The 10 Most Culturally Significant Moves From New York to Los Angeles

The East Coast establishment was rocked to its very core earlier this month when news emerged that the coolest couple in the world, Jay-Z and Beyonce, had moved to Los Angeles and had already enrolled their daughter Blue Ivy in an undisclosed private school. According to Us Weekly, the westward move followed the advice of one Gwyneth Paltrow.

New York likes to think of itself as the center of the world — and perhaps it is — but funny how its most famous residents keep moving to the warmer, mellower and quirkier Los Angeles. Let's take a look at the 10 most important people and institutions that left the concrete jungle of New York City for the palm tree-lined promenades of L.A.:

10. Bob Dylan
Everyone knows that Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota. But he made a name for himself in the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960s, performing traditional songs in local coffee houses and doing his best Woody Guthrie impersonation. After he went electric, he recorded some of his most important albums in New York City before his motorcycle accident and a period of convalescence with The Band in Woodstock.

Seldom mentioned is the fact that Dylan moved to Malibu in the early 1970s (in his 1976 song, Black Diamond Bay, he sings: "I was sittin’ home alone one night, in L.A. watchin’ old Cronkite on the seven o’clock news."

Of course Dylan isn't home much – he's been on the road nearly continuously since 1988, though in 2009, his Malibu home did cause a stink, quite literally, when his neighbors started complaining about a noxious stench coming from an outhouse in his back yard. That led to all manner of excrement-themed pun headlines, like "Tangled up in Poo," "Defecation Row," and TMZ's contribution, "Bob Dylan's Crap — Blowin' in the Wind!"

9. Sean Combs
Diddy, aka P. Diddy, aka Sean Combs, a Harlem native, was at the forefront of hip hop's East Coast/West Coast rivalry in the 1990s, founding Bad Boy Records and co-producing Notorious B.I.G.'s biggest hits. So it was no small surprise when Combs picked up stakes and moved to L.A. in 2008. As he explained to Los Angeles Confidentialthe move allowed him to "take a step back and reevaluate my life and ask what’s my purpose? ...  In New York, I’m just running around on a track. Here, I live on top of the mountain. I can breathe, I can pray, I can prioritize and figure out what’s important.”

The 10 Most Culturally Significant Moves From New York to Los Angeles
Debra DiPaolo / L.A. Weekly Archives

8. Richard Riordan
How different might history have been had Riordan, born and bred in Flushing, New York, not moved to Los Angeles in 1956 to join the Downtown L.A. law firm O'Melveny and Myers? Though the move went unnoticed at the time, Riordan and L.A. did big things for each other.

"L.A., it was more of a meritocracy," Riordan told me in 2011. "New York, the big firms, it was important that you were a preppy sort of ... Compared to them I was a redneck, even though I grew up in an upper middle-class family."

In L.A., Riordan became fabulously wealthy and well-connected, a powerful insider who donated money to politicians from both parties. He was elected mayor in 1993, after running as a Republican in the wake of the L.A. riots under the slogan, "Tough enough to turn L.A. around." And he did turn L.A. City Hall around, making it more friendly to business, pushing out numerous lifer bureaucrats and hiring young and diverse creative types, even as crime in Los Angeles and in the rest of the most crime-ridden cities in the U.S. plummeted. 

The 10 Most Culturally Significant Moves From New York to Los Angeles

7. Barbra Streisand
A Brooklyn native as famous for her accent as she is her vocal range and music, Streisand's sizable, 3-acre Point Dume estate sits on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In her basement, Streisand installed her very own shopping mall, which includes a Sweet Shop, Antique Shop, Antique Clothes Shop and Bee's Doll Shop.You just can't do that in Manhattan!

6. The Tonight Show
The Tonight Show moved from New York to Burbank in 1972, a decade after Johnny Carson had taken over as host. Although Carson would for the rest of his career refer sarcastically to "beautiful downtown Burbank," the move was a hit and the show's filming was a big deal for the city.

"'The Tonight Show' put us on the map," Burbank Mayor Marsha Ramos told the L.A. Times after The Tonight Show set up shop at Universal Studios. "Without that line from Johnny Carson, about 'beautiful downtown Burbank,' most people wouldn't even know that we exist. When The Tonight Show leaves, there will be a portion of our heart that will be empty."

Last year, the show moved back to New York City after Jimmy Fallon took over hosting duties. But Burbank is now a powerhouse in the industry, jammed with studio space and well-paid, studio-employed residents. 

