Escape from Wilshire Village
David J Webb
A photographic series - 2009 / 2010
Wilshire Oak in the Fog
"Well, Mr. Webb. Are you interested in renting here?" It was March of 1984, and I was looking for a new apartment. The old fellow facing me was quite elegant, a Southern gentleman who presented himself in a dusty tweed jacket with stylish oval patches on the elbows. He peered at me through pale green eyes still lively and energetic. His hat rakishly perched atop his white hair was clearly vintage 1940’s, the brim shielding his tired eyes from the bright light from the windows needing a good cleaning. I looked past him into the courtyard at the circle of grand old oaks. The brick walls enclosed the courtyard on three sides in a cool white embrace. I imagined my children playing hide and seek under the leafy canopy, "Ready or not, here I come!"
The price was right at $282 a month, but the complex was a coming apart at the seams from neglect. Clearly maintenance was not a priority here, and the management was aged, if picturesque, and almost certainly ineffective. It might be nearly impossible to get anything repaired if there were a breakdown of the window unit air conditioners or dangerous gas space heaters. But there were two large bedrooms, and when the kids came to visit there would be ample room for them to have a semblance of the family life that had been so recently withdrawn from me. It was so peaceful here, perhaps the serenity would put at bay the virus inside they said would kill me. Here I might have more time than the two years they predicted.
I formulated how I would say, "No, not right now. Can I get back to you later?" But I knew that if I didn’t take it now, it would be gone while I looked for a smaller but more comfortable apartment. I was taking a bit of a chance, but I spit out, "Yes, Mr. Hammond, I’ll take it."
Now, in March of 2009, twenty five years later almost to the day, I stood in my empty apartment once again and looked out onto the courtyard through the same window. It was little changed. The oaks shaded even more of the court, and the sidewalk had buckled still higher from the encroaching roots. Stained and rotting curtains shrouded apartments long vacant and the multiplicity of broken windows testified to the sad final dilapidated state of Wilshire Village. I remembered Mr. Hammond, now long dead, just as I thought I would be when I told him I would take it in 1984.
My gamble had paid off. Instead of dying here in my bohemian Xanadu, I was walking away alive, although feeling a little bewildered. Here I had faced down AIDS and defeated the disease through sheer force of habit. Here I had created the only real stability that my children knew from their peripatetic childhood. This place was their anchor through their mother’s many moves, their summer retreat with an eccentric but loving father. It was my retreat, too, my refuge from fears of mortality, and yes, my excuse not to expect more of myself.
I thought I would be despondent at leaving this place that sheltered me through much of my adult life. Instead I was leaving here eager to face the future. For the first time in a long time I wondered what the shape of my life would be. It made me a bit giddy to contemplate, but I knew whatever I became, it would be shaped by my years here. I will miss Wilshire Village, but at least I took a lot of pictures (Click on the oak tree for more images).