I remember when we first moved here in 1980 I had a temp job in Beverly Hills and would commute there from East Hollywood down Santa Monica Blvd because I didn’t know any better. It was a pretty homely drive east of Vine St., dull, commercial, beat up, old hotels and ugly sixties apartments. But then there was this stretch where Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever Cemetery, beautifully and respectfully maintained) came right to the street, where tall, lithe palm trees, maybe two dozen of them, had been planted decades before in the lush green parkway that ran along the Boulevard. It was the loveliest sight, the lone and level ugliness of 1970’s Hollywood dispelled by these two city blocks of graceful, towering palm trees. They were magical. They were perfect. They were once what this town was. I loved those trees. I wish I could find a photograph of them. I couldn’t. No one remembers dead trees.
Then just like that, they were gone. It was a five day orgy of destruction. Hacked down, the stumps yanked out–I watched that, like pulling teeth–and bulldozers brought in and the lawn and top soil stripped away till only a hideous gash remained. One long graceful stretch of old Hollywood, trees that had shielded Valentino’s mourners and thrown stark shadows across Harry Cohn, trees now ripped out and tossed away. In their place was erected the ugliest strip mall I have ever seen, a sin against everything good. It remains, thriving. The workers in the shops make money, they’re good people. It’s likely none of them have a clue about what stood there before, the shade, the lush grass, the fronds waving in the hot autumn winds, shaken loose, dropping to the ground with a satisfying crunch, as unique as an L.A. sound as any. Back east the maples, alders, chestnuts and scattered elms drop leaves silently which flutter harmlessly to the ground. Palm trees shed theirs with a purpose, and you jump out of the way, just not on Santa Monica Boulevard between Gower and Van Ness.
I remember driving home Friday afternoon of that week and stopping at the light. The trees were completely gone by that point. The sun bore down unbroken by their shadows. The birds were silent, gone. The parkway was an obscene strip of bare earth. Behind the wall, in the cemetery, the dead lay unaware. Out here, on the street, I thought goddamn this town is rough. It saves nothing. It eats its history for breakfast. Perhaps it was an omen. The eighties were upon us, in all their meanness, poverty, cruelty and death.