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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Miracle Mile: La Brea Tar Pits, Urban Light, Levitated Mass

Last June, my wife, kids and I were back in Los Angeles. We took a little extra time to see the sights, including what our kids remember from our time living in L.A. 

Above, is the world famous La Brea Tar Pits, located in the Miracle Mile district of midtown Los Angeles. 

The La Brea Tar Pits contains the largest collection of ice age fossils in the world. Incredibly, it's in the heart of a huge city - literally along Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles voters just approved funding to cover the cost of extending the Purple Line Subway along Wilshire all the way to UCLA, meaning the subway coming within feet of these massive tar pits. Wow. 

What looks like a pond is really an inch or less of water trapped on the surface of the tar pit. Prehistoric animals - including Mammoths, similar to these large fiberglass models - would come get trapped in search of water, sinking into the tar. 

Our kids remembering going here when we lived in L.A. - and seeing it on a short family vacation during Spring Break 2013

Methane bubbles continue to surface as you look out across the tar pit. It's really incredible and worth stopping and seeing. 

The Page Museum is located on the grounds, featuring displays and and hundreds of ice age animal skeletons. The Page offers a free day the first Tuesday of every month (except July and August). Plus it's free every Tuesday during the month of September. Here's a link to their website. 

Right next door is Chris Burden's Urban Light, the outdoor sculpture outside of the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). 

LACMA offers a free day the second Tuesday of every month, but you can walk around this impressive display of historic street lights any time free of charge. They also offer a free day the last Saturday of January (here's a link to when my son and I took advantage of this last January). 

Urban Light is great during the day ...

photo credit

.... but incredible at night! I highly recommend trying to see it if you're in Los Angeles. 

Here's a link from a much earlier post, back in 2009, with some photos and thoughts on Urban Light. Interestingly, this has ended up being the most popular post here on 

Across the street is the Petersen Automotive Museum, with it's new decorative exterior. We've been in the past, here's a link to a previous visit of what's inside. 

My kids really wanted revisit Levitated Mass, the "floating" 14 ton boulder located on the LACMA grounds. 

It cost $10 million dollars - all from private donations. While it's no Statue of Liberty (New York) or Cloudgate (Chicago) - it's slowly grown on me.  To paraphrase another blogger: "Some folks pay millions of dollars for a diamond the size of a marble! I say L.A. got more show for the dough!"

Located to the left of where my daughter is standing is the future home of the privately funded Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, scheduled to open in 2018. THAT will certainly be a game changer to an already dynamic part of the city. 

Like Urban Light, Levitated Mass is public art that's free to walk around an enjoy. In addition, across the street from the La Brea Tar Pits on Wilshire Blvd, is The Wall on Wilshire, the largest section of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany. 

A final - and different - view of Levitated Mass. Here's a link to a previous family visit at this same spot. 

As we headed to our car, I noticed a large crowd out for a free summer event on the grass. In addition, the Original Farmer's Market and The Grove are just three blocks away. Lots of stuff going on in this part of Los Angeles. 

Lots of other cool stuff to experience in Los Angeles - but our family had plans to spend the next day south of L.A. at Disneyland. More on that next time. 

© 2017

Saturday, December 31, 2016

La La Land

My wife, teenage kids, and I had a chance to see "La La Land" earlier this week. 

Set in modern day Los Angeles, it's a musical with a retro 1940's vibe and feel. 

Fun, especially, for my kids to see places they remember from our time living in L.A.

Very enjoyable film - we'd certainly recommend it. 

Happy New Year. 

© 2016


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas from Los Angeles: Journey of Faith Church "Flashmob" at South Bay Galleria

Seemed appropriate to repost the Journey of Faith "Flash Mob" at the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach, located in metro Los Angeles. This originally took place six years, and six million views, ago. 

The words and message were true then --- and true today.

Merry Christmas from Experiencing LA.

© 2016


Saturday, December 10, 2016

UCLA: University of California, Los Angeles

Last June my wife, kids and I were back in Southern California for a few of days. We took some time to drive around Los Angeles, seeing a few places my wife, kids and I remember from the five years we lived there. 

A bit random, but we stopped off in Pacific Palisades a couple of weeks before the big Caruso Project began transforming the community business district. I grew up in this neighborhood in L.A. - I appreciated seeing it, walking up and down Swarthmore Avenue, and taking some photos. Here's the link from a post from last month. 

Afterwards, we drove over to UCLA. I graduated from UCLA way back in 1984 - and my wife and I both worked at different times. Above, a view of Wilshire Blvd (looking through my windshield) a few blocks from campus. 

