Once upon a time my Hollywood
I keep returning to Hollywood. My family relocated from Brooklyn, New York to Los Angeles in 1980, and we moved to Hollywood when I was 4 years old. I’ve been photographing its physical transformation for the past 15 years.
The place that I remember from childhood is mostly gone. Not too long ago, most of Hollywood was affordable and working class, and it attracted people from all over the world. The diversity was reflected in all aspects of neighborhood life, from the students in my elementary school classrooms to the teenagers playing basketball at Poinsettia park. The intersection of different cultures and their close proximity to one another contributed to the neighborhood’s eclectic composition.
Today, luxury apartments loom over old bungalows and duplexes and are an ever present reminder of rising rents and the need for more affordable homes. Almost every residential street in Hollywood is a patchwork of older apartments, construction sites, and newly completed structures. The contrasting architectural styles reveal how extensively the landscape is being remade.
Older dingbat-style apartments and bungalow courts make up the remainder of the moderately priced housing in the area. Open courtyards and decorative landscaping has given way to an emphasis on privacy in newer buildings, which conform to a minimalist aesthetic that emphasizes clean lines and enormous windows.
The rent in these buildings often starts much higher than the area’s average. The prospect alone of a new building coming to a block is sometimes enough to prompt a landlord to raise the rent. In five years, some of my family members have had their rent increased by more than $1,000. It’s overwhelming, and many long time residents have simply moved on. It’s a story that is being repeated throughout Los Angeles, from Boyle Heights to Leimert Park. Judging by the rent control law that went into effect this year in California, elected leaders and the general public acknowledge there is a problem. But it’s not enough. Unfortunately, lawmakers have responded with a tangible lack of urgency.
But traces of the Hollywood I remember can still be found, if you know where to look.
Every Sunday in the Los Angeles City College parking lot, a weekly flea market draws a large crowd. It’s been going on for years. A side effect of this event is the organic, open air marketplace that pops up on the surrounding blocks along Vermont Avenue. Vendors set up tables, apparel racks, or sometimes just a patterned cloth on the pavement to sell all sorts of things, from used electronics to clothes to books. It’s a spontaneous expression of community that is becoming difficult to find. In another decade, it’s easy to imagine that the foundation of Hollywood will be completely consumed by the facade, eradicating the last traces of the vibrant, working class communities that once stood. It’s vital to document the parts that remain.
The people who live in Hollywood are just as important as the landmarks. In the past, relatively cheap rent and an iconic reputation combined to produce one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Los Angeles. But high housing costs have made it difficult, if not impossible, for the people who built the community to benefit from its revitalization. Life here was never easy, but looking back, there was nowhere else quite like it.