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Understanding ‘Layers of Space’ is about understanding the ground one exists on. Every city is a palimpsest where traces of what has been erased are visible. In Los Angeles these layers include: the pre-civilization natural condition (specifically water); Indigenous civilizations, their communities and villages, their use of land and, in particular, their relation to water (e.g. ‘Sacred Springs’); 18th century Spanish principles of city building, or land use policies—land reserved for the Crown vs. land granted to private landholders10 'Los Angeles boulevard: eight x-rays of the body public', Douglas R. Suisman. Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, 1989 11'Los Angeles boulevard: eight x-rays of the body public', Douglas R. Suisman. Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, 1989

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Understanding ‘Layers of Space’ is about understanding the ground one exists on. Every city is a palimpsest where traces of what has been erased are visible. In Los Angeles these layers include: the pre-civilization natural condition (specifically water); Indigenous civilizations, their communities and villages, their use of land and, in particular, their relation to water (e.g. ‘Sacred Springs’);09 The ‘Historical Ecology of the Los Angeles River Watershed and Environs’ report (published June 15, 2020; William Deverell, Travis Longcore et al.): chapters 3.3. to 4 (Indigenous Landscape 9000BP- 1769CE; European-American Conquest Landscape 1770s-1870s; The Urban Industrial Era: 1870s-Present) 18th century Spanish principles of city building, or land use policies—land reserved for the Crown vs. land granted to private landholders10 'Los Angeles boulevard: eight x-rays of the body public', Douglas R. Suisman. Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, 1989 hello etc. to 20th century policies of redlining, racial or religious covenants and deed restrictions; or policies to determine the construction of freeways ;(again: one must emphasize that various other subcommittees were looking at these histories in greater detail). These factors have, and continue to, significantly shape the city’s map. The question for this subcommittee and for the larger Civic Memory work group must be: How does one make more visible these existing layers? How does one engender more awareness or sensitivity to the ground one exists on?

A Space Shuttle Is Retired

Onlookers watch the space shuttle Endeavour as it moves east on Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood. (Wally Skalij / Courtesy Los Angeles Times)
Endeavour creeps down Manchester Boulevard toward a stop at the Forum on its way to the California Science Center. (Irfan Khan / Courtesy Los Angeles Times)
Traymond Harris, left, and Ryan Hudge play basketball as the space shuttle Endeavour passes by on Crenshaw Avenue in Inglewood. (Wally Skalij / Courtesy Los Angeles Times)

In October of 2012, the retired space shuttle Endeavour, which was largely built in Palmdale and during its active NASA service touched down regularly at Edwards Air Force Base in the Antelope Valley, moved in a boisterous, slow-motion parade through the streets of Los Angeles, on its way from Los Angeles International Airport to a new permanent home at the California Science Center in Exposition Park. Huge crowds gathered at every turn as the orbiter pushed east on Manchester Boulevard, north on Crenshaw Boulevard and east again on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. The parade, for all its novelty, seemed a natural expression of L.A. character and history. In a city that can seem most clearly legible when we are moving through it and where spectacle itself is often mobile—where we have always shown off on skateboards or in muscle cars—Endeavour seemed to fit right in.

Carlos Diniz: A History of Drawing the Future

Carlos Diniz, born of Brazilian parents, spent most of his childhood in Los Angeles making art in almost every medium available to him. Drafted into military service at 18 years old in 1946, he was posted overseas in Venice, Italy, where he began to marry a fascination with architecture and city scenes to his love of drawing. Once his service was over, Diniz earned his B.A. in specialized design at Art Center College in Los Angeles in 1951, undertaking a self-education in architecture along the way. He then joined the Viennese architect Victor Gruen’s team developing promotional materials for Gruen’s large-scale, pioneering shopping center schemes. In 1957, Diniz opened his own architectural illustration firm, Carlos Diniz Associates Visual Communications, first in the Granada Building and later in Chapman Plaza.

One of the last to master the tradition of the hand-drawn building perspective, Diniz became nationally known over his four-decade-long professional career as an architectural delineator who could translate architects’ often very technical renderings of proposed buildings or entire new communities to a format easily understood by clients, developers, review agencies, and the public at large. Diniz called his work the “art of illusion,” and he innately understood how to articulate, even choreograph, how these yet-unbuilt projects would be perceived. Focusing on the birds-eye view and on spaces, vistas, and movement between structures, his professional practice traces the development of Southern California and beyond in the postwar era. He made every drawing accessible, using his skill to seduce its viewer into embracing the architect’s scheme.

Diniz’s early clients included the prominent architects Welton Becket and César Pelli, and he collaborated with Frank Gehry under Gruen. Over time, his practice expanded nationally with his work for the giant firms of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) in San Francisco and HOK in St. Louis. He also was integral in helping design Minoru Yamasaki’s World Trade Center in 1961 and the L.A. landmark Century Plaza Hotel in 1964. Diniz worked on thousands of projects around the globe for some of the world’s best architects. Thanks to a gift from his family in 2016, the vast archive of work by Carlos Diniz Associates became part of the Architecture and Design Collection held by UC Santa Barbara’s Art, Design & Architecture Museum.

This archive gains a particular meaning when considered in a volume, like this one, dedicated to reconsidering the civic memory of Los Angeles. Diniz’s work is a reminder of just how many approaches to imagining the future (architectural, cultural, or otherwise) were pioneered or given room to roam in Southern California. (His had a painterly, hand-drawn aspect that helped leaven the futurism with craft and a particular, recognizable personal style.) That history of speculation in Los Angeles, even that anxiousness to move into the future, is a legacy worth understanding and preserving just as any significant work of architecture is.

The Marathon Continues

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Few communities love harder than South Central.

So when they lost one of their own—a young man who was just coming into his power and who had told them that, despite all that they had been denied and all that they had struggled through, they could do the same—they came out to testify in his honor.

