Best Words Carved in Stone | Features | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Best Words Carved in Stone 

Wednesday, Oct 4 2006

Best Words Carved in Stone

Stucco may be the vernacular of Los Angeles architecture, but this city still has its share of marble, stone, terra cotta and brick. And where there is rock, there are inscriptions. Some salute long-gone businessmen — strangely familiar names like I.N. Van Nuys and Isaac Lankershim. Others try, usually too hard, to teach us something.

No inscription holds a candle, however, to the one in Pershing Square, a place whose disastrous 1994 face-lift was salvaged only by the construction of a curving wall featuring a passage by Carey McWilliams — California’s preeminent historian, the father of Chicano studies and a disciplined thinker of the left. McWilliams moved to Los Angeles from a ranching town in Colorado in the 1920s, and spent three decades writing about racial prejudice, farm labor and California history. The inscription in Pershing Square captures his realization, walking through the park after a debauched night on the town, that he didn’t hate Los Angeles after all.

Related Stories

  • California Tipsy

    The website Thrillist, with the help of Chris Kolmar of real estate site Movoto, examined the alcoholic attributes of each state in the nation, including the per-capita number of craft breweries and even bar closing times, to determine "America's booziest state." If you guessed that cold, northern locations did well—if only...
  • Full-On Legalization 2

    Legal marijuana isn't hard to get in L.A. Just go to a doctor who advertises in certain weekly publications (ahem), tell her you have back pain, get a piece of paper, show it to the dispensary nearby, and buy some bud. But pro-marijuana activists in California have been envious of...
  • Condom War 2

    The matter of whether or not condoms should be required equipment for porn stars on the job could be on the 2016 presidential ballot in California. After failing to get such a law through the state legislature in 2013 and 2014, the L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation says it will announce...
  • Election Results: California, November 4, 2014 (Updated Live) 77

    It's election night in America, and Jerry Brown is up for an unprecedented fourth term as governor of the great state of California. Will he defeat Republican and fake homeless man Neel Kashkari? Will State Superintendent Tom Torlakson win re-election over school-reform upstart Marshall Tuck? Will Sheila Kuehl defeat the...
  • Consumer Watchdog Gets Blown Out on Health Care Propositions 45 and 46 2

    It's hard to imagine that anyone in California had a worse election night than the folks at Consumer Watchdog. The non-profit advocacy group lost not one but two ballot propositions — seeing both Proposition 45 and 46 go down to defeat by wide margins. Proposition 45 would have given the...

I first read the inscription a decade ago and found its description of the city eerily accurate. The passage described a football star accused of a crime — shades of O.J.! It mentioned predictions of doom for Los Angeles. That pretty much summed up the city in the mid-1990s — what with an earthquake, a riot and fires. The passage still holds up. A few weeks ago, I sat in a courtroom where a grand jury accused a former city commissioner of bribery. A day later, I reread McWilliams’ words. Sure enough, he spoke of a public official charged with bribery.

The McWilliams passage is too long and too good to run in its entirety here. And besides, no sense in putting other writers to shame, myself included. Best to stop by Pershing Square, that most oddball of parks, where you will find these concluding words: “I stopped to watch, a little self-conscious of my evening clothes, a typical Pershing Square divertissement: an aged and frowsy blonde, skirts held high above her knees, cheered by a crowd of grimacing and leering old goats, was singing a gospel hymn as she danced gaily around the fountain. Then it suddenly occurred to me that, in all the world, there neither was nor would there ever be another place like this City of the Angels. Here the American people were erupting, like lava from a volcano; here, indeed, was the place for me — a ringside seat at the circus.”

South end of Pershing Square, ?532 S. Olive St. (between Fifth and Sixth streets), downtown

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets