Before embarking on thousands of poems and stories chronicling the lives of L.A.’s prostitutes, lonely and destitute, the famous writer Charles Bukowski (known as the Poet Laureate of Skid Row) grew up in the Mid-City area.
Bukowski’s family moved to L.A. from Germany in 1923. In 1926 they lived at 4511 W. 28th St. , and Charles attended Virginia Road elementary school located below Adams Blvd. near Crenshaw. A couple of years later the family moved to 2122 Longwood Ave., just south of Washington Blvd., near La Brea Ave. The teenage Bukowski attended Mt. Vernon Jr. High (now renamed Johnnie Cochran Middle School), then Dorsey High followed by Los Angeles High .
In his 1982 autobiographical novel “Ham and Rye” Bukowski mentions these and several other sites in our neighborhood, for instance, this scene after his stern father kept his job loss a secret from this family: “Each Saturday when my
parents went for their free food they didn’t go to the nearest market because they were afraid some of the neighbors might see them and then know that they were on the dole. So they walked two miles down Washington Boulevard to a store a couple of blocks past Crenshaw…They walked the two miles back, sweating, carrying their shopping bags full of canned hash and potatoes and bologna and carrots. My father didn’t drive because he wanted to save gas. He needed the gas to drive to and from his invisible job.”
If he hadn’t already developed his edge by being beaten as a child, Bukowski’s dark attitude was probably forged as one of the poor kids attending the otherwise-affluent L.A. High. He writes of graduation day in 1939. “I walked up to and across the stage, took the diploma, shook the principal’s hand. It felt slimy like the inside of a dirty fish bowl.” (Two years later he would be exposed as an embezzler of school funds).
4511 W. 28th St.
After high school Bukowski secured a job at the Sears-Roebuck store on Pico Blvd. where he was a stock boy. Some of us may recall the old Sears building that later became a discount hardware store before being cleared for the new Loew’s at Mid-Town Crossing. “ My first delivery was to lingerie. I located the items, placed them in my little green cart … and pushed it toward the elevator. … It was very slow . . . the doors opened and an albino with one eye stood at the controls.” Shortly thereafter Charles left home to attend LACC, moved to different boarding houses downtown and then finally to Hollywood. He passed away from cancer in 1994 in San Pedro after re-marrying.
2122 Longwood Ave
It should be noted in the war on library cutbacks, that Bukowski credits his interest in writing from the many times he walked from his Longwood home to the local branch library where he discovered the literary greats. Lawrence, Huxley, Lewis, Anderson, etc: “Each day I walked down to the library at Adams and La Brea . . . I kept pulling the books off the shelves. The first real book I found was by a fellow named Upton Sinclair . . . I went back for more. I read each book in a single evening.” Bukowski’s archive can now be found at the Huntington Library. Local boy makes good.