Issue: Issue Fall 2008

Lost & Found in Los Angeles and London


For anybody who uses public transport, leaving something behind on the bus, train or subway is a frustrating experience. Not only is there the sudden shock that your treasured iPod or cell phone is traveling around the city without you, there’s the fear that you’ll never see it again.

The Lost & Found office is the final destination for all these items left behind by the 1.5 million passengers who use the Metro services every day, and recently Discover Hollywood took a look at what was on their shelves. The Lost & Found office is inside the Metro Customer Center at the junction of Wilshire and LaBrea, which was originally the site of Tilford’s Restaurant and Lounge, a mid-century building designed by Los Angeles architect Welton Beckett.


It had been empty for years before the Southern California Rapid Transit District bought it in 1984, and in 2006 it was given a welldeserved and eye-popping refurbishment by renowned artist Jim Isermann as part of the ongoing Metro Art program. Isermann’s design was based on the sunscreens that used to cosmetically ‘modernize’  Southern California architecture in the 1950s and 1960s, and has made the building a landmark on the Miracle Mile. 

The Metro doesn’t release official figures, and although some of the finds are predictable – cell phones, keys, wallets and eyeglasses – others can be on the wild side. The Lost & Found Office reckons they receive about 10,000-12,000 items per year, and while the loss of a cell phone might be a blessing in disguise for other passengers, a lost wallet means that some people can’t pay for their takeout, or have to cancel all their credit cards.

But that’s not the oddest of it. In addition they get about 1,500-1,800 bicycles a year, most of them left on the bus. Keys are understandable –after all, there are already special gremlins that hide them in the sofa – but your bicycle? Presumably those people were going somewhere or were going to need the bike again, so what happened? The same goes for the person who left behind their surfboard – a day at the beach ruined!

It does get more bizarre though: other things that have been turned in include dentures, prostheses, wheelchairs, oxygen tanks and crutches. You would think that people would notice those were missing, like, immediately!

Public transport comes a very distant second to four wheels in Los Angeles, whereas in London – where the vast majority of commuters, locals and tourists will use a red bus, the train or the subway – Lost Property is somewhat of an obsession, and statistics are released\ every year. Believe it or not, there are even lost subway stations on the London Underground as well!

Around 600 items end up at the Lost Property Office (LPO) on Baker Street every single day (more than enough to baffle neighbor Sherlock Holmes, whose house at 221b is just across the road). Over the last few years the haul has been far more varied than L.A., although there are still plenty of keys, umbrellas, eye glasses and cameras lost on the foggy streets of old London Town as well. Endless false teeth, prostheses and crutches gather dust too, but there’s also been a lawnmower, a stuffed eagle, a blow-up doll, water-skis, a Tibetan bell, a gas mask, a jar of bull’s sperm, voodoo masks, numerous teddy bears, a harpoon gun, a stuffed puffer fish and even a four-meter boat (and no, those last three weren’t together). 

There was even something handed in that wouldn’t have been out of place in Hollywood – a pair of breast implants! Regardless of shape or size, all these items are logged onto “Sherlock”, the appropriately named  internal computer system at the LPO. Last year saw nearly 148,000 items hit the memory banks. Most commonly lost are bags, followed by books (25,000 in 2005), and then clothes (22,000), which can range from a simple scarf to a wedding dress and even a judge’s gown. Not forgetting cell phones, of course – there were 14,000 of those in 2005. As with all Lost & Found/Lost

Property offices, forgetful owners have a limited amount of time to claim their property, although staff are usually soft-hearted: items that clearly have a huge sentimental meaning, such as military medals, are kept longer.

The oddest items at the LPO in London include a bag with two human skulls, three dead bats neatly arranged in a box, and recently staff reunited a man with an urn containing his brother’s ashes – although another urn is still there gathering dust. Cremated remains were once turned in at the Metro Lost &Found in Los Angeles too, a fact that may make movie fans think about the end of the Al Pacino/Robert DeNiro movie Heat, or the urban legend about the guy who dies on the Boston subway and travels round and round the city forever more….