L.A. Needs New, Vital Landmark : It’s time the city had an international symbol, like the rejected West Coast Gateway, to represent and foster unity, celebration, peace and fulfillment.

<i> John Crandell of Shadow Hills is a landscape architect and vice president of the L.A. Millennium Project</i>

Looking back over the calamities of the past decade and the exhilarating and unforgettable Olympic Games, one perceives not only an acute sense of travail over things lost, but also a sense of anomie that continues to paralyze the regional psyche.

Los Angeles’ move onto the international stage in 1984 was something of an apotheosis, and our fall from grace is without precedent in American history.

The City Council underscored this circumstance during the week previous to last Jan. 17 by officially terminating the 1988 proposal for a symbolic West Coast Gateway (also known as the “Steel Cloud”) to hover above the Hollywood Freeway near City Hall. That decision was well and good. Rather than a western equivalent of Lady Liberty, the Cloud would probably have become a southern echo of the Golden Gate Bridge, an industrial magnet for people intent on leaping to suicide at the center of the car capital of the world.


Yet Los Angeles needs an international symbol. Now, having passed the low point, after nearly half a decade of dissolution, the metropolitan region ought to resolve that it has sufficient wealth, energy and talent to conceive and build something to bring us together. Is it possible that, in this age of distraction, Mayor Richard Riordan might venture a wee bit of his political capital and gather a representative group of individuals and charge them with formulating an appropriate symbol and event?

Surely it is time for this city to seriously consider whether its array of cultures, its social barriers and the internecine results merit the appointment of one place on the map to be established and be held by each and every one as neutral and sacred terrain--a place to mourn at or to celebrate, to hear a great oration, to learn, receive an important visitor or join one another in creative dialogue.


Could we not all give up something and enter into the excitement of an effort larger than any single segment of our general community? Can we not join in an effort signifying faith in ourselves and our city at the approach of a new millennium? To those who eternally ask why, we ought to reply, “Why not?”

There is one location where such an effort can and ought to take place. It is located in the historic center of the city, along Hope Street leading from the resplendently restored Central Library. What follows is the essence of a proposal by the nonprofit L. A. Millennium Project, a small independent group. A competition that we had planned to provide us with detailed plans was derailed by the riots of 1992. It is time to restart the project.

We could build a tall civic monument aligned on Hope Street with the Central Library, but we could build more than that, to create 24-hour life in these underused city blocks. There could be an intimate urban square for daily cross-cultural programming, mid-rise housing, a convention-oriented hotel, a college extension facility for joint use by area universities, a trade mart for the computer and telecommunications industries--including a paperless, all-digital public library which could be sponsored and operated by the electronics industry--a future-oriented entertainment attraction of a type that might be designed by Disney’s “imagineers,” a grocery arcade inspired by Broadway’s Grand Central Market, shops, restaurants and sidewalk cafes. Add a couple of cinemas to top things off.

These are the sort of activities which the city ought to rely upon to spur economic activity and development of a thriving, urbane environment adjacent to the bright new Convention Center. This, as opposed to the officially adopted plan for a politically correct, suburban-style housing enclave for which there is little market.


Despite all that has been said and done in the past four decades of redevelopment, Downtown Los Angeles still lacks one particular element which many of us still have much hope for: an extraordinary gesture which elicits a clear and lucid response from the entire social spectrum of Los Angeles--one place which would clearly resonate with a sense of human affinity and overriding joy--a high and brilliant new azimuth, appearing to all as something eternal--as our own dream of peace and fulfillment.