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A Los Angeles Primer: Westwood

I often ask Angeleno acquaintances between forty and fifty years of age if they really, at one time in their lives, thought of Westwood as a place. Most reply that, especially during the early 1980s, they not only thought of Westwood as a place, but as the place. More recent arrivals such as myself have trouble believing these stories of Westwood nightlife, especially given the bad press the neighborhood has endured over the past couple of decades: too much a clash of elements, say architectural observers; too far-flung and emblematic of the west side’s backward resistance to rapid transit, say urbanists; too hard to park there, say longtime Los Angeles residents and visiting shoppers. Other than the Hammer Museum, which plays the role of sole attraction for as many people as does the Annenberg Center for Photography inCentury City, the area seems, at present and from a distance, to have mostly strikes against it. Hence that question I put to those here long enough to have experienced its heyday; the very phrase “Hey, let’s go to Westwood on Friday” rings, to me, more than a little false.

Whenever I make my own way over there, I do find a nice enough place to pass an afternoon, but so the commonly agreed-upon sentiment that it used to enjoy a great deal more vitality than it does now makes sense. Fewer agree on what, exactly, drained it away. Writing on Old Pasadena, I mentioned UCLA parking theorist Donald Shoup’s research into the parking policy of that neighborhood, which seemingly revitalized itself through productive use of parking meter revenues; versus that of Westwood, which involved reducing parking rates instead and hoping for the best. This resulted in little more than a hardening of the place’s already-earned reputation of unparkability. That, in and of itself, may say little against Westwood — you’d have an even tougher time parking in most of the world’s most exciting cities, by their very nature — unless, of course, like a fair few of those who would converge there in its era as “the place,” you had to come in by car from ten, twenty, thirty miles away.

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

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