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A Los Angeles Primer: Park La Brea

How many degrees could possibly separate any given Angeleno from someone who lives, or has lived, in Park La Brea? The well-known, highly visible apartment complex, located just north of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, seems to bring forth an anecdote from just about everyone. At a Q&A session after a screening of his documentary “Los Angeles Plays Itself,” I heard filmmaker Thom Andersen mention having once moved there after regarding it for years as the most glamorous place imaginable. (He has since climbed what many Los Angeles architecture buffs would consider more than a rung or two up the glamor ladder, to a Rudolf Schindler house in Silver Lake.) A friend of mine told me about a girl he briefly dated years ago; as soon as he made it into her apartment, high in one of Park La Brea’s eighteen thirteen-story towers, he took one glance at her awful furniture and knew they would never work out. Another regularly gives tours there to Los Angeles-transferred professionals in need of living space. My own girlfriend also put in some time there, albeit as a little kid.

Everyone comes to Park La Brea for their own reasons; I, as a non-resident but regular visitor, have linguistic ones. In the course of my Korean language study, I met a Korean family who, impressed at my determination to practice their mother tongue — impressed, I assume, for the same reason Dr. Johnson regarded the proverbial upright-walking dog as impressive — they generously invited me to stop by their home each week for additional instruction in Korean language and culture. With the wife on sabbatical from her job teaching economics at a Seoul university, the family had decided to spend the time off in Los Angeles, moving into one of Park La Brea’s two-story garden apartments. The first time I tried to stop by, I promptly lost my way in the complex’s series of roundabouts and radiating diagonal paths. Luckily, I’d allowed time for just such a navigational struggle. Flying into LAX, I’d always taken note from above of Park La Brea’s geometry which, though precise and immediately recognizable, gave me a sense of trouble. I count myself lucky that I haven’t lived there yet and haven’t had to go through the nighttime ordeal of getting home drunk.

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

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