Racial Coventry In Our Own Backyard — Literally

I’m familiar enough with the history of this country to be aware of and repulsed by the prevalent use of racially restrictive covenants that prohibited property ownership and occupation — a completely legal practice that stood in place until it was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1948.

A restrictive covenant is basically a legal obligation imposed in a deed by the seller upon the buyer of real estate to do or not to do something.

As an aside, it should be noted that it was a lawyer from right here South Los Angeles named Loren Miller — the son of a slave –  who was instrumental not only in winning many local cases against racial covenants, but also the most celebrated one: Shelley v. Kraemer (1948),  which he and partner Thurgood Marshall argued successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court. Miller would later go on to be named Justice of the California Supreme Court by Gov. Edmund G. Brown (our current governor’s father), serving until his death in 1967.

But back on topic. Cleaning out her files, Susan came across a copy of the original grant deed for our property made out by the parcel’s original owners George and Katherine Palmer, dated September 26, 1907. It starts off with some pretty standard normal conditions:

  • that it be used for residential purposes only;
  • that any out-buildings not be erected less than 75 feet from the front line of the lot;
  • that the value of the dwelling built must be greater than $2,500 (remember that’s 1907 dollars);
  • that anything built be not less than 1.5 stories in height;
  • that the home should be built no fewer than 35 feet from the front of the lot nor within four feet of the sides.

Then there’s a cool one, specified:

“That this property shall never be used for the sale of intoxicating liquors.”

Then it gets repulsively nasty, see for yourself:


Click it for the bigger picture or read the transcribed abhorrence below:

“That the party of the second part, his heirs, administrators, executors or assigns shall never convey lease or rent these lots or any portion thereof to any negro or to any person of African or Asiatic descent.”

Despite too-regular reminders provided by our past, I am always ever-amazed and embarrassed at how those in this country so shamefully and selfishly managed to subvert and disregard the second line of its Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Timelapse: Voting On Election Day

If I didn’t have other errands to run I’d’ve just walked the half-block to our polling place, but since I had to go to Glendale, I hit the start button on my handlebar-mounted GoPro, hopped on the bike and made casting a ballot my first stop, where I was pleased to find myself waiting behind about 10 other voters ahead of me. You’ll never hear me complain about having to wait in a line to vote. It fires me up to see members of the local electorate fired up enough to make me have to stand around a few extra minutes.

As I moved up, others fell in behind me. I asked if it was OK to bring my bike inside and a volunteer said sure. And though I thought I’d shut off my cam, it turns out it kept recording my neighbors and me (in the black knickers shirt and backpack) doing our duty as citizens. Kinda nice to have a physical record of it. I even had the pleasure of helping out a first-time voter in the booth next to me who was unsure how to put the ballot in the voting machine and asked for my help.

Timelapse: Beverly Thrills Ride

At the invitation of friend, biking blogger, and LA County Bicycle Coalition Boardmember Ted Rogers, I charted out and led a group “LACBC Sunday Funday” ride that took about 40 of us from the “slums” to the stars and all around the island of Beverly Hills. We endured a couple flats, collected the attentions of curious police patrols along the way, and I was called out on a couple occasions for not being a full-blown factually correct Koolaid-chugging cheerleader about how entirely awesome the municipality (and its water) is, but all told it was certainly an enjoyable experience for me and hopefully all who came along for the 13-mile 3.5-hour ride.

I even modified a 1938 Ragsdale Movie Guide Map for use during the “lookeloodikrus” portion of the ride (click it for the bigger picture):

Timelapse: Watts Happening Ride 2012

The 2012 edition of my Watts Happening Ride took place this past picture-perfect Saturday, and it was my complete pleasure to share the following landmark people, places and events I’ve discovered there with the 28 cyclists who joined me:

  1. The last residence of jazz great Jelly Roll Morton
  2. The childhood home of Nobel Prize Winner Ralph Bunche
  3. The location of the 1969 Black Panthers shootout
  4. The Hotel Dunbar, centerpiece of the Historic Central Avenue Jazz Corridor
  5. The location of the 1974 SLA shootout
  6. The actual fictional location of the Sanford and Son Salvage Yard
  7. The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia
  8. The location of the incident setting off the 1965 Watts Riots
  9. The home of Eula Love, killed by police in 1979 as a result of a past-due gas bill dispute
  10. The motel where legendary singer Sam Cooke was killed
  11. The flashpoint of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots
  12. The location of Wrigley Field, demolished in 1966.

Unfortunately, the above annotated timelapse video abruptly ends at the third-to-last location we visited, leaving me to discover that I need to get a bigger memory card if I want to capture the entire 33-mile, six-hour tour on camera the next time — and there will be a next time. I hope you’ll join me.


Even Though This Was A Wasted Trip To The Courthouse, No Trip On A Bike Is A Waste

With tomorrow being the deadline to appear regarding the citation I received Dec. 09 during the annual Midnight Ridazz All-City Toy Ride (my multiple attempts to process it online denied due to the citation being “not found”), I pedaled down to the Metro Traffic Courthouse on South Hill Street, only to find out via the clerk there that the ticket doesn’t yet exist in the system most likely due to the officer not yet entering it.

Turns out — according to the clerk (and in contradiction to my January 27 appearance date as indicated on the citation) — the officer has up to a year to register the ticket… an entire freakin’ year. So basically, the trip was not only a wasted one, but on top of that since a mailed courtesy notice isn’t guaranteed, the responsibility is entirely on me to keep checking the LA Superior Court website to see when it ends up in the system, and only at that point can I pay bail and request a trial by declaration. If it isn’t in there by December 10, 2012, it’s void.

In the meantime since tomorrow will come and go without any record of me taking any action I asked for and received a “tracer” from the clerk that at least shows I presented myself before the deadline. Trouble is it expires in 90 days, so if the end of April arrives and there’s still no citation, I’ll have to go back and get another tracer. And then maybe another one after that in July. And another one in October.

The one glimmer of hope in all this additional frustration is that if the ticket hasn’t been entered by now there might stand a chance that it might not be entered at all. Fingers crossed, from now until December 10.

UPDATE (01.28): Guess I can uncross my fingers. A second “Notice of Correction/Proof of Service” form dated January 26 arrived in the mail today advising me that my court appearance date has been changed to March 15.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Bike Ride To Montebello To Buy Egg Nog

First you might wonder why I really biked all the way to Montebello and back (28.29 miles) to buy egg nog? Well, this is not just any egg nog. This is Broguiere’s Egg Nog. THE BEST egg nog I’ve ever had. And sure, I could’ve biked (probably about the same distance overall) to stores in the vicinity and beyond hoping and praying I might find some in stock, but the trip out to the source has become something of a holiday tradition, albeit up until this year it was done by car.

See, when it dawned on me that it was three days until Thanksgiving and our fridge was lacking the seasonal staple, I loaded up the two glass bottle empties from last year into my backpack, headed out to make the trek to trade them for full ones, and on my way there wouldn’t you know that a press conference had broken out on the lawn of the new LAPD headquarters at the corner of 2nd and Spring streets to inaugurate the new buffered green bike lane that was installed on Spring from Cesar Chavez all the way down to 9th Street.

So I stuck around for the speeches and then went on the ceremonial first ride along the wonderful lane, then headed up and across the 6th Street Bridge and out Whittier Boulevard well into Montebello, coming back the same way.

Timelapse of the journey:

Where The There Is More Relevant Than The Getting To It

Rush hour on Western Avenue just south of Sunset Boulevard in 1906. The same year,  two miles east on Sunset, construction began on our house. (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library)

Armchair LA historians like my native self will always helplessly suffer from the malleable clay that underlies our city’s shifting landscape. That’s what happens when you live in so sprawled a city of reinvention and make believe built upon such a seismically active place that’s populated predominately by imports and led by a succession of movers and shakers with less regard for Los Angeles’ past than in recreating its future in their own image.

From that you get a vast freeway system that lifts us above street level (or digs us in below it) but does more to deny us our visceral and spiritual connections to the city than to elevate them. Built then with what one can only (and naively) hope were good intentions, the gridlock of torturous commutes today ultimately brings shame upon those with such a short-sighted and ultimately obsolete idea of destroying neighborhoods and embedded mass transit systems for the romanced ultra-modern notion of commuters individually wisking themselves freely and speedily to their crosstown destinations.

Can you blame them? Idealistically, sure: they suck, bigtime! But in fairness, put me in that situation and I doubt if it were up to me I would’ve had a better idea. Could you imagine in the 1940s suggesting we upgrade an aging rail system and expand other forms of mass transportation when the population was booming and increasingly spread out — not to mention that there was the virtual promise of a car in every garage?

The automobile defined the future then in much the same way the personal computer did today’s future. So to me, the freeway was as inevitable as the information superhighway. Would you have said no to the internet in favor of growing the US Postal Service? Good luck with that!

Having lost so many personal landmarks throughout my life here I’ve long viewed my birth city as built up on a continuing series of striations. We raised a school complex on top of the historic Ambassador Hotel. We covered the length of our river with concrete. We actually considered not restoring the Central Library after arson fires in the 1980s. To torture another analogy along those lines, Los Angeles is very much like a many-layered painting created by a community. Just as Picasso or Pollack might be tempted to “improve” upon a Van Gogh if given the opportunity, so have our leaders always been tempted to do the same for us and our city. The current result is something less than a work of art.

We live in a city where the destination is always more important than the journey. Where the there is more relevant than the getting to it. As such, we are an ignorant citizenry. We call Silver Lake and Echo Park the “Eastside” because so many of those living nearer to the sea than civic center see it as east of Western Avenue, not knowing or caring that thoroughfare marked the westernmost expansion at one point.

I can remember in 2003 when I finally got the opportunity to move out of the San Fernando Valley and into Silver Lake. I told friends of mine that I was thrilled to be back on the Westside after almost 20 years away, and their eyes went wide with indignation.

“Silver Lake is not the Westside!” they exclaimed. And philosophically that is very and thankfully true.

But historically, it is to me. And always will be.