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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from Los Angeles

Peruvian Nativity Display

"Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." Matthew 2:2

Merry Christmas


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy Hanukkah from Los Angeles

Earlier in December I was driving up the Pacific Coast Highway when I did a double take on what (at 50mph) looked like highway road signs. I actually circled back around to get a photo of the green "Happy Chanukah" sign, and the yellow "lighten up," "celebrate freedom" and dancing rabbi signs. Very engaging - I sincerely mean that. Really well done.

Outside of New York City, Los Angeles has the largest Jewish community in the world.

I'm continually impressed by the impact that Jews - who make up just 2% of U.S. population - continue to have in American society.
As I've shared before, I'm convinced that I - and other Christians - can learn from the Jewish community in that respect: the idea of impacting the larger society from a minority religious position.
Here's another link - this one to comedian Adam Sandler's "Happy Chanukah" song - . It provides an amazing list of Jews, esp in the entertainment industry.

I'm not a big fan of generic "Happy Holidays" greeting - and prefer what my son's Scout leader wished all the boys as we finished out the year: "I hope you all have the best Hanukkah .... and a very merry Christmas."


Happy Hanukkah from Los Angeles.

© 2009


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Americana at Brand: The Effects of Time (Part 2)

We had heard a lot about "Americana at Brand" in Glendale, but had never been there. As my family and I were at Travel Town - here's a link - we decided to drive the extra three miles to see what it was all about. Pictured above, driving south along Brand Blvd in Glendale.

Americana at Brand, a large outdoor shopping center, opened in May of 2008.

Located at Brand Blvd and a street called Americana Way, it's the creation of Los Angeles area developer Rick Caruso. Caruso also developed "The Grove" next to Farmer's Market (in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles). Here's their website:

Another view from Brand Blvd. The complex has a nostalgic, early 20th Century industrial look and feel.

Here's a view showing the size of the development, including the large two acre park in the center of the property.

In addition to dozens of stores and shops, there are also 238 apartments and 100 condominiums.

If you've ever dreamed of living in a shopping center, then - brother - Americana at Brand is for you!
Here's another view - this one from the upper deck of the parking structure.

As soon as we got off the elevator, my kids ran to see the fountain.

The fountain jets moved to "crooner" (think Frank Sinatra) music.

You can see the apartments and condos in the background. Wonder how the HOA works?

Ah, my ride. Here's the trolley car we had heard about.
It's about as authentic as the rest of Americana (meaning, not at all) but my kids - ages 9 1/2 and 7 - thought it was great. And, yes, it's free.

The thing my kids like most about this place is that it was clean. Americana may been somewhat contrived, somewhat "fake" ... but, yes, it was clean.

And, compared to, say, the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, it felt like Disneyland.

There is no question it's a beautiful development. Rick Caruso and his team did an amazing job.

But thinking back an hour to our time at Travel Town, I wonder how the effects of time will treat Americana? I don't mean the physical structure. The complex looks well built, and they'll no doubt do a great job keeping it up in terms of maintenance.
But styles and tastes change.

How will Americana feel in 20 or 30 or 40 years? Will it look and feel like an enclosed shopping mall from the 1970's (dated -or even defunct)?

Or will it somehow be able to defy the odds and capture the timeless magic of, say, a "Main Street, USA" at Disneyland?

In some ways, Americana reminds me of the "Old Towne Mall" in Torrance Growing up in the 1970's I loved going to that place. But it doesn't exist anymore.

I'm not really into shopping, or shopping centers. Americana felt a bit too "Stepford Wives" for me, but I appreciated the open, outdoor feel - versus an enclosed mall (aka "maul").

I wouldn't make a special trip just to see it, but once we were in the area it was nice to stop by for an hour or so.

Most of all, especially in contrasting it to Travel Town, I'm curious to see how the effects of time treat it.


Travel Town: The Effects of Time (Part 1)

Earlier this year I took my kids and some visiting family members over to Travel Town in Griffith Park. Here's their website: Admission is free.

Travel Town began in the late 1940's when steam trains were being decommissioned and replaced by diesel engines. Charley Atkins, a Parks and Recreation employee, and some friends wanted to create a playground of sorts, a "petting zoo for trains," where children could climb on top and play on these old train engines.

Over the next few years, Los Angeles Parks and Recreation was able to obtain a couple dozen engines, as well as freight and passenger cars. According to their website, the engines pictured above were built in 1899 and 1904 - and donated in 1953 and 1952 respectively.

Travel Town also has a unique collection of Pacific Electric rolling stock and passenger cars. The Pacific Electric was a huge electric rail system that at it's height included over 1,000 miles of track stretching from the Inland Empire to the Pacific Ocean.

Here's a great example of a Pacific Electric "Red Car". These cars carried millions of passengers throughout metro Los Angeles from the early 1900's up until the early 1960's. Los Angeles, which now has the nation's worst traffic congestion, can only dream of a system like that today.

At closer inspection, it's obvious that the effects of time and elements have taken their toll on the old PE "Red Car" - as well as everything else at Travel Town.

By the 1980's Travel Town had evolved from a playground into a museum. A large covered shed was eventually built at the southern end of the park, protecting a few of the engines and rolling stock from the effects of time and damage from the elements.

Perhaps more importantly, it allowed a space for volunteers to begin the restoration work on the individual cars and engines.

I have fond memories of visiting Travel Town in the 1970's. As kids, we were able to not only climb into the cab of these engines, but literally climb on top of and explore them. They were like giant jungle gyms.

Dangerous? Sure, a little. But that's what made it fun. There were a few railings and handholds, but for the most part we kids just had to use common sense.

Today, there are large "KEEP OFF" signs preventing anyone from climbing on top of anything. Why?

First, the threat of lawsuits. Los Angeles, like every other city and corporation in America, is afraid of being sued by someone getting hurt.

Second, the effects of time: a few of the engines have deteriorated so much that it would be dangerous not just to climb on top of them, but literally walk around in the cabs.

Third, what were considered unique climbing toys in the 1940's today are now considered museum pieces. Most of these engines are now over 100 years old, and Travel Town is working to restore them for future generations. If not to climb on top of like a jungle gym, at least to at least to step inside and look at.

The effects of time: a San Francisco Cable Car (above) awaits restoration.

I heard that there was some sort of operating trolley car just a few miles away at a new outdoor shopping center called "Americana at Brand" in Glendale. Having never been there, we decided to check it out, see what it was all about. Here's a link to Part II. 


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Meet George Jetson

On the corner of Santa Monica Blvd & Crescent Drive in Beverly Hills sits "Jack Colker's 76" gas station, one of the best examples of what is known internationally as "Googie" architecture.

According to this wikipedia article Googie architecture originated here in Los Angeles and was based on the car culture and optimistic Space and Atomic themes of the 1950's and early 1960's. In addition to roofs slopping at an upward angle and large glass windows, buildings featured boomerangs, flying saucers, atoms, starbursts and parabolas in the designs.

Photo: Julius Shulman, 1952. Julius Shulman photography archive. The Getty Research Institute, 2004 
The name "Googie" was based on the Googie's Coffee Shop located on the corner of Sunset Blvd & Cresent Heights here in Los Angeles. When Yale University Professor Douglas Haskell saw the building on a visit to L.A., he ordered his car stopped and proclaimed, "This is Googie architecture." The name stuck.

The 76 Station in Beverly Hills is one of the best existing examples of Googie architecture here in Los Angeles. It's curved roof was was originally designed in 1965 for LAX by world-renound architect William Pereira. Looks like something out of the old cartoon series "The Jetsons" (remember that show?). When Pereira's design wasn't needed at the airport, it ended up as a gas station.

LAX's loss becoming Beverly Hill's gain.

© 2009

Chris Burden's Urban Light at LACMA

Located outside Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on Wilshire Blvd is Chris Burden's outdoor sculpture "Urban Light."

The sculpture consists of over 200 restored vintage light posts from around Los Angeles.

The historic lamp posts and the geometric patterns look neat during the day . . .

. . . but the best time to see them is at night. My wife and I were driving along Wilshire Blvd a few months back when I stopped and snapped off a couple quick pics.

Wish I had some more time - and a tripod.

Here's a link to another site with some better pics of "Urban Light" My hats off to the photographer.

photo credit:

As a Christian, I'm reminded that "light" is use is a metaphor throughout the Scriptures. The first words spoken by God himself are the famous "let there be light" of Genesis 1. John's gospel describes Jesus as "the true light that gives light to every man." Jesus said of himself "I am the light of the world." The last chapter in the Bible describes God himself as the final and ultimate source of light.

photo credit:

Some friends of mine used a photo of themselves in front of the LACMA light posts for their Christmas card. It's a great pic - and reminds me of yet another way light is used in Scripture: to describe the followers of Jesus Christ. "You are the light of the world" Jesus said to his disciples, and by extension, to those who follow him today.

photo credit:

As we move into the Christmas season, it's a reminder for me to be perhaps less concerned about the twinkling lights around the house, more concerned with my character, my actions, and my involvement in those who Jesus described as "the least of these."

