Christopher Hawthorne: Los Angeles = Ancient Rome

The great architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne made a rather odd point in the LA Times this weekend, comparing Los Angeles to Ancient Rome. Not because it’s once-great empire now crumbling, or because our city fathers are fiddling (i.e., throwing around a football)… but because of a big rock and a giant space shuttle:

One city — ours — is unfinished, amnesiac and forward-looking; the other city — theirs — is so obsessed with past glory, its streets piled so high with landmarks and layers of history, that its 21st century personality can be tough to make out.

So when I began noticing similarities between an ancient Roman ritual and two huge public events in Los Angeles in 2012, I was tempted to dismiss them out of hand. Yet the more I dug into the comparison, the more it seemed to make sense: In parading both Michael Heizer’s huge artwork “Levitated Mass” — better known as the Rock — and the space shuttle Endeavour along our boulevards within a single calendar year, Los Angeles is in some striking ways reenacting one of the oldest public celebrations in Western urban history, the Roman triumph.

Of course, the Endeavour’s journey was turned into a Toyota PR stunt… plus, there’s not really a parade for it, and it will be very hard to see