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Playa Vista Archaeological and Historical Project, Marina del Rey, Los Angeles County, California

Types of Services:
Diverse cultural resource management (CRM) services
Client and Contact Information:
Playa Capital Company, LLC
5510 Lincoln Blvd., Suite 100
Playa Vista, CA 90094
Approximate Cost:
$25 million

Settlement and environments of the Ballona Lagoon.

The Playa Vista Archaeological and Historical Project is located near Marina del Rey in west Los Angeles. The project area, one of the largest residential and commercial developments in the nation, surrounds the Ballona Lagoon, formerly a rich estuarine environment fed by Ballona and Centinela Creeks. This area was a magnet for human settlement for thousands of years, drawing prehistoric, historical-period, and modern populations who left a rich and varied archaeological record. It would be difficult to find any single area more important to understanding the history of southern California. More than any other project, Playa Vista also showcases the skills of Statistical Research, Inc., personnel as researchers, managers, and anthropologists who can juggle project budgets and schedules, the concerns of Native Americans and other interested groups, and our client's needs and simultaneously maintain a high quality of research, a commitment to historic preservation, and a thorough understanding of the applicable laws and regulations.

Estuary resources have been attractive to human populations for at least 8,000 years, and many ancient settlements were established along the shores and creeks of the lagoon. The Native Americans recognized as the Gabrielino/Tongva may have established the important village of Guaspet at the Ballona in the late prehistoric and early historical periods. For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the project area was the focus of agricultural production, rural recreational activities, and, later, industrial activities related to oil production. In the 1940s, Howard Hughes and his Hughes Aircraft Company established their Culver City Plant in the Ballona, where they built many aircraft throughout the World War II and the Cold War periods. Most notably, the Spruce Goose, considered the world's largest aircraft, was constructed at this plant. Some of these Hughes-era buildings, including the specially built hangar where the Spruce Goose was constructed, have been preserved and reused. The project area includes two groups of archaeological and historic properties: the Ballona Lagoon Archaeological District, which encompasses the many prehistoric archaeological sites, and the Hughes Industrial Historic District, which encompasses the buildings and facilities of the Culver City Plant.

Statistical Research, Inc., has been the CRM consultant for the Playa Vista project since 1989. This large, multiphase development has required complicated and often sensitive cultural resource specialities, ranging from archaeological survey to assisting in the negotiation of legal and political issues.

Services and products to date include

  • A 1,000-acre archaeological survey
  • Architectural assessment of 40 historic buildings
  • Comprehensive research design
  • Programmatic Agreement between federal and state agencies
  • Documentation of two National Register Districts
  • Visual-aesthetic historical study
  • Archaeological testing at 12 prehistoric and historical-period sites
  • Treatment plan for historic resources, including both prehistoric and historical-period sites
  • Historic American Engineering Record for 15 buildings eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places
  • Archaeological data recovery at 8 prehistoric and historical-period sites
  • Paleoenvironmental reconstruction of the evolution of the Ballona Lagoon
  • Innovative methods for identifying and excavating archaeological sites
  • Construction monitoring
  • Expert-witness services

This huge project has required an equally large staff. At any given time, SRI typically has more than 10 archaeologists working in the field, 10 staff in the laboratory, and a variety of specialists working on related tasks. During excavations, SRI has had more than 100 personnel on-site. To manage this complex situation, SRI developed an infrastructure and a flexible team dedicated to Playa Vista that provides logistical, managerial, and research support. On-site support infrastructure includes a field office, laboratory, storage space, computer facilities, and high-speed data lines to ensure rapid communication with our regional office and the outside world. A Ph.D.-level operations manager is located on-site to coordinate all tasks related to archaeology, including monitoring by SRI personnel and Native Americans, and to provide logistical support.

Mapping a soil profile.

An experienced and skilled management team ensures that the myriad tasks SRI carries out are performed on time and within budget. The team includes a principal investigator, a quality-assurance officer, a project director, a project manager, a laboratory director, assistant laboratory directors, and an operations manager. Project directors are assigned to specific project-related tasks, such as archaeological testing, data recovery, or construction monitoring. One project director is assigned to coordinate everyday tasks, including laboratory work and data management.

In addition to traditional CRM services, Statistical Research, Inc., has worked closely with the client on various legal and political issues. Playa Vista is a highly visible and highly politicized project that will impact the lives of many residents of west Los Angeles. In our 15-year involvement in the project, we have worked with diverse federal, state, and local agencies and Native American groups:

  • Federal: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
  • State: California State Historic Preservation Office, Native American Heritage Commission, California Coastal Commission, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)
  • Local: City of Los Angeles, Sixth Council District, County of Los Angeles
  • Native Americans: Gabrielino/Tongva Indians of California, Gabrielino Tongva Tribal Council, Coastal Gabrielino/Diegueño Indian Band, Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel, the Gabrielino People, the Ti'At Society, and independently affiliated Gabrielino identified by the Native American Heritage Commission

In addition, SRI has provided expertise on compliance with laws and regulations protecting cultural resources at the federal level (National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act); state level (California Environmental Quality Act, California Coastal Commission regulations, and California burial laws); and municipal level (City of Los Angeles Historical Commission ordinances).

Playa Vista has challenged our skills as anthropologists, managers, and archaeologists. SRI has risen successfully to these challenges, ensuring that this massive development stays on schedule and is compliant with all regulatory statutes regarding the protection of historic properties.

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