Christopher Hawthorne's recent re-evaulation of Sunset Boulevard in the L.A. Times put me in mind of the state of another big street, Crenshaw. Crenshaw is not as storied a boulevard as Sunset, but in the last twenty years it has become hugely symbolic of the city -- not of its glamour, but of something quite opposite. Thanks to the rise of west coast gangsta rap, modern "urban" movies and the general stagnation of black L.A. neighborhoods that exploded with the unrest of '92, Crenshaw has become shorthand for all of that, a place and state of mind about as far away from the glitz of the high-end development and west-of-La Brea end of Sunset as you can possibly get.
The funny thing is, Crenshaw really isn't far from the still-storied part of Sunset that runs through the heart of Hollywood. Ten minutes north of Crenshaw and Adams, the official border of the Crenshaw district, is very genteel Hancock Park; a few minutes past that is leafy Larchmont Village, and just north of that the grit but glowing possibility of Hollywood itself. And despite the obvious physical and demographic differences, Crenshaw has a few things in common with Sunset, starting with the fact that both have a certain sense of pageantry. People walk down Sunset to be seen; tricked-out cars cruise down Crenshaw -- the "'shaw"-- for the same reason. Roughly only a mile-long section of both streets are famous to the world, though both run for many miles and shift character several times as they pass through different neighborhood, cities, and populations.
Yet the famous -- or infamous -- part of Crenshaw is more isolated from its other parts than Sunset Boulevard is from its various parts. Sunset has changed and is still changing, Hawthorne wrote, the original glamour giving way to new ethnic and economic realities. But his point is that the whole of it reverberates with promise and change that reflects the future of the city, including the growing influence of Latinos. Crenshaw certainly reflects growth and change, namely the northern part that borders Koreatown and the longer section running through South Bay that finally snakes through the hills of Palos Verdes. But the most famous middle section that runs through the larger Crenshaw district and divides it from -- or links it to -- South Central and then continues south through Inglewood is, by contrast, standing still. This part feels like an island, visible and endlessly talked about by observers and sociologists but strangely untouched. Perhaps the advent of a Crenshaw Metro train line will finally change that. But I hope that the change, like so many proposed changes of the "inner city" before it, won't be too little, too late.
Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. Read all her posts here.
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