Archive for the ‘nostalgia’ Category

One Of The Most Amazing Things I’ve Ever Seen

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Just watch:

Thanks to Tony Pierce for introducing this to me.

Things Get Better With Age

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

What is it about vintage images of everyday street scenes, such as this one from the northwest corner of Hollywood & Vine in the early 1950s (hat-tip to LA Observed)? I can’t help but extensively examine and explore them as if they are some archaeological find.

Yet should someone venture out this afternoon with a camera and post a snap of this same landmark location, I’d give it, at best, a passing glance.

Where The There Is More Relevant Than The Getting To It

Thursday, September 16th, 2010


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.

Belmont: When The Horses Were On The Tracks

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

The Beverly Boulevard/1st Street bridge is a bit of an anomaly nowadays, its graceful arc over Glendale Boulevard and 2nd Street seeming like literal and figurative overkill. But from this photo found — you guessed it! — in the LA Public Library digital archive you can see the span once served a more obviously cooperative purpose. Dated September 2, 1942, the image showcases the brand new viaduct about a week or so before the $1-million project was opened to cars.

Back then the city’s train routes were still being accommodated and included in the transportation grid by building auto infrastructure around or over them rather than destroying the rail lines wholesale for the sake of adding vehicular traffic lanes. With the Hollywood Freeway still about 8 years away from its first leg opening up, it’s easy to see the importance of Beverly Boulevard as a major artery getting people to and from the civic center. But if the Red Car hadn’t been there, it’s hard to imagine the city’s engineers going up when they could just carve out the connector at street level.

So over they went, crossing the roads along with the rails leading to and from  the yard in the foreground, which is Belmont Station. The photographer is positioned on the hill above the famed Belmont Tunnel that took cars entirely underground to and from the heart of downtown.

Long after the trains stopped running, the tunnel actually remained accessible to curious urban explorers, film and video crews, graffiti artists and the homeless until some five or six years ago. But the tunnel has been permanently blockaded, and where L.A. commuters once rocked, rolled and rumbled along those rails, now on the yard’s footprint this past couple of years has stood the Belmont Station apartment complex, its facade facing the anachronistic arch that’s liable to strike anyone who considers it as a curiosity, and whose purpose now (to those of us who know it origins) is to serve both highly as a monument to a time when rail ruled, and lowly as a footnote to the transportation history of a Los Angeles that forsaked integrating its multimodal past to instead embrace a short-sighted vision of its automobile-centered future.

Sunrise Over Sunset

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Dipping into the LA Public Library’s digital archives again I came upon this pretty amazing image snapped from atop Hill Street near the Fort Moore Memorial. In the foreground is the intersection of Sunset Boulevard (now Cesar E Chavez Boulevard) and Broadway. And through the haze in the distance you can also see General Hospital (now LA County/USC Medical Center) atop Lincoln Heights. I’m particularly impressed by the large tank the sun rises behind, situated behind the twin-turreted building of Terminal Annex in proximity to the railyards of Union Station.

There are memories from my toddlerhood of these towering structures as seen in passing them from the seat of the first automobile I can remember, my mother’s Corvair.

The month and day is listed as March 6, but the year goes unidentified. But judging from a couple of the bland vehicles in the traffic mix on Broadway, it looks to anywhere from the mid/late 1960s to perhaps even the early ’70s.

Missed It By Thaaaaaat Much

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Being a native angeleno who cherishes connections to my city’s history (in part because so much of my personal historical landmarks have been destroyed), I take a special geekish pride not just in our 104-year-old house, but also that I live within the original city limits as it was incorporated in 1850.

With that love of Los Angeles’ past comes a fascination with old maps and photos and I can often be found haunting various digital archives just reveling in the images of yesteryear.

So it was that yesterday I took a nostalgia tour through the LA Public Library’s repository and did a search for Silver Lake images, finding this awesome aerial made of the neighborhood under development circa 1924 (click it for the slightly bigger picture):

It’s amazing to see Silver Lake in its infancy, with the area directly south of the reservoir practically devoid of homes and looking more like a strip mine than an eclectic residential enclave.

The only problem I have with the pic? Our then 18-year-old house is out of frame, standing literally juuuuuust beyond the lower right corner that shows the curve of still unpaved Occidental Boulevard to Sunset Boulevard north of it. Had the photographer pointed his lens but 0.0657 smidgens (roughly 1/10th of a skosh) lower there’d be a long-sought historic visual of our Home Sweet Home.

You want another one I discovered? Check this out from 1950:

When the Hollywood Freeway officially opened that year it was celebrated with a police-escorted procession of automobiles (no doubt containing officials and dignitaries) heading north on it from downtown. But the 101 was far from done. In fact, you couldn’t actually get to Hollywood on it yet. Construction had only been completed to Silver Lake Boulevard, where the parade of cars had to exit, turning around to re-enter the south bound lanes back to the Civic Center, as seen above.

Lastly, here’s another one I found, taken by one of my favorite LA photographers, Gary Leonard (probably for the old LA Reader). It’s not as old as the previous two, but it features an acquaintance I’ve written about recently, Paul Greenstein (at right), back in the day when he co-owned Millie’s,  a looooong while after that historic Silver Lake eatery opened in 1926, two years after the aerial photo at the top of this post was snapped.

If you haven’t, you should really take a spin around the library’s digi-archives when you get the chance:

Like The Corners Of My Mind

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

There’s been a roadtrip story inside my head needing writing for awhile involving my friend Mark Burton, myself, his 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am, a bunch of cigarettes and a case of Old Milwaukee beer.

I was reminded of it coming back through Bakersfield from our vacation to Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks on Monday. During that horrible summer I’d pitched him on a weekend kickback up at Lake Nacimiento near Paso Robles, a place I’d previously visited at the beginning of my teens. Mark was game.

So we loaded up the Firebird with  Marlboros, cassette tapes, gas money and a sense of adventure and headed out of the city up the Goldenstate Freeway first to Bakersfield where we had dinner at a Denny’s there and then discovered we’d almost melted the Pontaic driving it for gawd knows how far on a broken fanbelt. After several hours at a mechanic’s (made longer because he had to drive around trying to obtain the appropriate belt) we were back on the freeway to Highway 46 headed in the direction of Paso Robles.

And the reason I’m bothering with all this is that I’m now pissed off these 28 years later that I didn’t know about Kings Canyon/Sequoia then because I’ll tell you what: the rich experiences of those national parks weren’t much further from Bakersfield than Lake Nacimiento (we actually ended up at nearby Lake San Antonio because Nacimiento was full), which had little to offer two chain-smoking punks from Beverly Hills without a boat. Lakes are funny that way in that they’re oriented toward water-based activities, and not just sitting around in the heat listening to Tears For Fears and drinking warm beer because we didn’t even have the sense to bring an ice chest.

Sure there’s no use grousing over decades-old bad travel destinations, but damn! If I’d known then what I now know, we wouldn’t’ve headed west on 46 landlocked to the shores of Boredomtown. We would’ve headed up  to the forest of the giants wherein I can so see my 18-year-old self coming out of the most fucked-up summer of my existence getting a better perspective on how utterly meaningless all the crap I’d been going through was. Two-thousand-year-old sequoias as tall as the Statue of Liberty with trunks as wide as a garage are funny that way in that they humble physically and exalt spiritually. And at that par-tee-kyoo-lar dark time in my life my spirit could have used some serious exaltation opportunities. Would have wallowed in them.

Better late than never.