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February 27th, 2008

Lost Found [Feb. 27th, 2008|08:36 pm]
rejectomorph
I've found something on Flickr: This dead-end alley, extending little more than a hundred feet south from 6th Street between Broadway and Hill Street in Downtown Los Angeles, was once the location of one of the city's busiest outdoor newsstands, which occupied the wall off camera to the left. It featured a wide array of out-of-town newspapers, a generous assortment of magazines— among which were quite a few of the risque sort (these kept closest to the cashier's stand)— and a selection of paperback books that included both the latest best-sellers and a number of racy pulp novels— again, sequestered from the more respectable books— of very dubious literary worth (titles such as "Flying Lesbian" and "Women's Barracks" come to mind.)

The clientele ran the gamut from gray-suited businessmen who worked in the myriad nearby offices, to store clerks, to waitresses from the various coffee shops and lunch counters along the street and around its corners, to tourists looking for copies of their hometown newspapers, to servicemen on leave, to the mostly elderly and male denizens of the SRO hotels which then thickly fringed downtown. Even on rainy days the newsstand would be busy, the customers huddled under the awnings that protected the merchandise. It was an altogether splendid place.

The newsstand remained open far into the night (in fact may have been always open, but I never saw it much past midnight), and for me, as a teenager beginning to explore the world beyond my bland suburban neighborhood, the place was rich with the promise and potential of the city. I would browse there, and then buy a copy of Variety, or the Hollywood Reporter, or some obscure little magazine, or a newspaper from San Francisco or Chicago or New York, and think myself very cosmopolitan indeed, and so fortunate to be living on the outskirts, at least, of such a hub of civilization as Los Angeles. Now it's all gone. I don't think a single outdoor newsstand of any size remains in all of downtown.

Ah, well, at least the buildings are still standing. But it looks as though only the pigeons still have cause to linger in the alley, and the side of the Los Angeles Theatre has been imprisoned— probably, at least in part, to deny taggers access to its spacious and inviting blank walls. I wouldn't mind seeing something painted on that wall. Maybe a mural depicting the vanished newsstand. But I suppose that, if the past is to be thus memorialized, it would be equally justifiable that an even earlier scene be presented. Maybe a mural should show the old St. Vincent's College.

The reason the alley stops dead at the block-through building of the Los Angeles Theatre is that the spot the theatre's capacious (but now seldom used) auditorium occupies had earlier been the site of the main building of L.A.'s first institution of higher learning. When St. Vincent's decamped for what was by then the more bucolic purlieu of South Grand Avenue late in the 19th century, the block they'd owned since the 1860s was subdivided. The first structures on the new lots were erected at the corners of 6th and Hill (foreground) and 6th and Broadway, in front of the old college building. When the college building was demolished later, it was replaced by a through-block commercial structure which survived until 1930, when the theatre was built. The alley, St. Vincent's Court, has remained a pair of stubs north and south of the theatre.

St. Vincents has long since departed even its Grand Avenue quarters (though it left its law school downtown) and ultimately changed its name to Loyola Marymount University. But the name St. Vincent's stuck to the alley, and the southern stub of it, now called St. Vincent's Court, has been an official historic landmark since 1957, and has recently lent the name to the adjacent buildings which once housed the original Bullock's department store. The short, less picturesque northern stub of the alley, though, seems an alley only, grubby and forlorn.

I seriously doubt that there will ever be another newsstand there, but the space must be good for something other than trash disposal. If downtown Los Angeles continues to gentrify, perhaps someone could install a WiFi tower atop the theatre at the end of the alley, symbolizing the triumph of electronic distribution over print media? Then all that would be needed would be a Starbuck's adjacent, in the storefront long occupied by one of the downtown locations of the Pig 'n' Whistle restaurant. It wouldn't be quite the bustling metropolitan spot I recall, but at least it wouldn't look so sadly abandoned. Yuppies are, if nothing else, at least useful for occupying space.


Update: I've received a message, from the L.A. Cowboy himself, informing me that my distress over the vanished 6th Street newsstand is needless. The venerable establishment survives, it turns out, and was merely out of camera range in the photo to which I linked. In my faulty memory of the area, which I last saw in the mid 1980s, I had thought the place closed even then, but perhaps it was the newsstand on Hill Street south of 6th that went missing at that time.

A lot of things went missing at that time, actually, including the Auditorium Building, aka Temple Baptist Church, aka Philharmonic Auditorium, on the ground floor of which was a delicatessen I sorely missed when the building was demolished about 1985. But it's good to know that, should I get the chance to visit Los Angeles again, I'd at least probably be able to pick up a copy of the Sacramento Bee in the alley beside the Los Angeles Theatre, after all. Now, if only they can get more of the old theatres on Broadway open again, as Sid Grauman's Million Dollar Theatre is scheduled to soon be.
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