The L.A. Convention Center in Elysian Park? The Importance of Studying ‘Never Built’ Projects

This week’s post was written for a guest blog post on American Planning Association-L.A. section’s blog, found here

What if the L.A. City Council had followed through with a plan to build a convention center in Elysian Park? What would the park look like today? How would it have affected traffic, especially during baseball season? And what about the park’s nearby residents? These are only a few of the questions that came to mind when I discovered that in March 1965, the L.A. City Council approved a proposal to build a convention center in Elysian Park. Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the plan was the choice to construct it on 63 acres of the park’s most popular valley and picnic grounds near the Avenue of the Palms, which included the old Recreation Lodge. Even worse, this plan came less than a year after the California state legislature allocated nearly $4.2 million to L.A. County for acquisition and improvement of public parks, under the 1964 California Park Bond Act. As a result, the City Council’s Recreation and Parks Committee formulated a strategy for creating new parks and improving older ones, a necessity in a park poor city with a rapidly increasing population.[1]

The Elysian Park convention center proposal would have been an interesting candidate for the A+D Museum’s 2013 “Never Built: Los Angeles” Exhibition, which explored the ‘what ifs’ of failed plans and asked Angelenos to ‘dream big’ again. Admittedly, the Never Built show included many visionary, grand plans that “had the greatest potential” to transform land use and the built environment of Los Angeles. Perhaps that is why the Elysian Park convention center did not make the cut—it was a modest design with very little in the way of architectural innovation. Yet, a convention center in Elysian Park would have made a stunning impact on L.A.’s built environment, with two possible results: if the project followed through with promised upgrades to the park’s design and facilities, Elysian Park might have become more widely used by the greater L.A. population, much in the same way as Griffith Park. More than likely, however, is that the destruction to Elysian park’s landscaped picnic areas and the increased traffic would have had a detrimental effect on park users and nearby neighbors.

Photo of businessman Neil Petree, architect Charles Luckman, and Mayor Sam Yorty presenting the Elysian Park convention center design (LAPL Photo archive)

Photo of the Elysian Park convention center model (LAPL Photo archive)

Another view of the Elysian Park convention center model (LAPL Photo archive)

Figure 1: Map of Elysian Park, Existing Facilities Photo Courtesy of L.A. City Archives, Marvin Braude Papers, Box D-434, F: Elysian Park Correspondence, 1955-66.

Figure 1: Map of Elysian Park, Existing Facilities. Photo courtesy of L.A. City Archives, Marvin Braude Papers, Box D-434, F: Elysian Park Correspondence, 1955-66.

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Figure 2: Map of Elysian Park, Proposed Improvements. Photo courtesy of L.A. City Archives, Marvin Braude Papers, Box D-434, F: Correspondence, 1955-66.

 

Further, any future expansion of the convention center would have continued to erode parklands and cause further traffic and park usage problems. And what would have become of the land where the convention center now sits? Might it have been a football stadium? Would Staples Center and L.A. Live exist had the convention center been built elsewhere? Studying a city’s ‘never built’ plans can offer urban planners a history lesson in land use, and remind us that studying what doesn’t get built is often just as illuminating as studying the projects that have succeeded.

In the case of Elysian Park, the effort to build a convention center there failed mainly because retired journalist Grace E. Simons founded the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park in 1965, and launched a well-organized and inventive campaign to block the plans, a story I recently alluded to in a blog post about Dodger Stadium. Throughout the 18-month battle, Simons and the Committee reminded elected officials that the convention center proposal violated the park’s protection under the 1925 L.A. City Charter, which stated all dedicated park land must “forever remain” for “use of the public inviolate; but permission may be given for any park purpose.”[2] Because events and exhibits at the convention center would be private and restricted, the proposal violated the Charter provisions that park land be reserved for park use and public use. The Committee argued that ignoring the Charter not only violated the public’s trust, but also “set a precedent which would endanger all public parks in Los Angeles.” Simons found it simply unacceptable that the Council viewed park space as “merely…[land] ‘in storage’ to be used for other purposes at the whim of…city officials.”[3]

