There are three census tracts overlaying Wilshire Blvd. between Hoover and Alvarado. They take up .23 square miles, a fifth of which is MacArthur Park, and still 10,080 people live there. It’s no wonder Westlake is second only to Koreatown with respect to population density.
But is density the lens through which we view Westlake? Los Angeles is complicated and this area takes no exception. For years, Angelino high school students flocked here for fake ID’s. As white 16-year-old females, when we parked on Alvarado there would be at least four men at our window, thumb and pointer finger wrapping an imaginary square, “You want ID?” Growing up here, this was my only point of reference for the area. But, between crack deals, prostitution, and gang violence, fake IDs were the least of people’s associations with the area once known as the Champs-Elysees of Los Angeles.
The former general manager of the Department of Cultural Affairs, Adolfo Nodal, had a vision for MacArthur Park other than gang warfare and drug dealing. Nodal looked at the area and imagined the bouquet of neon lights that once gave Wilshire Boulevard the nickname, “the neon corridor.” Los Angeles was the first city in the United States to showcase the glowing bulbs in 1922 and a plethora of signs followed suit until WWII. In “an attempt to bring magic back to the corridor,” the Department of Cultural Affairs facilitated a project called Living Urban Museum of Electric and Neon Signs (LUMENS). The $400,000 program restored 25 signs in 1996.
I’ve been stalking this area at night for the last few weeks. Much to my disappointment, it seems as though LUMENS has run its course. Either way, I can still romanticize the first night when the neighborhood known for its darkness turned neon.