The Spirits of the City

“Figueroa Spectres, 1935-1997,” a photo montage by Philip J. Ethington. via USC Dornsife

A FEW weeks ago I spoke with Philip Ethington, a professor of history and political science at USC Dornsife, about his 15-years-in-the making project, Ghost Metropolis. Due out next year, the multimedia “book” explores layers of Los Angeles — its history, its built environment, its contested territories, its major arteries and industries — in hopes of examining and cataloging the distinguishing details of Los Angeles, past and present.

“I see myself making ghosts visible,” he explained.

Those pieces of from the past that so many Angelenoes consider to be razed or lost, haven’t been entirely erased, they are often, Ethington points out, just hiding in plain sight.

The project — which assembles a series of essays, interactive maps, photographs (his own set alongside archival images) and video — will tell a 4D story about the region across epochs.

From the piece:

“I just want to tell a great story about a great city. Great in a massive sense, but also in a creative sense. Because it’s not all about the bad guys and the injustices and the oppressions. I also want achieve accountability. That’s a real big goal.”

To read the piece and see some of time images and maps, click over to USC Dornsife’s site here.

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Post-Script

How Los Angeles Looked, 1850s | Photo courtesy LA Public Library via KCET | Departures

IT WAS great to see D.J. Waldie’s thoughtful consideration of our online conversation.

Some of his musings:

We haven’t yet learned to speak the language of the Los Angeles that is coming. It’s a post-sprawl city, where “sprawl” had been the clichéd label for the city’s multi-centered urban form. It’s a post-diversity city, where “diversity” talk is both a sign of Anglo anxiety about the new people living next door and a word of self-congratulation about not being too anxious. Los Angeles is post “middle-class” as well, having been made into a city of struggling working-class aspirants below and a crust of oblivious wealth above.

You can catch the rest here at KCET Departures

Seeking Los Angeles

The View from the Old Hill -- by Lynell George

The View from the Old Hill — by Lynell George

SOME YEARS back, not too long before I became a journalist, I noted that I seemed stricken by writers block when it came to fixing Los Angeles on the page.

Maybe I was just too deep in it, or standing far too close to really see it — my own day-to-day life here, and my place in it. Consequently it wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco briefly that I began to write deeply and vividly about the city I was born and raised in. And then it seemed, I couldn’t’ stop.

More recently, I have found myself wrestling with a different sort of writing challenge as I encounter the city — both physically and philosophically. Mostly of late it feels like I am chasing ghosts and, in a certain way, still writing about L.A. from a distance — but one of time and change.

The ever-sharp Carolina Miranda over at the L.A. Times convened three L.A. writers to talk about L.A.: the worn-out tropes, the city’s elusiveness. I had a great time having a virtual conversation with D.J. Waldie and Josh Kun, two Angelenos who also press into the city from unexpected angles.

Here’s the link to our online chat.

And thanks again Carolina for asking us to help pull L.A.into sharper focus.