AN UNUSUAL BOHEMIA IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
By LIONEL ROLFE
There are some who would say that Bohemia is a state of mind, but they should add it also has to have a particular time and place. In the case of this book, the time and place is the southern half of the Golden State over the last century or so, and the state of mind is Bohemia—in all its many multitudinous variations. The book almost makes you believe that the true home of Bohemia was not, as so many thought, the left bank of Paris or the coffeehouses of San Francisco that Mark Twain and Herman Melville frequented during the Gold Rush, but Los Angeles and environs.
True, the counter culture was created in Los Angeles, and it was a distillation of bohemianism. A couple of things document this—the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, which still goes on since. It was created in 1963. The “Los Angeles Free Press” went into business about the same time—and it had a definite impact at the time. It was the first and largest of the Underground press of the ‘60s. What its effect is today can be debated forever.
The first faire was in the backyard of a house in Laurel Canyon. The faire was thrown as a promotion for Radio Station KPFK. And Art Kunkin did a prototype “Freep” to promote the faire and station.
The first faire’s organizers were Ron and Phyllis Patterson. Kunkin threw in his lot with them and thus did both faire and paper become pillars of the counter culture community. The counter culture was defined mostly by its support of civil rights and it opposition to the Vietnam War.
Beyond opposing war and injustice, Bohemia was at heart about something more basic. Bohemia is about “the pursuit of happiness,” or perhaps more accurately put, the pursuit of the meaning of life—think Monty Python.
The pursuit of happiness is exactly the opposite of what church and kings want. Neither want its subjects to look for meaning outside of that provided by them. Somehow, “the pursuit of happiness” is associated with democracy and science—and yes, sometimes hedonism. But the notion of pursuing happiness was most famously expressed by Tom Paine and Thomas Jefferson, fathers of the world’s first great revolution. Think of Mark Twain and the subversion he was expressing in “A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” That was the American spirit.
Bohemia is not just a tangent of history, it’s the defender of all that is good and true and pure in man. Bohemia’s soul is always in resistance to tyranny. That’s why it attracts people who are more creative than passive.
It is true that if you mention the word Bohemia, the image that comes up first is a hip coffeehouse with posters of Che Guevara plastered on its walls. How times have changed. Today if you go to London to the neighborhood where all the great coffeehouses were born in the 1800s, you don’t find Lloyd’s of London where the industry of insurance was born, or The Fifth Estate, where media folks dwelled.You’ll find only Starbucks (there is a bar where Dylan Thomas used to drink and live), and you can rest assured none of them have Che Guevara on their walls.
The next time coffeehouses were so prolific was in Los Angeles a couple of centuries later. At the height of L.A.’s golden age of coffeehouses, there were as many as 50 coffeehouses around. Many of them had fascinating histories.
All were of course breeding grounds of bohemianism. But in this book, you find out that the bohemians lurked not just in coffeehouses, but among art schools and art galleries, or any kind of place craftsmen, musicians, students, surfers, professors, sculptors, painters, motorcycle bums, poets, political activists, filmmakers and political activists gathered. They dwelled not only in the coffeehouses of the urban areas, but on the beaches, the rivers, the mountains, deserts and canyons of Southern California.
The book paints a portrait of Bohemia in Southern California as a complex place of interlocking circles. In Richard Hertz’s “Looking for Bohemia: The Los Angeles Art Scene of the Sixties and Seventies,” he traces the development of bohemianism from Europe to New York and Los Angeles. Bohemianism in Europe was formed in part by patronage which allowed art to develop institutional and more formal expression. In New York’s post war period, the emphasis was on looking like you’re living the life of a bohemian, even if you weren’t. In Los Angeles, Hertz argues, it was all about what art movement or art school you were a member of. Today, he suggests, it has become more about pursuing one’s career.
I saw some of what Hertz was talking about when I worked at the Newhall Signal in 1968. It was owned by Scott Newhall, scion of the Newhall Land and Farming Company, who wanted to bring this new Bauhaus into the farming company’s Valencia development. When Disney died, so did the Chouinard Art Institute ’s chief patron. Without much detail, Disney’s will insisted his money go for a new “arts university.” He didn’t leave any better description than that—just a university of the arts.
