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Saturday, May 19, 2018

"Experiencing Los Angeles" - in Orange County

In June 2017, my wife, two teenage kids and I spent a week in Southern California. We drove down Sunday afternoon to Hollywood, saw the Griffith Observatory, and spent Monday morning at Universal Studios, Hollywood. We drove down Monday afternoon to Orange County. 

Is Orange County is part of metropolitan Los Angeles? That is, "Greater Los Angeles"? 

I realize these are generalities, but:

- if you ask someone from Los Angeles, the answer will yes.

- if you ask someone from Orange County, the answer will be no. 

- if you check online, the answer will be yes. 

Having lived in, and been a homeowner, in both Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and for the general spirit of Experiencing L.A. - we'll go with yes. That Orange County is part of "Greater Los Angeles." If you don't agree, that's OK. 

We drove through the city of Long Beach (which is the southern most coastal city in L.A. County) and headed into Orange County, or - thanks to a Los Angeles based TV show - "The O.C." 

Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, the PCH, just a few blocks by the ocean, we drove past the iconic water tower house, located in Seal Beach. This is a private residence, designed - as you can see - to look like a water tower. 

In Newport Beach, we veered off the Pacific Coast Highway a bit and continued along the Newport Peninsula. Rather than turn around, we took the historic Balboa Ferry to Balboa Island and the PCH. 

Our family mini van, waiting to get on the ferry. Fun, but the line to get on the ferry can get insanely long on summer weekends. 

The actual ferries are tiny - only holding three cars. Much better, and no wait, if you're on a bike, or walking. 

Once on the ferry, I popped outside to grab a selfie. I invited my kids to join me, but no takers. 

The historic 1906 Balboa Pavillion, oldest building in Newport Beach. It's about a five minute ride across the channel. 

Our car, approaching Balboa Island. 

"Welcome to Balboa Island" - time to get back in the van and get ready. 

Balboa Island is one of several residential "islands" located in Newport Harbor. According to this wikipedia article, "approximately 3,000 residents live on just 0.2 square mile [island] giving it a population density of 17,621 person per square mile—higher than that of San Francisco.

The other residential islands in Newport Harbor are all accessible by bridges. Balboa is unique in that in addition to a bridge, it's also accessible (from the Peninsula) via this Ferry. The safety gate was up; time to drive off. 

Back in 1990-1991, I shared this small house with a couple of UC Irvine students. I was working at UCI at the time, and they needed a roommate. Kind of fun, but after that year I moved to an apartment a block from campus. 

This small home is surrounded by two story houses. Back in 1990, rent was only $900 a month. That is, during the "school year." Once summer hit, rent jumped up to $1100 a week. It was a fairly good deal for students - or anyone connected to the university. 

Wonder what summer rentals like this go for now? 

Marine Avenue, the little business district on Balboa Island - catering almost exclusively to tourists. 

Sugar 'n Spice featuring frozen chocolate dipped bananas. It's been around since 1945, and is obviously playing on tradition and nostalgia (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). We drove out on the access bridge, and headed south on the Pacific Coast Highway to Marriott "Newport Coast Villas"

A few months earlier, we received a call from the Newport Coast Villas, asking if we'd like to come down for a time share presentation. For $100 a night, we could check out their property for three nights - see if this was for us. I know "time share presentations" get a bad rap, but at $100 a night, why not? This is the view from the lobby of the resort. Pretty stellar. 

The Motel Six Hollywood we stayed at the previous night was "fine" --- but in comparison, the Newport Coast Villas felt like the Taj Mahal. 

This was the master suite. There was a second bedroom for our kids. 

"What? We get our own room? We don't have to sleep on the hide a bed?! This place is awesome!!" Yeah, my kids were stoked. 

Ocean view (partial ocean view) from our room. Nice.

Thumbs up from the family. So far, so good. We were looking forward to our little Orange County get-away. 

More next time. 

© 2018

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Wilshire Grand

I had a chance to finally visit the Wilshire Grand this past January. Really impressive. 

I parked a few blocks away at 5th and Flower (next to the Los Angeles Grand Central Library) and walked over. This is looking west. The Wilshire Grand is technically the  "Wilshire Grand Center" - consisting of both offices (floors 11-29) and the InterContinental Hotel (rest of the building). 

The Wilshire Grand is described as the tallest building west of the Mississippi. While that may be technically true, that's only if the massive 294 foot spire on the top of the building is included. In my non-professional opinion, a building's height should be based on occupiable floors. The top floor of the nearby US Bank Building is 968 feet. The roof deck of the Wilshire Grand is 934 feet. The US Bank Building wins. Here's more info comparing Los Angeles' two tallest buildings. 

The Wilshire Grand is still a very impressive building. Otherwise, why would I be visiting? 

