THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-May 30 marked 28 years since I’ve moved to LA with a bunch of suitcases and ideas. What was the initial attraction? LA to me is a land of ideas and possibilities. The guy at the gas station is a member of SAG and your dentist has a screenplay. People leave hometowns and even countries for the possibilities. There’s a different kind of energy here than you might find in the bustling streets of New York. Driving through Topanga toward that first slice of the coastline or through Laurel Canyon to Sunset is unlike what you’ll experience in any other city.
Our history is young compared to Boston or London. There are no brick buildings where colonists gathered to plan the break from England. What we do have are relics from the early days of the studio system, Spanish colonial revivals and examples of Art Moderne. As millions of veterans returned from the Second World War to create a residential housing boom in our city, Arts & Architecture Magazine commissioned major architects of the day to design the Case Study Houses, brilliant minds like Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, Eero Saarinen, A. Quincy Jones, Ralph Rapson, an experimental program that ran between 1948 and 1966.
LA’s signature Googie architecture in the fifties and sixties was a tribute to the car culture and Jet Age futurism. Coffee shops, gas stations, car washes, and other commercial designs featured cantilevered roofs, starbursts, and hard angles. Sadly, many of the best examples of Googie architecture and significant examples of other schools of architecture have not been preserved, although the LA Conservancy works to nominate buildings for Cultural Historic Status.
I first fell in love with our city’s unique mix of architectural styles when I was writing for a real estate website about six years ago. Since then, I’ve taken tours of the Case Study homes, Pasadena’s Bungalow District, and taken walking tours past the bungalows and apartments that were the homes of many Hollywood icons.
There’s something uniquely special about strolling through Grand Central Market, (photo above.) where Angelenos have been buying delicacies and flowers since 1917, when Broadway was LA’s commercial and entertainment district. The history of the market reflects the city’s history and immigration patterns. Buying Bob’s Donuts, fresh fish, or peanut butter at The Farmers Market on Fairfax is another tradition that pays tribute to our city’s past.
When I became aware of the aggressive tactics of developers who seem to have a stronghold on the City Council, I was disappointed and concerned. I’ve watched historically relevant buildings fall to ugly strip malls, boxy apartment buildings, and parking structures during the past 25 plus years since I first moved here. Would developers finish off the city, leaving only tract homes and McMansions with minimal setbacks? Is there anything that can be done to stop this takeover?
Through a series of introductions, I began to cover the grassroots activists throughout Los Angeles who gather in offices, living rooms, and coffee shops to protect their neighborhoods. The energy of ideas in motion that first attracted me to Los Angeles is alive in every person and every group gathering recall signatures and meeting with those charged with protecting the interests of constituents to let them know the rollover in favor of developers with deep pockets is unacceptable.
Los Angeles, like many cities, faces challenges including a lack of affordable housing and public transportation, increasing traffic and homelessness but for every challenge, there are Angelenos who are passionate, driven, and applying creative ideas toward solutions.
And that just may be what I love most about Los Angeles.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.