Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dahlia: Ramona Boulevard

"Ramona Sprague forked herself a small mouthful of food, chewed it daintily and said, "Did you know that Ramona Boulevard was named after me, Mr. Bleichert?"

The woman's out-of-kilter face congealed around the words; she spoke them with a strange dignity. "No, Mrs. Sprague, I didn't know that. I thought it was named after the Ramona Pageant."

"I was named after the pageant," she said. "When Emmett married me for my father's money he promised my family that he would use his influence with the City Zoning Board to have a street named after me, since all his money was tied up in real estate and he couldn't afford to buy me a wedding ring. Father assumed it would be a nice residential street, but all Emmett could manage was a dead-end block in a red light district in Lincoln Heights. Are you familiar with the neighborhood, Mr. Bleichert?" Now the doormat's voice held an edge of fury.
"I grew up there," I said.
"Then you know that Mexican prostitutes expose themselves out of windows to attract customers. Well, after Emmett succeeded in getting Rosalinda Street changed to Ramona Boulevard he took me for a little tour there. The prostitutes greeted him by name. Some even had anatomical nicknames for him. It made me very sad and very hurt, but I bided my time and got even. When the girls were small I directed my own little pageants, right outside on our front lawn. I used the neighbor's children as extras and reenacted episodes out of Mr. Sprague's past that he would rather forget. That he would-" pp 131-132

While Mrs. Sprague seems to be proud of "her" boulevard, she continues, clearly resentful of the location of her boulevard as well as the circumstances that brought about the street's name change.
The notion that Rosalinda Street could be transformed into Ramona Boulevard attests to the transience of geography and of the labeling of locations and neighborhoods. In lieu of a wedding ring and lacking financial resources, Emmett creates a business transaction based on the "worth" of having your "own" boulevard. His powers are limited to naming zones but he is able to use his position of influence in the development of Los Angeles to replace or reconstruct himself in terms of his financial and social position. That the naming of the boulevard for his intended wife is equivalent to buying her a proper wedding ring and conributing financially to the marriage is a clear example of the increasing interest in the labeling of this ever-changing city. Nothing is built for Ramona, as she simply associates herself with the existing street by name. This "gift" is only recognizable to those already informed of the connection between Mrs. Sprague and the boulevard. For the vast majority of people living in and navigating through Los Angeles, Ramona Boulevard is just another name without any connotations.
The lack of personal attachment between the person and the boulevard highlights the mutability of the map of LA, in that names can be changed but underneath, the streets are still the same and they will persist through any number of name changes in the future. There is little room for personal interaction with LA on any lasting or significant level.
Furthermore, Mrs. Sprague indicates that the location of her boulevard insults and hurts her, as she notices the Mexican prostitutes who know her husband by name. This is a neighborhood she would never frequent and yet her husband has grafted her name onto it. The ease with which this grafting occurs is striking for its association between class and location, name and place. If Ramona Boulevard so swiftly and clearly connects Mrs. Sprague with an entirely different socioeconomic and geographic area, the reverse may also be true. Names of locations and identities of neighborhoods are easily shifted and can be revised. There is no permanence offered by naming a street for someone in a city that is constantly growing and adding or subtracting layers of its landscape and by extension, is revising its identity.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dahlia: Murder Site

Dahlia: Timeline

Dahlia: The Sprague Family

The mansion on South Muirfield is full of many surprises, and is inhabited by an interesting family. A father who feels the need of controlling everyone in the family, yet ashamed of his weak past. A mother who believes it her role to protect the innocence of her child, yet commits a crime so grave that rips the innocence from another young woman. An older daughter who seeks the attention of not only her step-father, yet also of other men by pretending to be someone she is not and is not capable of being. A daughter protected from the world, yet confused as to how to break out into the world. A secret father that is not recognized or even acknowledged, yet secretly able to control the family in so many ways.

