Last week the Los Angeles City Council granted the status of historic-cultural monument to a bar in Silver Lake. Hang on, it’s not like they’re elevating drinking to a cultural event, although let’s be honest… a lot of American holidays are about beer. Which is why it’s confounding to me that my proposal for “Beer Day” has been shot down so many times in the hallowed halls of the Santa Monica City Council.
No, the L.A. historical status was granted to the Black Cat bar in Silver Lake because it was the site of an important event in the gay rights movement. From the L.A. Times: “In the first minutes of 1967, as patrons exchanged New Year’s embraces and kisses, plainclothes Los Angeles Police Department officers beat and arrested 14 patrons and bartenders, as well as two other people from a nearby bar. Two of the men arrested for kissing another man that night were convicted under state law and registered as sex offenders.” A subsequent appeal did not make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s not like the L.A. City Council was trying to apply some quick Band-Aid to soothe feelings after the passage of Proposition 8, which clearly defined for free-thinking Californians the degree to which their lives can be determined by the Mormon Church and everyone else who showed up for those “Yes on 8” meetings in a cave located in the year 1952.
Of course, the Black Cat becoming historical was meant to balance the disgrace of Prop. 8 passing, especially at one of the most people-forward moments in American history. But perhaps we can borrow something from L.A. and apply it to our own wounds after Prop. T lost here in Santa Monica. After all, if we’re not going to rein in growth then we should quickly mark the historical-cultural locations in Santa Monica that may soon be displaced by “development,” which is Latin for upscale condos and offices with unoccupied retail space.
Now you’ll have to excuse me if some of my nominated spots have a certain personal resonance, but that’s how you get things like this started.
For example, I’m nominating “Vidiots” on Pico as a cultural-historical monument because it’s been serving the world cinema needs of our community since VHS, and you can always get into a pretty good discussion there about what went wrong with either Woody Allen or the Lakers. Additionally, Vidiots has been host to a number of wonderfully esoteric film-related events, such as a salute to Herbert L. Strock that has yet to materialize at either LACMA or the AFI. And full disclosure: This nomination is in no way related to my mountain of late fees at Vidiots.
Next: the Oldenburg/van Bruggen binoculars in front of the Chiat/Day building. (I know they’re technically located in Venice, but so is Dennis Hopper and we claim him as ours whenever he’s needed for a film benefit in a tent.) Cultural? Just this past Saturday I sat next to a table of visiting tourists in a restaurant and they couldn’t stop talking about finding “the big binoculars.” The image has traveled the world, thanks to web sites such as BigRepresentationalStuff.com. Historical? Cut to the year 2050: “Grandpa, why did people have binoculars?” “Because people used to go outdoors and look at things. Now finish your book report on how oil caused us to live underground in large aluminum cans.”
Now, if we nominate the “binocs” it would be wrong not to also nominate Borofsky’s Ballerina Clown, which for the last year or so has had the added interpretive dimension of having a drug store sign underneath it. It’s bold, brave, and a user-friendly lesson for children in how art makes us question and do oddly courageous things. But why did we stop animating the moving leg? Are we afraid of the moving leg?
My choices aren’t all art-related, although art helps us to see daylight around tall, plastic fixture-adorned buildings. So here are other nominees for cultural-historical preservation: The first Hot Dog on a Stick hut at the pier, for its contribution to hot dog eating technology. Harvelle’s Blues Club, for the historically accurate notion that live music is best. The large grassy lawns in front of City Hall and Courthouse, because grass is alive and it looks great and it doesn’t take that much increased tax revenue from development to keep it watered and green.
And then, even though it’s not a location in the real sense, I’d nominate Prop. T itself. Here was a place Santa Monica had arrived at; where it had a clear choice to save and maintain a strong standard for growth… and we got steamrolled by outside forces. Cultural? “Hello, Target? Things are loosening up here…” Historical? “By golly, I was there and I remember back in ’08 when we had a shot at – say, are you done with that hot dog on a stick?”