From the moment the funeral procession for rapper, entrepreneur, and visionary Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom moved into South Central along Vermont Avenue, people were jumping into the mix in their cars, on their bikes, on scooters, on motorcycles—or on foot, in the case of one determined runner—to accompany him along the 26-mile route. Or they celebrated in their own neighborhood before heading over to Crenshaw and Slauson to help his give him one last embrace.

It was a day unlike any residents could remember. “Historic,” said many. “Beautiful,” others said, in reference to the palpable sense of community seen and felt across ’hoods01 When I say ‘hood, I am specifically referring to gang territories/contested spaces. But calling it a gang territory is also too narrow. So: ‘hood.

—something that Hussle had spent half his life advocating for before being shot to death at Crenshaw and Slauson on March 31, 2019, at age 33.

But it was also, everyone agreed, a hard day. To most, it made no sense that someone whose message was so positive could be cut down so cruelly. That it happened in the parking lot that had been the epicenter of his life since he was fourteen and the place he was working to turn into an incubator of hope and prosperity for the community was almost incomprehensible.

“We always saw him here,” said 19-year-old Michael Robinson, who had come to Crenshaw and Slauson to mourn with friends. When they were younger, they said, their daily after-school walks to the market would take them past the T-shirt shop Hussle and his brother, known as Blacc Sam, ran at the time.

Hussle’s constant presence at the strip mall made it feel like he was within reach—that he was one of them. So had his music, which spoke to their experiences in a way they hadn’t heard before. And while their elders might have balked at hearing Hussle regularly proclaim his gang affiliation in his lyrics and his interviews, the youth knew he understood why they felt they had to make some of the choices they did.

They found nuance in the blueprints Hussle laid out for how to navigate contested streets, push back against the oppressive systems at work, remain true to themselves, and, ultimately, lift up their own ’hoods.

“He taught me the difference between being a gang banger and a gang member,” said Robinson.

At Century and Main, aspiring rappers Kobey Cash and Gold Franko said Nipsey had shown them how to be men. And how to come together. They pointed to the Unity March that had drawn gangs from around South L.A., some of which had been mortal enemies for decades, as evidence that Hussle’s soul was still here. “He woke everybody up,” they agreed, joining in the chorus of folks voicing hope that the positivity Hussle had sown and the unity he had forged would continue after his passing.

Around 5 p.m., the helicopters were still hovering over the edge of Inglewood and the crowd in front of The Marathon store was still growing. The procession that was estimated to take an hour and a half was now edging toward the three-hour mark, but no one was complaining. There was only anticipation, as people scrambled up light poles and signs, occupied every available roof, and clambered on top of patrol cars to catch a glimpse of the hearse as it traversed the intersection that has since been renamed in his honor.

Hussle had often spoken about his own mortality and the extent to which the future was not promised in his lyrics. Reflecting on the loss of a close friend in “Racks in the Middle,” a track from his Grammy-nominated Victory Lap album, he says that if it he’d been the one to die, he’d have advised his friends to “Finish what we started, reach them heights, you know?”

But it was the closing lines of a 2018 essay he’d penned in The Players’ Tribune02 For the Culture,” Oct. 25, 2018:

that hung in the air and reassured folks his spirit would live on. “Crenshaw made me,” he wrote. “So I’ll always be in Crenshaw. Always fighting. The work ain’t done yet. The marathon continues.” 

You Are Now Entering Siutcanga

In 2020, the National Park Service (NPS) granted the L.A. Department of City Planning funding to develop wayfinding signage along the Los Angeles River—an important capital improvement strategy identified in Los Angeles County’s 1996 L.A. River Master Plan and 2007 L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan. The L.A. River trail system within the City of Los Angeles boundaries coincides with the NPS-designated Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail recreation route, which is named for the legendary explorer, military officer, and politician credited with helping to found Spanish California. Although some parks along the L.A. River feature Anza Trail markers, often missing from the trail’s narrative is the fact that Juan Bautista de Anza and the settlers he led intersected with Indigenous communities along their journey. The L.A. River wayfinding signage initiative provides an important opportunity to acknowledge the land’s history as well as the legacy and contributions of Indigenous communities along the river through place-based strategies and wayfinding.

In 2019, the L.A. City Planning Department coordinated with the Department of Transportation and Department of Recreation and Parks, as well as Mayor Eric Garcetti’s L.A. Riverworks Team and L.A. River Task Force, to begin placing wayfinding signs along the first phase of the Los Angeles Riverway Capital Improvement Strategy. The area near Griffith Park (mile markers 28 to 29 of the Anza Trail) is a pilot location; the wayfinding program will then identify more key wayfinding opportunities in the second-, third-, and fourth-phase geographical areas from Glendale west to Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley and in the section along downtown Los Angeles. The wayfinding initiative will better link the L.A. River pathway to nearby community amenities, raise historical awareness of the river and the surrounding lands, and better reflect the cultural connections that they represent.

As part of this work, the City has been in communication with the Fernandeño Tataviam tribe to

develop the content of an interpretive sign at Etiwanda Avenue near Encino. Tribal leaders have suggested the following language for the sign. We include it here for the power of its connection to place and as a potential model for similar efforts to come.

Hamiinat (Hello)

You Are Now Entering Siutcanga

Siutcanga (Place of the Oaks) is a Native village now recognized as Encino, the name given by the Spanish settlers due to the presence of oak trees. The people of Siutcanga, known as Siutcavitam, are citzens of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians.

This marker acknowledges that the Los Angeles River and its watershed are the traditional lands of the Fernandeño Tataviam, Gabrieleño Tongva, and Ventureño Chumash. We recognize that Indigenous Peoples have stewarded this land for thousands of years, many of whom still call it home today, and we give thanks for the opportunity to live, work, and learn on their traditional homeland. We recognize our responsibility to include these Tribal Nations in what we do for the river.

Paiko tan hiiv! (See you later) ●

The Legacies of Junípero Serra

Members of this roundtable:
William Deverell (facilitator) is a professor of history at the University of Southern California, director of the USC-Huntington Institute on California and the West, and a member of the Civic Memory Working Group. 
Father Tom Elewaut is the pastor at Mission Basilica San Buenaventura Catholic parish in Ventura, California. 
Joel Garcia (Huichol) is an artist, arts administrator, cultural organizer, and 2019 Monument Lab fellow. 
Steven Hackel is a professor of history at UC Riverside and author of Junípero Serra: California’s Founding Father (Hill and Wang, 2013). 
Andrew Salas is chairperson of the Gabrieleño band of Mission Indians (Kizh Nation).
Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto is an elder in the Barbareño band of Chumash Indians. 
Donna Yocum is tribal chair of the San Fernando band of Mission Indians.

Junípero Serra was born Miquel Joseph Serra on November 24, 1713, in the village of Petra on the island of Mallorca in the western Mediterranean. The son of a farmer, Serra spent his early childhood working the family’s land and attending a Franciscan school situated just down the street from his home. At an early age Serra moved to Palma, Mallorca’s main city, and began studying for the priesthood. When he joined the Franciscan order, he took the name Junípero in honor of one of the early followers of Saint Francis of Assisi.

In 1749, Serra and several other Mallorcan Franciscans decided to answer what they believed was a divine call to go to Mexico as apostolic missionaries. Serra arrived in Mexico City on January 1, 1750, and soon thereafter was assigned to the Sierra Gorda region of northern Mexico, where for eight years he oversaw five missions and supervised the construction of more permanent mission structures. As part of his work in the Sierra Gorda, Serra served as a comisario (field agent) for the Spanish Inquisition.

Spanish officials soon became worried that Russians or other Europeans might attempt to settle the coastal region north of Baja California and thereby threaten Spain’s interests in northern Mexico. The Crown therefore called on Serra to establish and oversee missions in San Diego, Monterey, and points in between. Serra, in the company of other Franciscans and dozens of soldiers, worked his way north from Baja California and established Mission San Diego in the summer of 1769. The following year, he established a mission in Monterey, and he and Gaspar de Portolá, the leader of the military in Baja California, took possession of Alta California for Spain.

Serra believed that Natives should accept Catholicism as the one true religion, adopt European agriculture to sustain themselves, and live their lives at the missions, “under the bell.” Franciscans resorted to coercion and physical punishments to force Natives to follow Catholic precepts, remain in the missions, and provide the labor necessary to maintain them. While some Native peoples may have been taken by Serra’s vision, others resisted, sparking rebellions of varying intensity at all of the missions. At the same time, however, there was a blending of cultures in colonial California. Natives brought their own cultural traditions of food, music, art, and basketry to the missions, elements of which made their way into mission diets and Catholic liturgical music, paintings, and decorative arts.

By the time Serra died in Mission San Carlos (modern-day Carmel) in 1784, he had stewarded the building of the first nine California missions. The padres could point to impressive Native baptism numbers, but the death registers told another story. Frighteningly high mortality stalked the missions, claiming thousands and thousands of newborns, children, and young adults. Women’s fertility plummeted. The missions became so unhealthy that the populations were not self-sustaining, and it was only by recruiting Natives from greater distances that the missions’ populations grew. By the time the missions were secularized in the early 1830s, more than 80,000 Indigenous Californians had been baptized between San Diego and just north of San Francisco, but almost 60,000 had been buried, nearly 25,000 of whom were children under the age of 10.

Despite this tragedy, by the late nineteenth century, Serra was widely commemorated across much of California with schools, monuments, buildings, and statues dedicated to his memory. He was lauded as a trailblazer for “civilization” and as having laid the foundation for California’s future agricultural bounty and economic growth. In 1931, to much fanfare, the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol unveiled a statue honoring Serra, and shortly thereafter, a copy of that statue was placed in downtown Los Angeles. By the mid-twentieth century, however, when the Catholic Church began in earnest to promote Serra’s canonization, scholars had begun to make known the demographic toll that the missions took on Native lives and communities, and different understandings of Serra and the missions began to emerge. Further, as more Native voices began to tell their stories about the missions and Serra’s role in creating them, Serra became an increasingly controversial figure. His canonization in 2015 sparked outrage among his detractors, some of whom began to deface and destroy public monuments to him. With the reemergence of social justice movements across the United States following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 and the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020, calls intensified for the removal of Serra’s statues from public places. In the summer of 2020, many Serra statues were either removed from public places or torn down, as occurred in Los Angeles on June 20, 2020.


William Deverell: This roundtable addressing Father Serra in civic and public memory is not meant to make decisions. This is a dialogue and, like this entire report, is designed to open and encourage conversations across wider communities about the ways in which civic memory practices can be productive of community-building, cohesion, and healing. Could we begin by having you introduce your own engagement with or understanding of Father Serra? 

Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto: As far as Father Serra goes, well before canonization, I had worked at the mission about six years, part-time and full-time. When it was suggested that he may be canonized, people were falling over themselves apologizing, praying for us and for me. They asked for my opinion. I said that I had nothing negative to say except that canonization would end up justifying everything that happened to us. We have had trauma; we have seen the end of most of our cultural practices. But other than that, I had no complaints. And neither did my ancestors, going back to my great-great-grandmother, María Ignacio. One can consult the records, including those of [the American linguist and ethnologist] J. P. Harrington, and there are no negative comments to be found. 

So when canonization occurred, I went along with the flow. Then my daughter fell sick. She was not expected to survive. But prayers to Father Serra—including a relic I rubbed on her—worked. She lived. Needless to say, that altered my view. I do not believe that everything that has gone on, all that has happened, could possibly be put on one man. Think of all the soldiers. Think of all the settlers. One man is to blame for all the actions of all these others? I am sure that there were some good Spaniards in there, but not all. No. Do people believe that we would have remained untouched? That the Russians would not have come into our lives and our villages? We received the Church from the mission era, from Saint Serra. That is our gold nugget. 

Donna Yocum: In regard to our people being the first people of this area, we think back on our ancestors—our grandmothers and grandfathers, and all the many generations that have come and gone. The Catholic Church itself has played such a big part in the lives of so many families. As we look back at those that played the major parts, the major roles, in our history, our tribal history, our ancestral history, Father Serra was one of the major players. And for our tribe, our people, we have mixed feelings. We have mixed emotions when we discuss this subject. 

From the standpoint of the Indigenous people, we look from the current time and see harm and harmful issues that bring us to today. History should be remembered for its truths. I feel that perhaps Father Serra’s role in our lives, in our ancestral family, was not so wonderful, loving, or kind. I am not saying that there were not times or circumstances that were kind. But when we see the upheaval, the recent destruction of many of the statues, we have mixed emotions. 

Andrew Salas: I can tell you, through our oral history, we have our doubts and concerns about the man. I speak of the history of mistreatment. I descend from a family of a prominent man. His name was Nicolás Joseph or Nicolás José. Through my father, we originate from a village near Whittier Narrows, near the first establishment site of Mission San Gabriel. 

Through my grandfather, we were raised with history and stories passed down through generations. I come from lineal families that originate with both the Native people and the founding settlers of Los Angeles. My family is tied to great ranchos of vast land, and also the Indigenous villages of this region. It was fear and force that drove my Indigenous ancestors into the missions and into the Catholic faith. They came not because they wanted to. They were forced into the culture and the religion. Of course, we learned the religion, the practices, through time. But there was always the threat of punishment for those who did not participate, who did not want to follow the ways of Serra and the padres. What we feel for and about Father Serra is not what many of you feel. We have a different regard, and, with all due respect, it is not a good feeling. Through memories and stories, we know a different history, a different truth. 

Tom Elewaut: I am not an Indigenous person. I come from a Catholic tradition. One of the things that I am concerned about—and I come from a different cultural perspective—is that it appears that atrocities of multiple layers are being dumped on one man. I understand that he brought Christianity here. And like any parent who thinks something is good, they are going to give it to their children. 

I understand (and I get criticized for saying this) that the Indigenous people got along just fine before the Spaniards came. They had their own religions and cultures. I also understand that Saint Serra brought what he felt was good for the salvation of souls. I am concerned about character assassination of Saint Serra, in that everything that had gone wrong with colonization and missionization from the Spaniards through […] to the Gold Rush era, when the Indigenous people were so maltreated, is laid at his feet. It is in the American period when the governor [Philip Sheridan] insisted that the only good Indian was a dead Indian. 

This is the opportunity for dialogue. I have maintained, for the ten years I have been at the mission, an open dialogue with the tribal leaders of Indigenous communities. We do not always agree, but we communicate openly and respectfully. When I first arrived, I would have dinner with the older generation. They would talk about their lives, but they never said the negative things that I have heard in the last four or five years about Saint Serra. I am not saying that they are not true. But I am concerned about the ways that truth is layered across history. Is it fair to put everything that happened on one person? 

AS: I do not believe that we are putting it all on one person. As you say, after Serra, after the Spanish, there were those decades of mistreatment. There were three genocides in California: the Spanish period, the Mexican period, and the American period. I, too, was born Catholic and baptized. I come from people who were among the first to be baptized at Mission San Gabriel. Baptisms, marriages, and burials: we experienced all of these. But it is our belief that the impact of Father Serra on all our people was not a positive one. We are the living proof of those different opinions and different histories.

TE: I understand and appreciate what you are saying, Andy. I would only question the use of a term such as “genocide.” I have to ask if you believe that the padres and the Spanish came to annihilate the Indigenous people? I fully appreciate that the Indigenous culture was upended and changed forever. But I do not believe that the aim was to exterminate the Native peoples. 

Steven Hackel: I would like to address the issue of genocide, as it often comes up in discussions about Father Serra. When we think of genocide in the academic and wider worlds, we often think of places such as Rwanda or Nazi Germany. We think of planned campaigns to exterminate ethnic groups in a compressed period of time. We think of attempts to remove a certain group of people from the face of the earth often in very narrow ways and in legalist terms. What I would like to suggest is that if we were to apply a United Nations definition of genocide (which emerged out of the World War II experience) to places like mission-era California, I think we would find that this is not a good fit. This is not to ignore what the Spanish did, but Father Serra did not come to the New World with a desire to exterminate Native peoples. 

But, if we were to look at how some Indigenous groups in Canada are reconceptualizing genocide, thinking of it not only as some kind of state-sponsored, industrialized killing campaign, then new insights emerge. Look instead to the effects of generations of cultural oppression, of disease and dislocation, of poverty. We see then that the net effect of missionary policies led to an unmistakable and catastrophic attrition in Native population and culture that collectively, over generations, resembles genocide. 

I think that people can talk past one another if they focus too narrowly on technical definitions of genocide. I think all can realize that the missions were very disruptive for Native peoples—for their populations, their beliefs, and their cultures. If we look seriously at what Native life was like in 1830, as opposed to what it was like in 1730, we see a tremendous change. I believe that most people would say it was not a positive change for Native peoples. 

AS: I understand. What about the mass graves at the missions? What about another side of the story, how so many of these dead are the result of massacres? We have a different story. We Native people also believe in a divine creator. A creator who made the heavens and the earth and everything in it. We did not need the Spanish or Serra to teach us that. We did not need, we did not ask, to be forced into the missions to learn about the lovable God of Christianity. I do not want to point fingers. I want to explain our view, and I am pleased to be able to do that here today. 

DY: I spoke to our elders, asking them for their thoughts on this subject. They have, as I have said, mixed feelings. We want this report to be as inclusive as possible. Our belief is that civic memory is all the stories, all the histories, that make up our lives and that honor our ancestors. 

Joel Garcia: I believe that we are speaking now of generational trauma. Trauma from the past will manifest in the lives of the present. Trauma from my grandfather’s time, from my great-grandfather’s time. It keeps surfacing, it keeps coming up in our lived experience. I believe in healing. I have concentrated my work in recent years on the younger generations. I have learned from time spent in Berlin especially how people in Germany have worked so hard to reconcile with their past across the intersections of memorialization and public space. My own family is the product of many traumas. State-sponsored violence in Mexico drove us to Los Angeles. And now this concept of generational trauma is pulling me back to the mission system, the mission era. What are we to think of the implementation of the mission system, primarily at the hands of Father Serra? How are we to talk about it, to reconcile different stories and histories?


