L.A. Field Trip

by journojames on January 10, 2012

Originally published Aug. 20, 2010

L.A. City Hall, Photo by JournoJames

It was a provocative and memorable afternoon filled with gruesome racist public hangings, a wonderfully kitschy eatery glorifying the sporting life of the untamed west, and a glimpse of that ridiculously beautiful building from the charming movie “500 Days of Summer.” It turns out that that pervading notion that downtown Los Angeles is irrelevant is a myth as big as the metropolis itself.

I started my city trek with my fellow journalists under the warm August sun with one question: why should I care about downtown L.A.?  I have lived in Los Angeles for over 15 years, and for most of that time, I have considered the downtown area to be nothing more than a destination of bland necessities rather than interesting possibilities. I was wrong. From Chinatown to the garment district and all stops in between, I realized that, with a little curiosity and the spirit of exploration, the city possessed things, people, places, ideas and stories that made a connection with me.

Olvera Street, Photo by JournoJames

During one moment of our tour, as our group was leaving colorful Olvera Street, our knowledgeable guide, J. Michael Walker, a visual artist and author, pointed out that back in the mid-1800s, this was where Chinatown was originally established. He described the area back then as incredibly impoverished with shanties everywhere. He said that around 1870, 500 whites and Latinos stormed the area, burning down the shanties and hanging Chinese women and children in various locations in the city.  He remarked there has been lots of blood spilled on the streets throughout the history of downtown L.A. but that not all of the stories survive. Walker said, “There’s little evidence or knowledge that any of this terrible massacre occurred. So, what can we learn from this? We learn who the storytellers are is just as important as the story itself.” Later on in the tour, as Ed Fuentes, photographer and downtown blogger, was guiding us through the dingy garment district, I could see parallels between present day and past. The garment district, populated mainly with Latino and immigrant merchants selling cheap, knock-off merchandise of clothing, sunglasses and perfumes, represented another form of a similar story that was experienced by the Chinese before them or any other group of people coming to this country. It is the immigrant’s story and the hope of fulfilling the American dream, which is something I can strongly relate to and understand.

Philippe's, Photo by JournoJames

When I asked Ed Fuentes why he thought downtown L.A. was still relevant, he considered the question for a moment and simply replied, “History. The preservation of the city’s history can be seen here and that’s why it’s relevant.” The stops at Clifton’s Coffee Shop and the Bradbury Building only confirmed Fuentes’s belief in my mind. Both are landmarks from the past but still continue to be an important part of present day Los Angeles. Before this tour, I had no idea that Clifton’s, with its unique outdoor décor was the oldest running cafeteria in Los Angeles, and that the Bradbury Building, with its distinct, exquisite interior design, was, in fact, featured in so many of my favorite movies, like “Blade Runner.”

Bradbury Building, Photo by JournoJames

Ironically, as a food, cinema, and popular culture enthusiast, I felt the rush of discovering something new with these old, historical locations.

By the end of the tour and the afternoon, it was clear: I cared about downtown L.A.; we made a connection. It was just a matter of looking a little deeper and realizing all the endless possibilities.

 

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