The Life and Death of the Working Class

Whatever happened to the working class?   From appearances they are all around us, working in everything from the dozen manufacturing plants still remaining in the United States to the auto and truck mechanic bays and doughnut shops across this fair land of ours.   There are carpenters, plumbers, electricians, truck drivers, butchers, bakers, cab drivers, bartenders, waiters, sewer workers, construction crews, landscapers, and even farmers and cowboys.    But, amazingly, no one is working class, anymore.

At least no one ever cops to being working class.  Not in this day and age.  When was the last time you heard a politician discuss the plight of the working class?   Television news pundits never refer as working class to the blue collar worker losing his job to some eight year old kid in China.  Or to a robot, also from China.     Even the working class doesn’t describe itself as working class.   Today the working class regards itself as middle class.    The Tea Baggers, many of whom are working class, hold up signs and make speeches about the potential demise of  the middle class.    The guy that delivers your paper every morning will lament how massive media consolidation has all but destroyed his position as a middle class earner.     Despite the dirt and grime of their professions, the hard physical work and all the dangers involved, the coal miners and oil drillers consider themselves members of the middle class.  The blue collar philosopher, Eric Hoffer, would today be described in the back of his books  as the notable middle class longshoreman.    Even the crack whore working in the grimmest parts of town will tell you now she isn’t working class, but middle class, and that her livelihood is  threatened by urban renewal ramped up  by the monied elite.

Blue collar workers describing themselves as middle class, to some extent, is nothing new.  In Europe the working class considered themselves to be working class, and they wore that distinction with pride, no matter how dubious a category it may appear to a lot of us.   Even here in the  early and mid-century United States, the working class was comfortable calling itself the working class.   Hell, labor unions were first formed around that very notion.   The workers.   The working class.  They recognized they were plumbers or trades people and as such they were people who worked with their hands.  They cut meat and splattered blood on their aprons, made bread and were covered with flour.   They laid bricks and dug tunnels, worked in steel mills and manufactured tools and garments.   They got dirty and were physically tired at the end of the day from doing all that physical work.    They had their dreams and visions, but suffered few delusions as to where they stood in the face of the overall strata.   Simply put, they were working class.

But come the sixties and when America was in transition, it was increasingly uncomfortable to wear the label working class.  Being working class meant that you maybe were less than your potential and couldn’t buy all the stuff that was being offered to consumers in the post-war era of guns and butter.   If you were working class, you might have doubts as to whether you were entitled to the finer things in life.   Perhaps you weren’t meant for that wall-to-wall nylon carpeting, the station wagon, and the Amana  over-and-under frostless freezer that was touted as the prize on every game show.

Owning a television was a whole different story.   You knew, even if you were working class, that you could at least have a television, because that kept you distracted and brain dead, which nullified the chance of self-improvement and further dissension.   You also needed that TV for the commercials, so you knew how much all new  and improved lemon scented  crap was out on the market, and which brand of crap you should buy.

I came from a neighborhood in transition.   It was the rare time in American history where doctors and lawyers lived next door to plumbers, carpenters, construction workers, and the guy who owned a store.   It was the era when ethnic groups emerged from the ghettoized neighborhoods at the urban core to the city fringes and city  suburbs where developing neighborhood offered affordable housing and access to the business centers.   For some, they moved into these neighborhoods with the intention of remaining there.  For a good many others, it was a whistle stop,  the starter house between the old world neighborhoods of the inner city and the new.  This is  where you firmed up your professional practice or got your business together, before moving into the suburbs where the single family ranch-style house,  two car garage and shopping mall waited to greet you new found success.

