Armed with a bulletproof vest, walkie-talkie — to save Larchmont

| March 3, 2022 | 0 Comments

In about 1988, when I began to date my future, now ex-wife, I’d been in Los Angeles for over seven years. When I asked her where she lived, she said, “Larchmont, Windsor Square, near Hancock Park?” I nodded my head and said, “Okay.” She could see the blank expression on my face. “East of La Brea. Past Highland.” I was totally lost. My ignorance made her geographically undesirable in my eyes a decade before the term was created. Also, a decade before GPS.


So, when I finally found Larchmont, it was a delightful, isolated island of a community that was frequented by those who knew about it and passed by the millions who didn’t. I was happy that that was the way it was. By 1990 I had gotten married and moved into a Larchmont home that my ex-wife was smart enough to have bought some years before.

As a matter of fact, the only aggravating thing about my home was that there was no stop sign at the corner of First and Lucerne. So, I made my first mistake. I called the Los Angeles Police Department, where I was introduced to my Senior Lead Officer, the self-described Mayor for our area, a charming young (now retired) guy named Matthew St. Pierre, who shook me down over the phone. “I understand you want a stop sign? No promises, but we don’t have a Neighborhood Watch Block Captain in Windsor Square. If you could do that, I’ll see about getting you a stop sign.” And I believed him.

That’s the way it worked back then. I can’t give you the exact chronology, but I became St. Pierre’s block captain. It wasn’t that tough a job, so I found a block captain for the next block south, west to Arden, over to Larchmont until finally we had absconded with the whole neighborhood. Jim Ham, Steve Feller and I were running this “thing,” which of course needed a name, so we called it “Windsor Watch.” It sounded really official. Soon afterwards, “Windsor Watch” magnetic car signs, flashing red dome lights and Windsor Watch badges appeared, which I can talk about openly now because the statute of limitations is probably over. LAPD was more than happy to outfit us with yellow “Community Watch” jackets, and pretty soon there was a little police department in Larchmont.

My son was born on April 20, 1992, and the city was nervous about the Rodney King verdict. In anticipation of any civil unrest, we boosted our normal patrol schedule, and I did what any right-minded 40-year-old egomaniacal narcissist would do: I commandeered an empty produce store on the Boulevard to use as our detention center, if necessary.

On the day the riots started, I had a nine-day-old, just-circumcised-and-crying son at home. But I knew that for my wife and son to be safe, I needed to be on the streets. It was early in the marriage, and she begged me not to go.

My colleague Mark Robert had bought me a bulletproof vest from a costume shop. I had no idea whether it was real, and we’d also been given last-generation walkie-talkies from the LAPD. We were locked and loaded to save Larchmont.

No one critiqued this plan because all the real cops were in Koreatown and at Samy’s Camera.

There was a guy, whose name I’ve forgotten, who owned an Asian antiques store on the Boulevard, and he was amazing. He was outfitted like a Navy Seal, armed to the teeth and up on his roof every night.

History will record that this went on for six days. I guess my people have a history of fighting six-day wars.

The conflict in Los Angeles ended, and the community heaped praise upon our rag-tag Windsor Watch crew. Specifically for me, that meant a coveted appointment to the Wilshire Community Police Advisory Board, where I quickly moved on as civilian chairman of the first citywide Community Police Advisory Board. I won’t lie. It was nice having Tom Bradley and Dick Riordan know who I was, and of course John Ferraro, my greatest hero, and our beloved Tom LaBonge. Ferraro introduced me to everyone as Commissioner Greenberg, which was all the validation I ever needed. I simultaneously served on the Windsor Square Association board and take great pride in Jane Gilman having named me a “Man of Larchmont,” back when a title like that was appropriate. Being a Man of Larchmont meant that I got to judge the Halloween Costume Contest with Raul Rodriguez and his parrot, which, come to think of it, I think was actually a macaw.

My dear friend Bob Vacca of Lipson Plumbing generously gave us a storefront to use as an LAPD sub-station, and it was there for several years as a real, visible crime deterrent on the Boulevard. I hung out there with a treasure trove of devoted citizens, as well as great cops, some of whom went off to become chiefs of police, and one still close friend who was, for a term, the Los Angeles County sheriff.

By 2005 I had moved from Larchmont, although my son is still there. The only evidence of my community involvement is that for as long as the obelisk stands at the gateway to Larchmont Boulevard, my name will be on it. But don’t look at it. There’s virtually no way to see it without your risking being run over by a car.

I had the good fortune to be on the Boulevard last week, visiting from my home in Portland, Oregon. As I ate a memorable clam and garlic pizza and the world’s best meatball, I listened to the stories of the Boulevard today and surveyed the block. I thought of the very real possibility that some part of Larchmont might have become a casualty in 1992. But there it was, 30 years later.
It was at the same time different and the same. Parking was still a nightmare. Yet I’ve never found a neighborhood I was as comfortable with, and I’ve never been prouder of an affiliation. But I was a kid then and had the energy to do battle with my neighbors, with the city, with the LAPD.

Every generation will have a different idea of what “Saving Larchmont” is to them. For my generation it was saving it from the very real possibility of arson and theft. I can’t tell what Saving Larchmont would feel like in 2022. But I will tell you that whatever it is takes hard work and dedication. That it can’t be left to the other person.

Perhaps a decade after I began my quest we did get a stop sign at the corner of First and Larchmont. Not the four-way stop I had hoped for, but one on the cross street. And there it is in a nutshell — Saving Larchmont 2022 will be all about the art of compromise.

Barry M. Greenberg is a talent executive who lived in Los Angeles from 1981 to 2012. He is a former Larchmont Chronicle Man of Larchmont.

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Category: People

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