I drive by the Olive Motel at least once a week, sometimes daily depending on where I’m living in Los Angeles. I’ve been kicked down Sunset from East Hollywood to Silver Lake to Echo Park to Chinatown, any further and I’ll go skittering over the river. I used to drive by it everyday when I lived in Silver Lake, and always dreamed of what it could be.
I thought about it every time I passed it, which as I wrote used to be everyday, and is to say I thought about the Olive Motel more than I thought about world hunger or cancer or antelopes or dinosaurs or Art Linkletter or any other millions of things and people that I could have been thinking about in the course of a day.
I think I thought about it so much cause I loved it as a building and could readily see it wasn’t doing so well. I thought of how my life could intercede with it, of all the possibilities. Isn’t this what Los Angeles is? All of us always looking for possibilities in the landscape. I never do this in Milan or London or Hong Kong. I never look at the landscape and think of all the potential out there. The prospects seem mined out, emptied, nothing but a few scraps leftover and only those with enough money can even afford that. I still feel like I could buy the Olive Motel someday and make it into a barbershop or a bookstore, a boutique hotel or a private museum, something; it just seems so ripe to me.
I saw William Leavitt’s painting Olive Motel, 1995, much later, well after my daily interior musing on my private landmark. Leavitt makes paintings largely drawn from the LA landscape and theatrical sets that seem plump with a narrative possibility, never realized. Currently hanging at MoCA on Grand Ave. for the artist’s retrospective, Leavitt’s Olive Motel is now the Olive Motel in my memory. The two are now indissolubly linked. Leavitt’s work is about the feeling I used to get driving down Sunset past the Olive, that the space is full of possibilities, that the landscape is a set for our dreams and yet still the backdrop of our real lives and sufferings, that reality and fiction are porous here, each extruding into the other until the two become inseparable. But the transference isn’t Hollywood Babylon, it’s strange and quiet, it's the modernnist angle and the arc of palm trees and the color of the sunlight as it spurts onto your dashboard. Perhaps this porousness between fiction and fact exists in a lot of places, myths and legends of past kings and former conquests or cities as battlefields, the medieval walls still somewhat intact, or those driven by industries not so enmeshed in storytelling: fashion or yachting or medicine. Every city has its mix of legend and reality, but no where is fantasy quite so mundane, quite so real as it is in Los Angeles.
It’s your living room populated by things you picked up at St. Vincent’s, the name of the TV show set it came from scrawled in Sharpie marker somewhere quiet. It’s your house as a backdrop for a car commercial. It’s stories we tell about LA, and that are told about LA, and the LA we dream of, each of us, tourists and locals alike as we drive, almost always drive, past the long-necked palm trees scarred with graffiti along Sunset Blvd and the endless strip malls stained with oil and the smell of pizza and burritos and a freshly lit cigarette smoked by the teenager in the car next to you. You pass the empty storefront, the streetcorner cafe, the Craftsman peeking at you from the top of a distant hill. You sigh, shift gear, and think of the possibilities.
- Andrew Berardini
William Leavitt, Olive Motel , 1995, oil on canvas, 30 x 60 30 in., courtesy Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles