“This summer, Machine has invited 30 artists to create 30 new projects that respond to 30 notable architectural sites around the city of Los Angeles. The events range in size and scope and include a tract home light show, a lecture on ninetheenth-century aquaria inside a $3 million Frank Gehry-designed aquarium, a cave concert, an experimental theater piece performed in the only Schindler spec home ever built, a movement piece for pregnant performers in a domed church, collaborative walking tours, a theatrical performance of The Odyssey set in a Honda Odyssey circling the freeways, and a Miracle Mile memorial Starline bus tour guided by the spirit of Whitney Houston.”
“Field Guide will culminate with a final screening of short films made in conjunction with each project. The Machine Project Field Guide to L.A. Architecture is part of Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A. This collaboration, initiated by the Getty, brings together several local arts institutions for a wide-ranging look at the postwar built environment of the city as a whole, from its famous residential architecture to its vast freeway network, revealing the city’s development and ongoing impact in new ways. http://www.pacificstandardtimepresents.org/ Major support for The Machine Project Field Guide to L.A. Architecture has been provided by the Getty Foundation.”
” Led by Ken Ehrlich and an invited collaborator, each walk will present a framed experience of a part of the city, rather than a narration or tour of architectural history. We will re-consider the built environment and highlight ignored, forgotten, overlooked and “ordinary” spaces. Topics of discussion will include the relationship between plan and use: namely, the way that architecture and urban planning produce a set of contradictions between the way space is designed and the way it is used.”
“Artist Ken Ehrlich and Sesshu Foster will lead a participatory walk through East L.A. Topics will include poetic interruptions, displaced monuments, the named, unnamed and unnameable.”
Oye a tu masa, a tu cometa, escúchalos; no gimas
de memoria, gravísimo cetáceo;
oye a la túnica en que estás dormido,
oye a tu desnudez, dueña del sueño.
de la cola del fuego y a los cuernos
en que acaba la crin su atroz carrera;
rómpete, pero en círculos;
fórmate, pero en columnas combas;
descríbete atmosférico, ser de humo,
a paso redoblado de esqueleto.
¿La muerte? ¡Opónle todo su vestido!
¿La vida? ¡Opónle parte de tu muerte!
Bestia dichosa, piensa;
dios desgraciado, quítate la frente.
Cesar Vallejo 29 Octubre 1937
“This event is part of a four-part series Walking places: Four Walks in Los Angeles , a series of playful, absurd, critical and activity-based walks in different parts of the city that will examine the architectural landscape up close and reveal Los Angeles as a space of ghosts, projections, limits and possibilities. Please be prepared to walk for approx. two hours. Think footwear, hats, sunscreen, water, and whatever else you’ll need to wander for a good bit.”
16 of us started out from the Gold Line station at First Street and Soto, Ken Erhlich, Mitch from Newhall, Andrew Vasquez and Selene Santiago via Casa 0101, Miriam with a little dog, Ken’s mom and his wife Janet and daughter Lena (3), Romeo and Carribean and Aura (2) of the South El Monte Art Posse, Citlali Foster who took all these photos, Emily, and we rolled up First Street to Otomisan, where I made mention of 1960s Japanese American restaurant layout and ordinary menu (in contradiction to the Tenno Japanese Mexican Bar and Grill kitty corner across the street which serves contemporary style Korean sushi under big screen TVs). These places manifest the last hold outs of the once much larger Japanese American community of Boyle Heights. Like the Jewish merchants of Brooklyn Avenue a block to the north, who are gone now (and the avenue renamed Cesar Chavez), Japanese Americans settled in Boyle Heights a century ago, in part due to racist restrictive real estate covenants elsewhere in the city.
I was fitted with a remote mic which was broadcasting all the way to the coctel de pulpo in 7 Mares afterwards, and we were followed from a distance by videographers from Machine Project.
We had a good day, water, strollers, breezes, wispy cirrus cloud cover, some had sunscreen, we were good, strolling from Otomisan past Rissho Kosei Kei and adjacent Nichiren Shu Buddhist temples.
We walked past the Konko Church, a 1935 Shinto church where neighborhood guys were hanging out on the porch.
