Sunday, August 12, 2007

I Saw the Sign, And It Opened Up My Eyes...

The Militant was driving home from work on Saturday along Wilshire Blvd. when he saw one of the 170+ types of City of Los Angeles designated community signs. Some 100 feet west of the corner of Wilshire and Highland, he saw the community sign for “Park Mile.”

Some 100 feet beyond that, right at Wilshire and Highland was the sign for “Brookside” (guess that wasn’t much of a mile, was it?)

Some 200 feet east of Highland was yet another community sign, reading, “Hancock Park.”

Several blocks east, the Militant saw, “Wilshire Park.”

A half mile beyond that he saw another sign reading, “Wilshire Park.”


Okay, first off…these signs seem to be placed without any proper logic to them. Park Mile is less than a block long? Brookside? Since when could one find a body of flowing water near that part of Wilshire that is not a gutter? And “Wilshire Park?” Who the hell uses that? Though that might be a totally awesome name for a Korean American person born in Los Angeles, when was the last time you heard someone use that to define their part of town? Or even “Brookside?”

Los Angeles, we have a problem. A serious problem.

Designated community names are meant to instill a sense of community identity and pride, but most of all they were meant to be *used.* Who ever uses the antiquated “Wilshire Center” (which stretches way beyond Wilshire)? Virgil Village” was so-named because of a Riordan-Era Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative (LANI) beautification project that added trees, decorative lampposts and other pedestrian improvements to Virgil Avenue between Santa Monica Blvd. and Melrose Ave. But ask any resident or business of that area where they are and they will either say “Silver Lake,” “East Hollywood” (which is way overdue for its own designation) or “Hollywood.”

On the flip side, there are certain community names that are used by locals, City services or the media – yet do not have a designation. “Mid-Wilshire” is the first to come to mind. “Fairfax District” is another. The “Byzantine-Latino Quarter” has its own large neon sign atop a self-storage building towering above Pico and Normandie and its own state-funded freeway "next exit" signs -- yet no community-name designation.

There seems to be no average size for designated communities. They can range from city-sized portions to something not more than a block large.

Ethnically-designated communities range in size from Koreatown (which is larger than some SoCal municipalities), the average/ideal sized Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Little Armenia and Historic Filipinotown, and the short, half-mile restaurant strips of Thai Town and Little Ethiopia.

Not only is there a lack of logic in the placement of the signs, or the under-use of their names, but the signs themselves have seemingly been placed in too many places.

The area known as “Downtown Los Angeles” has gobbled up way more than its share of designated communities: Civic Center, Central City, Downtown Center, Historic Downtown, Gallery Row, as well as many commercial “districts”: Broadway Theater District, Historic Core District, Arts District, Fashion District, Toy District, Old Bank District, Jewelry District, Furniture & Decorative Arts District (phew!). But what about the City’s own birthplace – El Pueblo? The City’s first and oldest community has no designation. Neither do commonly used places like the “Central Business District,” “Financial District” or the development-heavy “South Park" (perhaps the latter's lack of designation was intentional to avoid the blue signs from being stolen from fans of Cartman). The Militant understands there’s a valid need to recognize some of these areas, but don’t we all just call that place “Downtown Los Angeles” anyway?

Of course, “Downtown Los Angeles,” per se, doesn’t even have its own sign.

Other designated communities, especially those in the Valley, carry grandfathered U.S. Postal Service recognition from the pre-annexation era. Ergo, You have “Woodland Hills, CA” or “Van Nuys, CA.” On the opposite end of town, San Pedro carries the same status as well, as does Venice. Still, that doesn't stop gentro noobs from writing "Silverlake [sic], CA" on their return addresses, though.

Some names seemed to be pulled out of people’s asses just to complicate matters or make realtors horny. The Militant is sorry, any designated community which has the word “Heights” in its name that does not follow “Lincoln” or “Boyle” is a nothing but a load of crap, meant to artificially increase property values. The use of the term “Village” can also be suspect – what really separates Los Feliz Village from Los Feliz other than a row of storefronts? Los Feliz’s across-the-river neighbor, Atwater Village, over the years, has co-opted the rest of “Atwater.” Also, certain designated names that employ the use of a directional adjective to distinguish themselves from another designated community seem unnecessary: North Hollywood and West Adams are just fine, but North University Park or West Toluca Lake? Um, so what is exactly wrong with the other side of the community that warranted a virtual secession from it? Damn those Toluca Lake gangbangers, bums and hos that hang out all over Riverside Drive and make our community look bad! Let’s secede! (Tolucans: y’all feel the heavy sarcasm in the room?) Then there’s also a Toluca Terrace and Toluca Woods…Um, oookay. You might as well create "Toluca Heights" and "Toluca Park" since you've already annoyed this Militant.

Other names are awkward-sounding and superfluous: University Expo Park West (is there even a designated "University Expo Park"?) and North Village Westwood (uh, did someone forget to switch some words around?) look incredibly stupid as well. At least those two examples show that stupidity isn't exclusive to only Trojans or Bruins, respectively.

