Before I even saw the exhibit, I loved the concept of Never Built Los Angeles. It’s such a simple idea, yet no one has ever asked and answered this question with an exhibition. Plus, the concept is so portable. The curators could follow this up with a series of Never Built exhibitions across the country — Never Built San Francisco, Never Built New York, Never Built Chicago. “Never Built” could even be a new subsection on architectural firm web sites as a way to document their “never built” visions, addressing the question raised in Christopher Hawthorne’s review, “What about a preservation movement for the ideas and designs that almost made it?”
I took the curatorial tour coordinated by Design East of La Brea and enjoyed hearing about the exhibit from those who created it, co-curators Sam Lubell and Greg Gordin. The exhibit has received so much press attention that some of the stories were familiar. Plus, I had just finished listening to all four segments of Which Way LA’s wonderful series on the exhibit. The in-depth WWLA series shows that each never built design has its own interesting backstory, much more than can fit on a museum label (which is why I bought the book).
During the tour, Sam Lubell’s comment that urban planners need to predict the future had me wondering — what did he think about LA’s future since he had been so immersed in past visions of LA’s future? I asked him about this later over food and cocktails at LACMA’s Ray’s and Stark Bar (the Agnolotti Dal Plin was amazing, by the way). Lubell replied that part of LA’s urban planning future is fixing its mid-century mistakes. He cited several examples, including the rebuilding of LA’s urban rail transit system.
The next day, I found myself listening to a Cornell panel of academics talking about Bunker Hill (courtesy of @LAhistory). The academics spoke about the future of Grand Avenue and how planners hoped to fix the problems beset by a Bunker Hill that prioritized buildings over people. I heard a very similar conversation at the LA Conservancy member meeting in May titled “Modern Renewal: A Legacy of Lost and Found on Bunker Hill.”
Don Spivack, former deputy chief of operations and policy, Community Redevelopment Agency, spoke at both events. I like hearing Spivack talk about Bunker Hill since (I think) he actually played a part in its redevelopment. He appears honest about the lessons learned, commenting last May, that the proponents of Bunker Hill development failed to realize the important social networks that existed in those aging Victorian rooming houses. Hearing Spivack speak reminds me there’s more to the story than a knee-jerk nostalgia for a time and place I’ve never been.
If history is told by the winners, I’m grateful to the folks at Never Built: Los Angeles for shining the spotlight on the architectural losers. And hopefully these never built designs will inspire those who are thinking about not yet built Los Angeles.