In a speech to the City Council, Simons remarked that the park’s users were community groups and families who “do not own estates of their own, who cannot luxuriate in private swimming pools and who cannot afford to send their children to summer camps.” Where, she asked the Council, will youngsters go when the park is taken away from them; they “do not have chauffer-driven cars to take them to the hills and the spas. Elysian Park is their playground.”[4] One resident wrote to the Council that with the recent “population explosion,” the city needs “recreation centers with…efficient, trained leaders…to keep our children, especially those who do not have large yards…off the streets, [and] out of mischief.” Elysian Park, she noted, was “adjacent to a poorer section of the town where more often space and playgrounds are a vital necessity.”[5] One man recalled observing the generations of nearby families that used the park as “the backyard they didn’t have.”[6] These letters to the City Council certainly capture why the park was so important to the neighboring communities of Echo Park, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, and Elysian Heights—residents in these neighborhoods were typically working class families with small homes and relatively little disposable income to spend on leisure.[7] Simons and the Committee, in fact, spent several weeks researching and analyzing a year’s worth of Recreation Lodge permits, and applying anthropological methods of observation to get a true sense of who used Elysian Park.[8] As longtime residents of the Elysian Park neighborhood, Simons and other Committee members clearly understood what the park meant to the local community, and they made sure the Council members controlling the park’s fate did too.

The story of the Elysian Park convention center controversy underscores the importance of studying the habits and needs of the people most directly affected by urban planning. Simons and the Committee convinced the Council to ultimately reject the convention center plan, in part, because they were able to prove it would detrimentally affect the quality of life for the park’s neighbors and users, who were already suffering from increased traffic and noise since Dodger Stadium’s arrival in Chavez Ravine.

The Committee also succeeded, in part, because they operated within a national turn toward renewed interest in conservation, park preservation, and urban beautification. A slew of municipal, state, and national legislation passed during the 1960s indicated broader shifts taking place in the public lexicon about development and policy priorities. These policy shifts revealed the beginnings of an environmentalist perspective as distinct from mere conservation of resources and preservation of wilderness—and foreshadowed the power of its political presence. While the Citizens Committee saw the Elysian Park struggle as a preservation issue, and used the language of preservation and conservation throughout its campaign, the Committee was already making connections between the burgeoning environmental movement and concerns over urban renewal and the loss of green spaces. Their efforts would help pave the path for future interventions in urban renewal projects that might negatively impact open spaces and urban greenery in Los Angeles.

Recently, Elysian Park’s aesthetics have been threatened by a proposal to sell off park-adjacent land owned by Barlow Respiratory Hospital, a private hospital sitting on twenty-five acres at the park’s southwestern edge, close to the Avenue of the Palms. Built nearly a century ago, the hospital desperately needs to replace existing facilities as they are beyond upgrading to meet legal seismic requirements. However, the hospital cannot afford the cost of new construction, and has proposed to finance it through the sale of nineteen unused acres to a private developer. Not only would it require zoning and land-use changes, the sale would also threaten the park’s aesthetics and quality of life for nearby residents of Echo Park, Silver Lake, and Elysian Valley. According to the Los Angeles Times, development plans include the construction of high-density housing without adequate parking spaces. Barlow’s CEO states that rebuilding plans will take into account the needs of the community to enhance the neighborhood, offer valuable services, and provide limited job creation. However, new development would increase traffic and parking congestion in the area surrounding Elysian Park’s most popular grounds. A group of local citizens has organized a protest campaign that is clearly modeled on the strategies employed by Simons and CCSEP in 1965.[9]

 

——————–

Figure 1:Map of Elysian Park, Existing Facilities, Marvin Braude Papers, Box D-434, F: Elysian Park Correspondence, 1955-66, Los Angeles City Archives.

Figure 2:Map of Elysian Park, Proposed Improvements, Marvin Braude Papers, Box D-434, F: Elysian Park Correspondence, 1955-66, Los Angeles City Archives.