I learned in Berlin that we must create the space to have difficult conversations. We have to acknowledge the different views and the fact that we may not be able to understand one another’s experiences or what people have gone through, generation to generation. I am not going to understand what Donna’s family has experienced, for example. Or what Andy’s family has gone through. But I can accept what they are saying, I can listen to their truths to try to learn and to be respectful. That is part of the work that needs to happen. Until we do that, we are going to continue to speak in binary terms: “Serra was not terrible.” “Yes, he was.” 

With Serra, I believe that both sides have valid claims. I believe also that a brand, for lack of a better word, has been created around Serra. And thus, with that brand created, Serra has become a catchall for everything, for all that happened. He is a brand receiving praise, he is a brand receiving anger and pain. He is, I believe, credited for things he did not do, both the good and the bad. 

We need, I believe, to move beyond legalistic, post–World War II understandings of the term “genocide,” as Steve has suggested. We have different ways of looking at the term, the concept, and the trauma here in California. We have different timescales. History has worked differently here than, say, Nazi Germany or Rwanda. Ethnocide happened here—the erasure of a culture—and we need to acknowledge that more than we do. We must be more willing to have layered conversations that do justice to the histories of everyone. This is hard work. This mediation is made all the harder because of history’s many layers. 

AS: Thank you. You are right. Healing starts with truth. That is all we are asking. I would not pull a statue down, but I understand why people would do it. We drive by San Gabriel Mission, and I see the statue, and little kids ask me, “Whoa, who is that?” I say, “That’s not a good story. We will tell you some other time.” But that’s not right. We should tell these stories to the young people. We can be stewards of a bigger conversation, like we are doing today. We can use conversations like this to have wider conversations about values: what is it that society values, and how can those values evolve and become more humanitarian? 

TE: I would like to acknowledge that around 50,000 Indigenous people died up and down the state during the 60 years of the mission era. Following that, the number became tragically and exponentially larger. 

JG: I am in favor of process in conversations, process in memorialization, process as a commitment to inclusivity. 

AS: Let honesty and the truth be heard. And then people can make up their own minds as to how to feel about one group or another, or one person or another.

DY: Yes, so much of this happened long, long ago. But the effects are real, they are still being felt by so many. 

AS: A lot of loss. Loss of a territorial homeland, a place we can call home. We know where our villages were, but these lands no longer belong to us. How can we help but believe that things began with Father Serra? 

DY: It was the beginning, for us. Generation through generation and now, to today. We are still trying to deal with the consequences passed down. And we, or the majority of our family, attend the Catholic Church. Many, many of them unto this day. They are torn about it. I talk with the elders and ask how can things be made right, be made better? This is not a monetary issue or concern. This is about healing. This is about a different kind of reparations. Some people say put up statues of our people, too. Others ask what good would that do? But I feel that it is a step toward honest conversation and a step for different histories. Of course it is about more than statues. But that would be a step toward a wider truth. Let us be able to speak of our history, let us remind so many people in Los Angeles that we were here. And that we still are here. 

SH: As an educator, I would add that we need to do a much better job teaching California history. Father Serra is viewed as California’s Columbus. To many, he is the person who has become the lightning rod for everything bad that has happened to Native people in this state before 1850 and after 1850. We need to do a better job educating people that the arrival of Serra and the missions was merely the beginning of a much longer, tragic period for Indigenous Californians. I believe that Father Serra never imagined a world without Native people in it. That was not his worldview. Yes, he wanted to convert the Indigenous people to Catholicism, to make them subjects of the Spanish King. He wanted them living in the missions as Spanish subjects under his God. 

But when Anglo Americans came here during the Gold Rush, their vision was completely different. Theirs was a vision of obliteration. They could not imagine the world with Indians in it. And it was under their rule that genocide—as we understand state-sponsored massacres and mass killings—was practiced. By comparison, the Spanish had an inclusive worldview, even though it was not benign. The Protestant English did not; they had an exclusive worldview. We lose the distinctions, I think, in the accumulated generations of tragedy and loss. Making this better will require more voices, more histories, more care, and more listening. 

AS: Thank you. This is what we need. We just want to remind everyone of what we have experienced, across time, across California, across the generations. 

JG: We will have misunderstandings. We will have disagreements. But we can all commit to that aim to share an infrastructure or an ecosystem within the public realm where truth can flourish. That will help all of us in moving forward and making progress. And part of that will be a full reckoning of the pain of Indigenous people over the last half a millennium. 

AS: After this conversation, I guarantee you, we feel good about ourselves because we are able to be the voice of our ancestors. 

TE: You have invited a churchman to this conversation, and I will speak as a churchman. All this will take time. It will take many conversations like this one. We take to heart all that has been expressed here. Following the canonization of Saint Serra, the Catholic Church redirected its fourth-grade curriculum, its mission curriculum, with critical consultation from Indigenous people. It may not be a perfect curriculum, but it does a better job of telling the story and history of the Indigenous people of California. As with today’s conversation, it begins with respect. Respect, for instance, for the Indigenous people, their ceremonies, opinions, and cultural practices. 

I was recently appointed as the director of historic mission sites for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. This is a liaison position, and my obligation is to be in direct contact with Indigenous representatives about any changes being contemplated to mission lands or buildings. I am also committed to helping preserve Indigenous culture and cultural practices in all ways that I can. Slowly, little by little, we are making progress, and respect is our foundation. We have dialogues and discussions about ceremony, about Saint Serra. We all came to a respectful and I think correct decision to bring down the statue of Saint Serra. It was a painful matter for the Indigenous people of our region, and we wished the statue to be treated respectfully and not come down through violence. 

