LA PROFILES - Brady Westwater spends an average of seven days a week in the silent warrens of The Last Bookstore, categorizing the $1 bargain books on the mezzanine level.
An unpaid volunteer, he spends most of the time on his feet, scanning the shelves and putting everything in its right place while a constant stream of people ask him for advice on his cell phone, held to his ear by his shoulder, while other people are following him around to discuss their projects with him.
Brady has the books cataloged by sub categories of non-fiction including philosophy, geology, paleontology and so on. This newly added section of the store caters to students, older residents of Skid Row trying to get their GED’s and those making a career change. It is up to Westwater and other volunteers to sort through an immense pile of donated books and put it in a logical order.
Mr. Westwater – a.k.a. the ‘LA Cowboy’ complete with hat and a kind weather-worn face – has always been a proponent of the truth, especially when it comes to the history of Los Angeles.
It’s this quest for truth – unadulterated and unbiased – that seems to drive Westwater, who gives 2-hour guided tours of historic downtown where patrons can take in facts about the city that may not coincide with the previously accepted knowledge. Westwater feels the complicated and often contradictory and usually messy way things actually happened is always more interesting than anything written to prove how one side is right – or wrong.
Westwater has born in LA (his parents met on a blind date on Spring Street), and from his earliest years he met and knew a wide range of people, even members of the Rancho families who dated back to the early 19th century; owners of cattle property that would eventually become townships like Santa Monica, Culver City and Monterey Park. They – and others who families came later – dazzled his young ears with passed down stories from 19th Century LA – and with first hand stories of LA “before the War”, about what LA was like from the 1890’s to 20’s and 30’s.” He soaked in stories of old feuds, cattle thieves and tales from elders who had personally known Wyatt Earp.
His fascination often brought him to various archives to study microfilms of old newspapers, old family diaries and correspondences between prominent people in the city’s history. His meticulous knowledge of books has reached a point that he rarely comes across a book about downtown LA that he isn’t already familiar with.
His involvement in Los Angeles parks began in the early 1960’s. In junior high school he started a group to clean up the LA River, a cause that would become one of his lifelong goals. He describes his early dabbles with activism as “sort of a joke” though his essays concerning the river were passionate and serious to him. It would later push him to join the cause to save the Victorian homes on Bunker Hill, “We saved two of them,” Brady recalls bitter-sweetly. “They were unfortunately burnt down by arsonists.”
Brady became one of the founding 27 members of the Downtown LA Neighborhood Council – and its Planning and Land Use Committee.
The DLANC website declares their mission “to unite the diverse communities of downtown Los Angeles and to provide an innovative forum for all community stakeholders to contribute to a healthy, vibrant and inclusive Downtown.”
Though Brady has since retired from serving on the board, he remains the last of the founding members on the Planning and Land Use Committee. He was also the first co-chair of the Public Works committee and at its first meeting in 2002, he asked why the Quimby fees-- being paid by developers of condos -- weren’t being used to buy park land in Downtown. Then with the help of co-chair Michael Gagan, a land use attorney, the committee started the process that led to the overhall passing of a resolution that helped Jan Perry to get a audit of the Quimby fees. And – only 13 years later – the first park in the city to be bought with Quimby fees – is about to open on Spring Street.
“We were lucky we got some very connected people politically to sit as public members on our committees and they really supported us as we were working with the city. By having people sit with each other and respect each other, we were able to bring this wide cross section of people together. It also helps when you have committee or board members who could call up a head of a city agency on their cell phone.”
It also helped to have community members who had a vision. Founding Board and committee members Nic Cha Kim & Kjell Hagen, after being recruited to DLANC by Brady, used the Arts Committee to help start Gallery Row – working with, among others, Art walk founder Bert Green while Brady worked with him to lease the first cluster of art Galleries at 5th and Main where the Downtown Art Walk began. From there, Brady says “I started counting all the businesses I helped lease in Downtown and I had to stop counting at 120”.
And It all happened because 27 DLANC board members and far more volunteers serving on committees worked – together – to make it happen.
When he is not giving historic tours, updating his blog or organizing the shelves of the bookstore Brady pursues non-civic passions like film making, screenwriting, the elusive final edit of his novel and the memoirs of his cowboy years. He admits wishing he could be upstairs writing it all now, but there’s always so much to be done down here.
(This piece was provided CityWatch by Downtown Examiner where it first appeared.)
Vol 11 Issue 29
Pub: Apr 9, 2013