In A Nutshell
In 1951, Los Angeles eccentric Daniel Van Meter asked the Schlitz Brewery for a few pallets. When they dropped off five truckloads—unloading them amid a labor dispute over who had to repair them—he decided to build a 7-meter (22 ft) tower. In 1977, the fire department declared it a hazard, but Van Meter appealed to the city’s cultural commission for protection. They labeled it a cultural landmark (although they later questioned their own vote). Sadly, the tower was demolished after Van Meter’s death and replaced with an apartment building.
The Whole Bushel
Its official designation was the Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 184, although just what it was and why it became a cultural landmark is a bit of a convoluted story. Even the members of the Cultural Heritage Commission suggested they might have been influenced by the alcohol fumes coming off the “monument” when they decided to make the tower official.
The aptly named Tower of Pallets was built by Daniel Van Meter, one of those eccentric sorts of people who has a history that sometimes blends a bit of truth, fiction, and fanciful dreaming.
In 1951, Van Meter approached the Schlitz Brewery and asked if he could have a few of the pallets that were piling up behind the brewery. Because the Schlitz workers were unionized and clearing up or repairing pallets wasn’t a part of their job description, there were a literal ton of wooden pallets just waiting for a home.
It’s unclear how many Van Meter actually wanted, but when five truckloads got dropped off on his doorstep, he decided to make good use of them.
He started stacking them, and when he was finished he had a tower of pallets reaching 7 meters (22 ft) high arranged in a 7-meter-wide circle. They were arranged neatly like bricks, and a staircase allowed Van Meter to head up to the top to stargaze. They were also standing on the spot of an 1869 child’s grave.
Van Meter claimed that the tower was a spiritual retreat away from the chaos around him, but in 1977 it was declared a fire hazard. (The fire department called it “an illegally stacked lumber pile.”)
In 1978, he appealed to the city’s cultural commission, and won landmark status for his tower, which meant he could leave it up. According to one commission member who voted in favor of keeping the tower safe, “We kind of like to reward eccentricity.”
Van Meter certainly was that. In addition to the tower, his property was covered with enough objects to start a museum. There were turn-of-the-century wagons, gasoline pumps, rusty cars, an outhouse, and piles and piles of rusting or rotting . . . stuff.
His claims to fame were no fewer. According to Van Meter, he was descended from John Quincy Adams. (He helped found the American Independent Party to cement his political ties.) He also said his father was the inventor of World War I’s chloro-cyanic gas. He was a murder trial witness once, having discovered a body. He even had connections to Friends of Progress, a group notorious for its pro-Nazi ideals and its plans to overthrow the government.
The Tower of Pallets was possibly the crowning achievement of an already eccentric life. Nothing lasts forever, though. When Van Meter died in 2000, the real estate vultures started circling.
It took one group three years to get a permit to demolish everything on the site and replace it with an apartment building.