Friday, November 29, 2013

The County, Part 2

Monrovia, California

November 29, 2013

I continue to find things out, very slowly.  (That might be a fitting inscription for my tombstone, except that it might not fit.)  I've been writing about the Los Angeles area for the past couple of blog postings, and I'm going to continue down that path.

I mentioned last time that there are 88 incorporated municipalities in Los Angeles County, and that some of them because of their comparatively small size use the resources of the County for policing and fire protection and that sort of thing.  West Hollywood is a case in point.  It's a full-fledged city, but is also an enclave of the City of Los Angeles.  Its distinction is that it is basically an inclusionary, liberal, and identifiably gay city, with a gay male population of 41%.  Its city council members are mostly gay, and its city flag is the familiar rainbow flag associated with the LGBT movement.  In addition to its gay population is a somewhat inapposite community of Russian Jewish immigrants, most of whom arrived there shortly before and after the breakup of the Soviet Union.  West Hollywood's Russian-speaking population of around 6,000 people is the largest such concentrated group in the U.S. outside New York City.  Thus as you saunter down Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood you are likely to see same-sex couples walking pairs of poodles, cheek-by-jowl with old women in babushkas carrying home vegetables for the evening's meal, passing storefronts featuring young male manikins wearing purple sequined thongs.  The image of elderly old-world Russian couples and dashing young gays living side by side in tolerant harmony is one worth musing on.

I said that West Hollywood is an enclave of Los Angeles, but technically it is not completely surrounded by the City, since it shares a border on its western side with Beverly Hills, another separate city within the City.  Traveling from Hollywood (which is part of Los Angeles) on the Sunset Strip to Beverly Hills, you wouldn't really know you were on the edge of a separate city unless you paid careful attention.  But within West Hollywood are some rather famous spots, and some rather unusual municipal phenomena.  It is home to the Chateau Marmont, perhaps best known as the place where John Belushi crashed and burned. It also has the Viper Room, outside of which River Phoenix collapsed and died.  West Hollywood was known long before its incorporation as something of a "wide-open" community, offering legal gambling at a time when it was prohibited by the City, and having a reputation as liquor-friendly during Prohibition.  Thus many nightclubs and cabarets sprang up in West Hollywood.  Today the city has a law decreeing that pets are to be called "companions," and their owners "guardians."  It has also outlawed the de-clawing of cats.  I don't know whether or not the Bob Barker/Drew Carey admonition to "have your pet spayed or neutered" has been challenged in West Hollywood, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were, as the idea of a guardian removing a companion's testicles without his permission might be abhorrent to many citizens.

I had always thought West Hollywood seceded from Los Angeles, but that is not the case.  Before 1984 it was an unincorporated and rather erose chunk of County land partially within and partially adjacent to the City, a little like East Los Angeles is, except that East LA and West Hollywood, though only a few miles apart, might as well be in different worlds.  On the map West Hollywood has the odd gerrymandered look of an area that was simply left over.  Its shape sort of resembles a pistol pointed eastward toward the heart of Los Angeles.  (See the map, above.)

Anyway, West Hollywood was formed in 1984 out of some spare real estate that had once been known as the community of Sherman, being named for Moses Sherman, a railroad magnate.  (Sherman Oaks, a region of the City of Los Angeles up in the San Fernando Valley, also was named for Sherman.)  The area that eventually became West Hollywood was for some years a sort of railroad town, with rail yards for the local interurban electric street railways that Moses Sherman started, and some of which he sold for several million dollars in 1904 to Henry Huntington (nephew and heir of Collis P. Huntington), another much more powerful railroad magnate about whom I have written before in this blog, who started the Huntington Library in San Marino after marrying his uncle's widow.  In about 1925 the region began to be known as West Hollywood.

Moses Sherman was born in Vermont in 1853, and in his early 20s moved out to Arizona, where he was a school teacher and administrator, and a capitalist.  He became Adjutant General of the Territory of Arizona, and thereafter referred to himself as General Sherman, a title that must have seemed both prestigious and pretentious in the last quarter of the 19th Century when Civil War hero General William Tecumseh Sherman (no relation) was still a revered presence in American politics.  After building the Phoenix Street Railway in Arizona, Moses Sherman journeyed to Los Angeles and started building trolley lines here.  He continued to build street railways, the most prominent of which ran north-south up through North Hollywood into the San Fernando Valley, connecting Van Nuys and Canoga Park to the downtown area.  Sherman Way still bears his name, and Hazeltine Avenue was named after one of his daughters.

(The likes of Moses Sherman, William Mulholland, Collis Huntington, and other early capitalists who ran and shaped Los Angeles, carving it up, cutting into its hills, and diverting its waterways for their original purposes, were undoubtedly the inspiration for the fictional characters Hollis Mulwray and Noah Cross, the latter played by John Huston, in Roman Polanski's 1974 film Chinatown.)

The fact that West Hollywood is now surrounded mostly by LA proper is not due so much to the omission of this piece of land from the incorporation into the City as it is to the rather disorganized way the City itself grew to gobble up many of the little communities that were adjacent to its core central district.  Hollywood, for instance, was once an outlying suburb to the northwest of Los Angeles proper, then elected to join Los Angeles itself.  Beverly Hills was sort of the same, except that it decided to become a separate city.  West Hollywood just stayed part of the County.  Besides growing northward into the San Fernando Valley, thanks in part to the Sherman rail line, the City grew westward to the ocean, incorporating Pacific Palisades, Venice, and several other communities, eastward toward Pasadena, gulping up Silver Lake, Echo Park, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, and several other little towns, and southward as well, cutting a thin corridor for itself down to San Pedro on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and incorporating that city in 1909 so as to have its own commercial seaport.

Along the way, the City left many little areas either unincorporated or separately incorporated.  The result, when you look at the map of the City, is a metropolis that is wildly irregular in shape, interspersed with a bunch of separate cities. Contrast this pattern of development to that of the nation's other great city, New York.  There you find five pretty much solid chunks of land, each of which is now (as of about the last decade of the 19th century) a borough of that city, whereas each had been a separate county before, and in fact still is.  Thus New York City uniquely consists of five boroughs, and five counties, two adjacent ones on eastern Long Island (Queens and Brooklyn), one on the southern tip of the mainland (The Bronx), and two on their own islands (Staten Island and Manhattan).  New York, for as far-flung as it is, is still one huge monolith, which you can traverse from one end to the other by means of bridges, roads, railways, and ferries, without venturing outside the city limits.  The same cannot be said for Los Angeles.  There is no freeway or easy street route that will take you through the City from one end to the other without passing at least briefly through a non-city area, either incorporated or unincorporated.  Observe this on the map above, in which the colored areas are those of the neighborhoods or districts that are part of the City and the grayish-white areas are not part of it.

Los Angeles County continues to fascinate, and throughout it I continue to discover its little oddities.  For instance, the City of Arcadia (between Monrovia and Pasadena), home to the Santa Anita Race Track, has the second-highest per capita income of any city of over 50,000 in the U.S., exceeded only by Greenwich, Connecticut in that category.  (Arcadia's per capita income, by the way, is more than $67,000.)  Most locals don't know this.  Over on the other side of Monrovia is a tiny incorporated city called Bradbury, which broke away from Monrovia in 1957 and is now served by the public-safety agencies of the County.  Bradbury has a population of a little over 1,000, and consists almost exclusively of gated communities, boasting the highest average home price for a single zip code in the nation, in excess of $4.2 million.  It's one of those places few know about, and the residents like it that way, I'm sure.  It was the home of the late beloved evangelist, the Reverend W. euGene Scott, the garrulous white-haired preacher wacko who plied the late-night airwaves during the latter decades of the 20th century from his broadcasting headquarters in Glendale.  His widow Melissa Scott still lives there.  Another resident of Bradbury is Lynsi Torres, the thirty-something heiress to the In-N-Out Burger fortune and the youngest female billionaire in the country, whose house is thought to be worth $17 million.  But the most expensive property in Bradbury seems to be one known as The Bradbury Estate, clocking in at over $78 million.  Even in the absurdly inflated LA County real estate market, where a house the size of a decent Michigan garage can go for several hundred thousand, that, my friends, is an expensive place.  Unlike the more accessible and ostentatious neighborhoods of the west side of LA where the glitterati dwell, this is a community where billionaires and millionaires, businessmen, athletes and Saudi princes, go to live in privacy.  For all that, though, its brown and barren hills on the south edge of the San Gabriel Mountains do not look particularly attractive or inviting.  But then maybe that's the idea.

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