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Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Wilshire Grand, Los Angeles

This past Spring, my wife, teenage kids, and I were in Los Angeles for a three day get-away. It was a chance to enjoy memories from when we lived in L.A. - and experience a few new things.

Here's links to Part I and Part II - starting our time at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Above, the historic Felix Chevrolet dealership, on the corner of South Figueroa and West Jefferson, a block or two from the museum. The neon Felix the Cat sign has been around since 1957.

St Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, on the corner of South Figueroa and West Adams.The funding for the construction of the 1925 church gave primary from oilman Edward J. Doheny, whose estate - now Mt Saint Mary's College - was just a few blocks away. The church, built in 1925, is a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (No. 90).

The Wilshire Grand, located on the corner of Wilshire and Figueroa. Here's a link to a previous visit back in January 2018. The hotel's lobby is located on the 70th floor, and is open to the public.

 We parked nearby and walked over, passing by the 1976 Westin Bonaventure. I have great memories of walking around and visiting (but never staying at) the Bonaventure with my kids. But at "just" 35 stories, it's feels much smaller than compared to the Wilshire Grand a few blocks away.

View from the 70th story lobby, looking towards the Hollywood Sign. The view was good, but there was a bit of haze. Again, here's a link to my January 2018 visit, when the visibility was excellent.

Looking down at the Harbor Freeway. The Wilshire Grand is outstanding place to enjoy a view of the city. And I'm reminded of the words of Jeremiah:

וְדִרְשׁוּ אֶת-שְׁלוֹם הָעִיר, אֲשֶׁר הִגְלֵיתִי אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה, וְהִתְפַּלְלוּ בַעֲדָהּ, אֶל-יְהוָה:  כִּי בִשְׁלוֹמָהּ,יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שָׁלוֹם

"Seek the peace and prosperity of the city ... pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." 29:7

Looking northeast towards the US Bank Tower. With all due respect to the Wilshire Grand, the US Bank Tower is - and remains - the tallest building in Los Angeles. In assessing it's total height, the Wilshire Grand decided to it's large spire as part of the building, rather than just number of floors. Which is kind of a cheat. Spires don't count, at least in my opinion.

 My son, who just finished up his first year at San Diego State, and I enjoying the view.

Our family hung out for about 10 minutes, and then headed back to the car.

We cut through Koreatown to the apartment where we were staying. In some ways this building really feels like typical LA. Here's a link to a previous post on Koreatown from back in 2012.

We opted for an AirBnB, located in Beverly Hills, located about a block from Wilshire & San Vincente. A two bedroom, two bath apartment was the same price as a moderate hotel room - so why not?

While everyone else wanted naps (this was a vacation, after all) I decided to explore the area a bit. 

This is a block from our apartment, on the corner Wilshire Blvd and San Vincente, walking east towards the Miracle Mile district. 

Los Angeles is in the process of extending the Purple Line subway from Koreatown to Beverly Hills, and on to Westwood (here's a link to a map). The first segment from Wilshire/Western to Wilshire/La Cienega - directly underneath where I was walking - is scheduled to open in four years.

The Petersen Automotive Museum, on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax. With over 300 exotic and historic automobiles, the Petersen is one of the world's largest collections of automobiles.

The exterior of the museum got an extreme makeover a in 2015. Here's a link to some photos from a previous visit (and it's original exterior).

The La Brea Tar Pits, located on the corner of Wilshire and Curson. Similar to the Natural History Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits Museum was also offering a free day (the first Tuesday of the month). More next time.

© 2019

Saturday, July 27, 2019

"Becoming Los Angeles" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History

This past Spring, my wife, teenage kids, and I were in Los Angeles for a three day get-away. It was a chance to enjoy memories from when we lived in L.A. - and experience a few new things. 

Here's a link to Part I, where we revisited some old favorites at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. 

In 2013, the museum opened their "Becoming Los Angeles" exhibit. I was excited to finally see it. 

Information in English and Spanish. I'm not a Spanish major, but accent mark over the capital "A" in Los Angeles" - shrinking the size of the letter - looks a bit off. 

Display cases with various exhibits on "Becoming Los Angeles" -- but I'm ahead of myself. The first exhibits focused on the original native Californians, followed by the Spanish explorers. 

On September 24, 1781, a group of 44 of settlers from Sonora, Mexico - called "los pobladores" - founded a small settlement along the Los Angeles River. 