Obligatory stop at Diddy Riese, located next to UCLA in Westwood Village. Diddy Riese is famous for their outstanding  - and very affordable - ice cream sandwiches. On Friday and Saturday nights the line out the door can snake out the entire block. 

Above, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. This was built in the 1960's and was the original UCLA hospital. Love the architecture, palm trees and even the flowers.

Across the street is the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Where's the landscaping? This is the best UCLA could come up with? In contrast to to the original orange brick medical center, this looks, well, awful. More like a factory than a hospital. Sorry. 

My son and I in front of the UCLA student union building (Ackerman Union) and "The Bruin" mascot statute. The statue has been on campus since 1984 - the year I graduated. 

According to our friends at Wikipedia, the UCLA the Bruins "have won 126 national championships, including 113 NCAA team championships, more than any other university. UCLA student-athletes, coaches and staff have won 251 Olympic medals: 126 gold, 65 silver and 60 bronze. UCLA student-athletes have competed in every Olympics since 1920 with one exception (1924), and have won a gold medal in every Olympics that the United States has participated in since 1932.

We took about 40 minutes to walk around the campus. Above is Kerckhoff Hall, the original student union. If Kerckhoff Hall looks familiar, perhaps it's because UCLA have been featured in dozens of movies, TV shows and commercials, including:
• Gotcha! (1985) 

• Higher Learning (1995)
• Legally Blonde (2001)
• Old School (2003)
• The Nutty Professor (1995)
• Erin Brockovich (2000)
• How High (2001)
• National Lampoon's Van Wilder (2002)
• American Pie 2 (2001)
• Bring It On Again (2004)

I'm not recommending any of these films. The only one I've actually seen is Legally Blond.  

Above is UCLA's signature building, Royce Hall. Royce Hall was one of the four original buildings when the campus opened in 1929 and is modeled after the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio in Milan, Italy. 

In front of the Humanities Building, another one of the four original buildings (the others are Powell Library and Haines Hall). The inscription above the door is from the Hebrew Scriptures, Psalm 119  - verse 18: "Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law." 

Walking a bit farther is the inverted fountain, which opened in 1968. 

Just off the Court of the Sciences in the south end of campus is the California NanoSystems Institute. Yes, it really was purposely designed this way. It's affectionally known as the Harry Potter Building, for obvious reasons. 

Why try to visit Hogwarts at Universal - when you can can enjoy UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute? OK, Hogwarts is great. But the NanoSystems building is free. 

While the building itself is closed to the public, you're free to walk around and enjoy the architecture. In my opinion, this is the least appreciated building in Los Angeles. 

This being Los Angeles, the area underneath is a .... the top level of a multi-level parking garage. Really? A parking lot? They couldn't have build some sort of garden, or patio, or food court? Missed opportunity, in my opinion. 

If you're anywhere near UCLA, this building is worth seeing.

Next stop, Levitated Mass and the La Brea Tar Pits. I'll post a few photos next month. 

© 2016

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saying Good-Bye to Swarthmore Avenue, Pacific Palisades

Swarthmore Avenue, Pacific Palisades. Last June my wife and kids and I were in the area and took a few minutes to walk up and down Swarthmore.

This entire block of mid-century era stores had been bought up by Caruso Affiliated - and was slated for a major redevelopment. I wanted to see this all before it was gone. 

When my parents moved to Pacific Palisades in 1968, the community felt very middle class. Back in 1972, I remember my grandmother (born in Poland) looking at modest homes just a few blocks from here for $26,000. Today, those same homes would sell for $1.8 million. Yeah, crazy. 

Here's a walkway between Swarthmore and the parking lot out back. To the left was the entrance to the old Baskin Robbins - that many of my friends worked at. To the right, a women's clothing store that my other grandmother worked at for several years. 

The nondescript parking lot out back. Redevelopment plans call for this being turned into additional retail and small park. Remember the lyrics to the old Joni Mitchell song: "take paradise and put in a parking lot"? This might be one of the few cases where the opposite happens. While not paradise, I'll take a park over a parking lot any day. 

So, this being Los Angeles, where do the cars go? Plans call for a three story underground parking structure.

The women's clothing store my grandmother worked at back in the mid-1970's. It was called La Femme, today it's called Boca. 

I LOVE this photo, taken from the edge of the parking lot, looking back towards Swarthmore Avenue. Boca on the left, what was Baskin Robbins on the right. Yes, the woodwork up top needs paint - but I really like the planter on the right, the mid-century architecture, the simple walkway, and most of all the MEMORIES of growing up here, and walking through here hundreds of times. 

