Jack Smith

At the heart of a six-hour flurry of the cultural pulse in his neck of the wasteland

June 05, 1986|Jack Smith

I wish anyone who still thinks of Los Angeles as a cultural wasteland could have spent last Friday afternoon and evening with me.

At 4 p.m. I went to the opening ceremony of the third annual Highland Park Cultural Festival, which was held across the Pasadena Freeway in Hermon, an old community that has lost its identity since a former city councilman had the name of the street that exits there from the Pasadena Freeway changed from Hermon Avenue to Via Marisol, after his daughter.

I grant that Via Marisol is a prettier name than Hermon Avenue, but a lot of people who have lived in Hermon a long time, and appreciate its history, don't like it. The ceremony was held at the site of a brilliant wall mural, which was unveiled.

The street was blocked off and there was a temporary stage set up and chairs for about 150 people. The Franklin High School band played the National Anthem and its ROTC color guard presented the Colors. Bill Warren, one of Highland Park's premier citizens, led the Pledge of Allegiance. Warren not only started the cultural festival but is also president of the Highland Park Symphony Orchestra, which has played free concerts for 40 years, including Beethoven.

I was honored to be one of the speakers. I sat on the stage next to City Councilman Richard Alatorre, who reminded me that several years ago, during a local state Senate election campaign, I wrote a column saying I was going to vote for the candidate who sent us the best pot holder. Pot holders at that time were the ultimate political statement in our district.

In my talk I noted that Charles Lummis had come to Los Angeles in 1884 from Cincinnati, on foot, having walked all the way. On his arrival he became city editor of The Times, and built the stone house that still stands in the Arroyo Seco off the Pasadena Freeway. There he established a brilliant salon, frequented by the nation's most celebrated poets and opera stars. It is even said that Theodore Roosevelt once dined with Lummis at this house, washing the dishes with him afterward, but I am inclined to doubt it. They did meet at Occidental College, which began in Highland Park.

Bill Warren was master of ceremonies, and he got the program through with time to spare, probably because Rep. Ed Roybal, state Sen. Art Torres and Councilman Joel Wachs failed to show up. (Torres is the man who got our vote for having the best pot holder.) Highland Park is in Joel Wachs' district, and he makes his presence felt there, but he was late, and his assistant, the beauteous Arline De Sanctis, made a graceful talk in his behalf, explaining that he was undoubtedly caught in freeway traffic.

Since the program ended early, I got home in plenty of time to feed the dogs before going on up the hill to the Mount Washington Elementary School for their annual Young Artist Talent Show. My wife was engaged for the evening and I went up mainly for the pizza, which was being served by the PTA. I had a pepperoni pizza, a dill pickle and a can of diet cola, all for $1.50, and took my change, as usual without counting it.

I sat on a bench in the kindergarten yard and waited for the show to start. First a little girl came up to me. She said, "Do you have a bobby pin or a safety pin?"

I said, "Do I look as if I would?" and immediately regretted my rudeness. She whipped off.

A boy came up and handed me a quarter. "I'm supposed to give this to you," he said. "They short-changed you."

The show started. The first number was a dance, "Old-Time Rock 'n' Roll," by a girl named Kristen Rowse. She had long blond hair which she tossed about with wanton abandon as she gyrated to some rock number whose name I didn't know. I had no idea that that kind of rock was old time.

Then Sabrina Garcia, Susie Garcia and Bronwyn Pollock, wearing monkey masks, did a dance, "Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees."

A boy named Jonathan Wang played "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" on the piano. He played it with some panache. Not Horowitz, no; but I doubt that Horowitz could play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" a great deal better. There isn't a lot you can do with it.

I had to leave early, because I had promised a girl I know that I would see her in a play at Eagle Rock High School. It turned out to be a farce about a home for wayward girls, a villain who tries to cheat their mistress out of it, two innocent boys who have escaped from a nearby prison, and a cop. I should mention also the villain's lady friend, a Mae West type whose every step was punctuated by a thump of the bass drum. The play was written by a faculty member, and while it may not be quite ready for the Taper, it was exuberant, outrageously implausible, and fun.

There were some very funny bits on stage between the acts, and so much energy was expended in two hours that it almost made me remember what it was like to be young.

My young friend, whom I had thought to be shy, turned out to come across the footlights like Liza Minnelli.

And all this happened in just my neighborhood.

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