EDS: I would not put Saint Serra in the public right now. He needs to be protected. I would put him in the churches, and maybe not even outside. Perhaps in a sacred garden within the walls of the church.

AS: When we travel to the missions, we see only statues of padres and the Spanish. But what about those good people, like my own great-great-grandfather? Why not a statue of him? People could come by and ask, “Who is that?” Then we could share our history, we could open up the past to other people, other stories. 

TE: And maybe some tribes will not want a statue of a person; maybe they will choose a bear or some other animal. And that’s OK, that is their history, their story. 

EDS: Children build their missions in school. But why not a Chumash village or dwelling? Isn’t that history, too? We need Chumash village kits for fourth-graders. The mission gifts shops should tell our stories, too. And I would like to see Chumash statues. I would like to see a Chumash woman, an elder, standing next to a statue of a seven-foot bear, with her hand on its back. That would be important to our culture. But Serra, too. He can be there. 

TE: We are working on an exhibit of Indigenous artifacts and tools, and we are being deliberate about our signage in three languages: English, Spanish, and the Chumash dialect. None of this progress and community-building will happen overnight. But we believe it is progress. Mutual respect needs to be where all our dialogues come from. We clergy can show a lack of respect to Indigenous people and their forebears, to their stories and their memories, and I think that is changing. With respect comes healing dialogue, comes speaking and listening, and a realization that the past is not black and white. 

SH: We have been speaking of Father Serra in light of civic memory in Los Angeles, and it has been powerful and instructive to be part of these conversations. But the conversation is mainly around missions and Father Serra’s relationship to them and Native peoples. Of course that is a major feature of the story. But I do want to offer what might be more of a historical footnote.

The pueblo of Los Angeles, as you all know, was founded in 1781. Serra died in 1784, and he was very much opposed to establishing Los Angeles as a civil entity, a civil municipality. He feared the impact of such a development as far as the Indigenous people were concerned. He thought that this would be a mistake, that it would compete with the Franciscan influence on Native peoples, and that the civil authorities and settlers would bring great harm to the Indigenous people by forcing them to work on their ranchos and in their homes, and by preying on their women. I think that makes the installation—generations ago—of his statue in downtown Los Angeles an out-of-place act, one not consistent with Serra’s own views about the creation of the pueblo. His letters are full of concerns about what it would mean to establish a civil, settler presence in Los Angeles.


WD: I want to touch briefly on this obligation to teach California history in more inclusive ways, to open it up to more stories and other truths. I am an educator and endorse that, but I also believe that rendering this the obligation of the fourth-grade curriculum, teachers, and students is too big a burden. I think this should be accompanied by a revision of our public realms. It is in public spaces where people most often encounter these broader histories. Civic memory spaces and installations prime people to ask questions, to begin dialogues, and to take curiosity to their classrooms, their teachers, their parents and grandparents, and to one another.

6710 La Tijera Blvd.

Adapted from Volume Three of All Night Menu.

She was raised by uncles and aunts in the back of Sunrise Laundry, 1220 W. 9th Street, between downtown and MacArthur Park. Each morning before school she and her four siblings ate warm congee and dumplings alongside four employees who shuttled dirty laundry to the big industrial washers near Old Chinatown. Clean clothes were returned to 9th Street to be pressed and folded. As kids, Helen Liu Fong and her siblings spent their afternoons turning socks.

 When she was 12, the school counselor at Virgil Junior High asked what she wanted to be. “An architect,” Helen said. After school, she had to ask her best friend, a Japanese girl named Mary, what an architect did. The year was 1939. “I think they design houses,” she said. “Or homes.”

 Her grades got her into UCLA, and then UC Berkeley. A degree in city planning led to her hiring as a secretary in the firm of Eugene Choy, the first Chinese-American from Southern California to be licensed by AIA. When Choy downsized in 1951, Helen joined Louis Armet and Eldon Davis, a pair of USC architecture grads whose business was taking shape in the adjoining office. Both firms worked out of a small professional building at 1334 Wilshire, three blocks north of Sunrise Laundry. 

George and Rena Panagopoulos operated Yum Burger on Manchester Ave. and Holly’s on Hawthorne Blvd., but they coveted a location that would capitalize on the exit traffic from LAX, which had grown following Pereira & Luckman’s spectacular “space age” redesign. Prior to the opening of the 405 and the 105, cars leaving the airport took La Tijera north onto La Cienega, which channeled them through the hills of the Inglewood Oil Field and back down into central Los Angeles. When the triangular traffic island formed by La Tijera, La Cienega, and Centinela became available, the “Poulos” family jumped on it.

 Like every Armet & Davis diner, Pann’s was designed to seduce motorists from a passing glance. The exterior walls were glass curtains that revealed huge glowing triangular pendant lamps. It could have been a Cadillac showroom. From the outside, it looked as spacious as a church and as mesmeric as an aquarium. Helen said each coffee shop should always appear like the site of a special event, even if the only movement within was a transient sipping coffee on a swivel stool.

Norm’s, Ship’s, and Johnie’s drew policemen and high schoolers, loners and laborers, retirees and double-daters. The plunging rooflines and totemic neon lured drivers off the road, the interiors had to deliver sensory pleasure on a much more intimate scale. Customers ate cheeseburgers and pie on chairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames; checked the time on George Nelson clocks; nestled between booth dividers by Van Keppel-Green. These were the touches of Helen Fong. She was their invisible curator, gifting modern design to people who would never step foot in a case study home.

In the ‘60s, Denny’s and Bob’s Big Boy purchased franchise templates from Armet & Davis. As far-flung states imported the California Coffee Shop, Los Angeles began demolishing the originals. “During recent months, the trend in coffee shop design has been to more formality,” Eldon Davis told the Los Angeles Times in 1964. “This means a more subdued décor, carpeted dining areas screened from the counter-and-booth sections, more formal appointments, and in some there will be a bar.”

