Strivers and The Know-How City

LAST NIGHT, the students in my “Telling L.A.’s Story” workshop put the final touches on their photo blogs. The subject: Genius Loci. The assignment was an attempt to see how deeply they were thinking about not just the city, but their relationship to it/themselves in it — while taking into account all that they’ve read, heard, observed in class this semester. I was particularly touched by the ones who really did try to go deep and figure out how the last few weeks had altered their way of thinking about a city that oftentimes is so shrill and overbearing you just want to close your ears and hide in a closet. But, many of them reflected on the past, why their parents had come, deals they’d walked away from, stress they decided they didn’t need any longer. Many of them tried to find words to describe a feeling that is still in the midst of forming. The brick and mortar of decisions that they are making that are becoming the foundation for their lives. They are still forming.

I’ve been writing/blogging/photographing with them. The exercise sent me back — way, way, way back — to my baby-sitters street in the 70s off of Slauson and those little houses that lined her neat, postcard perfect street. They didn’t call South L.A. “South L.A.” then. They didn’t call it South Central either. It was just an L.A. neighborhood where people settled in, planted gardens, raised families, lined white picket fences around their property and painted the houses soft, dreamy colors: pastel candies — pink, yellow, green and turquoise.

The turquoise house sent a message to my young soul — that someone who had that workaday job, who was trying to raise a family on a little bit of paycheck, still had a sense of hope and wonder. Home meant something special and beautiful — particularly in a desert that tried to pass for a tropical oasis. So what if much of the dream ended up being a mirage — the house was solid: a roof, four walls sining: “This is me. This is mine.”

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You Can’t (and Shouldn’t) Go Home Again

I’VE BEEN nosing around in my past lately. Not always a great idea … but it was for a project I’m tangentally working on that has now become a “project/project” and so . . .

Assignments formalize things, even feelings. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been going to old places that are suffused with memories — glorious and, well, heart-breaking. In certain ways even these roads, changed — for better and for worse — seem to mirror the same feeling. Looking back is strange business. There aren’t maps or GPS for that.

(Downhill/Uphill)

— e. parque., images by l.g.

Genius Loci: L.A.’s Spirit

I’M WORKING on a project with my feature writing class. We’re exploring L.A.’s essence. It’s difficult, we’re finding, trying to sum up Los Angeles in a simple sentence –even within the space of a medium-legnth feature story can be a challenge. Sometimes pictures tell us more — or at the very least can convey what words only swirl around. I’ll be posting some of their findings — but here’s a quick preview — some visual meditations of my own.

Rewind: Googie

OVER AT L.A. Observed Kevin Roderick’s featured post is about architect Eldon Davis, “icon of Googie architecture” . He passed away last week here in Los Angeles. He was 94.
If you made toast at the tables at Ships, or sat in one of the booths at Tiny Naylor’s or had one of the scarily low-priced steak and eggs breakfasts at Norms, you know all about Googie. My mother often retold a story about how the two of were caught in the lunch rush at Googie’s — the coffee shop downtown — and were being ignored by the waitress. My mother’s patience was waning rapidly. and she said, I kept asking her — and not in a whisper — if we were going leave and not pay. I probably was about three or four, so “dine and dash” was not in my vocabulary. My mother was mortified. I don’t think we went back to Googies after that, but I have fond memories of all the beautiful shapes and shiny, fanciful space-age squiggles that really firmly place me back in my L.A. childhood.

Way Back Machine: Los Angeles in the 1940s

ALL I can say is “sigh.”
On Sundays, my family, like so many across the country and beyond, used to take advantage of space and a clock that for many of us felt slowed-down if only for 24-hours. That’s what Sunday was for. I wasn’t around this far back to see this Los Angeles. This Los Angeles is the city my parents arrived in from points East and South. They looked around and figured, well, why not try this out.

I stumbled upon this image one night recently (and a set of others here) and realized, as I looked at many of these gorgeous photographs of an L.A. that I got a quick-glimpse of as a child some decades later, that I don’t really drive L.A. end to end the way I used to. We all sit and stew and swear. That Sunday drive now for me is virtual, but boy was it great to reach back and see these gorgeous shots of buildings I’d circle over and over on foot or in my car as a teen.

There is still that magic here some Sunday afternoons. It’s just harder to see and hear now — but you feel glimpses on occasion, on a hot day fueled by a furious Santa Ana, it’s the jasmine and the honeysuckle a float on the wind– like a ghost drifting by.

— images via “A Selection by Allen Roth