This week L.A. Letters examines Alhambra, the gateway to the San Gabriel Valley.
Nestled between Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Gabriel, San Marino, El Sereno, City Terrace and Monterey Park, Alhambra is one of the oldest suburbs in Los Angeles County, dating back to the arrival of the transcontinental railroad and the boom of the 1880s.
Its placement between Monterey Park and Pasadena also reflects the current mix of Chinese, Latin, and old school Americana that come together to make the spirit of Alhambra.
The proximity to Pasadena and Monterey Park is an excellent starting point for discussing Alhambra.
Just a few years younger than Pasadena, Alhambra was incorporated officially in 1903, though it began as an early boom town in the 1880s.
Benjamin Wilson, aka Don Benito, is the father of Alhambra; his life story is another article in itself.
A new biography on Wilson was recently published by Angel City Press.
Atlantic Boulevard was also originally named Wilson Avenue after him.
Across America, in Boston, Brooklyn, Oakland, Seattle, and San Diego, and across Los Angeles, on Main, Spring, and Broadway, preserved historic buildings are being reused, redeveloped, re-purposed for the 21st century.
The preservation movement has organically come to rise across America and worldwide over the last 50 years.
This week L.A. Letters unpacks the politics of preservation via two books published by the University of California Press: “California Vieja” and “Tokyo Vernacular.”
The discussion also examines a historic site of Japanese-American history, now slated for demolition, in Huntington Beach.
History has shown some sites saved and some demolished, the decision is almost always dictated by dollars.
"In urban terms," writes Ada Louise Huxtable, "preservation is the saving of the essence and style of other eras, through the architecture and urban forms, so that the meaning and flavor of those other times and tastes are incorporated into the mainstream of the city’s life. The accumulation is called culture."
Preservation is a powerful force and, along with nostalgia, it is often used to sell the city.
This phenomenon is captured in the 2006 book “California Vieja” by scholar Phoebe Kropp.
Preservation is among the major themes addressed, along with how early boosters used the Spanish past to sell California.
The author examines culture and memory in four iconic California venues: El Camino Real, Balboa Park, Olvera Street, and Rancho Santa Fe.
Eagle Rock-born Renaissance woman Marjorie Light is a one-woman art festival that DJs, teaches, and performs.
The Filipina musician, writer, DJ, educator, performer is at the vanguard of the Northeast L.A. arts community.
Graduate of Eagle Rock Elementary and High School, and then Pitzer College, Light reps Eagle Rock with flying colors.
Aside from her college years, she has lived almost all of her 30 years in the famed district below the big rock.
This week L.A. Letters honors Light, Eagle Rock and Filipino/a history in Southern California.
Considering last week’s catastrophic storm in the Philippines, it’s important to take a moment to recognize the incredible contribution that the Filipino community has made here in Southern California and, for that matter, America.
Filipino sailors were the first Asians in North America in the 16th Century; they were sailing with the Spanish Conquistadors.
The international reputation awarded to the Beat Generation and San Francisco Renaissance poets looms so large that the Bay Area is often the only region on the West Coast considered by the East Coast poetry establishment.
Thoughts on Los Angeles are often reduced to Hollywood, corporate culture and the primary poet associated with L.A. remains Charles Bukowski. Bill Mohr’s HOLD OUTSpublished by the University of Iowa Press, fills in the blanks with a multigenerational account of Southern California’s literary landscape from 1948 to 1992 that connects the dots between the Cold War, Beat Generation, Civil Rights era, the small press movement, punk rock and spoken word.
Recent studies of Los Angeles poetry have included books on Bukowski, the Watts Writers Workshop and the Venice Beats, but Mohr’s volume is the only one I’ve seen to connect the movements mapping out the cultural topography with specific writers, readings, bookstores and literary magazines.
This week L.A. Letters salutes the World Stage, reinforces its importance and draws the connection between other community arts organizations like Tuesday Night Café, Sunday Jump, Punk Hostage Press and Espacio 1839.
On numerous occasions in this column I have written about the World Stage and its central place in Leimert Park, and the literary landscape of Los Angeles and West Coast poetry.
