PRISONER OF BUNDY DRIVE
by Rip Rense
(Originally published in the Los Angeles Times.)
the story of an exile behind steel bars. A prisoner of the-way-humans-do-things. An
embattled hostage in protective custody. Absolutely no visitors allowed, except on
It's the story of No Man's
Land, literally. A tiny, three-sided piece of property at Bundy and Santa Monica Boulevard
in Santa Monica, where pedestrians may no longer tread. Call it the Bundy Triangle, a
mysterious place where good intentions and good sense enter---never to be seen or heard
It's a sad, peculiar saga of
foliage and human foibles, and it begins a long time ago, in a less complicated city far,
far away. . .
Once upon a time, the
Triangle was someone's expansive pastoral yard, fronting a Bundy Drive and Santa Monica
Boulevard hardly more substantial than cow-paths. Apparently affronted at so much
unmolested breathing room, a now-forgotten urban engineer decided to take Ohio Avenue and
extend it across Bundy---right through that pastoral yard---and connect it with Santa
Monica Boulevard. Thus was born the sawed-off, three-sided, orphaned chunk of civic
It was then---sometime in the
early 30s---that the question first arose: well, what do we do with this thing?
Local residents decided to decorate---disguise might have been a better term---rather the
way one throws fabric over an old trunk and sticks a vase on top. You can't just leave
it there, looking like the awkward, useless oddity that it is. So jolly jacaranda
trees were planted, and stone benches were installed at intervals over a rustic
cobblestone walkway to. . .nowhere. After all, you could walk entirely around the plot's
periphery in a brisk 90s seconds.
The crowning touch? They
named it Bundy Greens---a title dignified enough for a majestic botanical garden. The only
justification, probably, for such a name here was the absolutely tremendous number of
grass blades on the property.
Was it a park? No, not
officially. A place to walk your dog? Well, possibly, if your dog had real short legs (or
if you consider "walk" a euphemism for "relieve.") A place to play a
little outdoor chess? Maybe, if you didn't mind your concentration crushed by a circling,
flatulent parade of cars, trucks, and buses. Was it an exaggerated bus stop? Sure.
Definitely a pretty place to wait for a bus. Rumor had it that a church group used to meet
there on Sunday mornings, though it's hard to imagine why. Bundy Greens' blessing---or
curse---was that it didn't afford quite enough room for a parking lot and McDonald's, thus
guaranteeing its survival through the decades.
And the place endured as a nicely
landscaped what's- that until the modern era of homelessness arrived, and a
number of bedraggled men decided it was a good place to sack out. Bundy Greens suddenly
acquired a citizenry---a few dozen souls, all told, by the early 90s. It was poetic, in a
way. Disassociated people taking up residence on disassociated property. People no one
knew what to do with. Property no one knew what to do with. A match made in purgatory.
The citizens of the nation of Bundy
Greens declared their own laws, of course, and they were pretty liberal. Any food that
charitable folks dropped off was met with choruses of "we'll divide it up
equally!" Littering was allowed. There was no ban on public urination, that was for
sure. The proof was heavily in the air. Some of the drifters were said to be veterans who
meant no harm. They probably were. Some of them were said to be drunks, dope-addicts,
thieves and brawlers. They probably were.
You know how it goes. Robberies,
burglaries, and assaults in the neighborhood rose. Passers-by were hustled, sometimes
threateningly, until there were fewer passers-by. Local businesses started complaining.
The cops got fed up. The residents got fed up. Councilman Marvin Braude's office got fed
The solution was drastic. Take Bundy
Greens away from humans entirely, and put it in protective custody. Imprison the place. It
was decided to fence the tormented lot---but, in keeping with tradition, this would not be
a tacky chain-link barrier. The um, historic Greens merited something grand. Early last
year, a foreboding, towering, seven-foot "boxed steel" fence went up, at a cost
of $28,000. Fifty-seven dollars per linear foot. The money came, courtesy of Councilman
Braude, from a budgetary wonderland called "the unappropriated balance of the city's
It was the right thing to do, of course;
any barrier less formidable would have been no proof against wanderers in search of a
hangout. Besides, the fence really was stylish; you know, kind of like "decorative
burglar bars." A nearby Starbucks later erected its own patio-enclosing boxed-steel
barrier, just to be decoratively simpatico. Call it prison chic.
Today, Bundy Greens looks like an exhibit
from a time when cities had lovely public land that people didn't abuse. The squirrels are
"We've gotten reactions from people
saying this is not the way to deal with the homeless," said stalwart, longtime Braude
deputy Clair Rogger. "Indeed, it is not. Since the larger solution remains a big
question mark for most the entities in America that deal with this problem, in the
meantime, you do what you can to maintain some kind of community livability."
"Community livability?" Sounds
almost quaint, in this era of Uzis and road-rage. The former citizens of Bundy Greens
moved on in search of their own brand of community livability. Some of them complained to
one George Kanegai, who owns West L.A. Travel across the street from the Greens. "We
weren't given a chance to protest!" they told Kanegai. His response? "I said,
'What are you going to protest? You don't pay taxes.' They said 'I guess you're
Thus did an unprepossessing part of the
community become The Prisoner of Bundy Drive. Bear in mind, though, that this prisoner
does not suffer from neglect. At one time or another, the Greens has required the
substantial attention of the LAPD, Councilman Braude's office, the Department of Public
Works, and the General Services Department. The Landscape Maintenance Division of the
Bureau of Street Maintenance of the Department of Public Works was cutting the Greens'
grass until it ran out of equipment and manpower (perhaps it was all used up in supporting
the size of its name), and subsequently gave the job to a private contractor (who
sometimes couldn't get in because he didn't have a key to the fence.) Cost of maintaining
the feckless place is in the (gasp) tens of thousands. . .
Last summer, the Prisoner faced a new
threat---this time by so-called responsible citizens. Seems they needed Bundy Drive to be
widened so they could roll a greater number of stinking vehicles around, in order to keep
all of their important appointments. Hence the byway was hacked up and broadened, and
Bundy Greens took a big hit from its west end: losing a few jacarandas, an undetermined
number of cobblestones, and about twelve feet of land. The small civic absurdity became
even smaller. Or larger, depending on how you look at it.
All is not lost, though. These days,
there are many suggestions for liberating and using the Greens. Neighboring resident John
Shaughnessey wants to turn it into a "chess island" a la parks in New York.
Others talk of dog obedience classes, meeting places for local community groups---and
other of the types of ideas that have, over the years, disappeared without a trace into
the Bundy Triangle. . .
And yet, this time, there is reason to be
encouraged. Although the Prisoner remains under a life sentence, apparently, Clair Rogger
promises that its days of solitary confinement are numbered. "Visiting hours"
will allegedly be established, and a bicycle parking rack is under study for the west end.
The place will then be opened up as a park, Rogger said, during the day, and locked up at
night. Wait---did she use the word. . .park? Does this portend. . .official recognition by
the city of this bastardized territory? At long last, will the little persecuted patch
earn a legitimate use? A real identity? Yes, says Rogger, leaving only one question: what
might this park be named?
"I don't know," said Rogger,
"how about Rip Rense Park?"
Hmm. A handsome, barely useful oddity
that has befuddled authority figures for decades. A troublesome, somewhat quaint anomaly
with pretense of grandeur that no one knows quite what to do with. . .
Not a bad idea.
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