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November 11, 2013


John Hupp

I lived quite close to the Disney Hall for five years, and I can tell you that that part of downtown is particularly dead at night. Most of the nightlife is about a mile south of there. There are lots of older, historic buildings southeast of Bunker Hill, but almost everything to the northeast from Bunker Hill to the river along what is now the 101 was ripped out and replaced between the 1920s and the 1960s.

If you go south of USC, LA is on a Jeffersonian grid. The oldest part of the city, Olvera Street in Chinatown, is basically 45 degrees off the cardinal directions, which I understand is a Spanish thing. (By comparison, Eixample in Barcelona, built about 100 years later, is also rotated 45 degrees.)

As for why downtown LA is so far from the ocean... There were other Spanish pueblos and missions closer to the ocean, but Los Angeles developed the most commercially because, I guess, the railroads went there...? It's actually quite centrally located with a number of valleys and tributary waterways radiating out from it.

The part of LA with all the industrial infrastructure next to the water is the port in San Pedro, which isn't all that compelling of a tourist destination. Chicago spent the better part of a century trying to beautify the mess of railroads on its front lawn, and I think the beach towns in Southern California are better off not having had to deal wth all that. The late development of public transportation is the major negative side effect.

John Hupp

This picture from 1972 gives a good sense of why Bunker Hill is dead: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33455118@N08/3573170429/in/set-72157620716854921 To this day it is still like 30-40% parking. Note that the city had been doing urban renewal like this since the 1930s, starting by flattening the historic Chinatown to put in Union Station, before marching their way west with the Civic Center—they actually removed a large chunk of the hillside to put in the Civic Park in the 1950s.

Erik Mar

John Hupp's commentary is pretty accurate. I think that at least part of the spanish grid rotation comes from an attempt to increase sunlight penetration down to the street level during the winter months, and to decrease it during the summer months. It would also seem to expose more buildings to potential cross ventilation, although this probably couldn't ever become a consistent policy, for the simple reason that prevailing winds don't always alight with the cardinal directions.
John, if you're the Hupp I think you are, I regret never having you in one of my USC studios!
Erik Mar

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What Is One-Way Street?

One-Way Street [Einbahnstrasse, 1928] was Walter Benjamin's first effort to break out of the narrow confines of the academy and apply the techniques of literary studies to life as it is currently lived. For Benjamin criticism encompasses the ordinary objects of life, the literary texts of the time, films in current release, and the fleeting concerns of the public sphere. Following Benjamin's lead, this blog is concerned with the political content of the aesthetic and representations of the political in the media. As Benjamin writes in One-Way Street, "He who cannot take sides should keep silent."