Everybody Loves the Sunshine

By Lynell George

Via LAist:


When you’re from Los Angeles and far from home, it is never unusual to spot a hint of the familiar in some on-screen backdrop: a car commercial, a music video, a glammed-up police procedural. But when you hail specifically from “Black Los Angeles” — finding your personal cross streets swirl up on television, especially from afar, prompts a unique set of emotions.

The Avenues: The Backdrop of South L.A.

Instantly, I recognized the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue. I’d grown up just down the street. Five — no — three minutes away. Back then, I seldom saw my neighborhood on television, except, of course, if something tragic had transpired. Some crime blotter mishap: gang-related violence, a robbery. So when a jittery picture, framed from above, filled the screen. I already knew to steady myself. From the newsticker running across the bottom quarter of the screen, I deciphered that Nipsey Hussle, the L.A.-born and Crenshaw-bred rapper, activist and entrepreneur had been shot outside of his business, the Marathon Clothing store. In a short time, the newsticker reset to announce his death. Murdered. He was 33.

My heart broke into innumerable scattered fragments. The atmosphere shifted in the room, too. This mostly-Black crowd in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood, didn’t just know who Nipsey Hussle was; they also deeply identified with what he symbolized. Pushback. Resilience. He could have moved “up and out”; he could have chosen to be anywhere, but instead he was taking his community back, taking into his arms. His example of re-investment offered a path toward hope.

Though I am a generation older than he was, this loss was my loss. This was the neighborhood that shaped me and, in certain ways, it is the place I’m always trying to get back to in my soul. He’d grown up in this same patch — running the avenues and boulevards: Sweeping corridors lined with impossibly tall, listing palm trees, chockablock stretches of charming starter homes. He’d made a point to make these streets the backdrops of media photos and music videos. They, in turn, became his kingdom. And while many of those blocks still stood strong, unified in spirit, we all saw, in real-time, that the landmarks, the charm, the voices and rhythms of life there were in jeopardy. By choosing to remain in place — visible — he’d made inroads and impact.

Read more at LAist

O, Pioneers

O, Pioneers: Dana Johnson explores the remaking of L.A.’s historic core

In her latest collection of stories, the associate professor of English explores a wide range of experiences unique to the City of Angels.

via USC Dornsife

By Lynell George

Here in Los Angeles, you learn early and often: Screen magic trumps real life.



Here in Los Angeles, you learn early and often: Screen magic trumps real life.

Writer and professor Dana Johnson was reminded of that prickly coexistence on a recent afternoon. Wandering into Union Station, she found it a-swarm. Not teeming with commuting Bunker Hill suits nor the downtown Arts District’s new guard, but rather the entire lounge space swallowed up by a buzzing film crew: cables, lights, scrims and steel barricades. “You can sit,” a disembodied voice rebuffed all in approach, “but don’t move.”

She made a beeline, into the courtyards at the edges of the station. Stashed in a hidden corner, Johnson happened upon a small bronze plaque commemorating the terminal’s 50-year anniversary in 1989: “Through the portals of this historic edifice have passed the great and near-great.”

Johnson’s fiction has long examined those edges — animating the “near great”; the L.A. that isn’t in the foreground, the one that is too often asked to sit, but don’t move. That’s the L.A. she moves through every day on foot.

“I get a notion. An image. A line of dialogue,” she said. “Or maybe it’s just a feeling I want to explore.”

To read more about Dana Johnson’s story collection click here


Image via USC|Dornsife

Chinatown’s New Lagniappe



Not quite a year ago, a crisp green-and-white awning sailed up above the entrance of what used to be a down-at-the-heels Chinese restaurant on Ord Street in Chinatown.

Passers-by paused to tent their eyes and squint through blank windows. There wasn’t much to see — just butcher paper stretched tight across the windows. No real evidence of anything tangible — beyond a name — “The Little Jewel of New Orleans.” Was it a business? A gentleman’s club? Some new-for-old Hollywood creation? Mirage?

In L.A. it could be anything.

Its halfway state piqued curiosity across all sorts of casually drawn community lines: Chinatown business owners wondered who the new addition might be. The NIMBY folks were soon speculating. As word traveled to other corners of the basin, Louisiana transplants became guardedly hopeful; same was true for food enthusiasts, too.