By Hertz’s description, Chouinard was “the last place for anyone to have even the vaguest respectability. It was below being respectable and everyone there was a n’r-do-well or had fallen short in life. All the instructors, all the administrators—it was a tattered place…”
My only quibble is that Hertz should have noted that of course Chouinard wouldn’t have the glamor of an “arts university”—it was a school designed primarily to develop cartoonists in the Disney style or do other kinds of commercial art.
Obviously Disney wanted something less plebeian to be remembered by although it is doubtful he would have been able to communicate such a high falutin’ notion to his heirs, who were not a sophisticated bunch. Indeed, Walt Disney himself wouldn’t seem like the first person you’d imagine who understood and appreciated what the Bauhaus was. The Bauhaus was the greatest arts university of all, emerging from the Weimar Republic days before Hitler. It left a major imprint on architecture and design that lasted for decades. It was definitely a place that pursued a kind of bohemian utopianism. Perhaps Disney was The Great Joker after all!
I used to discuss all this at length with Bob Corrigan, who was Cal Art’s first president. He made no bones that he wanted Cal Arts to be the Bauhaus of the ‘60s.
Corrigan most certainly did not suffer under the illusion Disney was a secret revolutionary of some kind. But he wanted to take advantage of the fact that Disney insisted Cal Arts being a university of all the arts—with all that implied. I think Corrigan probably did not think Disney wanted anything as radical as a Bauhaus. But Disney left no philosophy or description of what he wanted an arts university to be. So Corrigan gladly took up the task.
Hertz argues that fewer and fewer people really live the Bohemian life. He thinks that because of the emphasis on careerism, at least among artists, the high priests of a new religion have become the gallery owners, critics and collectors. The linking of bohemianism and art will live in perpetuity, but it is bound to lose a lot if art just becomes another religion. Hertz’ argument is unsettling.
So just what is the real nature of a bohemian artist? Harry Polkinhorn goes into that question in his essay “Space//Time and the Radical image: Wallace Berman’s Semina.” Berman was an artist in the late ’40s and he did the kind of “art” that makes a lot of people suspicious. His art was certainly more about style than content.
Polkinhorn said Berman was a photographer and assemblage artist and little magazine editor who “made a strong perennial impression” on people “though the “qualities of personality and a strong critical attitude toward the society of his time.” He also may have been a bit of a poseur. He never survived by selling his “artwork” but rather by working in a furniture factory, then raising his kids while his wife worked as a secretary. He was the perfect example of the artist as straw man. The media was starting to talk about “the beats.” Berman was perfect. He had studied surrealism, Herman Hesse and Kabbalah. There is a disagreement about whether he actually understood Kabbalah since he didn’t know Hebrew letters, though which the magical incantations of Kabbalah are carried. Berman also questioned the whole traditional artist/viewer dialogue, where it’s the artist who dominates. He argued the audience matters as much as the artist. You might say he was a kind of anti-artist, whose life being “cool” was his art form.
Polkhorn’s piece was my first introduction to Berman—and I’m still not sure Polkhorn has convinced me that there was real talent there. Indeed, Polkhorn himself seemed a bit ambivalent about the question.
Still, bohemianism seems to live by the motto that people who are modest generally have good reason to be. Self promotion is part of one’s art. Charles Lummis was one of the first of the city’s bohemians and a man of some talent, but one would never have mistaken him for a great writer. Mark Thompson writes about Lummis in his article on the man, telling the story of how he was hired as one of the first editors of the Los Angeles Times. General Otis hired Lummis in 1885 after Lummis had walked across the country, encountering some adventures that seemed a little lost in hyperbole. Lummis also became one of the city’s first librarian–and Thompson estimated he seduced nearly 50 women during his time here, a fact Lummis’ wife found when she accidentally came across his diary.
