Try On a Brain -- Cement Imprints in Your 'Hood.


When my wife Robin was growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, she and all the other kids on the block would shout a taunt at each other: “Why don’t you try on a brain?”  Now Lily, our daughter, who is turning nine soon, has also been heard shouting the same taunt while playing outside. Did Robin teach it to her? 

Maybe, but more likely she’s reading the imprints in the cement on the sidewalk, just like Robin did a generation ago. Throughout Los Angeles, you can find imprints left by the different construction companies that poured the cement for the walkways when the city was first built. In Studio City, it was theTryon and Brain Construction Company that built the sidewalks. When you search the Internet, however, not much comes up about them, except this one article from the Los Angeles Herald in 1906:

A vast amount of street improvements have been made in Los Angeles In the past few years. Dozens of suburban tracts have been subdivided, graded and curbed, and high-grade work of this sort is in demand. ' Of the prominent contracting firms In the city doing street grading and cement work one of the most successful is Tryon & Brain, whose high grade work has added much to the city's splendid appearance.

Here’s a photo of one on my street:

There’s also website for everything now, including old construction company concrete imprints throughout Los Angeles:

Go there and you can see all the different imprints for the different companies, their years of operation, and the different areas where they laid down sidewalk. Then you can go out looking and see if they match up. Burbank’s sidewalks, for instance, was poured by Gibbons & Reed Co., in 1927.

In San Francisco there are plenty of old concrete companies that imprinted their names everywhere,and there’s a website for them as well:

My favorites, though, are the imprints where the concrete companies misspelled the actual street names that they imbedded in street corners. Everywhere in San Francisco there are misspellings, captured in yet another Internet site:

For a time my family lived in the Sunset District, and on many corners Twelfth Avenue was misspelled as Twelvth Avenue, and as a kid I misspelled the world “twelfth” for several years because I would see 

it printed incorrectly on so many of my neighborhood street corners that I just assumed it was the correct spelling. I wonder how that happened? The Sunset was the last neighborhood built, and it stretches from Twelfth 

Avenue all the way down to the ocean for thirty-six more blocks. Were people so exhausted laying so much concrete that they just got tired and lazy? Or did the construction company just hire people who couldn’t spell?

Earthquakes, potholes, gentrification, spreading tree roots, and entropy end up destroying sidewalks, and as the new ones come in, the old logos disappear. 

Take a look around your neighborhood and see if you can spot an old concrete imprint before they all go away. Burbank recently redid all its sidewalks, and they paid $650 million out of their general fund and replaced all their sidewalks over seven years -- a job well done. In Los Angeles, you may have more time to spot imprints, however. Although Mayor Garcetti swears to make it a priority, but it may take higher taxes to reach the 1.5 billion dollars some say is needed (how is that possible?) to repair and replace all the bad sidewalks in the City of Angeles. It will also take...fifteen years. But at least you can enjoy the imprints! It’s a little bit of hidden history, right at your feet, so look around.

Also, this is the 50th blog post for CaliforniaBull -- which means I’ve been writing this blog for a year! 

I did take a few weeks off for holidays and busy shows, so it’s been a little more than a year. Thank you for reading, and I plan to write a post a week far into the future, well after the last original Los Angeles concrete imprint has been replaced. 

I will also have a new platform and website for the blog soon, through Squarespace and, as well as through Google’s Blog Spot. If you’re interested you can subscribe and get it in delivered to your email box once a week via Mail Chimp. I’ll keep you posted about it, and I hope you’ll keep reading!