Memorial Days


At Ground Zero in New York City, the passing of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks meant - among so much more - the dedication of a 9/11 Memorial.

( 9/11 Memorials have previously or more recently been unveiled at various other locations including the Pentagon and southwestern Pennsylvania.)

The Ground Zero memorial in Manhattan didn't come together easily. Nor should it have - honoring lives lost is a task never to be taken lightly.

Story continues below

That said, whether 9/11-related or otherwise, debates about the appropriateness of memorials and their siblings, monuments, abound. Public land use advocates, architects, sculpture critics, commercial interests, political interests, ethnic interests and the friends and families of the deceased are among the groups so often involved in sometimes heated discussions about whether to create a memorial - and then more often than not, a far harder conversation about what sort of memorial is most apt?

Los Angeles brims with memorials and monuments. As Departures makes its way through various City neighborhoods, memorials and monuments likewise become parts of Departures' murals and related contents.

Departures: Venice, for example, visited the Dennis "Polar Bear" Agnew Memorial Skate Park, located on Venice Beach.

Agnew (1962-2005) was a famous Venice shredder, one of the world-renowned Z-Boys who turned water-drained pools into a concrete, dry and wheeled backyard faux surf spots.

The 16,000-square-foot Memorial park opened in October 2009. In his interview, Geri Lewis, a board member of the Venice Surf and Skate Association, says the park was designed with the input of fellow area-born pro skateboarders as well as neighborhood kids.

"We have the entire skateboarding community hands-on in this park and we try to give the youth a sense of ownership," Lewis said. "That way they have some civic responsibility. They are not going to wreck the park, if they see someone down here trashing it they are going to ask them not to."

Here's a link to period photos of Agnew himself skating and posing with trophies; below is video of the park that (Polar) bears his name.

While Agnew's memorial was built, another Venice memorial covered by Departures remains in the planning stages, as it takes the typically slow route forward towards acceptance and then construction.

The proposed Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker aims not to celebrate one person's life and career, a la Agnew's park, but instead to spotlight a particularly ugly event in local, state and U.S. history. As Phyllis Hayashibara explains:

Other L.A. memorials and monuments are divided by naming nomenclature. Some go with a person, in the manner of Agnew and the Biddy Mason's Place memorial located behind the Bradbury Building Downtown. The L.A. River Field Guide includes a reference to Montebello's Grant Rea Park, located near the Whittier Narrows.

The Los Angeles State Historic Park is prominent in the Departures: LA River coverage. LASHP is home to signage noting the park-adjacent zanja madre, or mother ditch - the aqueduct that provided the early liquid lifeblood from the River to settlements in what is today Olvera Street. From the State Park, behind a fence, across Gold Line tracks, the zanja madre appears framed by a mass of soft gray concrete - a monument to itself.

LASHP carries an all-but anonymous name, deliberately free from monickers of individuals living or dead. This is a reasonable consensus-building idea considering the community debates that can and often do arise over time regarding the status and stature of named public figures- how many places nationally were named after Christopher Columbus during the 19th century compared to the 20th? How about the 21st?

There are also, of course, memorials more virtual than physical. Longtime Chinatown leader Irvin Lai (1927-2010) passed away July 16, 2010. He is eulogized throughout the Departures: Chinatown series, including in this post, "Memorial and Celebration of Irvin R. Lai."

As summarized here, Lai went from volunteering to join the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II to serving as a field artillery man during the Korean War to coming home to Los Angeles and realizing what freedoms and rights he and others were being denied, and how unjust that was.

Lai became politically active and encouraged others to, as well. Thanks to the work he, and many others, undertook, ethnically restrictive U.S. immigration policy was changed. The nation - from LA.'s Chinatown through the rest of the city and throughout all fifty states - transformed.

The online eulogy of Lai doubled as an announcement of a larger memorial service to be held at a Chinatown Church. The piece, in part, read:

Or, deeper still, as Departures' Juan Devis wrote here:

Photo of Geri Lewis and video stills via Departures


We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading