John Fante’s Dreams from Bunker Hill
Early editions of this tour lamented John Fante’s obscurity. On April 8, 2010, the City of Los Angeles declared the corner of 5th & Grand, beside the Central Library, JOHN FANTE SQUARE. Today John Fante might be best described as the most famous unknown writer in America. Climb aboard to hear his story and that of the lost neighborhood where he found his voice.
Before Kerouac, before Bukowski, there was John Fante, author of “Ask the Dust,” “Dreams of Bunker Hill,” “Full of Life,” “The Road to Los Angeles” and “Wait Until Spring, Bandini.” This five-novel cycle, written over sixty years, introduced the world to Arturo Bandini, an outspoken, down-and-out Mr. Hyde to Fante’s Dr. Jekyll.
As Bunker Hill’s prodigal son, Fante-as-Bandini chronicles a forgotten Los Angeles neighborhood teeming with immigrants, criminals and dreamers like himself. With genuine compassion and wonderful craft, he sketches the hopes and dreams which fly round their heads, and in the process finds his own voice, a revelation which carries him all the way to Hollywood. Once there, he is distracted by fame and fortune, and settles for easy answers to the questions of faith in oneself, the nature of inspiration, and the duality of failure and redemption. “Dreams of Bunker Hill” was dictated by a blind Fante two years before his death, and “Road to Los Angeles” was published posthumously. Bunker Hill is gone now, flattened, its mansions torn down, long since redeveloped by corporate and civic interests. But in today’s downtown communities the same stories play out, in thriving micro-climates where artists and writers find their voices, where some are making it big and others breaking up on the reef, some moving away and others coming back in search of what they have lost. Arturo Bandini is alive and well, and his lament is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago. So please join us as we follow in his footsteps, to the Goodwill store, King Eddy’s, Clifton’s Cafeteria (“pay what you can”), the Los Angeles Library’s Reading Room and the Post Office Terminal Annex (important landmarks for Bukowski and Fante), aboard the newly-restored Angels Flight Railway, and other evocative scenes of old L.A.
This tour is a meditation not only on John Fante, but the preservation of Public Space. The depopulation of Bunker Hill in the early 1960s became the benchmark for Community Redevelopment across the country-the term “Federal Bulldozer” came out of the many lawsuits filed against the city at the time. And now that corporate interests have decided it is time to repopulate western downtown Los Angeles with market-rate housing the ensuing catastrophe has spawned many new monikers (elegant density is one of the more polite ones) and problems. Public Space downtown can be saved and Arturo Bandini can lead the way. Please Note: This tour will have several sections which involve walking through parts of Downtown for up to ten minutes at a time. Walking shoes and sunscreen are advised.