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Depthlessness: Fredric Jameson on Depthless Bunker Hill, The Bonventure, and the Place of Los Angeles.
by Philip J. Ethington

FredricJameson's wide-ranging case for a concrete condition of postmodernity returns frequently to Bunker Hill: "Nor is this depthlessness merely metaphorical: it can be experienced physically and 'literally' by anyone who, mounting what used to be Raymond Chandler's Bunker Hill from the great Chicano markets on Broadway and Fourth Street in downtown Los Angeles, suddenly confronts the great free-standing wall of Wells Fargo Court (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill)–a surface which seems unsupported by any volume, or whose putative volume (rectangular? trapezoidal?) is ocularly quite undecidable? If this new multinational downtown effectively abolished the older ruined city fabric which it violently replaced, cannot something similar be said about the way in which this strange new surface in its own peremptory way renders our older systems of perception of the city somehow archaic and aimless, without offering another in their place?"

Jameson's treatment of the Bonaventure Hotel is too lengthy to quote adequately here, but the following excerpts should be sufficiently suggestive without being not too far out of context:
"The entryways of the Bonaventure are, as it were, lateral and rather backdoor affairs: the gardens in the back admit you to the sixth floor of the towers, and even there you must walk down one flight to find the elevator by which you gain access to the lobby. Meanwhile, what one is still tempted to think of as the front entry, on Figueroa, admits you, baggage and all, onto the second-story shopping balcony, from which you must take an escalator down to the main registration desk. What I first want to suggest about these curiously unmarked ways in is that they seem to have been imposed by some new category of closure governing the inner space of the hotel itself (and this over and above the material constraints under which Portman had to work) ... But this disjunction from the surrounding city is different from that of the monuments of the International Style, in which the act of disjunction was violent, visible, and had a very real symbolic significance--as in le Corbusier's great pilotis, whose gesture radically separates the new Utopian space of the modern from the degraded and fallen city fabric which it thereby explicitly repudiates ... [T]he Bonventure, however, is content to 'let the fallen city fabric continue to be in its being' (to parody Heidegger); no further effects, no larger protopolitical Utopian transformation is either expected or desired."

Jameson sees Los Angeles as typical of a disembedding of each place as it is pulled into the global system. He writes of "the conviction that in the simpler phenomenological or regional sense, place in the United States today no longer exists, or, more precisely, it exists at a much feebler level, surcharged by all kinds of other more powerful but also more abstract spaces. By these I mean not only Los Angeles itself, as some new hyperurban configuration, but also the increasingly abstract (and communicational) networks of American reality beyond, whose extreme form is the network of so-called multinational capitalism itself."[3]

Bunker HIll, 1997: Looking South on Grand from Second Street, toward the Wells Fargo Towers (right side of image).
Portman's Bonaventure Hotel