Over the past 50 years, the city has tried repeatedly to turn Grand Avenue into the living, breathing heart of downtown, and has failed miserably. Now, a public-private group led by Eli Broad is trying again with the emphasis on private
But Gehry himself seemed less concerned about a chicken-and-egg debate than addressing the “ideal we have that people of all ethnic and financial levels can live together downtown. It’s already there on Wilshire Boulevard, from Figueroa to Santa Monica,” he began. “Wilshire Boulevard is the connective tissue of Los Angeles. Everybody lives within two blocks — blacks, Koreans, Hispanics, Jews. That is Los Angeles. It’s a paradigm that doesn’t exist elsewhere. Wilshire Boulevard is, to my mind, the equivalent of our downtown.”
Then Gehry delivered his punch line. “Had I been God at the time, I would have put Disney Hall in Wadsworth and the Cathedral in MacArthur Park.”
What Gehry was acknowledging may be an inalterable fact about Los Angeles: that the patrons of Disney Hall are West-siders and the patrons of the Cathedral live around, but not in, downtown proper. Los Angeles is balkanized, which may be the best, not the worst, of its many, layered environments. Perhaps this is a crabbed view, a mite undemocratic. Certainly it is politically incorrect in its failure to embrace the bon mot du jour, diversity. The promoters of Reimagining Grand Avenue are sincere, and their desire to carve out a commons, a place where all citizens feel they’ve got ground to stand on, mingle in, use and, yes, abuse, is wonderfully 19th-century. But it may be that Los Angeles just isn’t headed that way. It may be that the city is composed entirely of hot zones and cool zones, perpetually subject to collapse and rediscovery.
The genuine task, and the one Bunker Hill has failed to live up to from the day that wrecking balls started their dastardly work, was posed by the greatest architecture critic of the 20th century. In 1937, Lewis Mumford offered his credo: “Every new structure, if it is really well-designed, should be capable of becoming the nucleus of a whole city.” If you do not know what that city is, or where it is headed, you are destined to build places that are truly nowhere.