[1] Erwin Baker, “ Oratory Buffs Have a Treat in Store,“ Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1965; “ City Urged to Buy Land for 5 Parks; Commission Calls for Improvement of Two Others,“ Los Angeles Times, March 5, 1965. The $4.2 million was part of a $10 million state-wide measure. The 1964 California Park Bond Act is also known as the Cameron-Unruh Beach, Park, Recreation and Historical Facilities Bond Act of 1964, Public Resources Code Section 5096.1 – 5096.28.

[2] Elysian Park: New Strategies, II–16; Raphael J. Sonenshein, Los Angeles: Structure of a City Government, 87–88.

[3] Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park, “ Elysian Park: What You Can Lose,“ n.d., Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park Papers (hereafter CCSEP), Special Collections, USC Library, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA.

[4] Grace E. Simons, “ Elysian Park Must Be Saved for the People,“ early 1965, Box 7, F: Speeches, 1965, CCSEP Papers.

[5] Anna L. Halfries to L.E. Timberlake, February 12, 1965, Council File 122183, Los Angeles City Archives.

[6] Jack Smith, “ Elysian Park,“ in The Big Orange (Pasadena, California: Ward Ritchie Press, 1976), 99.

[7] “ Elysian Park: History and Current Issues,“ circa 1982 or so, Box 6, F: Press Coverage, Mostly L.A. Times, CCSEP Papers.

[8] Frank Glass, “ Speech Given at Highland Park Optimists Meeting,“ December 8, 1965, Box 7, F: Speeches, Mostly Convention Center, 1965, CCSEP Papers. CCSEP studied Parks Department records for June 1963 and June 1964. See Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park, “ List of Permit Usage,“ 1965, Council File 122183, Los Angeles City Archives.

[9] http://www.rebuildbarlow.org/ ; http://saveelysianpark.org/faq/; “Editorial: Barlow Hospital’s overreach,” Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2013. See also: Andrea Thabet, “Elysian Park: A Century of Municipal Neglect.” Eden, Journal of the California Garden & Landscape History Society, 17:2 (Spring 2014): 3-9.

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The best photography collection in Los Angeles?

I was doing a little research on L.A.’s cultural history and came across a blog post about Dorothy Chandler’s cultural leadership. The highlight? The fantastic photos–all from Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) photo collection.

LAPL’s Central Library in downtown began collecting photographs prior to World War II, and since then has amassed millions–yes millions–of photographs that emphasize the history of L.A., Southern California, and California. Over 80,000 of these photos are searchable online. The two biggest photography archives in the collection are the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner photographs (2.2 million) spanning the 1920s through 1989; and the Security Pacific National Bank collection (250,000+), which holds historic photographs of Los Angeles and Southern California, including a collection of early L.A. Chamber of Commerce photographs.

Here are a few fun examples:

Photo of a Pacific Electric Red Car prior to its placement in Griffith Park’s Travel Town (1953)

A workout photo of Seabiscuit (on the left) at Santa Anita Racetrack (1940)

The newly constructed Hollywood freeway through the Cahuenga Pass (n.d.)

A protest by brunettes and redheads of Marilyn Monroe’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater (1953)

This online photo archive is one of the best places to begin researching ANY topic in L.A. history, whether you’re a student, teacher, history buff, or just an interested citizen. Plus, if you are anything like me, you will find that having visual evidence helps jump start a project because it brings the past to life in such a vivid way.

Below are a few links to the LAPL online photography archive. Go ahead and search the site. I dare you.

Photo Collection Overview

Search the catalog

A few amazing videos highlighting the collection

Photo Collection FAQs

 

The Messy World of Historic Preservation: the Bob Baker Marionette Theater

What constitutes a building worth saving?

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A performance at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater, March 2014. Photo Courtesy of Leslie Henry.

Curbed LA recently featured an article about the likely conversion of the Bob Baker Marionette Theater into a five-story mixed-use building project.[1] As the article notes, the sixty-one year old building in downtown Los Angeles has faced a number of threats in the last six years, including a near-foreclosure, and official designation by the City as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2009. So what does this latest development (pun intended) in the history of this building mean for this beloved theater? And if the puppets leave, is the building even worth saving?

