Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Militant Uncovers Westlake's Ritzy Past, Part 1

View Westlake 2011 in a larger map
It's been a while since the Militant led you on an urban archaeological tour of Los Angeles' past. He got a big kick out of uncovering the old Sacatela Creek, which ran from Los Feliz to today's Koreatown back in 2008, so while biking back to the Militant Compound from an unspecified meeting in the Westlake area on Wednesday afternoon, he figured it might as well be an excuse to make a post (after all, he hadn't done one since New Year's...tsk...tsk...)

Westlake is Los Angeles' most densely-populated neighborhood, with a population concentration rivaling Manhattan-type levels. But long ago - a century ago - in fact, it shared a vastly different comparison to NYC: The Westlake District was Los Angeles' version of NYC's Upper West Side, or even Paris' Champs-Elysees. In the 1880s, after the former swamp-turned-city dump-turned reservoir was converted into Westlake Park and a quarter-century before Beverly Hills was even founded, the Westlake district was Los Angeles' bougie district. It's where the residents were, in the parlance of the time, puttin' on the ritz, if you will.

There were mansions, like the McKinley Mansion and the Grieri-Musser House, built within walking distance of the park (in the green-shaded area of the map above). In the northwest corner of the park was the Park Plaza Hotel - back then (before it became a glorfied movie set) an actual hotel catering to the L33t of the day and resort destination in the 1920s-1930s.

Before the Militant set out to his meeting, he surveyed the area on a map and noticed one street went against the diagonal Spanish street grid in a more absolute east-west alignment (see map above). The name of the street was "Ocean View Avenue." So the Militant had to bike it for himself.

Can you see the ocean from there? Well, hard to say. Okay, basically, no, he couldn't, but on this clear, warm winter day, he looked towards the south and can see the South Bay, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and part of Santa Catalina Island in the far-off distance. So maybe that's what they were getting at (The picture doesn't do it justice, but the Militant swears the northern tip of Catalina can be seen just to the left of the palm tree...for realz!).

With the mantra of real estate eternally being "Location, Location, Location," this neighborhood was most likely one such place, aside from being close to a major City park and L.A. Railway Yellow Car trolley lines. For you see, aside from Ocean View Ave., there were other "Views" in this particular part of Westlake: Park View Ave. (which affords you a view of - guess what - MacArthur Park (a.k.a. The Park Formerly Known As Westlake Park)), and Grand View Ave., which doesn't really give you a view of anything, save the Downtown skyline (which didn't exist back then) or St. Vincent's Medical Center (which, although it was in existence a century ago as the Los Angeles Infirmary on Sunset and Beaudry, wasn't even built on that location until 1971). But maybe it just gave you a grand ol' view.

Of course, having a view meant you were on some promontory of some sort. And believe it or not, the elevated area actually had a name: Nob Hill. Yes, Los Angeles had its very own Snob - er - Nob Hill. One last vestige still exists to this day: The Nob Hill Towers - an "art deco" (the apartment owners obviously don't know their architecture) style apartment building that no doubt has some overinflated rents (pictured, right).

As the Militant biked down Nob Hill on to Coronado Street and headed west on 6th, the clash of late 20th-century architecture greeted him instantly. But not before he happened to pass by an old-school neighborhood market - the Big "6" Market (referring to the street, obviously) which hadn't changed its 1930s-era signage from backinthaday.

Of course, Westlake doesn't just have MacArthur/Westlake park, but two more parks: LaFayette Park, just mere blocks away to the west and one park that many don't even recognize as a park.

Believe it or not, the half-mile median strip along Occidental Blvd from Beverly Boulevard to 6th Street is an actual park, known as the Occidental Parkway, which is recognized as part of the City's Dept. of Recreation and Parks system. The "park" consists of a dozen median islands, alternating with circular islands, which may or may not have contained something fancy like fountains or planters or whatnot (anyone have any historical pics of backinthaday?) [Update: See below].

Today, though, the islands are a popular dumping area for bulky items such as couches, cabinets, televisions, discarded boxes and mattresses.

Maybe the locals don't even know it's a park. Maybe the City isn't even aware, either (they got the council district wrong on the webpage, after all). Doesn't Rec and Parks maintain their facilities (even in the most barebones-during-this-current-budget-crisis way? If you dump a couch in the middle of Griffith Park (hypothetically speaking, don't do this, okay?), it's probably gonna be picked up, right? So why not this park? Things that make you go hmmm...

Coming up in Part 2 (sometime in the near future) - We'll take a look at some mansions...if they're still around.

MILITANT UPDATE: Thanks to the Los Angeles Public Library Images archive (Duh, why didn't the Militant think of that before?). Here's a picture of Occidental Blvd taken 80 years ago (January 1931); it clearly shows the circular islands were used for rose bushes and palm trees, and in fact, look at how short the palm trees were back then!


Anonymous said...

Country Club drive that runs paralle to Olympic is the old riverbed. In the 60's they had the storm drain open to make it the major storm drain.

By Serrano near Olympic was a lake which is no longer around. I did find a salamander around there so that is proof that it is a lake/river area.

Will Campbell said...

I don't have any ground level images of Occidental Blvd, but the Historic Aerials has several dating from 1948 to 2005.

Here's the link to the 1948 image:

Militant Angeleno said...

Anonymous: Your reply looks familiar - were you the one who posted the same reply in April 2008 for the Militant's Sacatela Creek blog post? Or is this just deja-vu (i.e. A glitch in The Matrix)?

Will: Thanks for the image; it really doesn't show much (the circles look dark, implying vegetation) BUT your link reminded me that I should have searched the LAPL Images archives! I have since updated a post with an 80-year old photo of Occidental, which shows what's in the circular islands!

patrick said...

Great srticle. That neighborhood still has potential!

Anonymous said...

I've called that dumb phone line - 41 where you can supposedly report dumping of furniture, beds, etc. on the street. It DOES NOT WORK. They don't have a clue, are lazy upper mobility latina's answering the phones and nothing gets done. Two week later its still there, with more beds.

The problem isn't the city though to an extent, its the ones who start that mess. But culturally, its not that don't know that Occidental area is a park but that the people who have settled in the area DONT CARE. Even if you point it out to them, they will continue to dump stuff in corners and those neighborhoods. Its cultural. Thats the way they are, cultures you cant just change. Its in their ways of thinking, like traditions!

Anyway, this is a lame blog. This is my last comment, effing wasting my time. Militants are idiots and love to suck up off the system and enjoy government built roads and services. YOu're like pre-teabaggers biking around LA which is a automotive-city.

I could really care less for LA, it hardly really has a history thats not too interesting in my view, too young and nothing really of real interest...Oh yes Westlake was once an oasis of affluence... and? All we have is now and now and now...

Militant Angeleno said...

Anonymous: Your posts are full of LOL, and the occasional ROTFL! If it was so lame, why did you bother to comment? Enjoy your life as one of the unenlightened masses who like to spend their weekends shopping at Wal-Mart or something.