Phyl M. Noir
Let me step into these stories to explain what I meant to write before they end. Besides, the ending is under construction.
I am from Edendale. I examine it from the inside.
Los Angeles lacks the human presence on the streets that other large cities have. It is sometimes seems as if this city exists without people. It is a city built for the profit in real estate development
This city is at the end of America: socially fragmented and spatially dispersed. The automobile allowed development in previously inaccessible areas, and the city and state subsidized roads and freeways instead of a good public transportation system. See, Robert Fogelson, Fragmented Metropolis (1967).
One of Alison Lurie’s protagonists in The Nowhere City (1965) defines Los Angeles as the center of a revolving concrete donut on top of a store on Sepulveda: “That big empty hole going around and around up in the air … that’s what this city is! … a great big advertisement for nothing.” Lurie wasn’t from here. She was from Chicago and grew up in White Plains, and her perceptions are an outsider’s.
Joan Didion, who grew up in Sacramento, wrote in The White Album (1968), “To understand what was going on it is perhaps necessary to have participated in the freeway experience, which is the only secular communion Los Angeles has.”
Almost half a century after Didion made this observation, “taking surface streets” is exotic; most young adults born here talk about movement through space in numbers: they take the five to the two to the two-ten.
According to UCLA Professor Emeritus Richard Lehan in his masterwork The City in Literature (1998), Thomas Pynchon in V explores the idea that we lost our humanity in the expanding industrial/commercial city. Pynchon extends that idea in Crying of Lot 49 to a paranoid vision of clues hidden in the urban landscape: the word WASTE on trash cans means, “We Await Silent Trystero’s Empire.”
Philip K. Dick’s dystopian Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and urban historian Mike Davis’s Hegelian dissection of Los Angeles in The City of Quartz (1990) bleed into the other Los Angeles: the random, maddening and sometimes joyous aesthetic of the surface streets of the older city with its worn sidewalks and walls touched by many artist’s hands, and this is a Jane Jacobs (The Life and Death of American Cities (1961) sustainable city. It is John Fante’s Dreams of Bunker Hill (1982) and Ask the Dust (1939), and the urban poet Charles Bukowski’s city-drunkenness.
The City has pockets of visible humanity in neighborhoods where many feet have been worn the sidewalk and the touch of many hands have colored street-facing walls. Former UCLA Urban Planning Professor Dolores Hayden wrote about those with a barely noticed presence in this city — garment workers, oil workers living in shacks near the oil derricks, rioters in Watts, Japanese florists – in the Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (1983). Place is central to the anarchistic planner Jane Jacobs’ ideal of a natural city, which is sustainable.
The country of the film Edendale is in the background of Tom Mix’s fake Western town between Teviot and Fletcher Drive and the then-undeveloped Silver Lake hills, the Our Gang comedies, Harold Lloyd’s mad vehicular chase of a traffic cop into Echo Park Lake, and the Keystone cop car chases that slip and slide over Sunset Boulevard and Allesandro (now Glendale Boulevard). The film Edendale is about the city we know because the old city is mapped in our childhood memories of old black and white movies shown on 1950s movies and television programs.
The fictional Edendale begins towards the end of World War II and plays in the real neighborhoods of Echo Park, Chavez Ravine, Elysian Park, Griffith Park, Silver Lake, Glassell Park, Frogtown (Elysian Valley), Toonerville (Atwater Village), Toilet Corner, Chicken Corner, Venice, Watts, and Boyle Heights.
This is our place. It is where we are from. The characters are mostly ordinary people who lived out the Los Angeles experience. That experience is automotive, and it is kinetic.
Ronald van Ammers — whose real story is, reflected in the screenplay about two children, who come from the island of Curacao, said, “Nouns should be illegal. Nothing is a noun. Nothing lasts long to become a noun.” He also said that time is not, as Heraclites wrote, the river into which we cannot step twice. We cannot step into the river of time even once, and it is also our history.
I believe I understand what he meant now. Everything is fluid. Everything is permeable. The Edendale actors live and die in time, and time is an illusion.