The 10-mile long, $1 billion dollar widening of the San Diego Freeway is a monumental feat of engineering: demolition and reconstruction of bridges and roads, 27 on/off ramps, 13 underpasses and 18 miles of retaining and sound walls.
When the rebuilding stops, new car pool lanes will open.
Before that time, we, who travel or live in the Sepulveda Pass, go amidst temporary art installations. The partially built is perhaps more compelling than the finished product.
These functional components of road building are ingenious engineering and unaware artistry; choreographed, measured and precisely drawn elements of structure alive in rhythm, movement and shape.
Along the west side of Sepulveda at Wilshire (above and below), skeletal underpinnings, in wood and steel, for future on/off ramps, evoking the lean, linear infancy of modernism, form following function.
High pillars of steel hold up horizontal spans along Sepulveda, near the Veterans Cemetery and the Federal Building. Perhaps unintentional, the in-progress road suggests that this flat open expanse requires something triumphant and civic to pass through to salute government workers and honored soldiers.
Wood slats nearby evoke the organic asymmetry of Japan, while frail wood railings conjure up jungle bridges.
Near Montana, a tall hillside is clamped into place by ten-story tall concrete ziggurat criss-crossed by steel bars and round bolts onto which plates of facing will hang.
Here are dancing and unfurling materials, performing in shadow and sun, ribbons of road next to green mountains, tall walls of tapered concrete holding back tons of earth.
Serrated vertical lined concrete walls, go low and march along in rectangular pattern near the Getty. Parts of drain pipes sit alongside. A crane stands on the west side of the freeway near the Getty.
Near Mountaingate, the 405, seen from below along Sepulveda, sweeps up behind a tall wall, a freeway heard but not seen.
At Mulholland, the pass opens up to the Valley.
The mountains seem higher, the vistas taller and wider.
New steel spans are stacked under the old road, ready to perform their next feat of support to carry up a new bridge.
It is a penultimate, high altitude moment of reconstruction: intelligent, courageous and invigorating.
And up in Sherman Oaks, near Valley Vista, the sunny and self-satisfied homes of prosperity are caked in dust, caught in the bottom-end of the widening. The congestion is worse, the noise more constant, the torn-up streets taken over by bulldozers, trucks, fencing, excavation, speeding drivers, demolition and reconstruction.
A heroic human endeavor whose energies are producing, in our backyard, a fast changing and fascinating spectacle of clashing forms, tactile tons of man-made materials, anonymous art along the 405, silently begging us, as Los Angeles often does, to open our eyes and drop our assumptions.
Last week, mid-week, it rained. A storm started the way storms do in Southern California, by announcing its front three days before arrival.
It came down slowly, from the north, and the skies darkened, ever so perceptibly, on Sunday, and by Tuesday the rains poured.
When the storm blew out, on Wednesday, the air was clean and refreshed. And doughy white clouds marched across blue skies.
Three small trees, all oaks, arrived from the city, ready to plant. There was room for only one on our property: a Coast Live Oak, which will look quite magnificent on my 100th birthday.
I went down to my brother and sister-in-law’s house on Saturday and took photos and videos upon the arrival of their new brindle boxer puppy.
These are videos that will show a 2012 Prius on the driveway, and these are videos of my 7-year-old niece and my 5-year-old nephew and a two-month-old puppy.
In five years or ten or twenty years, people will watch these and marvel at unwrinkled and smiling faces of youth, beauty and innocence; days we all have and days we spend in childhood never knowing how ephemeral and passing and short it all is.
I left the Marina and drove east across Culver City on Saturday, along Washington, and turned north on Robertson and went east on Pico and ended up on La Brea at Blair Lucio’s store General Quarters.
Mr. Lucio, on his own, without partners, has opened a concrete floored, iron and corrugated steel men’s shop decorated with black and white photographs of motorcycles, Steve McQueen, and images of postwar life in Southern California.
He is a young, well-groomed man with impeccable taste and good manners who favors plain front khakis, single needle cotton dress shirts, worn leather and canvas knapsacks and pure pine athletic soap.
He worked at Nordstrom’s and that retailer’s high standards of etiquette and service seem to have been branded with a burning iron into Mr. Lucio’s character.
If I had more cash I would spend it here because everything is high quality, classic and well edited.
LACMA has installed a show, Living in a Modern Way, devoted to the same place and era that Mr. Lucio adores: the post-WWII years, when California innovated in the arts, home furnishings, architecture, textiles, graphic design, automobiles and industrial products.
The exhibit has a full-scale reproduction of Ray and Charles Case Study House No. 8 in Pacific Palisades as well as an Airstream trailer and Avanti car.
Most interesting are the people who attend these events. They have artful, creative, charmed and haunting faces and they don’t look anything like the rest of the people who live in Los Angeles.
I went to see Luke Gibson’s architectural photography exhibit on the 8th Floor of the Wiltern on Saturday night.
It was dusk and the sun was setting and you could look north and see the Hollywood sign; and in the east the hills and houses were bathed in a sweet and gentle melon light.
The steel casement windows were open and I sat on an indoor ledge and looked down at a revitalized and busy Koreatown intersection with its new glass tower across the street and crowds pouring out of the Western/Wilshire Metro station; walking, using the city as a city should be used, on foot; with vigor, purpose and joy.
Luke’s aunt, an older and beautiful blond woman, came up to me and introduced herself. She was carrying an Ipad and remarked how proud her family was of their photographer nephew.
She had come up from Lake Forest in Orange County that evening, along with her daughter, son-in-law and two very tall young ladies, her granddaughters.
I told her that I lived in Van Nuys and she said she had graduated from Van Nuys High School. Her father had come from North Dakota and the family had lived on Ventura Canyon in Sherman Oaks.
We spoke about the mythical and magical days of yore, the California that really existed but really exists no more: orange groves and walnut groves; clean streets and unlimited opportunity for all. It was all gone now, except on DVDs and in our minds. And she was sweet and smart and savvy and even at seven decades, the ideal California girl.
And she knew how to how work that Ipad and had uploaded online Scrabble and Yelp.
I had some work to do on Sunday and I went to meet someone at the Marriott across from the Burbank Airport, but before our meeting, I walked around Fry’s Electronics where the most advanced and latest technology is sold to the least educated and most obese.
Outside Fry’s, in the parking lot, the sun was brilliant, the heat was dry, the mountains were radiant, and the planes flew across the sky and down into airport, gliding into an atmosphere of calm, glistening, radiant, and intense light.
There was hardly any traffic on sun-bleached, treeless Empire Avenue, the service road that runs between the south side of the airport and the railroad tracks.
I thought of Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh and all of the lesser-known war workers who once assembled planes here under a fake city blackout cover. Times past of productivity and progress.
After my meeting, I drove on that road, and over to Van Owen and down Vineland.
I was unaware that a few hours earlier, a distraught man, despondent over his finances, brandished a bb gun, called the police and told him he was armed. The cops came and asked him to disarm and when he refused, they shot him dead in front of his family.
Hours later, I went to Ralphs on Vineland/Ventura to do some Sunday grocery shopping and got on the 101 at Tujunga, traveling west, back to my home here in Van Nuys.
I was in my Mazda 3, with my friend Danny, watching the road, navigating the heavy traffic, and preparing to exit the 101 near Sepulveda.
I wasn’t going fast or slow, just driving defensively, cautiously, courteously, speedily, not excessively, within reason, as one does when approaching an exit ramp.
And then the dissolve, the madwoman in the rear view mirror…
A wildly gesticulating female driver, in her white SUV, held up her two fingers in a double fuck you to me from her driver’s seat.
Her hands were making digit signs, signs that she emitted in a mad, contorted, deliberate, accelerating, irrational, insulting spastic performance. I watched her gesture fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you again from her car as we got off the ramp at Sepulveda.
And then I pulled up next to her. Again she pulled up her hands to signal numbers, fives and ones, supposing that I would know that she alone knew how fast I was going and it was not fast enough for her. And how angry, enraged and beyond reason she was. She was unashamed, unembarrassed, unhinged.
And tragically, she is what is called average or normal these days. An insane and out-of-control driver, furious when her 90-mile-an-hour motoring is temporarily impeded by another auto.
We waited at the light next to her. We yelled at her and my friend said she was “cuckoo” and then the light changed. And I turned right and she turned left onto Sepulveda, but I would not be lying if I said at that very moment I too was enraged. I was ready to assault or kill this woman who had destroyed my peaceful Sunday afternoon with her madness on the 101.
It has happened to me several times before when I was the target of a woman, always a woman, always white, always showing their fingers and their fuck-you on the road, behind the wheel, when I, obeying the law and doing absolutely nothing wrong, was just driving and being courteous.