The tombstone etching and carving shops at the the corner of First and Evergreen (across the street from the cemetery) are gone, replaced by a giant hole in the ground, site of the foundation for a new tenement apartment complex, one of those big ugly stucco box jobs.
My neighbor, Sheldon Dingle, used to teach judo at the Buddhist temple’s dojo, when I took my kids there in the mid-1990’s. Now Sheldon is too old, and sometimes leaves his bull terrier George at home when he goes on walks, because George pulls hard.
Hear your mass, your comet, listen to them; don’t moan
by heart, most ponderous cetacean;
hear the tunic in which you sleep,
hear your nakedness, mistress of the dream.
Relate to yourself grasping
the tail of fire and the horns
in which the mane ends its atrocious race;
break yourself, but in circles;
shape yourself, but in curved columns;
describe yourself atmospheric, being of smoke,
in the double-quick step of a skeleton.
Death? Oppose it with all your clothes!
Life? Oppose it with all your death!
Fortunate beast, think;
unfortunate god, take off your forehead.
Then, we will talk.
Cesar Vallejo 29 Octubre 1937
translated by Clayton Eshleman
We entered Evergreen Cemetery, reputed the oldest cemetery in Los Angeles (not counting the mass graves of Indians in an around the Spanish missions of course), where Selene read this poem from Luis Rodriguez’s The Concrete River, “Dancing on a Grave”:
Old Man Lopez—
with 14 children
from four wives—
wanted to be buried
dancing on his grave
to the tune of
“La Ultima Paranda”
and Mexican beer
poured over the casket
in the sign of the cross.
I pointed off to the north along Evergreen Ave., in the mythical direction of Manuel’s El Tepeyac, home of Manuel’s Special where if you ate the whole thing you got it free, but many died in the attempt so they had to give it up and just charge regular prices for it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCEgXV0UjUg) and told how my aunt and uncle met at the Fellowship House a block away. I was going to point out the Brooklyn Tire Co. across the street on Cesar Chavez, still said “Brooklyn Tire Co.,” but I was busy talking to Carribean and carrying Aura. who was too polite to ask why was I carrying her and not her mom.
Creating Multiracialism on the Eastside during the 1950s
George J. Sánchez
Two magazine articles published in the mid-1950s pointed to the Boyle Heights neighborhood in East Los Angeles as an “example of democratic progress” to a national audience. The first, published in October 1954 in Fortnight, focused on the diverse group of Boyle Heights residents and organizations that gathered together to fight the proposed $32 million Golden State Freeway that would invade Hollenbeck Park and destroy some of the oldest mansions and social service agencies headquartered on Boyle Avenue. This article claimed that “few districts in America are as ethnically dynamic, religiously and politically tolerant, and community proud” as Boyle Heights. Its population was depicted as more civic-minded than the residents of any other neighborhood, with more than a hundred coordinating councils, fifty community centers and associations, and “probably more social workers per cubic feet of sorrow than anywhere else in the world.”
While this article and a similar one that followed in Frontier in 1955, “U.N. in Microcosm,” both saw the Mexican-American dominated Community Services Organization (CSO) as the most vibrant organization in the Boyle Heights scene, they credited the Jewish community for first instilling a spirit of working together across ethnic lines. “It was the Jews who supplied the initial energy to create ethnic understanding and work-activities on the Heights,” reported Fortnight, while Frontier proclaimed that “the Jews have worked hard for the advancement of the area as a whole.” Both articles referred to the support of the Jewish community for Mexican-American Edward Roybal for city council, even when he ran against “one of their own.” Joe Kovner, publisher of the Eastside Sun and member of the Eastside Jewish Community Center Board, was highlighted as having campaigned vigorously for Roybal and quoted as saying, “Eddie was the best man. What’s good for Boyle Heights is good for the Jews. We keep pounding away on the theme of sticking together. An injury to one is an injury to all.”
