LA Will Not Be the Same Without John Chase

LA Will Not Be the Same Without John Chase

The accolades keep pouring in for former West Hollywood Urban Designer John Chase. Frances Anderton is busy writing the obituary for us (and her blog for KCRW’s Design and Architecture is full of Chase memories). Here’s a lovely tribute from Marissa Gluck and Josh Williams at Curbed LA. And one from AN contributor Alissa Walker. And below is a moving piece from AN contributor Tibby Rothman:

In Memory of John Chase, Formidable Friend, Daring Dresser, Urban Enthusiast

LA planner James Rojas just posted this: “LA has lost its greatest urban planner. John Chase has passed away.”

But John Leighton Chase was also a writer. And, he was better than the rest of us at it. I remember reading his stuff for the first time, and knowing very clearly that I’d never be that good. His writing, like John, had energy, enthusiasm, passion, humor, empathy, and honesty. And, like his legendary choice of outfits—which will never be equaled—was so damn colorful. Less is a bore, for sure. John had been a newspaper man who gave it up to make a living and turned back without bitterness or sadness to do the most generous thing: He dropped a hand for the rest of us, and drew upon that tremendous heart of his to fuel our writing dreams.

John’s title at the City of West Hollywood was Urban Designer, a position amongst the many other official titles he held and was lauded for. But for writers focused on architecture, planning and design he had a different job description: “Confidante.” No matter how busy he was, or what hearing he had coming up, he was always available. He pushed me back to the vulnerable world of fiction. You could tell all your writers’ secrets to John, and he with you, and when you share writers secrets you share everything.

John loved Venice, he had lived here—and one of the things that initiated our friendship was I loved Venice too. But, the first time I actually saw John in Venice was the last time I spent time with him alone. We went to lunch at Hal’s. Let the record show, he was actually understated in terms of dress. A disappointment to me, I might add.

It was July 30, a Friday, but we took our time with it. And afterwards, I asked him if he had five extra minutes, I wanted to turn him on to Hamilton Press. And it was John, and he always had five extra minutes for you so we went.

Some people, when you take them down to Hamilton Press’s low key space, don’t get it, they might go straight to a piece by say—Ed Ruscha—omitting all others. Some go straight to the studio to see where the lithographs are printed, they want the inside story. But John gave each glorious print displayed on the wall carefully examination without regard to who the work was by—he just looked at the work. And, then he stood back. “It’s like a secret museum in the middle of the city,” he said, with wonder and love, getting the place in thirty seconds as he had with essential rooms in the urban fabric before.

Afterwards we walked to that goddamn red Mercedes of his. I had my bike with me, but decided instead to take his offer of a ride into the city. On the way, we talked about a project he was overseeing. He shared with me his hopes for it, and a lunch that he wanted to have with the architects to convey his dream. A wish that incorporated architecture, site, history—and with all of John’s work—an acknowledgement of the often-silent contributions of individuals, whether it was their work that deserved so, their humanity, or just who they were as people. John had the heart to salute other people’s hearts. He always stood up for people.

The last thing, the only thing I can do for John now, is pick up those notes—carry them cupped in two hands, as precious as they were and take them to the architect.

On Sunday morning, Pat Hamilton one of the partners in Hamilton Press, called me, early, saddened by the news of John’s death. After John had gone, she’d looked up one of his books on Amazon, planning to have him sign it. He had that way.

All weekend-long, as people—an extraordinary far flung tribe—talked to me of John’s passing, I kept saying that the only person who should be allowed to grieve his passing was his husband, Jon Cowan. I know that John would be distraught, deeply upset to have left Jon this way. He would never have done that if he’d been given any choice. But I admit that such tough talk was a deep Ed Moses-alpha male lie. I cannot come to terms with John’s death. With his passing. It’s very selfish on my part: none of us can turn to him again. That I had one last secret to tell him, that he would have laughed about, that I had been saving for a special occasion.

The likes of John will not pass this way again. He was wholly beautifully John Leighton Chase. I’m so glad that I held my tongue and didn’t tell him to shave off those mutton chops and I took that last ride in the red Mercedes.