Patt Morrison for May 25, 2012

A people’s guide to Los Angeles sheds light on less-frequented but important sites in LA

Wendy Cheng

The former site of the Black Panter party headquarters, 4115 S. Central Ave, photographed in 2007. The site is now a parking lot surrounded by small businesses and a Mexican market.

Wendy Cheng

West Hollywood City Hall, 2008. According to "A People's Guide to Los Angeles," West Hollywood is popularly known as the first "gay city" in the United States, and was incorporated in November, 1984. The first couple to be married at West Hollywood City Hall was actor George Takei (aka Mr. Sulu) and his partner, Brad Altman.

Wendy Cheng

The northwest corner of Main Street and Temple Street in downtown Los Angeles, 2010, was once the site of L.A.'s Downey Block, where many of California's indigenous people were sold into slavery.

Wendy Cheng

In the 1980s the United Auto Workers struggled to keep General Motor's Panorama City plant (located on Van Nuys Boulevard) open, arguing that it wasn't private property but a 'joint venture' between the primarily-Latino community and GM. The plant was closed and demolished in 1998. The site is now a shopping center called "The Plant," 2008.

Wendy Cheng

The horse stables at Santa Anita Park, 2007. The site of many victories for Seabiscuit, but the park also served as a detention center for Japanese Americans during World War II.

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

Drawing of the Downey Block on the northwest corner of Main Street and Temple Street in downtown Los Angeles, date unknown. The rear of the Downey Block served as L.A.'s slave mart and is now a federal courthouse.

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

Members of the Black Panther Party at their headquarters in South Los Angeles, 1969. Soon after the photo was taken, the headquarters were raided and destroyed by the LAPD.

Photo by Mike Sergieff. Courtesy of Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

United Auto Workers Local 645 marching at the GM plant in Panorama City, 1983. Foreground: UAW Local 645 President Pete Beltran, Cesar Chavez, and Maxine Waters.

Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library

Japanese American internees arriving at Santa Anita Park, 1942.

Tourists who come to Los Angeles tend to visit the same places: Venice Beach, Disneyland, Rodeo Drive, Hollywood. The slightly more adventurous might strike out for the Garment District, Topanga Canyon, or the Walt Disney Concert Hall, but what about neighborhoods to the south and east of those attractions? Places like the Los Angeles River? Or ‘the Ink Well’ (a two hundred-square foot beach) and Oakwood (a residential neighborhood) – two of the only Westside locations open to African-Americans during the first few decades of the twentieth century?

Where’s the guidebook that focuses on Los Angeles’ complex history when it comes to activism, class- and race-relations, and the fight for gay rights? At a bookstore near you, apparently. “A People’s Guide to the Los Angeles” focuses on 115 little-known Los Angeles sites with big histories. Join Patt and the books co-authors, Wendy Cheng and Laura Pulido. You might even find something new to do for Memorial Day.

We asked the authors of "A People's Guide" for their top ten little-known L.A. sites:

Black Panther Party Headquarters

Santa Anita Racetrack and Pomona Fairgrounds

Downey Block

Mariachi Plaza

Partido Liberal Mexicano offices

West Hollywood City Hall

Owen Brown's Gravesite

Malibu Public Beaches

General Motors Van Nuys

Lang Station

There will be a book reading and signing at Vroman’s on June 7th at 7pm.


Wendy Cheng, photographer; assistant professor, Asian Pacific American Studies and Justice & Social Inquiry at Arizona State University.

Laura Pulido, professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California; currently a Visiting Professor in Black Studies at UC Santa Barbara

Check out an excerpt of "The People's Guide to Los Angeles":
A People's Guide to L.A. excerpt

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