As many of you out there are already well aware, my friend Haily and I throw a monthly-ish event here in LA called de LaB, or design east of La Brea (and if you haven’t signed up yet for our emails, please do). We wanted to start something that celebrated all the cool stuff we knew that was happening on this side of town, and to us, “this” side of town could have meant pretty much anything. The only reason we picked the name and any kind of demarcation line at all was because we knew it would piss some people off. And sure enough, right after we sent out the very first email, we were bombarded with queries: Why La Brea? Why not La Cienega? What about Culver City? What do you have against Westsiders?
We smiled and assured them it was nothing personal. Except for all the millions of things we have against Westsiders.
See, the thing about living in a city without a center, its major population nodes sprinkled across this wide hazy basin like In-N-Out locations, is people get awfully territorial about where they think they live, and what that says about them. It’s not so much a conversation about where the east side of LA ends and where the west side of LA begins, it’s more about what it means to be Eastside or Westside (and then of course you give your address and you’re ideologically relocated by an angry mob from Atwater Village). The battle rages across the city every day; in newspapers, on blogs (and on blogs, and on blogs), in bars, outside bars, in hospitals, and eventually in the county lockup.
This is exactly the kind of inspired debate that Mike Kelley, proprietor of Junc Gallery here in Silver Lake, was asking for when he named last weekend’s art show East of Eden at Barnsdall Park. And knowing de LaB’s affinity for all that is “east,” he asked us to participate.
Our project was simple. We splayed a huge Thomas Guide map of Los Angeles on a table and asked people to draw a line where they thought the “east side of LA” began. And then we ran and hid. We also asked people to place stars near their houses or places of work; their personal center of gravity. Some findings, first from the west, er, left side of the map (you can see all these maps larger here):
As you can see, there were a few people who live in those unquestionably-west neighborhoods of Santa Monica and Venice, who chose the 405 as the line between east and west (yes, I can hear the sound of Boyle Heights residents screaming from here). They even helpfully added a N/S line over the 10. The blue vertical line to the right is La Brea, added by us for reference, and the curly blue line about mid-map was a disgruntled Santa Monica resident who said “that’s what eastside means to me because that’s how long it took me to get here tonight.” See, what did we say about Westsiders?
Moving to the east, you can see that someone else decided everything west of Highland was west, while everything east of Western was east, with some kind of demilitarized zone in the middle. Western and Vermont were often used as partial boundaries, with their lines curving down 1st or 3rd Street to include downtown. You might also be able to pick out a kind of aura around the Silver Lake Reservoir drawn by an obviously pretentious Silver Laker who thinks Silver Lake is the center of the universe.
Moving in closer, it becomes really easy to see that most people chose the LA River, at least through downtown, as their line, but while some agreed taking Broadway north out of downtown would keep you on the W/E line, a “born-and-raised Eastsider” defiantly stopped at Mission Road. He and a few others agreed Washington Boulevard was a good southern boundary, but some included Vernon. Many agreed the east ends at Monterey Park, Alhambra and South Pasadena. Others thought certain places like Dodger Stadium should be considered east, even if the line didn’t include it. And there’s a very interesting line running down Main Street, but we’ll come back to that later.
Here are some of the most compelling arguments we heard for where the line should be:
• Western Avenue was named as such because it was once the western boundary for the city, and since it gets really confusing to explain that “east of Western” would still be west, it should just remain east.
• La Brea does cut a nice clean line through the middle of the map, and seems to divide the landmasses evenly.
• Bert Green of Bert Green Fine Art made his case with Main Street: Near his gallery downtown, everything on the right of Main Street had addresses beginning in E., and everything to the left was W. The post office wins.
• The river is certainly a nice physical boundary, and one that many seemed to identify with. Especially any of the people who told us they were born, raised or lived on the east side of it were adamant about this point.
• More than one person pointed out that the place we were that very moment (Barnsdall Park) was considered East Hollywood, so how could that possibly be west?
• There was an actual “East Los Angeles” on the map, just above Commerce, which people told us was just an unincorporated part of the city and didn’t actually mean anything. (South Los Angeles, the new name for South Central was on the map, and West Los Angeles was about where we thought it should be, but no sign of NELA, what we supposedly call Northeast Los Angeles now.)
As for our conclusions…well, there are no conclusions for this experiment, just a great night of screaming between friends, marker paths carved in anger and, in the end, an agreement to disagree. And apologies to everyone we’ve offended, but especially to everyone who lives in the Valley, because according to the Thomas Guide map of Los Angeles, you don’t live in Los Angeles at all.