Maybe that's the kind of urban light God wants.


Pink My Ride

Back in November 2009 I was in Van Nuys, a community in the San Fernando Valley, with a couple of UCLA students. There are tens of thousands of Mercedes Benz in Los Angeles, but this is the first pink Mercedes I've ever seen.

Yep, it's a Mercedes. After I took this picture, I noticed the liscence plate frame said "Pimped" -- as in "Pimp My Ride" a fairly popular show on MTV.

Hey, it's for sale! Is that correct? Is the price really $1250? No, wait, it's got to be $7250. The paint job alone would cost - what? - two grand, right?

The paint is pretty impressive, although it's not my style. Reminds me somewhat of the classic lowriders, including those that were on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum

in 2008.

Over the years, I've heard Christians ask "what would Jesus drive?" - kind of an American take on "what would Jesus do?" It's sort of a weird question - kind of like asking "what kind of private jet would Jesus own?" Jesus would have taken the bus, or walked.

Meanwhile, the Apostle Paul, a leader in the 1st century church, would have driven "whatever" to get from point A to point B in advancing Christ's Kingdom.

For believers living in Los Angeles (and the rest of the Western world where owning a car is actually a possibility) that's a great principle. Not just with a car, but with pretty much everything.

I'm currently not in the market for a car, although - assuming it runs - $7250 seems like a fair price for a Mercedes. Or is it $1250? 

What do I know? I'm no expert on cars.

Wonder what insurance goes for?

I wonder where it is now?

View Van Nuys, California "Pink My Ride" in a larger map

(originally posted 11/21/2009)

© 2012


No Stopping Any Time

I was in downtown Los Angeles a while back and snapped a quick picture of these two signs on the corner of Los Angeles & Temple Streets. A somewhat ironic placement of parking and street signs.
The image of "laid back Los Angeles" is often just that, an image. The reality is that Los Angeles is fast-paced, driven, competitive city.

The early 20th Century industrialist and billionaire John D. Rockefeller was once asked, "how much is enough?" His response, "just a little bit more," reminds me how often I get trapped in the "more more more" attitude of society - an attitude only magnified in places like L.A.
If not in "stuff," then in work, in achievement, in recognition.

I like the slogan "work hard, play hard," but would add to it "rest hard" - or, perhaps better, "rest intentionally."
Even when the signs around me say otherwise.


The patterns and shadows of the Wachovia office tower juxtaposed against the blue sky and white clouds earlier this month made for an interesting photo.
This was taken earlier this month in Brentwood at the corner of Wilshire Blvd at San Vincente while waiting for the light. I just rolled down my window and looked up.
See, there is an upside to traffic in Los Angeles.

What Is - or What's Not - Art?

What's - or What's Not - Art ?

A few weeks back I came up behind this small commercial truck while driving on Sunset Blvd. in Brentwood here in Los Angeles.

I was impressed with the rolling artwork and managed to catch a few shots through the front window of my car.

Like the pink Mercedes in a recent post (see below) I wouldn't call this artwork my style. But it's still well done.

My kids friends' introduced them to a homeschooler's YouTube video: "What's Art?" The YouTube video is sort of silly - something that only 10-12 year old would love - but brought up a good question: "what is art?"

According to Art is form and content.

Form means (1) the elements of art, (2) the principles of design and (3) the actual, physical materials that the artist has used. Form is concrete and fairly easily described - no matter which piece of art is under scrutiny.

Content gets a little more tricky. "Content" is idea-based and means (1) what the artist meant to portray, (2) what the artist actually did portray and (3) how we react, as individuals, to both the intended and actual messages.

What isn't art? Here's another, similar sized truck a few miles away. It has about as much "form" and "content" as a dog marking out it's territory. Sorry. But it's really depressing, especially for people who have to deal with this form of domestic abuse in their neighborhoods on a regular basis.

Two different trucks. Two different outcomes. Something creative as opposed to something destructive. As stated elsewhere, Los Angeles is a city of contrasts. Rolling art alongside defacing or destruction of personal - or public - property.

As a side note, this past summer our family spent six weeks in Chicago. One thing that struck me: where was the tagging? Where was the graffiti? Chicago successfully banned all aerosol spray paint several years ago, and as a result has virtually no graffiti anywhere.

Wonder how that would work out in Los Angeles? Probably pretty well.