An interesting note about this house is that Bucky visited this location many times in the novel, yet the family, the location, or any location affiliated with the family was not investigated thoroughly to relate Short's murder to the location. And it is in this location that Bucky witnesses the incestuous relationship between Emmett and Madeleine, where Bucky learns of Ramona's crime and history, and where Bucky is directed to the actual location of Short's brutal murder. The mansion that is hid so well in a well off area, on a street that Bucky knows so well after spying on the family for so long, is actually the heart of the entire crime against Elizabeth Short. The irony of the location's truth is important. The mansion essentially was covered up, yet blatantly led to the very crime. Like the mansion, Los Angeles also is masked, by the many posh areas, by the glamor of Hollywood, by the blue waters of the beaches, yet like the mansion, Los Angeles also has a truth that is not always seen. Los Angeles blatantly exposes itself in many ways, yet people choose to ignore this facts by masking the general idea of Los Angeles with a glamorous costume.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dahlia: Mr. Fire and Mr. Ice

The moment that Bucky views his best friend on the ground, in the burial site, on the coast of Mexico, is an extremely important instant in the novel. Here, in a different country, vastly different environment, Lee is put away, to lie among many other bodies. Mr. Fire (Lee) has finally been put out by the water. Yet, here Mr. Ice (Bucky) becomes enraged, finally pulling himself together, and melts away any last remaining doubts to the case. Throughout the novel, Lee has run around, angry and extremely passionate about the case. Even while missing, Mr. Fire's presence is felt in the novel, in the case, and in Kay's and Bucky's life. He burned himself and his importance into the novel, which is quite characteristic of Lee. On the other hand, Mr. Ice is not really as damaging, until the end. Bucky does not have as scorching an effect as Lee does in the novel towards the beginning, yet once Bucky gains respect, knowledge, and experience, he cuts into several lives, freezes the culprits, and finishes off the case. This location, on the coast of Mexico, far off from Los Angeles, is important to the two officers, Mr. Fire and Mr. Ice. The fiery city of Los Angeles was too destructive for Mr. Fire. He continued to ruin himself with the Short case, as he was so passionate about everything related to the murder. It was in Mexico that Mr. Fire was finally put out by the water and the calming environment. He did die out violently, like fire, in the hands of a Los Angeles resident, yet this was possible in the location on the coast of Mexico. Mr. Ice gained the fire back from his best friend here as well, signifying how the waters surrounding Ensenada did not completely burn out the passion of the case.

Dahlia: The corner of 39th and Norton

Elizabeth Short's mutilated body lay in the vacant lot on the corner of 39th and Norton. Throughout the novel, this corner continued to remind not only the readers, yet also the characters, of the horrendous crime against the Black Dahlia. This corner is extremely interesting because of its unexpected entrance into the story. Had Lee and Bucky not arrived at the garage related to Junior Nash, Mr. Fire and Ice perhaps might have been so involved with the case. From this point on, the vacant lot, even the names of the streets 39th and Norton, are highlighted. The officers on the case only have to refer to the streets in order to conjure the memory of the murder. This location is used to invoke not only the actual crime, yet perhaps the brutal reality of the cruel intentions. The place where Elizabeth Short is destined to be found after her treacherous death is a vacant lot, in the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. Not only does this characterize the murder as cruel because of the location's closed and deserted location, yet the location also emphasizes how the crime is discovered outside of the central areas in Los Angeles. The actual destructive and brutal crime takes place within the heart of downtown Los Angeles, yet the murderers leave Short's body out in a vacant lot. The central part of Los Angeles perhaps has the tone and the environment for such a horrible murder to be initiated, yet the final area for the finishing touch (the discovery of the body) is meant to be a less populated and less central area.

Dahlia: Olympic Auditorium

"'My girlfriend saw you fight at the Olympic and said you'd be handsome if you got your teeth fixed, and maybe you could take me,'" pp. 9

Where Lee says Kay had seen Bucky fight.
The Olympic Auditorium had weekly boxing shows in the 1920s and '30s and was one of the most famous boxing arenas in LA.

