Before I moved to L.A. a couple years ago, I thought this was a city with no history. Or rather, a city with limited history due to its fractured nature, without a collective narrative beyond the Hollywood publicity and the tourist board imagery that gives the rest of America its one-dimensional image of L.A. Even though my family has been here for sixty years, since my grandparents and infant mother moved from Brooklyn to Boyle Heights, I never really thought about Los Angeles as a city with a history. Maybe that’s because Mom grew up in the new, white-flight based suburbs, Westchester, Studio City, Sherman Oaks. And then, on family vacations, our experiences were limited to staying in Santa Monica with my grandparents, or going to the Beverly Center, but always staying out of the older parts of the city. So I always saw Los Angeles as being more like the L.A. Story L.A….and I know you meant well, Steve Martin, but you limited L.A. to a post-war city, without a hint of the pre-war era that formed it.
But I’ve learned a lot about Los Angeles history since coming here. And one of my favorite live-action sources has been the L.A. Conservancy‘s walking tours. And they throw one hell of a party, too. I went to the wake for the Ambassador last night, and it was fascinating. OK, so open bar makes anything fascinating, but hearing the speakers and their memories gave me a much better picture of the area as it would have looked then, in its heyday, before white flight really kicked in. Two of the older women spoke of ghosts in the hotel, of being able to sense history within its walls. And I loved reading the blowup of the original Ambassador ad from 1921, describing the hotel’s setting, halfway between the ocean and the Sierras.
My mother used to go dancing at the Cocoanut Grove on dates, back in the sixties. But she didn’t have any emotional attachment to the Ambassador. I asked her what she called that part of town in her day, what’s now K-Town, and she said, “oh, we just called it downtown L.A.”. So maybe that’s part of the problem. If people living in a decentralized Los Angeles can’t see the history and the neighborhoods clearly, how can we expect to convey that history, or that character, to the rest of the world?
And now I’m out for Critical Mass for now, especially since it’s our one year anniversary party tonight. But is anyone going to the Chinese New Year parade tomorrow? If so, I’ll see you there. I’ll be the really tall girl muttering about how no real Chinatown has space for parking lots.