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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

The House That Rhetoric Built

March 27, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

Have you ever been revitalized?

I haven't. I've never even been vitalized.

On Thursday afternoon, the "revitalization" of Los Angeles was the word for the day. Ground was broken for the new $300-million Staples Center indoor arena, here in the city without vitality.

It was as if everybody memorized it on the way over.

Edward J. Roski, a developer of the new castle where his Kings will play hockey, got up to promise, "This building will be a focal point of the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles!"

I thought: Swell.

We could all use a little revitalization. I usually use a can of Pledge and a bottle of Windex.

John Ferraro, president of the L.A. City Council, added in regard to the arena, "It will help to revitalize our great city!"

I thought: Hmmm.

Was there something I didn't know? Could this be the commencement of our Revitalization period, the way Italy began that Renaissance business in the 14th century? I suddenly felt naked. I felt like somebody would come up and ask to paint me.

Timothy J. Leiweke, president of Staples Center, put a finishing touch on the ceremony by saying, "We want to acknowledge that we take very seriously the confidence that the city of Los Angeles has in our vision for Staples Center's role in the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles!"

I thought: Amen.

Maybe he'll paint a mural on the Staples Center ceiling.

*

Having been to sports and entertainment centers throughout the civilized world--not counting Atlanta--I feel eminently qualified to tell you something about Los Angeles'.

Ours are dumps.

For a city known for "glitz," "tinsel" and being so cool that our mayor's jeans are probably ripped at the knees, we have the most rundown shacks this side of Dogpatch.

Talk about your edifice wrecks.

In professional basketball, the two oldest buildings in the league are the ones where the Lakers play and the one where the Clippers (try to) play.

From the outside, the Forum is still quite a sight. It is a pleasure to see from afar. I always feel this way, every time I know Neil Diamond is singing there.

On the inside, it is as ordinary as can be. The seats have seen better days and the bathrooms aren't exactly pristine. If Leona Helmsley ever came to a Laker game, trust me, even after four or five beers, she would wait until she got home.

As for the pressroom, I wish Jack Nicholson would take a golf club to the place.

We used to call it The Fabulous Forum. Later, we called it The Great Western Forum. If we waited much longer, we'd be calling it the Fair Western Forum.

Downtown, we have the Sports Arena. I like the Sports Arena a lot. It never has any of those problems you hear about in other cities--like, oh, you know, crowds.

At a Clipper game once, I think the crowd announced a basketball attendance of 10.

I thought Staples Center would become home to both the Lakers and the Clippers, but so far, nobody has been able to get the Clippers to bite. (Well, so to speak.)

"Staples Center will benefit all Los Angeles residents, sports fans and non-sports fans alike," Ferraro said, as well as "again make our city the envy of professional sports teams."

Teams envy. It's another Freudian thing, like that edifice complex.

*

Staples Center, which should be a happy, happy place for everybody, especially on Free Fax Paper Night, is scheduled to open in October 1999.

Governor Checchi will be there, right alongside President Gore, who will throw out the first basketball or puck, then defend his decision to give his impeached predecessor a full pardon.

At the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday, two young Lakers who will carry the team into the next century, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, arrived at the 10-acre site aboard a bulldozer. I think Shaq dug a shovel of dirt 10 times and threw it at the ground, hitting five.

Then all that "revitalization" chatter began.

I looked up vitalize in my dictionary. It read "to give life to, to give vigor or animation to," which left me shocked to learn that Los Angeles had died. Wow, good thing we can be revitalized. I didn't even know we'd been devitalized.

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