Certain designated community names are used, yet their boundaries are a little too ambitious. Melrose Hill, which is designated as the triangle between Melrose, Western and the 101 Freeway is only really used by its tiny, secluded Mayberry-like namesake neighborhood nestled in some small streets just north of Melrose Ave., run by a homeowner's association made up of angry old white folks (da GHP be in full effect, yo).

Some designated names, though real places, don’t seem to warrant a community in the geographical entity sense: Mariachi Plaza, though a wonderful historic and culturally-significant public space in The Real Eastside, is not a community the way, say, Pico-Union, Eagle Rock or Pacoima are (Boyle Heights is somewhere, saying to the Plaza, “Uh, hello?”)

Maybe next, you’ll see a blue sign reading, “Linda’s Front Porch.”

The system of the City’s 89 certified Neighborhood Councils, the first of which have existed since 2001, are made up of entities with boundaries drawn up by the communities themselves. A few adhere more or less to actual designated communities, such as Silver Lake or Panorama City, but others have split up designated communities into smaller segments: There are five neighborhood councils with “Hollywood” in their name and three with “San Pedro.” The creation of neighborhood councils has sprouted new names by which people identify where they’re at. Names like “Olympic Park,” “Beverly Crest,” “South Robertson” or “Rampart Village” have been introduced into the local parlance. As the neighborhood council system gets more established, will people identify more with their boundaries than the ones defined by those blue signs?

The blue signs seem to imply these designated entities are more or less equal in size or function. Perhaps the City should make distinct definitions between a “Community,” a “District” and a “Neighborhood.” Maybe a different color of sign should be given to denote business-oriented entities (i.e. Fashion District, Toy District), for example. The City should also gradually, over time, re-assess these borders and the locations of these signs.

Then again, maybe the Militant is wrong about this whole thing, and perhaps there really is a mile-long park around Wilshire with a brook running by it.


Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for the City to designate Woodman & Roscoe as "North Historic Filipinotown Valley Business District."

bgfa said...

Militant, there IS a brook at Brookside, believe it or not. It is in between Highland and the next street east, at about 8th street.

This is an underground stream that emerges for a few blocks before going back underground. I have been told that it is the source for the Ballona Creek, and that it originates somewhere in the Hollywood Hills.

One one of your bike rides, go check it out, it is VERY cool.

M. Bouffant said...

I, too have often wondered why the "official" city designation is "Silverlake," rather than "Silver Lake." Doubtless lost in the mists of what passes for history here.

Militant Angeleno said...

M. Bouffant: Excuse the Militant, but the official designation IS Silver_Lake, not one word. The signs tell it all.

And we do have a history, you just have been brainwashed by the East Coast cultural hegemony that makes you believe otherwise. Let not, the native inhabitants of Yang-Na shall forever curse you.

Militant Angeleno said...

Valleypinoy: Wouldn't you want to live in a nice house in "North Historic Filipinotown Valley Business District Park Heights Estates" instead?

Anonymous said...

The designations around USC mystify me, also. North University Park, University Park Expo West, what?

It's kind of like they just threw some adjectives in one hat, some actual locations/landmarks, and drew it out at random...

I live in West Adams and go to school in North University Park. I think.

Anonymous said...

re: lack of "east" and "south" neighborhood designations around USC. could it be because those cardinal points carry negative connotations in this town, real estate-wise? i mean, remember when USC was considered to be in south-central. no more. (aren't the blue signs really all about real estate brokers and developers anyway?)

Anonymous said...

The brook of Brookside, which flows all year, darts down Highland for a bit, then follows through backyards along Longwood. Hoises in the area with the brook in the yard have always sold at a big premium.

M. Bouffant said...

MA: Maybe they've changed them, but the signs, when I lived in Silver Lake, used to be "Silverlake."
I've been exiled to Hollywood/WeHo for the last few years, & on the occasions when I revisit I haven't checked the signs, but I know the one on Sunset just east of the junction used to be "Silverlake."

M. Bouffant said...

Oh, & P. S.: I was making mock of the attitudes (ours & others') toward our history. I know we have one, just not quite as long as that of some other regions (which doesn't make it any less meaningful or interesting) & I'm quite interested in it. It's just that developers, gov't., etc., don't seem quite as interested, let alone effete Easterners looking down their noses at us, trying to prove their superiority. Hell, I'm a native of San Francisco, you know how converts are the greatest zealots. I even became a Dodger fan, putting the Giants in second place on my list.

Militant Angeleno said...

The one you saw (the Militant's compound is not far from there yet he has never recalled it), perhaps bore a slight "typo." The street name of "Silver Lake Blvd" has always had its namesake as two words, and the reservoir named after Herman Silver was never officially listed as one word.

Hell, I'm a native of San Francisco, you know how converts are the greatest zealots. I even became a Dodger fan, putting the Giants in second place on my list.

The Militant, right now, is completely speechless.

The Hollywood Jedi said...

I didnt even have to use the Jedi Mind Trick on m.bouffant!