See the Departures Leimert Park section for more history of the neighborhood along with my previous poem and articles.
In the last five years two legendary Leimert venues closed their doors for good: 5th Street Dicks and Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn.
Although both closed primarily because the original owner/founders had passed, the inflation of the last few years has made it much harder for community arts organizations to flourish or make ends meet, as market rates continue to climb.
Babe’s & Rickey’s was the last surviving club from Central Avenue, and lasted in Leimert for almost 20 years after moving there in 1996 from Central.
DT•LAB presents: POSTMODERN METROPOLIS WALKING TOURwith Mike The Poet Sonksen Join KCET Columnist & 3rd-generation Angeleno, Mike the PoeT for a Downtown LA Walking Tour starting from the LAst Bookstore. A Walking Poem Performance, the Tour includes folklore on the Historic Core, architecture & literary history with stops along Spring Street & the Central Library.
This week L.A. Letters explores two exceptional new books: “Urban Tumbleweed” by Harryette Mullen, and “Never Built Los Angeles” by Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell.
Mullen’s is a book of cutting edge poetry, and “Never Built” is an art book dealing with Los Angeles architecture and urban history.
Their common bond is that they both take place in Los Angeles and offer an alternative vision, pregnant with hope and what really could be.
"Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary," published by Graywolf Press, is Harryette Mullen’s new book of poems, written from her daily habit of walking around her neighborhood and surrounding areas.
Many of the poems were written in Santa Monica, Venice, West L.A. and Westwood, where she is Professor of English and African-American Studies at UCLA.
Mullen adapts the Japanese tanka poetry form for her own purposes and uses it masterfully.
While most know that April is National Poetry Month, October’s National Poetry Day is much less publicized.
Either way, every day, week and month is National Poetry time here; nonetheless, considering the National day just passed, this is an ideal moment to talk about the state of poetry and the role it plays in contemporary culture.
This week L.A. Letters discusses the idea of street poets, two new books and a new venue on L.A.’s historic Central Avenue.
Over the last few months, in several magazines, newspapers and blogs like Poetry, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Flavorwire, there have been several articles with lists of poets and book reviews of poetry anthologies that question poetry’s purpose and value in the 21st Century.
The play-by-play details of who said what are too much to recount here; a quick web search can have you reading responses for hours and many have.
One of the biggest reasons for all the debate is because of the sheer number of poets writing today — some professionally trained, and some just earnest writers with little or no knowledge of literary tradition.
Whatever your tastes are or education level is, you can bet there’s a genre of poetry to match it.
URBAN HIKES: FORGOTTEN LA is a unique series of tours devoted to the exploration and celebration of sometimes-forgotten parts of Los Angeles.
URBAN HIKES provides a unique and enriching view into neighborhoods such as Little Tokyo, Leimert Park, MacArthur Park, Korea Town, the Downtown Historic Core, Boyle Heights and many more.
Los Angeles poet and native Mike Sonksen, aka ‘Mike the Poet’, performs his poems live and loud while providing a cultural, historical, and architectural tour exploring the forgotten and hidden gems in our City of Angels.
Who’s rocking the populace in the postmodern metropolis?
Behold the lore of L.A. Authors.
Every year more and more L.A.-centric literature and regional books emerge from both major New York publishers and a handful of West Coast houses, like UC Press, Chronicle, Heyday, Angel City, City Lights, Red Hen, and others.
Though a few may get past me, I do my best to keep track of all of the new titles.
This week L.A. Letters explores three recent L.A. books and pays tribute to 15 years of the seminal music venue, Firecracker.
West of Eden
"West of Eden: A Life in 21st Century Los Angeles" by Chuck Rosenthal is a Los Angeles memoir that defies categorization. Rosenthal calls his style "Magic Journalism." He says, "A Magic Journalist understands that the narrative essay becomes a living metaphor of an inexpressible truth." Whether he’s satirizing Topanga Canyon, literary agents, and the local writing community, or ruminating on the influence of the Beats, Rosenthal is an original voice equipped with the vocabulary to spell out the beauty, horror, and irony that constitutes contemporary Los Angeles.
