Los Angeles, so you know

It is quite possible, maybe even nearly guaranteed, that I will not be there on your final day. That is, in the final moment that defines that day. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but if I did it would just be untrue.

I wish it didn’t have to be so simple. I wish I didn’t have to be so wrapped up in myself just like everyone else, and I wish that I could summon the superpowers I always dreamt of one day having, so that I could be in two places at once after all; so that I could be as much the magic to you, as you’ve been to me over the course of so many days.

I am only human, however. A being bound by two hands and two feet, with just one heart and one mind connecting each of these extensions to the body. Even if in my mind I can fly, the rest of the time I’m pulled to the earth by gravity like every other one of the planet’s organisms.

What’s more, even if I could actually fly through time and space, the truth is that I would still have to leave one part of myself to get to you on the other side. This I could not do.

Last night, at the peak of dawn there was a tremor through the earth. I could not fly and get away. Nor could you. Instead we both had no choice but to bear the weight and worry of the tumble that marked the earth’s transformation, a transformation all but guaranteed to continue indefinitely, or at least, long past either one of us.

We had to be somewhat brave, Los Angeles. For a moment each of us faced the specter of being taken from one another and the impending doom thereof. Yet there we were. We made it through the strenuous trek. Now, we continue with our own transformation through the times. We are living, breathing organisms too, after all, each of us with whole worlds to fill out through these things.

That said, there will also be a time when one of us cannot make it. On that day, even with all the bravery in the universe coursing through our veins, we will still be broken through. Separated both from one another and within ourselves, the sky will be blotted out by an endless sense of abandon. We’ll then be left to course through the dark of the night as new, less certain selves. Broken selves.

That brokenness is also likely to extend through the course of more than just one night. It may even take a lifetime to adapt to a world without one another, but we will once again transform through this. It is our destiny to expand into the universe through each of the events that happen to us, and through those we happen to. Indeed, without this indefinite transformation, I could not write this note to you today, nor any of the notes we’ve shared. And even if the notes one day vanish, I’ve got a feeling they could only disappear to take time and space in another form, too.

Of course, there will only be one Los Angeles through the course of time and space, just as there will be only one JIMBO TIMES to express so uncompromisingly such a fervent dedication to Los Angeles.

But in the meantime, with what time and space is still left, I want to express my gratitude for everything we’ve been able to form together.

You have made me, Los Angeles, and I can only hope in some way I’ve made you too.

When the time comes to remake ourselves even beyond one another, then, even if I can’t be there to say goodbye, I trust each of us will still remake ourselves well, just as we have for so long.

Bravely, uncompromisingly, and indefinitely, you have my best in this journey.

And remember that we have to keep going, Los Angeles.

Indeed, the rest of the pueblos out there depend on us doing just so.

J.T.

Deed Restrictions in Los Angeles

Red Car On Santa Monica Blvd - 1940
Red Car on Santa Monica Boulevard, ‘East Hollywood’; 1940

T-RACES, or the Testbed for the Redlining Archives of California’s Exclusionary Spaces, is a powerful map and treasure cove of historical documents showing how cities like Los Angeles were developed over the course of the 20th century, particularly during the years just before World War II. The archives contain ‘area descriptions’ of L.A. neighborhoods as seen by city and county officials of the National Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC); to learn more about the HOLC, readers can visit Design and Violence, where my treasure hunt for the documents began.

I’ve gathered a few of the area descriptions of the “Los Feliz” and “East Hollywood” neighborhoods, respectively, all of them dated in 1939, and they are startling reads. It’s fascinating to see the old vecindades distinguished by their racial and class makeup. For example, in the Los Feliz neighborhood, the absence of “foreign families” or “negros” based on the “deed restrictions” banning their presence, as well as single-family residential zoning, lead to a “high green” or attractive rating for the HOLC:

“[In Los Feliz] …Deed restrictions cover both improvement costs and racial elements. Zoning is single-family residential. Conveniences are as available as is desirable in a multi-car garage neighborhood. This area was subdivided some 15 years ago, and was engineered and platted to contour resulting in well arranged and improved streets. Construction, maintenance and architectural designs are of the highest quality. Population is of a high character and many of the city’ s wealthiest citizens reside here. Values shown above are somewhat conjectural as size and location of homesite affects prices. This also applies to rentals as quality of tenant is a large consideration. With a convenient location, ideal building sites and high caliber deed restrictions, this area should continue indefinitely to attract a substantial type of resident. On the basis of present development and future prospects area is accorded a “high green ” grade.”

By contrast, in East Hollywood, for the ‘concentration of Jewish families’, along with 5 & 6 room dwellings, or apartment buildings with 5 to 6 units, a “medial yellow” or “only fairly” attractive grade is accorded.

