To Cairo, With Love

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The elevated station at Sixth and Los Angeles streets, 1950.  The building on the left in bkgd is now the swanktastic PE Lofts. The building on the right contains the Santa Fe Lofts and other DTLA enticements.

One wonders which would be more surprising to the people riding the train that day: in the future there would be a swimming pool and day lounge atop an office building, or that people would eagerly proffer half their monthly income for a studio apartment there?  That people would urinate in the doorways without penalty, or that men would congregate flamboyantly with other men at a bar called the Redline?

6th and LA aeriel

The station was replaced with a three level parking lot. Contrary to popular lore, the automobile didn’t bring an end to the train in LA. They were phased out and replaced by a fleet of buses.

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And what happened to the train cars? Many of them were taken to Terminal Island to be melted down at the Kaiser Steelworks. But the ones in the best condition were sold to the city of Cairo, where they were ridden until the wheels came off, literally.

When Pacoima Was Negro

Georgia Taylor, "Negro", leading the fight for fair housing
Georgia Taylor, “Negro”, 1965

We think of the term today as antiquated. An othering expression.  But this was the politically neutral, dispassionate term used widely in the media, and not in uncomplimentary way, to describe participants in the civil rights movement.

When the Valley was White, the Negroes lived in Pacoima.

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Consequently Pacoima was once the hotbed of political activity in the Valley. Face it, the hotbed was never going to be Sherman Oaks.

Signing up Freedom Riders, 1961
Signing up Freedom Riders, 1961

We think of Pacoima today as the home of Richie Valens and Danny Trejo, and the muralist Levi Ponce. We don’t think of black people.  But it was one of the few places in the Valley which rented to them.

Housing segregation was enforced by an honor code among real estate agents.  As a remedy the state legislature passed the 1963 Rumford Housing Act, which challenged restrictive practices.  The first challenge of the law took place in San Fernando, where landlords were holding the line against any bleed through from the black population of nearby….Pacoima.

In response, the following year the California realtor lobby put Proposition 14 on the ballot:

Neither the State nor any subdivision or agency thereof shall deny, limit or abridge, directly or indirectly, the right of any person, who is willing or desires to sell, lease or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses.

It passed overwhelmingly.  By two thirds in Los Angeles County.  Three years later, Prop. 14 would be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Reitman v. Mulkey.

By then, the Watts riots had happened.

After Watts, Negroes were Black.  The beatific and patient visage of Georgia Taylor, local NAACP, was no longer the face of progress.

The Mohammed Mosque, 1961, now Iglesias Vida Y Luz
The Mohammed Mosque, 13209 Van Nuys Blvd,  now Iglesias Vida Y Luz

In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed, the Dodgers won the World Series, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek met at UCLA. Of lesser note, but more lasting consequence for Los Angeles, was the quiet passage of the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act.  Nominally it abolished the quota system on national origins in place since 1924. In practice Latinos and Asians flooded into California, first as a trickle, then in a tidal wave by the mid-1980’s, rendering the feud in the courts and the ballot box between whites and blacks academic.

In the 1970’s Pacoima would produce USC All-American tailback Anthony Davis and Heisman Trophy winner Charles White. The city was three-quarters black. By 1990, it was 70% Latino, and no longer produced NFL draft choices.

Today, you can enjoy the cuisine of three continents in a single strip mall, cheaply.  It’s part of what makes Los Angeles special.   When you step outside, the kids roll by in their cars,  windows down, hip-hop thumping: nigger this and nigger that and bitches and hos and money and guns.  If there is any lingering social discomfort over this, it remains tucked within an ironic framework people have grown used to.

I guess that’s progress. Just not the kind Georgia Taylor was thinking of.

(All photos courtesy of the Valley Times Collection)

When Men Were Free to Oink

Miss Gym and Swim , 1963
Miss Gym ‘N’ Swim, 1958…gripped and grinning

You could get away with this back when. You just pull her in by the ball and socket joint, wedge her under your armpit so she can’t get away, then run your meaty thumb over her clavicle while your photographer pal takes his time adjusting lights and changing film rolls.   Forget that engagement ring on her finger. You’re Allen Rich, TV critic of the Valley Times, and you have a judge’s ribbon on your lapel. You’re enjoying the perks of the job.

Poor Linda, keeping her legs slightly crossed, right toe forward, like they taught her at the pageant, smiling through the blooms of pipe breath and lunchtime bourbon, doing her best not to understand the gravelly incantations from local big shot, Mr. Rich:  Give us a spin, darling…I know people in publicity…

 

This Was Us

1958, when the Valley was quiet
1958, when the Valley was quiet

We built capacity because we knew what was coming, though not so white as we imagined. Now the future is here, it’s 12 lanes, and it’s not moving at all.

We were the outer limit of the metropolitan commute. Now you stop here for gas on the way to Moorpark.

As consolation, the food is a whole lot better.

People are prettier, when pretty is a professional aspiration. The rest of us are fat as f***.

Houses are unobtainably expensive.

Electronic gadgetry is cheap, ubiquitous, and wonder making in its power.

The air is cleaner.

Good manners have gone to hell.

Love of a beautiful sentence is going the way of VHS and polyester slacks.

A year of pop music is a pale facsimile of a month’s worth of output in the 1970’s.

Long form television is our Golden Age.

We are lonely in our crowds, in a way the man in the stepside pickup probably wasn’t.

We nest inside our Netflix queue and pronounce ourselves content.

We are growing childlike in our willingness to repeat propaganda.

They don't know what's coming. But neither do we.
They don’t know what’s coming. But neither do we.

Trumpland, Thirty Years After

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Who would live in Koreatown thirty years ago, but Korean peasants, fresh off the boat, hot racking it in the back room over a corner store, putting in 12-hour days, eager to one day become Korean merchants?  Certainly not middle class white people.

To put it differently, who wouldn’t rather live in a crime-free Valley with a lawn and a breezeway and a carport for the boat, and pay for it with one income?

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Today, if you want to eat, you go to Koreatown. You want to buy a pair of shoes, you want to bowl, you want to have a craft cocktail, you want to see pretty people, or to aspire to prettiness yourself, you want to dance, you want to walk down crime-free immaculately manicured streets, if you want to practice your golf swing….

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…you come here. You stand on a platform five storeys over Wilshire, surrounded by construction cranes, and a machine lifts the ball out of a hole in the floor, and tees it up for you. Perfectly, over and over again. Ten cents a ball.

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You stand over the rooftops like a god, for $18. When it’s over you get in a time machine and crawl over the pass, to the lost world of Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  You are home, yet somehow your heart is elsewhere.

The Dance of Progress

Opening of Sepulveda Pass tunnel, 1930
The end of the beginning: Opening of Sepulveda Pass auto tunnel, 1930
The extent of street trolley service then
The extent of street trolley service then
Courtesy of CurbedLA
Courtesy of CurbedLA

Oh, the sums we spend today to recreate the world we once had….

How Dreck Is Made

Does this look plumb to you?
Does this wall look plumb to you?
Lets take a closer look...
Lets take a closer look…hmmm
How is the poured concrete attached to the blocks?
Let us connect concrete walls using the cake batter technique

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Construction has stopped on the new USA Fitness gym in Panorama for reasons not aesthetic.  Like an abandoned ark, this hodgepodge of listing, peeling concrete forms and blocks has loomed for months, half-completed, over Van Nuys Blvd.  Shut down by the Building Department, presumably.

The trouble would appear to have originated in the failed mating of two distinct structural techniques, poured concrete and reinforced blocks.  The blocks went up first. They must have thought they could use the exoskeleton as an anchor for setting forms for the pour, but they gave way.   Those who skimp on aesthetics will skimp on engineering. They will do the minimum.  Cheap on cheap equals cheap.

T’wasn’t always so. Los Angeles is thick with sublime and timeless commercial structures, built by craftsmen, forgotten or hidden over the years behind quick paint jobs and dreadful get it done by Wednesday facades.

Even in Panorama.

Panorama, 1964
Ohrbach’s, 1964
Valley Swap Meet, 2017
Valley Swap Meet, 2017