Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What we've lost

I tend to spend a lot of time in the past (I originally typed "a lot of tome," which is also true), but I really don't want to live there.

I ran across this picture of the Fremont Hotel in the USC Digital Library archive. The Fremont sat at 401 S. Olive for five decades until it was razed in 1955 for a CRA project.


The Fremont Hotel, circa 1920; razed 1955.

Numerous incidents of theft from the rooms of the hotel's upscale patrons were among the many peccadilloes that went on at the Fremont, as faithfully reported by nostalgia blog On Bunker Hill.

But what interests me more than recreating the ethos of spicy, pre-corporate Bunker Hill is the clarity of vision embodied in this photograph, which was obviously made on a large-format negative and beautifully captures the architectural pride of this Mission-style building in its heyday. (Yes, some buildings have pride.)

Compare the vision of the same corner today, found in 5 minutes of navigating Google Earth.

401 S. Olive, Los Angeles, today.

As Gertrude Stein wrote of Oakland, "There's no there there."

Not only has this once engaging corner become a soulless parking lot, but our best photo documentation of it is a fuzzy "drive-by shooting." Of course there's no perspective correction with Google's fishy see-all lenses . . but, on the other hand, do these god-awful buildings really deserve it?

It's not so much that we've lost a wonderful Mission-style hotel full of history and Los Angeles lore. It's that we've lost the ability to envision our city in terms other than the most banal.

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