Advertisement

King Arrest Site Becomes Odd Landmark : Lake View Terrace: Locals are constantly reminded about the infamous lot. It stirs a kaleidoscope of emotions, including some resentment and even humor.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At the Hansen Village apartments, old ladies calling for taxicabs have learned a little trick to help drivers find the way:

“They hang on the phone and say: ‘Why, it’s right next door to the dirt lot where that young man, Rodney King, got beat up by those officers,” said Kevin Agee, a night clerk at the complex. “I don’t know if the cabbies need the help. They probably know that fact all by themselves.”

Inside The Corral bar, a country-Western hangout that features an open mike Tuesday nights, regulars joke that with all the uproar over what happened at the vacant lot next door, folks might just as well rename the blasted street outside Rodney King Boulevard.

To be sure, it has become a perverse landmark of sorts, the pockmarked triangular lot in Lake View Terrace where motorist Rodney G. King was battered by Los Angeles police two years ago, eventually setting off the nation’s ugliest riots in more than a century.

Advertisement

As the March 3 anniversary of the assault draws near--and as jury selection continues in the federal civil rights trial against four Los Angeles Police Department officers who beat King--the place still looks much the same, a god-awful outpost of gravel and grit at Osborne Street and Foothill Boulevard, in the cool shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains.

There are no handmade memorials at the site, no flowers or poems left in the dirt where King, an Altadena man who had led officers on a high-speed chase, was pummeled repeatedly by police batons and stung with a Taser gun.

Even the occasional passersby--families from Kentucky and Arizona who once turned off their car engines to pace the beating ground in silence--have long since moved on.

Today, locals say, the lot is scene to drug deals, fistfights, prostitute come-ons and the vocal wrath of homeless people who camp at the nearby Hansen Dam Recreation Area and stand by the roadside to shout at passing cars.

Advertisement

Two years after resident George Holliday inadvertently immortalized the lot by capturing the violent arrest on videotape--footage that was played and replayed from Australia to Austria--the world has forgotten about this forlorn corner of the northeastern San Fernando Valley.

But not the locals.

For many residents and even LAPD officers working their beats, the King site is a bleak reminder of the past and a portent of the future--a place that stirs a kaleidoscope of emotions, including no small amount of resentment and even some humor.

“It really helps the late-night pizza delivery,” said one resident of the nearby Mountainback Apartments. “All the guys know the place right off. So your pizza gets here quicker.”

Advertisement

Others are more circumspect.

“I don’t care if it is just a vacant lot, it’s still an ugly place to me,” said Emma Smith, 71, a resident of the Mountainback Apartments. “It was just a bad chapter in this city’s history, a lesson in brute police force and I’ll never forget it. How could I? I have to drive by the scene of the crime every day of my life.”

Some residents drive by the site and feel their stomachs growl--not from any sickening memory of the beating but in gastronomic homage to the Baby Beef burger and Tasty Freeze ice cream stands that stood there years ago.

Like many locals, Sueretta Saxton is tired of being reminded of the King beating by the hordes of reporters, cameramen, rabble-rousers, FBI agents and other hangers-on who crawl about the lot like excited cockroaches after the light’s been turned on. Asking questions. Shining television lights in people’s eyes. Stirring up trouble.

Advertisement

“Just leave it be,” many locals say. “Let us get on with our lives. Stay away.”

Last March, Saxton and her two teen-age boys moved into the apartment from which the beating was taped. At first, she walked onto the same front porch from where Holliday pointed his video camera and gazed across Foothill Boulevard at the lot.

But soon the curiosity wore off, like the questions from friends and family.

“Back in October I was watching television and on came this live report from the King beating spot and I looked out my window and, sure enough, there was the cameraman. And I thought: ‘How long is this going to go on?’ ”

Advertisement

For resident Rod Dotson, the King site remains a mere vacant lot and nothing more.

“For most black people that particular spot has no significance whatsoever because a lot of blacks I know have been manhandled by police the same way Rodney King was,” said the 35-year-old auto mechanic. “The only difference was that this one was captured on videotape.

“But I could take you to a thousand other spots where black people have had their face smashed into the concrete. If you are black in this city and you are not 100% cooperative with the police, you are in serious trouble, no matter what you have done. This King thing was no different, man. It’s like trying to find a significant spot on a battlefield. Take your pick.”

For many, the place suggests an anxiety that the violence could return if race relations in Los Angeles do not improve. Too many residents lie awake at night and hear gunshots coming from the Hanson Dam Recreation Area.

Advertisement

They recall the first day of the riots when a crowd gathered at the King arrest site and an apartment maintenance man had several teeth knocked out solely because he was white.

“I’m afraid,” said Jason King, 22, who recently purchased a gun for protection. “It’s sad the way this thing has affected a whole nation, made people afraid of one another. I have a black friend who has offered to take me into South-Central Los Angeles, to put me in the element of a black community and calm my fears. And I might just take him up on it.”

Black residents of the apartment complex near where King was beaten say they are afraid as well: “I’m just waiting for the war to begin,” said one man. “The boys are ready. After the next verdict, I’m gonna be sitting out at that King beating site with a tank.”

Jason King said: “The fear runs deep, black, white, whatever. I was at a shooting range in the Valley the other day and I met this woman violinist who said she had just bought a gun to protect herself. She was this frail little thing and she said she was sure everyone on the street was armed now because she was always sure she’d be the last person to buy a gun.”

Advertisement

Los Angeles police officers say the site does not stir memories of violence. If anything, said one, he thinks of the sweeping changes that have resulted in the department.

“If I were to give the chief of police or some judge a tour of the Foothill station patrol area, sure, I might take them by the site of the King arrest,” said Capt. Tim McBride, Foothill Division commander. “But I’d also take them by the local boys club where good things are happening in the community. The King site has significance. But so do a lot of other places.”

At The Corral, a saloon where initial scenes for the movie “Terminator II” where filmed, regulars say the beating is rarely a topic of conversation.

Instead, they talk about the scene in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscle-bound robot character beats up a pool-playing customer who will not give up his motorcycle.

Advertisement

“We sat around talking one day,” said one man, drinking coffee at the bar, “wondering who got the bigger ass-whipping--Rodney King or that character in the ‘Terminator’ film. Other than that, we got better things to discuss around here.”

Don McNatt, a Hollywood guitarist who had dropped by the bar, said many fellow Westside musicians--black and white--refuse to play in the area, saying the place has bad vibes.

“Many say it’s too close to the Foothill station. They’re afraid they’re going to run into some bad-ass cops. I told one guy he’d be safe as long as he wasn’t doing anything. And he said: ‘That’s the point. In that neck of the woods, you don’t need to be doing anything.’ ”

As she shot pool with her husband, Corral customer Barbara Strand said that--for good or bad--the lonesome roadside spot where Rodney King took his beating will always be remembered.

Advertisement

“That place where King got whipped, it’s a tour stop now,” she said, lining up a corner-pocket shot. “I know that I take all my out-of-town relatives by the spot. And now, when I tell people I’m from Lake View Terrace, they know right where I’m talking about. And you couldn’t say that before this all happened.

“So, as far as I’m concerned, anything that puts us on the map like that is good.”


Advertisement