FBF: The Pope’s ’80s L.A. Visit

The pontiff has New York streets turned upside down, but 28 years ago it was our turn

If anyone’s snapped on cable news this week, they’ve seen New York’s streets cleared of cars and full of crowds, police cars, and the Popemobile. The leader of the Catholic Church has descended upon the Big Apple, and while many are overjoyed at his presence, some are just struggling to make their way home amongst traffic tie-ups and street closures. 

Back in 1987, L.A. experienced a similar scenario, though with John Paul II instead of Francis waving to the crowds. Reports from that time indicate that the city managed pretty well; possibly well-prepared for huge events following the smooth and successful 1984 Olympics.

The L.A. Times reported “traffic was Olympics-light” for the Pope, as “Angelenos again kept their distance from any potential chaos.”

Giant crowds packed Dodger Stadium, 63,000 people to be more specific, to hear the Pope pontificate in both Spanish and English. There was also a packed Mass at the Coliseum, and a 7.2-mile parade wended through the city, with the expected traffic tie-ups that go with an event that attracts 300,000 spectators (a mild port-a-potty crisis occurred). While in town, the Pope stayed at the historic Vibiana church downtown, though it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience: DTLA was much less of a hot ticket than it is now.

The city not only weathered the traffic storms, there was a significant drop in crime while the Pope crashed at our place.

“There was a sense of calm that came to the City,” Police Chief Darryl Gates said at the time. “People had time to reflect on what life is all about and maybe some felt there was more to life than committing crime.”