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Coming soon: Paseo Forest Lawn

July 23, 2006|Rob Long | ROB LONG, whose weekly commentary "Martini Shots" airs on KCRW-FM (89.9), is a contributing editor to National Review.

FOREST LAWN, that sweeping, green glade of dead people, is 100 years old, which means that in Los Angeles terms, it's in the seriously old category, along with Musso & Frank, the Century City mall and Cher.

Old-timers in the Southland will often turn a squinty gaze at our urban landscape -- a "Nails by Yuki" strip mall, perhaps, or the most recent Quizno's -- and rasp out a sad, whispery "This used to be all orange groves, you know?" And most of the time, they're wrong.

There were orange groves here and there, of course, but most of Los Angeles County was a parched, dusty, empty-lot kind of desert, dotted with oil wells bobbing slowly in the dirty sunshine.

When I moved to Los Angeles, way, way back in 1988, a person could glide down Montana Avenue in Santa Monica and choose between two scruffy gas stations, a couple of local grocery stores and an actual hardware store, the kind we used to have before the Restoration.

Now, of course, the gas stations are gone -- one's a yoga place and the other is a ... wait, the other is a yoga place too. And forget about the hardware store. Put it this way. If you have $75 burning a hole in your pocket and what you really want is a scented candle, pop on over to Montana Avenue and go crazy.

Not that I'm complaining. Where I live, in Venice, the main drag of Abbott Kinney Boulevard, which used to be mostly metal-stamping warehouses, auto body shops and creepy, windowless stucco boxes, is now yoga places, antique shops, scented candle emporia and ... well, more yoga places.

Again, no complaints. Changes -- upgrades, really -- are all for the good. This kind of thing comes under the heading of what we in Los Angeles call "getting some work done." You know: getting the wrinkles and the sags and the bags lifted, smoothed over, sanded down, beautified. "We don't say, 'lifted,' " a plastic surgeon friend of mine told me a few years ago. "We say, 'refreshed.' " As in, I think your eyes could be refreshed -- along with your neighborhood.

Montana Avenue: refreshed. Abbott Kinney: refreshed. Farmer's Market: BeGroved. Hollywood and Sunset: Highlanded and ArcLighted. So this isn't a new phenomenon.

If you were a kid living in Los Angeles in the 1960s and early 1970s, and your parents were divorced (but I'm repeating myself), I'm told that your father would take you on awkward, fraught Saturday afternoons to the pony rides on the corner of La Cienega and Beverly boulevards, where you could ride around in a manure-filled ring on a tragic-looking pony, and your dad could mutter bitterly to the other divorced dads while flirting with the other divorced moms. That's right: the corner of La Cienega and Beverly. The Beverly Center! Aren't you glad they refreshed that corner? Sad little kids moving in a smelly circle -- out! Tumi Luggage and Wetzel's Pretzels -- in!

Which brings me to my point. It's time to refresh Forest Lawn. One hundred years is a long time to lie there without getting a little work done. And though the place has a quiet, meditative grace to it, it's also a little morbid. Look, if you combine the L.A. obsession with cosmetic enhancement with our religious devotion to real estate investment, it's really hard to see how the Forest Lawn people can justify sitting on all that beautiful rolling hillside without thinking multiplex, Barnes & Noble, Banana Republic, Houston's....

Just clear out the deadwood ... um, people ... and starting building the decorative fountains. Do it with sensitivity, obviously. Take the time to get all the dead people's names right before you pour the foundations and install the drought-tolerant landscape. Maybe everybody gets a little plaque somewhere in the parking structure, or a personalized brick ringing the Reflective Topiary Garden outside the American Girl store. Keep it light, though. We're trying for an upgrade here. Put in a fun little trolley to snake along what used to be, I think, some kind of hearse access road, and you're in business.

Whatever. Something, anyway. Something new. Something with an Apple store, maybe, and a yoga place, and a Wi-Fi location.

Something ... refreshed. So that in 10 years, or maybe 20, if I eat right and remember to take my daily baby aspirin, I can stand in the center of Forest Lawn Plaza -- or, better, Paseo Forest Lawn, or, best, La Foret Shopping Towne -- and I'll take in the dancing water feature and rasp in a whispery, sad voice, "This used to be all orange groves, you know? Or was it dead people? I forget. Let's go get a turkey wrap."

Won't that be fun?

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