Let the tour buses take the throngs to visit Marilyn Monroe's handprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater or to press their noses up to the windows on Rodeo Drive and wander Beverly Hills like they're Julia Roberts. Despite what the entertainment industry would have you believe, the city of Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods have a much richer, often conflicted history than just those landmarks — and A People's Guide to Los Angeles, just released by UC Press, would like to make sure you don't forget it.
Researched for more than 15 years by Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough and Wendy Cheng — three Southern California natives and academics with backgrounds in ethnic studies or sociology — and cultivated from published and personal accounts of Los Angeles' long-standing political, social and racial power struggles, the travel guide was released this month and includes 115 sites of interest for the progressive-minded explorer.
“We're looking to reach a whole group of tourists who might find themselves dissatisfied with the options that are out there, specifically the political tone of existing tour books,” says Laura Barraclough, one of the authors. “People who identify with various social movements or people who, when they go on vacation, are not interested in corporate, very, very wealthy interests; people who want a more authentic experience in a place.
“On the other hand,” she adds, “and this is what sets us apart from most tour guides that are out there — is that we really want to reach locals. Like many Angelenos, we know that you can live here your entire lives and still not get to see whole neighborhoods or whole regions.”
Locations and annotations include some of the expected, like the dark history of Chavez Ravine and the more recent political squabble over the building of L.A. Live, as well as places like the paved lot in Historic South Central that once was headquarters to the Black Panther Party. But there are lighter memories, too, like an entry for the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, which discusses the posh hotel's Cinegrill, which has seen many iterations over the years, including one as a popular Vietnamese dance hall in the 1970s.
Yet one of the book's biggest attention-grabbers isn't the locations that are included — it's how they're organized. All trained geographers, the authors organized their guidebook around the more “natural” borders created by the freeways and the L.A. River. Areas are organized under section labels such as Westside region, South Los Angeles region and, perhaps most notably, North Los Angeles — a region meant to encompass downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and everything in between.
“People usually say South L.A. or the Eastside, but when they're talking about Hollywood or downtown, they just say L.A.,” says Cheng, another of the authors. “So we kind of wanted to displace that sort of assumption that real 'L.A.' is only downtown and west of downtown and the Westside in relation to these other parts of L.A. We were [also] very careful to think of the Eastside as … defined by the L.A. River, rather than a version where Silver Lake or Echo Park is the Eastside. We tried to stay true to what that really meant, how L.A. developed as a city and how that [grew] residentially.”
The writers acknowledge that some of these areas have gotten more attention from mainstream travel guides recently, as the ethnic foodie scene grew in popularity and television shows like Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and journalists like former L.A. Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold became household names. They hope this trend will help their cause.
“We would never want people to stop going to Chinatown or Little Tokyo,” says Barraclough. “But when they do visit, instead of just thinking, 'Oh, I'm eating wontons and that makes me culturally sophisticated' — that's a pretty uncritical version of multiculturalism — we'd like people to think critically about the kinds of relationships that have blocked certain ethnic and immigrants into these spaces over time.”
A People's Guide to Los Angeles, $27.95, from UC Press. Book signings: 7:30 p.m., May 11, Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; 2 p.m. May 12, GoWest Reading Series, The Autry in Griffith Park, Los Angeles; 7 p.m., June 7, Vroman's Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena