LIKE FODOR'S OR LONELY PLANET, A People's Guide to Los Angeles offers a wide range of sightseeing opportunities for the curious traveler. As per tour guide convention, it organizes the city into manageable regions for practical sightseeing trips, recommending local hangouts, suggesting neighborhood restaurants, and highlighting points of visual interest. It sketches useful background—again like any respectable tour guide—for the places it points to and offers context for a visitor’s general understanding of the city. But that’s where the similarity ends, because the People’s Guide to Los Angeles isn’t interested in manifesting the icons of LA’s sunshine glam imaginary. It’s not compelled to realize stereotypes for holiday kicks and giggles. As the LA Weeky so succinctly put it: “"F**k Rodeo Drive: A People's Guide to Los Angeles is an L.A. Guidebook for the 99 Percent." Indeed, the People’s Guide reroutes us toward places that matter to real people. Whether or not the places themselves are still standing is another question — and one that compels the visitor to turn away from the site of buried history and look, really look, at the extant neighborhood that yet remains, and the people that live there still. Forgoing the plastic mythologies (or addressing aspects of the city’s history not usually mentioned), the Guide offers something different to the tourist but even more, I think, to the resident: meaningful understanding. Mondays in August LARB will run a new piece about the making of this book from authors Laura Barraclough, Laura Pulido, and author and photographer Wendy Cheng, featuring images and excerpts from the Guide itself.
— C.P. Heiser
Anyone who has spent any time in Downtown Los Angeles knows Pershing Square. It’s that hot, unattractive expanse of cement occupied solely, on most days, by members of Downtown’s homeless community. As a worker in a Downtown law firm while I was in graduate school, the water cooler talk in reference to Pershing Square was limited to its capacity as an underground parking garage. Though I sometimes felt curious about — and sorry for — the homeless community of the Square, the place itself begged to be ignored, and I — just like everyone else — did just that.
The historic midcentury photos of Pershing Square as it once was, with its inviting walkways, lush foliage, and diverse crowds tell a different story. These sources make it clear the largest city park in Downtown had once been central to the city’s public life. People who remember — people like Harry Hay — tell us why. A Communist Party member instrumental in founding two of the first gay rights organizations in the country, Hay recalls Pershing Square during the Depression, not just an important public space for all sorts of people to meet — including families from nearby working class communities in Northeast L.A. — but as a place for gay men and leftist radicals to congregate.
So what happened to this city park for all people? Pershing Square’s current incarnation is an odd design solution to be sure. But as I would later learn, the drive to solve ...read more