But no matter, whether you were the steel work, plumber, or the fledgling young lawyer, the general perception was you were middle class.   Forget about the junker car, the clothing bought from off-brand stores, the cheap food, and cramped living quarters.   Forget the fact that many of the parents were only high school graduates if that, and a portion of their kids what never put their foot inside a college door.   Forget all the parochialism, and rigid stricture of the immigrant and post-immigrant class.  The perception was you were doing better then both the poor bastards who had been stuck in the old world, or the ones fortunate enough to make it here.   They didn’t eat what they wanted, and they were lucky if they had a pair of shoes.  You had two pairs of shows, your work shoes and dress shoes.   You didn’t go hungry, and you had a car to drive and a place to drive it to.  You weren’t among the poor wretches working in some cotton field or some old world factory, scuffling out a a buck.    So you had to be middle class.

That’s what America was all about, wasn’t it?  Being middle class.   If you declared yourself middle class, you demonstrated you had arrived at least in some fashion.  You were doing better than your ancestors.  They, those poor working stiffs, would have envied you.   And while you shunned some of the constraints of old world morality and bias, you embraced enough of the Calvinist sensibility of hard work and a lot of denial to register as one with the middle class.   You wanted things, and in many practical cases you could actual buy them.   Who among your ancestors  in the Irish Famine or the dregs of Lower Slobovia, had ever heard of frozen produce or TV dinners?   And here you were loaded with those wonderful Birds Eye boxes of frozen Green Giant deliciousness stored  inside your all new Amana Freezer.

So now that no one was working class anymore, you had a nation of the middle class.   That is with the exception of the rich or wealthy.   And the poor.  but the poor had nothing and weren’t going anywhere, so there was no real need to pay much attention to them, other than to cluck cluck about how pitiful it all is and call them poor no longer.   Instead they are the underclass.    Sounds better, anymore than middle class sounds better to blue collar workers than working class.   Except the poor don’t really give a damn that they are now the underclass and not poor, as no word phrase shape shift half-assed magic is going to make them anything but poor.   No dilemmas here.

But enough of the poor.   Nobody likes to talk about the poor, except Mother Theresa and the patrons of a charity dinner where  a couple hundred cronies looking for a tax write off to appear noble honor a rich guy for his selflessness and generosity.   And since Mother Theresa is dead,  you won’t hear her going on and taking your time about the plight of the downtrodden and helpless.

So it’s the rich.  Once upon a time the wealthy patrician class in this country, the people who ran things, didn’t call themselves the rich.   In fact, in a vain effort to remain discreet, they didn’t call themselves anything at all.   But then they didn’t have to.     For one thing it was considered gauche and unacceptable.   Crude.    Everybody knew, anyway.   Besides, if you start calling your self the wealthy class then some of the working class might want some of your money.

But then, as the emerging wealthy class, as opposed to the established, patrician wealthy class, the Kennedy’s and the Rockefeller’s and the like,  began to make more money decorum went south for the season, and the neo-rich couldn’t resist flaunting their toys for all the world to see.  The very concept of gauche and good taste  put on its designer goodies and fled the MacMansion on a Gulfstream.   Gross consumption was the word of the day, and those who had come by recent wealth were heralded in the cross media platforms as  was heroes of the modern world.  They were to be admired, envied…and copied.

So this meant that the real middle class and of course the upper middle class– as there had to be at least an attempted distinction between the middle-middle and the upper middle–went chasing after the formerly middle but emerging wealthy class.   This meant the middle class wanted what the rich wanted, and the rich in this case were the oil barons, the bankers, real estate mavens, stock brokers, models, sports stars, and the twelve-year-old start up guys with a new kind of digital company.  Of course, this group, traditionally, were not at the pinnacle of great taste and culture.   But they had what they had, cretins or not, and the middle class wanted it, too.   And since some of the middle class was also the working class, calling themselves the middle class, you had an unprecedented  demand for what in marketing parlance is termed luxury items.

There is an inherent problem with luxury items.  It is not always easy to determine what is truly a luxury item and what is not.  Other than the price.   Once upon a time the more discerning, the connoisseurs could  discern the difference in quality from everything from food to furniture.   They were educated in the nuance and distinction.  They knew woods, fabric, drape, and workmanship.   The ability to distinguish the good stuff from the mediocre was either self-learned or  was part of the patrician package deal.   Or, at the very least, there was some cultural flunky in access who could fill them in.   How else were you going to be the ruling class and, no matter how discreetly, lord it over the masses if you didn’t know the difference between fine bone china and paper plates?

But that was a different world.   In today’s world who has time to learn all this stuff?    And even if you did, chances are in a cookie cutter world of mass consumption much of the luxury brands you are buying at premium prices are being knocked out by the same slave in the same factory in a village that ten years ago finally got running water..   So along comes branding.  You don’t actually need to know what makes something worth more, what gives it special quality and craft, form and function.  All you have to do is look at the label.  If it costs a lot, then it’s quality.   That’s it.  As with romance, politics, human behavior, or the history of the Earth, let’s not meddle in complexities.  Let’s instead carve it down to a few simple concepts that even the idiots in the cheap seats can understand.

So in the middle of all this, where in the hell is the working class?   And, more so, in this world of only one constant, that of eternal confusion, how do you make the distinction between the working class and the middle class, even the upper middle class.   The wealthy elite; that’s easy.   Just look for the Gulfstream parked in  he driveway.   But it it is only an RV taking up space in the breezeway and clogging all the neighbor’s view is the family who owns it working class and prepped for the big weekends out at Lake Somewhere, or are they middle class with a penchant for the great theme park?

Tough call.    What does make the difference between the working class and the middle class?  Is it education?  Breeding?  Income?   Is it where you buy your stuff?  But then the same designer sweat socks you paid a fortune for on Monday are selling Friday in a big box store.   So no go there.   If we  break it down to occupation, it is still pretty confusing.  Typically, a plumber or landscaper is working class.  But if he owns a company and has a fleet of fourteen trucks, and he raked it in big time in the housing boom, then maybe he is worth more than his station would indicate.  Maybe he is a wealthy guy, not wealthy class wealthy but upper middle class.   While, say  the account executive or sales manager who should be middle or upper middle class has fallen on tough times in the economic downturn in an industry that is facing obsolescence is making the same salary as the manager of a Piggly Wiggly.  If you go by salary, then maybe the troubled account executive is working class, or out of work entirely and desperately in search of a job.  But I digress.

And what about the manager in the Piggly Wiggly?  Is he working class or middle class?   If he has his name labeled on his shirt, does it make a difference as to which class he is part of.    We have to contemplate the station of the  IT guy, the techno geek, wearing the torn Mickey Mouse Tee-Shirt he bought at someone’s yard sale in order to forget he is very much under the thumb of a multi-corporate structure, is he working class or middle class?  As for the hooker, mentioned paragraphs ago.  Where is she in the class structure?  I guess as with any other commodity, it is a matter or pricing and volume.

So it would appear in the great socio-economic milieu that the working class is gone and forgotten.  It is an archaic term, I suppose, in some ways.  Everyone works, after all.

The Life and Times of the Counterfeit Erection

The head of the Intellectual Property Investigation Bureau for the Hong Kong Customs Office, recently reported that eighty percent of the counterfeit drugs seized are  used to treat impotence.  This means that despite all the diseases out there that require treatment, from heart disease to restless leg syndrome, the main concern is penis performance.   The heart arteries could be blocked, and the diabetes count could be four hundred and change; lungs could be like toasted marshmallows from years of cigarette smoke, and the brain riddled with mad cow disease, but if the penis works, then all is well with the world.

Stiffening the penis is big money wherever you look.   Between the lap dances and the porn sites, the sex junkets to Thailand, even the somewhat tame Victoria’s Secret Catalog, much of the international marketing thrust is designed for Chubby.    There are colognes promising sex attraction through Pheromones and monkey sweat.   There are any number of herbs and foods considered to be aphrodisiacs.  Where the penis is concerned, the world is its oyster.  We are not talking a few bucks here    We are talking mega-billions.

In fact the manufacture and sale of imitation Viagra and other such drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction generates more profits than any other drug sold in China.    Much of it is also exported.   But there is for the world wide boner effort, plenty of pills to go around.   Viagra and Cialis are the two most pervasive counterfeit drugs confiscated by customs officials.  Needless to say, these drugs are not regulated, so they either consist of harmful adulterants that can give the user damaging side effects, or they are merely placebos that have little affect whatsoever.   In all, it is a gamble that most customers are willing to take.   The hope of a hard on is more promising than the fear of, say, a liver disease.

I find this remarkable on at least one level.    The fact that consumers will take health risks for elusive or ephemeral benefits is really unremarkable.  In fact, it is commonplace.   People will use Botox in spite of some of the possible nerve damage it can cause.    They will smoke, drink, take drugs to excess.   They will  have themselves peeled and snipped and will disregard any possible dangers.   Hell, they will overlook all the warning signs of transmittable disease and come closing time go home with a disaster just waiting to happen.   So, I suppose, why not at least have a pharmacological  erection to accommodate that ill fated night you may long remember?

No, nothing remarkable about this.   What is remarkable is the fact that after hundreds and even thousands of years of the Chinese pursuit of the heavenly hard on, they are resorting to Western medicine to achieve their desired erections.  All those centuries of eating everything from deer antler, tiger penis, bear bladder, and even gall stones has not compared to the majestic little blue pill.  Or the yellow one.   So has all the years of imbibing Shark’s Fin Soup, Bull Dick and Testicle Soup, Ginseng,  Rhino’s Horn, Sea Cucumber and Bird’s Nest Soup not produced the results that we were led to believe?    One has to wonder if the desire for Western treatment for erectile dysfunction is because all that other crap doesn’t work, or it is largely the notion that downing Tiger Penis is a much tougher project than swallowing one small pill.   Even with hot sauce, it is hard to imagine what culinary delights the Tiger Penis has to offer.   Common sense would dictate it’s a lot easier to take the Viagra or Cialis and leave room in your stomach for some veggie fried rice or a nice, juicy steak.   But then the exotic lure of Tiger Penis is something that has escaped me, to date, so maybe there is in the end an acquired taste.

Chinese medicine has been venerated for a fair number of years.  Skeptics of Western medical practices, and there should be, believe me, have often extolled the virtue of Chinese Medicine.  We are not just talking acupuncture here, but the herbs and foods that offer curative power.   Chinese medicine is regarded highly in holistic circles as both reputable and in certain ways advanced in its understanding of the human body and the way certain diseases should be treated.   I have used Chinese Medicine.   So why, when there are nine million herbs, body parts, food sources and whatever that are over the centuries devoted to raising a woody, have the Chinese decided to eschew all that and switch over to the pill?

Perhaps it is the nifty commercials where a boomer band sits around singing “Viva Viagra,” at the top of its bar band  lungs as if a group grope at closing time is their collective reward for playing bad cover songs.  Or the kinder and gentler Cialis commercials where “when the moment is right for you.”   Yeah, like painting a room might suddenly inspire the two of you to put down the rollers and climb down off of that ladder.   I have wondered if the suggestion behind double bathtub commercial is that once the Cialis takes hold of Johnny Wonder it will drill through one tub into the other.    Better than Popeye’s spinach.

You would think with all the Viagra buying, the Chinese would have  a lot of sex on their minds.  The idea of buying counterfeit Viagra, or Cialis, or Levitra, for that matter, I would think is to keep the cost down.   If you are messing around just here and there, what’s few bucks more for  the real thing.   Okay,  one reason for buying counterfeit may be the confidentiality.   In China, where losing face, or whatever, is a big issue, the Chinese man may want to keep it on the low down that his thingie ain’t working.   It’s not like here where we are not only singing about it, but bragging to our friends.

Perhaps it is a quantitative thing and Chinese men have become a bunch of horny souls who thanks to the national surge in their economy are looking for love in all the wrong places.   It could be they went from the bitterness of short money and a lot of starvation to feeling flush everywhere but down below.   Deer Antler letting you down?  Try Cialis.   So there in the need for quantity comes forth the need for economy.  Viagra and such is expensive.   Counterfeit pills have to be a lot cheaper.  But then it is more than a tad ironic that a nation trying to retain population control is defying the odds of pregnancy that is strongly propagated by  an insistent erection.

But the Chinese have for at least the modern age been largely a prudish nation.  Movies are often censored.   National policy forbids pornography.  Yet when it comes to illegal brothels the government looks the other way.   Usually, the illegal brothels are fronted by a hair salon.  What a rude awakening for the unsuspecting soul ventures there for a cut and perm.     And since the “hair salons” proliferate Chinese cities, perhaps a pocketful of Viagra is necessary to just to work your way down the block.

In fairness, every nation has had its aphrodisiacs.   There are oysters, chili, dog meat, yes, dog meat, more oysters,ginkgo, turtle eggs, and  the skink.    After awhile, it seems just about everything but liquor and ice cream will help men get it up.   Of course, Western culture being what it is, nothing makes more sense than a single pill you pop an hour before your are ready to roll of the sofa and turn off the TV.   Can’t argue with that.

Although there are certain Westerners who are taking issue with the Viagra culture.   As the Daily Beast has dubbed them The Viagra Brigade, here are the women who at a certain age have had their sex drives diminished to levels of  a more  sedentary convenience.   Now here they are, content to pursue other interests, coping with a horny husband.  Some  of these men make increased demands on these women, depending on the size of the prescription.   And some go astray, complicating long term relationships by jumping the reservation and heading for the younger women world  for that one last time around.

Geezers with an attitude.   And then there are  the younger women who married the wealthier older man for security, companionship, and a lot of nice things his money could buy her.   Sex wasn’t really part of the package.  but now she suddenly has to perform.   Talk about an inconvenient truth.

Maybe had a way of telling us to slow down.   Maybe, in the original master plan,  with aging we were not about to reproduce so there was not much need for erections.   Maybe, after a certain point, the penis may be working with a little help from its friends, but the rest of us is not quite up to snuff.    There are aches and pains.  The aging body hurts just when you get up in the morning, yet alone when you are having sex.  So maybe we are in defiance of nature and the master plan.

But then again, maybe not.  Maybe the crap we put into our systems that we call food creates diabetes and assorted ailments that are well known to cause erectile dysfunction.  It’s possible being obese or a least a couple dozen pounds overweight may have something to do with the way the blood travels through the body.   Maybe the sedentary life and our self-absorptions, preoccupations and worries, real and imagined, impair the sexual reflect.   One could justify that screwing in the face of age and adversity is a grand act of defiance and of telling impending mortality to kiss our collective ass.   Maybe after the BMW and the decorator everything sex and its resultant pleasure is one of the only things that really matters.    After all, we have how many sexual thoughts per hour?  I have long lost track.

So for the horny Chinese and the horny rest of us around the world, if you can’t take the heat, stay in the kitchen.  Viva Viagra.   If nothing else, it is one of the few things in this world that actually works.

Los Angeles is the Hollywood Sign

Los Angeles has always been a city of contradictions.   For one thing, most of its citizens share a love hate relationship with the city.   It is a Western City, populated at first by New Yorkers and Mid-Westerners, and now with people from every part of the globe.   It is an American city with an Hispanic past.   Its major products are agrarian, technology, and dreams.

It has been ridiculed of its tackiness and referred to as Tinsel Town.  Yet with the suburbanization of most cities in America, with their endless grids of  unremarkable houses in predictable tracts all punctuated by a series of shopping malls and big box stores, the City of Los Angeles, has become incredibly unique to itself.  On one hand when you live in Los Angeles you are aware that this may be the vanguard of American living.  If only the rest of America didn’t despise us so much.   You live here at the far end of America.  When you visit anywhere else you feel more like you have been living on the moon.

The City of the Angels one of the most populous urban areas in the nation.  Yet it’s odd and endless grids are offset by a large array of year round foliage, replete with any number of exotic plants, desert vegetation, oaks, maples, Bougainvillea, Jacaranda, and the occasional Willow.  The houses themselves are a flurry and mix and match of architectural types, with Tudors standing next door to Spanish Mission, next to mid century modern, next to the sleek, contemporary pronouncements of the twenty first century.  All encapsulated by an endless ribbon of freeways, highways,  boulevards, and narrow, winding canyon roads.   A city with extreme wealth and extreme poverty, luxury landscapes and urban blight, all embraced by the Pacific Ocean to the West and Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountain ranges to its north and east.

LA has probably the worst urban gridlock.  It is a once flat city going high rise.    Yet in some parts of the city urban sprawl is being witnessed by decidedly non-urban creatures like deer and coyote.  This is in addition to the opossums, snakes and wildcats, vying for space with major street gangs and gangs of paparazzi.   It is some mix, and confused chroniclers of the city have labored for years to analyze the contradictions.

In my twenties, I remember when the richest part of Beverly Hills, the rich flats resplendent then with celebrities and wealthy replicants of  the post-Ozzie and Harriet era,  living just across the street from the Wonder Bread Factory.  Here were houses envied by much of a nation, to say nothing of the Beverly Hills City Hall and Police Station, all enduring the smell of sugar and yeast from what was then the biggest bread maker in the country.

Los Angeles has long been denigrated for its lack of culture and abundance of nut jobs.  But meanwhile, it has long been the political sanctuary for creative refugees, be it the Mexican artists, fleeing the Mexican Revolution, or the Europeans fleeing Hitler’s scourge.   Despite the long standing and tired joke that the main culture here is in yogurt, the art scene flourishes as one of the most dynamic in the world.   There are many literary luminaries living here, and a media and entertainment center it is second to none.   As for the nut jobs, there are many, but the city’s financial and legal centers impact greatly the economics of Asia Pacific and global economics in general.

LA is the world-wide capital for self absorption.  It is a powerful city, where many adults still dress like children.  Yet it is for the most part a bastion of liberal politics, and more ethnically diverse than just about any other city.   LA is a city where people don’t care much about your background, the color of your skin and to which religion you cast your prayers.   They care instead about what you do and what you drive.   They care about how you look and what you wear, and whether you are smart enough to seize on opportunity when it air kisses your front door.

So it is small wonder, that at least part of the consciousness of Los Angeles would be symbolized by the Hollywood Sign.  Why is this a contradiction?  At least for a city that likes to knock things down and build things new things in their place, thus reinventing itself and nullifying history, the temporarily constructed Hollywood sign remains a part of our permanent history.  But maybe not for long.

The Hollywood Sign sits on Mt. Lee.  It was constructed initially in 1923.   It wasn’t built to honor Hollywood, movie capital of the world.   No.  The sign was an advertisement for a new building development known as Hollywoodland.   The sign was studded with light bulbs, some 40,000 in all.   It was garish and tacky, so very LA.

In 1949 the City Council in its great wisdom ordered  the “land” part of the sign to be removed so it could become the enduring symbol of the center of the earth, as least as far as the motion picture industry was concerned.   But structures made of wood and  sheet metal were not meant to endure, and the sign fell in and out of disrepair.  Its durability wasn’t helped any when people crashed their cars into it, vandalized it, and even jumped from it; as in one case where a failed and forlorn Hollywood actress jumped from the letter “H.”

Like many actors of a certain age, the sign may have looked good from a distance, but up close it was looking aged and worn, and perhaps only worth advertising that the once glamorous Hollywood proper was now populated by hookers and junkies, and tourists still gaping at the concrete feet of celebrities outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

In 1978, the sign was in such disrepair that the city launched a fund raising drive to replace the letters.   In steel. At the time, the cost of replacement was $250,000 or so.  Alice Cooper donated a new letter “O” along with his manager at the time, Shep Gordon.   To garner donations, pieces of the old sign were embedded in Lucite and sold or given away.   A friend gave me one of those, and to this day it still adorns one of my bookshelves.   Despite the passing of years, I still find it oddly reassuring, a relic of accidental permanence in an impermanent environment.

More work was done on the sign in 2005 and 2006.  Like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, it needs maintenance.

