September 4, 1781– El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula (The Village of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels of the river of Porziuncola). Los Angeles and I have history. My father grew up in the Silverlake neighborhood, which at the time was a quiet, nice, but already decidedly bohemian neighborhood.
Silver Lake was home to Harry Hay, considered to be the father of Gay Rights. He is now honored with the naming of the Mattachine Steps on Cove Avenue. The Mattachine Society was this nation’s first Gay organization, formed in the 1950s. In 1967, Silver Lake was the scene of one of the USA’s first gay rights protests, organized by P.R.I.D.E. (Personal Rights in Defense and Education), after police raided the Black Cat bar after men were spotted kissing on New Year’s Eve. This was more than two years before Stonewall. The Advocate, the oldest and largest LGBTQ publication in the nation, began as a pushback after those first protests.
When I lived in the city in the early 1970s, Silverlake had deteriorated, but then the gays moved in and fixed things up as they always do in metropolitan areas, and it now it is inhabited by an eclectic community of hipsters, the creative class, and still, of course, lots of gays.
I went happily to college in Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. I lived in Playa del Rey, right on the strand. My apartment had sliding glass doors that opened to white sand and the Pacific Ocean, with a view of Santa Catalina Island on a clear day, which there were few of in the early 1970s. My Los Angeles life, hardly ever involved LA proper. My universe was very “beach” and stretched from Redondo Beach to Malibu Beach. I frequented spots in Venice and Santa Monica. My friends and I would go into Westwood or Hollywood to see films and plays, but for the most part it was beach, beach, and beach. A good place to stop for a drink and a look at cute surfer dudes was The Friendship, a friendly bar at the start of Santa Monica Canyon near Will Rogers State Park, a favorite spot for sun worshipping homos. There was also the deliciously seedy The West Side in Venice Beach.
Los Angeles has been a city of many firsts for the LGBTQ community, and West Hollywood, an enclave within LA, is the planet’s first Gay City. It is a small town of just 1.9 square miles surrounded by Los Angeles’ Hollywood neighborhood and the independent city of Beverly Hills.
Because the town was outside the jurisdiction of the LA Police Department, gambling flourished and the booze flowed freely during the Prohibition era. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Sunset Strip running along WeHo’s northwest border became the main nightlife destination for celebrities in the film industry. Posh apartment complexes were home to Hollywood stars. Lesbian actor Alla Nazimova‘s residence, The Garden Of Allah, was infamous for its wild celebrity filled parties.
During the first half of the 20th century, Gay people discovered West Hollywood. It was beyond the reach of the notoriously homophobic L.A.P.D. and convenient for the creative talent working in the film industry. So many gay men bought and renovated working-class bungalows in the 1960s and 1970s that the area around Sunset Strip became known as the “Swish Alps”.
The gay scene was centered along Santa Monica Boulevard. Clubs, cafes and shops catering to gay patrons sprang up on the street, dubbed Boys’ Town (though it also included a long-lived Lesbian bar, The Palms). But not everyone was friendly towards the Gays. Barney’s Beanery, a popular spot since the 1920s, for decades posted a sign reading “Fagots (sic) Stay Out”.
The east end of Santa Monica Boulevard, near the border with Hollywood, became a strolling spot for male hustlers and trans-people. In the 1970s, when I loved in LA, this part of town was pretty darn gritty, now it is just pretty.
With a large population of renters, WeHo residents grew concerned when LA County proposed dropping rent control despite skyrocketing real estate prices. A coalition of gays, Jews, and seniors organized a grassroots movement to establish a separate city. West Hollywood was incorporated in 1984, and elected the first-ever city council with a gay majority and the first openly lesbian mayor, Valerie Terrigno. The city council quickly passed strong rent control and anti-eviction laws and an ordinance banning discrimination. Terrigno personally removed the “Fagots Keep Out” sign from Barney’s Beanery. In 1985, WeHo began offering domestic partnership benefits, the first American city to legally recognize same-sex relationships.
My LA was a decidedly 1970s affair and the city had many bathhouses, bars, and that distinctly 1970s enterprise, discotheques, boomed. The biggest was WeHo’s Studio One, a cavernous factory building that was outfitted with strobe lights and speakers in a hall of mirrors that was a temple of amplified music and masculine vanity. Every night between Memorial Day and Labor Day 1975, I was one of a thousand gay men at Studio One who danced, danced, danced the night away. Music industry promoters vied to have their records played there; it was featured on national television; and it was dubbed by the media as the most exciting disco in the country. The good-looking staff famously dressed in tiny, tight basketball shorts and attended to your every need. The cachet of the place was enhanced by its Back Lot Theater which featured entertainers ranging from Broadway Diva Barbara Cook to Wayland Flowers and his puppet Madam.
West Hollywood has never had an actual gay majority, but it has the largest proportion of gay residents of any city, about 40 percent of a total population. The Christopher Street West Pride Parade was first held in 1970, 350,000 people attended this year’s parade. In 1987 the city added an annual Halloween Carnaval, a debauched affair that attracts a half-million homos every year. Rainbow flags fly on Santa Monica Boulevard year-round, and the LA County Sheriff cars have a rainbow logo.
Archaeological studies show there was a gay culture in Los Angeles in 8,000 B.C., mostly acting hopefuls trying to be seen by casting directors for the prehistoric version of pilot season. There was much disappointment and a certain amount of violence when it was revealed that film itself was a full 27 centuries away.
By 3,000 B.C. Los Angeles was occupied by the Hokan-speaking people of the Milling Stone Period who could sing, dance, act, and write screenplays, plus gather wild seeds. LA, along with the rest of Southern California was claimed by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo for Spain in 1542. By the time the rest of the Europeans arrived in the mid-18th century, there were 250,000 to 300,000 people in LA., all trying to get their SAG cards.
Los Angeles is the second largest city in the USA. It spans an area of more than 600 square miles. The urban area extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of over 20 million humans. It is the 21st largest urban area in the world. Los Angeles is the largest city with the highest and lowest (sea level) elevation difference in the world. Native plants include California Poppy, Coast Live Oak, and Xanax.
Although I have always felt the weather is rather perfect, Los Angeles is sadly in its fourth year of severe drought, maybe you’ve heard. It is also subject to the phenomena of microclimates, with extreme variations in temperature in close physical proximity to each other. The average September maximum temperature in Santa Monica is 75 °F, but it is 95 °F in Canoga Park. The city, like much of the Southern California coast enjoys weather with foggy skies in the morning burning off to sun by early afternoon.
Los Angeles is the largest manufacturing center in the western United States. Los Angeles/Long Beach comprise the largest port in Western North America and the fifth busiest port in the world. It is the third largest metropolitan economy on our pretty planet, after Tokyo and NYC.
It is a global city, with 225 different languages spoken including “Agent”, with many ethnic enclaves with cool restaurants throughout the city. It is home for the largest population of people of Middle Eastern heritage outside of, well, The Middle East, with large groups of Armenians and Persians centered near Sunset Boulevard, and the second largest population of Jews in North America. Only 29% of Los Angelinos are white people, yet they make up 98% of the entertainment industry.
Some of the happiest moments of my life have been experienced in LA. I love the city and I have watched the renaissance and turn-around of neighborhoods that I would never have dreamed possible: Hollywood, Culver City, Downtown, Glendale and Venice are now hot places to live and play. When I was there last February, it was simply gorgeous, with blue skies, temps in the 70s, a slight dusting of snow in the Santa Monica Mountains, and lots and lots of pretty people.
Happy Birthday to the City Of Angels. I will always love you: Tommy’s Burgers, Hollywood’s stucco cottages, The Capitol Record Building, Santa Monica, Laurel Canyon, Griffith Park, Randy’s Donuts, Rodeo Drive, Nate N’ Al’s Delicatessen, Canter’s Deli, La Brea Tar Pits, The Getty Museums, Venice Beach Boardwalk, The Hollywood Bowl, Union Station, Scientology Headquarters, Watts Towers, The Chateau Marmont, The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, El Portal Theatre, Palos Verdes, Beverly Hills, Swimming Pools, Movie Stars, World Of Wonder Headquarters.
Everyone should live in Los Angeles at least once in their life.