Robert Pacheco Photography

Downtown L.A. Who Needs It?
ca.1970's
bag
He's about 25
and feeling cool strutting down Broadway. Wearing a
high Afro, dressed all in black. A leather bag hangs and
swings freely from his right shoulder

Looking good, crossing 7th Street smiling and strutting.
He suddenly yells, "Yaaaaahoo...Yaaaaahoo...Yaaaaahoo."
The late afternoon sidewalk is crowded. People stop and stare.
Many break into a smile. Some laugh out loud, returning
his "Yaaaaahoo" with a "Yaaaaahoo" of their own.

He struts by a woman with a happy lined face. She is seated on a
small folding chair at a card table. Very nicely, she asks, "Have
you registered to vote?" He stops and looks at her. His smile turns
into a grin and replies, "No." The woman says, "Don't you want to
vote?" He turns away from her, as his grin gets larger, he begins
to strut harder, and faster than before and shrieks, "Yaaaaahoo!"

"Downtown" The man exclaims with a look of insult on his face.
"Who in the hell would want to go downtown today? There's no
need to." Becoming more pleasant, he reminisces. "I used to go
downtown when I lived in Highland Park. I would take the
streetcar. It used to wrap around the hills along Figueroa, and
pretty soon you would be downtown. It was a nice ride. Then I
moved to Burbank, and I haven't been downtown since."

He now lives in another suburb of Los Angeles, Chatsworth, about
40 miles from downtown. Obviously content with his spot
in the city, he says, "Oh, they're trying to get people downtown
again, with the Music Center and high-rise apartments. But why?
Who needs it?"
drama
Since World War Two the city has exploded outward leaving
behind unwanted remnants of a past city. Los Angeles has
become a sprawling continuously crawling mass of suburbs. The
people live in a city, but almost never see the city. Yet, among the
debris left behind, there is a downtown center, and life does exist
there.

At 5th and Broadway a man, with a full head of white hair, is
waiting for his wife. He's dressed in a dark blue suit, white shirt,
dark and light blue striped tie. A freshly pressed look, like a
conservative businessman

"I live in San Diego, but bring my wife downtown once or twice a
year to shop for shoes," he explains. "She has a very narrow foot,
size 5 AA. The only place she can find shoes to fit is downtown."

He's just standing with his arms folded, watching and listening as
the crowd of shoppers move by him on the sidewalk. Seemingly
amused, he speaks without moving his eyes from the activity
going on before him.
girls
"I can remember about 20 years ago remarking to
my wife that downtown was much dirtier then, than it was before
the war. Downtown hasn't changed too much since that time. It
always was a hustling, bustling place. It's interesting just standing
and watching the people. Wondering ... where are they all going
and where have they been? Of course, you have to realize if you
were out there walking, where would you be going, and where
would you have been? You would then be one of the crowd."

Today, to be "one of the crowd" in
the old time center of Los Angeles usually means to be black,
brown, Asian, old or poor. People who don't come downtown just
to work, and then go off to the suburbs to live and spend their
money. They live in the inner-city. Shop, walk on the sidewalks,
stand on the street corners, raise their families, go to the movies,
go out to eat, and breathe the smoggy downtown air. These
people have inherited the City of Los Angeles as their neighborhood.

She's 31, with long blonde hair and blue eyes. She has a 34 year
old husband, a seven-year-old son, two cars, and a townhouse
in a suburb.
shoeshine
Have you ever been to downtown Los Angeles?

"Yes, I've been to the old Philharmonic before they tore it down, musicals at the Music Center, and Biltmore."


Have you ever walked down Broadway?

"No."

I wonder why?

"It's depressing. Isn't it?"


How do you know if you've never been there?

"I've seen it from the freeway."

Broadway, one of the few places in Los Angeles that moves and
breathes with life. The street inhales and exhales. The air is filled
with constant sounds of people's voices.

Some of the sounds are in the form of music and singing as it
comes blaring at you from a radio or stereo from one of the many
record or stereo-TV shops. The blaring sound of music might
also come from a boom-box a young dude listens to as he
strolls down the sidewalk.

But, mostly it is the sound of live people's voices. They are low
murmuring sounds of people talking. Some of the sounds are
in English, some in Spanish or another foreign language.
Occasionally, someone laughs out loud. Occasionally, a word or
a sentence is distinguishable.
bike
"Is you going out somewhere tonight? Yea, but you can't wear
slacks. Hi ya, baby! Hi! How ya doin''? Why? Because he said he
would. I had a lady sitting next to me, she asked me if I'd like half
of her salad. I told her, no, I didn't think so. Then she asked me if
I'd like half of her sandwich. I had to tell her again. No! Tell me,
you broke? No, I'm OK. Not to get personal, but are you working?
Yea. Hey baby...ha ha ha ha. Ya can't cross the street, man. Why?
Ya'll get a ticket. Why? There's a cop right over there. Oh. Will
you accept a drop of oil in the name of Jesus? I told her I'd accept
anything in the name of Jesus. How ya doin',brother? Can you
spare some change? OK, Janet, I'll see you Tuesday with God's
speed."

People are meeting, passing, separating. Some stop and
talk.They shake hands, wrap their arms around each other and
hug as if they haven't met in a long time. People pat each other
on the back. They throw back their heads and laugh.

"I'll tell you what ruined downtown," says a knowing suburban
home owner, "It was the war and the automobile. The war brought
many people to Los Angeles to work. The people brought cars to
drive. Before the crowds of people came, downtown was real nice.
Downtown was like it should be."
jewler
A woman who has lived in Los Angeles for 35 years, but who has
lived in a suburb for the past 10 years says, "I used to like going
downtown for the department store sales. But now it's just too
crowded. It's like a stampede. When you meet people on the
sidewalk, they don't move to the right or to the left. They come
straight ahead. Everyone is pushing, shoving, and elbowing. It's
just not worth it. You could have a heart attack in that crowd!"

from all over Los Angeles, to shop for bargains in the basement of
the city. They go to the Broadway and May Co. for underwear and
linen. To Bullock's and Robinson's for last year's styles, this year
at half price. The people swarm.

A dozen people are looking through, handling and examining, a
large brightly colored mound of last summer's men's "walking
shorts."

A husband is fidgety, as he stands first on one foot, and then on
the other foot. Finally he says to his wife. "Come on. Let's go. Let's
get out of here." His wife, frantically looking through the brightly
colored mound for the proper size, firmly says, "No, we can't go.
This is a good deal. You have to force yourself to look."
bus
Reluctantly, the man together with his enthusiastic wife and 10 or
12 other customers appear to maul over every pair of "walking
shorts" at least one time. Within a few minutes, the wife smiles,
and the husband relaxes. The perfect yellow, pink and purple
striped size 40 has been found.

Walking among a crowded variety of people, down Broadway,
on the sidewalk next to the curb. Inches away the blurring green
image of a bus comes to a whizzing stop. The doors of the bus
open. Immediately, the heat of many bodies radiates out from
within the people pack vehicle. Walking past the back of the bus
a blast of warm exhaust strikes you across the legs causing a puff
of dirt, from the littered street, to blow up into your face. At that
moment, while wiping the dirt and tears from your eyes, another
green blur whizzes to a stop, inches away.

"I can remember soon after the war driving to Bunker Hill on a
clear night. Looking at the view of downtown, and thinking to
myself...Isn't this nice? I should come here more often." The man
lives in a suburb, and remembers, "You used to be able to go
downtown at night. You could go to a stage show or you could
just window shop. If I walked down there at night now, I'd be
afraid a cop would come up behind me. Put his hand on my
shoulder and say, "What do you think you're doing down here?"
cop
Two policemen stop a wobbling man on Broadway.
They talk to him, decide to search him, then hold him
in a doorway. Two policemen approach from the opposite side
of Broadway. They also have captured a wobbling man. He is
talked to, searched, and then held in the same doorway with the
1st man. The four policemen have detained two drunks.

When no one is looking, the first prisoner decides to walk away.
Two policemen notice, and grab him. He resists. The three of
them then struggle on Broadway. People are crowding by, some
stop to watch the struggle, most hardly seem to notice.

After about a minute of pulling, tugging, and
talking, the policemen are able to subdue their prisoner. He then
becomes very calm, with his back up against a store front wall, he
slides all the way down the wall. He sits on the sidewalk. His head
falls forward, and his feet extend straight out toward the center of
the sidewalk. People continue walking right on by. Some having
to step over the prisoner's legs and feet.

The paddy wagon soon arrives, bringing two more policemen.
The two prisoners are again searched, then they obediently get
into the wagon. The sidewalks are so crowded they occasionally
need to be cleaned off. Two more are booked into the
downtown jail. The jail is so crowded it doesn't need two more.
 
 
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Images & text © robert pacheco
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