So where is the big contradiction?   Okay, if it is not a contradiction, then its is surely ironic.  The Hollywood Sign started out as an advertisement for a housing development.  And now, Fox River Financial Resources, Inc, wants to disrupt its solitary presence by putting up a housing development on the 138 acres of surrounding land.    The real estate development will either jeopardize the Hollywood Sign or make it awfully damned ugly to look at with a bunch of houses in its perimeter.

The City of Los Angeles and its Trust for Public Land has but three more days to raise an additional $2.8 million of the $12 Million in total needed to buy the land from Fox River, which bought it from the Hughes estate in 2002 for $1.7 Million.  A nice profit.   For what Los Angeles considers one of its historical treasures.

Personally, I want to see the sign saved.  A few luxury houses on the mountain crest will hardly substitute for the sheer beauty of the mountainous area, a rare bit of space unmolested by our problematic need to build on every piece of vacant land.   As these are to be four luxury houses developed on this parcel, the abusively rich can find another place to park their ass.    We would miss the sign, but hardly the cretins intent on their fiefdoms.  The Hollywood Sign, after all, does symbolize Los Angeles.

Old Buildings and the Age of Raze

There is a famous line in the film, Chinatown.  John Houston’s Noah Cross character, proclaims, “I’m old.  Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

I am not sure about politicians anymore, and the whores of today may not be as respectable overtime as the prostitutes of legend.   But we tend to venerate old buildings as iconic symbols of architecture, even when clearly, they were little more than utilitarian eyesores that retain as their only real distinguishing characteristic is a sense of another time.   I was reminded of this in an article in the Los Angeles Time, entitled,  Some Disquiet on These L.A. Film Sets.

The article called attention to the Linda Vista Community Hospital, which has been closed since 1991.   Initially, this was the Santa Fe Coast Lines Hospitals.  It was built by the railroad for treating its workers.   It is the mission style, well appointed, wither verandas, a dome tower, and views of downtown L.A.   It was a good hospital with special care for the railroad workers.   It was the model of medical care when unions in general had little in the way of mental health programs for their members.   This was early, integrated healthcare at its best.

But in the 1970’s complaints arose from the neighboring Latino community that the modest, 150-bed capacity was too exclusive in its treatments and wasn’t attending to those in the area.   The Railroad sold the hospital in 1981, to a corporation.   Come the late eighties and the decrease in Medicare reimbursements forced the hospital to close a couple of years later.   The property value dropped from $10 million to around $4 million.

It stood there.  An empty shell in disrepair, selling again and again to six different owners, all with plans of converting the building to anything from a charter school, to residential lofts.   But each owner found their ideas demolished in the face of reality as each realized the cost of rehabilitating the vacant structure was far too great and far too problematic.

So you think the building would be deemed incapable of providing a decent function, razed, and on the large parcel of land just adjacent to downtown Los Angeles, a new structure could be erected.  Well, no.   It turns out, in 2002, a former tenant filed to have the hospital placed on the National Registry of Historic Places, where it rests to this day.

The building sits, as the Times article says, “in purgatory.”  It is outmoded, outdated and otherwise falling apart.   Because it is now on the historic building, a new owner can’t knock it down, can’t renovate it for fear it would lose its original form….can’t do much at all.   Except the vagrants, street gangs, rats, and others who venture into the building intimidated neither by the omnipresent ghost stories and the menace of mold.

Film crews film in the hospital.   They shoot everything from horror stories to party scenes.    The crews disclose cold sports in the hallways and the eerie feeling in certain parts of the building.    Paranormal group venture forth and attempt to discover and communicate the spirits living within.  And one custodian, Jesus Mena, takes the bus thirty miles or so up from Norwalk to sweep the floors and tend to the remnants.  He doesn’t get paid for his efforts, but finds taking care of the building gives him peace of mind of sorts.

