Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My Memories of Joel Bloom

My remembrance of Joel Bloom in today's CITYWATCH.

Downtown - The Bloom is Gone-and, So is an Era

By Brady Westwater

On July Friday the 13th (of all days), Joel Bloom, one of Los Angeles’ most effective neighborhood activists - and the single biggest pain in the butt in the history of this city, passed away.

Within hours, an impromptu wake formed in front of the communal living room of the Arts District – Bloom’s General Store, a half-block from the recently named, Joel Bloom Square. A rapidly growing crowd soon over-flowed into the street and an outdoor party began that lasted long into the night.

Everyone who is anyone Downtown - and who was in town, showed up. Everyone, from Councilwoman Jan Perry to artists to residents to civic leaders. We all came to honor Joel’s memory – and to relate our endless stories that celebrated his unique streets-of-Chicago flavored personality.

Long before neighborhood councils were created, there were the individual neighborhood activists, and from those often lonely ranks came the first neighborhood based organizations. And within the Arts District, the person who did the most to establish those organizations was… Joel Bloom.

During the twenty years Joel lived in the Arts District, among his many contributions were getting the neighborhood first recognized as a residential neighborhood and then getting it named the Arts District. He then had to work to save it from destruction by the Los Angeles School District when the LAUSD tried to put a massive school book warehouse in the middle of the increasingly artist-filled community.

He was also involved in the creation of LARABA (the Los Angeles River Artists and Business Association), was a member of the Little Tokyo Community Council (LTCC), and helped found every other community acronym group from DADA (Downtown Artist Development Association) to LADAD (Los Angeles Downtown Artists District).

He also helped found both the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC, where he served two terms on the board as a resident) and the Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council (HCNC). And before his death he helped found and served on the board of the Artist District Business Improvement District (ADBID), was the Chair of the Central Industrial Community Advisory Committee (CICAC) for the CRA and had previously served on the RAC for the MTA, among other organizations.

Among his more direct personal achievements were the planting of street trees, acquiring much needed street lighting, working on both light-rail and bus routes in the community, pushing for affordable housing & parks, and keeping the LAPD headquarters out of a residential neighborhood.

More than a preeminent community activist, Joel was a community achiever. Look up ‘activist’ in your Merriam-Webster and you’ll find it along side of Joel Blooms picture.

Despite seven years of countless, painful operations and endless chemo following his first bout with cancer, Joel never slowed down. In fact, after all the operations and hospitalizations – each of which Joel not only survived, but from which he came out looking better (and thinner) than ever, we all began to think of him as being immortal. That nothing could touch him.

Or at least I particularly hoped so, if only for selfish reasons. Since Joel was only months older than I am, I let him know his passing while I was still alive would be demographically unacceptable, plus I reminded him that if anything ever happened to him, I would be left with his title as the most stubborn person alive in downtown

His ability to thrive under adversity was why --even once it became clear he was in the hospital for the last time and that he would never be coming out again--it was still easy for us all to remain in a state of denial about the inevitable.

And that is why, even when I walked over to join everyone in front of all the wreaths placed by his store, it still hadn’t hit me that he was really gone and that I would never see him again, until I saw that one particular tree.

A tree in front of his store. A tree I had watched him help plant not just once, but twice--after the first one had died. And at that moment, I almost totally lost it and had to shut my eyes, hard.

Never again would any of us ever walk along Traction and see Joel standing in front of his store, surveying his domain. Nor would any of us ever again walk into Bloom’s General Store and be greeted by his heart-warmingly gruff, Chicago accented – Whaddya Want?

But even then I had still not yet realized the finality and completeness of our loss. That didn’t occur until I was talking with a friend about something that had happened 20 years before on that street and neither of us could remember the answer to the question I had just posed. So I turned my head towards the store and was about to say… let’s ask Joel… when I realized, that none of us could ever ask Joel anything again.

He was gone.

A wonderful, golden era has ended—despite the warnings—unexpectedly.

The Bloom is gone.

We shall never see his like again.

(Brady Westwater is a long-time downtown activist. He is also a writer and regular contributor to CityWatch.) _


Ed Padgett said...

Very nice tribute to Joel Bloom Brady.

I did not know Joel, but through your sharing, I have a feel for him, big loss for everyone.

Anonymous said...

thank you.