Friday, April 16, 2010

Unexpected Places? Union Station, Los Angeles

Matt Garcia’s A World of Its Own exposes readers to the largely “unknown” history of the land the Claremont Colleges occupy. It encouraged me to seek out the history of places I think I know well, such as Union Station in Los Angeles. I should probably note that much more could be said about the history of Los Angeles than what is included in this post, especially because I could not find a large amount of information on the web.

The last time I visited the station, I was surprised to read on a tiny plaque in Patsaouras Plaza a bit of the history of Union Station – not just 20th century history, but specifically the history of the Native American tribes who had once occupied the land in the 19th century.

The little information I found on the web was about the Tongva and Chumash people who occupied most of the now-Los Angeles area. The first Spanish settlers arrived in the area in 1781, and by 1841 had conquered the estimated 5,000 Tongva by building missions (for example, the Mission de San Gabriel in 1771) and destroying one village in particularly, the Yang-na village by the Los Angeles River. By 1841, the remaining Tongva survivors were scattered and living on Mexican land grants. The estimated 20,000 Chumash were attacked as well, and today only a few hundred of the tribes’ descendants remain today.

The cycle of injustice and conquest continues today. I should note the plaque I read did not include the following information – apparently, Union Station was built in 1915 on land once called Old Chinatown, where a significant Chinese population lived because they were strongly discouraged from living in other parts of the city. The residents were given a 45 day notice and ousted from their homes by the government in an (ironic) attempt to move the city’s center from the El Pueblo neighborhood it once occupied because the old area had become too racist and violent. According to the LA Conservancy,“…the city needed the station”.


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