When I think of cities in their past forms, I like to think of them as a linear progression of buildings and fixtures. When I try to imagine what a street looked like, say 50 year ago or a 100 years ago, I think of it possessing mostly the same buildings and the same aesthetic, with minor details changing to fit the era.
But I recently realized this was wrong, especially in such an American city as Los Angeles. I was driving home from a working on a freelance project when I decided to skip the back up of traffic and go down side streets. I turned down the first interesting street, without noting it’s significance. Oxford Street. An average street of craftsman era houses, some requisitioned into strange apartments, and other retaining their cozy cottageness. The street dipped and meandered, as if we were far away from the busy blare of Western Avenue, and the trees drifted over the pavement, creating a wistful effect.
Oxford Street. The name seemed familiar, but I couldn’t tell if I was just remembering my trips to Britain. This neighborhood was one of the strange bits of LA – once gentrified, middle class citizens of various races living together in a central area thrown to the fate of the inner American city of the 1960s. Now, there were children walking home from school, mothers dotting the landscape, but this neighborhood was considered relatively undesirable by the fashionable denizens, although not necessarily dangerous either.
I drove along, pausing here and there to let my recollections accumulate, let my car slow down against the dips and bumps in the road. I remembered. This was the street my grandfather had grown up on. His parents had built a house here in the 1920s, the house my grandfather grew up in. It was no longer here, being uplifted and moved somewhere in Venice, CA some 40 or 50 years later. I tried to see if any of the more modern apartment buildings would have been the spot. But there were too many and I didn’t want to crash.
It was both what I had imagined and far from what it must have been. The freeway wouldn’t have existed then, throwing its various pollutions across the neighborhood. The strange grunge of the poorer parts of warmer climate cities not there nor the taco vendors. It would have had children walking on the street though, and perhaps some of the trees would be the same.
I wished that I could somehow take the snapshot of my grandfather’s life here and superimpose it upon the reality, create some overlay to compare and wonder what future felt best.