California Studies Association

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Hector Tobar in the L.A. Times on L.A. Memories

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Columnist Hector Tobar devotes his column today (May 7, 2009) in the Los Angeles Times on preserving memories in L.A., focusing on the lost Victorian world of Bunker Hill, as it became the setting for the novels of John Fante, and as a little of it is preserved at Heritage Square, as well as Chavez Ravine (known to those who lived there as La Loma) and Chinatown.  The immediate contexts are the centennial of Fante’s birth and the rising controversy over whether to save the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City.

As Tobar writes:

Last month was the centennial of John Fante’s birth. He died in 1983, and much of the L.A. of his famous Bunker Hill novels is gone now.

It was swept away with wrecking balls and bulldozers in the years after the freeways came through.

This is what L.A. does to its history. Much of Chavez Ravine was swept away too, along with the old Chinatown and so much more.

That’s because one of L.A.’s great traditions is smashing and stomping upon our own history.

We are addicted to newness. So we topple landmarks and neighborhoods as if they were unsightly weeds.

It might be happening again, in Century City, where a jewel from another era of Los Angeles history is facing the threat of demolition: the Century Plaza Hotel, a 19-story modernist curve designed by the same architect who gave New York City the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Query whether the Century Plaza has made the same contribution to L.A. as Bunker Hill did, but perhaps my skepticism is the same attitude that allowed the destruction of all those streets and houses.

—Frank Gruber

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