5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Born and raised in New York City, Abdul-Jabbar first made a name for himself at UCLA where he played under famed coach John Wooden. And though his NBA career began with six years in Milwaukee, he is best remembered in Lakers gold, wearing his trademark goggles and posting up in the center of the court. 

In L.A., Abdul-Jabbar adopted many of its denizens habits, including yoga, which he later credited to prolonging his career, and acting, appearing opposite Bruce Lee in the 1972 martial arts film Game of Death and, most famously, Airplane! in 1980. He still lives in L.A., makes the occasional appearance at City Hall, and even penned a column in the short-lived Los Angeles Register

The 10 Most Culturally Significant Moves From New York to Los Angeles
Public Domain

4. Mickey Cohen
New York had Charlie Luciano. Chicago had Al Capone. L.A. had Mickey Cohen, who moved out here with his family when he was a kid. Though his criminal career began in the Midwest, Cohen was sent to Los Angeles at the behest of Meyer Lansky to work under Bugsy Siegel. When Siegel was gunned down in 1947, Cohen became L.A.'s mob boss. KCET's Nathan Masters writes:

Taking after his flashy predecessor, who hobnobbed with Hollywood celebrities, Cohen became Los Angeles' best-known mobster by embracing the media spotlight. He met publicly with evangelical leader Billy Graham, cooperated with biographers, and in 1957 appeared on ABC's "The Mike Wallace Interview," lambasting LAPD Chief William Parker and telling Wallace, "I have killed no man that in the first place didn't deserve killing."

3. Bill Bratton
Bratton first served as commissioner of the New York Police Department in 1994, under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, where he introduced the CompStat system and helped pioneer the "broken windows theory" of policing, taking a hard line against low-end quality of life crimes such as graffiti, vandalism and public intoxication.

In 2002, L.A. Mayor James Hahn tapped Bratton to be chief of LAPD and tasked him with reforming a police department operating under a federal consent decree in the wake of a series of upheavals and scandals, including the Rodney King beating, the 1992 riots and the Rampart investigation. The Rampart scandal ended with a handful of officers sent to prison, 12 fired or forced to resign, and the courts overturning 106 criminal convictions in which law enforcement work had been performed by cops involved in wrongdoing ranging from lying to investigators to planting evidence, drug dealing and, in one case, bank robbery. 

Bratton transformed the department. Crime continued to fall dramatically, along with other big U.S. cities, as did allegations of police corruption and abuse of power. And while the LAPD isn't perfect, it's come a long way from the sorry days of Daryl Gates and Rampart. As for Bratton, he's back in New York, running their police department once again.

2. Moby
"I moved to L.A. due to its singular pre-apocalyptic strangeness," wrote Moby, last year, in the Guardian. "It seems equally baffled and baffling, with urban and suburban and wilderness existing in fantastic chaos just inches away from one another. There's no center to L.A., and in many ways it's kind of a fantastically confused Petri dish of an anti-city."

Yes, Moby, who was born in Harlem in 1965, seems to understand Los Angeles better than most natives, and certainly better than most famous musicians:

If you're in New York, Brussels, London or Milan, you're surrounded by a world that has been subdued and overseen by humans for centuries, sometimes for millennia. They're stable cities; and when you're in an older city you feel a sense of safety, as if you're in a city that's been, and being, well looked after. You feel like most well-established and conventional cities know what they're doing. LA, on the other hand, is constantly changing and always seemingly an inch away from some sort of benign collapse.

1. The Dodgers
For Brooklyn-ites in the late 1950s, there was no greater crime than the uprooting of the Dodgers out of Ebbets Field in Flatbush by owner Walter O'Malley. According to the HBO documentary The Ghosts of Flatbush, hatred for O'Malley was so high that "if you asked a Brooklyn Dodger fan, if you had a gun with only two bullets in it and were in a room with Hitler, Stalin and O'Malley, who would you shoot? The answer: O'Malley, twice!"

The move was not without its controversies on our end. Chavez Ravine was a Mexican-American neighborhood in the hills near Chinatown. The neighborhood was in the process of being demolished; the plan, under liberal Mayor Fletcher Bowron, was to build a modernist housing project designed by Richard Nuetra. But the downtown business elite, known as the Committee of 25, hated the idea – it reeked of Communism! So they funded a campaign to defeat Bowron and replace him with Norris Poulson. Once installed, Poulson gave the land over to O'Malley, a huge windfall for the Dodgers owner, and a contingent of holdout tenants in the ravine were forcibly removed. 


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