If you’ve never been to a show at Baker’s Marionette Theater, you’ve missed out on a real treat. I attended a performance for the first time last March, and it was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Magical is one way to describe it. The amount of skill and sense of timing that go into performances is unreal. The young children in the audience were entranced, and they had the opportunity to commingle with the puppets and puppeteers after the show. [2] The Theater has occupied the building since 1961, and initially hoped to stay in its location on First Street indefinitely. The proposed development would include nearly 100 apartments and some commercial space, with plans to preserve the theater space and incorporate it into the new building’s design. The developer reportedly plans to move the puppets out and use the space as a residential lobby. In the midst of all this, the health of 90-year old Bob Baker has rapidly declined and he is currently receiving in-home hospice care. The Theater’s managers and employees are left with an uncertain future, and there are conflicting reports on whether the Theater will relocate.

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The interior of the Bob Baker Marionette Theater, March 2014. Photo by Andrea Thabet.

Here’s the million dollar question: Is the building even worth saving, despite its designation as a Historic-Cultural Monument, if the Bob Baker Marionette Theater leaves? The building itself is not very attractive–it is a boxy, white building with little architectural value. Yet, in the messy world of historic preservation, buildings like this one can be designated a landmark because of the site’s history and cultural significance. Its historic status is aimed at protecting it from destruction. [3]  But if the Theater leaves, must the developers still incorporate the Theater space into the new building? The Cultural Heritage Commission is responsible for overseeing any proposed changes to the building, and the President of the Commission believes that without Baker’s Marionettes, “you don’t have a monument anymore. It’s been hollowed out.” [4] The Los Angeles Conservancy has yet to take a stand on the preservation of the building, in part because the organization has not quite decided what form “meaningful preservation” of the Theater should look like. [5] In the meantime, historic preservation advocates are left to debate the issues on their own, and for now, audience members have limited time left to take in a show before the Theater closes or relocates.

 

[1]  Bianca Barragan, “The Bob Baker Marionette Theater Could Become a Mixed-User.” Curbed LA,  October 15, 2014.

[2] http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2014/02/07/35923/inside-bob-bakers-marionette-theatre/?slide=1

[3] http://www.preservation.lacity.org/commission/what-does-historic-cultural-monument-status-mean

[4] http://www.scpr.org/news/2014/10/16/47439/bob-baker-marionette-theater-to-move-out-to-make-w/

[5] http://www.ladowntownnews.com/news/legendary-puppet-theater-could-close-for-apartments/article_bbbc4cbc-5b15-11e4-91e7-67df4f2c81c9.html

L.A.’s Inferiority Complex

For over 50 years, scholars, educators, historians, and enthusiasts of the North American West gather annually to share the latest findings and approaches to understanding the diverse history of the west as “both a frontier and a region.” I had the honor of presenting at the Western History Association 2014 conference in Newport Beach last week, and although I have never presented at this conference, nor attended, I have to say I really enjoyed it and was impressed by the quality of panels.

The highlight for me was a roundtable titled, “Is There a Los Angeles School of Western History?” that featured a ‘who’s who’ of Los Angeles historians, both on the panel and in the audience. It was a lively and entertaining discussion, and of course, it got me thinking. Someone in the audience brought up the difference between scholarly activities in Los Angeles vs. the Bay Area — that there is an encouragement of camaraderie and collaboration among schools and institutions here in L.A. that doesn’t exist at places like Stanford and Berkeley. One seasoned Bay Area scholar chimed in to the discussion, remarking that this was true in his experience, even among colleagues in his own department. More importantly, he noted that San Francisco has never quite gotten over the fact that it is NOT the most important city in California. Although this is an accepted fact in the Bay Area, scholars in Southern California still concern themselves with this San Francisco / Los Angeles comparison.

What struck me about this statement is that scholars writing on Los Angeles are still dealing with this inferiority complex in two ways: either in justifying work on Los Angeles as a historical subject, or in their analysis of Los Angeles history. In my own work, for example, I discuss at length how L.A.’s inferiority complex was a driving force for civic leaders and politicians. I argue that a looming inferiority complex hung like a cloud over the elite Angelenos who drove cultural and urban renewal initiatives during the 1950s and 60s. The establishment of the L.A. Music Center, the L.A. County Museum of Art, the L.A. convention center — in each case, the idea Los Angeles was still playing catch up to San Francisco and New York permeated much of the fundraising and planning discussions. Surprisingly, not once during this conference roundtable did anyone discuss scholarship on Los Angeles in these terms.

When it came to my own presentation later that afternoon, I couldn’t help but think about the topics brought up in that roundtable discussion, especially the issues of public-private collaboration and an urban inferiority complex. My talk, “Private Power, Public Spaces: Culture-led Regeneration and the Los Angeles Music Center,” discussed the Center’s role as a highly visible symbol of L.A.’s cultural coming of age in the 1960s. The paper was part of a panel titled: “Identity in Motion: Culture and Alterity in Southern California,” in which all three papers dealt with shifting concepts of urban identity. To me, this idea of shifting urban identities is one of the greater issues that scholars of Los Angeles have to cope with – not just the texts in front of us, but the opinions and emotions that impact the world, and that are harder to capture.

Historically, the press frequently talked about this issue, and we must continue to discuss it today to understand why things happened the way they did and where we might be headed because of it…

“In the last two decades…[LACMA and the Music Center], now internationally recognized, have been instrumental in making L.A. a major-league arts town, and they have helped to coax the city out of the lifelong inferiority complex imposed by older municipalities.” [1]

[1] “ L.A. Arts: The Second Generation: The Old Guard Loses Its Cultural Grip,“  L.A. Herald Examiner, December 2, 1984.

Castro, Kennedy, and Chandler – How the Cuban Missile Crisis stole L.A.’s Big Moment

The L.A. Music Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season with a number of commemorative events–including a rededication ceremony on October 1st to “celebrate the transformative role of the performing arts center in Los Angeles.” [1] So what does this have to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis?

JFK-MC

Few people, if any, know that President Kennedy was scheduled to officiate at the dedication of the L.A. Music Center in October 1962. It would have been the only major non-political stop for the President and First Lady during a multi-state campaign trip just before the midterm elections. Dorothy Chandler personally invited Kennedy to preside over the ceremony. Her desire to have him officiate was likely driven by competition with New York’s recently opened Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts–President Eisenhower presided over the Lincoln Center’s groundbreaking in May 1959. [2] Chandler knew Kennedy’s appearance would have brought international attention to Los Angeles and helped cement the city’s growing cultural reputation. The L.A. Music Center would have become a national symbol for the Kennedy Administration’s Cold War cultural agenda as well; but alas, the Cuban Missile Crisis intervened, causing Kennedy to cancel his appearance. [3]

Kennedy sent Chandler a telegram on Oct. 26th to express his regret:

It is indeed with deep regret that I cannot join you…you are, of course, aware of the events which keep me in Washington but I would like to say that even in difficult times it is important that Americans continue to pay attention to all facets of our national life. You…have performed a notable service to the people of southern California in launching this great cultural project. Mrs. Kennedy joins me in sending warmest regards. [4]

Chandler still managed to garner support for the Music Center from President and Mrs. Kennedy by asking them to endow seats in the Music Center’s Pavilion. They chose to endow four chairs. In her thank you note to the Kennedys, Chandler wrote that the gift “helped to heal my personal disappointment” for their absence the previous October. [5]

I have often wondered if President Kennedy had already prepared some remarks for the occasion, and if so, whether they are floating around in some distant archive. My other unanswered question is why did Kennedy agree to do it in the first place? Was this about campaigning, or truly about his Cold War cultural agenda? Jacqueline Kennedy’s support for culture and the arts is well-documented, and I wonder to what extent her interests influenced her husband’s administration. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

[1] The actual dedication date was September 27, 1964. See: http://www.musiccenter.org/about/About-The-Music-Center/50th-Anniversary-Celebration/Rededication-Ceremony/

[2] Peter Kihss, “ Eisenhower Will Break Ground for Lincoln Arts Center Today: Eisenhower Due at Arts Center,“ New York Times, May 14, 1959, pg 1.

