By Ellie Robins
13.7 billion years ago: Silent, but meltingly loud. From nothing, the possibility of movement. Rushing to the outside of what can be, eternally, which began a second ago.
Then: Darkness beyond black, inside the deepest black, darkness without the invention of light.
Then: Stars. Galaxies. Galaxy clusters. Something to punctuate all the everything.
Then: Cosmic dust grains collide and combine, collide and combine. Ten, maybe 20 million years, then:
4.54 billion years ago: Earth.
Then: Volcanoes, asteroids, comets. Cooling, solidifying. The moon.
Four billion years ago: A molecule replicates itself. Gershwin blooms.
550 million years ago: Water, rock, and jellyfish. That’s all.
Then: Microbes, lichen, the first soil.
Then: Like frogs, but not frogs.
230 million years ago: Dinosaurs. A single landmass, still.
65 million years ago: In Arizona, a dinosaur rips a leaf from a tree, chews, looks around. It seems bored, but boredom won’t be invented for another 65 million years.
Then: Meteor. Start again.
Seven million years ago: Upright walking apes.
Then: Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens.
Then: Tools, fire, cooking, agriculture.
11,500 BC: Trekking from Asia to North America, humans calling a continent into existence.
3,000 BC: In Los Angeles, Hokan-speaking people fish and gather seeds. Each step they take is the first. They never have to circle for parking.
1,500 BC: From Nevada, Tongva people walk, walk, walk to Los Angeles. The first immigrants.
Then: Men sail the marshes of Los Angeles in reed canoes. At night, fire.
1542: The Spanish flag sails up the California coast, announcing two or three hundred men.
1769: Father Juan Crespí sees this lush, green, sunny land, and scribbles: “The most suitable site of all that we have seen for a mission, for it has all the requisites for a large settlement.”
1781: Walking, walking. Settlers trek north from Mexico.
September 4th, 1781: The City of Los Angeles is founded.
1880: Population of Los Angeles: 11,000.
1887: In Downtown Los Angeles, beside Pershing Square, a pavilion is built. It costs $25,000. It will seat four thousand. At Hazard’s Pavilion, men will fight, men will preach, women will sing.
1896: Population of Los Angeles: nearly 100,000.
1904: Temple Baptist Church buys Hazard’s Pavilion. Boxing is out, God is in.
1906: Beside Pershing Square, the pavilion is demolished, and creatures made of stardust build a new auditorium, with an Art Nouveau interior and a Spanish Gothic exterior. From the flat ground of the present moment, the Spanish Gothic seems like history.
February 8th, 1915: At the new auditorium beside Pershing Square, a young nation watches The Birth of a Nation, the premiere. Nations need stories, but this is the wrong story, entirely the wrong story.
1920: Beside Pershing Square, the LA Philharmonic moves in. With strings and brass and wood, humans will play the thing we so easily forget: how wondrous, how immensely bizarre that we should be here at all.
1963: The last note plays; the LA Phil decamps.
1985: Beside Pershing Square, the long-abandoned Philharmonic Auditorium is demolished. The world can’t get enough offices, and here is a prime location — but then, the world is sick of offices.
Then: Cement. The flat ground of the present moment, the flat ground of a parking lot. Years pass. The city swells.
2007: Tingling nerves: a new building planned. Luxury condos. Roof gardens and roof pools and theaters and firepits: imagine the things molecular replication has made possible, here beside Pershing Square.
2009: The dream dries out in the LA sun. A breeze blows through, and it’s gone, leaving the parking lot.
2014: From San Francisco come the saviours. MacFarlane Partners. A $300 million development. To include those rooftop gardens, that rooftop pool.
January 13th, 2017: Beside Pershing Square and all over Los Angeles, it’s been raining for a week: glorious, needed rain, rain that might keep the possibility of this city alive for a few more years.
Beside Pershing Square, acres of ground are missing. Half a city block. Down, down, who knows how far, a yellow digger crouches. Mounds of earth wait. It’s perfectly still, down there. Up here, humans roll by in cars, on skateboards. Some walk. Spare some change? someone yells. You sure? Check your bag, motherfucker, check your fucking bag.
2019: A seven-story residential building where there was once a parking lot and before that a pavilion and before that stardust. 313 apartments, 7,500 square feet of retail space, and a 24-story high rise on its way. From the possibility of movement, 13.7 billion years ago, to such certainty about stillness.