John Fante’s Dreams from Bunker Hill

Early editions of this tour lamented John Fante’s obscurity. Then on April 8, 2010, the City of Los Angeles declared the corner of 5th & Grand (next to Central Library) “John Fante Square.” Today John Fante might be best described as the most famous unknown writer in America. Climb aboard to hear his story and that of the lost neighborhood where he found his voice.

Before Kerouac, before Bukowski, there was John Fante, author of “Ask the Dust,” “Dreams of Bunker Hill,” “Full of Life,” “The Road to Los Angeles” and “Wait Until Spring, Bandini.” This five-novel cycle, written over sixty years, introduced the world to Arturo Bandini, an outspoken, down-and-out Mr. Hyde to Fante’s Dr. Jekyll.

As Bunker Hill’s prodigal son, Fante-as-Bandini chronicles a forgotten Los Angeles neighborhood teeming with immigrants, criminals and dreamers like himself. With genuine compassion and wonderful craft, he sketches the hopes and dreams which fly round their heads, and in the process finds his own voice, a revelation which carries him all the way to Hollywood. Once there, distracted by fame and fortune, he settled for easy answers and lost his way as an artist. But at the end, he came home to the heart of the city and the hard years where he found his voice. “Dreams of Bunker Hill” was dictated by a blind Fante two years before his death, and “Road to Los Angeles” was published posthumously.

Bunker Hill is gone now, flattened, its mansions torn down, long since redeveloped by corporate and civic interests. But in today’s downtown communities the same stories play out, in thriving micro-climates where artists and writers find their way, some are making it big, others breaking up on the reef. Arturo Bandini is alive and well, and his lament is as relevant today as it was in 1939.

So please join us as we follow in his footsteps, to the Goodwill store, the King Eddy Saloon, Central Library, aboard the newly-restored Angels Flight Railway, and other evocative scenes of old L.A.

This tour is a meditation not only on John Fante, but the city’s endangered public space. The depopulation of Bunker Hill in the early 1960s became the benchmark for Community Redevelopment across the country, and soon a cautionary tale of urban planning hubris. Now that corporate interests have decided to repopulate Downtown with market-rate housing and private security forces, the poor are again left in the cold. But public space can be saved and Arturo Bandini can lead the way.

Scenes From Past Tours