[3] “Kennedy to Officiate at Music Center Ceremony,“ Los Angeles Times, October 12, 1962. The dedication ceremony was originally planned for October 27, 1962.

[4] Telegram from John F. Kennedy to Dorothy Chandler, October 26, 1962. Dorothy Chandler Papers (Collection 1421), Box 11, F: Music Center Correspondence 1963, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

[5] Letter from Dorothy Chandler to John F. Kennedy, April 30, 1963. Dorothy Chandler Papers (Collection 1421), Box 11, F:Music Center Correspondence 1963, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles

The L.A. Dodgers and Elysian Park

On Wednesday night, I was among the sold-out crowd of 58,000+ Angelenos who watched the Los Angeles Dodgers clinch the NL West title with a 9-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants. It was an exciting game that featured a high-scoring sixth inning and a few fancy tricks by Dodgers standout pitcher Clayton Kershaw. As you can see from this photo, our parking spot was so far–and high up–from the stadium that you could barely see the stadium. But you do get a sense of just how vast the parking lot is, and how uneven the topography. To the trained eye (or should I say trained historian?), however, this picture offers a glimpse into the history of Dodger Stadium and its place in L.A.’s built environment. The photo shows the stadium lights at left. To the right you can just see the downtown L.A. skyline, all lit up. What you may not know is that the city’s largest public park, Elysian Park, hugs Dodger Stadium on three sides, and the well-traveled Stadium Way thoroughfare runs directly through the park.

The view from Lot 5 at Dodger Stadium. Wednesday, September 24, 2014. Photograph by Andrea Thabet. Copyright Andrea Thabet 2014

The view from Lot 15 at Dodger Stadium. Wednesday, September 24, 2014. Photograph by Andrea Thabet. Copyright Andrea Thabet 2014

Elysian Park is arguably the city’s least known park space, yet its central location means most Angelenos have passed through it without even realizing it. The 575-acre park is located just outside of downtown L.A., accessible by the 5 freeway and the 110 freeway, which literally passes through the easternmost section of the park. The park itself is composed of landscaped picnic and recreational spaces, surrounded by steep hills, rocky terrain, deep ravines, and overgrown hiking trails. It also offers stunning views of the city from several prominent vantage points.[1]

Most people believe that the downtown-adjacent neighborhood of Chavez Ravine was eradicated in order to build the stadium, but that is incorrect. Chavez Ravine was actually designated as one of the city’s first slum clearance and public housing projects in 1949 in connection with the passage of federal public housing legislation. However, the public housing project slated for the Ravine became embroiled in controversy amidst accusations of socialism–led by the powerful Los Angeles Times–which led to the cancellation of the project. In what I would call a bait-and-switch, prominent Angelenos and government officials lured the Dodgers to L.A. through a land exchange deal that transferred Chavez Ravine—land already cleared for the now-defunct public housing project—from the L.A. Housing Authority to city ownership. This allowed the land to be turned over legally to team owner Walter O’Malley to construct Dodger Stadium. The clearance of the Ravine and its eventual giveaway to O’Malley resulted in lengthy legal battles that divided the city. Historian Eric Avila calls this widely publicized use of slum clearance land, “baseball as urban renewal.” He argues that the relentless pursuit of a baseball team stemmed in part from feelings of inadequacy that the nation’s third largest city had no major league ball club.[2] As Avila points out, stealing the Dodgers “right out of New York under their own noses” was a great psychological “boost to Los Angeles and the West.”[3]

What few people realize is that Elysian Park also lost roughly thirty acres to the stadium, which helped reinforce the view by many city officials that park space was merely undeveloped land that could be successfully appropriated for non-park purposes. The adverse effects of the stadium’s construction included damage to Elysian Park’s irrigation system and the development of six-lane Stadium Way drive, which brought high-speed traffic through the park’s most popular valley.[2] Despite the challenges posed by baseball traffic and the neglect of park grounds, residents from nearby Latino and Asian communities continued to heavily patronize the park.

