THE STONE ANGELS STILL SING
Brent C. Dickerson
Copyright © 2000 Brent C. Dickerson
On a whim, I decided to forsake the gentle pleasures of my Orange County home for a few days to familiarize myself again with the downtown of the Southland's great metropolis, Los Angeles. The freeways were clear, the weather was cool and pleasant, the vistas along the way were crisp and beckoning. Approaching central Los Angeles has a tinge of nearing the Emerald City, as, all at once, having traveled through a vast plain of low buildings, one rounds a bend to see ahead a monumental jewel-box of soaring buildings both old and new, proclaiming Importance, Stability, Grandeur, Heritage. The road meanders generally in its direction, as if despairing of its right to indulge in these great principles; but then it takes confidence in its merit, or at least its mission, and drives for its heart. One sees the street signs, and lives the old jingle about the succession of their names: "From MAIN we SPRING to BROADWAY, then over the HILL to OLIVE; wouldn't it be GRAND to pick a FLOWER on FIGUEROA?". I arrived at the elegant Biltmore Hotel on Pershing Square, settled in, set my car keys well out of reach, and spent the next three and a half days walking the sidewalks of the downtown grid, from the old Plaza and Union Station to 7th Street, from Main to Figueroa.
One ventures west, to Hill Street, and rides quaint wonderful serene elegant old Angel's Flight, "the shortest railway on Earth," a funicular built a century ago to allow residents on the heights leisured access to the commercial and governmental area below. As the city stands today, it takes us from old L.A. to new L.A. We see at the higher terminus of the Flight how the architects of the present have translated that cozier magnificence of the past into the titanic grandeur of the present. We realize that our familiarity with those buildings of decades ago has given us a key, a precious entry into beginning to understand the language, the monumental tones, of L.A.'s great modern skyscrapers, those immense structures also speaking to us, adding their contemporary voices to the chorus of downtown.
These elementspast and presentmingled together yet separate, contrasting yet referring, magnificent yet homey in the old, superhuman yet drawing us into their superhumanity in the new, so perfectly balanced a mixture, provide the panoply in stone and steel that our equally varied and magnificent citizens on the street provide in populationa dynamic, interacting, contrasting powerhouse of spirit. Our old Plaza reminds us of those few original pobladores, already varied in origin and race at the very inception of the city. The pobladores, the real makers of Los Angeles, still stride our downtown streets every day, both the new and the oldbut how many live there? How many give it 24-hour life?the lifeblood of any community. When Los Angeles can fuse treasure with treasure, nurturing the inward re-design of the inspiring old buildings into space for modern living, warming and humanizing the cold magnificence of the titanic new constructions, this wonderful rhythm, this diverse harmony of old and new will increasingly draw in others and proclaim the unique richness of downtown Los Angeles.
Like Olivet and Sinai, the two cars of Angel's Flight, old and new in downtown Los Angeles are beautifully balanced right now, each sharing in the pull and dynamism of its mate. I look forward to a day when every now-empty flagpole in our great downtown, on buildings both old and new, is once again hung proudly with its citizens' banners of hope and joy!
Return to BCD Home Page... or Index of, and Link to, Past Essays.