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A Los Angeles Primer: West Hollywood


West Hollywood came into official being on November 29, 1984, 25 days after I did. But which of us wears our years with greater dignity? I strain to look timeless, but timelessness, improperly cultivated, slides easily into blandness; West Hollywood can rest assured, at least, that it runs little risk of that. A mixture of the uneasily dated and the insistently progressive, the tiny municipality — an “r” shape containing less than two square miles, surrounded on most of its edges by Los Angeles proper — would seem now to punch above its weight in most of the important modern rankings: food, no doubt; culture, in certain senses, yes; street life, seemingly so; homosexuality, most definitely.

Urban theorist Richard Florida gives the homosexual population serious weight when gauging a city’s vitality, having gone so far as to order the metropolises on something called a “Gay Index.” This goes especially for cities driven by what he calls the “creative class” — engineers, scientists, designers, artists, media-makers — and thus it looks like no coincidence that West Hollywood labels itself “The Creative City.” A walk down its stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, surely some kind of Gay Index in and of itself, presents rainbow-striped crosswalks at intersections, rainbow-striped city logos on police cars, and a variety of specialized bars and sex shops. But unlike, say, San Francisco’s Castro, the neighborhood doesn’t feel like a solemn monument to lost hedonism. By late 1984, Castro-style hedonism had taken its last rites anyway; West Hollywood, at least on certain streets, keeps living, keeps breathing, keeps chatting itself up. (Though not in a way everyone necessarily finds palatable. “The term ‘WeHo boy,'” as a friend and longtime resident of the neighborhood patiently explained to me, “is not meant as a compliment.”)

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

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