Sunset Boulevard's Promise Rises in the East

Christopher Hawthorne completes his second installment in an ongoing series examining the transformation of Los Angeles through the lens of its famous boulevards. This entry focuses on the most famous street in the city - Sunset Boulevard.
July 16, 2012, 2pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Traversing Sunset "in the opposite direction", from west to east, Hawthorne explores the street's transformation as it points the way towards L.A.'s multimodal future. As he makes his way from the beach, and Sunset's famous gated enclaves on the west side of the city, towards the bustling nightlife of Hollywood and the eclectic street life of Boyle Heights, Hawthorne notes how the street provides (or fails to provide) a pedestrian-friendly environment. 

Hawthorne describes the replacement of movie studios and entertainment-focused businesses with "hardier strains of L.A. architecture" along Sunset in Hollywood, as the city "tries to redefine itself for a denser and less car-dependent future." He also notes the newly opened Sunset Triangle Plaza, in Silver Lake, "A more nimble example of L.A.'s rekindled interest in street design and the public sphere."

But what Hawthorne finds along Sunset (renamed Cesar E. Chavez Avenue) in the east L.A. neighborhood of Boyle Heights makes him most excited. "Shaded by huge ficus trees and crowded with pedestrians, the stretch of Cesar Chavez just east of the 5 Freeway upends a few persistent stereotypes about Los Angeles: that nobody walks, that everybody lives in a single-family house, works in the movie business and spends most of his time cocooned in an air-conditioned car, shouting Ari Gold-style into his cellphone earpieces."

"Much of the street's success can be credited to neglect from the larger city," writes Hawthorne, "as investment in the post-war era went elsewhere. But Cesar Chavez Avenue hasn't just survived: It has emerged as a model for other neighborhoods eager to make their major thoroughfares friendlier to pedestrians, cyclists and local business. It has all the urban-design amenities the average L.A. boulevard is desperately missing." 

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Published on Saturday, July 14, 2012 in Los Angeles Times
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