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Jack Smith

Of pitchers and parades: A time capsule prompts a : timely sifting through the artifacts of Los Angeles

April 11, 1985|JACK SMITH

'If you had the opportunity to pick the artifacts symbolizing contemporary Los Angeles society that you would like sealed in a time capsule not to be opened for a hundred years, what would be your choices?

"This is far from a rhetorical question," writes Albert Ardmore, its author. Representing Ardmore & Brown, marketing communications, Ardmore explains that the capsule is to be enclosed in a 32-foot sculpture at 9th and Figueroa, across the street from The Pantry, on the site of the new International Tower office building. The sculptor is Eugene Sturman, who won the commission in a $250,000 competition. Meanwhile, with dedication only 60 to 90 days away, "a blue- ribbon committee of VIPs and art world leaders" will be selecting contemporary artifacts to seal in the capsule, for opening in 2085.

"Nagging questions lurk ahead," Ardmore warns. "What, for example, should be considered appropriate artifacts for inclusion in the capsule?" Already suggested have been a menu from The Pantry, a videocassette of "Dynasty," and Fernando Valenzuela's pitching glove.

"Do these make sense to you?" he asks. "From where you sit, watching the passing parade as you have for so many years, what would be your choices? We welcome your participation as a beacon of enlightenment. The archeologists of the next century will remember you with gratitude."

In the first place, I see no point in a time capsule to be opened 100 years from now unless it is conceded that the city will be consumed by fire before then, presumably by nuclear fire.

Otherwise, why hide a few things away in such a capsule, when we have so many wonderful museums and libraries. There is almost nothing that happens or is known today that isn't being filed away on microfilm, or in computer data banks, or in files at the UCLA Research Library. It may be that no city in the world has better facilities for the storage of information than Los Angeles has at this moment.

Unless these are destroyed by nuclear fission, they will give historians in 2085 so much material to work with that all they will be able to do is fight each other over interpretation of the details. Archeologists will still be working back in the dimmer centuries.

All right, who's to say that all these libraries and storage facilities won't be destroyed before 2085? We are quite capable of it. And a new breed of archeologists will be sifting through the ashes of the 20th Century, if any of us at all survive.

And let's imagine that the time capsule in the statue at 9th and Figueroa somehow survives the holocaust and is opened to yield its artifacts--the only clues to our culture.

What artifacts would tell those archeologists the most about us?

Surely not Fernando Valenzuela's pitching glove. (Anyway, wouldn't that be his fielding glove?) If they had nothing to tell them who Fernando was, what would his glove tell them?

Obviously, if they're serious, they will cram as many books into the capsule as they can get. It's to be six feet long and two feet in diameter, and that should hold a lot of books. I would include, for example, John D. Weaver's brief history of L.A., "Los Angeles: The Enormous Village"; "Los Angeles," by Roger Banham; "A Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles & Southern California," by David Gebhard and Robert Winter, and perhaps one of the better tourist guides and a guide to our restaurants.

Also, let us save all copies of The Times published during the Olympic Games, to reflect the shining of this city at what might have been its absolute historical peak.

I don't happen to believe that we have passed our peak. I believe that we will absorb our new peoples from Asia and the Latin countries and emerge as the true cosmopolitan city of the future, the queen city of the Pacific, the city that represents the American dream of freedom more than any other.

Still, those two weeks during the Olympic Games might have been our high-water mark; Rome had passed its peak long before she became aware of it.

Surely I would include a videocassette of the opening day of the Olympics; for sheer mass drama, for amity and beauty and the peaceful mingling of people on a grand scale, I have never seen its equal. I would like to think, though, that it was not the swan song of a great city, but its debut.

Since videocassettes will be the best way to show the past to the future, why not have cassettes of a day in the life of the city's many enclaves: a busy street on the East Side; downtown's Broadway on a Saturday afternoon; a game in Dodger Stadium; a walk through the Huntington Gardens; a drive through Watts and a look at the famous towers; a day on the beach at Santa Monica; a shopping tour on Rodeo Drive; lunch at Ma Maison; the Central Library, shadowed by towers of concrete, steel and glass; a big game in the Coliseum; a backyard barbecue in Burbank; Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Koreatown?

All these are Los Angeles.

I suppose they could leave Valenzuela's glove to show that a poor Mexican boy could make it in Los Angeles if he happened to have a strong left arm, but long before 2085, I imagine, Valenzuela will have faded and been traded or sent down to the minors and probably gone back to his home in Mexico.

It's risky, betting on a left-handed pitcher.

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