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Monday, December 4, 2006

The Temporary City

I was slightly dismayed when last week I finally found myself on the steps of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, which once doubled as city hall in Teenagers.

It could never pass for stately anymore; the facade of the building is faded, it's horrible re-painting cracked and worn, the columns are tied by a gross and overly-huge sign advertising the school, and all street-level windows have been sealed off by oft-seen Los Angeles safety bars.

Today I drove by Tom Graeff and Chuck Roberts' apartment building, and the home in front that was used for Betty Morgan's house.

The amount the area has changed between 1956 and today is truly disheartening, much in the way that tourists are disheartened by the countless exotic footwear and strip joints lining the ever-touted Hollywood Boulevard. The area is tired; it's given up. Almost every building has been disguised by a gaudy paint job; rather than fixing up these buildings, the owners would rather paint over their problems again and again, until the facades look crummy and worn and sloppy.

What looked so nice on celluloid is now no more than a ghetto slum, the home that David and Chuck shared fit for demolition. It's a common story in a city where people use things and throw them away -- even neighborhoods. West Adams is a prime example. The quarter of the city where USC holds down its fort used to be home to the wealthiest and most famous of names. Theda Bara, Hattie McDaniel, Fatty Arbuckle, to name a few.

But as the trend faded and celebrities moved north, to Beverly Hills and beyond, they left their mansions to rot and decay. Few remnants of the old neighborhood remain on Adams; the dilapidated Victorian mansions and the occasional Tudor are nestled in next to the one-story barred slat houses that dominate the city's poor Hispanic and Mexican neighborhoods. The sparse well-preserved buildings are hidden away behind large gates, afraid of letting the current residents encroach on their territory. Many of the most exquisite architectural wonders of West Adams, houses with extraordinary glass domes, were demolished without afterthought.

Comparing the Los Angeles of the 50's to Los Angeles of today, it's hard to believe there are still people trying to make films in this town. Any sheen of glamour has been completely stripped from the rundown buildings and tired inhabitants. Where once lay promise and hope has now been paved over, painted up, or left to ruin.

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