Saturday, June 25, 2016

Emergency Edition: Doughboy in Danger! Tell Everyone!

Just last month, I wrote about Humberto Pedretti's Doughboy statue - the World War I memorial anchoring Pershing Square. (Or what passes for Pershing Square these days, anyway. It looks nothing like it did when the statue was installed.)

I found the time to visit Pershing Square this week. Believe me, I completely understand why everyone hates it so much. Raising the park above street level (even if it was to add some desperately needed parking) made it uninviting at best. The steps to get into the park are not pleasant to climb (I wish to add that I climbed those steps in a pencil dress and it was the most physically challenging thing I've done all week). There is far too much concrete, which makes the park both hideous and extremely hot. The underground parking garage has made it impossible for the park's few trees to grow enough to provide a decent amount of shade, which just makes the heat worse.

And, off in a corner surrounded by unattractive succulents, Pershing Square's historic monuments are all but forgotten.

Besides the Doughboy, there is a Spanish-American War monument, a plaque honoring Gen. Pershing, and - inexplicably - Beethoven. All four monuments have been in the park for decades. All of them may as well be invisible, since it is surprisingly difficult to see them from inside much of Pershing Square itself, let alone from the street (I checked).

But there is something we can all do.

I stumbled upon a petition to save Pershing Square's historic monuments - those listed above as well as several more that are currently absent. As of this writing, the petition has 262 supporters (myself included). That means at least 238 more are needed.

And I know we can make that happen.

Send this petition to Angelenos and other Southern Californians. Send it to people in the armed forces and their families. Send it to preservationists. Send it to historians. Send it to musicians, your friend with season passes to the LA Philharmonic, and your piano teacher from childhood (Beethoven matters too). Send it to people in France whose families can still remember World War II (I know some French women live to be well over 100, but I'm going to be realistic about the possibility of many living people remembering World War I). Send it to anyone who would at least consider signing it. If you know anyone who can make this petition go viral, please ask for their help. 

The statues all appeared to be clean, well-maintained, and in good condition (especially for being 84 to 116 years old!). It would be a terrible waste not to incorporate them into the redesigned square.

I had a few other things to do downtown. The traffic, incredibly, wasn't bad, and with AFI playing on the car stereo, I didn't really mind. Due to a combination of road work and one-way streets, at one point I had to make a detour near Aliso Street to turn around, and immediately noticed I was at the intersection of Vignes and Ducommun Streets.

"Such a promising past...Mayday!"

Although those streets bear the names of two very prominent figures, no one would ever guess the neighborhood was thriving in Vignes' and Ducommun's day. Because I have been researching Frenchtown for so long, I knew what I'd find there, but even Google Street View couldn't quite prepare me for the shock of having to actually see it in person.

"Down with the heroes before me...What did I tell you? I promised I'd give you a story."

That part of Frenchtown has been replaced by a creepy-looking strip club, aging industrial buildings, and a vacant lot taken over by weeds so tall that I, at 5'5", could probably hide in them unnoticed. The traffic island that stands on the former site of El Aliso is crumbling, weedy, and strewn with trash. The only people I saw were two LAPD officers doing paperwork in a parked patrol car.

"I saw this alone. The city was aflame. Did I turn right in or turn away?"

THIS replaced the once-thriving French quarter? I wanted to throw up.

"Summertime is long. In God's name who would stay? God left yesterday but I remain."

Before I pulled my little car onto the 101, I swore that, for as long as I'm alive, I will do everything I can to keep Frenchtown from being forgotten.

"Disappear, disappear, disappear..."

Not on my watch. 

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