We want to trade you whisky for your words. On Thursday, September 12th, bring a poem, original or not, to B Black Penthouse: a 19202s loft with a stunning cityscape view (and air-conditioning!) Read poem in a candlelit circle of fellow aficionados. Get a flight of fine, single malt whiskies in return. Bask in the
As many have noted in the last few days, September 4, 2013, was the 232nd birthday of the founding of Los Angeles.
A big part of what had made L.A. blossom and flourish has been the dynamic energy in the creative arts.
This week L.A. Letters celebrates the spirit of collaboration and a few local ambassadors doing interdisciplinary work uniting poetry, performance, theater, education, and activism.
Rachel Kann has been one of the most active poet/writers in the Southland since the late 1990s.
After her early undergrad years she went back and forth between L.A. and New York, making noise in both the theater community and the poetry slam circuit.
Rather than continuing to concentrate on poetry slams, she focused her efforts on teaching poetry workshops and hosting community literary events.
For seven years she hosted one of Southern California’s most influential poetry open mics of the last dozen years: “co-lab:ORATION.”
The title is self-explanatory: Rachel encouraged collaboration, and this meant violinists, beatboxers, DJs, horn players, guitarists, keyboardists, tap dancers, drummers, singers, and anyone else that had the gumption to contribute their energy on stage.
Each poet would choose which musicians they wanted to collaborate with, and the tempo for it.
They would read their poem accompanied by a whole range of optional musical backdrops, whether it was a free jazz jam session with several players on stage, or a more intimate presentation with just the poet and flutist, or perhaps a single drummer.
Needless to say, the show was always swinging.
It started at the Knitting Factory early 2001, and soon moved to the Temple Bar where it remained until 2008.
Hundreds of writers and musicians participated.
I performed there many times, and recall seeing a who’s who of local spoken word artists and very talented musicians jamming with the poets.
The open canvas nature of the event encouraged artists to push themselves and create new combinations.
DJs, like Lynk and Jedi, were heavy in the rotation for years, but there were also a few times where DJ Jeremy Sole stepped behind the decks.
On many nights, Double G from DaKAH came to play, and dozens of other heavyweights dropped in from time to time, like Sage Francis and Saul Williams.
On August 23 I arrived in San Francisco to read at a poetry event.
Thanks to bad gridlock near the Bay Bridge I barely arrived on time, even though I’d left L.A. early.
I had clear sailing for most of the I-5 drive, but once I got into the East Bay, the roads slowed down like I was in L.A.
Cars were backed up from Downtown Oakland all the way to the Bay Bridge.
Eventually I arrived in the Hayes Valley area of San Francisco, and found the site for the reading.
While I negotiated my way through the dense, bustling city I admired the picturesque local skyline of skyscrapers, hills and Victorians.
Along the way, I couldn’t help notice several cranes building high rise condos.
This week L.A. Letters reflects on the ever changing landscape of San Francisco, some different perspectives by several authors, as well as a brief glance at the city’s literary tradition and contemporary poetry scene.
San Francisco’s colorful and turbulent history characterizes the California Dream, every bit as much as Southern California.
The myth of the city predates the 1849 Gold Rush, when throngs of prospectors transformed a barren peninsula of rocky hills and sand dunes, dotted with lagoons and swamps, into one of the first modern metropolises on the West Coast.
Early American writers like Mark Twain and Jack London wrote about the first days of the city.
Dashiell Hammett’s crime fiction novel, “Maltese Falcon,” was set in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Renaissance Poets and Beat Generation writers emerged during the Cold War.
Long a haven of bohemian writers and musicians, well known popular histories of San Francisco include jazz in the Fillmore District and the Summer of Love Era in Haight-Ashbury.
Like most big cities, dichotomies help define San Francisco.
Published by Angel City Press, “Iconic Vision: John Parkinson, Architect of Los Angeles” is the long-awaited book on the storied life and career of John Parkinson, architect of L.A. City Hall, the Memorial Coliseum, Bullocks Wilshire, and Union Station along with over 400 buildings throughout Southern California, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Dallas, and more.
Despite all of his accomplishments, this book is Parkinson’s first biography.
This week L.A. Letters takes a long look at Parkinson’s vast body of work as it is outlined in the new book, as well as a quick glance at Angel City Press and their extensive catalog of L.A.-centric titles.
Parkinson was a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, Le Corbusier, Paul Williams, and other celebrated early 20th Century architects.
But his name is much less known, and surprisingly little has been written about his extensive design oeuvre from 1890 to 1935.
Author Stephen Gee’s narrative tells the background stories behind his important projects, like the Memorial Coliseum and City Hall, and also traces the trajectory of Parkinson’s life from his childhood in England, his adventurous escape west, which included time in Seattle, arriving almost penniless in Los Angeles, and then Parkinson’s long reign as dean of Los Angeles architects.
Gee’s detailed volume effectively argues that though the architectural giants named above are more internationally famous than Parkinson, none of them have produced as many long lasting icons as Parkinson did.
The author makes a strong case for Parkinson, noting again and again that many of the projects built by Parkinson are still standing after close to a century.
Universal Studios theme park can wait for, like, ever: We’ve got a better way to sightsee in our city.
The A + D Museum’s Urban Hikes take a few dozen people on hour-long walking tours ($20 each) through lesser-known cultural enclaves like Long Beach (July 21), Atwater Village (August 4) and Glassell Park (August 11).
Along the way, you learn each locale’s history and special little quirks. (Fun fact: Atwater Village was named for its proximity to the L.A. River.)
But we’re down with Urban Hikes for more than just the destinations—we’re fascinated by its lead hiker. Mike Sonksen, a.k.a. Mike the Poet, peppers each tour with his trademark performance poetry pieces.
Like a hybrid of Eminem and Charles Bukowski, Sonksen’s upbeat delivery and clever, sophisticated writings (he’s a UCLA urban planning grad) energize while they educate.
And his flow is downright catchy; we dare you to watch his trademark “I Am Alive in Los Angeles” and not have its refrain bouncing around your head for hours.
Being serenaded by a young man showing us his secret L.A.: What’s not to love?
life easier. Think again, instead they put you on hold
for 20 minutes, force you to talk to automated operators
and the equipment is still broken, the tech support team can’t help you they transfer you to the next option where your put on hold again, elevator music playin’, your still waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting it’s almost rare to reach a human in the age of telecommunication,
we get used to conditioning it’s like traffic, nothing ever moves
as fast as advertised, their trying to automate our lives
taking out humans but this technologic innovation
only gets more frustrating, more waiting, more calling,
more conditioning, more numeric valuing, more information, less humans. I’m just trying to reach a human
in the age of telecommunication With all this talk about virtual bandwidth- I just want some human assistance quickly Quit it with the number keys and my social security Number- I’m tired of punching numbers Pressing pound and voicemail communication I’m just trying to reach a human It’s hard to reach a human
in the age of telecommunication I’m just trying to reach a human!
As much as “underground” is an over-used term in regards to art and music, it fits in many cases because best seller books and blockbuster films always overshadow poetry and more creative literary work.
This anonymity and alienation from Hollywood is why poets have always occupied a central role in L.A.’s artistic underground.
This week L.A. Letters highlights a few game-changing scribes from the literary underground as well as a few key sites within the landscape where the magic happens.
Poetry for the People
Third-generation Angeleno, poet, activist, and educator, Jessica Ceballos is a one-woman literary festival hosting monthly readings in both Highland Park and Venice.
Recently she hosted an event in an underground tunnel below Figueroa in Cypress Park.
Back in the 1920s and 30s as automobiles began to take over the city, many underground tunnels were built near elementary schools below major roads like Figueroa, Valley Boulevard, or Olympic, to protect pedestrian schoolchildren from being hit by speeding cars.
By the Vietnam era most of the underground tunnels began to be sealed shut because they had become sites for vagrants to get intoxicated, drug dealing, or other more explicit activities not compatible with young students.
Most of these tunnels remain sealed shut to this day.