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People Feel It: Olympics Reached Out and Touched L.A.

July 28, 1985|BOB OATES | Times Staff Writer

The flame is out. But the glow is still there. At least that's the recent opinion of a citizen of Los Angeles.

After a holiday trip to Canada, Dan Wolf said:

"Our friends and in-laws only wanted to talk about one thing--the Los Angeles Olympics. My father-in-law kept saying: 'Man, that must have been an exciting time.' "

It was--and then some. The 23rd Games affected every life they touched. And, plainly, they also changed Los Angeles.

But is the transformation permanent? What differences in the city's self image have been made? In brief, what did the Los Angeles Olympics mean to Los Angeles?

One year after the event, everybody who was present last summer wants to talk about it.

"There's a pride in Los Angeles that wasn't here before," a USC research professor, Dr. Selwyn Enzer, said. "What you're hearing today among (local) policy people is this: 'We did it. And we did it in a Class-A manner.' The people of Los Angeles didn't have that role model before."

Wolf, a Los Angeles County executive, agrees. "Nobody here, or in the East, thought we could pull it off," he said. "Our self-esteem has taken a perceptible jump."

David Wilcox, vice president of Economics Research Associates, said: "The Games proved how enormously rich and diversified this city is. The image L.A. has of itself today is unique. It believes it can do anything.".

Coliseum Manager Jim Hardy said: "What we gained was a sense of community. Before, L.A. had been known as a collection of suburbs. Last summer, we became a city. The willingness of throngs from every neighborhood to volunteer, to participate, unified the community."

In the opinion of Jim Hurst, executive vice president of the Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau, the only thing that has improved more dramatically than the city's self-image is its international image.

"The Olympics changed the world's picture of L.A.," Hurst said. "Thirteen months ago, it was an unlovely picture. When Europeans and Asians thought of Los Angeles in those days, they thought of a mammoth gridlock. They had a vision of crowds of motorists sitting still in their cars, choking in heavy smog on every freeway, with nobody moving but the terrorists."

That Los Angeles was hard to sell to any tourist. Hotel rooms sat vacant. One popular westside restaurant had cancellations for 132 in one night. During what should have been (and was) the city's most spectacular summer ever, the number of tourists fell far short of projections.

But in 16 magical days, as if by magic indeed, the terrorists and the smog disappeared--along with the gridlock--and because the world was watching, Los Angeles' tourist business this year is booming again.

"We had predicted a safe, happy summer all along," Lt. Dan Cook, a Los Angeles Police Dept. spokesman, said. "The media wouldn't buy it and spread a false story. I tried to tell them we'd dissipate the traffic jams with one-way streets. I reminded them that terrorism is against the law. And I said I would personally take care of the weather. They just wouldn't believe me."

So in a sense, Los Angeles' hotelmen and restaurateurs and other merchants lost part of a year. But thanks to the Olympics, they're more than getting it back.

Said Hurst: "We're selling L.A. based on the way it staged the Games--and the world is buying. Every positive statistic is up, from hotel reservations to inquiry mail. Our inquiry mail is up 50% and has taken all the funds we had budgeted for it. The bad dream is over."

For which Los Angeles can thank Los Angeles.


As a production, the 1984 Games were so successful that they have raised some fundamental questions about the years ahead.

Should the people of this city be content with nothing more than the memory of a job well done?

Or, inspired by the Olympics, should Los Angeles go to work on some of its more compelling problems? There are a lot of them, and the Games raised a lot of money.

"I'm sometimes asked, what did the Olympics really mean to our community?" Supervisor Kenneth Hahn said. "And my answer is this: Nobody will know until the (Organizing Committee's) $225 million surplus is finally spent. You can't measure the impact of an event like an Olympics by asking people if they had a good time. The only impact that counts will be made by all that money."

Understandably enough, the civic leaders of this area think most of the surplus should be reinvested in the area.

"The way I see it, the Committee has a moral obligation to invest any surplus funds in L.A.," Hardy said. "It was the people here who made the Olympics successful."

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