Welcome to LA Sites and Stories!

A UCLA Digital Humanities project by Dr Maja Manojlovic, John Ma, Qirui Wu and Natasha Ann Lum.

LA Sites & Stories aims to trace the lesser known, yet palpable histories of the natural and cultural landscapes of Los Angeles. We explore physical sites in LA as vertices, where distant and recent pasts converge to branch out into the possible futures. The stories emerging from these vertices often are either diverging from the established historical narratives or have quite literally been paved over by layers of urban development. This requires us to both rummage through the physical artifacts dispersed across time, and reimagine specific sites in LA. What are their stories? How do we tell them? How do we tell them responsibly, respecting their cultural contexts? What conceptual and digital tools do we use to make them more tangible to our senses and discernible to our imagination?

These are the questions we were working through as we decided to explore the stories emerging from the vertex of the two iconic cultural landmarks of Los Angeles, El Aliso and Union Station. El Aliso was a 400-years old sycamore tree, which once served as a gathering place for the indigenous Tongva people. By 1895, El Aliso was cut down. Today, it would have been located directly across from Union Station, on the 101 freeway onramp. Just as different peoples and cultures (from indigenous Tongva tribes to Spanish Missionaries and European settlers) converged under El Aliso throughout four centuries, its modern counterpart, Union Station, serves as the site of Los Angeles communities’ connection today.

What happens, when we visualize this massive sycamore tree, 60’ tall and 200’ in diameter and replant it across from Union Station? What stories emerge from such a space, reimagined to include the ancient natural landmarks coexisting with modern urban developments? What can we learn from these stories? Do their interactions generate any novel connections?

We hope to eventually create a WebVR platform, enabling us to immerse ourselves in the stories emerging from vertices similar to those of El Aliso and Union Station. These immersive experiences would perhaps allow us to further explore the novel possibilities of our understanding and relationship to the complexities of our natural and cultural environments.