Executive Chef Marcus Christiana-Beniger and his partner Eunah Kang — Little Jewel’s co-proprietors — worked stealthily for months behind that paper curtain. There were lots of prep to do: clearing and rethinking the space, writing and editing the menu, importing products directly from New Orleans and its environs — including, most crucially, he exalted, Leidenheimer loaves that separate poseur po’boys from the proper ones.

to read more click here

A Seat at the Table at Post & Beam

Any long-time Angeleno can tell you, the term “community” is one of this city’s more bedeviling concepts. It’s a catch-all and a euphemism; a designation that is as vague as it is deliberate.

Restaurateur Brad Johnson has been circulating L.A. long enough to know that real community here — a tangible one — is not just a matter of geography or proximity, but about creating a sense of common ground. If you want to build and foster something meaningful — you have to understand it from the ground up. This was at the front of his mind, a few years back, as he and real estate developer Ken Lombard rolled through Southwest L.A. Johnson was trying to get a specific sense of what made up the sweep of territory so often haphazardly summed up as “below the I-10.”


He took it all in block by block: fanning out from the s-curve of Crenshaw Boulevard’s business district, a collection of distinctive neighborhoods stretched west, south, and east — Baldwin Hills and View Park, Leimert Park and Angelus Vista. Along a gentle rise of hill, classic ’20s-style red-tile and stucco houses with aprons of neatly edged lawns mixed with mid-century-modern dream homes that overlook million-dollar city views. On the flats below, corridors of “dingbat”-style apartment houses overrun with tropical flora (an area long-known colloquially as “The Jungle” — for both the landscaping and the periodic percolating street violence) had a mixed history of its own. One meandering sweep told him that there were many different and distinct Los Angeles-es only footsteps apart.

Post the white-flight wave of the late ’60s, the Crenshaw-Leimert-Baldwin HIlls hub became a predominantly African American neighborhood — the seat of various venerable institutions invested in black uplift — among them the Los Angeles Sentinel, the Urban League, and Leimert Park’s mix of African-oriented arts and cultural centers, artist studios, and independent businesses. And while it’s long been a tightly-knit, vivid community with deep generational roots, if you were tuned-in to mainstream media, it still read as an indistinct blur.

Johnson figured he was up for the challenge, saw something solid he could work with.
He’d been in conversation with Lombard, then Magic Johnson’s business partner, about the redevelopment projects taking shape both at the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza and at the theater complex. A new restaurant seemed a natural fit. “I’m a process junkie,” he admits. “I had this germ of an idea and as I looked around it just began to grow.” Johnson already had his eye on a chef, Govind Armstrong — most recently of 8oz, Chadwick, and Table 8 (and whose L.A. restaurant pedigree included the original Spago, Border Grill, Campanile). “I liked the fact that he wasn’t just an expert in the kitchen but knew the business side as well.” It was strategic, says Johnson, “I wanted someone who couldn’t be ignored.”

Post & Beam opened New Years Eve 2011, along the western edge of the Crenshaw-Baldwin Hills Plaza on Santa Rosalia Drive. Low slung, airy with flowing indoor-outdoor space stirred by a hint of ocean breeze, the restaurant is an oasis; its clean lines echoing the architecture of the surrounding dwellings. It instantly telegraphed home, both metaphorically and literally: the back-patio, arranged with furniture with touches of aqua and lime, harkened back to long-summer days captured in old Kodak snapshots. Indoors, along the north wall hangs a collection of vintage, space age clocks and funk and jazz LP covers, the records, Johnson admits with a laugh, “Those are mine.”

In short time the restaurant became a meeting spot — an after-work watering hole, a “lets meet in the middle” supper spot. And Johnson was right about Armstrong’s pull. Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold twice ranked Post and Beam on his 101 best restaurants list, calling it “perhaps the most ambitious restaurant ever to open in the Crenshaw district.” This was no small feat, and it would take a team who understood the disequilibrium of neighborhoods in transition as well as the fickle nature of the restaurant business itself.

You can read the rest of my piece on Post & Beam here at KCET Departures

Photo via KCET by: Teresa A. Mendoza

Travels With Dominique

For many, the phrase “No place like home” is a deeply suffused sentiment, a celebration of tangible sense of place. But to artist Dominique Moody’s ear, the saying is far more complex, housing many chambers of meaning.

For Moody, the aphorism is not a sentiment but an acknowledgment. Those four simple words, set side-by-side, which construct something instantly recognizable for others, have conveyed, for most of her life, not a place on the map but blank space: territory that is as abstract as it is elusive.

At 57, Moody has lived and worked in more than 40 locations: far-flung destinations that zigzag the country, cross oceans. Some addresses she’s touched-down on for only a few weeks, others, for blocks of unbroken months that eventually tallied into years. In that time, she’s collected addresses like charms on a bracelet — unusual, unlikely, untrammeled territories. The pattern began early — first, in-tow along with her large family; later, solo, when she herself took to her own life road — after college traveling from project to project. Each jaunt, each open-ended journey, became part of her life-collage. Home for her was a hypothetical concept, not something that could be mapped on her heart.

One doesn’t settle on a grand plan to set out to build a tiny, mobile house overnight. The germ of it, Moody explains, didn’t come in an ah ha revelatory flash. The notion itself built itself slowly from the bottom up — bits and pieces via the by-product of choices and life’s circumstances. The seeds for her larger vision, The NOMAD Project — an acronym for Narrative, Odyssey, Manifesting Artistic Dreams — is Moody’s hope to concretize a long-held desire — an artist’s studio turned inside out. The idea is to create a living work of art — where the journey and the process are as valued as essential as “product.” More than 25 years in the making, the NOMAD project grows out of a life-long sense of rootlessness. It is the next leg of road in a long-life of purposeful wandering — gathering the elements needed along the way. Not just the physical bits and pieces, but the craft, knowledge and the mindset. “Really, it is my life portrait.”

From my new piece about the artist Dominique Moody now up here at KCET Artbound.

photo of The NOMAD: courtesy Dominique Moody

“June of Art”:

The Creative Cosmos of June Wayne
By Lynell George


MY PIECE, “The Creative Comsos of June Wayne” is up at KCET|Artbound

A snip:

Wayne was not simply a multidimensional, multimedia artist, she was also, says Brown, a deeply dedicated social activist, interested in identifying disparities and confronting inequalities, head-on, but in a grassroots, hands-on fashion: “For June, collaboration was the ultimate humanizing practice, because it connected people as partners in a particularly profound way.”

Attempting to connect the many parts of an artist’s life and provide fresh context, a new exhibition of Wayne’s wide-ranging explorations opens this week at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, the first major retrospective of her work in nearly 20 years. Co-curated by Brown and Jay Belloi, the exhibition — “June Wayne: Paintings, Prints, and Tapestries” — links the many chapters of Wayne’s varied career and features key pieces representing each of her major periods: her early Social Realist work, her California Surrealist paintings; her many lithographic series — including the nuanced and groundbreaking “Dorothy Series.” A visual narrative — a sequence of emotionally evocative prints based on her Russian-immigrant mother’s life-journey — “The Dorothy Series” reflected not just the points on her mother’s personal map, but also traced the emotional territories and consequences of her decisions.

You can read the rest here at Artbound

“Meeting of the Minds”

By Lynell George

tom and james

Like a good book, a good bookstore's lifeblood is its stories — stacks and stacks of them. Stitch together those stray, day-to-day anecdotes with a clever plot, vivid recurring characters and some unexpected twists, and you just might have something solid, something with real longevity.

As the tale of brick-and-mortar retail goes, Eso Won Books' ongoing story is about as twisty as a plot can get. In its 25 years in the trade, despite a wildly inclement business climate rocked by urban unrest, earthquakes, industry shifts, multiple re-locations and recessions, the Southwest L.A. bookstore remains a community hub in the heart of Leimert Park. While its long roster of visiting authors — Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley among them — offers a snapshot and time capsule of African American letters, it isn't only marquee names that hold great import to the bookselling life. As any bookseller would attest, there is an encyclopedia of other crucial factors at play that make a shop not just a "stop," but an essential destination.

Read more here at KCET Departures

(photograph by Alvaro Parra for KCET Departures)

Shades of L.A. — Bringing L.A.’s Diversity into Focus

By Lynell George
via KCET | Artbound

Carolyn Kozo Cole and Kathy Kobayashi – Embark on Shades of L.A.

It had just been a handful of months since Carolyn Kozo Cole had taken over the mammoth job as curator of the Los Angeles Public Library’s then-2.2-million piece photo collection. The biggest challenge, though, wasn’t managing the breadth or depth of its existing holdings — a complex trove detailing L.A.’s speedy and massive growth — its shifting skyline, the iconic architecture, the development of its signature highways. The dilemma was, in fact, confronting the vast expanse of what wasn’t there — the lives and stories of “other L.A.s” that had tumbled off into the margins.

