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Woody Guthrie Square dedicated in downtown Los Angeles

Woody Guthrie Square dedicated in downtown Los AngelesLos Angeles’ skid row is a difficult place to glamorize. Cardboard boxes, tents and rundown hotels are home for hundreds of residents even as lofts and new restaurants open in the downtown district.

The corner of 4th and Main streets has earned a place on the map as the center of the Old Bank District, and now the intersection is to be known as Woody Guthrie Square to commemorate the singer, songwriter and political activist’s roots in this part of the city where he lived for a while before moving to Glendale.

City Councilwoman Jan Perry sponsored the motion to name the area after Guthrie and was joined Thursday morning by Nora Guthrie, his daughter who oversees the Guthrie archives, to unveil the sign. 

To celebrate the centenary of his birth, USC and the Grammy Museum have organized events Saturday on campus and at Club Nokia, where a 7:30 concert is scheduled featuring Jackson Browne, John Doe, Kris Kristofferson and Tom Morello.

Guthrie, not long after arriving in California in the late 1930s, lived in and found work downtown washing dishes, painting signs and singing on street corners and in bars. One of his first gigs was on radio station KFVD, where he gave voice to the injustices of the day.

“California is a Garden of Eden, / A Paradise to live in or see, / But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot, / If you ain’t got the do re mi.”

His criticism of the Golden State was fueled by the “bum blockade,” the practice in which the Los Angeles police set up road blocks to turn back people who looked like they might not be employable. Security on railroads was also tightened, and anti-migrant sentiment took the form of an “anti-Okie” petition in 1939.

Guthrie eventually lost that job, and on the train to New York in 1940 began to write "This Land Is Your Land."

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 --Thomas Curwen

Photo: L.A. Councilwoman Jan Perry, left, joins Nora Guthrie, in green, and others at the dedication of Woody Guthrie Square on Saturday. Nora Guthrie is the singer's daughter and oversees the Guthrie archives. Credit: Councilwoman Jan Perry's office

 
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