Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Start watching
SoCal Update

SoCal Update

Start watching
a large damn with graffiti of a woman with a hammer on it, mountains in the background

Earth Focus Presents

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Professor T

Professor T (Belgium)

Start watching
Artbound

Artbound

Start watching
Emma

Emma

Start watching
Guilt

Guilt

Start watching
Line of Separation Key Art.

Line of Separation

Start watching
Us

Us

Start watching
The Latino Experience

The Latino Experience

Start watching
Key Art of "Summer of Rockets" featuring Keeley Hawes and Toby Stephens.

Summer of Rockets

Start watching
Death in Paradise Series 10

Death in Paradise

Start watching
millionaire still

KCET Must See Movies

Start watching
Independent Lens

Independent Lens

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Persistence of Memories at a Roadside Shrine

Support Provided By

At the end of my block and on the parkway panel that separates the boulevard from the service road, a community of mourners has maintained a roadside memorial for a young man at least since 2009. More red and white votive lights clustered at the foot of a streetlight that's a few steps from a bus stop.

The candles had been there several days already. They flickered ahead of me when I crossed the boulevard in the dark of a February evening. Some have burned down to nothing now. Some had gone out too soon. A plaster crucifix and Dürer's Praying Hands, ecumenically representing Protestant and Catholic piety, stood among them.

There have been times when photographs were taped to the streetlight in his memory: a lanky white kid lolling on a couch, smiling; a girl, also smiling; a crowd of youths mugging for the camera. Once, roses in cellophane -- the kind that a boyfriend buys from a roadside vendor -- stayed taped to the pole until the roses dried to pale ochre.

There had been a message in red ink and block letters attached to a copied photograph; both were made unreadable from sun and rain.

The city treats this roadside shrine with tolerant indifference. It's been cleaned up at times, but there's no rigor in the process and perhaps some superstition in letting the candles be.

Puddles of pink wax have marked where the votive lights had stood before they shattered and spilled. Sometimes, the stain of paraffin grease on the streetlight base was the only memorial.

I once heard a confused story of the death that this shrine memorializes. That a kid -- drunk -- was run over by his friends, also drunk, when the kid slipped out of passenger seat of the car to vomit in the gutter. I also heard that the death wasn't at the end of my block but further south. There were two shrines for a while at different locations.

But this one persisted, perhaps because this curbside fitted itself better to the mourners' need to remember.

Richard Rodriguez writes about the "hunger of memory" and the compulsion to narrate -- if only to ourselves -- something of what we've endured. This shrine next to a Marbelite streetlight pole was assembled by children for someone's dead child, and memory's hunger has used there young people to fashion a place where memory might be briefly satisfied.

I don't know if the mourners made other arrangements. They probably have a Facebook page and online reminders to return from time to time to the end of my block.

Their place resists forgetfulness, even when no one is paying attention. That's one reason -- not the only reason -- that places matter. We make durable places from what we have at hand, and sometimes those places are braver than we are and more faithful. For a little while, that place is sacred.

Today, the candles and the plaster images were scattered. Some were in the gutter.

Support Provided By
Read More
Members of Immigration With Disabilities gathered at the Los Angeles State Historic Park in late July.

No Papers, No Care: Disabled Migrants Seek Help Through Lawsuit, Activism

A class action lawsuit seeks better care for immigrants with physical disabilities or mental illness who were detained after trying to enter the country. Other disabled immigrants without legal status are also finding it difficult to get care.
African American firefighters in LA

L.A.’s Black Firefighters Battle Flames and Racism Throughout History

From Jim Crow to today, L.A.'s Black firefighters have stood against discrimination while risking their lives fighting metropolitan fires.
Photographic portrait of Mrs. Arcadia de Baker; previously Mrs. Abel Stearns, Arcadia Bandini, ca.1885. She can be seen from the waist up turned slightly to the left in an oval cutout. Her long dark hair is parted up the middle and pulled back to her neck. She is wearing a frilly shawl over a frilly dress with a low neckline.

The Powerful Mexican Woman Who Helped Shape Early Santa Monica

Arcadia Bandini Stearns de Baker was rich, beautiful and connected. This savvy businesswoman would be an important player in early California and helped shape Santa Monica and the west side of Los Angeles.