The thing is, some former tenant, a renter, filed to have this building designated an historical landmark, and now no one has a clue what to do with it, except to use it as an increasingly decrepit film set.   The former tenant isn’t the first to volunteer a building as an historical landmark.  In fact, in Los Angeles, it is pretty easy to get something on the Los Angeles or National Register of Historic Places.

This will give you the general idea–

  1. What is the Process for Designating a Building as a Historic-Cultural Monument?
    Applications for designation are made to the Cultural Heritage Commission, which are reviewed by the
    Commission’s staff for completeness. The Commission conducts a series of public meetings (including a
    tour of the property) before voting on whether or not to designate the property. If affirmative, the
    Commission sends its recommendation to the City Council Planning and Land Use Committee.
    A hearing is held and the committee gives its recommendation to the City Council, which makes
    the final determination, also at a public meeting.
  2. What are the Criteria for Designation?

These criteria are deliberately broad enough to include a wide variety of historic resources, but a proposed
resource should have sufficient architectural, historical, and/or cultural significance to warrant
designation. A proposed resource may be eligible for designation if it meets only one of the criteria
Who Can Submit a Nomination?
Anyone can submit a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) nomination to the Cultural Heritage
Commission (CHC) – the property owner, any other individual, or a group. The City Council may also propose sites for Historic-Cultural Monument status, a process that is typically initiated through a motion introduced by an individual council member.

Buildings are somewhat like people.  Some are beautiful and stay that way.   They may age, get a little long in the tooth and threadbare, but they are still structures worthy of our admiration.  Some buildings, like people, may start out looking pretty unappealing but over time either their features mature or something about them grows on the common aesthetic, a change of perspective, and voila, it’s a thing of beauty.   But not all of them are particularly beautiful or even relatively attractive.   Some of them, like people, start out homely, and end up looking uglier over time.

But then some are just bland.    There is nothing going on.  The inside is a big nothing, as is the exterior.   They are just there, functional in their times, but, otherwise, nothing to write home about.   And  nothing to preserve.   The  vast pre and post-war apartment buildings that were once so pervasive in Southern California come immediately to mind.

Perhaps then the difference between buildings and people is that people may be homely on the outside and beautiful within.   With buildings, an ugly exterior usually denotes an interior just as pathetic in design.  An ugly brute of a structure that was functional in its time.

So why is it so easy for some dimwit to pronounce some old piece of real estate an architectural treasure so it becomes this unwieldy example of urban desolation more suited to a crack house than restoration.   This, mind you, is not just for large building.  I am aware of ramshackle Craftsman Houses and cheap shingled early subtracts that have also been anointed by the National Registry.   The pre-war and post-war apartment buildings, hideously bland, replete with the anemic electrical wiring of an early age, and, largely, an eyesore have in some cases also been designated as great pieces of our history.

Mind you, I am all for preserving our heritage.  I love old buildings, especially old, beautiful buildings, but even old buildings that have unique qualities and the capability to be upgraded so that they function in the modern age.   I think a fair amount of structures should be preserved and nurtured, retrofit and upgraded.   I was thrilled when Ellis Island was rescued from total desolation and returned to its better grace.

But we are not talking here about the Notre Dame Cathedral or the great townhouses of the 19th century.  We are not talking about the California Missions, also rescued from total ruin, or the old Hollywood theater palaces that have been converted to legitimate theaters.   We are not talking about buildings that can be rehabilitated and upgraded so that the owners can enjoy the kind of lifestyle represented by the current century.

We are talking here of some ugly buildings that some dimwit decided it was worth preserving.   Not a group of city docents, or a flock of historians who understand the importance of a certain structure.   We are talking about someone who is renting and doesn’t want the property bought and from under them, converted to a more modern facility so that it is priced out of their budget.

The former Linda Vista Community Hospital is a more attractive building than most.   But it can no longer function in its present state.  If it represents anything to the community, then it represents urban blight and a time that has long since slipped away.   Like other buildings of its sort, it sits on a rather large parcel of land.   This land could be used for far better purposes than a moldy repose for ghost stories and roving thugs.

Like other buildings of  its sort, it is time to knock it down.