Thirty-Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1967)
All B&W photographs below are by Ed Ruscha.
Ed Ruscha’s “Thirty-Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles” was published 51 years ago.
The artist, born in Nebraska in 1937, came to this city in 1956 to study at the Chouinard Art Institute. He also had an apprenticeship in typesetting.
Graduating in 1960, only 23 years old, he started working at an advertising agency doing graphic design. Influenced by the works of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Ruscha was featured in a 1962 survey called “New Painting of Common Objects.”
That year he published “Twentysix gasoline stations” and later “Every Building on the Sunset Strip.” (1966)
He was the first, or perhaps the most notable artist, to create a deadpan, earnest, unesthetic photography of built Los Angeles. He looked, without pretense, at the sprawling, cheap, roadside city of billboards, car washes, instant apartments and filling stations and wrapped up his black and white photographs into little, smart, best-sellers.
Ruscha was talented and knew how to sell things, always a winning combination in the city of angles. (intentional)
The 1960s was a dirty flood of bitter reckoning that hit America and threw cold water on its made-up, powdered face.
Assassinations, sexual relations, racial issues, drugs, protests, music, environmental desecration, Vietnam: the entire decade blew up a contented self-image.
A nation, which thought itself a beacon of light onto the world, was forced to reconsider its own grotesque violence and misunderstand it.
Confronting Los Angeles, Ruscha presented a homely city with a picture book full of raw honesty.
Inside “Thirty Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles” are some aerial shots of ordinary Van Nuys, North Hollywood and LA in 1967, with those enormous oceans of parking lots floating boat-like buildings.
Up in an airplane, looking down, Ruscha captured lines and boxes transposed upon the land, asphalt which looked, on its surface, much like the curtain-walled office buildings of that era.
Good Year Tires at 6610 Laurel Canyon in North Hollywood occupies only a dot atop a long “I” shaped land-mass of parking.
Dodger Stadium is buried deep within the hot skins of asphalt, a vaginal shaped structure where men played ball.
And 7101 Sepulveda, a now abandoned office tower near Sherman Way, has trailers and motels on its perimeter, as well as plenty of free parking. Today, this area often hosts large encampments of homeless people, so the peripatetic ways of Van Nuys have historical precedent it seems.
14425 Sherman Way was called the “Eileen Feather Salon” and has but one long building fronting Sherman Way with parking in back.
Today, that corner is a cacophony of grossness and visual pollution including donuts and Denny’s. Signs are everywhere. And the weary eye becomes nostalgic for the simple joy of a lone building and its parking lot set down on arid land in the once less populated San Fernando Valley.
We are now engaged in a great civic debate about housing, and public transportation, and some voices hope (mine included) that denser buildings along bus and train lines will help alleviate high rents and homelessness.
Yet we never quite escape the trap set by the automobile: where to drive it, where to park it, how to best accommodate its needs.
Every single debate about new buildings always begins and ends with parking. Tens of thousands sleep on the street, families cannot afford rents or mortgages, developers are hamstrung providing parking for everyone and their guests, and Los Angeles dies a little each day from auto related illnesses.
Every time we think we are biking or busing more, something sinister comes onto the scene, and we now have 100,000 Ubers and Lyfts clogging the roads, and making our lives more hellish even as we praise their conveniences.
We plan a light rail down Van Nuys Boulevard and the auto dealers like Keyes stop it at Oxnard. They still run things. They destroy the city, and they are congratulated and worshipped for it. Thousands of their new cars are stored at outdoor transit adjacent parking lots built by Metro with taxpayer funds. Ironic.
Every time we imagine we are free of the car, we are forced back into it to chauffeur little white kids to school in better neighborhoods, to commute to $10 an hour jobs, to spend three hours every day in our vehicle so we might live in a house that consumes 50% of our income. Madness.
Ed Ruscha’s simple aerial photographs of parking lots are still a fact-based statement of what this city is. And how we are all swallowed into it.