LA the Least Gentrified Major City? May 13, 2010
Los Angeles has been “gentrified” and made more stable in many of its areas by immigrant settlement, but the phenomenon of Anglo gentrification by what used to be called “yuppies” or their more contemporary counteparts (most of the original “yuppies” are now in their 50s) in terms of upgrading a formerly “bad” neighborhood by pushing up rents and squeezing out existing relatively poor folks, is rarer in Los Angeles than in almost any other American city. The nearest thing to it has happened in a few “paleo-urbanist” beach communities. (“Paleo-urbanist” means planned to New Urbanist specifications, but nearly a century ago!) And I think the reason for it has to do with the massive projects by the Irvine Company especially in the 60s and 70s. They, plus the nearby existence of Newport Beach, which was already a “watering spot” for the WAS (WASP but including Catholics, this being California), plus the riots of 1965, plus the perception that the air in the Irvine and Newport region was less polluted at a time when smog was worse than now, led to a massive secessio patriciorum, a secession of the patricians, a physical manifestation of Christopher Lasch”s Revolt of the Elites. Corporate headquarters relocated en masse. Second homes near Newport Bay often became first homes. Many of the people that might otherwise be gentrifiers in Los Angeles were removed to the first great Edge City, at the head of Newport Bay.
Los Angeles proper ultimately recovered from the Great Secession, it did so with the help of immigrants on the one hand, and the entertainment industry on the other. In days of old “Hollywood” and “Los Angeles” had been two separate cities occupying the same space. Outsiders who were concerned with the film industry often didn”t refer to “LA” at all, but to “Hollywood” or “The Coast.” “LA” was the rather bourgeois city that happened to occupy the same physical space. I remember, for example, when Los Angeles magazine was socially conservative enough to declare, “Why is it they never organize against the popular smut [pornography] – movies like Beach Party (1963), for instance?” This is unimaginable now. I also remember that few were the movie stars in attendance at the openings of the major Music Center (now LA Performing Arts Center) in 1964 and 1967. It is now recognized that Hollywood is at the center of cultural life in Los Angeles. The two largest political parties in the state are the Hollywood Democrats and the Eastside LA Democrats, with quite different social priorities, and the third party, the Republicans, is desperately trying to hold on to its veto on taxation and the budget. As a matter of fact, the terms Westside and Eastside are used a lot more now. When I lived in Hancock Park in my high school years, I had somewhat of a perception that I was in the exact middle. Wilshire Boulevard, the grand prestigious street of Los Angeles, had, because of foolish zoning, a strip of vacant lots where it went by the Hancock Park residential district (not to be confused with the city park of the same name, two miles west, where LACMA and the Page Museum are). They were not built on until the 70s, when condos were allowed there. The so called “Park Mile” did provide a separation between the Miracle Mile on one side and the Wilshire Center – not in those days Koreatown, and in fact a serious rival to Downtown – but the separation between West and East has grown sharper as the Miracle Mile has faded a bit, and Koreatown is what it is and not a rival of Downtown any more. And the perceived border between Westside and Eastside LA seems to run near Vine Street, through Old Hollywood and Hancock Park. And Pasadena and Santa Monica, both singularly uncool places 40 years ago, have become among the coolest parts of the city. Remarkably, Pasadena and nearby areas were the the main source of the secessio patriciorum of 40 years ago. The vacuum has been filled in a very interesting way!
In contrast, downtown San Diego feels a lot like downtown Denver, except with palm trees and water. Both of those downtowns fill up on weekends at night with hard-partying young Anglos, not exactly to be seen on Broadway in LA at any hour. If there was a secessio patriciorum in San Diego, it was only to the UCSD area near La Jolla, much closer. If the secessio had gone, say, to Carlsbad, and upper class San Diegans had relocated to Carlsbad and La Costa en masse, Carlsbad being 30 miles away (though the few Carlsbadiaos I know seem a lot more loyal to San Diego than OCers do to Los Angeles) downtown San Diego might be the ethnic wonderland Downtown LA now is. Who knows?
Note: Also posted at Newgeography