These articles were written at a time, however, when Boyle Heights was becoming less, not more, ethnically diverse. By 1955, Mexicans had grown to form almost half of the Boyle Heights residents, and it appeared that their numbers would only increase dramatically over the next few years. The Jewish population, by contrast, had plummeted by more than 72 percent in the past fifteen years, and now made up less than 17 percent of the area’s population. The Boyle Heights community, once considered the centerpiece of Jewish life in Los Angeles, had collapsed in the postwar period due to out-migration. Other ethnic communities, most notably the Japanese American and African American populations, had held steady at less than 5 percent since 1945. Why then, in the wake of Mexican ascendancy and lessened demographic diversity, did Boyle Heights gain a reputation as the seat of “democratic progress” for Los Angeles of the mid-1950s?
The answer lies, in large part, on the actions of a select group of Jewish residents of Boyle Heights in the late 1940s and 1950s that either remained in Boyle Heights or moved into the area as most others were moving out. These residents came from both liberal and leftist political viewpoints and were committed to building a new multiracial community in Boyle Heights, while Southern California as a whole was becoming more suburban and conservative. Fighting the literal geographic movement of Jews into white America, they collaborated with leaders from the growing Mexican American population and from the smaller ethnic communities on the Eastside to leave a legacy of political interracialism, commitment to civil rights, and a radical multiculturalism in Boyle Heights, despite the growing conservative climate of the 1950s. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/american_quarterly/v056/56.3sanchez.html
I’m always grateful no one hears this terrible racket: the factories inside. I pull into King Taco, Brooklyn & Soto, the door of my face rapidly opening and closing, electric eye busted, insects crawling in and out of my ears. Nobody at the bus stop notices the clatter: that makes me feel safe.
“It would be tempting to view the demographic transformation of Boyle Heights purely through the lens of ethnic succession, but to do so would ignore the institutional forces that actively sought to racially segregate this once-diverse community. The Jews and other white ethnics didn’t leave Boyle Heights simply because they became more affluent and were better able to afford homes in other parts of Los Angeles. Many left because of government and bank policies that made it easier for them to move out. In 1939, the Federal Housing Authority gave Boyle Heights its lowest possible rating—a grade of 4, mostly due to its diverse demographic makeup. In the Home Owners Loan Corporation City Survey Files, this “melting pot” area was characterized as “hopelessly heterogeneous.”
“It’s specifically graded low because it’s seen as a diverse community,” Sanchez notes, “Diversity in terms of population was seen as a negative because it [implied] that the neighborhood was on a downslope.” As a result, Boyle Heights was “redlined.” Young Jews returning from World War II would have found it difficult to secure a bank loan to buy property in their old neighborhood. At the same time, parts of the San Fernando Valley that had previously been closed to Jews were opening up to them. These communities were far more homogenous and had been awarded higher grades, which made it easier to secure bank loan financing.”
I feel like I’m with friends, the inverted cones that descend from space. Eating tacos of butterflies. Something’s not quite right. That’s easy to say, but how to fix it?
“While many organizations were providing low-cost financing for houses in the suburbs, such as the Home Owners Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration, and Veteran’s Mortgage Guarantee Program, “the FHA refused to guarantee suburban loans to poor people, nonwhites, Jews and other ‘inharmonious’ racial and ethnic groups” because the value of homes in the neighborhood, according to the FHA, would drop in value (Chudacoff, 270). People of color were not able to get these loans, hence, they were unable to move to the suburbs. This process is known as “redlining.” To sum up redlining, the FHA and other organizations would not provide loans to racially mixed communities because they were risky investments. this means that as blacks or other minorities moved in, whites either moved out right away and were paid well for their properties or stayed while the neighborhood became racially mixed and property value decreased. In the end, if they finally sold, they would lose money on their house. Another process used to “persuade” minorities to congregate in the same area was called blockbusting. This occurred when real estate agents told white people that a neighborhood was going to “tip” or become racially mixed. Whites would sell their homes cheaply, and these agents sold them back to blacks at huge profits. Again, these processes segregated neighborhoods. In other words, the government itself supported discriminatory practices by distributing money into white communities and not into those of color. Communities quickly became even more racially segregated because people of color were unable to move and whites did move. When the whites left, their money went with them. So, the jobs weren’t there. According to Sclove,
“Gradually, a black and Hispanic middle-class did emerge. Its members too fled along the interstate to the suburbs, further draining economic and cultural resources from the inner city. this contributed to the emergence of a new social phenomenon: today’s desperately deprived, urban underclass” (Sclove).
