The geography of summer memories / Angie Park

The geography of summer memories / Angie Park

Hello! I'm thrilled to be part of Baum-Kuchen's July newsletter around the theme of  "summer memories." It's the season that always brings a wistful breeze and an indescribable longing (whatever that may be).  I'm excited to share my own wistful Los Angeles summers of the past— the amalgamation of history, music, family and visual landscapes that color my memories in a deeply personal way.  A big tribute to my family, Baja California and youth! Hope you enjoy!

- Angie Park

They say that a quick way to induce nostalgia is through music. 

Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, TLC, Mariah Carey, Spice Girls, Oasis, No Doubt, Weezer, Nirvana, Beck, Brandy and Coolio is a short list of music that immediately transports me back to a definitive period of my life as a 90's teenager. Specifically SoCal summers, where I lazed around as part of what they would call the "MTV generation." Daria and My So-Called Life still has a very special and tender spot in my heart and Jenny McCarthy will always be the crazy host on Singled Out (not the co-host on The View or as a controversial autism activist).

This summer of 2014 is the first summer in a long time that I’m spending back in my suburban hometown in Southern California. Recently, I’ve moved back from New York, so I’ve been transitioning back and taking in the LA vibes—think faded pastels (minty mints and pinky pinks), taco trucks, streets lined with palm trees, ice teas, dry heat, mixture of valley/surfer/hiphop slang, rap, cars, fast food, pools, bonfires, long wispy dresses, bizarros, and eccentrics. Not like New York eccentrics, but more the commune-y, white witch-y, source family types.

They say that nostalgia is often experienced as a loss or longing for what has now gone. Being back home, there's been endless triggers that take me back to the memories of the past. In a way, I've always been re-creating or searching for summers of my youth. Seeking out the same mood and feelings of that time. Like being able to capture that summer again would bring me a moment of calm before the currents of time and change sweeps me up again. 

2014. Pasadena, California
It’s hard to figure out when summer begins and ends in California. Summers in California are persistent and unceasing. It’s like the long stretches of highway on Route 66, like the blend of sea and sky on the Pacific horizon and like the all-encompassing  sounds of cicadas on a hot and muggy Japanese August day. It just keeps going and going and going. Customarily, time cycles in seasons. Moods are regulated by the changing and passing of Fall, Summer, Winter and Spring and there’s a distinct sense of renewal from one season to the next.  Southern California is an anomaly in that it feels uni-seasonally.

The bright and shining psychological hold on California is the sunshine and the collective imagination of what California is— the open possibilities and the enduring visuals of surfers, bleach blonde hair, Pacific Ocean waves, Hollywood, and bright lights. 

2014, Glassell Park. A run down 70's Volkswagen Transporter
2014, Hollywood. Pacific Theatre's Cinerama Dome opened in 1963.

You know how most beautiful paintings are painted in layers? Summer memories are like that too. Memories are composite layers of events and happenstance over a course of time. I think often about my Mom and Dad and their big move to Southern California from Korea. I try to imagine what their summers must have been like in their newly minted lives. 

My parents have been in Los Angeles since the early 70’s— best known by the youth today for the surf and skateboard culture marked by  Dogtown & Z-boys fame. But the 70’s in California was more than just that, it was a hub for the defense industry, a birthplace of countercultures, a site for the space industry, etc. They spent their 20’s in California during the close of the Vietnam War and last of the moon landings. Their summers were shaped by memories of road trips around the Pacific South West in Pontiacs, listening to The Jackson 5, The Carpenters, ABBA, Bee Gees, etc., and living through the death of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley. 

I'm a big believer in the heritage of memories. An unintended passing of memories through rituals, traditions and family culture. Undoubtedly, so much of what's shaped my own summer stories are birthed from my parent's own Californian experiences.

1970's Mom. 

Mom's old records from the 70's
When my brother and I were born in the 80’s, our family had a small home in Hollywood right across from Paramount Pictures near Melrose. During the summers, we rode bikes, watched tons of Superman and ate a lot of onion rings at Astro Burger.  I remember watching the marathoners run by during the first City of Los Angeles Marathon.  It was also a time when that gritty edge of the 80's prevailed and street gang activity was ripe. 

July 28, 1984. Age 2, photo in front of our Hollywood home. 

It wasn't until the early 90's that we moved to Downey, a small suburban city outside of Los Angeles Center and into the house I will grow up in and come of age.  I am  truly a  product of the 90’s but lived in the deep remnants of suburban 1950’s California—stylish tract homes, coffee shops, supermarkets, shopping centers and bowling alleys—the novelties of themed restaurants, roadside attractions, fairs, Disneyland, and Knott’s Berry Farm. 

Chamber of Commerce brochure cover, Downey, 1958

This city is a significant part of who I am, as most of my potent adolescent summers were spent on these streets. Its colors, textures, and smells have shaped and influenced my aesthetics and its mood and vibes are part of who I am.  

The city itself has a long history of military aircraft production.  Downey produced 14% of America's military aircraft during World War II.  The site was eventually replaced by the NASA Industrial Plant which was the manufacturing home for the Apollo Space Program and the Space Shuttle Program.  It was again replaced by Rockwell and Boeing in the 90's. I remember the chitter chatter of the space program through the years and imagining what it would look like inside the large structures.

Today, the site is home to Downey Studios, where they shoot big blockbusters like Iron Man, Indiana Jones, G.I. Joe, and Pineapple Express. If you really think about it, Seth Rogan and James Franco might have been lighting up a doobie exactly where the first lunar module was built, carrying Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins onto the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969.

1964, Downey. NASA and North American engineers at the command module mockup review (Photo credit:

In the 90's, Downey still had remnants of the drive-in restaurants from the 1950's, including Harvey’s Boiler. It was one of the last and largest every built. In 2001, it was demolished and turned into a used-car lot till 2009, when it re-opened under the Bob's Big Boy chain. 

This summer, I've gone in a couple times for shakes and fries at the counter. I thought about the time I took photos of the restaurant (back when it was Harvey's Boiler) in 1999 for a photography class assignment in high school. I remember loving the way it looked and the history behind it. I still feel the same way today. 

Harvery's Boiler opened in 1958. Today, reopened as Bob's Big Boy
Downey, The oldest operating McDonald's Restaurant opened in 1953. Still operating today as a drive-up hamburger stand.
So this is where my summer memories were shaped. In the center of 1950's residue and 90's pop culture. Summers were clouded with teenage activities like talking on the phone, listening to R&B and rap, eating popsicles, playing tennis, watching MTV, skating at the local Skate-O-Rama, swimming at the local pool, driving to bonfires at Huntington Beach, playing mini golf at golf-n’-stuff, eating chili-cheese fries, playing the Nickel Nickel 5 Cent arcade, watching tons of borrowed videos from Blockbuster and reading all Judy Blume's and R.L Stine's.

It was that special period right before adulthood when you're experiencing everything for the first time. When everything around you and all that you feel are new and fresh. It's that time when you start connecting the dots and begin to form your own understanding of the world, construct your own opinions, and want to carve out a place in the world for yourself. It was during those summers that I had that time to explore, make mistakes, build friendships, and have fun. 

Downey Golf n' Stuff

Memories are a very personal thing.  It's a collection of what you choose to remember and hold on to over the course of your life. For me, my summers in the 90's are what I chose to remember vibrantly— a million treasured moments that has shaped and colored the way I see the world. It's a link between me and my youth. It's a savored  moment in time that captures the sounds, the tastes, the smells and the colors of that era in a deeply visceral way. It helps me see through all the layers of the painting. 

Memories, they're special and so delicate and it's yours— so fiercely treasure it. Happy Summer!

1 comment

  • Nina: August 10, 2014
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    We have a Cinerama in Seattle, too. We love to go watch movies there. I love the pictures of you, your parents and your aunt. Thank you for sharing!

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