old water tower I’m a happy fellow. I always found my way back there trying to get the best light or angle for a shot that would capture it, and the last night I was there a full moon helped with the lighting and mood, and I was happy.

It is also home to many of your favorite food processing plants, Sara Lee, Farmer John Hot Dogs (a Dodger Stadium favorite) all cook up their special goodness in Vernon. The Sara Lee plant intrigued me, as it looks like they are storing some humongous (my son’s favorite new word) bagels in their giant silos. The Farmer John plant has a mural that adorns its perimeter with strange pastoral images of pigs, farms, pastures and even a Daisy Mae look alike reminiscent of Lil’ Abner. The mural was actually commissioned in 1957 and a movie set painter named Les Grimes worked on it for eleven years until he died from a fall from his fifty-foot scaffolding.

The only time I actually talked to someone in Vernon was when a couple of cops pulled up to where I was photographing the Malburg Generator plant. I can’t blame any cop who checks me out, if I saw me photographing half the things I photograph, I would want me checked out too. A few years ago the City of Vernon had proposed a large new 943 megawatt  power plant at a location nearby the Malburg plant to supply more juice to its industrial residents. The new plant would have spewed millions of tons of emissions into the nearby residential communities of Maywood, Bell Gardens and Huntington Park. Last September, the efforts of community groups and environmental organizations such as CBE, forced the town to withdraw the application of the new plant, a big victory and proof that the little guy can sometimes win in the protection of their community.

For licensing info, please contact me at pbennett(at)

All photos and text ©Peter Bennett - All Rights Reserved