The Olympic, together with the Hollywood Legion Stadium, made up the two most popular boxing arenas in LA.

Dahlia: Polar Palace

"Shortly after 3:00 we headed south on Van Ness, a run by Van Ness Elementary. We were a block away, going by the Polar Palace, when green De Soto BV 1432 passed us in the opposite direction and pulled into the parking lot in front of the rink." pp. 51-52.

Where Bucky apprehends Coleman Maynard.

The Polar Palace

The Polar Palace ice rink was a famous arena that hosted prominent shows, figure skating championships, ice-hockey tournaments. It was built to be the "finest" rink in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, the Palace was destroyed by a fire in 1963.
The juxtaposition of fire and ice was interesting, if perhaps coincidental.
The long-term instability of the rink is another example of the shifting LA landscape, in which landmarks such as the Polar Palace, burn to the ground and bury their historical importance and legacy under its own wreckage. Without looking up the Polar Palace in an encyclopedia/internet etc. one would not be able to imagine the rink as it once stood, nor imagine the rink as it relates to its location.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ellroy in LA

Two links:,0,1600869.story?coll=la-home-magazine


Interesting stuff.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Patssi Valdez and the Idea of Pachucho/a


I just wanted to give more information on the talk I brought up in class on Thursday. As I said a little bit, it was about the Chicano Movement in the early 70s and how the young people then used some style/attitude/art that related back to the concept of the Pachucho. Specifically, the speaker addressed Patssi Valdez, a prominent female revolutionary who relied heavily on the style of the pachuca. We saw slides of her clothing and some of the performance art she did, which reminded me of talking about theatre and anthropology and how the two are connected. The work she did was never repeated except through specifically chosen images that were captured on film. This, obviously, changes the way she interacted with her audience.

Anyway, the speaker had a lot of interesting stuff and knew a bunch about Zoot Suit (she's teaching it in a class  next semester at Scripps) so if any of you want to explore that topic or anything to do with how the Pachuco concept from the 30s/40s came back in the 70s for the Chicano movement--contact her!

Her name is Marci McMahon ( and she's in the Chicana/o Studies department at Scripps. She also works with a lot of literature and is interested in the idea of how lit interacts with film, art, history, landscape, etc.

I'll see ya'll Tuesday,

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Started the Riots?

While working on the map for Zoot Suit I had moment or realization about the landscape of Los Angeles. I typed Sleepy Lagoon into the search bar and expected the map to shift to a small area of forest or some kind of quarry with a swimming area in it. The last thing I expected to see was a few factories and an express way.

After reasoning to myself that this must have been an error that google maps made I searched the area and found a river but nothing that would resemble what was described in the play as “a reservoir. An old abandoned gravel pit.” (Pg 38) I was astounded at how drastically the area must have changed since the occurrence. Part of that stems from being from Chicago, where the landscape hasn’t changed much since Mrs. O’Leary’s cow knocked over a lantern and burnt down the city. However, it did make me wonder what about the changes in L.A.’s physical landscape makes and remakes its mythology.

I thought the Zoot Suit riots took place because of crimes like those at Sleepy Lagoon coupled with media sensationalism. However, while making the map I began to wonder how much the city's landscape itself started the riots. The one question that I felt connected these riots and landscape of the city was wondering whether the people who participated in the Zoot Suit riots incite the riots to change the landscape of the city, or does the changing landscape of the city itself help incite riots the Zoot Suit riots?

