Christon adds voice to 'cultural' cry in Downey

More and more, for reasons that will become clear later, longtime Downey resident Lawrence Christon is making his views known in the pages of the Downey Patriot. More specifically, he thinks Downey lacks a cultural identity and it's about time something is done about it.Christon was born and grew up in Manhattan in the 50s, a time of pristine artistic and cultural flowering, a time when a literary figure such as T. S. Eliot routinely made the cover of Time, something that just doesn't happen nowadays. Not without talent, he soaked up the literary, artistic and cultural New York scene, and honed his writing skills. It was a good thing, too, as he became a victim of circumstances: a basketball all-star in high school, his college basketball scholarship fell through, and he quit college after only one year. He tried his luck as a writer for a while, then served in the Marines from 1963 to 1969. After a stint with the now defunct Herald Tribune, Christon was for 22 years a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. He was drama critic, columnist, features and profiles writer, essayist, and reporter. His reporting centered on international cultural developments, especially about Brazil, South Africa, and Australia. At the same time, he also wrote for the Washington Post, Daily Variety, Long Beach Press-Telegram, the San Diego Union-Tribune and Orange Coast Magazine-mostly about the U. S. military, including the Persian Gulf War. His other gigs over the years include being a lecturer and commentator on cable TV. Not too long ago, he was involved in 'Operation Homecoming' published by Random House. It's a collection of 50 of the best essays about the Iraq War written by veterans. Among the contributors are such well-known writers as Richard Wilbur, Howard Nemerov and Mark Bowden (of 'Blackhawk Down' fame). Christon was a writing instructor. Just last September, a 340-page book he wrote on commission, "Stepping Ahead," about the 45-year history of the Orange Coast Repertory, "one of the nation's premier regional theaters"-came out. Its 150 color photographs include images of before-they-were-stars Joe Pantoliano, Ed Harris, Elizabeth McGovern, Dennis Franz and Tom Hulce. Christon is currently at work on a second novel. (You can sample his writing on a variety of subjects under his name in the internet). In the course of his reportorial work, and on his own, Christon has traveled widely around the world. He has visited and stayed in a number of the other "great cities," among them Paris, London, Rome, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Beijing and Moscow. It is from the insights gained over this lifetime of reporting and travel that Christon offers a few observations about Downey. For instance, Christon asked this question of downtown Downey in a recent Letter to the Editor: "Why is it that downtown is so pokey, desultory, moribund and gray, cramped and empty at the same time? Why is it that the Krikorian Theater is the social center for the young, when its product is studio generic and bludgeoning to the spirit? How is it that people of all ages, ethnicities and interests will routinely say of downtown Downey that it's boring?" He continues: "[A] mythic observer from Mars will see in Downey retrograde traffic congestion, no vibrant center, no cultural scene, no night life, no buzz." "What distinguishes the [great places I've seen] is culture," he goes on, "and a municipal planning scheme that provides for convenient mass transit and plenty of opportunity for people to walk where they need to go." There it is, his magic word: walk. So, "What can we do to revitalize Downey?" he asks. "I keep coming back to the arts and their variant, entertainment. The Avenue Theatre, though apparently doomed, remains an option to anchor downtown with indie films, festivals, lectures, music and readings. There's the Downey Theatre next to the Embassy Suites and a number of open spaces and sites for outdoor concerts of every sort. There are other indoor venues that could be transformed into night spots, comedy clubs, underground spaces and jazz and music spots-all located in the vicinity of Firestone Boulevard and 4th Street and Dolan Avenue and Paramount Boulevard. And maybe, God forbid, we could put in a bookstore. Which means people could get out of their cars and walk from one place to another, revivifying the street scene." At any rate, although he has teamed up with the Avenue Arts Foundation in "advocating for and promoting the visual and performing arts to meet the cultural needs of Downey [and neighboring] residents," Christon says he won't toe the line blindly but retain his independent stance in some matters. AAF is a group that includes Harold Tseklenis, Kathy Perez, George Redfox, Jared Head, and David Llamas. At this stage, Christon says, considering the difficulty of funding, "All we can do is raise the level of awareness that such a thing is possible, that there is a huge potential for the realization of a vibrant downtown, that at least we'll try to lay down the foundation for our vision." For better or for worse, seemingly with no axe to grind, well-informed and thoughtful, opinionated, and articulate, Christon has joined the call for an 'arts zone' in Downey. From all indications, his is no uncertain trumpet.

********** Published: December 18, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 35

FeaturesEric Pierce