Observing Los Angeles

Downtown LA re-created in Idaho man's basement

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Larry Kmetz, who is 70, grew up in downtown Los Angeles toward the end of the streetcar era. He has strong, favorable memories of his travels around the city and has recreated an interpretation of the LA of his youth in his basement in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. After word got out last week about Kmetz's obsession, Ed Fuentes made contact for KCET's Departures blog. Sample from the post:

Kmetz calls the model "L.A. Creation," which he describes as "an L.A. of yesterday, and some of an L.A. of me." It's fragments of location, a recollection of the city based in childhood memories of exploring the city by light rail. When he was a boy, he moved to Los Angeles with his father, first living at the Santa Rita Hotel on Main near 11th, and attended St. Joesph's Elementary School. For Kmetz, that fragile time of adulthood independence did not begin with the Southern California car culture, but by streetcar. "When I was 15, I didn't care about a Chevy. I got more kick by riding street cars," he said....

He rattles off with the rhythm of a 1960s DJ weaving into a set of rock and roll songs. "You could jump on the P-car down Pico and Rampart, or later to see downtown Broadway's department stores. Richfield Tower, the old Texaco building," he says with sustained breath before recalling the view toward the industrial section. "On Broadway and 8th, if I looked east, there was an old looking building from the 1930s, on top was a steel sign with lighting in it. On 7th and Broadway, still looking east, you can see the gasholders. Of course, from Alameda, it was impressive looking," he said as he paused for one beat. "From 6th and Broadway, you can see eight smoke stacks, then the street shifted, the stacks looked higher from 5th and Broadway; factories with waters towers, the whole industrial look," he said. "I wanted to recreate that experience I had as a kid."

Then Kmetz speaks a beat slower and just a bit quieter as he thinks how downtown shifted into the 1960s as he entered his 20s. "L.A. was changing from what I liked. It was becoming modern. But that's what they wanted to do, that's their city."

Lots of pictures and explanation of what Kmetz has created, and why, in the piece. He has recreated, for example, the gasholders that were longtime landmarks of downtown well after the freeways arrived.


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