Entire neighborhoods and communities first became segregated racially, and later, economically, creating the dire urban problems of today. Jalbert sums this whole argument up so well with “Suburbanization was a decidedly white experience enforced by blatant racism, unequal access to economic opportunity, and restrictive housing covenants” (Jalbert). This summarization would be hard to argue against. Housing laws clearly favored whites.
A very general scenario tracing two families from the 1940s to today would be as follows. The white family would get a loan and move out of the mixed city into a new, all-white suburb. That family would purchase a house. that house would appreciate in value each year in order to actually earn wealth for this family. Every time they made improvements, such as adding a room or garage or painting a bedroom, or simply remodeling, their house would appreciate in value. Their children would be able to go to decent schools because of where their house is located. The higher property tax base makes the schools good. Their children could pursue a post-secondary education because even if the family didn’t have the money in the bank for this to happen, they could take out a loan with their house as collateral or a mortgage on their house. And now for the second scenario…
The black family would be stuck in what was once a mixed city. In addition to the original, established, African American community, there would be a large influx of African Americans from the South, as well as persons of Mexican, Caribbean, and Latin American origin. The members of the black family would have to compete against these new people for jobs. In the 1950s or so, the government would decide to build a highway or begin a project of urban renewal in their neighborhood and demolish their house. They would lose any money they invested in their home. They may then be put into public housing if they had no money to buy another house or rent an over-priced apartment. they now exist in high rise buildings gridlocked by elevated highways that cut them off from others and from “living spaces that promote social interaction and daily commerce, social control, and neighborliness” (Venkatesh 9). They have no house to mortgage to send their kids on to school. Their kids would have a hard time anyway because property taxes cannot raise enough to maintain the schools or provide a quality education. for members of the human race, this is a pretty dismal picture. “
But a cop cruiser crosses the Willie Herron mural kitty-corner at the farmacia. It’s obscured, defaced, graffitied. The freeway thrashes, a snake fastened to my leg. Epileptic with grief, it gums my boots. My vehicle breathing hot, arms around my neck.
“In America, the formation of some of the very poorest parts of the cities or “ghettos” as they are sometimes called are inexorably tied to the formation of the freeways, the enforcement of restrictive covenants and simultaneously, the creation of the suburbs and the forced importance of automobiles. One could not have happened without the others, and combined together, they changed our society inconceivably.”
We marched down the rubberized jogging track along Cesar Chavez to Cinco Puntos, wafting carnitas aroma to the four directions, to gawk at the ugliest war memorial and robotic periscope in Southern Calif.
We lost people to the four corners here. Carribean and Romeo took Aura to the third floor, First St. Mercado to listen to mariachis and drink micheladas. I remarked on the history of Self-Help Grtaphics (now moved down by the river) and erased Siquieros murals in Los Angeles.
“A case to document the above principles is Boyle Heights community and surrounding areas like the Chavez Ravine. Boyle Heights used to be kind of an immigrant center. before the 1950s and 60s, it had a large Japanese population, who left to be interned for World War II and never returned. it also had a large Jewish population who moved to the suburbs. it this point it became largely populated by Mexicans. It was one of the few places open to them due to restrictive covenants. “Restrictive racial covenants typically excluded the Spanish-speaking from desirable suburbs. the new barrios were established in sections of town that other more affluent groups refused to inhabit” (Bustamante and Castillo 127). Things like freeway construction and urban renewal began to happen in this area and because it was poor, the community did not have the resources to fight the proposals. “Thirty-five years of intense freeway construction eliminated 2,900 homes, displaced 10,000 people and left noise and air pollution in its wake. Schools are crowded. Housing is scarce, and most of the housing that does exist is owned by absentee landlords. Unemployment is higher than in most other areas of the city. There is a sense that the community has little or no political power and is largely ignored by city government (Sahagun 1). According to Sahagun as well, after WWII, the rail lines took ¼ of Boyle Heights western and southern parts. The freeway system including San Bernadino, Santa Ana, the Golden State, Santa Monica and Pomona took another 12% of the land available in Boyle heights. (Sahagun) Four major highways were built through here-two in the 1940s and two in the 1960s. Boyle Heights has suffered greatly. The community is separated into four smaller areas, which has resulted in inadequate services to these neighborhoods.