The caption read: "In 1774, Spanish soldier Cornelio Avila carried this crucifix overland from present-day Arizona to the Los Angeles area. He was a member of Spain's first land expedition to California. Spain extended its empire from Northern Mexico into California through sea and land expeditions, mission-building, and colonization. Cornelio Avila eventually made Los Angeles his home and more settlers followed, traveling along the same path." 

Jumping ahead a bit, my kids looking at a large model of Los Angeles as it appeared in the 1930's. I remember this model when it was located in the lower level of the museum. 

Pershing Square - in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The was forever altered - and the trees removed - when a large parking lot was placed under the park in 1951. 

photo credit:

This diorama - featuring Jedediah Smith's arrival in California from the US - was located in the lower level museum, alongside some fascinating historic dioramas of California history. Sadly, this and other dioramas - which with a bit of updating could really captured the imagination of younger children - were no where to be found. 

So instead of dioramas, we get a large photographs.

"There it is. Take it." - William Mulholland, at the opening of the Los Angeles aqueduct in 1913. 

Imported water allowed for Los Angele's explosive growth in the 1920's. In terms of engineering, the construction of the Los Angeles aqueduct has been compared to the building of the Panama Canal. How about something more than just a photograph and a quote?  

An entire museum could focus on the impact that the motion picture industry (often referred to in L.A. as "the Industry") has had on the city. In fact, there IS a museum dedicated to Hollywood - The Hollywood Museum - with a second, larger museum - The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures - set to open in 2020. Above, couple of photos from the 1924 silent version of Peter Pan

Costume from the 1924's silent version of Peter Pan.

Caption reads: "In the 1900's, people traveled to Los Angeles to breathe its clean mountain air. Fifty years later, the city was known for it's pollution. On smoggy days parents kept their children inside. plants withered and died, and some people wore gas masked (shown here). Eventually, people realized that cars, which had helped the city expand, were also making it unlivable." 

Rather than just a photograph, how about some interactive displays shows how bad smog was in the 1960's and 1970's ... and what it took to begin to clean up the air? 

The exhibition includes the large "altar to Los Angeles." 

Created by artists Rosanna Esparza Ahrens and Ofelia Esparza, this has a look and feel reminiscence of Dia de los Muertos altars found in Mexico. 

"Altar to el Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles" celebrates the city's cultural diversity ...

... especially the historically under represented Latino, African-American, and Asian American communities. Here's a link to an article with additional information. 

Caption reads: "Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold (1960-2018) is the only food journalist to have won a Pulitzer Prize. It was his mission to explore L.A. one plate at a time - and his descriptive, heartfelt reviews inspired many Angelenos to do the same. "I am trying to democratize food and trying to get people to live in the entire city of Los Angeles," Gold explained. "I'm trying to get people to be less afraid of their neighbors." 

Perhaps I missed something, but instead of just a photo and quote, how about an interactive map of the different restaurants Gold reviewed? Or the different food and dishes that were invented or popularized in Los Angeles? 

What is Los Angeles to me? For my family, and so many others, Los Angeles was a place of new beginnings. And for me personally, almost exactly ten years later, it was a place of a spiritual new beginning.  

What did I think of "Becoming Los Angeles"? While there were a few highlights, overall it really fell short. 

Los Angeles is among the top ten most influential cities in the world. Where was the heart and passion and, yes, love for this city? 

The exhibit needed an introductory film, something similar to what can be found at the New-York Historical Society. More maps, dioramas, 3-D models, interactive displays, more about Hollywood. Los Angeles has always been a city of immigrants. It needed more on how people from around the country and the world have shaped and molded the city ... more about how Los Angeles influences the world. 

So, sadly, I give "Becoming Los Angeles" a C-. 

As mentioned in the previous post, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History is the largest natural history museum in the West. Especially if you have kids, it's definitely worth a visit. Here's a link to their website. 

The Natural History Museum was just the first stop on our three day family get-away. Next post: the 70th floor lobby of at the Wilshire Grand. 

© 2019


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Free Day at Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History

This past Spring, my wife, teenage kids, and I were in Los Angeles for a three day get-away. It was a chance to enjoy memories from when we lived in L.A. - and experience a few new things. 

First stop, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. 

L.A. County Museum of Natural History originally opened in 1913, and is the largest natural history museum in the Western United States. Above, two dinosaurs battling in out in the front entrance. 

My wife, kids, and I visited many times when we lived in L.A. Here's a link to a family visit from back in 2010. 

