Skip to content

A Los Angeles Primer: Bunker Hill

Downtown’s skyline appears to rise suddenly, due in part to contrast with the many low-rise miles surrounding it. But a handful of these skyscrapers look even taller, as I explain to visiting friends already vaguely familiar with them from countless establishing shots, for the simple reason that they stand on a hill. Sometimes I get into the background of Bunker Hill, the hill in question, and sometimes I don’t. Certain cultural touchstones assist in the narrative: if they’ve read “Ask the Dust,” John Fante’s acclaimed novel of 1930s Los Angeles, they’ll remember it as the formerly grand neighborhood in which its protagonist, hapless and near-penniless young writer Arturo Bandini, made his uncomfortable home in a residential hotel. Or if they’ve seen the largely forgotten mid-nineties techno-thriller “Virtuosity,” they may recognize it as a “virtual reality” city through which Denzel Washington’s vigilante ex-cop chased Russell Crowe’s computer-generated serial killer. These two of Bunker Hill’s many appearances as settings, only 56 years apart, tell a story by themselves.

Or rather, they raise a question: how did the place turn from a crumbling neighborhood for struggling artists, old folks, and pure eccentrics into a stand of gleaming towers suitable to, as it were, simulate a simulation? If I don’t feel like talking about Bunker Hill, I can simply refer these friends to the literature; few transformations of Los Angeles’ built environment have produced so much documentation, discussion, and modern attempts at urban archaeology. (See also Nathan Masters’ post “Rediscovering Downtown L.A.’s Lost Neighborhood of Bunker Hill“.) The Victorian homes of the old Bunker Hill, developed as a swank neighborhood-with-a-view in the late nineteenth century and already a low-rent but reportedly dignified shambles in the twenties, have now passed into Los Angeles lore as symbolic of all we lost as the heavy hand of mid-century development swept across the city.

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *