Sunday, November 06, 2011

L.A. Olympics

Tim and I aren’t architects nor are we architectural scholars.  We are, however, members of the Southern California chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH-SCC), which celebrates the fabulous architecture of L.A. and its surrounding environs.   Unlike, say, the L.A. Conservancy, SAH-SCC is not an advocacy group.  But its tours and other educational events do a terrific job of bringing together two of our favorite things: architecture and the history of Los Angeles.

Yesterday the Society sponsored a lecture on the continuing impact of the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, both of which, of course, were held here in Los Angeles. The program was presented at LA84, a local foundation created with profits from the 1984 games.  The speaker was Wayne Wilson, an Olympics expert and director of the LA84 sports library.

Regretfully, Tim and I didn't go to the 1984 Olympics—we were both living in San Diego at the time—but we avidly watched the games and collected and read everything we could about the various events.  So even though we weren’t there, we do know a lot about the 1984 games.

The 1932 games, on the other hand, are a relatively recent fascination, especially since the Olympic Village—the first housing ever built for the athletes—was located in the Baldwin Hills, not far from our home.  The male athletes had rooms in the Village, while the women stayed at the Chapman Park Hotel near downtown L.A.  The 1932 Olympics also marked the first time the staggered dais was used to honor the medal winners—a tradition that lives on till today.

Map of the 1932 venues

Although very few new venues were built for either the 1932 or 1984 games, daily reminders of the Olympics still very much remain.  Tenth Street, for instance, was renamed Olympic Blvd. in honor of the tenth Olympiad held in 1932.   Then, in 1984, all the streets downtown were changed from two- to one-way to help facilitate traffic to and from the games.  Most interesting, though, was learning that approximately 20,000 palm trees were planted in Los Angeles in the late 1920s/early 1930s to make the city more attractive to Olympic games visitors.  Like Olympic Blvd. and downtown's one-way streets, the palm trees are here to stay.

Because the Great Depression was in full force by 1932, city leaders feared that few people would trek to Los Angeles for the summer games.  So a media blitz was launched nationwide, emphasizing the more romantic aspects of L.A.’s history.  One brochure even claimed that a group of Franciscan monks had, in their early travels, blessed the area as “Holywood”—an inspiring explanation for how Hollywood got its name, but complete fiction!  Hollywood royalty, like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, did do a lot to promote the Olympics, however, entertaining the athletes in their home and participating in public events.

Another map of the 1932 vanues

Finally, as a librarian, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention LA84’s phenomenal sports library.  Containing some 40,000 sports-related items, the library is open weekdays and by appointment.  Their digital archive of over 100,000 PDF files is also available online for free.  Happy reading!

From our own library at home

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