A Clear Blue Vision: L.A. Light Rail and Twenty Five Years of the Blue Line

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In a 2012 interview with transit scholar Ethan Elkind, Richard Stanger, former Los Angeles County Transit Commission rail development director, credited the 1988 film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" for popularizing the theory that "car companies had deliberately destroyed the once great Los Angeles Streetcar system," thereby setting in motion a strain of nostalgia for the defunct Pacific Electric/Los Angeles Railway (P.E./L.A.R.) that led to greater public support for rail transit. 1 Set in 1947 Los Angeles, the movie, as the Thom Anderson-directed documentary "L.A. Plays Itself" notes, "offers itself as a cartoon version of 'Chinatown'," swapping water controversies of the latter with the … [Read more...]

From Small Farming to Urban Agriculture: El Monte and Subsistence Homesteading

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"People want to get outdoors ... and the small farms home gives them that opportunity," Ross H. Gast told an audience of San Diegans in 1933. "It is a good home in good and bad times and a place to save earnings with an incidental production of food supply." The writer--an editor at the Los Angeles Times' Farm and Garden Magazine and El Monte resident--had long advocated for the "small farm lifestyle," a return-to-the-land movement that stretched back to the turn of the century. "The way I see it, the small farm home is not just a piece of property but a mode of living, one that is being adopted generally in Southern California," he noted. Through Gast and others, the Los Angeles Times had … [Read more...]

“Brick Mansions: it’s so dangerous, we built a wall around it.”

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Warning: This post is full of spoilers. Thankfully, Brick Mansions isn’t the kind of movie you watch for the plot. Brick Mansions is the American remake of the French film District B13 (not to be confused with District 9, the Academy Award-nominated South African film from 2009). Brick Mansions tells the story of a housing project in 2018 Detroit – a project so dangerous the city literally built a 40-foot wall around it, with police checkpoints at all entrances and exits. David Belle plays Lino, a resident of the projects who uses his parkour skills to steal drugs from the dealers and then destroy them. The plot really takes off when cop Damien (played by Paul Walker in one of his final … [Read more...]

Educating Compton: Race, Taxes, and Schools in Southern California’s Most Notorious Suburb

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[For more on Compton and its complex demographic change see an earlier ToM piece, "Compton as the Bellwether for Urban America"] "I want [my children] to have more success in life," Ismenia Guzman told an L.A. Weekly journalist in 2010. "I want to change the cycle ... I want them to have more than I have," Guzman, mother of two, one a first grader at Compton's McKinley Elementary and the other a student attending Watts Charter High School, succinctly summarized the goals of Parent Revolution as it attempted to reform Compton's troubled grade school. 1 Parent Revolution, a product of the Los Angeles Parents Union, organized disgruntled Compton parents frustrated over McKinley's poor … [Read more...]

Riding the Big Red Car: Work, Leisure, and Community in Multiethnic L.A.

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A subway to the sea, new mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, told reporters in 2005, "would be the most utilized subway in the nation, maybe the world." According to a Los Angeles Times survey at the time, voters identified transportation related issues as their primary concern outside of education; for both issues, nearly a quarter of the electorate demanded improvement. 1 Yet, such promises often take time to develop and implement. Nearly ten years later, this past November officials finally broke ground on the Metro Purple Line Extension. The groundbreaking ceremony at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art drew rail proponents, elected officials, and transit administrators who all expressed … [Read more...]

Building Subways in the Post World War II World: Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

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In a September 2014 issue of the Beverly Hills Courier, a front page story declared that the construction of a new subway stop for the proposed L.A. Purple Line would make Beverly Hills High an ISIS target. ”I’m extremely concerned with this type of information … The symbolic nature of a school holding our children, our hopes and dreams for the future,” Superintendent Gary Woods told the paper, “if this is attacked in essence they’re attacking the core of our being of, our culture.”[1] Yet if one travels back two years, Beverly Hills officials drew upon a very different rationale for its opposition to the proposed Purple Line stop. In July 2012, officials and others told the New York … [Read more...]

Karachi: A Sensory History

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Karachi is one of the world’s largest cities—by some measures, the second largest in terms of population, and likely the world’s biggest “Muslim” city. (In this way, it is like the Indonesia of cities.) More than twenty million people live in this messy, dynamic, fractured megalopolis, the center of Pakistan’s financial and media industries and a major commercial entrepôt on the Arabian sea. Pakistan itself has a population of close to 200 million people, making it sixth in the world, just behind Brazil and ahead of Nigeria. This fact reveals a sobering reality: as Bangladesh places eighth in total population, the Indian subcontinent of the former British Raj counts some 1,611,000,000 … [Read more...]

East of East: Mapping Community Narratives at Mountain View H.S.

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Hello Everyone on the Internet! In continuing our live-blog on History in Action, here is the second of our entries on “East of East: Mapping Community Narratives in El Monte & South El Monte”. Yesterday, we held our first event at Mountain View High School on the east side of El Monte California. I gave a talk and then a discussion with students studying journalism. Michael Weller teaches journalism, his students this year have been involved in a yearlong collaboration with KCET Departures. With the help of Ruby Fregoza, students from five different schools in El Monte and South El Monte have learned to become student-journalists and citizen activists. At Mountain View High School the … [Read more...]

The Shifting Cultures of Multiracial Boyle Heights

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[Editor's Note: Fifteen years ago, a a group of Jewish and Latino activists began efforts to renovate and save the historic Breed Street Shul as a means to highlight the community's diverse history. With 2015 upon us, ToM thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit these efforts and place them in historical context] In a critical scene from the 1997 neo-noir "L.A. Confidential," the ambitious and overzealous Detective Ed Exley (Guy Pierce) escorts rape survivor Inez Soto (Marisol Padilla Sanchez) through the tumult of press coverage upon her discharge from the hospital. Soto's testimony proved vital in convicting four black men of murder at the famous Night Owl diner massacre; a case … [Read more...]

Letting It All Burn: How A 2013 “Best of” serves as a reminder of 2014’s “Worst of”

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“This police department here in Philadelphia could invade Cuba,” Mayor Frank Rizzo told reporters. “What I’m saying is that we are trained and equipped for war.” Rizzo’s appraisal might have been made nearly 30 years ago, but it now seems eerily prescient. With the events of the last few months, few films from the past couple years capture the current angry zeitgeist like Let the Fire Burn (2013) a documentary investigating the disastrous May 1985 confrontation between the Philadelphia Police Department and the back to earth, black power, anti-technology, commune/organization known as MOVE. After all was said and done, three city blocks, about 60 houses, lay in ruin and eleven MOVE members, … [Read more...]

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