“[In East Hollywood] …There are no deed restrictions and zoning, while mainly single-family, also permits all types of multi-family residential structures in different parts and is also “spot zoned” for business and provides for numerous institutional developments. Two of the largest hospitals in the city are located within the area. Conveniences are all readily available. This area was originally largely occupied by the old Sullivan Farm and was subdivided approximately 25 years ago. Divided by and surrounded with business thoroughfares this far-flung area contains a miscellaneous array of multi-family residential development; however, the pre-dominating type of residence is 5 & 6 room dwellings which are generally of standard construction and fairly well maintained. It is said to be one of the community’s best rental districts. Rumors of scattered Japanese and Negro residents were not confirmed as none were located except upon the business thoroughfares. There is a concentration of Jewish families between Melrose and Santa Monica Blvd. east of Western Avenue. The population in general is heterogeneous, as is also the aspects of the improvements. There is a fair percentage of owner occupancy and many homes are still occupied by original owners. There is a decided trend at present toward business and income properties; however, it is thought that the major part of the area will remain predominantly single-family for many years to come. The area is accorded a “medial yellow” grade.”

Such standards beg the question, just who is the HOLC describing these conditions to?

That is, just who determines that ‘negros’, ‘foreign’ and ‘Jewish’ people and their dwellings reduce the overall quality of life? In literature it’s called the white gaze, or the white imagination that dictates a certain narrative or reality.

With these frameworks in mind, I was excited to read about just how the vecindad my family and I would come to call home during the eighties when mom and pops arrived here fared ‘in the ratings’.

In the eyes of the HOLC, the neighborhood was considered ‘blighted’ for 15% of its residency consisting of ‘foreign’ families, and for 10% of it consisting of ‘negros’, as well as for the neighborhood’s multiple family dwellings and bungalows. This led to a “medial red” or mostly unattractive rating.

“[In East Hollywood] …The few deed restrictions which have not expired are irregular and largely non-effective. The major portion of area is zoned for single family dwellings, but multiple family dwellings are permitted in scattered sections. Conveniences are all readily available. This district was subdivided over 25 years ago as a popular price home district and has largely maintained the characteristics. Many of the improvements are of substandard construction and maintenance is spotted, being generally of a poor quality. Scattered throughout the area are a number of small “B” grade apartments, bungalow courts and other multi-family dwellings. The population is highly heterogeneous with more than a sprinkling of subversive racial elements, there being several concentrations of Japanese and Negroes within the district. There is also quite a Jewish population adjacent to the synagogue which is located in the northern part. While by no means a slum district, the area is definitely blighted and is accorded a “medial red” grade.”

On the one hand, it’s astounding to think that there used to be more Japanese and Black people in the neighborhood. On the other hand, it’s sobering to consider how World War II and the Japanese interment which followed removed such communities from the area. When one considers these events and the subsequent or concurrent modernization that followed or accompanied the war, such as the building of the first freeway in America in the Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940, one can see how modern development has always been a matter of some violence on communities and restrictions of their space for the benefit of others.

It’s rarely ever easy to take another field trip through the historical foundations which led to our modern dilemmas with access to space. But in order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we come from, Los Angeles.

J.T.

Redlining in Los Angeles

Redlining Los Angeles - UCLA Luskin

“The exclusionary housing market confined minorities to neighborhoods such as Watts. The resulting residential segregation enabled the government to practice another form of institutionalized racism, the redlining of home mortgages insurance. The Home Owners Loan Corporation designated minority neighborhoods (those shaded in black and gray in the map in this section) as being unfit for home financing, which, with racially restrictive covenants, excluded people of color from the housing boom that afforded many white households their first house (Katznelson, 2005; Rothstein, 2017). This place-based discrimination created major barriers for people of color to build home equity even within racially isolated neighborhoods, and was a contributor to the racial wealth gap (Oliver and Shapiro, 2006).”

The Los Angeles we know in the 21st century is not just some place that arrived from out of the blue one summer day, but an environment that was built out through specifically racist laws, designations, and customs over the course of decades, particularly during the 20th century.

In this case, redlining, the discriminatory practice of denying services or assistance to people based on their racial or ethnic background, is precisely responsible for the historically Black and under-served population still associated with “South-Central” Los Angeles.

In 2018, any Angeleno taking a walk through neighborhoods like Watts can still feel the legacy of The City’s redlining, as well as the anger and frustration towards such flagrant acts of sabotage and abandon against a people and their community.

Yet with reports such as UCLA Luskin’s, the spirit of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz lives on. From there, our work can continue.

So let us continue to get to work, Los Angeles.

It’s the next thirty years of the pueblo that are waiting on us.

J.T.