-Jose Acevedo

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Zoot Suit- Avalon Ballroom

"Sailors and Girls jitterbug on the dance floor. It is the Avalon Ballrom." (pg. 78)

The scene at the Avalon Ballroom occurs while the gang is imprisoned. It represents the actual beginning of the Zoot Suit Riots which the Press tells us. Since the ballroom is in Hollywood, it is likely that Sailors and Pachucos would cross paths there as opposed to a place in East LA. After the riots starts El Pachuco is stripped of his suit by sailors. The Pachuco losing his suit is representative of what happened to the Pachuco image during the riot. It is reference later in the play when Rudy claims that "The zoot suit died under fire her in Los." (pg 92)

Zoot Suit- The Saturday Night Dance

Henry: You're a little out of your territory
Rafas: It's a barrio dance, ese. We're from the barrio. (pg 45-46)

The Saturday night dance scene shows the tension between the 38th street gang and the Downey Gang. Here is where Henry almost kills Rafas but does not because El Pachuco tells him to stop and think. El Pachuco acknowledges that a story about the pachucos is supposed to have violence. He shows Henry that if he acts as expected of him, he will never escape the pachuco image.

Zoot Suit- Chavez Ravine

"A fleet of twenty taxicabs carrying some two hundred servicemen pulled out of the naval armory in Chavez Ravine tonight and assembled a task force that invaded the eastside barrio" (pg 79)

Within the text, the riot is treated like an actual war. The navy assembles a "fleet" in order to "invade" the eastside barrio. This shows the tension that existed between the Pachucos and the Whites in the entire city came to a very violent end. After the explanation of this assembly, we see El Pachuco stripped of his zoot suit by the navy men.

Zoot Suit- San Quentin

Valdez paints San Quentin as a place better than where the boys were even though its prison. Joey is now using violence in a positive way as he is "hero of the San Quentin athletic program." (pg 73) All of boys seemed to have improved themselves as they do everything from play sports to learn watch repairing. They are also portrayed as improving their reading and math skills. For everyone in the gang, San Quentin is a positive change, Joey even claims to have "learned my lesson." (pg 74) Valdez does this in order to show that for most of the gang, any place was better than L.A.

For Henry, his change only occurs after fighting a guard. In solitary he rejects El Pachuco. He does this because he still has hope that he will be set free, not just from prison, but from everything the Pachuco image represents.

Zoot Suit- Superior Court of California

"The Superior Court of the State of California. In and for the County of Los Angeles. Department fourty-three" (pg 52)

The criminal court is central to the plot of play. This is not only a court room, but serves as the place where Della recounts what happened at Sleepy Lagoon. Della's story is acted out in the middle of the courtroom with El Pachuco miming the murder. This remembrance of the event is the only time we visit Sleepy Lagoon, the construction of the crime is not concrete, it relies on the courtroom to exist.

Zoot Suit- Sleepy Lagoon

"Henry, What do you know about a big gang fight last Saturday night, out at Sleepy Lagoon?" (Pg 32)

Sleepy Lagoon is highly mythologized by the play. It is visited only in retrospect the murderer is never clearly identified. The act of the murder is carried out in pantomime by El Pachuco. Valdez uses the real location of the murder that took place in 1942 to add a sense of historical accuracy to his play. In actuality, the "crime scene" was a man lying near the reservoir. No clear evidence was over found to prove a murder had even taken place.

Never actually visiting the place is a deliberate move to create a sense of the conflicting accounts of what happened there. Several questions are created by the mythology of Sleepy Lagoon in the play

What does it mean to the reader/viewer if the play itself never fully resolves the issue of who committed murder at Sleepy Lagoon?

How does El Pachuco miming the murder change the reader/viewer's view of the trial as a whole?

Zoot Suit- Central Jail

Located at First and Hill Street, Central Jail is where is where the gang is taken after "The Mass Arrests" scene. This is where Henry is first accused of the Sleepy Lagoon murder.

Valdez repeats the number arrested, 300, to show the unfairness of the arrests that occur in this scene. It shows how the Pachucos were targeted simply by looks and arrested on suspicion alone.

Monday, November 12, 2007

English translations for Zoot Suit

If you're having trouble deciphering all the Spanish slang in Zoot Suit (like me!), check out this page. It seems to have translations for every Spanish word/phrase specific to the book. Super helpful!


