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Tales of The American

The story of the American Hotel in downtown Los Angeles

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Tales of The American


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For some, it was a fresh start. For others, a last resort. It was also the home of Al's Bar, the seminal punk-rock dive. The American Hotel in downtown Los Angeles was built in 1905 as the city's first hotel for African-Americans.
Since that time, it has been a haven for society's outsiders, whether Japanese immigrants or artists seeking cheap space and an off-the-grid existence in an abandoned and neglected urban landscape.
Over the past four decades, a thriving and free-spirited arts scene has grown up in and around the American Hotel. But development and gentrification are pushing out the artists that made the area desirable. At the heart of this struggle stands the American Hotel, with its history of tolerance and renewal.

The Stories
Filmmakers Stephen Seemayer and Pamela Wilson have interviewed more than 140 residents, former residents and neighbors of the American Hotel. "Tales of the American" weaves together their stories and memories of nearly four decades in what is now known as the Arts District in eastern downtown Los Angeles.

The History  
Even before artists moved in, the American was a haven for the outcasts of society. In 1905, the hotel was built to provide "first-class lodgings for negroes," when other L.A. hotels were segregated. By 1930, Little Tokyo had extended into the area, and nearly all the hotel's residents were Japanese, to be sent to internment camps in World War II.

The Setting
Originally the city's first black neighborhood, the area around Traction & Hewitt has gone through many changes, including to warehouses and factories. It is now the hub of the Downtown Arts District. Brightly painted walls sport graffiti as well as sanctioned murals on streets that now are home to cafés, galleries, restaurants and theaters.

The Legacy
The infamous punk dive Al's Bar, where bands such as the White Stripes and the Red Hot Chili Peppers played before fame found them, was located on the ground floor of the American Hotel for 21 years. Also, several exciting, if short-lived, L.A. art groups, such as 50 Bucks, Bedlam and Deep River Gallery, have called the hotel home.

 

Directed by Stephen Seemayer
Writer: Pamela Wilson
Stars: Sandra Cruze, Mat Gleason, Emmeric Konrad
Cinematographer Raymond Y. Newton

 "Tales of the American" has been awarded Best Feature Documentary at the Highland Park Independent Film Festival.

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