Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Summer Splash | The days are long. The nights are warm.
A seasonal ocean of activites laps at your feet like
the incoming tide. Our three guest writers share their
ideas about the perfect summer, below and on pages
4 and 5.

Heart of Harlem in L.A.

Paula L. Woods is the author of "Inner City Blues: A Charlotte Justice Novel" and co-editor of the anthology "I Hear a Symphony: African Americans Celebrate Love."

May 20, 1999|PAULA L. WOODS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," being away from home on a great adventure--or a long business trip or book tour, for that matter--will make you appreciate what you have in a way that's hard to describe. And whether you first heard the words "there's no place like home" uttered by Judy Garland in a darkened theater or coming from the TV in your living room, the phrase is particularly poignant in a region where the notion of home can shift beneath your feet--and will, if the San Andreas or its faulty siblings have their way.

Yet my childhood summers had a beautiful stillness about them, whether it was sitting on my front porch in Compton waiting for the swimming pools at Will Rogers or Athens Park to open, or waiting for my uncle to pick me up for a visit to the newly opened Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Interspersed among these waiting games were the typical barbecues and baseball games, tap dancing lessons and summer teas. And, sad to say, the protests and riots, too--it was, after all, the '60s, a fact that not even the Land of La could long ignore. But in spite of the dark days of segregation and subsequent upheaval, our family always managed a vacation to somewhere exciting, most memorably to Harlem's Hotel Theresa for the 1964 World's Fair. And through most of those years, there was, in the background, Simon Rodia--working away on a tower which rose out of found objects and lost dreams over Watts, the emotional heart of L.A.'s black Oz.

I couldn't have known as a child that my personal history would intersect with the city's, that what was ordinary for me was in the least bit extraordinary for its time. That the old Italian's foolishness, as my father called Mr. Rodia's obsession, would become the practically indestructible Watts Towers. Or that Della Williams, one of the founders of the Wilfandel Club, site of that childhood tea party, facilitated not only the development of my social skills but the life and talent of Paul R. Williams, her husband and, in my opinion, one of Los Angeles' greatest architects.

A perusal of this summer's lineup of cultural events is like a melding of the past, present and future for me, a chance to rekindle old memories and spark new ones with family and friends. I'll start with "The Harlem of the West: African American Literature and the Culture of Los Angeles," the Haynes Foundation Lecture at the Huntington Library on May 27. Few people appreciate that while Harlem was considered the seat of black intellectual life, such Los Angeles-based writers, musicians and artists as Arna Bontemps, William Grant Still and Paul R. Williams were creating novels, symphonies and architecture that evoked an energy and elegance unique to the region. I'm hoping the lecture will shed new light on their underappreciated talents.

The lecture, plus the invaluable book "Paul R. Williams, Architect: A Legacy of Style" by Williams' granddaughter Karen E. Hudson, will form the basis of my own self-guided tour of Williams' buildings. My interest in Williams' designs began with a visit to Angelus Funeral Home (3875 Crenshaw Blvd.), while researching my first novel. And for my second, which involves the death of a pioneering black Hollywood director, I'd give an arm and a leg to be able to see and reference the homes he designed for such Hollywood notables as Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, William Paley or Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. But I'll have to satisfy myself with his timeless public buildings--among them the Crescent Wing of the landmark Beverly Hills Hotel (9641 W. Sunset Blvd.), Tanino's Ristorante (1043 Westwood Blvd., in the former Alice's Restaurant building), or the theme building at LAX (home now of the hipster Encounters Restaurant), all lovingly restored in the last few years.

As a former student of Covan's Dance Studio on L.A.'s then-black Eastside, I'm expecting to feel nostalgic and energized at the Jazz Tap Ensemble's Tap Festival (June 27 at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre; July 1-3 at the Jazz Bakery and the Conjunctive Points Dance Center). And while I'm sure I'll feel a special thrill at seeing Cholly Atkins--a contemporary of hoofers Willie Covan and the Nicholas Brothers--do his thing as he hosts a video lecture/demonstration at the Dance Center on July 2, I won't embarrass myself by trying to join in with the Gen X tap wizards I expect to attend.

My nostalgia for African American-influenced tap satisfied, I'm hoping to expand my dance horizons at the Hollywood Bowl, starting with "Brazilian Nights," a concert featuring a 20-member dance troupe in carnival costume (June 26-27). Later, there's "Tango and Romance" (July 11), "African Pulse" (July 25), and "Roots, Rock and Rhythm" (Aug. 1), a musical/dance evening celebrating Celtic, Tex Mex and Native American forms.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|