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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Leaving A Mark at the La Brea Tar Pits

Last Fall, I spent a couple of hours walking along Wilshire Blvd. through Beverly Hills and the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles.

Smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles - located on our city's busiest street - is the La Brea Tar Pits.

The La Brea Tar Pits has the distinction of being the largest deposit of Ice Age fossils in the entire world.

It would be easy to spend a couple hours walking around outside the outdoor excavation sites as well as the adjacent Page Museum. If you've never been there, it's worth visiting. Here's a link:

But as I was just passing through, for me it was a matter of just taking a couple extra minutes to snap some photos.

The large fiberglass mammoths (including one pictured above literally floating on the top of the largest tar pit) gives an idea of the kind of animals that existed in this area in pre-history Los Angeles - as well as the rest of North America. Really amazing. And right in the heart of the city.

One of the many urban problems here in Los Angeles is vandalism from graffiti, commonly known as "tagging." Millions of dollars are spent every year dealing with graffiti - which, unfortunately, only seems to get worse.

So while I'm no friend of the urban decay arising from taggers (more on that in a future post), I found something unique about tar from the La Brea Tar Pits being used by passer-byers to write their names or initials at a small observation platform right off Wilshire Blvd.

So what am I saying? That graffiti from spray paint, pens, or knives (etching on glass) is bad, but graffiti from tar on the wall next to the tar pits is fine?

As that doesn't make any sense, how about: graffiti limited to a 4 foot x 20 foot wall = fine. Everything else = bad.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Matt Logue's Empty L.A.

A couple of months back, the L.A. Times did a story on photographer Matt Logue's book "Empty L.A."

Logue's book is a series of photographs of normally busy spots around Los Angeles, but with (thanks to some amazing "Photoshop" editing) people and vehicles removed from sight.

The above photo of the San Diego Freeway at Sunset Blvd - normally packed at all hours of the day - looks surreal. And very eerie.

I was most impressed with the empty freeway shots. This is the Golden State Freeway (Interstate 5, or "the 5") looking south towards downtown.

There are also numerous street shots. I can't pinpoint this intersection - the neighborhood reminds me of the area around the Beverly Center. Emptier than Christmas morning . . . I'm not sure why he missed the three parked cars on the right. But, otherwise, nothing on the streets.

Below is another shot of the San Diego Freeway (the 405) past LAX, looking south towards the 105 Freeway. Looks like a river of concrete. A very lonely river of concrete.

"How desolate lies the city once so full of people" wrote the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah (Lamentations 1:1).

While I found Logue's photographs creative, they were also disturbing. OK, disturbing might be too strong of a word. Unsettling. There was something unsettling about them.

It's people, not buildings or roads, that give cities life.

"This is is what the LORD says - he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited." Isaiah 45:18.

An empty city, a
really empty city, is a dead city. It's stuff of apocalyptic science fiction movies. Remember I Am Legend (2007)? The Will Smith film is a remake of both The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971). But even these "empty earth" films had someone. Otherwise there wouldn't have been much of a movie, would there? Even the animated Wall-E had a lone mechanical character on earth.

I'm sure every Angeleno (myself included) stuck in traffic has dreamed of an emptier city, or at least fewer cars on the road.

Instead of an emptier city, I wonder if L.A. would be better off with more people?

Not more cars. More people.

Cities like New York, London, Paris, Tokyo seem to function better with more people, not less.

Perhaps Matt Logue's next project might be showing us what Los Angeles would look like with twice as many people. Now that would be interesting.

Information on the book is available on his website:


Saturday, February 13, 2010

The West & Westerns: an afternoon at the Autry National Center

The Autry National Center, located here in Los Angeles in Griffith Park across the street from the L.A. Zoo, is an internationally recognized museum and study center focusing on the exclusively on American West. It's one of the largest such museums in the world.

Yes, it does rain in California. It was a perfect afternoon to take my kids and their three cousins to explore the Autry.

I liked the question posed at the entrance: "Is the West a place or a way of thinking?"

Inside, the center of the museum has a huge three paneled mural covering the history of the West. The first panel covers the native peoples, the Spanish explorers and missionaries, and contact with Anglo-Americans.

The next - and largest panel - covers the period from the California Gold Rush to the closing in the frontier around 1890.

The third panel covers the perception of the West, from early painters and photographers to Hollywood's various versions of "the Western."

So the museum covers both the actual history of the West and how it's been portrayed over the past 100+ years.

Currently the museum has a extensive (and I found beautiful) collection of contemporary artwork on the West.

Cameras - unfortunately - we not allowed anywhere inside the gallery. I took this from the lobby looking in with a zoom lens. That's OK, right?

I can honestly say it was worth going to the Autry just to see these paintings. I've take my kids to art museums before, and they're usually bored after 5 minutes. They really like the artwork on display at the Autry, especially as the style emphasized realism. In several cases the paintings looked like photographs - which my kids loved.

Elsewhere in the museum was other artwork, equally as impressive (and where it was OK to take photographs). This reminded me of a scene from "The Last of the Mohicans."

Lots of landscapes, animals, scenes native peoples (American Indians). My apologizes for not getting the names of the artists or the paintings . . . but I had five kids in tow. As I said, the artwork alone was worth the visit.

Of course, my kids had to see the "Family Discovery Center" downstairs. The Autry - including the staff - is very accommodating to both children and parents. The family area has a special focus on the immigrant experience of a Chinese-American family.

There were costumes the kids could dress up in.

And a 1940's style Chinese restaurant to play in. They LOVED this place. There's a kitchen and tables and chairs - they call it Sigh-Fong's (from the book "Cricket in Times Square").

No trip to the Autry is complete without a visit to the Western jail. Nearby they have some of the actual firearms used in the actual "Gunfight at the OK Corral" and the sketch that Wyatt Earp made of the event.

There is also an extensive section devoted to Hollywood's depiction of the West through movies and television. Very appropriate as the museum is located just a few miles from Universal, Paramount, Disney and Warner Brothers Studios.

I could have spent hours here, but being there with five kids ages 7-11, that'll have to wait for another day. And I'll hold off on more serious reflection and commentary on "The West and Westerns" until then.

As the Gene Autry, the singing cowboy use to say "happy trails to you . . .until we meet again."

Here's their website with more information:


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl Sunday at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

Super Bowl Sunday I took my family over to the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook here in Los Angeles. The Baldwin Hills are a distinctive outcropping of hills several hundred feet high south of the 10 (Santa Monica) Freeway, and east of the 405 (San Diego) Freeway.

The Scenic Overlook is a newly opened 50 acre park located in the heart of urban Los Angeles and is part of of the California State Park system. The entrance is located on West Jefferson Blvd.

There are trails leading to the top, but we opted for the stairs that go straight up the side of the hill.

The stairs are fairly steep and are a good little work out. Here's some on-line reviews from

Almost to the top - we could see people at the overlook.

As it was Super Bowl Sunday, I was surprised how many people were out and about doing other want things. This group is enjoying the view, with downtown Los Angeles in the background. If you to enjoy the view without the hike, you can drive to the top (parking = $6).

It had rained the day before, so I was really hoping that there would be snow on the San Gabriel Mountains behind the Hollywood Hills. For whatever reason, that was not the case. Still, a pretty amazing view, including the Hollywood Sign.

The Scenic Overlook is one of the best - perhaps THE best - view in Los Angeles. Unlike the overlooks at the Griffith Observatory or the Getty Center, the Baldwin Hills Overlook faces north, with sweeping views of downtown, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Westwood, Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean. All framed by the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains.

My daughter trying out the camera she got for Christmas.

Looking out over Los Angeles with my family, I'm reminded of the question posed in Jonah 4:11 - "should I not be concerned about that great city?"

I appreciate and am deeply challenged by what New York City based pastor and New York Times bestselling author Tim Keller has shared on this passage. I found it worth listening to:

My son taking a photo of the city, with downtown L.A. in the background.

Baldwin Hills is also the name of a television show on BET (Black Entertainment Network). Baldwin Hills has been referred to as "Black Beverly Hills" due to the large concentration of African American professionals and celebrities who've lived in the community.

Heading back down towards our car.

Two unique aspects to Los Angeles are the weather and the topography:

Mediterranean climate is only found in four other places on earth: the Mediterranean basin (hence, the name), western and south Australia, southwestern South Africa, and part of central Chile. Mediterranean climate means mild winters and warm, dry summer. No complaints here: it's pretty ideal.

In terms of topography, metro Los Angeles has six major mountain ranges: the Santa Susannas, the San Garbriels, the San Bernardinos, the Santa Anas, the Palos Verdes, and the Santa Monica Mountains. In addition, there are numerous smaller features like Baldwin Hills. FYI, the "Hollywood Hills" are really just part of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The kids had a "good attitude" marching up and down the stairs, so we stopped off in Culver City at a 7/11 for a little treat.

Some things (a trip to 7/11) are definitely not unique to Los Angeles.

Here's the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook website with more information: