Sci-Fi Legend Ray Bradbury Creates a Visionary Plan to Redesign Los Angeles

Most of Ray Brad­bury’s fans think of him first as a sci­ence-fic­tion writer, but I think of him as a fel­low Ange­leno. Though born in Waukegan, Illi­nois, the man who would write The Mar­t­ian Chron­i­cles and Fahren­heit 451 moved with his fam­i­ly to Los Ange­les as a teenag­er in 1934. Just as he used his imag­i­na­tion to envi­sion the futures in which he set many of his sto­ries, he also used it to envi­sion the future of his adopt­ed home­town.

“Gath­er­ing and star­ing is one of the great pas­times in the coun­tries of the world,” Brad­bury wrote in a 1970 arti­cle called “The Small-Town Plaza: What Life Is All About.” “But not in Los Ange­les. We have for­got­ten how to gath­er. So we have for­got­ten how to stare. And we for­got not because we want­ed to, but because, by fluke or plan, we were pushed off the famil­iar side­walks or banned from the old places. Change crept up on us as we slept. We are lem­mings in slow motion now, with nowhere to go.”

He lament­ed the fact that Los Ange­les, along with most oth­er Amer­i­can cities, had sac­ri­ficed its most vital gath­er­ing spaces — espe­cial­ly “the the­ater, the sweet shop, the drug­store foun­tain” of his child­hood, and of his nos­tal­gic nov­el Dan­de­lion Wine — on the altar of the auto­mo­bile. “We climb in our cars. We dri­ve… and dri­ve… and dri­ve… and come home blind with exhaus­tion. We have seen noth­ing, nor have we been seen.”

Brad­bury approached this grand urban plan­ning prob­lem, which hit its nadir in the 70s, from his then-unusu­al per­spec­tive of the non-dri­ving Ange­leno. Hav­ing thus nev­er for­got­ten the val­ue of the old ways, he pro­pos­es a return in the form of “a vast, dra­mat­i­cal­ly planned city block” offer­ing “a gath­er­ing place for each pop­u­la­tion nucle­us” where “peo­ple would be tempt­ed to linger, loi­ter, stay, rather than fly off in their chairs to already over­crowd­ed places.”

The block would fea­ture “a round band­stand or stage,” “a huge con­ver­sa­tion pit [ … ] so that four hun­dred peo­ple can sit out under the stars drink­ing cof­fee or Cokes,” “a huge plaza walk where more hun­dreds might stroll at their leisure to see and be seen,” an “immense quad­ran­gle of three dozen shops and stores,” the­aters for films new and old as well as live dra­ma and lec­tures, and “a cof­fee house for rock-folk groups.”

He described this tan­ta­liz­ing urban space as a proof of con­cept, “one to start with. Lat­er on, one or more for each of the 80 towns in L.A.” But how to get between them? Brad­bury had some­thing of a side career advo­cat­ing for a mono­rail sys­tem, which he summed up in a 2006 Los Ange­les Times essay:

More than 40 years ago, in 1963, I attend­ed a meet­ing of the L.A. Coun­ty Board of Super­vi­sors at which the Alweg Mono­rail com­pa­ny out­lined a plan to con­struct one or more mono­rails cross­ing L.A. north, south, east and west. The com­pa­ny said that if it were allowed to build the sys­tem, it would give the mono­rails to us for free — absolute­ly gratis. The com­pa­ny would oper­ate the sys­tem and col­lect the fare rev­enues.

It seemed a rea­son­able bar­gain to me. But at the end of a long day of dis­cus­sion, the Board of Super­vi­sors reject­ed Alweg Mono­rail.

I was stunned. I dim­ly saw, even at that time, the future of free­ways, which would, in the end, go nowhere.

While not a sin­gle mono­rail line ever appeared Brad­bury’s city, one did appear, three years after that faith­ful Board of Super­vi­sors meet­ing, in François Truf­faut’s adap­ta­tion of Brad­bury’s Fahren­heit 451. You can see it in the clip at the top of the post. Notice that it seems to drop Oskar Wern­er and Julie Christie off in the mid­dle of nowhere; hard­ly an ide­al place­ment for a rapid-tran­sit sta­tion, but then, the mono­rail itself was just a pro­to­type, run­ning on a test track put up at Châteauneuf-sur-Loire by its devel­op­er, the con­sor­tium SAFEGE (French Lim­it­ed Com­pa­ny for the Study of Man­age­ment and Busi­ness).

Gen­er­al Elec­tric licensed SAFEGE’s mono­rail tech­nol­o­gy in the Unit­ed States, and to pro­mote it pro­duced this delight­ful­ly mid­cen­tu­ry (and no doubt Brad­bury-approved) 1967 film just above. Alas, it did­n’t take any­where in the coun­try, but you can find two still futur­is­tic-look­ing SAFEGE mono­rails still oper­at­ing in — where else? — that futur­is­tic land known as Japan, specif­i­cal­ly in Chi­ba and Fuji­sawa.

Los Ange­les may have reject­ed the mono­rail, and it cer­tain­ly has a long way to go before it match­es the devel­op­ment of any major city in Japan, but this town has, in many ways and in many places, real­ized the writer’s vision of an ide­al urban life. Amer­i­ca’s 21st-cen­tu­ry revival of city cen­ters has begun to make the­ater- and cof­fee shop-goers, gath­er­ers and star­ers, and tran­sit-rid­ers of us again. And not own­ing a car has, in Los Ange­les, become almost fash­ion­able — an idea even an imag­i­na­tion as capa­cious as Ray Brad­bury’s may once have nev­er dared to con­tem­plate.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ray Brad­bury: “I Am Not Afraid of Robots. I Am Afraid of Peo­ple” (1974)

Ray Brad­bury: “The Things That You Love Should Be Things That You Do.” “Books Teach Us That”

Ray Brad­bury: Sto­ry of a Writer 1963 Film Cap­tures the Para­dox­i­cal Late Sci-Fi Author

Ray Brad­bury: Lit­er­a­ture is the Safe­ty Valve of Civ­i­liza­tion

The Secret of Life and Love, Accord­ing to Ray Brad­bury (1968)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (4)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Mary Angela Douglas says:

    “peo­ple would be tempt­ed to linger, loi­ter, stay, rather than fly off in their chairs to already over­crowd­ed places.”

    [Think it should read cars rather than chairs.]

    “While not a sin­gle mono­rail line ever appeared Bradbury’s city, one did appear, three years after that faith­ful Board of Super­vi­sors meet­ing, in François Truffaut’s adap­ta­tion of Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451.”

    [think it should read fate­ful instead of faith­ful]

    Proof­read­ing aside for the sake of mean­ing,
    cogency and beau­ty there is no fin­er web­site I have found on the inter­net than Open Cul­ture.

    And no fin­er writer than Ray Brad­bury. In light of his love for his art, for his read­ers, and his cities, both real and imag­ined it is sor­row­ful than the home where he resided for over fifty years was torn down by a prize-win­ning archi­tect and that noth­ing and no one seemed capa­ble of stop­ping this.

    There are lit­er­ary muse­ums all over this coun­try. Can no one seize the day and cre­ate one for Ray Brad­bury? No earth­quake, war, apoc­olypse struck the dan­de­lion house. Just men­dac­i­ty and some­thing incom­pre­hen­si­ble I can­not even name.

    To peo­ple who say that the neigh­bor­hood could­n’t have coun­te­nanced a muse­um, so what. The house could have been moved. Thomas Edis­on’s house was.

    Los Ange­les has lost more than the pos­si­bil­i­ties of mono­rails though this arti­cle is love­ly. It has lost cre­dence through­out the world by coun­te­nanc­ing this crime and not lift­ing a fin­ger.

    But it is still not too late to do some­thing.
    And there is cer­tain­ly mon­ey enough in L.A. to do it. Where is Stephen Spiel­berg and oth­ers on this? Or Dis­ney?

    Build Ray a house where chil­dren can come to remem­ber the great ima­ga­neer of famil­iar homes on dis­tant plan­ets. For God’s sake and the chil­dren’s.

    Rebuild the yel­low house. And when the Wau­kee­gan home of his grand­par­ents comes up for sale buy it and let there be two muse­ums.

    Or three or four. Or have we just become bull­doz­ers.

  • Rain,adustbowlstory says:

    What’s sad is how quick­ly and eas­i­ly any poten­tial­ly benev­o­lent pub­lic space can be tak­en over by just a few bad apples.

  • Mary Angela Douglas says:

    those who stand around and watch while it all goes down are, by their inac­tion, also, alas, bad apples

  • Mary Angela Douglas says:

    I also meant to say “benev­o­lent” as a beau­ti­ful word to use for any­thing rel­a­tive to Ray Brad­bury or those who love/loved him and his sto­ries. But there is wicked murk sur­round­ing this sto­ry of the famed archi­tect who did­n’t by his dubi­ous and oft quot­ed words even know that it was owned by Ray Brad­bury and then, that, after all, the house was banal.


    And where was the mobi­liza­tion of his fans who if they could­n’t have saved the house at least could have sur­round­ed it in full force in its moment of death. Where was the much loved and vision­ary Stephen Spiel­berg who at one time pro­claimed Ray Brad­bury was his muse. There were peo­ple with the mon­ey, with the pow­er, with the author­i­ty to save it. Were they all under a wicked spell. We can­not let these peo­ple win who are remak­ing the whole of Amer­i­can towns and cities (for years now) in the image of mere­ly their own bank accounts and noteri­ety. The trees would have cried out if they could. The very clouds and small ani­mals. Humans who had the pow­er of speech and action were silent in the instant that it count­ed. I am hor­rifed. But still hope­ful as they can­not kill the soul of things of what Brad­bury stood and stands for.

    I don’t under­stand any of this. We should build a whole nation of dan­de­lion coloured hous­es hous­ing every­thing we love. And then stand guard. This is not a moment for pas­siv­i­ty.


    The Props assist the House
    Until the House is built
    And then the Props with­draw
    And ade­quate, erect,
    The House sup­port itself
    And cease to rec­ol­lect
    The Augur and the Car­pen­ter –
    Just such a ret­ro­spect
    Hath the per­fect­ed Life –
    A Past of Plank and Nail
    And slow­ness – then the scaf­folds drop
    Affirm­ing it a Soul –

    Emi­ly Dick­in­son

    “the stone that the builders reject­ed
    has become the Cor­ner­stone”
    Psalm 118:22

    for Sam Weller with grat­i­tude hope­ful­ly
    from us all…and to Ray Brad­bury with sor­row
    for beau­ty for pos­si­bil­i­ty lost
    (the chil­dren’s vivid field trips to the old magi­cian’s haunts)

    can hous­es go to Heav­en?
    I won­dered, stunned at the news:
    Ray Brad­bury’s yel­low house demol­ished…

    by an archi­tect.
    an archi­tect who won prizes.
    prizes for what?

    demol­ish­ing the immor­tal?
    at least, where they lived.
    I won’t be bit­ter I sang to the lemon sun.
    hous­es can go to Heav­en, well

    this one could.
    a house where sto­ries spun
    the col­or of mid­night and the honied noon­day
    hived and the vio­let rains swept through;

    a car­ni­val whine of train whis­tles.
    where will their ghosts go now?
    they’ll linger some­how

    near the new swim­ming pool.
    where the new lodgers view
    (the ones with sec­ond sight, it they’re lucky)

    pearl dredged, the vast
    and Christ­mas migra­tions of his words;

    no more the house where the fan­tas­tic fig­ured.
    a man padding in bare feet to the mid­night fridge
    devoured cheese sand­wich­es, picked pick­led books off a

    shelf or two

    lux­u­ri­at­ing in his own stores…
    and dreamed his read­ers knew him.
    but his­to­ry shifts when the wreck­ing crews show up.

    on any daz­zling day in 1962,
    on Blake, the Nor­ton Anthol­o­gy read
    (it reads no longer, trend­ing beyond the old neigh­bor­hoods):

    When a child, William Blake saw God peer­ing through the win­dow.
    Did William Blake change what he saw? Did God cease peer­ing?
    so that edi­tors revised in lat­er edi­tions?

    the con­struc­tors decon­struct­ed?
    can you alter a vision once it’s envi­sioned?

    even with­out the win­dow,
    God still sees
    do we do we-
    some things, you can’t excise

    the stuc­co fad­ing to tan­ger­ine in the sun­rise,
    who comes now to dis­place, being wis­er than

    music, past the clock of hear­ing.
    we’re not buy­ing it!

    some­one removes a phrase, a shelf, per­haps a roof
    when no one’s look­ing but the clouds
    and then it’s gone. at least, the shell of it.

    it rained the day they took the roof off
    the news­pa­per read.
    as if the skies were weep­ing…

    small gold­en­rod things crept near
    keen­ing in the debris:
    and read­ers through­out the world.

    these dreams can come and go no mat­ter what
    the plan­ners plan.and they don’t real­ly under­stand
    that cen­sored visions, build­ings reap­pear to chil­dren
    in the after years

    beyond all earth­ly zon­ing.
    and in the neigh­bor­hoods with curbed appeals

    old mon­u­ments resur­face in the magma..or
    start bob­bing up
    in a sum­mer lake with the wound­ed dinosaurs.

    oh it’s so sear­ing this has come to pass. alas
    the house cried out in vain, while every­one was at work
    at the book store, ice cream par­lour

    and then, whirled off (and All Souls with it)
    like the house in Oz…remaining in a far king­dom

    the grass could grow as tall as it want­ed there or

    you can’t kill a yel­low house the colour of myr­i­ad suns
    all marigold and gold finch bright
    dis­con­so­late the green trees sigh all the way from Wau­kee­gan, ah

    amber pre­serves but not Los Ange­les
    I can’t stop cry­ing to any passers­by on the side­walk

    where eggs could have been fried…
    July rock­ets launched:

    uproot the cen­tu­ry plant and plant it some­where else!
    or gath­er the movie moguls here to stop this!
    but once dis­man­tled there’s no going back.
    alack alack unless

    invis­i­bly the house trans­formed itself
    well out of view enact­ing its own Brad­bury tale of

    lit­tle by lit­tle and much by much
    all shad­ows tucked in to the very touch of the cur­tains
    at the win­dows
    dream­ing itself apart from Time, let­ting go into

    a bet­ter berried clime and

    plank by plank chim­ney brick by brick
    lit­tle gar­den in the back with wild­flow­ers strewn
    and birds that flew and chirped around the eaves

    miss­ing the writer scratch­ing in his den
    click­ety clack on the type­writ­ten track
    his gold­en lore no more no more

    oh no was not torn down but like an old shoe
    that missed the wear­er, mys­ti­cal­ly removed from here
    (its inner self)

    and by Whose hand? lift­ed gen­tly from the land.
    and only babies knew;though
    chil­dren hoped, as they won­dered, cher­ry bright again.

    oh do not fear sighed sun­flower angels mend­ing
    this scarred land­scape
    despite the worst laid plans and blue­prints

    made of sand should be denied but
    when­ev­er it looks like, on this side
    where you need sto­ries to get by
    as if the under­tak­ers had won! wheel­ing their bar­rows

    of the stripped down walls
    cart­ed off to char­i­ties…
    where’s char­i­ty in this? I sor­rowed
    in a night­mare land:

    they’ve stolen
    our pil­gram­mage for­ev­er.

    or it had wings to fly, that but­ter­cream house
    read­ing over his shoul­der, (all but­ter pecan and dreamy)
    for 50 odd years as the notion slow­ly formed though it

    grew paler than pump­kins toward the end
    at what it had to do…and railed at
    los­ing its but­ter­scotch perch or porch?

    it dim­ly rea­soned,
    “out of all Sea­sons now!”

    through tears I see
    what it saw
    right down to the saw­dust floor
    of the Cir­cus real­ly leav­ing town
    this time

    on a day per­haps of cot­ton can­dy clouds…

    to the cof­fee grounds of a well made sto­ry
    you won’t perk again (it thought,
    more than a lit­tle over­wrought);

    it hud­dled clos­er to the Sun.
    but what’s done is done
    the sto­ry book house is over­come by the

    bull­doz­ers no longer doz­ing by the rasp­ber­ry shrubs.

    then it arose
    like a won­drous yel­low cake
    about to be crowned with frost­ing oh my friends

    while it chimed it chimed like a car­il­lon:
    there is- there is- no End!

    a but­ter­cup house in new-fan­gled Glo­ry shines
    where Ray eter­nal­ly pre­sides,
    near gold foiled vol­umes, rain­bowed ice-box pies

    and he’ll look up with a glad sur­mise
    (a boom­ing I told you so)

    when we’ll drop by some­day to see the house spiffed up.
    the haloed cream drenched apple frit­ters fried
    and pour with him the dan­de­lion wine-

    fine toasts to the yel­low house!
    when it’s our Time, when it’s our Time

    mary angela dou­glas 23–25 feb­ru­ary 2015

    P.S. I am not mak­ing this up. an incred­i­ble syn­chronic­i­ty… On feb 25 at 8:58 a.m. as I was revis­ing this poem again and lin­ger­ing on the phrase “I told you so” won­der­ing what I meant by it exact­ly
    the local radio sta­tion (wsjs) announc­er said just before the news­break: “You might get a chance to go to Mars…forever. more in a minute…”

    so that’s how I knew the poem was final­ly done, fork-test­ed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.