The museum offers a "free day" the first Tuesday of the month. That worked with our schedule, so - yeah - we made a visit. First stop: the North America/Africa dioramas just off the entrance. 

These dioramas date back to the 1930's and are in excellent condition. 

I realize that today's audiences are spoiled with amazing video like the BBC Planet Earth series. Folks 80 years ago were limited to black and white photos, and - maybe - some rough nature films. Getting up closed like this and seeing animals in what really look like their native habitats had to have been amazing. They still hold up well, in my opinion. 

The American Bison scene - which was also featured in the 2006 film "A Night at the Museum". 

My kids enjoyed a trip down memory lane - seeing the museum they had grown up with ten years earlier. 

More dinosaurs. These displays are new. At least I don't remember them from ten years ago. 

Obligatory family photo. 

We were able to step outside of the original entrance, which was just off of the Rose Garden on the east side of the building. 

View of the historic Rose Garden, which is free of charge and worth a visit. The 90 year old Rose Garden was the vision of USC law professor (and a devout Methodist) William Miller Bowen. 

Here's a link to a previous post on how Bowen single handedly worked to close down and remove the saloons and brothels that were here with three museums.

Inside the original entrance to the 1913 building, recently restored to it's original grandeur. 

My wife and kids taking photos of the statue and the ceiling above. 

The ceiling above, with a beautiful 100+ year old tiffany style stained glass window. Really impressive. 

My wife outside, enjoying the beautiful pink flowers on the tree outside the Rose Garden. Springtime is one of the best times to visit Los Angeles, in my opinion. 

There was a new exhibit - "Becoming Los Angeles" - which open in 2013 and I was excited to finally see in person. More on that in the next post

© 2019



Sunday, June 30, 2019

Experiencing Los Angeles: Revisiting Calle Olvera

Olvera Street, or "Calle Olvera," is a one block historic street in downtown Los Angeles. It's listed as one of the "Top Five" in the "Great Streets of America" journal.

Never been? There's no really "bad" time to visit Olvera Street. Except, maybe, if it's raining. Which rarely happens between May - October (this past May being an exception). 

Thanks to a Mediterranean climate, which - within the United State - is unique to Southern California, Los Angeles will go a full six months no rain. Zero. Nada. Warm summer days and cool evenings is one of the reasons why people choose to live here. 

Sunny skies were certainly the case when I was visiting Olvera Street in late November 2017. I was over at Chinatown, and decided to walk the few extra blocks and stop by. 

These photos were taken the Saturday before Thanksgiving, hence the long shadows. 

Olvera Street is often called the oldest street in the City of Los Angeles. The truth is a little more complex. It is home to the oldest existing building, the Avila Adobe - built in 1818. 

Apparently, Los Angeles' original streets were located about a mile or so south. Near today's Pershing Square. Flooding from the nearby Los Angeles River forced the little settlement to move - twice. 

The 1818 Avila Adobe is the oldest surviving structure, built almost 40 years after the city's founding in 1781.

As an aside, the Avila Adobe is not the oldest building in Los Angeles County. That honor goes to the Gage Mansion, built in 1795 and located in the nearby City of Bell Gardens. 

Up until 1930, Olvera Street wasn't a street at all. It was a small, dingy alley. When the city considered demolishing the Avila Adobe 1920's, Christina Serling - a transplant from Northern California - stepped in, not only to save it, but transform the alley into an idealized Mexican marketplace. Here's a link to an excellent article from LA Weekly on the history of Olvera Street.

In that sense, the street is historic. It's what people - certainly, Anglos, 90 or so years ago - imagined early Los Angeles to look like.

Like many Angelenos, I have fond memories of school field trips to Olvera Street - especially in 4th grade, when kids in California focus on "California History." 

I also have good memories of taking my kids here several times when our family lived in L.A. Here's a link to some photos from a previous post with photos from 10 years ago. 

Meanwhile, these photos were all taken in late November. Great time to visit, in my opinion. 

In addition to traditional handcraft souvenirs, you'll find more contemporary touristy shirts, like this nod to L.A. Felix Chevrolet, located across the street from USC. 

Or "Los Doyers" - a play on a Spanish pronunciation of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Spanish doesn't have a "g" sound, and instead was pronounced as a "y" - hence "Doyers." What was originally a racist insult is now a point of pride. 

And, of course, handcraft goods, which haven been part of Olvera Street since it opened in 1930. 

In addition, there's several places to eat, including Casa La Golondrina, which my family and I have enjoyed. 

Love the cross. 

© 2019