The Memory of Belmont Art Park, Belmont Station, Los Angeles Housing and Open Space Advocates: You Got Wurped.

Posted on August 21, 2008 by


“Wurped” — a term the author coined from a mis-hearing of the word “worked”.

Author’s Rendition of statement: “Bill Wennington got wurped”

Actual statement: “Bill Wennington got worked.”

The etymology of the word stems from a shellacking the 1996-1997 Chicago Bulls took from the hometown Los Angeles Lakers team in the game of Professional Basketball. “Wurped” is merely a mispronunciation of the word “worked”, however by mere fact of the aforementioned shellacking, combined with the author’s inability to say anything in defense of the Chicago Bulls, “wurped” functions to intensify the sense of defeat, or loss (i.e. salt on the wound).

Four years ago there was a graffiti park called Belmont Art Park near downtown Los Angeles on 2nd Street and Glendale.

I first came across it during a Huell Howser special. The context was right in front of the downtown vista of buildings. It used to be the site of the transit station. I can’t believe I’d never seen this place. Huell spent the program interviewing some Latinos in the park playing some kind of ball game from Mexico or whatever, overviewing the art, speaking to some kind of tour group, and interviewing the artists.

I checked it out one day, then another day, and then another day (which is not documented). First day was when there were people playing that ball game I saw in Huell Howzer. Second day there were gates, but we pushed through anyway. Third day, there was no way of getting past the gates and we could only see the park from behind the gates.

A few conferences, article readings later, I came to learn gradually that there was some deep history and precedence to it if Huell didn’t already impart that into mind.

Many of the lot’s constantly replenished murals have been featured in magazines, photography books, art history textbooks and documentaries. Taggers come from all over – San Francisco, Chicago, New York, London – to paint there and document the murals. Art students from Japan make the pilgrimage to the lot where 2nd Street and Glendale Boulevard meet in the shadow of downtown to soak up the atmosphere.

Belmont Art Park applying for status as cultural landmark.

From the 1980s, up until last November, the site was a popular neighborhood gathering place, outdoor art gallery, ancient Mexican Indian ballgame court, and a profitable film shoot location. In early 2003, planning began for building a 276 unit apartment complex on this site, but the community was not alerted of these plans until August of 2004.

Part of the site used to be a Shell gas station in the 1940s. Underground Storage Tanks have been buried for all these years, but only recently leaked gasoline into the soil and groundwater, when they were removed, illegally, by the developers.

Interestingly enough, Belmont Art Park is the site where Edward Doheny discovered oil. The Doheny of the Doheny Foundation and Doheny St. in West Hollywood. I guess it’s only a fitting history to a fitting end…

The historic and cultural importance of the graffiti was not recognized by the city. Only the tunnel, the yard, and substation were declared historic and cultural, not the layers upon layers upon layers of sweat and paint. They decided to monumentalize a substation, a place which handles the utilities of the transit system. Utilities which have long ceased to be functional. It’s like worshipping your nearest non-working fire hydrant. They will celebrate the yard’s cultural history and heritage by making it a new pee reservoir/dog park.

Belmont Art Park was closing down was to develop 276 housing units, 20% of which would be allocated for affordable housing. Initially, before the LA Times was writing about this, somehow I was led to believe that the condos would be developed for low-income housing. Young, dumb, beating the drum. I knew at the time that we needed affordable housing, but I’m not sure why affordable housing advocates were fighting for this as if it was some kind of solution to homelessness.

The lot has been used for tarasca, an ancient Mexican ballgame, and as a canvas for elaborate graffiti murals that have gained international notoriety and been the backdrop to films and commercials.

But other community activists argued the development would help solve a long-standing need for affordable housing in the dense neighborhoods that surround downtown.”I am tired of seeing people on the street,” said Alvivon Hurd, a downtown resident and member of ACORN, a housing advocacy group.

“As much as I like the park, I can’t take that position.”

The planned complex calls for 55 affordable housing units, an after-school tutorial program and surplus parking.

Alas, the Los Angeles Downtown News now reporting on the new development called Belmont Station at Glendale and 2nd St.:

Almost one-third of the residents who pre-leased market-rate units at Belmont Station are USC students, but Essex expects the property to be popular among young professionals and families who work Downtown, Prayonsirisak said.

“I thought an obstacle was, we were out of Downtown, but a lot of people were okay with that because Downtown, it’s busy, it’s crazy, there’s so much stuff going on,” she said. “Whereas here, when you leave from work even though we’re just blocks away, it’s kind of like the suburbs of Downtown.”

Somehow, I don’t think those affordable housing advocates from 2004 envisioned USC students, who usually can afford a $30,000 education and live kinda far from their campus, young professionals to be the big beneficiaries of the “suburban” developments.

In fact, there’s class snobbery inherent in the discourse of the blogger trying to sell us on the new development.

Aside from its historic connections to the old Belmont Tunnel, the development is notable for its generous allotment of affordable housing – 55 of the 275 new residences have been set aside for low-income families.

I’m not quite seeing how “generous” things are when a family needs to make almost $60,000 a year just to live in the “affordable” studio with the lowest rents at $1600+. And only 20% of the units are priced at that “affordable” rate. Not quite seeing how the $4000 a month condos will do anything either to mitigate the nation’s largest homeless population.

Belmont Station being an aforementioned solution to homelessness? Homeless and “those” people are listed as one of the blogger’s reasons NOT to live there.

Equally intriguing is the way various people seem to perceive of the history that was there before them:

However, the structure may be sandblasted to remove decades of graffiti or painted to match its original color. Crews testing exterior paint chips found some with 150 to 200 layers of spray paint, a telling sign that the derelict station (and the site in general) was once a playground for graffiti artists and the homeless.

“We welcomed that with open arms, the history,” Kinney said. “Obviously, it was a challenge because when we first saw it, it was all graffitied. But watching it progress, we decided we were going to take this theme and run with it.”

The way they handled the issue of graffiti is as wasted fragments of past years, home to vandals and transients. It’s treated as an obstruction. It’s a history that doesn’t need to be known or need to exist, essentially, cause were creating a new whitewashed one covered in green.

In the eyes of some potential buyers and people who follow real estate development, it is a place that “didn’t exist” for 45 years.

I’m glad that this once forsaken neighborhood is coming back to life at such a rapid pace after more than a 45-year hiatus! The apartments look great!

Apparently, the neighborhood’s been “dead”, and is only “re-birthed” when his white flight-ass comes back to town.

In the end it’s not about the muralists, the taggers, the spray cans, the tarrasca. It’s not about Meta-Housing, the commentors, the new buyers. It’s about the memory of a space of nowhere that was co-opted into a place of somewhere, which got exposure everywhere — the essence of the roots of hip-hop. It’s a place you won’t find on a tourist map, but has just as much resonance. It’s about the meanings created, manipulated, the interconnectedness of the pieces and the people, the folk who breathed into life from an ambiguous dirt pond in the teeth of downtown Los Angeles.

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