L.A. With Many Maps

INTERESTING piece in the L.A. Times this week about film-student-cum-record-store-clerk-cum-shopkeeper-cum-cartographer, Eric Brightwell’s hand-drawn maps of Los Angeles and the struggle of mapping a place seen as so stubbornly elusive.

Above is Angeleno Heights which the website/store describes as:

.. older than Echo Park, LA’s first suburb, Victorian and Craftsman oasis, old grocery stores that people live in. It was commonly misspelled “Angelino Heights” beginning in the 1970s. Chock another error up to “language evolving.”

The piece is as much about Brightwell’s there-to-here story, his evolving relationship with Los Angeles as it is about his own struggle toward self. Brightwell’s maps, even in their simplicity, correct the very thing outsiders so often get wrong about Los Angeles — that it is inherently “not a real city” and therefore inexplicable because it is so large and unwieldy. But Brightwell settles on small details to pull the city into focus — to explain its uniqueness. First in a blog and then in maps:

From the piece:

In L.A., one map followed the next as Brightwell crisscrossed the area, sometimes by foot and by bike.

He described more and more about what he saw in his blog posts, and began stopping to talk to people in the neighborhoods he visited. He learned why the first Bangladeshi businessmen settled in Little Bangladesh. He spoke to a man with blessings for sale in Morningside Circle.

His maps also became more fanciful.

In the compass roses, which orient north, south, east and west, Brightwell began adding drawings. Santa Ana, for its famed winds, got a gust beneath a cloud. Pomona got a hand dangling an orange by its stem, in honor of the Roman goddess of fruit trees.
For his friends, Brightwell zoomed in and drew micro-maps — highlighting a favorite taco stand, the houses of people they knew.

He also began drawing larger maps of big, often self-defined areas: South L.A.’s Eastside, South L.A.’s Westside, the Mideast Side — a tongue-in-cheek label for those west of downtown who call themselves Eastsiders.

Once he’d stared at seas of streets on Thomas Guide grids, unable to see a whole in the profusion of detail. Now in his head, disparate parts began coming together — a complex jigsaw puzzle on the verge of being solved.

Los Angeles started to feel like home, and Brightwell was putting down roots.

Sometimes the answer really is finally being able to imagine what all the pieces might feel like once they are put together, not seeing the city as a chain of islands — but a progression of a multi-chaptered story.


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