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Ghost Neighborhoods:

Space, Time and Alienation in Los Angeles*

Philip J. Ethington

19991027  Version 15d

[Show Endnotes in Separate Window]

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Spectres are haunting downtown Los Angeles. Giant obelisks rise like polished headstones over the burial plots of former communities. Most people are unaware that downtown Los Angeles is a graveyard of social relations, let alone that the spirits walk among them. But they do sense that something is fundamentally out of joint. Many feel out of place, threatened and insecure, or simply bored by the absence of particulars in the unyielding sameness of the skyscraper landscape. This graphical essay examines forms of alienation at two contiguous modernist landmarks, the "Four Level" Interchange and Bunker Hill, considering them as part of a complex spacetime fabric where the present, the past, the near, and the far away can be made visible or invisible.[1]

In Los Angeles, the prosaic and the fantastic have literally interchanged at the intersections of the Four Level and Bunker Hill, bringing together the worlds of capitalist development, Hollywood science fiction, World War and Cold War, international migration, and the idylls of a family neighborhood.

The metropolis of Los Angeles embodies dreams of freedom in a myriad of forms. An immigrant cosmopolis of titanic proportions, global entrepôt and factory for the culture industry, Los Angeles is also a signal site of modernist urban design, planning, and practice. Its freeways are justifiably seen as central to Los Angeles's contribution to civilization. But the freeways also embody the deepest of contradictions. These ways are "free" from interruption by traffic lights and pedestrians, but they are also an attempt to break free from society itself. No social relations detain the commuter, and neither do any particulars of historical social development. The attempted universal of the freeway resides in the familiar sameness of the lanes, signage, rules for entrance and exit, even in the peculiar, colorless shade of freeway concrete.[2] Yet the universal, functional aesthetic of high modernism can only temporarily abolish the spontaneous profusion of the unique and particular--those unplanned social relations that people form in the everyday.[3]

Freedom is a mighty abstraction; the freeway is a colossal, concrete reality. The ride down the exit ramp is a ride back to Earth--to society as it exists in history. Greeting the "citizens" (what the folks living on the street call everyone else); are the "homeless" (what the folks who have regular jobs, houses and apartments call those who live outdoors). Few drivers are aware that the men and women who panhandle at the freeway ramps typically live under those very freeways. These are the living trolls-under-the-bridge of the folk tales. They ask for tribute when you pass through their small and humble domain. Meet Ron Wells, Joseph Guajardo, Curtis, and "You Can Call Me Whatever You Want."[4]


Trolls under the Bridge: Four Level Spectres, 1999
Houseless men (from left) Joseph Guajardo, Curtis, "You Can Call Me Whatever Want," and Ron Wells under the Four Level Interchange, February 1999. Wells, an unemployed plumber and native of New York City, is a community leader. Guajardo was born in 1947 and was raised in a house, now demolished, within sight of his current home.
Credits: Photo by Philip J. Ethington. © 1999

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Unsettled by such sights, "citizens" project their own fears onto these seeming apparitions. The modern self, independent, secure, and potent, depends upon its Other, and the "homeless" are as close to that Other as any citizen has ever faced. Of course, freedom is not so simple as the possession of secure, creative autonomy, and "citizens" desperately avoid actual recognition of the "homeless" as selves, lest they be brought face to face with their own lack of freedom. The "citizen" self is dependent upon a myriad of social props and cannot escape its relations with this "homeless" other. That "citizen" self takes refuge in modernity's reassuring ideologies about equal opportunity for those who labor honestly. It finds perpetual balm in the universal mass culture of comfort, consumption, and leisure. Like roadmap in the glove compartment, these ideologies aid the escape from recognition.[5]

Several types of "distance" separate "citizens" from "homeless" and all people from their social selves. Geometric, spatial distance can be measured in meters or feet. Time distance is also measurable, against the clock and the calendar. But each of these distances shrinks and expands in our minds as a function of social relations. The phenomenon is known as "social distance": a feeling of farness or nearness to other persons and other groups. Distant social relations are alien ones, and the process of pushing social others into the distance of time or space is the process of alienation.[6]

The alienated souls who inhabit our landscapes can be made visible through critical acts of the imagination. Image 2 combines two photographic records of precisely the same homesite under the Figueroa bridge of the northbound Hollywood Freeway, in 1935 and 1998. The "homeless" man is "out of place" in the same sense that the 1935 family home is "out of time." To be "homeless" is not to have a recognized social place. That the family was Mexican (or Mexican-American) placed them in an alien political category when the freeways were planned in the 1940s.[7]

Image 2

Precisely the same Homesite: Figueroa Street under the Hollywood-Santa Ana Freeway in 1999 and (Before the Freeway) 1935.

A houseless man in 1999 strides past two girls who just returned home from parochial school in 1935.

Credits: Top Frame, Photo by Philip J. Ethington, 1999. Bottom Frame, Photographic Record of Construction Work (1935), Bureau of Engineering Collection. Los Angeles City Archives. Composition © Philip J. Ethington.

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The urban social fabric can be conceived as a dense and historically complex network of intersections, between the major and minor, public and private, cultural, economic, and political institutions that comprise the entire society. Image 3 renders some of these threads in a fabric of images, "Figueroa Spectres, 1935 – 1999."

Image 3

Figueroa-Spectres, 1935-1999.

Figueroa St. between Boston Street and Temple St (Beneath the Four Level Interchange). Top two layers correlate spatially along the east side of Figueroa: 1999 and 1935, respectively. Third layer is comprised of images both sides of Figueroa, 1999. Bottom three layers correlate spatially, on the west side of Figueroa: 1940, 1935, and 1999, respectively.

Credits: 1935 layers, Photographic Record of Construction Work, Bureau of Engineering Records, Los Angeles City Archives. 1939 WPA drawings, Cultural Affairs Collection, Los Angeles City Archives. 1999 photos by Philip J. Ethington. Composition © Philip J. Ethington.

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The Four Level Interchange in Downtown Los Angeles is where the Hollywood-Santa Ana (US 101) and the Harbor-Pasadena (US 110) freeways intersect. It marks the point where the name of US 101 changes from "Hollywood" to "Santa Ana," and where US 110 changes from the "Harbor" to the "Pasadena." The Four Level is thus the original "Downtown" freeway intersection, the freeways gaining their names from the destinations outward from this point.[8]

In the first half of this century the whole of Downtown Los Angeles west of the Los Angeles River was still a relatively unbroken fabric of social relations, practiced daily along the streets and sidewalks. How part of this region appeared from the sky in 1945, 1948 (just after construction of the Four Level began) and 1996, can be inspected in the time-geographic series of images:


Image 4

Aerial Photo of Future Sites of Four Level Interchange and Bunker Hill, 1948.

This 1948 image correlates spatially with Image 5 (1996). Index "A" indicates the Ghost Neighborhood site of the houseless community under the Four level Interchange (See Images 1-3). Index "B" indicates the Ghost Neighborhood site of the 3rd Street retail district on old Bunker Hill, prior to its demolition beginning in 1961 (See Image 8). Bright areas show where demolition clearing for the Four Level Interchange had begun. Sunset Boulevard was the major East-West Route for the northern portion of Los Angeles prior to the construction of the Hollywood-Santa Ana Freeway (US 101) in the 1940s and the Santa Monica Freeway (US 10) in the 1960s. Figueroa Boulevard (along with the Arroyo Seco Parkway) was the major North-South route for the region prior to the construction of the Harbor and Pasadena Freeways (US 110).

Credit: USGS EROS Data Center, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

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Image 5

Aerial Photo of Four Level Interchange and Bunker Hill, 1996.

Comparison with Image 4 shows the massive extent of neighborhood demolition since the Second World War. Sites "A" and "B" correspond precisely in Images 4 and 5. The Four Level Interchange bounds the new Bunker Hill, replacing approximately 90% of the residential structures visible in the 1948 image. Sunset Boulevard now passes over the Harbor-Pasadena Freeway and Figueroa Street passes under the Hollywood-Santa Ana, but the Figueroa-Sunset intersection, once a major crossroads tying together many Los Angeles neighborhoods, is now nearly lifeless.


Credit: Aerial FotoBank, San Diego, California.

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The Four Level Interchange may seem to commuters a desolate and noisy stack of reinforced concrete, but it is also a residential community. At least 100 "homeless" (actually "houseless") live under the various bridge spans of the Four Level Interchange,[9] among them Joseph Guajardo, who has actually lived within a few blocks of the Four Level since his birth in 1947. In Image 6 Joseph Guajardo stands within the ghost image of his boyhood home on Fremont. The site was at that moment claimed by the houseless gentleman seen to the right.

Image 6

Ghost Home of Joseph Guajardo, 1940 and 1999.

Joseph Guajardo stands in front of his boyhood home at the former address of 412 North Fremont Street (between Temple and the Hollywood-Santa Ana Freeway). Inset is a 1940 WPA drawing of the entire block, as Guajardo knew it as a child. The home directly under his feet, and shown life-size around him, was his own. Another houseless man was claiming this site at the time. Guajardo's current abode under the Four Level is barely visible over his right shoulder in the background, beneath the freeway signs.

Credits: 1939 WPA drawing, Cultural Affairs Department Collection, Los Angeles City Archives. 1999 Photo by Philip J. Ethington. Composition © 1999 Philip J. Ethington.

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The first high-speed freeway interchange in the world, Los Angeles' Four Level Interchange opened fully for traffic on 22 September 1953, and made in that same year its cinematic debut, in George Pal's Paramount Pictures classic War of the Worlds, based on H.G. Wells novel of 1898.[10] When the Four Level opened, it fulfilled the visions displayed at General Motors' "Futurama" exhibit of the 1939 New York World's Fair, designed by Norman Bel Geddes. The Futurama exhibit was a nineteenth-century diorama recast as a futuristic movie set. Bel Geddes, until then primarily a Broadway set designer, depicted elevated freeways on which commuters could rocket from home to work and back without stopping at scores of stoplights, pedestrian crosswalks, and other street-level annoyances. Futurama visitors were given a pin, which read "I Have Seen the Future." That future was supposed to be 1960. Bel Geddes was projecting the modernist aesthetic of planned urban landscapes conceived to accelerate movement and cleanse the old built environment of its irrationality.[11]

Visitors to New York's Futurama in 1939 hovered in guided cars above a giant model depicting the future, presented as serious entertainment. In that same year, planners and designers converged to build a giant model of Los Angeles, into which the modernist vision was soon to be inserted by another set of designer-planners, including the architect brothers William and Hal Pereira, both also Art Directors for Paramount Films.

Image 7

Four-Level Interchange, Opening Photo in 1953. Inset: Engineering Model of the Four-Level Interchange 1948

This was the first concrete realization of the high-speed freeway interchanges envisioned by Norman Bel Geddes at General Motors' "Futurama" exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

Credits: California Department of Transportation; Photographic Record of Construction Work, Bureau of Engineering Collection, Los Angeles City Archives.

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Adjacent to the Four-Level freeway icon of late modernity stands Bunker Hill, about 200 feet lower in altitude than it stood in the 1950s, before the bulldozers began, in 1961, to scrape it clean and top it off to make way for the proudly sterile assemblage of office towers (Wells Fargo Tower, IBM Tower, Library (First Interstate) Tower, Arco Tower, Bank of America Tower, etc), condominiums, and fine arts centers (Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Museum of Contemporary Art, etc.) that stand there today.[12] This massive redevelopment project, still underway today (1999) with the imminent construction of the Disney Concert Hall and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, has also fulfilled decades of plans dating from the 1920s, when downtown business leaders first looked enviously upon the immigrant, mixed-race neighborhood of Bunker Hill.[13]

The actual conquest (redevelopment) was delayed until the 1930s and 40s, the years of modernism's apogee. Scientific planners created, in Gaston Bachelard's words, "indifferent space subject to the measurements and estimates of the surveyor."[14] During the New Deal, state bureaucracies coldly abstracted the social space around them, officially classifying millions of persons by racial or class categories during an era of massive redevelopment that did not slow down until the late 1970s.

Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.[15]

In their radio script for the 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds for Mercury Radio Theater, Howard Koch and Orson Welles registered and protested the modernist invasion of living spaces, linking it to the fascist threat abroad. The infamous panic of so many listeners can only indicate that they felt that threat very close to home.[16]   What did the modernist planners regard with envious eyes? Image 8 re-imagines the daily heart of a once-thriving neighborhood, composed of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) model (1940) of downtown Los Angeles and also documentary images made in the 1950s.

Image 8

The Heart of Bunker Hill, 1940 and 1957.

