In the early 1980s, well before his doggedly exploratory restaurant criticism in the Los Angeles Times and the Weekly made him famous, Jonathan Gold gave himself a mission: "to eat at every restaurant on Pico Boulevard and create a map of the senses that would get me from one end to the other." This rigorous mandate demanded that he has at least a few bites of food in every one of Pico's eateries, of every kind, in order. "As often happens with these restaurants, they close down," he explains on a 1998 "This American Life" broadcast, "so if I'd gone two miles and a restaurant I'd gone to had closed down and opened up again, I would have to go and eat at that restaurant before the next one." He soon "became obsessed with the idea of Pico Boulevard. Almost every ethnic group that exists in Los Angeles, you can find on Pico," from "specific blocks that are Guatemalan, Nicaraguan blocks, Salvadoran blocks" to "parts you can drive a mile without seeing a sign that isn't in Korean" to "a huge concentration of Persian Jews that came over around the time the Ayatollah took power. I don't think there's another street in Los Angeles quite like it."
For this list of top 10 street art books, "Writing on the Wall" defers to Professor Street Art, G. James Daichendt, author of Shepard Fairey Inc. Artist/Professional/Vandal and Stay Up! Los Angeles Street Art. Thinking beyond books that came out in 2013, in this guest editorial, Daichendt's selections date back to 1973.
By G. James Daichendt
The explosion of street art books is certainly a good indicator of the popularity of the movement, but it also speaks to the importance of documentation, scholarship, and the relevance of this phenomenon. Since the initial introduction of the term "street art" in 1985 -- when Allan Schwartzman's used it in his text "Street Art (New York: Doubleday)," to describe a new type of graffiti -- there have been hundreds of publications that address this art form, from picture books to academic accounts. Each serves a role by peeling back a few layers of this genre for better understanding and appreciation.
In "The Art Prophets" (2011, Other Press), Richard Polsky reminds us that initially, in the 1970s and '80s, street artists were considered just a passing fad. It was Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Jean-Michel Basquiat who borrowed a particular graffiti aesthetic in creating what is now considered the earliest examples of street art. Each wrestled with commercialism and the role of the professional art world in relation to their art. When Haring (1990) and Basquiat (1988) died, many thought street art would as well.
To the contrary, it has flourished with a new generation of artists.
This week L.A. Letters examines Alhambra, the gateway to the San Gabriel Valley. Nestled between Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Gabriel, San Marino, El Sereno, City Terrace and Monterey Park, Alhambra is one of the oldest suburbs in Los Angeles County, dating back to the arrival of the transcontinental railroad and the boom of the 1880s. Its placement between Monterey Park and Pasadena also reflects the current mix of Chinese, Latin, and old school Americana that come together to make the spirit of Alhambra.
The proximity to Pasadena and Monterey Park is an excellent starting point for discussing Alhambra. Just a few years younger than Pasadena, Alhambra was incorporated officially in 1903, though it began as an early boom town in the 1880s. Benjamin Wilson, aka Don Benito, is the father of Alhambra; his life story is another article in itself. A new biography on Wilson was recently published by Angel City Press. Atlantic Boulevard was also originally named Wilson Avenue after him.
It is flat. The ground is flat, the headstones are flat to the level ground, and the mausoleums are long and low. In many ways, Valhalla Memorial Park feels more like a 1960s industrial park or a community college than a cemetery. Neighboring Bob Hope Airport is visible over the uninspired brick wall, and planes soar above with clockwork regularity. There are some lovely shading trees, and a large, ornate fountain, which reminds me of the grey-peach grandeur of Paris. The spell is broken when I notice a 99 Cent Store bag and a bunch of Cheetos floating in the murky water.
On the Sunday afternoon of my visit, the cemetery is sparsely populated by Latino families. They sit around particular graves in lawn chairs, picnicking and visiting, while their children run around throwing footballs and kicking soccer balls. Many of the graves have been decorated for Halloween, and splashes of orange and silver brighten the brown-green expanse. I walk down a long, straight, tree-lined road toward the incongruous Portal of the Folded Wings, a massive Mission Revival structure of dingy looking marble, situated on the edge of the yard. In front of it is a mid-sized replica of the doomed Columbia Space Shuttle, dedicated to the astronauts who perished within.
"Machines for living," declared modern architecture's most devout practitioners. 1 Indeed, by the 1950s, modernist impulses -- favoring functionality -- and increasingly popular prefabrication techniques, had transformed the home into a commoditized living space. The accoutrements of mid-century suburbia -- new appliances and technologies -- came to define the home as much as the structure itself. The bohemian "Arts and Craft" aesthetic that had inspired the "bungalow boom" of the century's early decades gave way to a simpler form, more easily replicated and produced, that appeared as much a product of regimented taylorization than artisanal creativity: the ranch house.
