Crustaceans In Sawtelle

Auf deutsche Sprache übersetzt 

Los Angeles happens to possess many districts that were independent communities before being annexed by the City. One such is Sawtelle, which sprung up in the early 1880s at the southern gates of the West L.A. Veteran Affairs property. Sawtelle Blvd, which leads south from these gates, has since become the focus of L.A.'s second largest Japanese-American neighborhood. About a block away from the intersection of Santa Monica and Sawtelle is a small city parking lot, used by those needing to go to the local courthouse or bail bondsmen. Unnoticed by most is a peculiar building that now houses an African art and curio gallery. The front of this building, on Sawtelle, has been decorated to suggest its East Africa theme.

The Turkana Gallery
 Seen from the back, though, the structure is revealed to be surprisingly old.  The local property assessor's online database gives a build date around 1930, but I suspect it's considerably older.  The outdoor gallery running the length of the building smacks of much older buildings like those in the Historic Core downtown.The low brick arches over the windows are much like those you'd see on Olvera Street and other very old districts.

Now let's walk over and take a closer look at the window, the one behind the green and white truck.

The Lobster Shrine

When I first saw this, I thought the window inset was filled with those curling bits of bark that come off of palm trunks.   Closer inspection revealed that wasn't the case after all, for it was nothing but a pile of lobsterbacks, blanched by who knows how many sunny afternoons.  I should mention that this window faces the parking lot to the west, so an ample dose of afternoon sunlight is assured most days of the year.   Oddly it wasn't the brass plaque which drew my attention to this, but nothing more than my curiosity as to why these supposed palm tree fragments had been allowed to pile up.

The sign close up
For a couple of years I wondered what the story was here.  Today, I finally managed to contact the owner of the gallery, which is almost always closed.  This is one Ernest Wolfe, a deep-sea diver by avocation, who revealed that it was his work.   He believes we should respect the creatures of the deep, which we take for their delicious flesh, so that they will keep on giving us of it.  The Ernie Wolfe story is an interesting one, in and of itself, and I hope to give him further coverage in a future post.

I told him I could get solidly behind that. I'm more than willing to respect any lobster anyone cares to place before me, anywhere.

L.A. now abounds in small commercial centers of roughly the same age and character as Sawtelle, and these will probably retain that character indefinitely.  For most of the twentieth century, L.A.'s older neighborhoods were decimated by the rampant abandonment, and obliteration that was driven largely by galloping population growth and white flight. Now, however, these factors are greatly diminished.  Simply put, we are, at long last, "there", instead of always looking to the next suburb over the hill.

By the way, apart from the Avila house, Olvera Street itself possesses virtually no physical traces of the L.A.'s Spanish or Mexican periods.   Strip away the deliberate commercialization of the street, which was opened as a Mexican-themed tourist attraction in 1930, and you have a mere collection of fairly nondescript commercial buildings originating between 1855 and 1910.  By L.A. standards today, that's practically the Cretaceous Era, but in 1930 they were newer than most of the Sawtelle business district is to us today.  I'm sure many tourists there see the Plaza substation, which was built to house relays and transformers for the streetcar system, and think it's some piece of 18th-century Spanish Mission architecture.  In fact it wasn't even thirty years old when Olvera Street was set up as a tourist mecca.   But, this is Hollywood after all.  What is touted as the most historic street in the city turns out to be nothing more than a collection of nondescript business buildings, mostly occupied by machine shops, paint stores, and similar establishments run by local Anglo  business peoe..  In the early 1900s  the then-new Simpson building at the northeast corner of Plaza and Olvera Street was an automobile dealership. As for the owners themseles, they were almost all European immigrants or Midwestern transplants.   Christine Sterling, who was the driving force behind Olvera Street, might just as well have been Mrs. Babbitt, and this all might just as well have been Zenith, U.S.A.

In a post to come we will examine the sad and curious history of the Olvera Street neighborhood in more detail.

Not an adobe mission, but just a power station for the streetcars, built in 1906

1 comment:

  1. There are the parts of a couple old adob es which possibly pre-date the Avila Adobe in the LA City section if the Baldwin Hills.