CSULAÂs Honors students find ÂCommon GroundÂ in Los Angeles
ÂHill Street HistoriansÂ to present collaborative projects on the Ambassador Hotel, more
Sharing about the community history project:
CSULAÂs Honors student George Castillo and sociology major Michelle Lopez join former Ambassador Hotel Public Relations Director Margaret Burk to visit the site of the legendary Ambassador Hotel, which is now the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools Complex.
Collecting more than 100 articles, gathering 70 historic images on postcards, administering neighborhood surveys and conducting oral history interviews, a group of Honors students at Cal State L.A. is getting a glimpse into the diverse history of Los Angeles.
These Honors studentsÂpart of a group that call themselves the ÂHill Street HistoriansÂÂhave been working on ÂCommon Ground: the Histories of the Ambassador HotelÂs NeighborhoodÂ and other community history projects, in collaboration with The Studio for Southern California History (The Studio).
The Ambassador Hotel has been recognized by many as Âan icon of Los Angeles,Â from its opening in 1921, until its demolition in 2006 to make way for the Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Community Schools Complex.
According to Sharon Sekhon, executive director of The Studio, ÂWhile the Ambassador Hotel may rightfully hold a place in historical memory for various political and cultural events, the history of its neighborhood provides an even more pluralistic vision of Los AngelesÂ history.Â
ÂOver the course of the summer, weÂve managed to collect interviews from several members of the community,Â explained CSULAÂs anthropology major and ÂHill Street HistorianÂ George Castillo. ÂSome are CSULA faculty members like Dr. David Olsen, and others have been writers like Tomas Benitez. We even got to interview Shelly Morrison, who played Rosario Salazar on Will and Grace, and to meet Margaret Burk, who was the last public relations director at the Ambassador Hotel. Burk hosted a variety of events from weddings, birthdays and parties for the rich and famous, and chronicled many interesting stories in her book, Are the Stars Out Tonight.Â
Castillo added, ÂThatÂs what makes the Common Ground Project important. WeÂre trying our best to remind others about the importance of a certain location. A building itself may be beautiful, but what happened inside it is usually what is breathtaking. The Ambassador Hotel is just one of those locations.Â
A mural of the late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy adorns the inside of the RFK Schools main library.
For the past year, Castillo and fellow Honors students Marie Eleanore Cabal, Michael Mattice, and Jonathan Tran were enrolled in CSULA courses connected around the theme of ÂReading Los Angeles.Â These classes focused on the cultural and political history and life of the city, and emphasized the importance of community history projects.
For example, Professor OlsenÂs Communications 176 class taught the students how to debate and speak in public while also familiarizing them with the Ambassador Hotel. For a class project, the students debated about the decision to demolish the Ambassador Hotel to create the RFK Schools.
In Liberal Studies 234, taught by Professor Alejandra Marchevsky, the students visited the RFK Schools and taught a high school class the importance of studying history and the guidelines of conducting oral history interviews.
An Art major, Cabal said, ÂProfessor MarchevskyÂs class helped a lot of us get in touch with our community through assignments that involved interacting with students at the New Open World Academy in the new RFK Schools as well as learning more about the areas in Los Angeles through articles and novels.Â
The Honors students also visited the neighborhood and surveyed some of the residents to better understand the community surrounding the RFK Schools, as part of the Urban Analysis 180 class taught by Professor Michael Willard.
Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools Complex.
By applying the skills they learned this past year in their summer work with The Studio, the students were able to branch out to include The Pioneer Project: Histories of Artesia and the West Los Angeles Veterans Project.
Michelle Hawley, interim director of the Honors College at CSULA, said, ÂThese commmunity-engagement courses were implemented as part of a pilot program for the Honors College, to be officially launched this fall. During the summer, the Honors students have been learning about history and understanding its importance as it is always being changed, created, written, and re-written.Â
ÂWorking both on the Common Ground Project and with The Studio has enriched my connection with Los Angeles in more ways than one,Â said Cabal. ÂThanks to The Studio, I have come to appreciate Los Angeles history as much as art. I hope to continue to work on the project and that others will gain the same appreciation for the history of their beloved city.Â
Michelle Lopez, a sociology major at CSULA, has also been enlightened by the history of the hotel and its signifance to Los Angeles through working with The Studio. She said, ÂI got involved with the Common Ground Project by interning at The Studio for Southern California History and itÂs amazing how much the school resembles the Ambassador Hotel.Â She noted that the Ambassador Hotel should have been preserved.
A formal presentation of the studentsÂ summer workÂentitled ÂLove is Living Large in Los AngelesÂÂwill take place on Saturday, Sept. 3, from 7 to 10 p.m., at The Studio, located at 977 North Hill Street in Los Angeles. There will be an exhibit dedicated to individuals who Âlived largeÂ in Los Angeles by a life actively engaged toward building a better good. Also, on Saturday, Sept. 17, The Studio will be hosting a walking tour of the RFK Schools surrounding neighborhood, guided by the ÂHill Street Historians.Â
Find out more at the following links:
- Common Ground Project:
- Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools Complex:
- The Studio for Southern California History:
- Office of Community Engagement at CSULA:
- CSULAÂs 2010 cohort of G.E. Honors Program students:
- Honors College at CSULA (opening fall 2011):