Los Angeles: Ask the Dust/Access Control

What if the representation of Borromini’s chapel one is constantly shown in architectural education was not charcoal drawings from a Bismarck’s Grand Tour, but rather the specification book and field notes used to communicate the construction process, observations and calculations, work logs, and performance specs necessary to actually construct the dome?  In that vein, and drawing on Walter Benjamin’s exhortation that random objects from the past should be allowed to collide together randomly, a notion that smacks of Graham Harman’s object oriented ontology, we are interested to know what types of site readings and speculative interventions might be generated by splicing together different literary genres and conventions from particular moments in time (as opposed to image-centric and photoshop-reliant design speculations).  Which is not to say there is no room for the image.
[an image of borromini’s chapel, we’d love to see the field notes, contracts, and specifications for construction; image source]

To explore this a bit we’ve chosen Ask the Dust from 1939 by John Fante, a Los Angeles screenwriter and novelist (and progenitor of Bukowski and the other misfits of Sparrow Press) and spliced it with the chapter on Access Control from the 1970 Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering Street Design Manual, published a year before Reyner Banham’s Four Ecologies.


Los Angeles, give me some of you!  Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town.
When a fully controlled freeway or partially controlled highway is developed through a City, some existing intersecting streets must be cut off in order to prevent promiscuous access to these main arteries.  It is uneconomical to provide grade-separated crossings or to leave a large number of dead-end streets. 
[parking and power generator adjacent to One Wilshire on Wilshire Boulevard in downtown los angeles]

[LA river; at the base of the upper wall ruderal vegetation rules, on the sides of the trapezoid anti-graffiti dominates; the central channel is overflowed with spring snowmelt]

Then I went down the hill on Olive Street, past the horrible frame houses reeking with murder stories, and on down Olive to the Philharmonic Auditorium, and I remembered how I’d gone there with Helen to listen to the Don Cossack Choral Group, and how I got bored and we had a fight because of it, and I remembered what Helen wore that day- a white dress, and how it made me sing at the loins when I touched it.  And so I was down on Fifth and Olive, where the big street cars chewed your ears with their noise, and the smell of gasoline made the sight of the palm trees seem sad, and the black pavement still wet from the fog of the night before.
Full control of access gives preference to through traffic by providing access connections with selected public roads only, and by prohibiting crossings at grade or direct private driveway connections.  Partial control of access gives preference to through traffic to a degree that, in addition to access connections with selected public roads, there may be some crossings at grade and some private driveway connections.  Freeways are examples of fully controlled access highways.  By the very nature of city streets, provisions must be made for access to abutting property.  This means that the City’s main concern is with partial or limited access control of streets.
Main Street after the show, midnight:  neon tubes and a light fog, honky tonks and all night picture houses.  Secondhand stores and Filipino dance halls, cocktails 15 cents, continuous entertainment, but I had seen them all, so many times, spent so much Colorado money in them.  It left me lonely like a thirsty man holding a cup, and I walked toward the Mexican Quarter with a feeling of sickness without pain.  Here was the Church of Our Lady, very old, the adobe blackened with age.  For sentimental reasons I will go inside.  For sentimental reasons only. 
In addition to access control, a frontage road provides circulatory movements for local of subdivision traffic.  It provides continued access to the abutting residential, industrial, or commercial properties remaining.  It provides, for short distances, an alternate route parallel to the main highway or freeway.  Its chief function, however, is to keep local traffic isolated from the main highway except at predesignated access points.
[obligatory taco truck; utility provision, especially electricity, seems critical to the geography of taco truck ecology]

[the 101 at night, expansion joints in the concrete papered over with sealant]

[LA river, the bridges and power lines are obvious, the UFO in the top right is a little less conspicuous]

I tossed my shoulders and swaggered away, whistling with pleasure.  In the gutter I saw a long cigarette butt.  I picked it up without shame, lit it as I stood with one foot in the gutter, puffed it and exhaled toward the stars.  I was an American, and goddamn proud of it.  This great city, these mighty pavements and proud buildings, they were the voice of my America.  From sand and cactus we Americans had carved an empire.  Camilla’s people had had their chance.  They had failed.  We Americans had turned the trick.  Thank God for my country.  Thank God I had been born an American!
The alignment and grade determination of the frontage roads are treated in the same manner as those of most other city streets.  Design problems encountered will be covered elsewhere in this Part of the Manual.
I went up to my room, up the dusty stairs of Bunker Hill, past the soot-covered frame buildings along that dark street, sand and oil and grease choking the futile palm trees standing like dying prisoners, chained to a little plot of ground with black pavement hiding their feet.  Dust and old buildings and old people sitting at the windows, old people tottering out of doors, old people moving painfully along the dark street.  The old folk from Indiana and Iowa and Illinois, from Boston and Kansas City and Des Moines, they sold their homes and their stores, and they came here by train and by automobile to the land of sunshine, to die in the sun, with just enough money to live until the sun killed them, tore themselves out by the roots in their last days, deserted the smug prosperity of Kansas City and Chicago and Peoria to find a place in the sun.  And when they got here they found that other and greater thieves had already taken possession, that even the sun belonged to the others; Smith and Jones and Parker, druggist, banker, baker, dust of Chicago and Cincinnati and Cleveland on their shoes, doomed to die in the sun, a few dollars in the bank, enough to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times, enough to keep alive the illusion that this was paradise, that their little papier-mache homes were castles.  The uprooted ones, the empty sad folks, the old and the young folks, the folks from back home.  These were my countrymen, these were the new Californians.  With their bright polo shirts and sunglasses, they were in paradise, they belonged.
There are several advantages in cutting off access to a street.  Normally a street, no matter how unimportant, is used by some traffic not destined for or originating in that particular block.  Such traffic is eliminated entirely on a dead-end street, increasing the street value for residential purposes because of decreased noise and odor and increased safety.

After a while, after big doses of the Times and the Examiner, you too will whoop it up for the sunny south.  You’ll eat hamburgers year after year and live in dusty, vermin-infested apartments and hotels, but every morning you’ll see the mighty sun, the eternal blue of the sky, and the streets will be full of sleek women you never will possess, and the hot semi-tropical nights will reek of romance you’ll never have, but you’ll still be in paradise, boys, in the land of sunshine.
Areas zoned for industry, commerce, and multiple residences are usually subject to heavy vehicular use.  Where this type of property abuts a major or a secondary highway, the heavy flow of traffic generated in this area can sometimes create a complex traffic problem.  Not only is vehicular access to the property impeded, but through vehicle movement along the major and secondary highways is seriously restricted.
[secure subterranean parking at one wilshire]

The restless dust of Los Angeles fevered him.  He was a greater wanderer than myself, and all day long he sought out perverse loves in the parks.  But he was so ugly he never found his desire, and the warm nights with low stars and yellow moon tortured him away from his room until the dawn arrived.  But one night he talked to me, left me nauseated and unhappy as he reveled in memories of Memphis, Tennessee, where the real people came from, where there were friends and friends.  Some day he would leave this hated city, some day he would go back where friendship meant something, and sure enough, he went away and I got a postcard signed “Memphis Kid” from Fort Worth, Texas.
A solution, or at least a partial solution, sometimes lies in providing some means of access control.  In this regard, in addition to its other uses, an alley, where properly located, may serve as a means of access control.  The access control is generally accomplished by denying ingress to and egress from the major or secondary highway to the abutting property.  The alley is located at the rear of the property and provides vehicular access to the intersecting local streets.  Off-street parking, residential driveways, delivery service, and garbage trucks are handled in this manner.  This type of access control eliminates points of conflict where vehicles enter into a heavily congested street other than at an intersection.  It also leaves lanes that would otherwise be used for parking, loading, etc., open for through traffic.
[let me be clear faslanyc- you don’t know LA.  Which is totally fine, of course.
-John Fante]

3 thoughts on “Los Angeles: Ask the Dust/Access Control

  1. Access control systems are designed to keep large sites and buildings, with several people accessing, secure. Access control is simply the ability to have control over the access of something, like locking your car or logging into your computer.

  2. indeed. and it is something that is specifically designed for, whether through physical or operational interventions, it doesn't randomly occur and it is actually a huge consideration in design public infrastructures (like roads, or the flood control structures). Bandini, of course, might have a different take on how it is designed than a typical designer or engineer.

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