Third Street between Olive and Grand was the central shopping block for residents of the hill from the late 19th century through the late 1950s. Begin reading this composition clockwise from the lower left frame, which is a detail of the 1940 Model of Los Angeles viewed from the northwest. The path of the Harbor-Pasadena Freeway would later be in the foreground of that frame. The alignment of old Bunker Hill to the old Central Business District is easy to visualize in this frame. The upper left frame is a detail showing the corner of Third and Olive, which is the same street corner in the arc of frames that should be read read from top to bottom along the right side of this composition. Theodore Hall took these latter four images in 1957 to simulate a shopper walking into the Budget Basket Complete Food Market.

Credits: Model of Los Angeles Photos by Richard Meier, Los Angles County Natural History Museum. Theodore Hall Photos, courtesy of the Huntington Library, Theodore Hall Collection. Composition © 1999 Philip J. Ethington.

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Third Street between Olive and Grand was the central place where Bunker Hill residents did their daily rounds of errands, visiting their familiar grocery stores, newsstands, and cleaners.

The images in the arc on the right side of the image were made in 1957 by an amateur photographer named Theodore Hall, who lived on the Hill and had full knowledge that redevelopment plans were underway to raze the sites he photographed. Hall consciously simulated a hypothetical resident's point-of-view during a stroll into the Budget Basket Complete Food Market. Reading clockwise, Hall titled Frame 1 "the Hill's Business Center:" it begins the series at the corner of Grand. Frame 2, which Hall titled "Street Scene" is shot from the north side of Third toward the subjects depicted in Frame 3, which Hall annotated as "'Red," well-known newspaper vendor on West 3rd, near Grand." Finally, Hall entered the Budget Basket and held his camera low, behind the back of a young girl buying milk from a well-seasoned liquor dealer. The contrast of the little girl surrounded by so many commodities of adult vice may be read as Hall's sympathetic but bittersweet and Noir-influenced understanding of this neighborhood. For, as Hall took these shots, a furious debate was raging over the desirability or necessity of razing this neighborhood. When the bulldozers finally began to remove it, in 1961, nearly 10,000 persons called it home.

While the sentimental images by Theodore Hall are paeans to a fated lifeworld, the 1940 WPA model is an artifact of bureaucratic gigantism and the machinery of redevelopment that located targets for massive structural eradication, human displacement, and expropriation. Thousands of house-by-house drawings by WPA-employed artists became patterns for model-builders, and the model became the planning base for a vast apparatus of design firms, federal, state and local planning authorities, the city engineering department, and construction firms.[17]

That three-dimensional model stands for other "models" or representations, of many different genres that together constituted the social distance explored here. Creators of 1930s Noir fiction, New Deal home refinancing bureaucrats, and real estate agents, worked together with city planners, often without really knowing it, to alienate whole populations (and ultimately themselves). Far from annihilating them, however, this collective agency embedded these aliens in the landscape.

In order to evict and destroy Bunker Hill, planners needed to constitute this as a worthless place with people to match, and this representation is nowhere more succinctly drawn than by the master of Noir, Raymond Chandler, from his novel The High Window (1942). He calls it an "old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town.... In the tall rooms haggard landladies bicker with shift tenants. On the wide cool front porches, reaching their cracked shoes into the sun, sit old men with faces like lost battles..."[18] The Community Redevelopment Agency had the authority to demolish whole neighborhoods, but only if they could successfully designate such neighborhoods as "slums." Was Bunker Hill a slum? The Apartment Association of Los Angeles (composed of apartment owners, not dwellers) vigorously opposed the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project and specifically contested the "slum" designation in 1956, funding a counter-study that showed, of a total 142 buildings "only 21 whose future is questionable."[19]

Analogous to San Francisco's Nob Hill, Bunker Hill had been a prime location for the wealthy to roost during the boom cycles of the 1880s and 1890s. Soon, however, the noise and tumult of the rapidly expanding city below, along with the allurements of estate-style living in the developing peripheral districts, drew the ruling class away from this neighborhood. By the 1920s and 1930s, the homes were primarily used as rental property, catering to immigrants from Mexico and Europe. Even as plans to raze Bunker Hill crystallized in the mid-1950s, developers were rehabilitating the sturdy Victorian and Edwardian homes, boasting that the tall stone foundations and first-growth redwood timbers had preserved the structural integrity of these buildings.[20]

