True Urban Center a Quiet Monument to an Inquisitive Life
Los Angeles, it is alleged, lacks a center. This is a lie. The city’s center, elusive though it may be, can be found at longitude 118 23' 56" west, latitude 34 07' 31" north.
It is a beautiful and tranquil place.
I was hoping Allan Edwards would take me there someday. As it turned out, 82-year-old Lotte Melhorn proved an excellent guide.
We drove to the corner of Mulholland and Coldwater Canyon drives, then down a road into Franklin Canyon and 300 acres of parkland so obscure that most Angelenos are not aware of its existence. It is a place where mule deer, coyotes and raccoons may drink from natural springs and ponds. A park ranger joined Lotte and me for the hike up a particular trail. We came to an overhanging branch of a walnut tree adorned with a little sign pointing to the left.
Not far from the tree’s trunk is a little homemade marker affixed to what appears to be a large boulder that barely breaks the earth’s surface. “Point of Balance of the Plane of the City of Los Angeles,” it declares, noting the navigational coordinates and the elevation, 920 feet.
Also stamped into the metal is the date the marker was placed, “12-30-90,” and the name of the man who placed it.
“He was just a kid,” Lotte Melhorn said.
Allan Edmund Edwards lived to be 70 years old, and he was younger than most people half his age. He was still just a kid and something of a kidder too.
He was 6 feet, 3 inches tall and had the flinty look of a man most at home in the outdoors. By all appearances he was in robust health until one evening last month when he abruptly complained to his wife, Beth, of an intense pain behind his left eye. Beth was alarmed; she’d seen her husband break a bone and not say ouch. “You can’t hurt steel,” he’d tell her.
Allan lay down, and Beth brought him an ice pack. When his speech became slurred, she called the hospital and then 911. It was a massive stroke that killed him nine days later.
Allan Edwards never made headlines. All he did, it seems, was pretty much live life on his own terms--with curiosity, enthusiasm, generosity and a taste for gentle mischief. Along the way he quietly made the city he so obviously loved a richer place.
The loss is felt profoundly among his friends and fellow volunteers at the William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom in Franklin Canyon, where he led monthly educational hikes; at the San Fernando Valley’s Japanese Garden, where he was leader of the docents; and at the Valley College Historical Museum Society, where he was known for his whimsical talks and self-published pamphlets detailing the largely overlooked history of the Valley.
“Everything interested him,” his widow said. “Some people walk down the street and see nothing. He saw everything.”
Allan was a Korean War veteran who went to UCLA on the GI Bill and later practiced research psychology at the UCLA Wadsworth Medical Center.
He could spin a yarn. One of his favorite tales argued that “the single most important event to ever occur in Los Angeles” was the obscure 1845 Battle of Cahuenga, which pitted rebel californios against forces representing the authority of Mexico City.
He told me this story at a Ventura Boulevard coffee shop, reminding me that in 1845 this was a wagon trail known as El Camino Real. He would point to a Hughes Market and explain that the californios had their cannon positioned there. The total casualties in this half-hearted skirmish that ended in a draw amounted to one dead horse. But Allan could have you halfway believing that, by a simple twist of fate, the californios might have been defeated, and the United States--therefore viewing Mexico as an imposing opponent--might have balked at moving on California in the ensuing years.
But Allan wasn’t kidding about the center of Los Angeles. He started to wonder where it was and embarked on a creative and theoretically valid approach to the problem.
First, he placed a large map of the metropolis on a piece of lightweight foam core board about the size of a double bed. Next he cut around L.A.'s oddly shaped perimeter, from San Pedro to Sylmar, and then carved holes to eliminate the “island” cities of Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and San Fernando, as well as unincorporated areas.
And then he balanced the City of Angels on the head of a pin.
A handsome wooden deck reaches out from the Edwards home in the hills of Sherman Oaks. Allan Edwards built it when he was 66, after the Northridge earthquake damaged a smaller deck that had been there.
“Oh, he can do anything,” Beth Edwards said. “He could do anything. . . . It’s hard talking about him in past tense.”
For 31 years they were husband and wife--and, at times, co-conspirators.
The quirky little plaque that roughly marks the center of L.A. was, Beth explained, something of a guerrilla operation. The problem with asking permission is that somebody might say no. So Allan just fashioned his marker from scrap metal, and he and Beth carried it in with shovel and concrete mix. They found the nice spot under the walnut tree, dug a hole and mixed enough concrete to make sure the marker wouldn’t be easily removed.
Now memories leaven Beth Edwards’ grief. Her eyes glisten as she laughs and remembers how sometimes they would hike to the marker and find flowers and other offerings left by visitors.
Wouldn’t it be a hoot, Allan would say, if some cult decided that this was a holy place? Wouldn’t that just drive the park rangers nuts?
‘Everything interested him. Some people walk down the street and see nothing. He saw everything.’