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Dick Turpin

A Fond Look Back at When L.A. Grew Up

February 26, 1989|Dick Turpin

This column has just topped out.

In the parlance of real estate construction, it means the framework of a building has been completed.

Applied to a career in newspapering, it translates to completion of 41 years at The Times and 3 1/2 years at the now defunct Burbank Daily Review, with war service in between.

That record doesn't show much imagination--just doggedness.

On Tuesday, my 21-year tenure as editor of this section will end, a period that included the unprecedented building boom after World War II and the creation of a downtown skyline where there had only been one beacon--the pristine City Hall.

That modest tower is now overshadowed by taller structures containing millions of square feet of commercial space and by about two dozen other building projects under way throughout the downtown area.

Accompanied by all that new construction, came new people from all sectors of the nation and the globe to create a melting pot of mostly Latinos and Asians, contrasting with the turn-of-the century melting pot of New York City made up predominantly of Europeans.

We now can claim to be the home-away-from-home for more than a dozen ethnic groups, representing the largest colonies of those particular nationalities--Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thais, Central and South Americans, Pacific Islanders, Armenians, Lebanese, and, of course, Mexicans and Canadians.

Those two decades saw the constant, unending proliferation of homes and businesses throughout the Southland, supplanting farms, ranches, orchards and even a riverbed or two. The changes had begun even earlier, in the late '40s, as the city began its transformation into a metropolis, losing its trolley lines and tree-lined thoroughfares to wider avenues, one-way routing and the introduction of freeways.

It saw the growth and expansion of a model freeway system, envied and copied by other cities, but transformed and inundated now by one-occupant cars, all going in the same direction, and too often, creating car-locked and accident-marred lanes.

It included the rising of satellite downtowns--Century City, Hollywood, Westwood, Beverly Hills, Ventura Boulevard and the Los Angeles International Airport and mid-Wilshire areas. Given our vexing pattern of traffic gridlock, however, our proliferation of business centers is probably much better than having one big Manhattan in downtown Los Angeles.

Surrounding cities began to come alive too, particularly Long Beach, which for too long suffered as the poor cousin to the south. Then Pasadena and Glendale sprouted major new profiles and Burbank, thanks to its Media District, has become a Johnny-come-lately in the new-image ranks. San Diego shed its military aura and rebuilt itself through tourism.

There is no question about the continued growth of the Southland and its desirability as a great place to live, despite its myriad problems caused principally by unmanaged growth, a factor only now becoming realized and attended to by enlightened builders, government figures and activists.

In July, 1967, when The Times management announced my new assignment as real estate editor after a decade as education editor, it qualified me for the new post by saying:

" . . . he has observed and reported on the dynamic growth of Los Angeles and Southern California, involved in which has been the burgeoning of land development and home, apartment and commercial building concomitant with the growth of school systems in the area."

Coincidently, the city school district's first new high school in 17 years is under construction in Boyle Heights and is expected to be open in 1990 as a specialized medical magnet school.

The greatest public frustration in the wake of the recent rush of home buying throughout this area has been the loss of home buying affordabilty for young, lower-income and would-be buyers. It is a product most everyone wants, but only 14% to 16% of our present population can afford to do so; most of the rest of the existing homeowners cannot afford to buy their own homes, at today's market prices.

But there were many wonderful lighter moments in all those years of coverage of life, sports, police, government, education and real estate.

It included a very hectic and competitive era when six daily newspapers vied for paper-selling stories and ads. There aren't many headlines today spouting "Blonde Found Dead, Man Held, Freed." It was one of countless one-day, one-edition stories, written to fit a prescription given me by the night news editor.

Frank Sinatra made lots of news as a night club gadabout. So did small-time gangster Mickey Cohen. It was a "friendlier, gentler" relationship with constituted authorities in those days and press agents were valuable tipsters, along with desk sergeants, court clerks and switchboard operators ("I don't care where you go and what you do but just let me know where you are!".)

Some of those escapades have the makings of a book after retirement, interspersed with travel and enjoyment of time.

As a colleague of many years advises, "Enjoy your retirement as much as you did your work."

I'll buy that.

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