When I Think of Home: Images from L.A. Archives

Los Angeles Architecture and Landscapes

As the inhabitants of Los Angeles have shifted over time, they have transformed the landscape to accommodate their growing numbers and influenced an environment often misunderstood in its layered uniqueness. The land protected and cultivated by the indigenous Tongva and Fernandeño Tataviam people whispers of their presence through familiar landmarks (for example, Cahuenga translates to Kavwénga, “place of the hills”) though missionaries and early settlers now dominate the greater imagination of what people think of when they think of the historical landscape of “Los Angeles.” The perception of L.A. as a palimpsest, or blank slate, has been carefully crafted by such renaming, redesigning, and remarketing to sell an idea that usually contrasts with lived and historical reality.

Much of the city today exudes a dream-like aura. The combination of the dreams of those who migrate to Los Angeles from all over the globe for a new life and those of enterprising settler-investors results in a confusing and mesmerizing landscape. As Mike Davis succinctly puts it, “compared to other great cities, Los Angeles may be planned or designed in a very fragmentary sense (primarily at the level of its infrastructure) but it is infinitely envisioned.” [1]

Visionary architectural stylings of Richard Neutra, Frank Ghery, and Charles Sumner and Henry Mather Greene influenced possibilities for building in Los Angeles. One of the architectural designs featured in this exhibit is the mid-century modern design of Pueblo Del Rio, a public housing project in the city of Long Beach. It was built in 1940 for African-American defense industry workers and is now inhabited by Black and immigrant communities that call Long Beach home. Following a completely different path than Pueblo Del Rio, the residents of Chavez Ravine were forcibly vacated to make way for the construction of Dodger Stadium, depicted in the print above by Miyo Stevens-Gandara. You can see the outlines of bulldozed homes beneath a jubilant stadium, reminding us that along histories of triumph for some there are parallel histories of loss and displacement.

Amid the artistic visions, social boundaries are drawn through the built environment of the city, influencing how people interact with the landscape. Freeways encourage sprawl, athletics and entertainment spur redevelopment of existing communities, and industry creates enclaves where communities simultaneously thrive and are sequestered. This exhibit offers a glimpse into some of the areas where constant envisioning meets resistance, balanced by recreation offered by beaches and outdoor spaces that are so highly sought after in Los Angeles.
[1] Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 23.

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