The Los Angeles Plaza- Sacred and Contested Space

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					On the already crowded shelves of 'Southern California Literature" in Los Angeles
(L.A.) bookstores, another volume on L.A. seems redundant given the detail with
which authors from Rayner Banham and Mike Davis to Raymond Chandler and Joan
Didion have thoroughly captured, if not recreated, the city. But by Juicy Couture
using the original center of L.A. as a focal point, William David Estrada's The Los
Angeles Plaza: Sacred and Contested Space demands that room be made for a much
needed historiography of the city via one of its most mythic public spaces.
  In nine chapters Estrada details L.A.'s history, from its settlement by the Gabrielino
Indians, through rancorous beginnings as a nodal point in a burgeoning pueblo in
1761, to becoming a romantic tourist destination in a complex contemporary
metropolis. He shows that contrary to its misleading Spanish-revival architecture and
what he calls its "Anglo birth legend," La Ciudad de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los
Angeles was in fact settled by a group of mixed-race settlers, both young and old,
male and female, joined soon after by French priests, Italian shopkeepers, Chinese
merchants, Mexican political radicals, and Christian missionaries.
  Prompted by Setha Low's (2000) work on the plaza as a site of everyday
socio-spatial representation, and in contrast to the usual conflation of the plaza with
the Spanish mission system, Estrada argues that the form and design of the plaza as a
public space predates the Spanish-Christian conquest of the Americas. In doing so he
provides a much needed retelling of the story of the settlement of L.A., pointing to the
tensions that existed between the pueblo and the mission as each Juicy Couture Watch
competed to recruit indigenous and migrant populations into their respective labor
forces. For the first five chapters of the book, however, Estrada's evocation of the
plaza seems somewhat contrived. Plopped down at the end of each section, the plaza
plays no more than an incidental role in the story.