Lummis was a catalyst. His house El Alisal still survives in Highland Park in the Arroyo, near the old campus of the Southwest Museum, which he also founded to preserve native American culture. He also is credited with saving California’s 21 mission system and publishing “Out West,” the magazine that gave Jack London his first ink in 1902.
Out West was an important journal of its time—it published such California Bohemian writers as Joaquin Miller, John Muir, Ina Coolbrith, Mary Austin and Jack London. Parties at El Alisal featured such Hollywood bohemians as Douglas Fairbanks, May Pickford, Harold Lloyd and humorist Will Rogers as well as attorney Clarence Darrow.
Lummis and London, however, did not get along well. When London became the highest paid writer of all time, Lummis asked him for money. London would have none of it. He wrote Lummis that he could always get rich men to support his projects, but London said rich men would never support his efforts for a socialist revolution. London always signed his letters, “Yours for the revolution.”
Almost all bohemians tended to be on the left—Jack London is a prime example. But Lummis was not particularly left, except for his support of native American and Spanish culture. About the only other famous bohemian who was politically conservative was Ambrose Bierce of San Francisco. Bierce was best known for his “Devil’s Dictionary” and the short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek.”
El Alisal was built from rocks and boulders taken from the Arroyo. Lummis lived there until his death in 1928. I remember Jake Zeitlin telling me he had met Charles Lummis shortly before his death and was not terribly taken with the man. Jake could be a little hard on those he disagreed with. He disliked Henry Miller even more, who he thought was a despicable character.
Zeitlin and Lummis had some similarities though. Both were impresarios of bohemians talent. Jake came to Los Angeles in the ’20s from Texas, not long before Lummis died. Jake told me he had “conned” Sandberg into saying nice things about his poetry. But Jake said he never had the “sitzfleisch” to be a real writer. He also admitted he probably didn’t have the real genius that the people whose causes he championed did. But like Lummis, Jake made things happen–which is a necessary commodity if you want a real bohemian scene.
During his decades-long career as Los Angeles’ rare book dealer, Jake began in the ‘200s with a bookstore next to the Los Angeles Library in downtown Los Angeles. The bookstore was a center of culture. Edward Weston, the great photographer, was first displayed there, as were other artists. Jake also was responsible for several important collections finding homes–such as the Mark Twain Papers at UC Berkeley.
As Genie Gerard notes in her essay on Zeitlin, Jake was devoted to “progressive” writers and artists. I remember Jake once snarling that his good friend Lawrence Clark Powell, after whom a library at UCLA is named, was an idiot for voting for Nixon for President. “The man had no sense,” Jake said.
Jake had a sense of the connection between art forms that are hung on walls and published in publications. He encouraged artists to cross over and contribute their works to both realms, Gerard said.
“The result was a series of stunningly crafted publications, bookshops and galleries that flourished as a focal point in Los Angeles during a period when the boundaries of photography, art, architecture, design and literature were being defined anew and where there was a collective creative pulse toward a Modern aesthetic,” Gerard noted.
Lummis was the original promoter of the considerable Bohemian scene that developed along the Arroyo between Los Angeles and Pasadena. The Arroyo culture was born in the craftsman era, the style of arts and architecture pioneered by the Englishman William Morris, whose antidote to the coming Industrial Age of the late 1800s was found with an emphasis on wood and sun. The craftsman era also emphasized a certain connection between man and nature. Pasadena’s Gamble House is probably the best known example of craftsman era architecture—but in the Arroyo, the same principles applied to writing and printing.
In Jessica Holada’s “A Small Renaissance: Arroyo Secco Print Culture, 1895-1947,” she quotes Ward Ritchie, the eminent Los Angeles fine press printer as saying that the Arroyo was “a sort of Nile of the West” where colorful personalities flourished for a long time. Holada describes how “these outdoorsy bohemians helped reshape the prevailing notion that Southern California was a ‘culture wasteland.’” She credits Alice Millard with having created a Renaissance all by herself in the Arroyo. Holada believes that Millard was a major influence in spreading the appeal of print in the Arroyo, because her emphasis was on creating a community which valued the printed word.
