We had just moved from NYC to Los Angeles, bought a house in Windsor Village, and had a new baby – our second child – in March 1992. Swimming pool, palm trees, great neighbors – it was the quintessential California dream for a midwest girl. I had just sewn drapes for the two large front picture windows, wide-eyed and open, that framed the front of the house like a face looking out at our new world.
My husband and I heard the Rodney King verdict as we drove to an early movie on our first date night, post-new baby. By the time we stepped out of the movie on La Brea, fires were flaring in pockets all over the city. We ducked into the empty bar next to the theater to find helicopter footage of what looked like bonfires up and down the straight streets of our new hometown. The broadcaster detailed the random chaos marching up Crenshaw and LaBrea – these were the very streets of our new vocabulary on how to get to the airport quickly or pick up spicy ribs for take-out. We raced home and quickly closed the new drapes just as a pickup truck, loaded high with a jumble of furniture, raced down our street.
I venture to guess that the LA Riots are seared into the visual memories of everyone who lived here back in 1992. Standing on the roof of our house seeing the hot spots mostly to the south – some to the north and many to the east in Koreatown. Sitting out at the backyard pool under daytime sun – feeling the gray flakes of ash drifting gently down upon us like snow. Watching a neighbor pack up the car and head north to Ventura C0unty. Walking up to the Masonic Temple on Wilshire Blvd and seeing a flank of National Guard soldiers standing on the corner, guns in tow, staring back at us. The image still sticks in my mind every time I pass Wilshire at Lucerne. I had lived through the overthrow of Marcos in the Philippines – and never, ever thought I’d see the same kind of ‘revolution’ on the streets of America.
LA Times photographer Ted Soqui put himself in the midst of the riot twenty years ago, and went back this year to shoot the same spots for a piece on the Daily Beast: L.A.Riots, Then & Now. Click on the image below to get Soqui’s before and after photos – many are shot not far from the greater Wilshire area.