Nick Fagnano’s Life: Bringing Together a Downtown Community

Looking for the rainbow
Looking for the rainbow

Accepting that your son will never again share your life on this earth is a state of mind and heart that transcends beyond any parent’s fleeting  thought of ever being in this most unthinkable of circumstances .

Even more unthinkable is the way  our precious 20 year-old son, Nick Fagnano, was killed –a  freak lightning strike on July 27th at Venice Beach on what all of Southern California perceived to be a tranquil Sunday afternoon.

The chance of being struck  by lighting on the beach in California is 1 in 7-10 million according to NASA Climatologist, Bill Patzert who is quoted on KTLA Channel 5’s website.   Patzert also said of the strike on July 27th, “It happened so quickly. … In itself, the randomness, makes it so frightening.”  The article also quotes Alex Thompson, a Venice local, who said it was sunny outside when the lightning and thunder first rolled in.  Rain, which usually precedes thunder and lightning, didn’t even occur until 30 minutes after the the lightning struck.  Everything about the weather was extraordinary including the fact that it took the life of one  incredibly extraordinary young man.  While others were injured; and one person critically; everyone else, out of thousands at the beach that day, survived.


Hundreds of people have been touched by Nick’s short life on earth and thousands, because of this so specific act of nature…and some say of God… have been impacted through the global coverage of what happened  when Nick left his two friends at the volley ball courts to go down to the ocean to rinse the sand off.

I will not dwell here on the grief in our hearts over Nick’s physical absence in our lives.  That is a given.  While there are so many perspectives to share, the one I want to express  is the search for the rainbow–the one that is hoped for after the storm.

The day Nick left us, as we numbly drove home from the hospital where he was pronounced dead,  I prayed I would see a rainbow–yet here in Los Angeles, the sun  continued to shine. The rainbow, did, however, show up in Colorado, as my friend and Eastern Columbia Building fellow resident, Jan McCarthy, was driving through the mountains thinking of Nick.  The rainbow was spectacular and it arched over the road and compelled Jan to pull over to take its picture.  She was 100% sure it was sent by Nick and she had no idea that it was what I’d been praying for…but Nick knew… and it’s my belief he sent it to me through Jan.

That’s what love does.  It connects us beyond what we can touch and see.

The rainbow has been the symbol of the  incredible community that’s surrounded us and made it possible to get up every morning since July 27th.  It’s the awareness that in the midst of this city, we have love and support from everywhere and from every stage of our lives as Nick’s parents.

Throughout  Nick’s life we’ve developed a strong community of friends– from Sherman Oaks where we lived for two years while Nick attended Notre Dame High School and played baseball for the Knights as well as the  incredible group of friends that we’d gathered from Nick’s preschool days at Wagon Wheel, to K-8th grade at St. Brendan School, to all the years of Wilshire Baseball where we  formed friendships with families throughout the Hancock Park Mid-City area where kids came  from all the various local public and private schools to play baseball together on the weekends.

Moving to a loft a little over a year ago in the Eastern Columbia Building in Downtown Los Angeles–although it was at Nick’s encouragement and with his great excitement that we did so– meant that we’d be leaving the kind of neighborhood community that we’d always been used to.  We felt secure in doing this knowing that we had such a great group of friends that were still relatively close by. We figured it would be OK if we were to become a bit anonymous in this downtown environment for the sake of a new adventure.  But anonymity  could not have been further from what we experienced–which brings me back to the rainbow.

Nick was never hesitant to say hello to a stranger.  When he decided to transfer from Santa Barbara City College and finish his last semester of sophmore credits at Santa Monica City College, he moved into the loft with us.  He’d always fill us in on who he met in the elevator or talked to up on the rooftop at the pool. Neither Jay nor I are shy, but Nick had a magnetism that made people want to talk to him.  Before we knew it, everyone in the building knew us because of Nick.  So now we had a whole new group of friends–of all ages– who thought we were cool because we were Nick’s parents.

Before long, Jay was helping  Zoe, the resident gardener in our building, transport organic compost from a special resource on the Westside  to the vegetable garden beds on the top of our building’s  parking garage.  I got involved in a women’s workshop program that Jan facilitates to encourage successful business strategies and entrepreneurialism. We’d meet people in the gym, in the elevator, taking Coco out for a walk or in Om Non, the little organic food store downstairs or at il Caffé, where Nick and I would get our latté in the morning.

Exploring beyond our corner of downtown on 9th & Broadway, Jay discovered the exciting new additions to Grand Central Market and became a huge fan of DTLA Cheese where he bonded with the owners Lydia and Reed.  I became involved in the DCBID monthly roundtable marketing group(Downtown Center Business Improvement District) where I’ve been able to get to know the leadership team and other members of the downtown retail and services community.

I met Autumn, the food & beverage manager of Ace Hotel at a yoga class before the hotel officially opened. Autumn hired Nick to work Friday-Sunday at Upstairs, the rooftop bar, where he became part of a whole new DTLA community of workers who are responsible for providing one of the best gathering spots for creative-minded people in Los Angeles.

And also part of the downtown experience is that all three of us, but Nick in particular, would stop and chat with Michael, the homeless man in a wheelchair who often hangs out on our corner.

This rainbow of new friends and people we connected to, in the middle of this city that is as diverse as it gets, has been another contributor to seeing our way this past month from one day to the next.

The old friends have swooped us up in their arms and have seen to our every need while the kindness of people that might otherwise have been strangers has shown us that there is so much love out there…sometimes in places where you’d never expect to find it.

Thanks to a dear friend who had connections to Tom LaBonge’s office (our District 4 City Councilman) the County Board of Supervisors adjourned their meeting in Nick’s honor and sent both Jay and I beautiful certificates signed by County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Tomas.  State Senator Diane Feinstein sent us a personal note as she heard about Nick through an intern who had been a classmate  at Notre Dame High School.  The DCBID adjourned their meeting in honor of Nick and posted a link to the scholarship fund we established at USC’s Price School of Public Policy, where Nick had been accepted as a junior transfer student this fall.  He was going to major in urban development and real estate and he wanted to be a part of the revitalization of Downtown L.A.

Nick lived his life creating community, bridging groups of friends and bringing people together who wouldn’t have otherwise been friends. He was that rainbow across the highway –connecting two sides in the most naturally beautiful way.  Nothing replaces his presence in our lives but we have a strong sense of his light shining down on us and on this city .  I’m convinced that his love for Los Angeles and the way it loved him back puts him right up there  in this City of the Angels with all the other special people who’ve contributed to making Los Angeles better and an ever- more welcoming place to live, work and visit.

Two weeks ago, the Eastern Columbia residents gathered for a Bounty of Life celebration to honor not only  Nick, but two other loved ones who passed away within a week of Nick.  An olive tree was planted that will be forever a reminder to us all of the gift of life and the peace that comes through extending ourselves to others.

On September 9th Ace Hotel will be holding a tribute to Nick on their rooftop.  Nick was given the nickname “Sparkles” by his co-workers as they said he always lit up the room.Ace Hotel DTLA_NickFagnano_eFlyer_v2  A lime tree will be planted on the roof and a plaque in Nick’s memory installed.   The lime tree will eventually produce fruit, the juice of which will be used in cocktails as a way to share Nick’s joyful spirit.  A custom T-shirt with the word “Sparkles,”  will be sold and the money donated to the Price School scholarship in Nick’s name.  Vendors have donated spirits and all the proceeds from  cocktails using those spirits will also be donated to the scholarship fund .

Both the Eastern Columbia gathering and the event at Ace Hotel are just two more amazing ways this city has come together for our family.

This weekend Los Angeles is hosting the Made in America Music Festival in Grand Park.  This is the first time that anything of this scope has taken place in Downtown Los Angeles.  Music was a big part of Nick’s life so I’m going to pray this weekend that Nick’s light will shine on the rainbow of people, sound, and experience coming to our city bringing out the best  in everyone–just like Nick has always been able to do.

As Nick’s parents, we are in no hurry to get over our grief.  It’s natural, it’s necessary and it’s deep within us, emerging whenever a good cry feels like it might help.  But in the midst of this grief we see so much beauty, hope and love all around us.  Angels swoop down in the most unexpected ways in the form of dearest friends as well as complete strangers.  No parent should ever experience the pain of having your pride and joy and your best friend no longer at your side, but all that we may have taken for granted is now replaced by a profound sense of being present in each cherished moment of life and of the undeniably essential presence of love.