LARB’s Guide to A People’s Guide to Los Angeles

A People's Guide to Los AngelesMondays in August, the Los Angeles Review of Books is running a series of excerpts and photos from A People’s Guide to Los Angeles—a look at eye-opening alternatives to L.A.’s usual tourist destinations by Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng.

The book documents 115 little-known sites in the City of Angels where struggles related to race, class, gender, and sexuality have occurred, and introduces us to people and events usually ignored by mainstream media. In fact, a reviewer for the L.A. Times recently noted, “Even though I’ve been working on an L.A. guidebook myself for the last 18 months, this ‘People’s Guide’ taught me plenty.”

Here’s a peek from last week’s installment in the LARB:

Anyone who has spent any time in Downtown Los Angeles knows Pershing Square. It’s that hot, unattractive expanse of cement occupied solely, on most days, by members of Downtown’s homeless community. As a worker in a Downtown law firm while I was in graduate school, the water cooler talk in reference to Pershing Square was limited to its capacity as an underground parking garage. Though I sometimes felt curious about — and sorry for — the homeless community of the Square, the place itself begged to be ignored, and I — just like everyone else — did just that.

The historic midcentury photos of Pershing Square as it once was, with its inviting walkways, lush foliage, and diverse crowds tell a different story. These sources make it clear the largest city park in Downtown had once been central to the city’s public life. People who remember — people like Harry Hay — tell us why. A Communist Party member instrumental in founding two of the first gay rights organizations in the country, Hay recalls Pershing Square during the Depression, not just an important public space for all sorts of people to meet — including families from nearby working class communities in Northeast L.A. — but as a place for gay men and leftist radicals to congregate. [read more]

Check back on Monday for more fresh material from the authors. And we’re pleased to announce that A People’s Guide to Los Angeles has been nominated for a 2012 SCIBA Award! Winners will be announced October 20.