Ghosts In The Air & History Underfoot

I don’t want to wax too nostalgisophical about Los Angeles, but the “city of angels” is an apt name for this place… in the sense that angels can be seen to signify change or reinvention via an anthropomorphed spirit or presence of something that once was real but is now more or less memory.

Being a native, my L.A. landscape is full of these ethereal memories. Countless are the places I can venture past and where now may stand a minimall or a condo complex or a Redline subway station used to be a place where I lived or visited or played or learned or otherwise knew about. Living here for any length of time you come to accept that such a loss of touchstones just comes with the territory. Literally.

Some of my earliest L.A. memories come from where I lived in an old courtyard apartment building that stood on the corner of Westminster and Fourth Street in what’s called Windsor Square. I lived there with my mother when I was sometime into my third year and I can remember looking out of my east-facing second floor bedroom window and being able to see the illuminated Union Bank logo on the west facing side of the tall building on the southwest corner of Wilshire and Western. Back then the logo was kinda strange… it was like a big round money bag topped by an eagle head in profile with small wings on either side. I used to remember wondering how a fat bird like that could fly.

The apartments on that property met the wrecking ball sometime in the 1970s. They’re condos now. But I don’t mean this to become a My Dead Places list. I merely bring it up because one of the things I truly cherish about the Silver Lake area I live in is that there are remnants that regularly remind me I live in a very old part of town. Obviously not “old” like Parthenon old… but then again for something to go 80 years or more in L.A. without being resurfaced or torn up and built upon is quite an achievement in my book.

A significant landmark? Hell no. What’s prompting this post is something as simple and insignifican as a section of street — specifically the paving contractor’s stamp that I see while walking the dog:

Street Stamp

This one is located just off the southeast corner of Marathon and Parkman, but they’re all over the place. Of course, I did a web search for the company name and came up with nada.

I would guess that part of my appreciation of such an historical footnote is fed by the regular disappearance of my personal landmarks and coupled by the 18-year period of my life lived in the San Fernando Valley, where landmark status was once (unsuccessfully) sought to preserve the 1950s-era car wash that stood at the southeast corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Boulevard (Now it’s a doubledecker shopping center). It’s not that there isn’t history in the valley, after all Encino was home to a 1,000-year-old oak south of Ventura on Louise (that sadly fell in 1997). It’s just most of its modern history only goes back a half-dozen decades (making the Encino oak’s death all the more heartbreaking) so it’s tough to get all excited when you’re walking streets that aren’t even 40 years old and living in places that aren’t even as old as you — and easy to yearn for a section of the city that has some history.

That’s why something as simple as a two-mile walk around my neighborhood is always a romanticized thrill. I pass residences that have been standing since before automobiles roamed the earth and up the Music Box Steps that are named and famous for their role in the 75-year old Oscar-winning (for the category of Short Subject) Laurel & Hardy film, and I envision a far simpler and more delightful place. What many may see as a meaningless contractor’s stamp in old section of street is a ticket allowing me to travel back to a time in this town when the clang of a Sunset Boulevard Pacific Red Car was long from becoming the angel of my imagination it is today.