It's hard not to notice how fast Los Angeles is changing. We all know that feeling of walking down a street and hardly being able to recognize it — what happened to that doughnut shop/Mexican place/porn store? The feeling is often bittersweet — a changing city is a vibrant city. The old makes way for the new. And yet some things we can't stand to lose.
But you know what they say, 'tis better to have loved and lost than so on and so forth. So let's not mourn the loss but celebrate these 10 things in Los Angeles that are going the way of the dinosaur — or, at the very least, have seen their quantity greatly reduced.
10) Indoor Malls
Life as a teenager in the 1980s and '90s revolved around the mall: sheltered, antiseptic, cavernous. The medium arguably reached its peak in Los Angeles with the Beverly Center in 1982. But it was another Los Angeles locale that helped kill the indoor mall — the Grove, built in 2002, and designed to look just like the city of Europe. Rick Caruso's brainchild quickly taught Californians that if you're gonna spend all day watching your wife try on pants, you may as well get a few minutes of sunshine.
Outdoor malls are in; indoor malls are out. In South L.A., Marlton Square Shopping Mall was demolished in 2011. Hawthorne's Mall remains eerily abandoned. And Santa Monica Place, designed by none other than Frank Gehry, tore off its roof in 2010, begetting this wonderful headline: “SANTA MONICA PLACE SWAPS GEHRY FOR AIRY.” (It really only works if you say it aloud.)
At least we still have the Beverly Center, which is planning yet another expensive renovation.
9) Palm trees
There is no greater visual signifier of Los Angeles than the beloved palm tree. Unfortunately, they're dying. As the Associated Press reported in 2006:
The trees are dying of old age and a fungal disease, disappearing one by one from parks and streets, and city planners are replacing them with oaks, sycamores and other species that are actually native to Los Angeles and offer more shade, too …
The problem, says Steve Dunlap, a supervising tree surgeon with the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, is that large numbers of the Canary Island date palm — trees with rough trunks and a topknot of fronds that look like green dreadlocks — are succumbing to a fungal disease.
Tree surgeons don’t know how to stop the fungus, which gets into the soil. Dunlap said it doesn’t make sense to replace dying palms with new ones that will probably fall victim to the same ailment. So the city has been planting other varieties of trees.
Thankfully, not all species are dying, and there are still more than a million of them left.
8) Drive-by shootings
The Los Angeles drive-by shooting, immortalized in films, rap music and even a George Carlin joke, used to be as iconic as the palm tree or the Hollywood Sign. And yes, there are still drive-by shootings. But — although there aren't really any statistics about this — experts agree: There are far fewer drive-bys than there used to be.
Why? They killed too many innocent victims and drew too much unwanted attention to gangs. As the L.A. Times reported last year, “In 1993, the Mexican Mafia prison gang — known by police as 'La Eme' — ordered thousands of Latino gang members to halt them.”
Criminal gangs are still a force, but there are fewer turf wars nowadays. And when violence does break out, gang members prefer more targeted killings — “walk-ups,” as they're called.
L.A. may still be the smoggiest city in America — like Denver and Mexico City, the topography is a natural trap for smog, thanks to surrounding mountains and something called temperature inversions. But take a look at some statistics from the American Lung Association's annual State of the Air Report:
Air pollution in L.A. has been steadily falling for decades; since the year 2000, it's fallen by nearly half.
There are many reasons for the cleaner air — fewer steel factories, the banning of trash incinerators, the feds requiring cars to have catalytic converters, the Clean Air Act of 1963, the Clean Air Act of 1970 and so on.
6) Book stores
Remember Borders? Dutton's? The Bodhi Tree (where this reporter once saw Donovan play)? Samuel French, where every single actor had to go to get plays for acting classes? Remember like a million fucking Barnes & Nobles?
Yes, it's a national trend, and yes, we still have some great bookstores — Stories, Skylight Books, Book Soup, the Last Bookstore, Vroman's, hell, I'll even throw in the Barnes & Nobles at the Grove — but the list grows ever shorter. Kevin Roderick has been faithfully keeping track of all the closures at L.A. Observed; it's a sobering list.
The decline of horseracing, once known as the “sport of kings,” has been felt especially sharply in California, which saw the closing of the Bay Meadows Racetrack in San Mateo in 2008, followed by the closing of Hollywood Park in Inglewood in 2013. The former playground of Bing Crosby and Jimmy Stewart soon will be the site of Inglewood's new $2.5 billion NFL stadium.
Now there's only one racetrack left in L.A. — Santa Anita.
4) Black widow spiders
Here's another thing we're glad to see go — poisonous black widow spiders, which are becoming increasingly uncommon in their native L.A. Instead, researchers are seeing more non-native brown widow spiders, which are also poisonous but less aggressive.
While babies themselves appear to be doing just fine, Angelenos, and indeed all Californians, are having fewer of them. As the Sacramento Bee recently reported:
Californians gave birth to about 504,000 children in 2013, equivalent to 13.1 births per 1,000 residents. That's the lowest birth rate in California since 1933 — the heart of the Great Depression.
And the birthrate in Los Angeles is even lower. According to the County Department of Public Health:
In 2011, there were 130,312 births, a substantial decrease from 204,124 births in 1990. The number of children under the age of 10 years residing in the County has also fallen nearly 17% since 2000. This decline is projected to continue, and is much larger than the 4% decrease reported for California or for the United States, where the number increased by 2%.
Immigration is also way down; Los Angeles County once was expected to have 12 million people by the year 2030; now that's been pushed back to 2060.
You might be thinking this is excellent news — less traffic! Smaller crowds at brunch! Fewer crying babies! But there's a dark cloud to that silver lining. Our school district will have to make some serious cuts if it wants to remain a “going concern.” And a graying population could keep our economy in the doldrums for decades to come.
R.I.P. Ships, 1956 to 1996. (According to Wikipedia: “The Ships menu included Shrimp Louie, navy bean soup and cottage cheese with peach or pineapple. Toasters were located at tables and on the counters for customers to prepare their own toast.”)
R.I.P. Tiny Naylor's. R.I.P. Twains. R.I.P. Jan's. R.I.P. Junior's. R.I.P. Victor's. R.I.P. Zucky's. R.I.P. Ed Debevic's (!). And of course, R.I.P. Johnnie's, 1956 to 2000, which became, and remains, a Potemkin Village diner, available only as a filming location.
At least there's still Norms.
1) An affordable place to live
Neil Diamond once sang of L.A.: “Palm trees grow and rents are low.” Whelp. Palm trees are dying. And the rent, well, I don't have to tell you. It's too damn high.
L.A. may have “only” the eighth most expensive median rental prices in the country, but rents increased 11 percent in 2015, and certainly show no signs of slowing down. And because our average wages lag behind many other big cities, L.A.'s rents are deemed the “least affordable” in the country.