Arts & Cultural Vitality / 2013
Discovering LA’s Forgotten Landmarks: Celebrating Our Diverse Cultural History
Los Angeles County is home to over 1,000 City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments, over 100 California Historical Landmarks, and 20 National Historic Landmarks. Some, like the Coliseum, are prominent fixtures in the area. Others are hidden, such as the first Jewish site in LA tucked away on a hill by Dodger Stadium, or St. Vincent’s Place, the first institution of higher education in Southern California in what is now an alley between Broadway and Hill. Our idea is to create an interactive online guide and user-friendly smartphone app that highlight city, state, and national cultural and historic landmarks in LA County by mapping them with linked photos and content about each site’s history and cultural relevance. This service would increase exposure to the full spectrum of LA’s landmarks and paint a more complex, multicultural portrait of LA. Previously, we mapped over 940 City of Los Angeles monuments, with interesting findings (www.mapsportal.org/thecityproject/monuments). The official government listings contain limited information about the number, name, location, and date of designation of a monument. Through our research and mapping, we linked city monuments to map locations and added photos and brief content about the history and cultural relevance of the site. In so doing, we discovered that only ten percent of the city monuments were related to people of color, women, or Native Americans. This stands at odds with the diversity brought on by migration and immigration that was pivotal in LA’s creation, and it reflects the glaring inequities in our city. State-designated landmarks more closely approach an accurate reflection of LA’s demographics, with nearly 40 percent of the landmarks honoring people of color, women, or Native Americans. We will update and expand upon our online mapping of city monuments to include city monuments designated since our prior work and all state and federal historic landmarks. We will create a smartphone app that provides photos, locations, and content about each site’s history and cultural relevance to facilitate on-the-go access to and appreciation of all of LA’s landmarks. Mapping LA’s cultural and historic landmarks will reinvigorate forgotten cultural aspects of the county’s history. Local residents will gain a deeper understanding of their neighborhoods, and visitors will be able to see LA beyond its famous tourist attractions. In so doing, we hope to draw attention to the past and present demographics of the city and celebrate the history and diversity of LA.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
The City Project is a nonprofit organization committed to achieving equal justice, democracy, and livability in Los Angeles. Since our founding in 2000, we have influenced the investment of over $41 billion in underserved communities.
Working with community allies, we have helped create the Los Angeles State Historic Park and Río de Los Angeles State Park as part of the greening of the LA River. We helped save the sacred Native American site of Panhe and San Onofre State Beach and helped save the community and park in Baldwin Hills. We have mapped and analyzed green access and equal justice for nine counties in Southern California and beyond.
We have received recognition and awards from the American Public Health Association, Hispanic Business Magazine, American Society of Landscape Architects, California Parks and Recreation Foundation, Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board, City of Los Angeles, Community Partners, and Cultural Landscape Foundation.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
We will work with a GIS consultant, a web consultant, and an app developer to package the research and content we create.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
After we launch the app, we will measure success by the number of downloads. We hope the number of downloads will correspond with increased familiarity with all of LA’s cultural and historic landmarks. We also can include a check-in feature in the app to gauge if people are visiting the landmarks.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Los Angeles has never been a monolithic city or county. The cultural and historic landmarks in LA chronicle the major developments in the city’s formation, in which people of diverse ethnicities played a crucial role. By increasing awareness of these landmarks, our project will enhance understanding and fill the knowledge gaps in LA’s history.
Beyond this education, our project will increase traffic at the lesser-known landmarks. For example, there is a plaque commemorating La Mesa Battlefield, where the last battle of the war on the California front was fought in 1847, by the railroad tracks in the tiny industrial area of Vernon. Generating interest in this landmark could spur development, beautification, or perhaps green space around that city, which currently lacks parks.
Specifically, this project will benefit cultural vitality in LA; ultimately, it will work towards reducing the inequity that is inherent in the county. People of diverse ethnicities were instrumental in LA’s founding and continue to play a critical role today. By making forgotten historic landmarks visible on the LA landscape, we can create a more holistic sense of place that includes all those who live in it.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
The diverse and vibrant art, music, dance, fashion, cinematography, and photography in LA that continuously push the envelope would continue to thrive in 2050. Along with this forward momentum, however, success in 2050 would also include preservation of LA’s past in a manner that is alive, engaging, and dynamic. By the year 2050, the number of cultural and historic landmarks in LA will have surpassed the number registered now. And an app might be as archaic and obsolete as floppy disks are now. Nonetheless, we hope that in 2050 the spirit of our project will be manifested in an inclusive, multicultural Los Angeles that celebrates its past.