L.A. Times Q-and-A
on Wilshire Boulevard

Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles won't be released until November 1, but the media attention is getting an early start. Today's Los Angeles Times Magazine runs a Q-and-A with me by Abel Salas (with a photograph outside the former Elks Lodge beside MacArthur Park by Juliane Backmann.) Here's a sample:

Q: What is Wilshire's role in the city's automobile culture?

If you think of Los Angeles as the city of drivers and driving, L.A. learned how to be an automobile-age city on Wilshire Boulevard. Until Wilshire, everybody was riding streetcars and living near streetcars and going downtown to work. Wilshire comes along, and they discover, well, we can live far away from downtown and never go there. We can go to places like the Miracle Mile and do our shopping, or Beverly Hills or the Wilshire Center area. The vaunted streetcar system was great for what it did, but it was slow. As soon as people could find an alternative, they did.

In the late '20s, The Times and the Wilshire Boulevard Assn. had somebody stand at the corner of Wilshire and Western and count the cars going by. They decided [it] was the busiest intersection in the country, busier than anywhere on Fifth Avenue in New York or in Chicago. That's about when they dubbed Wilshire the "Fifth Avenue of the West." At the time, there were no lane lines painted on the blacktop, [so] it was anarchy when you'd get to one of these big intersections. They had to invent lane lines to keep people in line. L.A.'s first synchronized traffic signals were on Wilshire Boulevard. It was where Los Angeles learned how to be a driving city. It had the biggest number of drive-in restaurants in the '30s. There used to be more than 100 gas stations. Today there are fewer than a half-dozen.

Q: Is there a stretch of Wilshire you're partial to?

My favorite is the Veterans Affairs land between Westwood and Brentwood. It's one of the most historical spots in the city. It was settled in 1888 as a home for disabled soldiers from the Civil War and grew as sort of an island there. The oldest building on Wilshire is a chapel on the Veterans land. I loved driving around this 387-acre campus and thinking about what was there before. The National Cemetery is across Sepulveda Boulevard. There are 85,000 people buried there. There's people buried there who qualified by fighting in Korea in 1871 and being at the Boxer Rebellion in China.