Zoot Suit- 38th Street

"They are members of the 38TH STREET GANG."

This opening description in the play is just as important as any dialogue in the play because it shows how intricate being a part of the gang is to the characters' identity. It shows without the characters saying it the level of loyalty they feel to their gang and their neighborhood. There are several 38th streets in LA and it's surrounding areas so we googled the gang name to find out the street is actually in Vernon. Geographically, this also represents a move into South Central unlike Revolt which took place more in East LA.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Hollers- Restaurant

“We served you this time but we don not want your patronage in the future” (60).

Welcome to “solid white America” (56)— an upscale restaurant in “the best hotel in town” (46). When Bob and Alice arrive, the waiter apologizes, “ ‘We are sorry, but all the tables are reserved’ ” (57). This space has been set aside for “solid white America.” This scene begs us to examine how land is organized in Los Angeles and how the organization of physical space maintains the ideologies of the powerful. How does access and mobility interact with race, class, and the social geography of an urban landscape? In Bob’s dream, the president of the shipyard corporation says, “ ‘Niggers can take it as long as you give it to them’ ” (69). The social geography of Los Angeles has been carved by “solid white America.” Bob insists on going to the restaurant and his insistence can be read as an attempt to disrupt and refuse a racist organization of space.

Hollers- Atlas Ship

“It was a bright June morning. The sun was already high. If I’d been a white boy I might have enjoyed the scramble in the early morning sun, the tight competition for a twenty-foot lead on a thirty-mile highway. But to me it was racial. The huge industrial plants flanking the ribbon of road—shipyards, refineries, oil wells, steel mills, construction companies—the thousands of rushing workers, the low-handing barrage balloons, the close hard roar of Diesel trucks and the distant drown of patrolling planes, the sharp, pungent smell of exhaust that used to send me driving clear across Ohio on a sunny summer morning, and the snow-capped mountains in the background, like picture post-cards, didn’t mean a thing to me. I didn’t even see them; all I wanted in the world was to push my Buick Roadmaster over some peckerwood’s face” (14).

Bob works as a leaderman and then as a mechanic at Atlas Ship. The Shipyard is a manifestation of social violence. When Mr. Leighton suggests that working on the production front for the war would be interesting, Bob replies, “ ‘It’s a killer’ ” (87). The shipyard houses a violent racism that slowly kills Bob. The working conditions at Atlas Ship encourage him and other workers to kill. It is a place of social violence— a space carved out of LA’s landscape to produce war ships that will be used to kill. Atlas Ship then, builds violence on many interacting levels of society. It is the place where racism dominates blatantly and unapologetically—where workers bring their race to work. “The white folks,” Bob explains, “had sure brought their white to work with them this morning” (15).

“ ‘Racism [in Los Angeles] became an inescapable fact of life for me. I’d been able to ignore segregation up until then, but now I couldn’t. I felt I could ‘see’ racism… It was like a disease I couldn’t shake’ ” (xv).
–Chester Himes

Image of cargo ships at a west coast shipyard during WWII:

Hollers- Harrison House

“This was the West Side. When you asked a Negro where he lived, and he said on the West Side, that was supposed to mean he was better than the Negroes who lived on the South Side; it was like the white folks giving a Beverly Hills address” (48).

Alice’s house is the location of several important scenes in the novel. It provides a physical foundation for a continuous discourse on the role of the black individual in a racist world (especially how class and skin color alter the individual's perception of his or her role). Alice’s house, and particularly its location, should also force us as readers to examine the geography of race and class in Los Angeles. How does where you live reflect your class and race? How is the organization of space in Los Angeles related to social control? Architecture arguably maps, organizes, and maintains a society’s ideologies, hierarchies, relationship to the environment, and evolution over time. In this way, architecture communicates and maintains power. How has LA been designed and constructed to control and organize human behavior and perception? Can we read the architecture of Los Angeles as a way to better understand the society that constructed it? In the quote above, Bob seems to suggest that we can.