Though original ranch homes, designed by the likes of San Diego's Cliff May, incorporated Spanish, Mexican, and naturalistic influences into the form, its mass production in the 1950s removed many of these flourishes, replacing them with cool modernist precision. Unlike the transnational bungalow, the ranch house existed primarily as a North American housing form and architectural style, the most vernacular of vernacular architecture; yet much like the bungalow, Southern California's embrace of ranch housing led to a national fixation. If Pasadena-Glendale served as "bungalow heaven," 1950s San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys represented the "open range of the ranch house." 2
In California, San Diego served as the fulcrum on which ranch housing catapulted to national attention. In the pre-WWI era, the "sui generis" work of Irving Gill laid the foundation for ranch housing's mid century dominance. Soon, other Southern California-based architects, such as Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler, carried the clean line minimalism of Gill forward, while J.R. Davidson, Gregory Ain, Raphael Soriano, and Craig Ellwood, among others, did the same in the 1930s. 3 Referred to as high modernism, Neutra and the others set the standard for highbrow architecture of elite America, but their work impacted vernacular housing far less.
Simultaneously, as the popularity of the bungalow waned, critics found new, even simpler sources of inspiration. "There was still another type that stood out from the medley of jumbled styles, lack of styles, or mere affectations, and that was the California ranch house," reflected editor of The American Architect, Henry H. Saylor. Perhaps the first person to coin the term "ranch house," Saylor celebrated the form's simplicity and humility. "It borrowed none of the finery of other architectural styles; it sounded no blatant note of self advertisement; it never, so far as I know, laid claim even to a name, and yet there it stands, a vernacular that is as unmistakably a part of its California foot hills as the stone houses of eastern Pennsylvania betoked the great treasure store of mica schist," waxed Saylor. The editor's only lament was that too few of the ranch homes existed to impact popular tastes. 4 With this description in mind, it would seem logical that San Diego's Cliff May, an architect lacking formal training, would provide the simple populist vision that came to dominate suburban landscapes across the nation.
With the announcement that murals will be allowed on private homes in some city neighborhoods, this Guadalupe mural in Boyle Heights guides this month's monthly wrap into a holiday season that brings muralists tidings of news joy.
I've taken my recent trips to and from Bunker Hill exclusively by stair, owing to the current shutdown of Angels Flight, the beloved funicular that, when operational, carries passengers up from Hill Street and back down again. It doesn't go out of order often, but when it does it often stays that way for some time: a fatal 2001 accident put it out of commission for nearly eight years, and before that, in 1969, the redevelopment of Bunker Hill brought about its dismantling and subsequent storage for just under three decades. What kind of a city, this leads one to ask, struggles to keep even the world's shortest railway — and one of its few icons, at that — in continuous operation? In my case, this question encourages the darkly methodical contemplation of Los Angeles' other infuriating qualities, one after the other: its vast, often ridiculous distances; the shabbiness of so much of its built environment, mini-malls and otherwise; the barely explicable gaps in, and slowness of the rest of, its rapid transit system; the percentage of its surfaces covered by advertisements for movies whose distributors couldn't pay me to watch.
By now most Angeleno lovers of literature know that the celebrated poet and essayist Wanda Coleman passed last week. Long hailed as "L.A.'s Unofficial Poet Laureate," Coleman is famous for both her prolific writing and signature recitation style. I have written about her many times in this column over the last two years. For a more chronological account of her career, see this link.
Retired Pasadena City College Professor, and well respected poet, Ron Koertge tweeted shortly after Coleman passed: "I'm not the only poet now recommending re-reading Wanda Coleman, who died recently. She was a ball-breaker who didn't suffer fools." Koertge is correct. This week's L.A. Letters is in honor of Wanda Coleman. The footage above was filmed of Coleman at Cal State LA just over six months ago.
Over the course of Coleman's career she has published primarily with two presses: Black Sparrow, for the first 20 plus years, and the University of Pittsburgh Press, which published her last few books. She mentioned last year that a volume of collected poems of hers was in the works.
"Vital Signs" is the intimate response from an Inland poet and photographer, to the hand-painted typography and murals of their region, and the appreciation of images on the small tiendas that supports those who regard the aesthetic as folk art. For this former Riversider, this book of words and images, published October 2013 by Heyday and Inlandia Institute, had me revisit my former region, during the time of year when we all are thinking of being homeward bound.
The collaboration between poet Juan Delgado and photographer Thomas McGovern, both teacher at CSU San Bernardino, speaks of familiar layers from ethnic neighborhoods in the Inland cities of Southern California. Delgado's poetry shares pages with McGovern's pictures in this roam of quiet Latino neighborhoods.
Images like the Our Lady of Guadalupe on stores (or Aztec dancers carrying rims on behalf of Sonora Tire) link the inland Latino neighborhoods to the big city. Yet, the stillness captured by McGovern relate to the small towns east of Los Angeles, of what was just tagged as sites for the "rural mural" movement.
Santa Claus, Christmas trees and mistletoes have become American symbols of the holiday season. For the Philippines and its diaspora that live across the globe, it is the parol (Christmas lantern) that occupies the primary symbol that represents the advent of the Christmas season. As of last week, L.A.'s own public version of parols are now erect along the street light posts of Temple Street in Historic Filipinotown, colorfully illuminating the thoroughfare at night.
On November 25, the Historic Filipinotown Neighborhood Council (HiFi NC) celebrated the 6th annual Polemount Parol Lighting, which included 31 local business- and family-sponsored parols that line Temple Street in Historic Filipinotown (HiFi), between Hoover Street and Glendale Boulevard. HiFi NC president Cecile Ramos sees the parols along Temple Street as not only a Filipino cultural tradition, but also a way to "align itself with the vision to strengthen the local business climate and help make Historic Filipinotown a tourist destination."