Just a few years later, the L.A. City Council and Mayor Samuel Yorty would support an effort put forth by the city’s elite businessmen to build a convention center in Elysian Park’s most popular valley and picnic grounds. In response, retired journalist Grace E. Simons founded the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park in 1965, and ultimately stopped the City Council in their tracks. I discuss her efforts at length in my dissertation. It’s a fascinating story, and I’ll share more about it in a future post. In fact, the view of downtown L.A. shown in the blog home page is taken from a trail in Elysian Park. If you’ve never explored Elysian Park, I recommend spending a few hours hiking in the park and taking in the views. You won’t be sorry.

*You can read more about Elysian Park in an article I recently published: “Elysian Park: A Century of Municipal Neglect.” Eden, Journal of the California Garden & Landscape History Society, 17:2 (Spring 2014): 3-9.

[1] Elysian Park: New Strategies for the Preservation of Historic Open Space Resources (Los Angeles: UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, June 1990), VI–3; “ Elysian Park: History and Current Issues,“ May 1990. Elysian park was initially 550 acres, had grown to 600 by 1937, and is now 575 acres, although continued threats jeopardize its acreage. The park is approximately 1.2 miles northwest of downtown.

[2] Neil J. Sullivan, The Dodgers Move West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); Eric Avila, “ Suburbanizing the City Center: The Dodgers Move West,“ in Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight. Sullivan calls attention to the fact that a sizable Chinese-American community also thrived within Chavez Ravine prior to the relocation of the Dodgers. See also Sitton, Los Angeles Transformed, 157–160, 165–69; Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, 156. Chavez Ravine was cleared between 1952 and 1953.

[3] Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, 160.

‘Where Summer Plays’…

Nothing says summer in Los Angeles like the Hollywood Bowl. As the most recent advertising campaign puts it, it is “where summer plays.” As the summer–and the 2014 Bowl season–draw to a close, I thought it fitting to feature one of the most entertaining finds from the Music Center archives. This photograph shows Hollywood Bowl savior Dorothy Buffum Chandler onstage with Vice-President Richard Nixon. The photo was taken in 1955 at the Festival of the Americas.

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Dorothy Chandler and Vice-President Richard Nixon on the Hollywood Bowl stage, opening night of Festival of the Americas, 17 August 1955. Photo courtesy of The Music Center Archives / Otto Rothschild Collection.

 

The Festival of the Americas was a five-day concert series designed to draw in a diverse audience, add prestige to L.A.’s cultural image, and celebrate music and musicians from the entire western hemisphere. Chandler brought national attention to the Hollywood Bowl by personally convincing Nixon—a staunch Cold Warrior and native Southern Californian—to preside over the Festival opening. Nixon’s participation in the Festival built on his recent goodwill tour of ten Latin American and Caribbean nations.[1] As you can see from the photo, Chandler cultivated an aura of glamour surrounding special events like the Festival by attracting a formally attired, “star-studded audience.”[2] I found this image striking not only because of the formality of their dress, but also because of the expression on Chandler’s face, her stance, and the fact that Nixon is holding her arm. My take is that Chandler did not particularly like Nixon touching her, or perhaps she was skeptical of something he said–but it seems like she is pulling away from him slightly but allowing his touch because they were standing in front of a crowd of thousands. What’s your take on the photo?

 

[1] In Chandler’s view, the Festival was also an opportunity to connect culture to Cold War tensions in a tangible way, by “paying tribute to our neighbors,” because “we need our neighbors and they need us in these times when we must guard against the inroads of communism.” (Koopal, Grace G., Miracle of Music, 239–241, 243.)

[2] Koopal, Miracle of Music, 242–243.