The LA Times architecture critic's project of expanded essays based on walking the Los Angeles area's "iconic boulevards" took on Sunset this weekend. He previously visited Atlantic Boulevard. Here's a sampling of what Hawthorne sees on Sunset — he explored from the beach inland, since the usual route for such journalistic examinations has been from downtown toward the sea.
For starters, that route offers a way to explore an intriguing notion: that the key to deciphering contemporary Los Angeles is to focus not on growth and expansion, those building blocks of 20th century Southern California, but instead all the ways in which the city is doubling back on itself and getting denser.
And if you really want a gauge of 21st century Los Angeles, you'll have to look all the way to the eastern end of the boulevard, where Sunset becomes Cesar E. Chavez Avenue and — as it cuts through Boyle Heights — provides a surprising model for the L.A. boulevard of the future....
Sunset Boulevard has long operated as a zipper or seam across the length of the city, connecting the foothills to the flat expanse of the L.A. basin. But what the boulevard does most dramatically now is provide a bridge — as it moves from west to east — linking L.A.'s past to its emerging future.
The story, and so far the series, appears to exist mostly to enthuse about the small but perceptible shifts here and there toward a more pedestrian city. So Hawthorne calls out the isolated spots that support the thesis, like the new green polka-dot seating area near Sunset Junction, and the street life beyond the boulevard on Cesar Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights. He approaches the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple, a longtime haven for seekers of tranquil quiet in Pacific Palisades, as "an unusually nice place to be a pedestrian." "Like the Grove outdoor mall," he says, "except with more plants and no Apple Store."
Sunset's role for the masses as an auto and bus highway through the city remains undeterred by an uptick in sidewalk action, of course. Out in the Palisades, Hawthorne's romantic notions ran into the reality of LA almost as soon as he began walking. "There are crumbling sidewalks on boulevards all over Los Angeles, in every kind of neighborhood," he writes. "But the western end of Sunset is the only major boulevard I know where the city seems to have abandoned the idea of a continuous sidewalk altogether."
Hawthorne narrates video tours of the sights in an interactive feature on the Times website.