What a 1940s L.A. resident thinks of L.A. Noire

Chris Donlan’s grandfather was an L.A. cop in the 1940s, and Donlan’s father grew up there. Of course, this means Donlan had to play L.A. Noire with his dad, at least to show him the long-since razed Richfield Tower.

I’ll never forget the moment we found it. Dad could just about remember the cross-streets – 6th and Flower – and I had a little trouble fiddling round in the game’s map to set a waypoint. Then we were off. On the drive, dad kept up a low-level muttering trail of recollections and fiercely specific critiques: the lamps on this bridge were right, but the large dumpsters in alleyways weren’t like anything he remembered seeing; a gas station’s Coke machine was just perfect, but little skirtings of exposed brickwork around the low walls of vacant lots ‘didn’t seem very Californian’; this was meant to be 1947? Why was that a 1950 Chevy, then? When we finally turned onto 6th, though, he suddenly stopped talking.

Like any son with a father in his late 60s, I assumed his sudden silence meant he was having a minor cardiac event. He wasn’t, however: he was simply back in the presence of a building he hadn’t seen in half a century.

We got out of the car and circled the mass of black marble. Dad didn’t say much for a minute or so, but I was astonished that this forgotten edifice had made the cut in Rockstar’s highly compressed take on Los Angeles. As landmarks go, it was long gone in real life, and in California, long gone generally means it’s also forgotten. It was never a world-famous edifice, like the bleached white sepulchre of City Hall that dwarfs the surrounding area in the game (in 2012, however, it looks quaint, cruelly hemmed in by glass and steel megastructures), and it wasn’t particularly chic, like the Public Library, the pyramid spire of which you can see briefly in the game’s opening credits. It’s the kind of building that wouldn’t really be missed, and yet here it was, and dad was visibly shaken.

The entire article is a wonderful reminder that videogames can be nostalgic even for those of us who didn’t grow up playing them.