Southern California has for years been saddled with the reputation as being a place that prizes trendiness over tradition. Indifferent to the values of the past, we are seen as having a now-oriented sensibility that drives us to, proverbially speaking, burn our historical furniture to provide a photo op for an Architectural Digest spread on Cozy Living Rooms.
We have watched as over the years acres of rich topsoil have been covered with row upon row of strip malls and industrial parks, as old movie palaces have shuttered and collapsed under the force of the wrecking ball to make way for more 10-story office buildings.
Clearly, to depict all Southern Californians as pop-culture, convenience-driven fiends who need to sacrifice the old on the alter of the au courant , is a gross overgeneralization. After all, California sets the standard nationally for nature preservation, and our artists, architects and urban planners have embraced the notion of adaptive reuse not just out of necessity but as an art form.
Still, generalizations often contain enough truth to make us uncomfortable, and to sort of keep us honest.
They also make us all the more aware of the cultural traditions and institutions that we manage to hang on to, like La Estrella Dance Club, founded in 1913 and still going strong.
To free-lance writer Ann Shields, who wrote this week's Centerpiece story on the 82-year-old club, La Estrella is a charming anachronism that was a trip backward through time to visit both a Ventura County long past and Shield's own youth.
"Going to a La Estrella dance did dredge up memories of my high school prom, which was held at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, several cuts above the old high school gymnasium," she said. "My date borrowed my father's car and when we rolled in at 7 a.m., which was expected of the senior class, my dad was asleep on the couch, waiting for either his car or his daughter to come to an untimely end."
Most of those driving to La Estrella have had about 40 or 50 years of experience behind the wheel, so it's doubtful that anyone would be waiting up. Shields found some other important differences as well.
"Unlike my high school prom, no one overindulged in alcohol and the punch table never drew a big crowd. The La Estrella crowd did go home earlier," Shields said.
So what's the draw?
"Dance clubs like La Estrella will endure as long as there are people out there who would rather get dressed up, go out and be part of the action.
"For others, it's time to hit the old remote button, put the feet up and watch those Lawrence Welk reruns. Popcorn anyone?"