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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Olvera Street: One Woman's Vision

A few months back we joined a few other westside homeschool families for a walking tour of downtown Los Angeles. First stop: Olvera Street.

We were there on May 5
th, Cinco de Mayo and were able to see a couple of Mexican dancing groups. The general name is "folklorico" - and I believe the above group would be considered "folklorico veracruz" - originating from the state of Vera Cruz, located on the Mexican Gulf Coast.

My kids - along with the other
homeschool kids - trying to get a better view.

Also featured: an Aztec dance group. I'm always curious if these guys can actually trace any of their lineage to the Aztecs (apparently, yes).

Cinco de Mayo celebration was a few feet away from the Central Plaza - and bandstand, built in 1962. Growing up in Los Angeles, I have great memories of school field trips to Olvera Street and running around the bandstand with my friends. It has an amazing acoustical echo - but, unfortunately, it's now closed off when not in use.

A statue of King Carlos III, the Spanish monarch responsible for the founding of Los Angeles in 1781.

At the southern end of the Plaza is the old
Pico House, Los Angeles' first major hotel.

Built by Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, it was the largest hotel in Southern California when it opened in 1870.

The building has been restored, but unfortunately isn't used for much besides special events. Here's a link to a wikipedia article.

Entering from the north end of the Plaza is
Olvera Street itself. It's a quaint one block pedestrian street filled with shops, restaurants, and vendors' booths designed to look and feel like old Mexico.

Olvera Street is located in between Main and Alameda Streets. Technically, it's an alley (more on that in a bit) so the shop entrances are the back sides to the original buildings.

The heart of
Olvera Street is the Avila House.

Built in 1818, it's the oldest surviving building in Los Angeles. It, as well as the rest of Olvera Street and the Plaza, are now part of the California State Park system.

The Avila House has been restored to what it looked like in the early 1800's. Inside, docents provide some additional background information. Our
homeschool group took a few minutes to stop and walk through.

Here's an amazing old photo (click for a larger view) of Los Angeles. Taken in 1869, I'm assuming it was taken from the then-under-construction Pico House. To the right is part of the Plaza, to the left is the Plaza Church. Olvera Street begins at the edge of the Plaza, my guess is on the right of the photo.

Wow, pretty rustic. Hard to believe the changes L.A. would undergo over the next 100 years.

Back to Olvera Street: by the 1920's the commercial center of Los Angeles had moved southward and the street, now an alley, had become an urban slum.

Enter Los Angeles socialite Christine Sterling.

The Avila House, the oldest building in the city and located on Olvera Street, had been condemned and - this being Los Angeles - was slated for demolition.

Sterling used her social contacts, including the leadership of the Los Angeles Times, to save the Avila House, and to radically change Olvera Street forever.

Olvera Street that millions of locals and tourists have enjoyed over the years was the vision of one woman.

Working tirelessly, and with no money to speak of, she single handily turned Olvera Street into a pedestrian thoroughfare, complete with shops, restaurants, and market stalls.

The Olvera Street that we know today opened on Easter Sunday, 1930. Pictured on the right is Christine Sterling. Amazingly, she actually made the Avila House her personal residence, living there until her death in 1963.

25 years before Walt Disney had his "Main Street USA" and decades before Universal built "City Walk" or Rick Caruso envisioned "The Grove" --- Christine Sterling turned a slum into a successful commercial, cultural, and historic center.

Whether you're looking for colorful Mexican artwork . . .

guady Mexican wrestling mask . . .

or something in between, Olvera Street has it.

After 80 years, there still a wonderful and sentimental charm to the place. Oh, and some great restaurants. Did I mention that?

In many ways, it's not a historical representation of Mexican California as much as it is what people in the 1920's and '30's imagined Mexican California to be like.

A final photo: how many other pedestrian shopping districts in Los Angeles are anchored by a cross?

Here's a link to the Olvera Street website.

And a link to the "Big Orange Landmarks" blog post on Olvera Street and the Plaza, with some great photos.

© 2010


Friday, July 30, 2010

Last Day in Los Angeles

with the family on Wilshire Blvd last month

Today is our last day in Los Angeles. We've taken a new position and will be working at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo - about four hours up the coast.

We're planning on being back in L.A. several times this next academic year. That, and the fact that I have numerous photos I haven't had a chance to post, means that "" isn't going anywhere. I'm still planning on regular updates.

Meanwhile, I've got some students coming over to help us load our van - we head out tomorrow.

© 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Under the Sea: mural at Leo Carrillo State Beach

Located on the western most edge of Los Angeles County is Leo Carrillo State Beach. It's about 30 minutes up the coast from Santa Monica, just past Malibu.

Earlier this year our family joined some other westside homeschool families for a mid-week overnight there. More on that in a bit.

The Pacific Coast Highway separates the beach (to the left) from the campgrounds (to the right).

The bridge is pretty non-descript. What's amazing here is what's under it. You can see a bit of it in the photo above, and much more in the photo below.

Under the bridge is a massive ocean and nature themed mural. It's actually one of the most extensive, but in my opinion, under-appreciated murals I've ever seen.

Hundreds of thousands of people drive over this bridge every year - with no idea of what they're missing. In that sense, it is like the ocean itself.

The above photo gives a bit of the size and scope of this project.

Wow. It has to be seen to appreciated! The entire mural is themed to the local natural surroundings - including the nearby marine and aquatic life.

Another view. I love the vision that turned the dingy underside of a bridge into a incredible work of art.

My kids and their homeschool friends thought the mural was "neat and everything" but - as kids - what they were
really interested in was what they could find in the water, real or imaginary.