Back out on Swarthmore, outdoor dining along the street. Pacific Palisades is located along the coast in between Malibu and Santa Monica, and up against the Santa Monica Mountains. 

The vast majority of people I went to High School here do not live in this area. Even back 35 years ago, the community had become too expensive to consider moving back after college. There's a small handful of people from my High School graduating class who figured out a way to live in the community. Most everyone else is living in another part of California - or out of state.  

The Caruso Affiliated redevelopment plans call for a re-imagined "Bay Theater" across the street - on the footprint of what was at one time a popular local restaurant, Mort's Delicatessen.

The original Bay Theater (1948-1978) was located a few blocks away on Sunset Blvd, and still holds a special place for anyone who lived in the community during that era. The new Bay Theater will be much smaller, and a multiplex. With theaters closing left and right around the country, here's hoping this new Bay will be able to pencil out financially. 

These one story buildings will be replaced with a mixture of one and two story Cape Cod style buildings. While most residents are excited about the new project, some are concerned that the street will look less like a real place and more like an outdoor mall - or Hollywood movie set. Caruso Affiliates other projects include The Grove in the Fairfax District and Americana at Brand in Glendale. 

This is looking down Swarthmore towards Sunset Blvd. This section of Swarthmore will also be narrowed slightly, with wider sidewalks and one way traffic. 

The pink building on the corner of Swarthmore and Sunset is the original "business block" - the 1924 Spanish Colonial Revival. In the distance is the bell tower of Palisades Elementary School. 

For me, lots of nostalgia and lots of memories on this street. I'm so very glad we took time and snapped up these photos. Just two weeks after we were here, the entire area was fenced off and - yes - the buildings were bulldozed. All that exists now are photographs and memories. 

My wife and kids walking towards Sunset Blvd. 

Final view the alley running adjacent to Sunset Blvd. The building on the left is a bank - I worked as a bank teller there for a summer - before moving out of the area. 

Like most alleys, this is fairly unattractive - although, the palm trees are nice. 

The Mobil Gas Station on the corner of Sunset Blvd and Swarthmore Avenue. This is part of the re-development plans and is slated to be replaced with a two story retail building. Even people who weren't enthusiastic about the overall project seemed to be OK with that. 

In addition to most (but not all) of the buildings on Swarthmore, Caruso Affiliates also bought several of the adjacent buildings along Sunset Blvd. Part of the gray building was a toy store  - "The Toy Shack" - when I was a kid, with a speciality in magic tricks. 

So, what will this section of Swarthmore and Sunset Blvd. this be replaced with? Here's one of several images released by Caruso Affiliates - featuring the highly anticipated re-imagined Bay Theater - and a link to the project on their website. 

The project is called Palisades Village, scheduled to open Summer 2018. 

© 2016


Saturday, November 12, 2016

World's Oldest McDonald's, Downey California

This past April, my wife, kids, and I were in Southern California for a conference and had a few minutes to stop off in Downey - a suburban city located 15 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles. Downey has the distinction of being home to the world's oldest McDonald's.

Technically, it's the world's oldest surviving McDonald's. The first McDonald's, opened in 1937, was located adjacent to the Monrovia Airport. The tiny octagonal building was later moved to 1398 North E Street in San Bernardino, California in 1940. As second McDonald's opened in Phoenix, Arizona in 1953. Neither of these first two McDonald's survive. 

This third McDonald's opened in August 1953, and is the world oldest surviving McDonald's. It's located at the intersection of Lakewood Blvd. and Florence Ave in Downey. 

My wife and kids waiting after ordering our food. While maybe not worth a special trip, if you're anywhere in the area, I'd say it's worth stopping by. 

They do a good job playing up the history and nostalgia, including lots of information on this particular location. 

Long before Ronald McDonald, McDonald's had "Speedee" as their corporate mascot. 

My son referred to this as "the birthplace of diabetes." Well, sort of. The original hamburgers, french flies, and soda sizes were TINY by today's Super Size portions. Not sure if a 1953 meal was healthier or not, but it was definitely smaller. 

Adjusted for inflation, McDonald's today is actually cheaper than in 1953. One reason why fast food is so popular is that, well, it's so cheap. 

Inside, was an old school cash register - just for show. 

Immediately adjacent to the walk up McDonald's was a very small museum.

The museum had some seating, and displays. 

The history of their logos. 

Information on the Downey location. 

A display of their milkshake mixers, which were apparently pretty revolutionary for the time. 

Obligatory family selfie. 

And a final photo of the 1959 era Golden Arch. 

Here's a link to a wikipedia article with additional information. 

© 2016