I am not a person, I believe, who goes around with a vast arsenal of fury inside of me. I talk things out. I listen to Chopin and Bach and I exercise and run and drink wine and beer and laugh a lot.
But this is California these days. There are no rules for how to behave in public. The Grossest Generation: that is what this generation is.
She is the reason that I also sometimes hate Los Angeles and wonder if all of the nostalgia for the greatness of our past can make up for the uncivil awfulness that passes for civil society in the Golden State.
Well, at least we can remember how golden the Golden State once was.
It was a delightful weekend until I got on the 101.
For a few months now, it had been broadcast, far and wide, over the airwaves and through airy heads, that Los Angeles would be vehicularly incapacitated by the partial destruction of a tall bridge over a wide freeway occurring on a long weekend.
For surely the closure of THE 405 was truly a great emergency, predicted as cataclysmic by experts who described it in cinematic destructiveness, coined with a biblical neologism, Carmaggedon.
So into action the officials sprang, as politicians, Caltrans, LAPD, LAFD and all the fat men who sit inside the city council chambers, urged the motoring public to forestall leaving home and let the great emergency Passover.
And Saturday, June 16, 2011 was a quiet day, a peaceful day. The deafening roar of 500,000 cars stopped. And one stepped out of the house and into the dry, hot, windy air of Van Nuys and beheld a gentler, kinder, slower, less crowded city.
The skies and sounds reminded me of the days after September 11, 2001. I had been working on Radford Street in Studio City, and came out of an office on Valleyheart Drive, and looked up into the sky and saw or heard not a single jet plane flying above. The serenity of Los Angeles, without aerial assault by plane, was mesmerizing ten years ago. And absent automobiles it mesmerized me yesterday.
Civic spirit, civic pride, civic engagement, Los Angeles has all the collective civic energy of a desert mausoleum. In this town, as some call it, the idea that the greater good matters, that people might come together for a single day, and make a success of it, seemed impossible.
And though some were dubious, they stayed home in Westwood and didn’t drive their SUV to Encino to meet for baklava. Survivors of the purges of the Shah, who know what sacrifice means, took a day off from shopping and driving. And those who didn’t surf on the beach Saturday, or drive to eat sushi in Studio City, those heroic citizens deserve our applause and appreciation.
Yesterday, many stayed home and many didn’t drive, and in those neighborhoods where discarded mattresses sit in front of buildings where homeless people push shopping carts, and earn money recycling plastic, and some defecate on the sidewalk in broad daylight; where millions are undocumented, and thousands are poorly educated, where health care is withheld and violence administered; along those broad, sun-baked, lifeless, treeless, billboard-infested blocks and garbage littered curbs, the people obeyed and the politicians praised, and something so very minor and so very unimportant stood in the historical record as a great culmination of achievement in the City of Angels.
In 2011, we are living amidst a big construction project on the San Diego Freeway which will add new lanes and which has also torn up vast sections of Westwood near Wilshire and Sunset along Sepulveda.
The USC Digital Archives has photographs of the 1956 beginnings of the San Diego Freeway, when bulldozers and explosives tore through the Sepulveda Pass and made it possible to eventually travel the nine miles from Encino to Westwood in less than two hours.
In a sign that Los Angeles is becoming a more environmentally sensitive city, a new 44-acre park, to be built atop the Hollywood Freeway, may be started in 2012. The project, assuming funds are available, may cost $1 billion dollars and bring recreational space to a densely populated and park sparse region of the city.
The LA Times has an article explaining the details. What follows are my opinions:
The building of the Hollywood Freeway in the early 1950′s, sliced right through the residential and commercial heart of the district. It cut off the Franklin Avenue area from the business district along Hollywood Boulevard. It brought noise, pollution, traffic and congestion to one of the most formerly lovely sections of the city. It hastened the decline of Hollywood, by making the automobile the prime focus of city planning and ignoring pedestrians, public transportation and the pulmonary health of our citizens.
By bringing the freeway underground, Los Angeles will follow the example of other American cities like Boston, whose Big Dig is an attempt to connect the North End back to the rest of Boston and improve the traffic patterns of not only cars, but people on foot.
The Hollywood Freeway should never have been built so ruthlessly. A concrete knife plunged into the heart of a great city will now have some remedial arterial surgery to repair the damage.