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Colin Marshall
About Me:
Colin Marshall hosts and produces the podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture. He writes essays about cities, literature, film, Asia, and aesthetics. These columns present essays adapted from his book-in-progress, "A Los Angeles Primer: Mastering the Stateless City."
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  • Entry
    Vast, confusing, punctuated by curiosities neither beautiful nor ugly, and demanding of both endurance and optimism, Los Angeles' airport provides a tempting symbol for the city itself. But why only now has it felt the need to become "world class"?
  • Entry
    This zone of missions, clinics, residential hotels, and sparse convenience stores hosts not just a large and unfortunate outdoor population but their many tents, shopping carts, and rickety wheelchairs besides. What does its presence, which troubles even the most optimistic downtown boosters, say about Los Angeles' place in the first world?
  • Entry
    In the 70s, American downtowns turned away from the streets and toward the enclosed, the climate-controlled, and the monitored. Here, the movement produced Macy's Plaza and the Bonaventure Hotel. What separates the former, a decrepit mall soon to receive a thorough overhaul, and the latter, the saddest yet most astonishing space in the city?
  • Entry
    At six miles, Melrose Avenue, the world-renowned destination and longtime bastion of "alternative" shopping culture, seems almost manageable by comparison to other major Los Angeles streets. But however you travel it, should you take it in branded sections, or try to read the street's whole language at once?
  • Entry
    All who pass through Union Station, Los Angeles' 1939 memorial to the heyday of passenger rail, must dream of a distant, glamorous, lost era of American train travel. Having passed the post-WWII decades as little more than a curiosity, how has Union Station managed to regain its relevance?
  • Entry
    Lincoln Boulevard, "everybody's ugliest street" that runs up the west of Los Angeles from LAX to Santa Monica, draws eyes for its "vitiated architectural typology" and "uncontrolled riot of signage." But past those freely eccentric structures, what does the street reveal about mobility itself?
  • Entry
    However you know when a Los Angeles neighborhood has turned "cool," has Highland Park crossed into that territory with its mix of vinyl retail with typewriter repair, and gluten-free bacon donuts with fluorescent-lit old-fashioneds?
  • Entry
    You can't go to a Japanese department store on the Miracle Mile anymore, but you can do it in Hollywood, which, together with downtown proper, increasingly seems to constitute the city's separate-but-linked urban core.
  • Entry
    Whether you take your brew with a multi-hour writing session or take it out the door in one hand with your toddler in the other, Atwater Village has a coffee shop for you. As this latest Los Angeles neighborhood to draw comparisons to Portland grows ever more popular, what does it make us ask about development and density?
  • Entry
    For a high-profile metropolis, Los Angeles has a curious relationship with the word "city," especially in the brand of a "virtual place" like Universal CityWalk.
  • Entry
    This four-block spectacle of imagemaking, from tourists conquering the commercial summit to brands projecting themselves as maximally expensive, would give any postmodern academic a field day.
  • Entry
    Even Angelenos who "don't need a car" may want to borrow one to go to Torrance, the South Bay town that has a surprising concentration of Japanese culture.
  • Entry
    Los Angeles is the most beautiful city in the world, if only at night and from a distance. This observation resonates with many Angelenos, and when they quote it, they often refer to the city as "L.A." But what do we mean by "Los Angeles," and what do we mean by "L.A."?
  • Entry
    In the early 1980s, a young Jonathan Gold decided to eat at every restaurant on Pico Boulevard. He never completed this impossible task (though things worked out for him anyway), but what does the now-famous food critic's attempted "map of the senses" tell us about how to think about Los Angeles, especially on a 15-mile street so diverse as to seem patternless?
  • Entry
    This urban emporium has, since 1917, provided downtowners a place to buy their produce; more recently, to buy moles, dried chiles, and herbal medicines; even more recently, to buy a quick office-worker's lunch; and more recently still, to buy thirteen-dollar Cobb salads and six-dollar soy lattes. Can Grand Central Market, in this time of change, nurture the rare mixing of classes for which Angelenos have long hoped?
  • Entry
    Angelenos between forty and fifty years old remember Westwood not just as a place, but as the place. People agree that the neighborhood just south of UCLA felt livelier before, but disagree about whether to blame policy, architecture, distance, or violence. What does it mean that its very name conjures up images, real and imagined, of Los Angeles' strange, fearful 1990s?
  • Entry
    How many degrees separate any given Angeleno from someone who has lived in Park La Brea? The famously dense WWII-era housing complex also illustrates the city's unfortunate tendency to corral what density it has into near-isolated pockets. But the more often you visit it, the easier it gets to feel optimistic, rightly or wrongly, about its place in the Los Angeles of the immediate future.
  • Entry
    Those bewildered and disoriented by Los Angeles can make a retreat to its satellite cities like Pasadena, and thus to a more traditional look, feel, and form they can readily comprehend. Yet even these, in their downtowns, once had to return from the brink of disrepair and disrepute. How did Old Pasadena manage to make a comeback after having fallen right over it?
  • Entry
    Noted architect and urbanist Jan Gehl endorses one piece of city-building advice in particular: "Make sure there's never quite enough room." Olvera Street, the Mexican simulacrum now at the origin point of Los Angeles, raises an uncomfortable question: why do so many of the the city's tourist traps get the qualities of urbanism right that its actual urban spaces don't?
  • Entry
    Head south on Alameda from downtown, watch the buildings drop in height and expand enormously in width, aim toward the American Apparel factory, and you'll find yourself in the Fashion District, not just one of the cores of hardworking Los Angeles, but one of its richest centers of sensory stimulation as well. And if you happen to need a few bootlegs or a $99 suit, you'll find those too.
  • Entry
    Drawn over by names like Neutra, Schindler, and Lloyd Wright, the architectural tourist who descends from the hills will find the highly crafted by the throwaway, the once-glamorous by the unapologetically scuzzy, and the world-famous by the near-secret, all joined under the name Los Feliz. Apart from the real challenge of describing it, how even to pronounce it?
  • Entry
    The daily cyclist in this supposedly "bike-unfriendly" city gains a command of quiet back streets like 4th, the backbone of so many of my own trips. The pace, rhythm, and perspective of rides along these bike routes open up the mental space to ponder a host of questions about the urban environment, such as, when did once modernism-loving Los Angeles start looking architecturally backward?
  • Entry
    "The black Greenwich Village," "the Left Bank of early-90s underground hip-hop," and more grew from the unlikely origin of a predominantly white suburban community planned in the 1920s. But despite prominent appearances in films like "Baby Boy" and "Collateral" (and Skee-Lo's famous music video, "I Wish"), few outside Los Angeles know its name. Should we now find a way to connect this vibrant dot on the city's map to all the rest?
  • Entry
    A private space that functions essentially like a public one, the venerable Farmers Market at the corner of 3rd and Fairfax provides a variety of specialized foods, a respite for paparazzi-weary celebrities, a quaint backdrop for photo-snapping tourists, and an ideal ground for the ancient art of people-watching. Having weathered threats of redevelopment even as less tasteful shopping destinations have risen around it, the place commands our respect, but how much actual need do we have to go there?
  • Entry
    Cross the river out of downtown, and you immediately find yourself in Boyle Heights, gateway to East Los Angeles. Often described as formerly Jewish (back when Cesar E. Chavez Avenue had the name Brooklyn) and currently Latino, the neighborhood emerged from an even more interesting cultural story which much of its environment still tells.
  • Entry
    This place "Where Hollywood Movies Are Made" once, indeed, had the bulk of the Los Angeles film production industry. More importantly, to my mind, it also once had the Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, perhaps the only Los Angeles eatery ever to attain perfection. But do any of the points of interest that remain within or at the border, like the Museum of Jurassic Technology, fit with the Culver City brand?
  • Entry
    When the New Yorker's "far-flung correspondent" Christopher Rand came to Los Angeles in 1964, he based himself in Sawtelle, the quiet "satellite Japanese quarter" which let him observe the city's cultural hybridization with Asia and Latin America. What can we observe there almost 50 years later, now that we have more cultures than we can even identify?
  • Entry
    Since its riots nearly 50 years ago, troubled Watts has drawn the pens Clive James, Jan Morris, Reyner Banham, and Thomas Pynchon. But even these astute observers had to contend with the surprising placelessness they found there, given the neighborhood's fearful reputation and vivid history of racial strife. Has it become a more recognizable place on its own terms today?
  • Entry
    In only 56 years, downtown's Bunker Hill went from the formerly grand but still dignified shambles that housed Arturo Bandini, down-and-out protagonist of John Fante's "Ask the Dust", to the stand of gleaming high-rises that itself simulated a virtual city in the techno-thriller "Virtuosity". Should, or can, we keep one Bunker Hill in mind while thinking about the other?
  • Entry
    With its cheerful if often decrepit architecture, its highly curated retail, and its famously freakish boardwalk, Venice offers its own version of reality more than do the other coastal neighborhoods. But after a glimpse into the sociology of the place, should we see a veritable culture war roiling beneath its remains of beachside bohemia?
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  • Entry
    Vast, confusing, punctuated by curiosities neither beautiful nor ugly, and demanding of both endurance and optimism, Los Angeles' airport provides a tempting symbol for the city itself. But why only now has it felt the need to become "world class"?
  • Entry
    This zone of missions, clinics, residential hotels, and sparse convenience stores hosts not just a large and unfortunate outdoor population but their many tents, shopping carts, and rickety wheelchairs besides. What does its presence, which troubles even the most optimistic downtown boosters, say about Los Angeles' place in the first world?
  • Entry
    In the 70s, American downtowns turned away from the streets and toward the enclosed, the climate-controlled, and the monitored. Here, the movement produced Macy's Plaza and the Bonaventure Hotel. What separates the former, a decrepit mall soon to receive a thorough overhaul, and the latter, the saddest yet most astonishing space in the city?
  • Entry
    At six miles, Melrose Avenue, the world-renowned destination and longtime bastion of "alternative" shopping culture, seems almost manageable by comparison to other major Los Angeles streets. But however you travel it, should you take it in branded sections, or try to read the street's whole language at once?
  • Entry
    All who pass through Union Station, Los Angeles' 1939 memorial to the heyday of passenger rail, must dream of a distant, glamorous, lost era of American train travel. Having passed the post-WWII decades as little more than a curiosity, how has Union Station managed to regain its relevance?
  • Entry
    Lincoln Boulevard, "everybody's ugliest street" that runs up the west of Los Angeles from LAX to Santa Monica, draws eyes for its "vitiated architectural typology" and "uncontrolled riot of signage." But past those freely eccentric structures, what does the street reveal about mobility itself?
  • Entry
    However you know when a Los Angeles neighborhood has turned "cool," has Highland Park crossed into that territory with its mix of vinyl retail with typewriter repair, and gluten-free bacon donuts with fluorescent-lit old-fashioneds?
  • Entry
    You can't go to a Japanese department store on the Miracle Mile anymore, but you can do it in Hollywood, which, together with downtown proper, increasingly seems to constitute the city's separate-but-linked urban core.
  • Entry
    Whether you take your brew with a multi-hour writing session or take it out the door in one hand with your toddler in the other, Atwater Village has a coffee shop for you. As this latest Los Angeles neighborhood to draw comparisons to Portland grows ever more popular, what does it make us ask about development and density?
  • Entry
    For a high-profile metropolis, Los Angeles has a curious relationship with the word "city," especially in the brand of a "virtual place" like Universal CityWalk.