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LAist Interview: 1947 Project

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It's surprising to realize that Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak started the 1947 Project blog just last March because we can't imagine our daily routine without it.

Kim publishes "Scram, the journal of unpopular culture" and co-edited "Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth" and the new "Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed." Nathan, author of "Los Angeles Neon," is working on a book about America's historic mortuaries.

Their own blog best explains its mission:

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Los Angeles in 1947 was a social powderkeg. War-damaged returning soldiers were threatened by a new kind of independant female, who in turn found her freedoms disappearing as male workers returned to the factories. These conflicts worked themselves out in dark ways. The Black Dahlia is the most famous victim of 1947's sex wars, but hardly the only one. The 1947project seeks to document this pivotal year in L.A., through period reporting and visits to the scenes as they are today.

LAist is running this interview in two parts. Today we are publishing a joint interview with the the two editors. Tomorrow, we plan to publish another interview that Kim and Nathan have agreed to answer in the guise of an LA resident in 1947.

Photo credit: Mark Edward Harris.

Age and Occupation:

Kim: 38, Editrix

Nathan: 38. Writer.

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?:

Kim: Born in the blue Scientology building opposite Kaiser Hollywood (it was Cedars of Lebanon at the time). Live in the flats of Lincoln Heights (not in the Brewery).

Nathan: Santa Barbara native, so at least I grew up with LA television. Been here since 1993. I'm in Highland Park.

Why do you live in Los Angeles?

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Kim: It was good enough for my great-grandparents, and it’s good enough for me.

Nathan: I watched the riots on TV in '92, and from the snowy-white comfort of Wisconsin, said "now that's a town." I moved out in time to be greeted by the Northridge quake. Been a hoot ever since! The real question is, though, why do I stay? There's a balance: I catch wind that we may lose Monty's steak house, and I think, that's it, I'm gone. But then I hear the Broadway Hollywood neon is being relit and I figure this place is redeeming itself.

Why did you create the 1947 Project? What do you want it to communicate to Angelenos today?

Kim: I was inspired by my own memory maps that overlay remembered and known events upon the physical space of the city, and wondered about the lost, but equally powerful, memories that had once been associated with places, and faded away as the people who held them died. I'd like the 1947project to give its readers a richer city, and one where it feels like the past is still here with us.

Nathan: Kim's the creatrix. I hope that my preservationist-themed posts will resonate with a denizen or two; maybe they'll go into their neighborhood liquor store, buy a bunch of stuff and say "I like your neon sign, gives this place some 1947 character" or something to that effect. If I can help save just one fill-in-the-blank, it will have all been worth it.

In commencing this project, what surprised you the most from doing it or researching LA newspapers from that period?

Kim: As someone whose world is often narrowly prescribed in the same Hollywood-Silverlake-Echo Park-Downtown (and out to Monterey Park for dumplings twice a week) orbit that I think many of our readers share, I was surprised to see how many ordinary people lived out in what now seem like the badlands, high numbered streets South of Pico, far removed from hills or sea. Of course, the street cars were better, then.

Nathan: After traveling hither and yon, I'm surprised there's as much standing as there is. People are quick to deride LA for its kleenex culture, but compare Broadway to, say, 9th St. in Cleveland. On the other hand, I'd never had a proper appreciation of just how destructive and divisive freeway construction has been.

Who is Larry Harnisch and why does he always comment on your posts with extra info from the contemporaneous news accounts? How do you feel about this?

Kim: Larry is an L.A. Times employee and a cultural historian with a very intriguing theory about who killed the Black Dahlia. I think his posts are fascinating, and it feels good knowing he's reading our posts. The man knows this era so well: he keeps us honest.

Nathan: Why does he comment on our posts? Evidently he loves our history. The breadth and depth of his old LA knowledge is pretty astonishing. I'm glad as hell he's posting--it adds a lot and I wish there were ten more of him.

Where do you find most of your sources for the 1947 accounts?

Kim: The L.A. Times has a good searchable, digital edition, so that's our primary source for the crimes. I do wish there were other local papers that were as convenient to access. Unfortunately, we don't have the time to read microfiche. (Any history wonks out there looking for a summer project? We'd love an intern.)

Nathan: Kim pours through the old newspapers. I've got ancillary material--phone books, apartment house guides, road maps, civic "booster" pamphlets, piles of postcards, that bit.

What is your final vision for the project? Is it going to become the basis of a book, novel, etc?

Kim: We do have ideas about adapting 1947project, but it's gotta be on the QT for now.

Nathan: Here's hoping it'll be a multimedia extravaganza. Excelsior!

Where is the best place to write in Los Angeles?:

Kim: In my little windowed tree house of an office above the old carriage stand, with the dizzy scent of pink trumpet flowers wafting in, and my black cat Evel on my lap.

Nathan: At my desk, with the ziggarauts of books and paper threatening to topple and kill me. Otherwise, back bar booth at Mr. T's. I know that sounds like romantic cheese, but trust me.

Where is the worst place to write in Los Angeles? Any LA café where you had a bad experience writing?

Kim: I don't understand writers who claim they can practice in public. Don't they gnash their teeth and scratch rude places when they're really cooking? I sure do.

Nathan: Car stereos? Cell-phone blatherers? No can do. Although I write at home to the neighborhood's conjunto and ranchero so often, it's almost come to where I can't write without it.

What's your preferred mode of transportation?

Kim: In my neighborhood I can walk to everything. The 25¢ Dash bus into Chinatown is pretty sweet.

Nathan: By Zeppelin, but passage is tough to book these days.

How often do you ride the MTA subway or light rail?

Kim: Infrequently. I do recommend the Gold Line, though, for the interesting view into the backyards of Highland Park.

Nathan: I take the subway and light rail all the time, but never to transport me from one place to another. I just go off on a dérive, letting the psychogeography of the city take me where it will.

What's your favorite movie(s) or TV show(s) that are based in LA and why?

Kim: I love "Double Indemnity" for the palpable air of rot, and "In A Lonely Place" for the heartbreak.

Nathan: My obsession with old LA began with a 1976 TV show about 30s Los Angeles called "City of Angels." A couple months later the movie "Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood" came out. I was hooked. Nine years old and hooked. As much as I love "Criss Cross" and "Barton Fink," I defer to the ones that got me here.

Best LA-themed book(s) and why?

Kim: Carey McWilliams' "Southern California: An Island on the Land," for his breadth of coverage, his unbiased frankness, his personal knowledge of the city's workings from the 1920s-40s, and his ability to skip from chronicling weirdo religions to citrus consortiums to organized labor to con-men to genocidal padres with the most fluid, fascinating ease. I've never learned more from another book on the region.

Nathan: I read "The Loved One" as a teen. Intrigued by the artifice to no end. Fueled my love of cynicism and satire. Every brutally pointed thing Waugh said in 1948, I can hurl (internally) at the smug gentry of today's LA. Right when I moved to LA I gobbled up the Ellroy books, Mosley, and the Chandler-era noirs, sure, and I love them. But Waugh--and Huxley's "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan," of course--got me all hot and bothered. Fante's "Ask the Dust" still makes me ache. And anyone who goes on about Bush's tentacles should read "Sinclair's Oil!" I'm always shocked when the so-called muckrakers in this town don't know it.

Share your best celebrity sighting experience.

Kim: Annoyed that some masher was reading over my shoulder in Book Soup, turning around to snarl, and realizing it was John Waters. Or Dee Dee Ramone, bopping down Hollywood Boulevard with a big smile on his face, not long before he died.

Nathan: I once met Eddie Deezen on the street, Sunset and Vermont. Short time later I was talking to Eric Stoltz, we have the same vet in Studio City. I quizzed them both about the film "Surf II."

In your opinion, what's the best alternate route to the 405?

Kim: Sepulveda, of course.

Nathan: Anything.

What's the best place to walk in LA?

Kim: Any neighborhood where the old ladies keep up their gardens, the cats are friendly and the stucco man has never darkened the stoops of the houses.

Nathan: I'm not going to tell you. Call me selfish.

It's 9:30 pm on Thursday. Where are you coming from and where are you going?

Kim: I am coming from the bathtub and heading for the reading light.

Nathan: Time was, I'd be driving from the Roost to the Drawing Room or some such. But I don't do that anymore. Now it's about the market and the video store.

If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?

Kim: That's not fair, I want to live in all of them. How can I pick between digging Love at the Sea Witch, bopping with the heads on Central Ave., watching the city rebuild itself after the 1890s land speculation crash, old Bunker Hill ala John Fante's stories, or the Valley of the Smokes desert nothingness represented in Sara Velas' Panorama?

Nathan: I'm with Kim on this one.

Would you have wanted to live in Los Angeles in 1947? Why or why not?

Kim: You bet. It was an edge city, remaking itself, gushing with new people, new money, new ideas in architecture, economics and lifestyle, just young enough to still feel like anything could happen, old enough to have weird pockets that not just anyone could find.

Nathan: Would I know then what I know now? I can only assume I'd be the same sort of malcontent in any age. In 1947 I'd be bitching about the housing shortage and freeway construction and I'd be heartbroken at losing Victorian buildings left and right.

What's your beach of choice?

Kim: The banks of the L.A. River between Frogtown and Los Feliz.

Nathan: I don't beach well. Call me an elitist, but I don't go to beaches that don't take keys to get onto. I don't go many places that don't allow dogs.

What is the "center" of LA to you?

Kim: Beverly and Vermont.

Nathan: Broadway and Seventh.

If you were forced to live in a neighboring county, which would you choose? Ventura County is a wussy answer.

Kim: Redlands has always fascinated me.

Nathan: I agree. San Berdoo, hands down.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?

Kim: If the Witches House weren't in Beverly Hills it would be perfect.

Nathan: Stimson House. I'm a sucker for neo-Gothic and Richardsonian Romanesque, and this incorporates both--besides, it's just so obnoxiously out-of-place in LA. Were I to go strictly LA, it would be a Kesling house. I'd wear 30s suits and stand around being streamlined all day.

Los Angeles is often stereotyped as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do find it challenging to make new friends here?

Kim: Not at all. I hate that stereotype. If you move to L.A. in hopes of becoming an industry big wig, and only socialize with people who share that ego-drenched and dull ambition, then yeah, I guess you would find it a little empty.

Nathan: The stereotype of abject fakery, eh? These people make up a small percentage of Angeleni. I find people a lot more "closed up" as you get outside LA proper.

What is the city's greatest secret?

Kim: How green it is. Visitors always remark on it.

Nathan: Parker Center! Our Joseph Young murals in general. There are a million secrets in this town. Right in front of you. Sometimes I wonder if people have eyes.

Drinking, driving. They mix poorly, and yet they're inexorably linked. How do you handle this conflict?

Kim: It's much more fun to drink (and vomit) at home.

Nathan: Very well, thank you.

Describe your best LA dining experience.

Kim: Wild boar at Mix, soup dumplings at Wok & Noodle in Alhambra, duck confit at the Grill at Miramar, flannel cakes at Musso's (and they're only $5!). the bean and spicy rice burrito at Super Tortas, pear tartin at Pecorino, dim sum at Sea Harbour in Rosemead, Mashti Malone's saffron-rosewater ice cream, and my Mama Tina's prune hamentaschen.

Nathan: In the mid-90s we'd go see HK action films at the Kwo Ha. Bunch of us were at a restaurant nearby (all wiped away now by the SGV Hilton) and I point to something on the menu, ask the waitress, what's this? And she simply intones "it comes from under the bridge." So it arrives and it's some sort of giant mutant slug. I eat it all, of course, to the horror of my tablemates. To this day, anything that others won't eat comes "from under the bridge."

Kim: True. I was at the table; he ate most of it.

What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?

Kim: Everyone should love their home.

Nathan: Stop moving here!

Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and long winters?

Kim: Not especially. Earthquakes are traumatic, but they do teach you that everything is air.

Nathan: I've been through each and, unfortunately, earthquakes are the most unpleasant. August in New Orleans, though, is worse than all three.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?

Kim: In a hammock in the canyons, on acid, watching the animals flee.

Nathan: At home. Because of my obsession with zombies, I'm pretty well prepared to ride out the big stuff.