Why, then, tear all of this down? Who chose these neighborhoods for wrecking ball and bulldozer? Specific agents made the future of this area highly questionable by creating a very damaging representation of it in explicitly racial terms. During the late 1930s, the Roosevelt Administration undertook a racial mapping project of colossal proportions.[21] In order to establish a method for assessing the security risk to mortgages on specific parcels of residential property, the Home Owner's Loan Corporation (HOLC) recruited local "experts" (real estate agents) in every community of the United States to write detailed descriptions and to draw detailed maps so that every square inch of the settled space of the United States would have a "security grade," from "A" to "D." Each of these grades would also wear a color: Green for A; Blue for B; Yellow for C; Red for D. These maps were kept secret, except to bankers and HOLC officials, and from them originated the notorious "redlining" practices, named after the D-graded neighborhoods. One such map, for Los Angeles from the ocean to the Los Angeles River, is reproduced in Image 9

Image 9

Home Owner's Loan Corporation (HOLC) Security Map, 1939.

The Federal Government's New Deal program to save homes from foreclosure by refinancing them was facilitated by the assembly of these maps, which gave assessors and loan officers a systematic method for establishing the "security risk" of every neighborhood in the United States. Although concerned with property values, this became a racial mapping project of colossal proportions, because the first criterion used to distinguish "good" from "bad' neighborhoods was race. Thus, the "redlined" areas in this map are the racially mixed neighborhoods.

Credit: National Archives.

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Although overtly conceived as a project to distinguish "good" from "bad" neighborhoods in terms of mere property values, the HOLC security zones mapping project rested on one overriding criterion for assessing property value: race. It would be hard to exaggerate the obsession with race held by the planners of Los Angeles spatial redevelopment during the 1930s and 1940s, when the pathways of the freeways and the Bunker Hill redevelopment were conceived. Racially mixed neighborhoods were the Carthage that, in the minds of the planners, needed to be destroyed, or at least contained. "Subversive racial elements predominate," reads a typical passage from the Federal Home Loan Administration's "security map" description of Bunker Hill in 1939 (officially, Area D-37): "dilapidation and squalor are everywhere in evidence. It is a slum area and one of the city's melting pots." "Melting Pot," especially since the time of the Kennedy Administration has usually had a positive connotation. Prior to that celebration of a "nation of immigrants," however, "melting pot" was clearly a dirty euphemism for "blight," at least among planners.

At many places, the words of the authors are manifestly contradictory, praising in one breath the objective qualities of a neighborhood, and then in the next, condemning it for its racial otherness: "Conveniences are all readily available," reads the description of Central Avenue (Area D-52). The next sentence reads: "this is the 'melting pot' of Los Angeles, and has long been thoroughly blighted. The Negro population is in the eastern two-thirds of the area . . . Population is uniformly of poor quality and many improvements are in a state of dilapidation." We must ask, what exactly is a "poor quality" population? The phrasing is unambiguous: it does not read "poor population." It was written in 1938 and belongs to a common discourse of power in the West that generated aliens and alienation.[22]

Specific historic agents--real estate agents--constructed these spaces within a clear political process. In short they "raced" space deliberately. And this process was no mere matter of quantifiable demographics. Nearly every block of Los Angeles that was graded "Red" due to "subversive racial elements" was in truth heterogeneous and usually majority white. Interestingly enough, only eight percent (8.3 to be exact) of the families in the 33 residential blocks of the redlined Bunker Hill Area D-37 were actually classified as non-white, according to the maps created by a survey taken by the Los Angeles County Housing Authority in collaboration with the WPA. It may be worth noting that the color chosen by the real estate establishment to underscore the "subversive" or alien quality of these zones was red. [23]

We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns, they were scrutinized and studied: perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.[24]

The movie version of War of the Worlds was produced by George Pal, the great founder of stop-action animation, who had escaped from the Nazis in 1939. In Pal's 1953 production the Martians reach Earth inside huge cylinders containing streamlined, Manta Ray-shaped flying machines, which immediately and without any explanation begin destroying Los Angeles. "The inhabitants of Mars, it seems," reads a review of the movie's premiere in Cue, "having run out of lebensraum on their own dying planet, cast about for a nice new world to settle."[25]

Paramount had planned to produce War of the Worlds as World War and then Cold War allegory for several decades. Pal's Martians were informed by his personal experience fleeing Nazi destruction. The Art Directors for War of the Worlds were Albert Nozaki, who created the Martian spaceships (Image 10), and Hal Pereira, who created the miniature model of Los Angeles so convincingly destroyed by the "heat rays" of the invading spaceships.[26]  Nozaki had been fired by Paramount the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor and interned at Manzanar concentration camp for the duration of the war. The theme of racial alienation in the film must certainly have resonated in him as well.[27] Hal Pereira had succeeded his brother William Pereira as Paramount's chief Art Director. William Pereira, who massively transformed the landscape of Los Angeles, was equally at home designing movie sets as he was designing the urban milieu. He produced two films, was Art Director on four others, and shared an Academy Award with Cecil B. DeMille in 1942 for the special effects in Paramount's Reap the Wild Wind, starring Claudette Colbert and John Wayne. He may be the only person to have won American Institute of Architects' coveted Golden Scarab Award and also an Academy Award.[28]

By the early 1950s, as Hal Pereira built and destroyed one model of Los Angeles, his brother William, now the head of an international architecture and planning firm, used the WPA's 1940 model of Los Angeles to plan the destruction of Bunker Hill. William Pereira later fittingly chose a landing spaceship as the "Theme building" (Image 11) for the Los Angeles International Airport (completed 1961).

Image 10

Publicity Artwork by Albert Nozaki, War of the Worlds (Paramount, 1953).

Nozaki designed the famous Manta Ray shaped Martian space ships, which systematically annihilate buildings and Humans alike. The themes of War of the Worlds must have resonated deeply with Nozaki, who was "relocated" in 1942 from Los Angeles to the Manzanar concentration camp. He was later (1949) also prevented from living in the progressive modernist Crestwood Hills residential experiment because of his race.

Credit: Paramount Films Collection, Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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Image 11

Site Rendering, Los Angeles International Airport "Theme Building" (Luckman and Pereira, 1959)

Echoing the Martian invaders in War of the Worlds, for which his brother Hal Pereira's was Art Director with Albert Nozaki, William Pereira's "theme" for the new Los Angeles International Airport was a landing spaceship. Calling this "the first terminal area specifically designed for the jet age," FAA Administrator Najeeb E. Halaby predicted at its opening that the new airport "may well achieve some of the worldwide renown . . . as--who knows--Disneyland." (Los Angeles Examiner 26 June 1961).

Credit: USC Regional History Archives.

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These worlds of creation, destruction, and creative destruction came together when the Four-level interchange made its cinematic debut in Pal's 1953 War of the Worlds, as (alienated) Angelenos flee the invading aliens across its newly-completed spans.[29] In the 1898, 1938, and 1953 versions of The War of the Worlds, Martians bridge immense spatial distances, which stand for the immense social distances that allow one species or nation or racial group remorselessly to annihilate or expropriate another.[30]

William Pereira was the quintessential Cold War architect of aerospace-age Los Angeles. After training by Chicago's leading modernists in the 1930s, Pereira designed movie theatres and film sets for Paramount Films. A "whiz kid" of Halberstam's best and the brightest generation, he moved easily between the federal government, the art-design-architecture world, and large corporate projects. In 1942 he was an assistant director of the Office of Civilian Defense, in charge of "property protection, directing camouflage work." In 1950 Pereira joined with the "wonder boy of sales promotion," Charles Luckman, the young president of the Lever Soap Company, to establish a global firm specializing in huge projects. While designing the new modernist landscape for Bunker Hill in the 1950s, Pereira and Luckman master-planned the Cape Canaveral missile base and the $300,000,000 NATO air and naval base in Franco's Spain.[31]

Image 12

"Intellects Vast, Cool, and Unsympathetic": Modernist Vision for Bunker Hill, 1955-59.

Top Frame: Los Angeles City Councilman John S. Gibson, Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) President William T. Sesnon Jr., and architect Charles Luckman (Pereira and Luckman) present plans at 14 November 1955 press conference, for demolition and redevelopment of Bunker Hill, 1955. Bottom Frame: 1956 Pereira and Luckman sketch for the "New Heart of Los Angeles." Grand Ave. would have passed below this "Esplanade."