And it's unquestionably Los Angeles' tallest hotel. Let's head inside. 

I entered in from Figueroa Street. 

Fountains as you walk in. For a building this size, the only thing that seemed to be missing was people. 

Perhaps the most amazing part of the hotel is that the hotel "lobby" - which is open to the public - is on the 70th floor. The hotel also boasts the 2nd fastest elevators in North America, traveling an incredible 1800 fpm. 

Another view of the hotel lobby, located on the 70th floor. The real draw is the view. 

Wow: incredible. This is looking out from one of the many windows from the lobby. Below is the Harbor Freeway (the 110), with Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean in the distance. 

Another view. This looking west along Wilshire Blvd towards Koreatown and the Miracle Mile District. Hollywood is in the distance. 

I love this panorama. Feel free to click on this for a larger view. These photos were taken in January. I was fortunate to visit on an exceptionally clear day. Love Los Angeles or hate it - this is why people live here. 

The US Bank Tower a few blocks away. You can see that it's clearly taller in terms of occupiable floors. They also have an open air observation deck (tickets start at $25).  

At this point, who cares which building is taller. Right now, we're having an incredible time enjoying the view from the 70th floor lobby of the Wilshire Grand. 

Another view, looking north and west. The Hollywood Sign is to the left. 

As a Christian, I'm reminded that God cares deeply about cities. Not the buildings, not the glitz or glam. But the people. 

Buildings themselves are not good or bad. They're simply places that bring people together - whether to live or work. Of course, there are ugly buildings, and poorly engineered buildings. But in general, buildings should be a places for people to use (not the other way around). 

This is looking north along Figueroa Street. Speaking of places to live, eve temporarily, in the center of the photo, you can see a couple of the round towers of the 1976 Bonaventure Hotel. It has a cool revolving restaurant on the 35th floor. 

The Bonaventure is half the height of the Wilshire Grand. From this perspective it looks tiny. In terms of number of rooms, it's actually a significantly larger hotel. 

A final shot. That's Mt Lee and the Hollywood Sign in the center top of the photo. 

Want an even better view? From the lobby, you can take an additional elevator to the 73rd floor, the top floor. 

The 73rd floor is home to "Spire 73". No questions here, it's highest open air bar in the Western Hemisphere. 

Wow, impressive views in every direction. I don't see how New York or Chicago could pull off an open air bar like this Certainly not one that's open year round. 

As mentioned in the previous post, my family and I moved to Los Angeles in April, 1968. I have a half a century of history in this town. 

This is the highest I've ever been in any building in L.A.. That, plus the exceptionally clear day, comfortable January weather, and fact that this was all open made for really incredible experience. 

Another view, looking towards Hollywood. Yes, I'd love to come back with friends or family. 

I would check with the Hotel's website before visiting. It was a Saturday night and it looks like there is a $25 cover charge, plus dress code, beginning at 8pm. 

On my way out, I stopped by to see the pool. 

It's technically a rooftop pool - and not very deep (no diving). But it looked cool. 

I like the look and design of the changing areas. If I was spending time in Los Angeles, would I want to stay here? You bet. 

Fountains outside. This is looking toward the corner of Figueroa and 7th Street. The Red Line/Purple Line Subway station is located a block away at 7th and Flower. Again, what surprised me was the lack pedestrian traffic. What a contrast to, say, the historic Grand Central Market

A final view heading back to my car. A more iconic view, looking from the west, can be found here

I parked in an underground parking structure next to the Bonaventure at 5th and Flower. 

My biggest complaint with the Bonaventure since it first opened 40 years ago are the massive cement walls around the first seven stories. It really feels like a fortress, which I believe was intentional in the design. Heres' a link to a previous post on a visit years ago with my wife and kids. The seven story lobby is impressive, as are the glass elevators. 

Another view of the Bonaventure - looking from a small outdoor restaurant adjacent to the downtown Grand Central Library

© 2018

Saturday, April 21, 2018

50 years ago this month

Fifty years ago my mom, dad, sister and I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. 

We lived in a pretty fab "brownstone" in the Lincoln Park neighborhood just north of downtown. Check out the apartment buildings right behind our home. 

My dad worked a couple miles away at the Prudential Building on Michigan Avenue. The sea of cars you see here eventually became Chicago's Millennium Park. 

Family photo our last year living in Chicago.

Chicago as a city is pretty great. The weather, not so much. In fact, after a couple of particularly harsh winters (and the impact it was having on my mom and my sister's health) my parents began to think about a possible move to California. So my dad jumped at the opportunity to relocate when his advertising firm asked if he'd be interested in a job transfer to Los Angeles. 

The firm, Needham, Harper & Steers, was located in the second office building (the white one) on Wilshire Blvd in Westwood, in Los Angeles. 

Here's another view. What's not to love the "Googie" style Ships Coffee Shop that was located next to his office at the time?

