Honey Reveals The Sordid Tale Of A Rape In Elysian Park

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June 1, 2011 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste.)

In 1902, Walter Barlow built Barlow Respiratory Hospital on 25 acres of meadowland next to the city-owned Elysian Park on Chavez Ravine Road. He liked the location because the surrounding configuration of hills provided for clean air and the neighboring Elysian Park (created in 1886) seemed to insure against any future development.

In 1886, the City established its Department of Parks and Recreation with three parks: the Plaza downtown, La Plaza Abaja – now Pershing Square – and Elysian Park.

The City may have created Elysian Park because of the difficulty of selling or even giving away land that had such steep hills in the days before bull-dozers. The location, moreover, near the City’s second suburban subdivision, Angeleno Heights (now “Angelino Heights”) could have been another reason to establish the City’s first real park. (Phyl Diri, “Where the Fern Brake and the Willow Find a Home,” California Historical Society Journal , October 1983)

The Barlow site has thirty-two separate “contributing” (historic) buildings dating from 1902 to 1952, mostly in the Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival styles. A building on the Barlow property is designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 504, and a historic resources evaluation in 1992 found the site eligible for listing as a National Register historic district. http://www.laconservancy.org/issues/issues_barlow.php4

The general plan for the area (2004 Silver Lake-Echo Park-Elysian Valley Community Plan) layers open space requirements over this privately owned space. The Barlow campus is the entrance to one of the city’s oldest public parks.

In 2009, Barlow applied to the City of Los Angeles to change its zoning from agriculture to High Medium and Low Medium density (depending on the parcel), and it requested amendment to the Community Plan.

Barlow proposes to replace the existing hospital and to build a 31,000 square-foot administration support facility and a 17,000 square-foot skilled nursing facility, and to subdivide and redevelop the remainder of the property with 888 multi-family residences (1,050,500 square feet) and 15,000 square feet of commercial space. (August 25, 2009 Notice of Preparation and Notice of Public Scoping Meeting for an Environmental Impact Report). (E-mail messages from Diane Kitching, August 25, 2009 and May 4, 2011).

The City Planning Department is currently reviewing the first administrative screen-check of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR, or DEIR). Nothing has been released or completed. (E-mail message from Diane Kitching, the planner in charge of the EIR, May 4, 2011)

The City’s decision to either allow the proposed land use changes, to require mitigation of environmental impacts, or to deny the project, should be seen against the backdrop of the history of Los Angeles. This City’s government has a long history of privatizing public space.

I can’t talk about the American idea of property enough. The City privatized the municipal stairways, privatized roads into the Hathaway Estate, laid siege to Elysian Park with a police academy, and plans for a convention center on Palm Drive in the park, built roads for Frank McCourtland through the park. Tom La Bonge wants to turn part of the Observatory in Griffith Park into a bar to make some money. The City subsidizes private buildings, created a corporate acropolis on top of Bunker Hill, and threw out residents of Chavez Ravine and gave out the land at taxpayer expense to Walter O’Malley. It has always done this. The City of Los Angeles is a Mega Fauna gobbling up public space and turns the city treasure into shit. Perhaps I digress.

The American idea of property is that it is something to be sold and that real estate development is the “highest and best” use of land. The older English and American idea of the Commons began to disappear with the British Parliament’s Enclosure Acts, which was a condition precedent to the Industrial Revolution and the intensification of Capitalism. The Mexican Ayuntamiento, on the other hand, retained ownership of much of the land around what is now downtown.

Professor Peter L. Reich, in his extraordinary essay “Dismantling the Pueblo: Hispanic Municipal Land Rights in California since 1850,” (The American Journal of Legal History , Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 353-370, explained:

“The American city government inherited 17,000 acres of municipal land when they took over Los Angeles. Early nineteenth-century Americans assumed, in the words of legal historian Willard Hurst, that as land became a tradeable commodity, ‘the normal destination of the public domain should be to come to rest in private hands.’ Thus American cities as diverse as New York City and St. Louis rapidly sold off their commons and abdicated the management of economic development to the private sector.”

Also, Professor Reich writes:

“When the American political system was installed in 1846, land speculators and settlers pressured the new authorities to privatize the communal aspects of the Hispanic land system. The desire to commodify the land was not surprising in the context of the massive speculation and investment that had taken place elsewhere in the early nineteenth-century United States, often resulting in the concentration of land ownership in a few hands. California’s territorial Secretary of State Henry W. Halleck observed this process repeating itself, with “the mania for land speculations” resulting in many ‘irregular proceedings’ by local officials attempting to respond to the demand for lots.”

Barlow Hospital has been able to take advantage of the site for 109 years.

It now seeks the change the character of the neighborhood and of Elysian Park substantially. Mega Fauna politics mean the City Council will lean on the Planning Department to push through this tragic degradation of open space.



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