Credits: Top Frame, LA Examiner, 14 November 1955, Bottom Frame, LA Examiner, first published 2 March 1956. USC Regional History Archives.

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Standing under the spaceship-inspired Theme Building on 25 June 1961, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson ominously began his dedication of Pereira and Luckman's new Los Angeles International Airport during the Berlin Wall crisis, with a stern warning to Premier Nikita Khrushchev not "to underestimate the United States' determination to honor its pledges to the brave and freedom-loving people of West Berlin."[32]   In the previous month, the Community Redevelopment Agency accelerated its use of a $42.7 million loan from the Federal government to purchase all the private property on Bunker Hill. Eviction of the more than 9,000 Bunker Hill residents had begun.[33] They joined the thousands already displaced by the construction of the Harbor and Hollywood Freeways in the previous decade. Not long after the celluloid Martians destroyed the aging structures of Bunker Hill, bulldozers and wrecking balls began to accomplish the concrete task. Joseph Guajardo has been fleeing ever since, ironically taking up residence under the very freeways that destroyed his home.

All institutions, no matter how global, ideological, and imaginary, regardless of the countless and unrecorded ordinary acts that reproduce them, must be anchored somewhere in space and time. The Four Level and Bunker Hill redevelopments both anchored and embedded a phase of alienation that "radiates disaster triumphant" from those very sites a full half century later, forming an "interchange" between the great forces of history and the banal movements of daily life.[34]


Alienating Los Angeles, 1949-1953.

Martian space ship from George Pal's War of the Worlds (Paramount, 1953), attacks Los Angeles. Bureau of Engineering oblique aerial taken in 1949 shows the colossal destruction of neighborhoods underway, to clear the path for the Hollywood-Santa Ana Freeway and the Four Level Interchange. This photo looks due West along Sunset Blvd. In the foreground is "La Placita," the historic core of Spanish and Mexican Los Angeles.

Credits: Paramount Films; Photographic Record of Construction Work, Bureau of Engineering Collection, Los Angeles City Archives. Composition © 1999 Philip J. Ethington.

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Ghost neighborhoods haunt these ruptured landscapes and torment their houseless residents. The haunting resides in the failure to recognize the social other, and the torment is fixed in the concrete. Torn from the social fabric, these remnants defiantly stand their ground and confront the "citizens" with their "homeless" souls. Further interventions into the historical process must attempt to make the estranged familiar. "The task to be accomplished," wrote Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno in Los Angeles, 1944: "is not the conservation of the past, but the redemption of the hopes of the past."[35]


This essay and the larger work of which it is a part was made possible in part by the generous support of the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, and by the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation, and the University of Southern California ISLA Digital Archive.

For reading and criticizing earlier drafts, thanks to Robbert Flick, Suzanne Loizeaux, Carol Mangione, Martin Meeker, Jérôme Monnet, Steve Ross, Matt Roth, Michael Roth, Charles Salas, the members of the 1996-7 Getty Research Institute Perspectives on Los Angeles Seminar, and the members of the Los Angeles Social History Study Group. I also wish to thank Suzanne Loizeaux of UCLA for her highly productive research assistance and constant conceptual challenges, as well as Dan Gebler and Anne Marie Kooistra of USC for their valuable empirical contributions. Thanks also to Matt Roth of the Automobile Club of Southern California, for sharing his incomparable knowledge of the LA freeway system. Thanks to Ron Wells and Joseph Guajardo for introducing me to their community. Special thanks to Richard Harris of McMaster University and Becky Nicolaides of UCSD for sharing their original National Archives sources with me. The archival materials used in this graphic essay are only accessible thanks to the tremendous work by some very fine archivists. I wish to thank especially Hynda Rudd, Los Angeles City Records Manager, and Jay Jones in her department; Jennifer Watts, Curator of Photographs and the Huntington Library; and Dace Taube, Regional History Archive, University of Southern California. Special thanks also to Bill Ashdowne, Los Angeles City Records office, who discovered the Bureau of Engineering "Photographic Record of Construction Work" series in the Los Angeles City Archives in 1997. Thanks to Beth Werling and Richard Meier of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum for photographing the 1940 Model of Los Angeles, which resides there.

My debt to the artist Robbert Flick should be evident throughout this essay. Without his generosity and friendship this essay would not have been realized.