Julius Shulman's iconic 1960 photograph of the Stahl House (also known as "Case Study House #22"). This one photo was the greatest influence on the kind of house my dad wanted to live in someday. No chance of this happening in Chicago. But we were moving to California. 

And how can I forget 1967's California My Way by the Fifth Dimension? It was released the year before we moved and my dad played it over and over and over again as we packed up for the big move. 

My dad had flew out about a week or so beforehand. My mom, sister and I flew about a week later. It was in 1968 sometime in the second half of April. I don't have the exact date - so, let's just say April 25th. Paul Williams' 1961 LAX "Theme Building" was only seven years old, looking super futuristic at the time. Here's a link to a previous post with some additional "Theme Building" photos. 

We moved into a small rental home on Mount Holyoke Avenue in Pacific Palisades. At the time, the community felt fairly middle class. Today, not so much. In fact, not at all. The median home price in the Palisades is now over $3 million. 

Despite the passage of time (50 years, yikes!) here's a few things I remember arriving in Los Angeles in April 1968: 

Driving through the McClure Tunnel. Driving on the relatively new Santa Monica Freeway towards the ocean, my dad said "there's an amazing view right after this bridge." We went under the Main Street bridge, pictured above. Nothing.

 "No wait," he said, "we've got to go through this tunnel."

We went through the dark, curvy tunnel, coming out to this incredible view of the Santa Monica Bay - best captured by artist Susan Haskell. Fifty years later, this view coming out of the McClure Tunnel still manages to impress. 

Other memories: seeing succulents for the first time. I'd never seen or touched anything like this Jade Plant. 

California had so many different types of plants and trees I'd never seen before in my life. Most of them - like us - where immigrants from elsewhere. 

And, of course, the weather. How could I forget that? Chicago was still cold and rainy. 

My mom enrolled my sister in I at the local elementary school for the last six weeks of the school year. The building looked so different than the three story red brick school I had attended in Chicago. I went into my new 1st grade class through an interior hallway. 

At recess, the teacher opened a second door, this one going out to the playground outside. I walked outside - and just stopped and starred at these palm trees, visible from the edge of the playground on Swarthmore Avenue. What amazed me wasn't just the beautiful palm trees. It was that the kids were running around and playing, and not stopping and staring at them. 

Walking around our new neighborhood, my dad, sister and I passed by some kids rolling by on what looked like a sled with wheels. I'd never see this before in my life. I thought "California is different. There's no snow here, so kids here have to have wheels on their sleds here." Little did I know that California had plenty of snow - in the local mountains. These 1960's era Flexy Racers might have existed in the Midwest, but, as a kid, I have never seen them in Chicago. 

This was the view three blocks from our little rental. 

Chicago has a lake. It's a pretty awesome lake, but it's still just a lake. Los Angeles has the Pacific Ocean. As a 7 year old kid, I didn't realize how stellar this was - and is. Fifty years later, I have a much greater appreciation. 

I mentioned how influenced my dad was by that single photo of the Stahl House. While the suburban ranch house we had built certainly wasn't the same style Stahl House, it was up on a hill. This is on Lachman Lane in Pacific Palisades. And like the Stahl house, had a equally incredible view. That's my dad's red 1968 Mustang in the driveway while the house was still being built. 

A month later it was painted. A month after this photo was taken, the landscape was in. 

Oh, and mountains. How can I forget mountains? Until we moved to California, I'd never even seen a mountain. Chicago, like the rest of the Midwest, is flat. Now we weren't just looking at mountains, we were going to live on one. Here's a link to a previous post on hiking - decades later - to that high peak in the distance. 

My sister and I were talking recently. How would our lives have been different if we lived in a different neighborhood in the Palisades? Say, closer to where we lived the first few months while our house was being built? Down in the flats. We had a beautiful home, but - as a kid - flat streets were more appealing.

Or how would our lives have been different if we moved to a different community somewhere else in Los Angeles? 

And then my sister said, "what if we had stayed in Chicago? What if we never moved to California?" 

I honestly can't even imagine what my life would have been life. They say immigrants often have a greater love for their new home, because they remember where and what they came from. Don't get me wrong. Chicago is a great city. But I'm so thankful to my parents for moving to California back in 1968. It impacted my life in so many ways: the friends I made, the experiences I had, where I went to college (UCLA), the career I choose, the person I married ... and, most of all, my relationship with God, which began ten years later (here's a link to previous post focusing on what has become the most important part of my life).

Both my mom and my dad's parents were in Chicago, and all four of them eventually followed us to California a few years later, both living in Pacific Palisades for a time before purchasing homes in elsewhere in metro Los Angeles. Even by the early 1970's, the community had already gotten a little too pricey. Some things haven't changed. 

© 2018