Friday, August 22, 2008

Los Angeles Times Once Again Proves It Knows Nothing About Los Angeles!

The above linked story about the renovation of the historic Westlake Theatre on Alvarado shows the LA Times continuing lack of even a cursory first hand knowledge of our city.

For those who do not know the Westlake area, it was a fashionable Victorian neighborhood in the 1880's and the 1890's with some larger homes being built into the World War I era (mainly craftsman, Tudor, colonial, etc.) and a few very larger homes - but mainly apartments - being built in the 1920's by which time the elite of LA had mainly not only moved themselves to the West by the time the theater had opened, but they had sometimes even picked up their homes from the now unfashionable neighborhood and moved them to Hancock Park and Windsor Square where the elite had now moved.

And by the 1930's - the pre-WW II era, the neighborhood no longer had any new single family homes being built in it, the new apartments were middle class - at best - and the area had begun its long decline.

As for architecture, the homes were almost all wooden with a few that were purely stucco - and a very few of those were of early Mission or Moorish Design. Very rarely were any of them of the later Spanish revival style of the 1920's and 1930's.

Now read the parts of the article below that describe the neighborhood and its architecture:
Renovation of historic theater evokes hope and grumbling
The 1920s Westlake Theatre is being reborn for performances, but some vendors who use the building as a swap meet wonder where they will relocate.
By Esmeralda Bermudez, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 23, 2008

This was the place where, decades earlier, Charlie Chaplin delighted audiences and Los Angeles' elite, the residents of the district's Spanish-style mansions and high-rise homes, gathered to relax with an evening of theater.

And...
The surrounding community has been transformed dramatically since the theater opened 82 years ago across from MacArthur Park on South Alvarado Street.

Before World War II, it was one of Los Angeles' more fashionable districts, home to some in the movie industry.

Not huge glaring errors - other than the non-existent neighborhoods filled with non-existent Spanish-styled mansions - but still a rather complete lack of real understanding of every single aspect of the social and architectural history of the area; a lack of local understanding that one now expects - and gets - from the Los Angeles Times.

9 comments:

Mr. Gertner said...

Although your criticisms may be warranted, you should reconsider your attacks. The reporter, Esmeralda Bermudez is a young Salvadoran American who was recently hired by the LA Times, a homecoming for her after several years at the Oregonian.
She is committed to telling the stories of the real people of Los Angeles who are often covered superficially by the media, especially working class Latinos.
I know this because she came to visit my high school journalism class, and we were all impressed by her sincerity and thoughtfulness. Rather than attack a few mistakes, you might want to recognize the story she is telling of the struggle of vendors in the face of improvements to the neighborhood. This is a human story that isn't told very often or with this much empathy. To me, that's the more important idea you should take away from the article.

Anonymous said...

While the plight of the vendors was central to the Westlake story, the 'background' was not accurate, so as a reader I feel I had no reason to trust any of the other details of the article. I would think a reporter's first responsibility was to tell the entire story accurately. There are certainly enough resources on LA history to make the details available. Sincereity and thoughtfulness are good human virtues, but a reporter needs to add honesty and accuracy to have any credibility to their work. Better she learn that there will always be people checking her work and criticising it NOW than later, should she handle a more important story.
To be honest I think most people read the story, not because of the plight of the vendors, but because of the rebirth of an iconic property. I think the LAT was more interested in the theatre than the people, which is why the article got the space. If you're not teaching about the real world of print journalism then what are you preparing your students for?

Brady Westwater said...

I agree - in part - with both of your points. The article is well written and - unlike too many articles in the paper - it presents both points of view. I also think if the writer were to ever learn something about the city she lives in - she could be a great asset to the paper.

And if I were writing about the article as an article - I would have pointed all of that out. But that was not my point.

My sole point was the total and utter failure of the Los Angeles Times to require a knowledge of Los Angeles by anyone to write and edit for the paper. Also, the writer was let down by her editor who should have known the basic facts of its often written about neighborhood.

However, I feel that to claim that a person's age - or racial background - should give them special right to get a story wrong, is patronizing if not insulting - and I am certain the writer would be the first to agree.

Lastly, what really disturbs me is
the tendency by almost all the younger writers at the Times to not simply getting things wrong - but to just make things up. And here I refer to the 'Spanish mansions' she described.

Now since there are no such mansions for her to have observed in the neighborhood today (even though there are many wood framed houses of multiple styles) - and since if she looked at the old photos of the neighborhood - she would have seen that at least 95% of the homes were wood - or largely wood (and the very few stucco-covered houses were usually Mission-styled), she just made up that phrase out of whole cloth.

My guess is she looked at the style of the theater and decided the houses in the area must have been built of the same style. Her mistake was in not knowing that the area had already passed its peak by the time the theater was built and that is why the homes were all built in earlier styles and why it was no longer where the elite lived.

Adam Villani said...

Good points, Brady. I was just a little disappointed there was no mention of the big "ASBESTOS" sign on the proscenium.

Mr. Gertner said...

Your comment helps to clear things up. I guess we were commenting on different things and your headline was hyperbolic.

I agree that accuracy is the primary and most important quality of a newspaper, so I understand why this seemingly minor detail is worth getting right.

Just to clarify, I was not excusing inaccuracy based on her age or ethnicity. I was merely pointing out that she does bring a different voice to a newspaper that is lacking in diversity, and that should be celebrated. I just felt that your commentary was a bit dismissive of someone who only just started at the Times.

Like you said, you weren't commenting on the article as an article, though. I still think you're exaggerating to say that she doesn't know anything about the city she lives in, but that's your prerogative. It's your blog.

Richard said...

Brady Westwater:

Your points are warranted about the LA Times not knowing about Los Angeles. However, I think you need to read the following:

The MacArthur Park/Westlake area you speak of also includes:

Lafayette Park Ave. between Sixth and Third Street.

On these three blocks this was called million dollar row as late as the 1970s. (Millionaires lived on this three block area)

Some of these homes had tennis courts and magnificent front lawn areas. One of the homes on Third Street and Lafayette was owned by the McKinley Family. This family was very big in the mortuary business.

As I grew up in the 70's, I witnessed many of these homes being demolished one by one during this decade. (There are two houses left) The LA Conservancy did not really exist back then.

These homes were not non descript Spanish style mansions. They were gems in the city. Unfortunately, not enough people thought this classic architecture mattered at the time.

Brady Westwater said...

Actually, I knew those houses, very well and spent a lot of time in them when I was a kid. I grew up at 312 S. Westmoreland a few blocks to the west and my parents joined many of those homeowners to try and stop the rezoning of the homes on first that street and then - later - on Shatto Park Place and the 400 block on S. Westmoreland. I do somewhat disagree that they were in the Westlake area as anything past Rampart was considered the Wilshire or Mid-Wilshire district when I was a kid; that is a point that can be argued though. Some, though, even felt that anything west of McArthur Park was now the Wilshire District and that the Westlake District ended about mid-way across the park, and there

But you are right in that even on Layafette Park Place - the homes were not traditional Spanish style.

Anonymous said...

"For those who do not know the Westlake area, it was a fashionable Victorian neighborhood in the 1880's and the 1890's with some larger homes being built into the World War I era (mainly craftsman, Tudor, colonial, etc.) and a few very larger homes - but mainly apartments - being built in the 1920's by which time the elite of LA had mainly not only moved themselves to the West by the time the theater had opened, but they had sometimes even picked up their homes from the now unfashionable neighborhood and moved them to Hancock Park and Windsor Square where the elite had now moved."

That's one hell of a run-on sentence. I read it three times and I still can't unterstand what you're saying. By the time the theater opened the elite had moved to the west, taking their houses with them to neighborhoods where the elite had already moved? Esmeralda Bermudez may have gotten her facts wrong about Westlake's architecture, but at least she writes clearly.

Brady Westwater said...

Hey - she gets paid to have dayshone her prose. I have to squeeze out a few lines while juggling on cell phone in my other hand.

But while it may run on - and on - it does make sense. The elite had already moved west by the 1920's so those left behind soon followed and some of them even took their houses west with them.