I went in search of astral America, not social and cultural America, but the America of the empty, absolute freedom of the freeways, not the deep America of mores and mentalities, but the America of desert speed, of motels and mineral surfaces.
— Jean Baudrillard, Amerique
THE DISTANCE FROM THE BILTMORE Hotel’s baroque lobby to the Brutalist portico of the Bonaventure is no more than a 10 minute stroll along 4th Street, but their cultural and design histories traverse most of Los Angeles’ twentieth century. Between Pershing Square, the site of the former, and the demolished remains of Bunker Hill, the setting for the latter, the city has witnessed some of the earliest encampments of the Pueblo, the first central canals for the public water supply, an upper class enclave of Victorian nouveau riche, and the seedy roofscapes that inspired American noir. While the cartography and infrastructure of Los Angeles continues to change, suffering the accelerated hyper-urban expansion that has come to define its nebulous, postmodern skyline, the city’s industry of hotels and motels provides a network of time-capsules, whose interiors evoke, among others, the golden age of Hollywood regency, the Googie optimism of post-War road culture, and the disorienting fantasies of the Beverly Hills boutique.
More than any other American city, Los Angeles is defined by the semiosis of the freeway and the sound stage, a constant circulation between the horizontality of the open road and the verticality of the interior readymade. Between these exclusively public and private spheres rests the hotel, a topos whose permeability draws the tourist, outlier, and transient into an artificial phantasm of comfort, recreation, and dwelling. As D.J. Waldie explains in his suburban classic, Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, each speculative settlement in post-Hidalgo Los Angeles required three elements to survive — a train stop, water supply, and hotel. Or, to put it more figuratively, a mode of travel, sustenance, and interiority. While these rough-hewn rooming houses initially acted as a capillary shelter from the chaos of the pueblo, their increasing architectural and symbolic vastness, concurrent with the expanding cultural significance of Hollywood, suggests an industry more intent on absorbing and exhibiting the entirety of the outside world from within, much like the epic cinema of DeMille, Griffith, or Lucas.
In Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals, German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk loca...read more