Detail of Blue Whales.

California Sea Lions.

Great White Sharks.

And Dolphins.

I appreciate the mural's focus on the incredible diversity of the oceans, that is, of Creation.

As I shared in previous posts, I believe the Creation itself points to - the Creator. Both Creation and this mural point to design - and to intelligence.

Could a mural like this have come about by, say, throwing paint against the wall? By blind chance? Perhaps. But I think all of us would agree that there was a probably an artist.

And indeed there was. The mural is the work of David Legaspi and is entitled "The little bridge between the Mountain and the Sea where the Kelp Plant meets the Sycamore Tree . . ."

The project began April 7th 2003 and was completed on May 12th of that same year.

By the way, Leo Carrillo State Beach and Park is named after former film star and State Parks Commissioner Leo Carrillo. Here's a link to their website:

Overhead is an Orca, aka a Killer Whale. While Orcas are technically not found of the coast of Southern California,
it's looked really cool and was a neat effect overhead.

The mural also features some scenes of life above the waves, including locals surfing . . .

. . . and an idyllic native-American village - complete with obligatory rainbow (!) and men and women happily interacting with wild animals.

Um, while native-Americans were very aware of their natural surroundings, they also were not vegetarians.

Here's a native girl surfing in and around sycamore trees.

While I appreciate the attempt to bring in the native vegetation, especially directly overhead, surfing was introduced by Hawaiians - not the local Chumash Indians. This was a little too "Dances with Wolves" meets "Endless Summer" for me.

That aside, "Mountain and the Sea" is an absolutely amazing mural. If you're anywhere near Leo Carillo State Beach, or just heading north on the Pacific Coast Highway, it's worth stopping to see.

A close up of more local sea life.

Hats off to David Legaspi and his team of volunteers for bringing this all to life.

Here's hoping it'll inspire the next generation - I'm thinking my kids and their homeschool friends - towards the protection and preservation of our coast line.

© 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Keeping Hope Alive

This morning I learned that the Union Rescue Mission's Hope Gardens facility in Sylmar was able to raise the needed $2.8 million to stay open.

photo credit:

I wish I could claim credit for this picture, but I think it pretty much sums up the hopes and feelings of hundreds of single moms and kids who have called - and continue to call - Hope Gardens home.

The Union Rescue Mission seeks to be "the hands and feet of Jesus" to men, women, and children here in Los Angeles It's an incredible ministry - one my family and I feel privileged to support and be part of.

Many thanks to URM President Andy Bales and his team for working to see this happen.

And for keeping hope alive for hundreds of families here in Los Angeles.

© 2010


Splash Zone at URM

Yesterday some friends from our church spent the afternoon volunteering and helping staff the Union Rescue Mission's "Splash Zone" up on their roof.

The Union Rescue Mission is located in downtown Los Angeles skid row, and works to provide long-term solutions to homeless men, women and children. It's the largest mission of it's kind in the United States and truly a remarkable ministry.

Several of the volunteers brought their own kids to help - of course, they ended spending most of their time playing with the kids living at the URM.

A big inflatable slide is always a hit - especially when when you run a couple of hoses down it!

Friends from our church helping serve up burgers. The downtown Los Angeles skyline is clearly visible in the background. Really different feel and vibe than what I posted a couple weeks back from 15th & Arizona.

As we're moving in less than two weeks, I spent the afternoon packing boxes and missed this event. I pulled these pics off the URM site after hearing about it this morning in church.

Honestly, I wish I had gotten myself and my kids downtown to help out for a few hours. It would have been a great chance to have gotten out my little "westside bubble" - and I'm sure my kids would liked helping out - aka, running around and playing with the other kids for a couple of hours.

© 2010


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Upper Deck: 15th & Arizona, Santa Monica

This past April I had a doctor's appointment at the Santa Monica Medical Plaza, at 15th & Arizona. I expected a routine visit.

What I didn't expect was the view.

Wow, nice. Glad I had my camera.

This is looking northeast towards the Los Angeles communities of Brentwood and Westwood.

A close up of the same location. On the left is Brentwood, and on the right, Westwood. The hills in the distance are part of Beverly Hills and Hollywood - and in the far distance are the much larger San Gabriel Mountains.

Barely visible in the distance are the snow capped mountains, to the right.

As an aside, later this same month (last April) my wife and kids and I were at a conference in the local mountains, which had just received six inches of snow. We stopped at the beach on the way up and were in the snow about two hours later. Our kids were able to play in the surf and two hours later play in the snow.

From the same office tower, this is looking south toward the Pacific Ocean, with the western edge of Catalina Island - about 40 miles away - visible in the distance.

Turned out the doctor wasn't in that day - I had to reschedule. I had a few minutes, so I took the elevator up to the top floor for (in my opinion) an even better view. This is looking up Arizona Avenue, which runs between Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvds through Santa Monica into West Los Angeles.

Another close up looking the same direction. On the right side of the photo, just above the last tall building, you can see the Hollywood sign. Click on any of these photos if you'd like a larger image.

I walked around the building a bit for some different views. Looking north towards Brentwood is the massive Getty Center.

Looking northwest towards the community of Pacific Palisades with the Santa Monica Mountains and Topanga State Park in the distance.

Here's a final wide angle shot. Towards the right are the office towers of downtown Los Angeles, about 15 miles away.

The Santa Monica Medical Plaza is only about 10 or 12 stories tall - but it's a great location if you'd like a view of Santa Monica, the Pacific Ocean, and metro Los Angeles.

Oh, and Happy 4th of July. Can't forget that.

© 2010