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THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : With a Tragic Exception, Life Goes On Along Gorham Avenue

THE SPIN / BILL BOYARSKY

February 13, 1995|BILL BOYARSKY

Although Ron Goldman's street was a backwater, it was where I wanted to be when the jurors passed by on Sunday's O.J. Simpson murder trial tour.

Goldman is the overlooked person in this tragedy, and I knew the the media would all but ignore his residence. I obeyed a reportorial maxim: Go where the pack isn't.

But I had another, more personal reason for heading to Gorham Avenue, located just north of San Vicente Boulevard on the lower edge of Brentwood. We lived on the street for a time in the late '70s--in fact, right next door to the apartment house that became Goldman's last home.

Our apartment was on the first floor of a narrow two-story walk-up of the architectural style known as "the basic Los Angeles dingbat." The building occupied every inch of the lot, a characteristic of dingbat construction, and by the time our family moved in, the '50s-modern appearance had taken on a homey, down-at-the heels look that didn't quite go with the name, Chateau Gorham.

It was a crowded, congested neighborhood, but pleasant. The closest we came to crime was when patients from the nearby Veterans Administration Hospital would climb up on our roof to drink. Our street was populated pretty much by longtime residents of the apartments and a few short-timers like us. The area was just becoming a magnet for the young, beautiful and fit.

I wondered how not-quite-celebrity status had affected Gorham Avenue.

*

At 7:30 a.m. Sunday, accompanied by my dog, Bo, I got into the car and drove north from my West L.A. house to the sprawling VA hospital grounds. With my dog in tow, I figured I could pass for a local, taking an early morning walk.

I parked and we walked toward nearby Gorham. Except for a photographer standing across the street from the Goldman apartment, the street was empty of pedestrian traffic. A few helicopters clattered overhead. I found out later they had been there since 5:30 a.m., providing Brentwood with a pre-dawn wake-up call.

I had not been on the street for several years and at first did not recognize our old place. It had been completely refurbished, a security gate installed and the old Chateau Gorham sign taken down.

We walked to San Vicente, past the Westward Ho, where we used to shop and where one of my daughters had worked. Just a few early-morning shoppers were around. Across the street was Mezzaluna, where Nicole Brown Simpson and her family had dinner the night she was murdered. A television correspondent was doing a stand-up nearby.

Starbucks, where Nicole, Ron and their friends used to drink coffee, was just filling up. A few blocks away, we turned south on Bundy Avenue, toward the murder site. Two men were unpacking huge "Jesus Saves" signs. When a jogger said something sarcastic to them, one said in an angry tone, "I hope you go to heaven," making it sound like a curse.

Yellow crime-scene tape blocked off the part of Bundy where Nicole Simpson had lived. I walked back to Gorham, and strolled past the Goldman apartment. More reporters were on the street and residents were gathering in front of their apartments. I encountered Shirley Sharpe, Brigit Ecklund and Judy Chesky, standing in front of a large apartment house that Shirley and her husband, Jack, managed. Jack was on the balcony, watching news reports of the approaching tour caravan.

I wondered if they felt the street had been under siege. No, they said, although Shirley Sharpe commented that there was a lot of press around just after the murders. That was when they learned that Ron Goldman was one of the victims. Although he was a neighbor, they didn't know him, which is not unusual in L.A.

A few minutes later, a single motorcycle, lights flashing, slowly moved west on Gorham, followed by two formations of cycles and the caravan of unmarked police cars, vans and the sheriff's jail bus containing the jury.

The caravan stopped briefly and then headed west toward Mezzaluna, then to the Bundy condo and Simpson's mansion. As the street became quiet, Gorham Avenue's residents turned to their usual Sunday pursuits. It was as if the motorcade had never passed by.

*

What I found striking about the morning, and about my old street, was how little impact the Simpson case has had. Even the motorcade was a momentary distraction, such as we felt in my current neighborhood when President Reagan's motorcade used to speed by on Olympic Boulevard on its way from Century City to the Santa Monica Airport.

It was a contrast to other neighborhoods I've visited after really traumatic events. Streets that went through the riot were traumatized weeks and months after, even those that sustained no damage.

The earthquake had the same impact, as did the fires. Lives were irrevocably changed by these traumatic events. Interviews were thoughtful, emotional and usually painful.

Sunday's motorcade was for some an annoyance and for others a momentary entertainment, but that was all. The impact of the Simpson case on L.A. and its neighborhoods may be as fleeting as ships passing in the night.

Of course, that's not how it will be for the Goldmans, for the survivors of the young man who lived in the gray dingbat apartment house on Gorham Avenue.

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