Sunday, November 24, 2013

An Entirely Subjective History of Los Angeles and The San Fernando Valley.

An Entirely Subjective History of Los Angeles and The San Fernando Valley.
by james bezerra

The best metaphor for understanding the way in which modern Los Angeles has grown is the metaphor of cancer.
If cancer is, at its simplest, just the rampant and uncontrollable division of mutated cells, then remember that Los Angeles, in its pre-mutation form, began more than a thousand years ago when the Tongva people gave it a name: Iyaanga. It means something along the lines of, “place of poison oak”. Some people who know about these things believe that the Tongva actually descended from tribes out of Nevada which migrated to the coast of southern California fifteen hundred years before the birth of Christ, or roughly the same time that Cecrops I was founding Athens. There is some evidence that the Tongva forced out a different prehistoric tribe which had been in the area for six thousand years before that, grinding grain at the base of the San Gabriel mountains while farming was only beginning to take place in the Nile River Valley. So who can really say where a cancer starts? Maybe it is always just a latent memory.   
When the Spanish ships arrived in 1542, they were greeted by the Tongva’s ocean-going, twelve-man canoes. The sturdiness of those canoes was attributable to three thousand years of experiments in engineering and also to the thick black pitch from the La Brea Tar Pits, which today have a gift shop.
It was the Spanish who named the place El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula, which means something like “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Porciuncula River”. By that name, of course, they were referring to the LA River which is now a dry chasm of concrete. The Spanish built missions and cleared ranch land, and little changed even when it passed to Mexican control, Mexico was still called New Spain in 1821. A blurry and sometimes bloody twenty-six years passed with little changing but politics and loyalties. The United States took control of the whole place on January 13, 1847 with a military treaty signed at the Campo de Cahuenga, which still exists. It is across the street from the Universal Studios movie-themed amusement park. Both Universal Studios and the Campo de Cahuenga have gift shops.
There are two changes which are generally indicative of the cellular mutations that cause cancer: the unchecked multiplication of cells and the diversion of blood flow required to feed that malignant cluster.
In 1892 oil was discovered 460 feet below what is now the corner of Colton Street and Glendale Boulevard, less than a mile from the present site of Dodger Stadium, which has a gift shop. The resulting oil boom and its concurrence with the waning days of the California Gold Rush caused the population of Los Angeles to multiply until it had swelled to more than one hundred thousand by 1900. The resulting pressure on the city’s water supply became manifest in the Federal legislation which created the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which would, over time, drain the Owens Valley dry. That same legislation gave Los Angeles access to the aquifer below the San Fernando Valley, over the hill the north. Provisions of that legislation prevented the City of Los Angeles from selling that water back to the farmers who grew wheat and grapes and citrus fruit in the Valley, because they were not within the city limits. Quickly the little farm towns which sat at the bottom of the 260 square mile bowl of the San Fernando Valley begged to be annexed into the jurisdiction of the City of Los Angeles. With the economic and population booms that followed World War II, LA needed somewhere to keep its people, having already filled its own space. The San Fernando Valley was ripe for suburban sprawl as it was already connected to the Los Angeles Basin by a natural gorge through the Santa Monica Mountains called the Sepulveda Pass. In 1957 construction began on the 405 Freeway which would forever forward link LA to the Valley like a hardened artery. Nested atop the southern edge of the Pass, above the freeway and looking south to Downtown and West to the Pacific Ocean, sits the Getty Center which gleams white like a mirage when the sun is out. It has a gift shop. Through the 1950s nearly all of the Valley farmland was concreted over to make space for a shockingly inefficient grid system of streets and for subdivisions of single-family homes which were built with the same energy and interchangeability of parts which had so recently served the war effort to such great success. There are still a few tiny ghettos of citrus farmland in the modern Valley. Tourist brochures refer to them as open air museum groves. One of them is a small stand of orange trees on the campus of California State University Northridge, it is located on the south side of campus along Nordhoff Street across from a gas station and a Cupid’s Hot dog stand. The hot dog stand does not have a gift shop but the CSUN bookstore sells all manner of branded commemorative trinkets.
The direct connection a tumor establishes to the bloodstream provides it with more than just a means of sustenance, it also creates a highway through which mutated cells may travel through the rest of the body.
Portions of the population looking to escape the suburban sprawl of the San Fernando Valley moved north over the Santa Susanna Mountains into the Santa Clarita Valley, which was formerly notable only for the Newhall Pass through which the Southern Pacific Railroad moved its trains between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and for the 262 acre Six Flags Magic Mountain roller coaster amusement park built there in 1971. The amusement park offers numerous gift shops. Other population booms have occurred to the west in the Santa Clara River Valley along State Route 126, where citrus and fruit farmland has been rezoned to serve the expansions of Santa Paula and Fillmore. Further to the northeast, population expansion has metastasized into the Antelope Valley which is a desolate high desert of more than two thousand square miles named for the pronghorned deer-like animals - unrelated to but resembling eurasian antelopes - which lived there until being hunted out of existence in 1888. Most of the Antelope Valley grows little food and possesses even less water.
Cancerous cells which leave their initial cluster and spread throughout the body can eventually form their own new clusters in new locations through the perversion of the natural process angiogenesis, thereby allowing the new clusters to begin siphoning off blood supply on their own.
Population growth in the Antelope Valley has depleted the existing ground water aquifer to such a degree that land subsidence has begun to occur, whereby the ground level itself is dropping. From it’s main population centers of Palmdale and Lancaster, it is impossible to see across the desert and mountains back down into the cancerous cluster that is Los Angeles, but the fragility of the very ground there is indicative enough of its presence.
Viv eyes me in the cab, “I only asked where we’re going.”
“Oh, right. Sorry. We’re going to The Valley.”


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