In his quest to read 25 books about Los Angeles this year, LAT architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne is up to David Brodsly's slim 1981 work "L.A. Freeway: An Appreciative Essay." I encountered Brodsly and his book in the 80's when he was an analyst in City Hall. It's the first book I saw that found architectural beauty in some of the local freeways — I believe he enthused on the view from the soaring ramp that flies from the eastbound Santa Monica to the northbound 405 — and that made the point about the detached, isolating nature of freeways. An excerpt of Hawthorne's impressions:
As Brodsly puts it in his prologue, which is titled, after Wallace Stevens, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Freeway," the book "is neither a diatribe nor a paean. Sometimes I hate freeways and sometimes I actually love them, but that is not the point. The point here is simply to spend some time thinking about a subject that most of us take for granted. ... My hope was to understand the freeways, not to judge them."
For Brodsly, Joan Didion's famous observation that driving on the freeway ranks as "the only secular communion Los Angeles has" doesn't go quite far enough. He calls the Southern California freeway "the cathedral of its time and place." And he spends a large portion of the book exploring the details of that cathedral as an architectural historian might, tracing the development of seemingly every major freeway, extension and spur. He also explores the symbolic, communitarian and political importance of the freeway in diffuse, ever-changing Los Angeles.
Photo: 405 looking north. LA Observed