“It was early 1990. Someone had come in to ask about photos of Watts,” historian Kathy Kobayashi recalls on a recent afternoon as we wind our way back to L.A. Central Library’s History and Genealogy department’s work room that’s situated in the bowels of its downtown headquarters. “It was going to be a part of a 25th year commemoration of the neighborhood, not the 1965 uprisings themselves.” she explains, “I remember her pulling the folder marked ‘Watts,’ and all there was was a picture of the Pacific Railway Station. She snapped it shut. For Carolyn, it really was sort of a last straw moment.”

It hadn’t been the first time someone would come in seeking a glimpse at L.A.’s day-to-day ethnic past, and it wouldn’t be the last, Cole knew. There would be people poking around for the fine details of life: what houses and front-yard gardens looked like, the interiors of a corner store or restaurant . In this wildly diverse city, why wasn’t there photographic record of that growth as well? There was “official” history and then there was “authentic” history — the minutiae of accumulated routine and ritual that happened within the everyday moments and collectively add up into history.

READ the rest here at KCET|Artbound

William Reagh’s Sidewalk Stories

By Lynell George
via KCET’s Artbound

WHEN PHOTOGRAPHER William Reagh first landed in Los Angeles in the 1930s, the city still seemed a string of unconnected thoughts: an expansive outpost — both wild and urban; idyllic and rough-hewn — still discovering itself as it stretched out across the basin, rambling and loosely punctuated.

Los Angeles’s juxtapositions — and the contradictions that lived side-by-side them — gave the former Kansan rich fodder for visual exploration — high/low; have/have-not. Just what was Los Angeles bent toward being? At face value, it was difficult to discern.

While history and memory tell us one piece, images of the city in its boom years — a place that moment to moment, reinvents and shape-shifts — deepen that narrative. They underscore if not gird those memories. They make real and contextualize moments and memories we question, the details we thought were gone forever, altered “in a blink.”

If not for Reagh and his meticulousness, so much of not just L.A.’s evolving brick-and- mortar profile, but even more important, its more intimate, episodic sidewalk stories, would be lost. Reagh intuited that it wasn’t simply the city’s shifting skyline or the at-a-glance atlas-view depicting the necklace of bedroom communities fanning outward that told Los Angeles’ story — but rather the incremental evolution, close-up, block by block day-by-day: the street view.

Last Fall, the Book Club of California published an evocative, time-trip: a limited-edition of Reagh’s photographic work — “A Long Walk Downtown: Photographs of Los Angeles and Southern California, 1936-1991.” With an introduction written by historian, archivist and antiquarian book dealer, Michael Dawson and an essay by Reagh’s son Patrick (who is responsible for the book’s elegant design and letterpress printing), the volume provides an intimate tour of day-in day-out Los Angeles as seen from the ground up. “My earliest memory of him is with a camera,” remembers Patrick Reagh, “It was always with him. He was very consistent.”

Reagh was on the streets: Looking. Lingering. Documenting. He walked Los Angeles and consequently saw Los Angeles — offering a different perspective than the mere suggestion of place so often gleaned in motion or generalized shorthand. He circled neighborhoods, returned to some locations year after year, charting their evolution. And though, until his death in 1992, he became one of Los Angeles’ most prolific visual documentarians, he didn’t set out to be a photographer, nor was his trove of L.A. images meant to be a formal paean to Los Angeles. A painter and philosopher, by training and inclination, photography was something that he “picked up,” while in the service, a proficiency, that overtime became, at turns, poetic — though he, says his son, would never see it as such.

Through his eyes, frame-by-frame, his photos open a window in on the city’s former self: the vast, now-gone Victorian kingdom of Bunker Hill shooting up from its perch in slate grays and inky blacks, the vivid street-life cacophony of Pershing Square, the almost audible sigh of stacked up, retired streetcars at Terminal Island. But Patrick’s remembrances of his father’s fortitude and focus shed light on not just the man who made the images but on the city he was attempting to wrap his mind around. “There were thousands of images that I wasn’t able to use,” admits Patrick, “Enough, really, to do several other books.”

His father’s arrival in Los Angeles, coincided with the city’s most vigorous years of growth, as well as its many phases of urban renewal. For years, his day job was work as a commercial photographer — shooting products, catalogues, art collections “whatever the clients called for,” his son recalls. But the weekends were dedicated to solely to prowling Los Angeles, uncovering and documenting its very disparate parts, assembling a sense of the whole.

To say there was a goal, a plan or even an organizing thesis to his images, would be to overstate his process, Patrick suggests. His father, he says, was a wanderer who would lose himself within the intricate folds of the city, “wherever his muse led him.” Patrick remembers the meanderings of his father. “He just loved to wander downtown and walk around the streets and shoot. Sometimes it might be a streetscape, sometimes it might be people. He’d often shoot from the hip, hold the camera low. He was very good at taking pictures of people without them knowing. But really, he was so non-threatening, such a friendly guy — even in the seediest of neighborhoods — he would make everyone feel at ease.”

The Cyclone Racer, The Pike, Long Beach, 1967 | Photo: William Reagh.

While Saturdays often meant a solo trek — perhaps crisscrossing the freeways by car, touring surface streets on foot for inspiration — on Sundays, Reagh might take Patrick and his sister along. It was an opportunity to see the city through his eyes — the places he felt were important to document, even if he couldn’t articulate why in words. “Train yards, he loved. Shipyards. Amusement parks, the Pike and Pacific Ocean Park,” Reagh recalls. These were places at the edge of things — of the city or the coastline — and, metaphorically, our imaginations. The transit hubs in particular provided an interesting opportunity to see behind the scenes — an end on one story, beginning of another.

Each setting called for a different set up. “If he was downtown shooting people, he’d have his reflex, or another smaller camera, maybe his Leica. At the train yard or shipyard, he’d bring his tripod and set up his big Speed-Graphic. Back then there were no security guards asking questions: who you were and what you were doing. I would climb on stuff, those piled up streetcars. There was broken glass all over. He’d be off shooting. I’d climb. Back when you could do that sort of thing.”

Often they would stumble upon magic, places like Pershing Square, before it was paved over and reimagined as concrete, antiseptic. “Then it was the most exotic place in the world. This is where people would meet — outcasts, homeless, elderly people. It was a place you would go and you could speak your mind. Hear new ideas.” But it wasn’t just the words, it was the visual expression, and impressions. “One man named Hook because his fingernails were two feet long,” Patrick remembers. “He never cut them. He could drag them along the sidewalk. My father never took a picture of him for some reason. He was so vivid. There were transvestites and hobos — just guys living outside of the norm. But those were the kinds of people who were yelling out at the world,” remembers Patrick. “He was always interested in the underdog.”

By the 1960s, a windfall in the form of a family inheritance, opened up both time, space and opportunity. Reagh was able to quit his day job and pursue his own photography ventures full-time. The family moved from their Echo Park home to Los Feliz, where Reagh was able to set up a full darkroom at home. As he worked, he’d turn up the stereo — listening to West Coast jazz, classical music — or baseball. “Never the Dodgers. He didn’t like Walter O’Malley, the whole Dodger Stadium deal,” Patrick says. “He was a dedicated Angels fan.”

Clay Street, Bunker Hill, 1960 | Photo: William Reagh.

The timing also happened to coincide, Patrick Reagh recalls, with the height of urban renewal, when the physical changes in Los Angeles were fast and often complete. If you study the span of photographs, the L.A. he arrived in versus the concrete-and-steel dream of the future he later documented, they come across as two wholly disparate planets. Those elegant Victorians gave way to the open crater of Bunker Hill; the modest skyline became a chessboard of dwarfing concrete and glass towers that re-oriented the focus — no longer human-scale, but served as metaphors for ambition — the city stretching, reaching further.

If his father had any feelings about all of this, Reagh says, they remained elusive. “You’d think he would have been upset,” he says, “but he had a detached attitude. He wasn’t an ideologue. He loved Cartier-Bresson and the concept of photographer as stroller. But, I think he thought of himself as a preservationist; someone who just needed to be doing this. He seemed to feel somebody had to.”

Decades later, the work reveals his heart. And what the images, taken as a whole, most eloquently preserve is not just sense of place, but a sense of the city’s humanity, its particular vernacular — its feel, pace, space; its leisureliness, and idiosyncratic visual language. “He was just interested in the passing parade.” says Reagh, “He let the camera do the talking.”