5. Falling in Love



In the late 1970s, I used to go looking with an old friend - Michael Ward, an artist who had a passion for old buildings...any old buildings: industrial, domestic, indeterminate. Michael had a camera. We’d meet on a Saturday morning, early, in front of my house and drive with only the vaguest plan.


Michael and I had looked through the 1977 edition of Gebhard and Winter’s Architecture in Los Angeles and Southern California or the skinny 1966 edition. We knew where the iconic architecture was located - the Neutra and Schindler houses, the Lloyd Wrights, his father’s, and the Green and Greens. Buildings scattered as solitary monuments separated by miles and miles of in-between.

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Gebhard and Winter were smart and brave to make the claims they did about Los Angeles - that a different kind of modernism was given shape here, that Los Angeles had evoked new forms for living and working, that against all the complaints of a “formless” and “incoherent” city, we had imposed an architecture on our landscape just as much as a “real city” like New York or Chicago had. That argument impressed Michael and me as a little beside the point.

After looking at and walking through - in those days, you could wander around inside the Bradbury Building on Broadway - and after driving from one disconnect bit of Gebhard and Winter to the next - it was the spaces in-between that were entrancing.

We drove (and you might think of this as the antithesis of Maria Wyeth in Play It as It Lays). Actually, Michael drove, because I can’t drive. He took the pictures too, which I couldn’t do. In neighborhoods where the buildings themselves remembered the city even if nothing and no one else did...the Egyptoid apartment court on Bonnie Brae; the mongrel wood buildings of the city’s boom years of the 1880s; its industrial ‘20s and ‘30s...Frogtown below Elysian Park...the bungalow neighborhoods of Long Beach (survivors of the 1933 earthquake)...the Tiki-themed motels and dingbat apartments along Lakewood Boulevard where it turns into Rosemead...retail strips in Lynwood and Watts...Serb and Croatian blocks in San Pedro...and dusty, disused places in Vernon, Cudahy, Commerce, Bellflower, Artesia, Monrovia, Duarte, and La Verne.

Hundreds of 35mm photographs and hundreds of hours of driving through the fringes of a city of edges, through neighborhoods we probably shouldn’t have been in - two white guys in a white Pinto - the most dangerous car on the road if you don’t count the Corvair. All without irony. Great photographers had traversed some of those neighborhoods - Ed Ruscha, Robbert Flick, John Humble. They reported back, in funny, desolate, and melancholy images, the weight of banality by which our place is known.

Michael Ward and I were naïve then - I’m still. We thought that looking had something to do with falling in love.

The image on this page was taken by Flickr user kaylan3. It was used under Creative Commons license.

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