Photo courtesy of: Florencio Briones: May 2006.
I grew up around the LAX area, a zone divided between the South Bay and the Westside that includes: Lennox, Inglewood, Hawthorne and Westchester. Over the course of my life, I have witnessed many changes to my stomping ground, such as the big house on the corner of my street where an old, lonely man lived and scared the kids away like a Boo Radley-type from To Kill A Mockingbird. This house was blown up to film a scene in Lethal Weapon. Shortly thereafter, many houses on the block, and throughout the area, were gutted out to expand the 105 freeway, so we lost several friends to infrastructure and eminent domain. In its wake, it left an empty dirt field for many years that provided a shortcut to Crystal Palace, a billiards joint where adolescents often went to play arcade games, shoot pool, drink a few beers and smoke cigarettes. Not the most ideal place for growing children, and it has since been replaced. Across the street was the Cockatoo Inn, made famous by Jackie Brown, which opened in 1946, by a reputed Italian mafia associate. During its tenure, some of its patrons included political figures like Robert and John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, high-rollers from the Hollywood Park Casino, corporate and military figures involved in aerospace, amongst others. It declared bankruptcy in 1992, and was bought by Chinese investors that turned it into a cheap chain hotel called the Candlewood Suites.
During the 1992 riots, we observed the looting of the Alpha Beta grocery store where my brother used to work, which is now a charter school, along with the Hawthorne Plaza, also looted, where we used to shop and watch inexpensive movies as kids. It is now an L.A. County Department of Social Services center. Across the street were two military surplus stores that provided our wardrobe, from gang attire to post-punk, to thousands of durable American-made products. They are now leased by Chinese and Korean patrons selling cheap goods. The Hawthorne Police Department has since been relocated, down the street from its original headquarters, and within walking distance to several international eating cuisines including: Mexican, Cuban, Salvadoran, Mediterranean and Chinese, where you can always find police officers and detectives during lunch. Closer to LAX, down La Cienega Blvd. near Century, empty lots sit and wait in earnest for a makeover or airport expansion, thanks to eminent domain, where friends were also displaced and forced to find housing elsewhere. Our small stretch of beach starting at Imperial Highway, and a few miles north to Playa Del Rey, is now under threat to ban bonfires that were part of our cultural upbringing.
This past weekend the Hollywood Race Track and Casino were closed for good. Thousands of people from all over Southern California went out to support its final day in solidarity. I heard people complaining that they would have loved to see it that way more often, while others shed tears for a place they used to go as children with their parents, and had continued the tradition. While there, a friend called and mentioned The Proud Bird, a famous aerospace joint and local eatery where we used to hang out for dances, parties and cultural events, was also set to shut its doors for the last time. I did some research and found that the owners are in negotiation with LAX and have decided to keep the doors open for another year. There is some hope though, the Inglewood Forum, where I experienced my first concert in 1990 to see Morrissey, has gone through a renovation process and will soon open its doors to a slew of concerts and events. Most people are deeply saddened when a place they've always known, respected and loved comes to an end, places that we sometimes take for granted. It is a double-edged sword because often we look for places to patron that are outside of our area, but when a place is closed like those mentioned above, we complain, yet we probably didn't support it as much as we should have. We blame it on the owners because they simply want a higher return on their investment, however, in an advanced capitalist society, that is the goal. So let's do ourselves a favor and be more supportive of the places around us that we enjoy, because we live in an ever-changing fragmented metropolis where entire communities can always be displaced.