The revitalization of LA’s neglected riverfront has gone from social-justice crusade to money-soaked land grab
In the early 13th century, a wealthy merchant’s son knelt before a crucifix in a small, crumbling chapel near Assisi, a village in Italy, and received a message from the Lord: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” Taking the message literally, Francis began gathering stones to fix up the dilapidated structure and two others nearby.
Some time later, while praying in one of those smaller chapels—Our Lady of the Angels, or the Porziuncola (meaning “little portion”)—he received a further revelation: that only the poor were true Christians. Francis gave away his remaining possessions and began preaching the sanctity of humility, poverty, and peace. Legend has it that a few years later, on August 2, 1216, he received a special indulgence from Pope Honorius III: unconditional absolution for anyone who visited the Porziuncola on that date in the future.
Half a millennium later, an expedition of soldiers and Franciscan friars marched north from Spain’s colony in Mexico to establish a military outpost on Monterey Bay, in modern-day California. A few weeks into the trip, on August 2, 1769, the group camped beside a “good-sized, full-flowing river,” Father Juan Crespí wrote in his journal, “with very good water, pure and fresh.” They named this “lush and pleasing spot” Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula—Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, at the Porciúncula River—after the holy day they had just celebrated. It was “a most beautiful garden,” Crespí observed, with “all the requisites for a large settlement.” […]