The Sunset Strip

The Sunset Strip, of Los Angeles but not in it, is a grimly prophetic area. Social, political, and demographic factors explosively combined, have established there a persistent pattern of conflict and hostility which conveys the sinister atmosphere of life in California today with remarkable economy. The atmosphere of the Strip is spreading fast, and is toxic. The reagents which generate it are not peculiar to the area—just, at present, more concentrated there. The same peculiar odor now hangs over the University of California where, optimists say, atmospheric conditions are still probably sub-lethal except to those in especially exposed positions.

Sunset Boulevard is wide, heavily traveled, and about twenty miles long. It runs from downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean north of Santa Monica, though there are shorter and easier ways to get there. The portion known as the Strip is about a third of the way out from town, and owes its existence to a geographical anomaly.

Where the Strip developed, Sunset Boulevard runs through an area about two miles wide which, with Beverly Hills adjoining it on the west, is entirely surrounded by Los Angeles but excluded from it. Beverly Hills is a separate municipality, but the area in which most of the Strip is located is known as West Hollywood and is not incorporated at all. Lawful authority in West Hollywood is administered by Los Angeles County and represented by deputy sheriffs. Freedom from municipal control permitted the Strip to develop into an area of illicit amusement, violent and vulgar but conventional. But during the past decade its character has changed. It ceased to be violent, while vulgarity has become so characteristic of Los Angeles as to require no special enclave in which to flourish. The night clubs and dance hails became somewhat more sedate, and the Strip began to blend into Los Angeles on the east. Smart, or nearly smart, specialty shops opened; and reputable, if rather garish, apartment buildings and hotels were built. Los Angeles’s expensive Restaurant Row developed along the western part of the Strip, near Beverly Hills, and along La Cienega Boulevard where it intersects Sunset.

But business along the now respectable Strip has not been flourishing. Its near suburban facade developed spots of urban decay. There were even vacancies, and businessmen began to worry. Nothing was happening to relieve the Strip’s mediocrity: Hollywood had lost much of its allure; Westwood, a few miles further west, was far more elegant; this part of Sunset wasn’t even tawdry enough to be exciting. The plight of the Strip is epitomized in two electric signs that still dominate its east end. One urges fun-seekers on to Las Vegas; the other shows two elderly satisfied customers—it is not clear whether they are shades or survivors—smiling with satisfaction at the services they have received from Forest Lawn. In any case, the signs suggest, there could be little reason to remain on the Strip.

AT THIS JUNCTURE, and about two years ago, some of the tavern operators came…

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