Tuesday, May 07, 2013

After reading this article about Los Angeles in one of New York's better journals, my first thought was to check if it was  posted on April's Fools Day - or if it was a reprint from the Onion. Alas - neither assumption, however logical, proved true.

In this recent blog post at the New York Review of Books (not to be confused with the New York Times Book Review section), Martin Filler reviews two local museum shows about LA that should be seen by everyone who cares about this city.  And I will discuss them both in later posts.  

Unfortunately, the review  -  'LA's Alternate Realities' - appears to use the word 'alternate'  in the exact way authors Timothy Leary and Carlos Castaneda meant to have it used.  He also excavates practically every old cliche  about LA verbatim - some of them so hoary they are approaching the hundred year mark - though he does try to update some of them in attempt to keep up with the times.

To list only three of more obvious,  and clearly obviously incorrect, cliches, Dorothy Parker never said LA was 73 suburbs in search of a city, but Alexander Woolcott in his book 'While Rome Burns' did say LA was 7 suburbs in search of a city - in 1934; second, Los Angeles is not and has never been a desert - it has a Mediterranean climate - and has 2 or 3 more inches of rain per year than cities such as San Diego - which I do not recall ever being called a desert in the NYT  (any true New Yorker's paper of record for all things LA); and, third, the whole fantasy about the street cars being removed due to a conspiracy by General Motors, has long been exposed as just that... a fantasy.And speaking of 'fantasy', when discussing a proposed Civic Center designed in the 1920's by Lloyd Wright, he decries the fact its style is based in part upon:  
... pre-Colombian monuments that inspired the elder Wright’s California buildings of the 1910s and 1920s—lacks any sense of ecological appropriateness.
This, I presume, is in striking contrast to the 'ecological appropriateness' the City of New York showed when it used Greek temples as models for its major civic buildings.

Moving on to newer cliches, he manages to cite Westwood Village as the place to go for nightlife after it has been dwarfed - for decades - by the crowds going to Santa Monica to eat, shop and go to movies.  Granted Westwood still has pedestrian nightlife, but it also has lots of vacant stores and most local articles about it are of the -'is Westwood finally ready to come back' tone. Out of date observations such as that makes one wonder if he has been to either place after dark in the past 20 years.

But he manages to top that when he contrasts the vibrant pedestrian nightlife of Los Feliz (which he may have confused with Silver Lake/Echo Park) with the lack of nightlife in 'desolate' Downtown; a statement which makes it clear if he has been to LA in the recent past - he never set foot out of his car in either neighborhood after dark.

However, there could be a reason for these specific omissions and errors. For if he had included the booming nightlife and pedestrian scene in Downtown and Hollywood - and in Koreatown and Old Town Pasadena - all of which are connected with each other by subways and light rail lines - then he could not have used  false LA cliche #27  -  that the only places you can walk in LA are - places you have to drive to.

Lastly, here again is the link to the article and below are the first few paragraphs:

LA’s Alternate Realities

Martin Filler

Rendering of Pereira, Becket, Luckman, and Williams's Theme Building at LAX airport, 1958
How can the most architecturally innovative part of the United States also be such a thoroughgoing urban mess? Los Angeles can boast, among other showpieces, Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall of 1989–2003, Charles and Ray Eames’s own Case Study House Number 8 of 1947–1949, and Raymond M. Kennedy’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater of 1926–1927—to name three of my favorite landmarks there. And yet LA is also a highway-strangled, traffic-choked expanse of artificially lush desert with no discernible organizing principle save for the allées of palm trees that filmmakers reflexively use to establish a recognizable sense of place.
Describing the persistent incoherence of Los Angeles, Dorothy Parker famously jibed that it was “seventy-two suburbs in search of a city.” More sympathetic observers like the British architectural historian Reyner Banham have long pointed out that it’s futile to apply traditional standards of urban design to this 469-square-mile sprawl, which they see not as a dysfunctional megalopolis but as a prophetically modern phenomenon. Yet to comprehend why the City of Angels remains so enduringly weird to outsiders, it is not architectural specialists but rather imaginative writers—from Nathanael West and James M. Cain to Evelyn Waugh and Joan Didion—to whom we must turn.
 This spring and summer, two complementary exhibitions in Los Angeles seek to bring the unfathomableness into focus. The first, “Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940–1990,” which is at the J. Paul Getty Museum through July 21, explores how the city emerged through fitful initial development, explosive postwar growth, and a distinctive built legacy. The second, “Never Built: Los Angeles,” which opens at LA’s Architecture and Design Museum on July 13, examines a stunning array of unexecuted projects to show why the city didn’t become something else.

And the rest of the piece is here.

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