a historical excavation by writer, performer, and artist Stacie Chaiken
For twelve years, I’ve lived on the fifth floor of the hundred year-old Higgins Building, on Second and Main. As time has passed, our corner of Downtown has changed: Saint Vibiana, once abandoned and tower-less, is now Redbird and Vibiana!
I look out the window at parking lots below; the few battered structures are the last vestige of what was once a flourishing Main Street. That block behind us is now the largest - as in, the most expensive - contiguous undeveloped area in Downtown LA.
I wonder, What history is held in that one square block? Who walked those street before us?
Franciscan missionaries named our City Nuestra Senora de los Angeles de la Porciuncula (Our Lady of the Angels, of the Small Portion).
I am engaged in an excavation of this small portion; I am summoning forth her ghosts:
Third-century Saint Viviana, patroness of the now-desecrated cathedral, 214 South Main.
Nineteenth-century former slave, and midwife, Biddy Mason, 331 South Spring. Philanthropist: “If you hold your hand closed,” she told her granddaughter, “nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives.”
Japanese-American band leader Linda Lea, had her own theatre, 251 South Main (now the Downtown Independent).
Howie Steindler, murdered (cold case 1977) ran the raunchy Main Street Gym (1933 to 1984) at 321 South Main, where Dempsey, Marciano, Frazier trained. Jeanne La Mar; Joan Crawford sparring in heels. Howie’s daughter Carol Steindler (trainer/corner woman) took over when he died. She’s still around.
New Jalisco Bar, 245 South Main. Formerly down-low; currently out, and Latino drag haven.
Indian Alley, 118 Winston. Sister Sylvia Creswell's post-WWII Soul Patrol for returning GIs; Baba Cooper’s 1970s United American Indian Involvement.