Broadway Melodies: Harmonies and Counterpoints in the Line of Urban Transformation

Photographs by Sonia Rivas
Show Ends June 30, 2002

Photographs of the Exhibition

In the past year or so, Sonia Rivas has photographed along downtown Broadway in Los Angeles. Rivas lives on Broadway, and noticed how rapidly the area was changing. By displaying matched series of strip photographs, each strip taken a half year apart, the transformations might be highlighted. Cities constantly transform themselves. Areas that were once thought to be moribund come back to life. Streets catering to one class become meccas for another. And, of course, much of the city remains the same for long periods of time. What is remarkable are those moments when transformation is nascent, perhaps to succeed or not.

There is a history of visual recording of street life. We might think of Charles Marville’s and Eugène Atget’s photographs of Paris’s built environment, impressionist paintings of Paris life, or Walker Evans’s photographs of America from the 1930s on. In their making artworks, Ed Ruscha and Robbert Flick have made strip photographs of Los Angeles streets, as have the location scouts for the motion picture industry.

The School’s interest in photographic documentation is twofold. Going out to photograph, students learn to see the city in new ways, and learn to pay attention to what they ordinarily ignore. And, with the assistance of the University’s Archive Research Center, we are developing an archive of photographs of contemporary Los Angeles, valuable for future research and inquiry. The university, with its very long institutional perspective, is the ideal place to retain and preserve these materials, and to develop means of finding them when they are needed decades hence.

For the moment, it still appears that ordinary photographic film and prints are the best way to archive images if we are concerned with the long term (say, a century or more). Digital means are still too much in flux to be sure that the needed legacy equipment will be readily available on this time scale.

Martin H. Krieger
Professor of Planning

Living On Broadway Street

As a little 5 year old girl, I remember crossing over the Rio Grande at the Matamoros, Tamaulipas US/Mexico border in Texas. I would see the high-school girls dressed up in their school uniforms – plaid skirts, white shirts and socks – walking to and from school. Sometimes the girls were hanging out in the evenings talking with the boys, or grouped with other girls having what appeared to be a great time. To me, these girls were independent, free-spirited and grown up…I wanted to be just like them. Independence and urban living went together. From my first memory, I knew that the city was where I wanted to live someday.

I’ve lived at the Grand Central Square Apartments at the corner of 3rd Street and Broadway for 2 years. Finding this place was a dream come true. As an urban planning student, this was the icing on the cake. Not only was I able to take bus line #81 directly to school and back, I could walk the seven blocks to work. I was determined to know my neighborhood.

Although I don’t know every nook and cranny, or know everyone’s names on the street as I had vowed to do, I have seen much of the activity and many changes. Some merchants have come and gone in less than a month, others have been here for decades. I’ve seen how the street peddlers work and how they stay off each other’s turf; the mentally ill dancing man ride away on his bike at the end of the day; the silent young black man who stands at the same location all day and always looks south as if waiting for something or someone. Then there’s the boy with the giant feet (elephantitis) who sometimes sits, loitering, outside Taco Bell. He went to Guiness Book of World Records to register himself as the person with the largest feet. If he wins, he is awarded $75,000.

Thoughts of policy implications cross my mind as I see social capital among the street; vendors as they struggle in competition, peeling the mangos to make that extra dollar – watching the police or the BID ambassadors take away their livelihoods. This street is full of entrepreneurs who seem to have a different set of business rules and regulatory constraints. The informal sector sells leather belts, watches, turtles, roses, bus tokens, batteries, and one lady even sells toothpaste and gum. The food vendors sell bacon-wrapped jalapeño hotdogs, donuts, yellow cherries, fruit doused in chili power and lime, and coffee, and my favorite – the corn vendor. Several new newsstands have take up shop on the sidewalks. I find it interesting that here, adult-oriented magazines are visible and within reach of anyone and everyone including children as opposed to the local 7-11 where the magazines are enclosed in opaque wrapping and behind the counter.

When I first moved in, the street was under construction and noisy. One day, the construction crew had removed the street surface and exposed the rail tracks that once guided the Red Cars during Broadway’s earlier and livelier economic times. What a privilege! Unfortunately, this is a sample of the kinds of stories you will not know about simply by viewing the street on this wall. Downtown [Broadway] has gone through a number of changes the last several years and will continue to do so for several more. As a student and future city planner this is my contribution to USC, the community, previous Broadway shoppers and future generations to use for research, reminiscence, or just curiosity.

There is so much to see. After two and a half years of walking up and down the street, I still find myself finding new discoveries. Oftentimes the discoveries were there all along, but for some reason, that day the detail caught my attention. There are changes every day on the street. I welcome you to look and discover on your own the obvious and not so obvious. I enjoyed documenting the street and hope that you will appreciate the resulting images as much as I do.

Sonia Rivas
MPL Candidate, Price School of Public Policy, USC

How to follow the exhibit
In each set of three rows of pictures, the first row of pictures was taken early in 2001, the second row about six months later, and the third in early 2002. Six blocks of Broadway are displayed in such a way that you can compare the changes by block, if any have occurred. The top boards (east facades) begin at the left side of the room. You will be traveling south as you walk from left to right to keep in sequential order. The bottom rows are the western facades. As you will travel from right to left, you will also travel south on the street.