Naima Prevot tells of another aspect of Bohemia in the Southland in “Dancing in the Sun.” She focuses on a dancer named Norma Gould, born in 1880 who lived until 1980. The piece is instructive because it portrays a strong woman who followed her own muse and paved the way for a giant of modern dance. One must remember that when Gould was born, Los Angeles was still very much a small town. Norma showed no inclination for the normal life of a middle class woman. She was drawn to dance from early on. There wasn’t much formal dance education in that Los Angeles of yore, and she quickly moved beyond ballet and ballroom dancing and instead began creating work showing the influences of dance of California’s Spanish background, as well as the influence of native Americans and black people. She would eventually work with the famous black composer William Grant Still, who was in Los Angeles.
Gould was allied with the likes of other California dancers, including Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Dennis and Bella Lewitzky, who went on to have a major impact on modern dance. Lewitzky was a star student of Gould.
Like Gould, Lewitzky was a free spirit, possessed of a utopian vision of things. That was not surprising since Lewitzky was born on the socialist utopian Llano Del Rio colony in Lancaster on the high desert. Arts were strongly supported at Llano del Rio, and was an unsung source of the Bohemian spirit.
By the 20s Gould was accepted as a choreographer in Los Angeles and she performed at Philharmonic Auditorium and the Hollywood Bowl.
Lewitzky eventually joined up with Lester Horton at the Dance Theater and then became a choreographer, arts advocate and education leader.
What Gould’s story suggest is that bohemianism grabbed Los Angeles at the turn of the last century, which laid the foundation for the counter culture of the ‘60s. That’s why the late ‘60s saw such a flood of Bohemianism popping up all over Southern California, leaving an indelible stamp.
Like almost everything else, bohemianism no doubt took a vacation during a lot of the Depression and the war, but by the ‘50s, as hordes of people formerly of the East coast moved to the West coast, coffeehouses started springing up, and you could find lots of “beat poets” especially in the Venice coffeehouses. You could hear a kind of “spoken jazz” in these places, and see lots of dubious art dabbed on masonite as well.
Jay Ruby writes about the Portiano, which operated from 1957 to 1962 in Malibu. It featured poetry readings, discussion groups, some theater and food and drink. There were no signs pointing to the coffeehouse. You had to find the small unmarked road leaving Pacific Coast Highway and drive up the hill to an unpretentious building. There you would find people writing and playing chess and making music—more jazz and folk than rock. There was sex, of course, but it hadn’t quite gotten to the bacchanalian scenes that heralded the coming of the counter culture in the late ’60s.
It was called the Xanadu and it was near Los Angeles City College. It was perhaps more political—folks went forth from this small storefront coffeehouses and went south to register voters. Its members also fueled the civil rights scene locally, and toward the end, they were protesting the war in Vietnam.
Art Kunkin used to hang there, and perhaps because so many of the coffeehouse patrons were guys from the LA Times, they talked constantly of the need for a new newspaper. Blues musicians like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, who sometimes went to the Portiano, hung out at the Xanadu as well. Owsley Stanley, the father of LSD. who was a regular at the Xanadu.
By the end of the ‘60s there were perhaps 50 coffeehouses in the Los Angeles area.
Positano’s clients included Hollywood celebrities and university professors and surfers. John Howard Lawson, John Houseman, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jane Russell, Lee Marvin, Rock Hudson and even Rock Hudson and sometimes visitors such as Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Christopher Isherwood, Mort Sahl and Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury and Lawrence Lipton made their way to its doors.
Ruby says that Positano reflected more an early form of Bohemia, more of what you’d see in Paris, Berlin and New York of the 20s and Greenwich Village in the ‘50s.
But what this book makes clear is that Bohemians hung out in other places than coffeehouses.
Writer Pablo Capra describes one of the most hidden of bohemian places in Southern California. In “Idlers of the Bamboo Grove” he tells of a magic spot near the beach in the Topanga Canyon area, not far from the Positano.
Capra grew up in the colony that lay on the almost impassable rutted dirt road that ran into the bamboo grove near the beach. The colony included some abandoned buildings from the ‘20s, but also a lot of homemade homes that were haphazard at best.
Capra remembered the road “dipped off the highway at a steep crooked angle like it was meant to impede the attackers of a medieval fortress. Wary visitors then had to cross a moat-like creek, bounce over oil-panning breaking bumps and decide if they wanted to continue into a dense bamboo casbah whose only sign of habitation was the baleful sound of barking dogs. Even from the air, the neighborhood was basically hidden.”
Capra is describing a Bohemia that was not necessarily populated by intellectuals, which is what a lot of people think bohemians are. But there were also places where more regular people lived in Bohemia: surfers, construction workers, casual workers and others who did not want to join the conformist life of most Americans in the ‘50s.
Running water and electricity were not entirely common in this oasis, but the natural beauty was an “an inspiring compensation, bestowing a feeling of riches greater than living in luxury homes,” he wrote.
The people of this village were as much bohemian as the better known writers and poets and dancers and the like in coffeehouses and schools, but the drive was the same—to get away from the rigid conformity of American life.
Capra quotes a part-time resident and poet named Robert Campbell who described the village thusly:
“a perfect place just to get away
from the annoying crossroads
and noisy street signs
from the hustle and struggle
just to stay alive
a move back to the big sky
with the flowers and trees
to let his mind shimmer
in the summer breeze”
Capra credits the isolated village as the thing that allowed him to develop. He was very happy that he rarely dressed for a job—instead he lived in a greenhouse and started a poetry press.
He said the diverse group living there included “artists, surfers, families, outlaws and anyone looking for something different.” It was also cheap, what with its outdoor bathtubs, rooftop skateboard ramps, and houses painted in wild Caribbean colors, surrounded by pot plants and pets who roamed free.
Another mostly hidden community is portrayed in Kristin Lawler in “Southern California’s Bohemian Surfers: Roots of American Counterculture.”
Lawler argues most effectively that cultural historians talking about bohemianism have all but ignored the surfer culture of the ‘60s, that took its traditions from the early twentieth century island of Waikiki and later the Southern California coast of the ‘20s.
Lawler says that cultural historians talking about bohemianism have mostly overlooked the surfer culture of the ‘50s that takes its traditions from the early twentieth century island of Waikiki and later, the Southern California coast in the ‘20s.
In “Bohemianism and the California Surfer” Lawler says that like other manifestations of Bohemia, the surfer culture represented “freedom” instead of “the repression of everyday life in capitalist society.” She argues that “southern California beach subculture deserves to be understood as a central part of American beat hip bohemianism, and a powerful root of the liberator strain of culture politics in the United States.”
Many of the themes that emerged in the counter culture were also on display in surfer culture—in the way it dealt with time, traditional gender roles, nature and the Protestant work ethic. “The California surfer is countercultural through and through,” she said.
The term “beach bum,” she notes, came from the community in San Onofre during the ‘20s and ‘30s and even ‘50s. Malibu surfers also got considerable cache because of the 1959 movie “Gidget.”
“Gidget broadcast the 1950s surf shack Malibu subculture of tanned shirtless turf-and-party beat hip bohemians … in its wake came an explosion scores of beach movies, television, shows, advertisements as well as an explosion of surf music. At its heart was a commentary on the old pleasure versus work conundrum.”
Although surfer culture came to be represented by the idea of bronzed, blond beach gods who dominated the scene, Lawler says they were surprisingly open to bending gender roles. And the very term “beach bum” might suggest what was at work here.
What comes through in this book even more than anything else is that variety of Bohemian flora and fauna to be found everywhere in Southern California.
From the surfers to the craftsmen at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, it’s hard to think of Bohemia as a unitary thing. Quite the contrary, Bohemia was made up of many different kinds of scenes.
One of the most delightful pieces in this book is by journalist Katherine Stewart, writing about “Mountain Drive: Santa Barbara’s Iconoclastic Experiment in Living.”
Mountain Drive occurred in the hillside enclave of Montecito, which is mostly in the City of Santa Barbara. It was a sort of spontaneous development which grew out of the utopian impulse of returning World War II veterans in the last 1940s, at a time when American optimism was at its apex and “everything seemed possible.”
“Mountain Drive was what the ‘60s were like before the 1960s,” Stewart writes. It was not planned—it evolved. It evolved when Bobby Hyde and his wife “Florence” or “Floppy” purchased some land which was cheaper than it should have been because of a hillside fire in 1940. Bobby and Floppy offered land to people they liked for tokens amount of money—$50 down, for example, and $50 a month.
Hyde liked classical music and gardening in the nude among other things. A collection of characters joined him in constant celebration. There was, for instance, Billy Neeley, a forest ranger and naturalist known for his enthusiasm for wine and women.
They built interesting and utilitarian and sometimes more fanciful structures and started growing grapes and making wine—not very good wine, as it turned out, and having grand meals—as well as strange ceremonies in which one of the women, wearing only her grape leaf crown, would step into a new vat of wine to set the tone.
Mountain Drive inspired a 1966 Rock Hudson movie called “Seconds” which actually featured the denizens of Mountain Drive in various bacchanal scenes designed to shock the innocent sensibilities of theater goers in those days. Mountain Drive was also where the hot tub was invented. Noel Young, the editor of Capra Press, was a member of the community, and he published what remained the classic book on hot tubs that kept his publishing empire going for years.
To show you how bohemianism transported itself, Mountain Drive members liked to do theater, and one of the dramas was called a “Pot War.” All the women were dressed in the diaphanous low-cut garb that later became the trademark of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. It conjured up the image of “loose wenches” who populated the taverns of rural roadside England.
Stewart insists a bit of the old communal feeling still survives in that Mountain Drive area, but with soaring property values, its denizens are well-washed and mostly oriented to child rearing, with the specific intent of making perfect little humanoids. The original inhabitants of Mountain Drive were notoriously anarchistic in the way they raised children. They didn’t raise. They let the children raise themselves.
I find this question of garb interesting because I was a young and horny male and the pulchritude was enticing. I used to love to read Henry Fielding writing about the wenches of post-Elizabethan and post-Renaissance England.
Rachel Rubin of the University of Massachusetts Boston focuses on the crafts people of Laurel Canyon as the founders of the Renaissance pleasure faires. My memories of the faire go back to Art Kunkin carrying around a bundle of his first Free Press, hawking them with a booming voice. The whole thing was designed as a promotion for radio station KPFK.
In addition to being a coffeehouse person, I also was a working journalist. So I got another perspective. I used to deal with County Supervisor Warren Dorn and his aide and bagman Bobbie Meyers, a cynical little fellow who would brag to me how he went to the faire. Meyers would tell me about being in a sheriff’s helicopters hovering over head so he and his boss could collect information on all the licentiousness going on below. Both he and Dorn were in the helicopter, and Meyers loved to describe with unaccustomed glee about all the ladies he saw with bountiful cleavage.
Dorn was famous for trying to ban Ed Kienholz’s Dodge sculpture which had a man and a woman making love in the back seat from the county museum, and also if possible getting Playboy Magazine pulled from the news stands and US mail. Dorn and Meyers were if nothing not prurient onlookers. Getting shocked got them votes and got them excited as well.
The adherents of the pleasure faires saw it a different way. To them, the ‘60s were like what the Renaissance was to the Dark Ages. The ‘60s came about because of the stifling ‘50s, our metaphorical dark age.
Rubin recalls how laissez faire was vilified in the press as a haven for hippies and worse, but the critics often found a way to be at the faires, although only a special few arrived in sheriff’s helicopters.
For sure, most people who thought of Bohemia because of the beat scene in Venice. Long time Venice fixture and poet Bill Mohr, who now is a professor of literature writes knowingly about Venice West, the old beat coffeehouse.
Mohr obviously didn’t like Lawrence Lipton, whose sensationalized best-seller “The Holy Barbarians” helped make Venice famous in the ‘60s. Lipton was an unpleasant and pompous fellow in person, hard to take unless you were an acolyte. He only dained to talk to acolytes.
Mohr also writes about the real talent there—Stuart Z. Perkoff and John Thomas among them, although you could quibble with how Mohr seems to dismiss Philomene Long, a defrocked nun who was married to Thomas.
Mohr laments that the Venice West poets have not gotten the recognition they deserve. He complains they never made it into the big-time poetry compendiums or otherwise been appreciated. Mohr describes how the poets in Venice wanted their writing to be pure—they always were fighting the commercialized stuff Hollywood was doing. Still, Mohr notes that Perkoff did a stint on the Groucho Marx show, and at the end of his life, as he was dying of cancer, he became more religious, and wrote, for example, about mysticism and Judaism and the Holocaust.
No doubt Mohr knew the scene. Not only could he talk knowingly of Perkoff and Thomas and even Philomene Long, he tells the story of Frank T. Rios, who made a presentation on the Venice scene at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2014. Mohr seemed to be impressed that Rios had managed to get a full-length collection of his works published called “Memoirs Of A Street Poet”—and probably also he was impressed that Rios was alive and kicking. Mohr believed Rios was a very talented Venice poet deserving of more recognition—and he obviously was glad Rios was finally getting some.
Nowadays it is not always easy to see where Bohemia dwells. As our life and times become more like scenes from Brave New World or 1984, it’s really hard to know where Bohemia dwells, or who really dwells within. Still, Daniel Hurwitz argues that a major cultural change came right out of Bohemia.
In his piece, “Bohemian Politics and the Edendale Origins of Coming Out,” Hurwitz argues the progress made by gay people today can be traced back to the bohemian goings on in Edendale—the ancient word for Echo Park and Silver Lake in the ‘50s. He is right that the Edendale scene had been bohemian for decades, since the ‘20s. at least. Strong in the bohemian mix were the communists. Although communists were hardly pro-Gay, Hurwitz argues that the gay movement was born out of “a cultural-political ethic of ‘coming out’ which the communists were inadvertently in favor of. That ethic grew out of the overlapping influences of Edendale artists and communists.”
Gay rights is often traced to the Mattachine society, founded by Harry Hay, an activist in the communist party in Echo Park. As we said, Not that the communist party was friendly to gay rights, but the combination of political and artistic revolution on various fronts in Echo Park made it the home of Gay Liberation.
“Even as there lay a fairly clear line from Mattachine to Gay Liberation, the idea of self revelation grew directly from Mattachine’s deep ties to Los Angeles’ bohemian center in Edendale where local artists and leftist dramatically explored the public meaning that should be given to the inner life and identity,” Hurwitz writes.
Communists had been in Edendale since the very beginning. Their focus was invariably on the exploitation suffered by minorities—blacks, Jews, Mexicans and Japanese. This resulted in a lot of people constantly exploring their own true inner psychological sense of things. They demonstrated that in their art, in their music, in their writing. Hurwitz insists that the notion of gays “coming out” first found expression here, because here the gays learned they were simply another minority.
Since so much of this was internal, gays became a strong part of one of the biggest bohemian spots in the city. Edendale never got the media attention that Venice did, but it was real nonetheless.
Hurwitz says that the “recent success” of the American gay movement was born in “a cultural-political ethic of ‘coming out’ that was fashioned in Los Aneles’ bohemian milieu of Edendale of the twentieth century. That ethic grew out of the overlapping influences of Edendale artists and communists.”
“Even as there lay a fairly clear line from Mattachine to Gay Liberation, the idea of self revelation grew directly from Mattachine’s deep ties to Los Angeles’ bohemian center in Edendale where local artists and leftist dramatically explored the public meaning that should be given to the inner life and identity,” Hurwitz writes.
So it was in the bohemian corner of Echo Park that the notion of “coming out” first found expression. How big of a deal is that—probably it’s pretty big.