Oft passed but seldom savored, a nugget of golden solitude and safety sits at the city’s heart – the Matthew Shepard Human Rights Triangle.
At the place where Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevards cross reposes a small pocket park, only noticed when noticed at all, for its tall flag pole with the Stars and Stripes aflutter. On the day of this writing that flag flies at half mast to commemorate the passing of an important person.
Recalling the deaths of the gay men and women who, like the Matthew Shepard for whom this pocket park is named, lost their lives because they sought only to be true to themselves, I decided that the flag ought to be flown permanently at half mast; but of course that can’t be done. Ever creative, however, the city found a way to honor those countless anonymous humans who struggled, hurt and died during the struggle for human rights by dedicating this pair of triangle pocket parks to the idea of tolerance for all. Fittingly, it built this pair of parks with its monuments to the icons of the struggle in the very literal and figurative heart of the city.
One must search out the most poignant among the monuments to the human rights struggle, but the search is well worth it. On SMB east of the corner under the shade of the tremendous tree and partially setback among bushes, stands a brushed metal inverted trianglular sculpture commemorating the AB 101 hunger strike that took place on the spot in 1991.
I recall the uprising that Gov. Wilson’s veto of a promised employment rights bill spawned. We queers and allies took to the streets and marched every night and day for two entire weeks. We protested where and when we would, even busting up the Governor’s party at the nearby LA County Art Museum.
Yes, this place, where West Hollywood men put there lives on the line for what was right, this place seems a good place for a Human Rights monument.
The shaded plot is expansive, with several seating areas amidst the greenery and the grass. A large semi-circular cement walk graciously invites a person to stroll toward the coolness of the shade on an afternoon, an invitation welcomed by the many communters and shoppers awaiting their Santa Monica Boulevard Metro bus connection.
A now-dead friend of mine, Morris Kight, (he often insisted on not being called “deceased, or passed. I’ll be dead.”) used to say that the finest thing a municipality can do for its citizens is provide them the occasional shaded seat. “No better way to care for your fellow than to see that he has a place to sit in the shade to rest his weary feet,” he’d say. Today I sit on a bench in the sun (there’s a fall nip in the air) next to a Chinese Magnolia tree. This tree, a flowering beauty that drinks water like sand, is Triangle monument number two, and planted to honor Mr. Kight. Morris, as organizer of the original Christopher Street West parade and a co-founder of the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, is held in high regard by many in West Hollywood, so much so that his tree was planted during his lifetime at the traditional beginning of the CSW parade.
The brass plaque begins “…Venerable Morris Kight, In Recognition of your Tireless and Peaceful Efforts to Liberate [GLBT] People…”
My first exposure to this plot of land was through Morris, long before this tree was planted or the plaque cemented. We would come here after stopping at Aida’s Flowers and refresh the vases left at the base of the AB 101 monument. I’d sweep and wash and water and pick up spent petals.
The tree was planted in 2002, and Morris saw it go in the ground. He dearly wanted to see the plaque in person, but took very ill before it was delivered by the metalworks. Its installation found him abed at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, on what turned out to be one of his final days. I was able to take a photograph of the plaque to him in his room so that he would see that. I left him that day as he slept; he was holding it against his chest. He died a couple days later.
Over on my right stands a young and vital California Live Oak, the California State Tree and one protected in perpetuity from cutting. Monument number three, yes, and this to women’s rights activist Ivy Bottini. Ivy still lives, just like her oak, and may just outlive the oak (life-span up to six-hundred years) if she keeps up as she’s going (see WeHoNews.com’s interview with Ms. Bottini about her 80th birthday here ).
Her brass plaque reads, in part, “honors your pioneering spirit, commitment and devotion to [human] rights…you are a role model [for all women].
An amble across the street west finds me at another bronze plaque commemorating the fallen from AIDS. Here begins the West Hollywood Memorial Walk. These bronze memorial plaques line the sidewalks at the bases of trees from Fairfax all the way to the Beverly Hills border at Doheny. They and the trees serve to remind me of the struggle against HIV still playing out and West Hollywood’s commitment to improving the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as any other chronic ailment.
In darker moments I recall the tales of men dying from AIDS on this very stretch of boulevard, albeit before cityhood. I wonder to myself how many of the thousands who drive this Route 66 every day to work, or to school, or to shop ever walk past these trees slowly enough or closely enough to read the names and consider the lives led and lost.
The sun sinks earlier these days and deadline approaches, so I scurry across the boulevard but once across stop and turn back to watch the sun die. The flag in the heart of the city flies firelit by the gold of the setting sun.
I turn for the home office, proud to say that I live in the heart of West Hollywood.