 Before Pann’s was set to open on March 6, 1958, Helen stopped by for a final inspection. Everything was perfect, down to the cast-resin screen that Hans Werner and Betsy Hancock had created for the foyer: an abstract map charting the journey of the Poulos family from Tripoli to Inglewood. “But this,” Helen, stopping at the wall of one-inch square white tiles that fronted the cook’s line, “just won’t work.” It exemplified the cold sameness that Pann’s was designed to cure. Helen pulled a vial from her purse and used the bottle’s tiny brush to coat several tiles.

The doors opened the next day and never closed. In decades to come, every other coffee shop that Armet & Davis built in the 1950s was demolished or remodeled beyond recognition. Only the one on La Tijera remained unchanged, protected by a few dabs of Helen Fong’s ruby red nail polish.

City of Night

From City of Night (1963). Courtesy Grove Atlantic.

I walk about the teeming park for the first time—past the statues of soldiers, one on each corner of the Hill Street side—past an ominous cannon on Olive, aimed defiantly at the slick wide-gleamingwindowed buildings across the streets: the banks, the travel agencies (representations of The Other World, to which I will flee recurrently in guilt and feel just as guilty for having abandoned, if never completely, the world of the parks, the streets)—past the statue of Beethoven with a stick, turning his back fiercely on the Pershing Square menagerie.

Throughout the park, preachers and prophets dash out Damnation! in a disharmony of sounds—like phonographs gone mad: locked in a block-square sunny asylum among the flowers and the palmtrees, fountains gushing gaily: Ollie, all wiry white hair, punctuating his pronouncements with threats of a citizen’s arrest aimed at the hecklers … Holy Moses, his hair Christlike to his shoulders, singing soulfully … the bucktoothed spiritual-singing Jenny Lu howling she was a jezebel-woman (woe-uh! ) until she Seed The Light (praise the Lord-uh! ) on the frontporch to Hell (holy holy Halleluj-uh! ), grinding, bumping at each uh! in a frenzied kind of jazz; and a Negro woman, sweating, quivers in coming-Lord-type ecstasy: “Lawd, Ahs dribben out da Debil! Ah has cast him back to Hell! Lawd, fill me wid Yuh Presence!”—uh! -ing in a long religious orgasm…. Gone preachers wailing receiving God: Saint Tex, who got The Word in Beaumont scorched one wined-up morning on the white horizon: BRING THE WORD TO SINNING CALIFORNIA! … And five young girls, all in white, the oldest about 16, stand like white candles waxing in the sun, all white satin (forgive my uncommitted sins! ), holding in turn a picture of Christ Crucified, and where the blood was coming, it was wax, which caught the light and shimmered like thick ketchup; and the five white angelsisters stand while their old man preaches Sinners! Sinners!! Sinners!!! —and the cutest of the angelsisters, with paradoxically Alive freckles snapping orange in the sun, and alive red sparkling hair, is giggling in the warm Los Angeles smog afternoon among the palmtrees—but the oldest is quivering and wailing, and one day, oh, I think, the little angelsister will see theres nothing to giggle about, Truly—her old man having come across with the rough Message, and of course she’ll start to quiver and wail where once she smiled, freckles popping in the sun…. And an epileptic youngman thanks God for his infirmity—his ponderous, beloved Cross To Bear….

Among the roses.

 And while the preachers dash out their damning messages, the winos storm Heaven on cheap wine; hungry-eyed scores with money (or merely with a place to offer the homeless youngmen they desire) gather about the head hunting the malehustlers and wondering will they get robbed if—… Pickpockets station themselves strategically among the crowds as if listening in rapt attention to the Holy Messages. And malehustlers (“fruithustlers”/“studhustlers”: the various names for the masculine young vagrants) like flitting birds move restlessly about the park—fugitive hustlers looking for lonely fruits to score from, anything from the legendary $20-up to a pad at night and breakfast in the morning and whatever you can clinch or clip…. And the heat in their holy cop uniforms, holy because of the Almighty Stick and the Almightier Vagrancy Law; the scattered junkies, the smalltime pushers, the teaheads, the sad panhandlers, the occasional lonely exiled nymphos haunting the entrance to the men’s head; more fruits with hungry eyes—the young ones searching for a mutual, unpaid-for partner; the tough teenage girls making it with the lost hustlers…. And—but mostly later at night, youll find, when the shadows will shelter them—queens in colorful shirtblouses—dressed as much like women as The Law allows that particular moment—will dish each other like jealous bitchy women, commenting on the desirability or otherwise of the stray youngmen they may offer a place for the night. And they giggle constantly in pretended happiness.

 And on the benches along the inside ledges, the pensioned old men and women sit serenely daily in the sun like retired judges separated now stoically from the world they once judged….

All!—all amid the incongruous music of the Welkian-Lombardian school of corn, piped periodically from somewhere along the ledges! All amid the flowers!—the twin fountains which will gush rainbowcolored verypretty at night. … The world of Lonely-Outcast America squeezed into Pershing Square, of the Cities of Terrible Night, downtown now trapped in the City of Lost Angels….

 And the trees hang over it all like some apathetic fate. 

Norma Merrick Sklarek

African American architect and educator who designed large-scale projects such as LAX Terminal One, San Bernardino City Hall, and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. First African American woman to become a licensed architect in the United States.

Norma Merrick Sklarek, pictured in the Gruen Associates offices in the 1960s. With her, from left to right: Sam Tolchinsky (mechanical engineering); Henry Walocha (structural engineering); Sid Brisker (project manager); and Rolf Sklarek (head of construction administration; Rolf and Norma married in 1967). Photographer unknown. Courtesy Gruen Associates.
Show Footnotes

Interviewed by Wesley H. Henderson01 The full oral history can be found here


HENDERSON: You had said you were working at SOM [the New York office of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill] and then had taken a vacation here in California. Was it just a normal vacation? I mean, you weren’t out here for any business reasons?

SKLAREK: No, it was just a vacation.

HENDERSON: Any particular reason why you chose California?

SKLAREK: I had some friends out here in California, and California seemed like an exciting place to visit. My mother [Amy Willoughby Merrick] was always full of ideas and suggested to me, “Why don’t you go to California for a week or two?” [laughter] And I guess she recognized the fact that I needed a vacation, which was very nice. She took care of my two kids while I came out on vacation.

HENDERSON: And you came out with your husband?

SKLAREK: No, I was divorced.

HENDERSON: Oh, from [Benjamin] Fairweather?

SKLAREK: Yes, Yes, from Fairweather. [laughter] Again. These marriages just didn’t last. It seems as though they had something to do with the male ego. [laughter] The very sensitive, delicate male ego.

HENDERSON: This is sort of an aside, but do you think that your being an architect was contributing to their problem, or—? Let’s say if you had been a schoolteacher—

SKLAREK: Oh, definitely. Definitely my being an architect and being in a more prestigious and a better-paying job than they were in somehow, even if it wasn’t at that time— Yeah, it was better paid. That had a lot to do with it.

HENDERSON: You would need a very secure guy to be your husband at the time.

SKLAREK: That’s right. So some friends of mine out here said to me—these friends with whom I was staying—”Do you like it out here?” I said, “Yes.” And they said, “Well, why don’t you move?” I said, “I never thought about that, but it sounds like a good idea. I’ll move next year.”

So I got the names of a couple of architectural firms and visited them. One was Welton Becket and Associates, and I got an appointment.

HENDERSON: Now, this is still while you’re on vacation? Or this is the next year?

SKLAREK: Yes, while I was on vacation. The architect, Alan Rosen, said that they had never had a woman architect work there before. This was—

HENDERSON: Becket is a big office.

SKLAREK: It’s a very large office, one of the largest. But, of course, they had no objection if one were qualified, you know. But they had just never had a woman architect working there before. They’d had one or two who’d worked in interiors, but no one in architecture. So, anyway, I went back home and made arrangements to move the next year.

HENDERSON: And you had been hired by Becket? That was firm in your mind?

SKLAREK: No, no.

HENDERSON: Oh, you were moving even without a firm job. You were ready to move.



SKLAREK: Architectural firms generally don’t make commitments for six months or a year in advance because they usually don’t know whether there’s going to be a need to increase the staff at that time, you know, that far ahead. People at SOM were really surprised—because I had being doing so well there—surprised that I would be leaving.  Many of them said to me, “Well, if you must move to California, San Francisco is the place.” But I wasn’t interested in San Francisco because I had friends in Los Angeles. And besides, I think that the weather in Los Angeles and Southern California was more attractive to me, because I had had enough of cold winters and this seemed more tropical down here.

When SOM realized that I was moving, they helped me by giving me letters of introduction to firms out here. And even the editor of Progressive Architecture [Thomas H. Creighton] visited in New York, and he gave me letters of introduction. [laughter]

HENDERSON: Okay. This was in 1960? About then?

SKLAREK: Yes. Nineteen sixty. So I had a great deal of credibility in architecture in New York, one, for having passed the licensing exam at a very tender age and, two, for getting things done efficiently and quickly by really sticking to my work and working conscientiously.

And then there was another trick that I had, which probably helped even in taking the design exam and in an office, which is that my drafting, lettering, and presentation of the work was done with an extremely bold hand, much more so than others. Anyone looking at it could not only read the drawing at a flash, but, psychologically,

I think it worked that anyone that draws like this, you know, is really— [laughter]

HENDERSON: I know what you’re saying. [laughter]

SKLAREK: Yeah. [laughter] It’s so bold that it’s got to be right, you know. You’ve got so much confidence that they wouldn’t dare question it, because it looked like I never intended to ever erase anything, not that that was so. [laughter] But it was done in a manner which seemed to exude confidence.

HENDERSON: Okay. That style had been something you just picked up naturally over time? Or that was the way you were from the beginning? It was a conscious effort to be bold?

SKLAREK: I learned from asking people and watching and observing, really from observing others and copying what I thought was good. In fact, the only firm that I interviewed with, even though I had all these letters of recommendation and letters of introduction to firms out here— The first one that I went to was Victor Gruen and Associates [Architects and Planners]. It was called Victor Gruen at that time. Later the name was changed to Gruen Associates. So I visited Victor Gruen’s office, and I managed to negotiate a salary which was higher than others who had been hired that same month with essentially the same background as I. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that that’s why I had so much static in negotiating the salary, because he had just hired someone with exactly the same qualifications—a male, at that—and I was getting like 30 or 40 percent more.

HENDERSON: Ouch. [laughter] Now, were you negotiating for that salary because of your salary history in New York or what you thought you would need—?

SKLAREK: I was negotiating for that salary because I needed it. [laughter] By that time, I was supporting myself and two children [Gregory Ransom and David Fairweather] and my mother, the sole supporter of all of them.

Oh, just before moving to Los Angeles, I met a young man whom I fell madly in love with again. [laughter] And within a few months, we were married. His name was—”Harry” was his nickname. Francis Pena. He wanted to move to California to go to aeronautical school out here. He was very bright, intelligent, handsome. Even though he was intellectually bright, he never had had the opportunity to go to college before. So he and I drove out to California. Well, he did nearly all of the driving. And I had to find a place to live. I found a house to live in, and then I sent for my mother and the children, who flew out. But my mother didn’t like it out here and moved back very quickly, after just a few months.

HENDERSON: Oh, a question, though, at this point: Now, your father [Walter Merrick] was he still on the scene? When your mother was moving out here, was she leaving your father?

SKLAREK: My parents, at that point, were divorced. They had become divorced after thirty-three years of marriage. But my mother missed her friends, and it was difficult for her because she did not drive.

HENDERSON: Yes. You have to drive in L.A.

SKLAREK: A different lifestyle completely. So she went back after a few months. But I got the job at Victor Gruen’s, and I never used the other letters of recommendation or introduction. I remained at Gruen’s for the next twenty years.

Excerpted from conversations completed under the auspices of the Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles, as part of the series “African- American Architects of Los Angeles.”
Courtesy of the Center for Oral History Research, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.