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.
The old Los Angeles, the city of streetcars, steel signs, orange trucks, red cars, brick buildings, men in hats, ladies in skirts and high heels; the city of overhead wires, decorative lampposts, cops and conductors, kids on bikes, corner drugstores, ice cream parlors, neighborhood movie theaters; they are all alive and bustling and visible on the pages of the Pacific Electric Railway Society.
The dismantling and destruction of public transportation and the elevation of the automobile to the status of a deity has destroyed the richness and civility that once characterized the City of Angels.
Go visit the page, make a contribution, and gain some understanding of what we lost and what we might try to rebuild as we again go back to trains.
In the words of the organization:
“It is a non-profit association dedicated to the preservation of the memory of the Pacific Electric Railway. The goals of the PERyHS are: to preserve and maintain historical documents, visual images, oral histories, and historical studies; to make these materials available to the general public via publications (monographs), presentations and displays to non-profit groups and organizations and to assist other non-profit organizations in their efforts to preserve the legacy of the Pacific Electric Railway.”
Phillip DePauk lived in Van Nuys in the 1950s. His grandfather owned a photography studio located at Gilmore and Van Nuys Blvd. These photos come from his archives and he kindly consented to allow me to publish them.
In Mr. DePauk’s images, one can see some of the rapid changes that came to Van Nuys in the late 1950s and early 60s: demolition of old houses on the site of the Valley Governmental Center, the widening of Victory Blvd.
Before WWII, Van Nuys had been a small town surrounded by orange and walnut groves. One could literally walk from Van Nuys Bl. over to Hazeltine’s agricultural area. After the war, the Valley and California exploded in population. Every square acre of land was developed for housing, shopping malls, freeways, and factories.
We often think of the 1950s as a halcyon era of perfect families and happy times.
But the seeds of California’s destruction were born in the 1950s. The car was king so roads were widened and pedestrians marginalized. Vast shopping centers destroyed local shopping and emptied out Van Nuys Blvd. Historic old houses were razed and replaced with faceless office towers and parking lots. Citrus groves were obliterated and local agriculture disappeared from the San Fernando Valley.
And conservatives welcomed vast migrations of undocumented workers to California as a source of cheap labor.
And liberals championed an ethnic centered curriculum to teach children that American history mattered less than group think identity. And that ethnic empathy for some triumphed over lawful behavior for all.
And conservatives said that government was evil. The same government which might have enforced the law.
And liberals said that government could do everything. Robbing individuals of the consequences of their own actions.
And Californians went to the polls to ignorantly legislate by ballot those issues that were already decided by lobbyists spending millions on TV advertising.
And today we live in the midst of what we have wrought.
No place in Van Nuys looks as good today as it did in 1950 and Mr. DePauk’s photos, even of flood ravaged streets, somehow seem more civilized than a sunny day on Vanowen and Kester in 2010.
“Wow, what a cool picture! That little shop on the corner is my grandfather Frank Preimesberger’s Van Nuys Printing shop. He started the business in 1942 after moving to Van Nuys from Pierz, Minn. The business was passed to my uncle Lee Preimesberger in the 1960s, and he ran it until his death in 1993. Grandpa and Grandma lived on the corner of Hazeltine and Emelita for 40 years, and they both died in 1982.
Redwood City, Calif.”
Photo by Richard Renaldi
Photographer Richard Renaldi does LA’s Clifton’s Cafeteria.
“The “Dick” Whittington Studio was the largest and finest photography studio in the Los Angeles area from 1924 to 1987. Specializing in commercial photography, the Whittington Studio took photographs for nearly every major business and organization in Los Angeles; in so doing, they documented the growth and commercial development of Los Angeles. Clients included Max Factor, the Broadway, Bullock’s, and May Co. department stores, the California Fruit Growers Association, Signal Oil, Shell Oil, Union Oil, Van de Kamp’s bakeries, Forest Lawn, Sparkletts Water, CBS, Don Lee Television, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, real estate developers, construction companies, automobile, aircraft, and railroad companies, and drive-in theaters. Another notable client was the University of Southern California, which contracted with the Whittington Studios for coverage of athletic and other events. The collection consists primarily of roughly 500,000 negatives; the rest are photoprints.”
Reader Boyd Kelly sent me a link where one can find many old time images of Burbank.
They show an all-white, all-American town, baked in sunshine; a place of boys and men in close-cropped hair, girls in braids, and women in dresses. Magnolia, Hollywood Way, Victory, Olive, Alameda, San Fernando Road: all the storied and exciting locations, sprinkled with cops, firemen, government officials, soda jerks, grease monkeys and the common folk. Lives lived out alongside the train tracks, or inside the studio grounds, saluting the flag, and kneeling in front of the cross.
Aviators and movie makers, weapons makers and homemakers, ball players and ice-cream eaters, swimmers and parade goers, Nixon rallies and Nazi gatherings….yes, this is Burbank as it was….and perhaps Burbank as it still is.
Photographer Matt Logue’s created images of the wide streets of Los Angeles absent automobiles. His photographs are now published in a book, Empty LA.
I often have wondered what it would be like to live in this city without fighting the daily war of driving.
Like David Yoon’s Narrow Streets, Logue’s digitally manipulated fantasies of Los Angeles bring up the sad reality about how ugly, depopulated, empty and inhuman the main arteries and roads are.
The architectural pathologies of Los Angeles…… the new modern grotesque monstrosities, the factory high schools, the high rise prisons, the Caltrans black glass behemoth downtown………… they will not go away even if the car does.
You can subtract the cars, but the roads are still four times as wide as they should be.
You can narrow the streets, but the buildings that line the road are ugly, blank, indifferent and cold.
It is not enough to reduce and diminish the automobile. We must do this:
- Los Angeles needs to rip up the enormous asphalt parking lots.
- Urban agricultural gardens should replace the big box shopping center monstrosities.
- Schools should set aside some land for residential, high-density walkable brownstones and cottages on LAUSD land.
- The enormous roads must be downsized by center tree planting, jogging and biking paths.
- Unsafe driving must be vigorously prosecuted and the fines for texting while driving, speeding, running red lights, and aggressive driving should be quadrupled.
- A 50 cent tax should be instituted on every gallon of gasoline to finance region wide train, bus and light rail service.
Let photographers photograph Los Angeles in 2060 without having to resort to digital manipulations.
The photographs show a city undergoing vast demolition and reconstruction, especially in downtown LA. This was the era of urban renewal and grandiose high-rise projects. Odd movie-set type houses, strange juxtapositions of paper thin stucco cottages and exotic trees, empty moonscapes, sad fluorescent-lit cafeterias, plywood faced storefronts, decaying neighborhoods…this is what it looked like in LA, 40 years ago.
A documentary frankness on film.