On Friday my breakfast meeting at the Homegirl Cafe was delayed for an hour. I decided to use the time for a walk through nearby Chinatown. As often happens with me, it was a walk through history—L.A’s and my own.
Rain was threatening. I had neither raincoat nor umbrella. I hoped I would be lucky enough to avoid getting wet.
I headed west on Alpine Street and turned right on Broadway. The guides for walkers posted on light stanchions told the story of immigrants in Chinatown, moved here when Union Station was built in the late 1930s. Before it was New Chinatown, it was Little Italy. About all that’s left of that in Chinatown is the shell of Little Joe’s Italian restaurant, which has been closed for several years.
I passed a bank. I had interviewed the owner years ago. He had been involved in some city hall scandal. I had dressed in a conservative dark suit, carried a briefcase for the interview and tried to be charming. He talked too freely about the bank’s relationship with the then mayor and I had a good story. He later told my publisher that he didn't understand how such a nice person could write such a mean story. I’ve always felt a bit bad about using those reportorial tools and my guilt was renewed as I walked by the bank. .
Most of the stores and restaurants I passed hadn’t opened yet. It was 8 a.m. Children were exercising in an elementary school yard and young men—and one older one—were playing basketball at a rec center. Chinatown—a name made synonymous with civic evil in Robert Towne’s film—was just another business district waking up for the day.
I returned to Alpine Street. Up on the hill to the north was Dodger Stadium, where I waste many hours each baseball season. During World War II, sailors in the naval station below the present stadium poured down the hill and into the Alpine barrio, fighting with the young Latino men who lived here. They continued downtown and beat every young Latino and terrorized Latinas for days in what became known as the Zoot Suit Riot. I don’t know if there’s a plaque that memorializes that ugly bit of history.
At Spring Street, I paused and looked south toward the Times building, where I had spent many years telling the L.A. story, past and present. All around me were places where I used to gather news—City Hall, the Criminal Courts Building, the site of the old school district headquarters on Fort Hill.
It started to sprinkle. My luck was running out. I headed to the shelter of the Homegirl Café where the new deputy mayor for communications, Sarah Sheahan, would tell me what the mayor is doing for L.A. 2011.