Acuna goes as far as to say that “Two of the most spectacular instances of spatial violation against Mexicans and other poor people in the central city was the displacement of barrios in Chavez Ravine to the north for the construction of Dodger Stadium and the vivisection of Boyle heights and the greater Eastside barrios to make up for the way the East L.A. freeway interchange and several highways that radiated from it” (Acuna). According to Hines, Chavez Ravine was located on a “315-acre parcel of hilly, wooded, and picturesque ‘rural’ land very near the center of downtown Los Angeles” (Hines 123). At first this area was supposed to become a place for a public housing project, and then it was to house the stadium.
As shown, the intermingling of the concepts of segregation, race, and poverty with the concepts of freeway construction, urban renewal programs, and the rise of the automobile is almost as twisted as the cloverleaf freeway.” —Julie Moore
“When the freeways were built through inner city neighborhoods, people of color were paid, although not well for their houses in order to build the freeways. However, many people of color did not own their houses so they were simply relocated. Many of these dislocated people were forced into housing projects, and these failed widely all over the country. Urban housing was essentially destroyed while suburban housing was on the rise, AND subsidized by the government. Black ghettos were created. Freeways were linked to housing discrimination and apartheid in America. Fotsch contends that “the freeway is part of dominant narratives which view African-American and Latino residents of the central city as largely responsible for the conditions of poverty and violence amidst which they live” (47). Fotsch also calls the freeway “a symbol of isolation and isolatability” (52). Professor Mohl from The University of Alabama at Birmingham said, “Highways cut apart cities, destroying wide swaths of homes and workplaces, disrupting and uprooting communities and forcing many into public housing” in The Interstates and the Cities: Highways, Housing, and the Freeway Revolt, (Mohl 1) He continues to say that, “in retrospect it now seems apparent that public officials and policy makers, especially at the state and local levels used expressway construction to destroy low income and especially Black neighborhoods in an effort to reshape the physical and racial landscapes of the postwar American city (Mohl 1). In Toll Roads and Free Roads, a report by McDonald and Associates, the authors made a strong case that highway planning should take place within the context of an ongoing program of slum clearance and urban development (Wallace). Because land acquisition in these slum areas and highway construction and urban development would result in the “elimination of unsightly and unsanitary districts when land values are constantly depreciating (Wallace).
The problem also becomes that suburban residents still came into the city to work, but they no longer paid taxes, which further drained resources. Suburbanites essentially paid nothing for the maintenance in the city. The income tax base that kept the city afloat is gone, so the streets are dirtier and fewer services are provided there. Consequently, people don’t want to live there. It is all a big circle.
With the creation of the freeways, the importance of cars themselves came to be. People now needed cars to commute to work.
“It is widely assumed that Americans’ infatuation with cars led to the construction of America’s superhighways. But actually when Congress passed the Interstate Highway Act in 1956, car sales were slack, and there was no popular clamor for building a new road system. At the time only about half of American families owned an automobile; everyone else depended on public transportation. Congress was responding to aggressive lobbying by auto makers and road builders, plus realtors who saw profits in developing suburban subdivisions” (Sclove 2).
So, the construction of the freeways was first, which brought about the importance of the automobile. Many people thrived with this push, and others did not.
This Interstate Highway Act of 1956 changed many things dramatically. “The Act’s key provisions included support for bringing highways directly into city centers and earmarking gasoline tax revenues for highway construction. As the interstate highways were built, city and suburban development adapted to the quickening proliferation of autos. Soon more Americans found themselves forced to buy a car in order to be able to shop or hold a job. The Highway Trust Fund, by assuring the rapid atrophy of competing public transit systems, bolstered this trend. (Sclove ).
Public transportation was hurt dramatically by the freeway and interstate highway. This highway system of 42,500 roads linked together cities across America while cutting the cities themselves up into tiny, isolated sections. Thus, the car became the symbol for Americans of freedom and modern life. This American reliance on the car didn’t just change something; the car changed everything.
“Their popularity led to the reconstruction of the cityscape, widened streets, parking lots, gas stations, and, in the post-war era as automobiles became a mass-market consumable, the dismantling of urban trolley systems such as those that once operated in Los Angeles and the Bay Area ((Jalbert).
The car changed the very landscape of America. the once-vital urban areas are barren; and people walk aimlessly at the strip malls in the suburbs. Everyone with a car is on the road while public transportation gets sparser and less funding. This harmed inner city residents even more as they are the ones who rely on public transportation.
To sum this up thus far, these freeways divided neighborhoods, mostly communities of color. Suburbs mainly consisted of white people, and inner cities consisted mostly of people of color. Whites were typically able to resist the building of freeways in their communities while people of color were not. The suburbs were already racially separated by organizations like the Federal Housing Administration, but now freeways became physical borders between whiteness and color. These freeways essentially served as barriers between the rich and the poor, the white and the nonwhite. Ronald Greene calls this “the racing and placing of populations” (Greene 39). Many, many acres of the inner cities were bulldozed for the creation of these freeways. “Huge expressway interchanges, cloverleafs, and access ramps created enormous areas of dead and useless space in the central cities” (Mohl 12).”
Strolling through East L.A. (in the county, not the city, in “East L.A.” and not “Boyle Heights” anymore, Selene assured us—Cinco Puntos is the marked borderline), we crossed to First Street to view the murals atop the First Street Dept. Store and the Pan-American Bank.
The First Street Store (slated to become a charter-run arts high school storefront operation) run left to right through Mexican historical conflicts—“Story of Our Struggle,” 1974 Chicano movement style by David Botello and Robert Arenivar, depict that history that runs down the center of Mexicans:
Odd to be a half-Mexican, let me put it this way
I am Mexican + Mexican, then there’s the question of the half
To say Mexican without the half, well it means another thing
One could say only Mexican
Then think of pyramids – obsidian flaw, flame etchings, goddesses with
Flayed visages claw feet & skulls as belts – these are not Mexican
They are existences, that is to say
Slavery, sinew, hearts shredded sacrifices for the continuum
Quarks & galaxies, the cosmic milk that flows into trees
What is the other – yes
It is Mexican too, yet it is formless, it is speckled with particles
European pieces? To say colony or power is incorrect
Better to think of Kant in his tiny room
Shuffling in his black socks seeking out the notion of time
Or Einstein re-working the erroneous equation
Concerning the way light bends – all this has to do with
The half, the half-thing when you are half-being
How they stalk you & how you beseech them
All this becomes your life-long project, that is
You are Mexican. One half Mexican the other half
Mexican, then the half against itself.
– Juan Felipe Herrera
Maybe some of this Aztec identity politics iconography lets the actual engineers, architects and policy makers of white flight off the hook.
On the next corner, we stood checking out the Pan-American Bank mosaic murals, which are more Mesoamerican and bloodier than Millard Sheets old Home Savings Murals. I admit, I was sighing that it was not possible to duck into Chalio’s for birria.
Eric Avila so forcefully sums up the entire problem in Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight. “But as racial privilege sustained by redlining, blockbusting, restrictive covenants, and municipal incorporation, as well as by outright violence, federally sponsored suburbanization removed an expanding category of “white” Americans from what deteriorated into inner-city reservations of racialized poverty. The collusion of public policy and private practices enforced a spatial distinction between “black” cities and “white” suburbs and gave shape to what the Kerner Commission, a presidential commission appointed to assess the causes of the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles, identified as ‘two species, one black, one white-separate and unequal” (Avila 5).
The hard core made it all the way to 7 Mares for beers and cocteles; these received Poetry Broadside Posters designed by Citlali Foster.
Thanks to Ken for organizing the walk, thanks to Ken’s mom for organizing Ken, and everybody who came out for any part of it, even the evangelizers haranguing people coming out of the Gold Line. Thanks to Citlali for the pictures. See also: http://www.thetinhorse.com/boyle-heights/