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Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween in Los Angeles

One of our favorite events when we lived in Los Angeles ended up being Halloween, which is ironic because it's actually my least favorite "holiday."

A little background: our first month living in L.A., we took our kids trick-or-treating: it was unlike anything we had experienced.

A local trick-or-treating neighborhood drew so many kids and parents at times it was hard to walk on the sidewalks. In addition to the boat-loads of candy, some people literally spent over $5000 a year to have their homes professionally decorated.

And we're not talking "Caspar the Friendly Ghost" here. In other contexts, exposing young children images of death, torture and the occult might result in a visit from child protective services.

Working with some friends who live in this same community, the next four years we created an alternative (some would call it an "anti") Halloween celebration.

A brightly lit home, upbeat music, a large puppet theater in the driveway, helium balloons, games for kids, and lots of candy were all part of the mix. "Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good" wrote the Apostle Paul (Romans 12:21). We were OK with candy one night a year - it's was the celebration of everything "dark" that we tried to avoid.

We called it "Light Up the Night" - I'm sure the name is not original with us.
Here are a few photos:

No, this is not Disneyland - just the driveway of our friends' home. At the busiest time there were sixty kids and parents hanging out.

Another view when things mellowed out a bit. Helium balloons that said "Light Up the Night" were a huge hit - we ran out.

We could have not have done this without friends from our church. One year, a couple of guys involved in the entertainment industry set up live video feed this year - so kids could "be on TV." Fun. It's also something our kids and others could be involved with: handing out balloons, candy, or running the puppet theater. I heard some teenagers running by who refer to it as the "Jesus house." Sure, why not.

We created a little card for kids and parents that said "Light Up the Night" in multiple languages and explaning why we were doing what we were doing.

One parent told me "people all over are talking about this house. People in Santa Monica, Brentwood ... I'm here because a friend at work said 'you gotta see this one house'"

We can't verify if that's true, but the four years we did it, we got great feedback from appreciative parents.

We lived in Arizona for four years before moving to Los Angeles. Our church there had a HUGE annual Halloween event at the church, attracting thousands of people every year. The year we moved the church canceled the event. Why? Because it was attracting thousands of Christians. The church challenged small groups to work to impact individual communities and neighborhoods. Something, I like to think, like "Light Up the Night."

It was a blast turning my least favorite holiday into one of my most favorite events.

All part of our family experiencing Los Angeles.

© 2011 - originally posted 11/1/2008

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Frostie Freeze Meets La Salsa

Here's a couple of quick "then & now" photos from Los Angeles:

Middle America "Frostie Freeze" tranformed into a Latin America "La Salsa".

Burgers tranformed to Tacos.

Joe transformed to José.

Loss An-je-les tranformed to Loce Ahng-hail-ais

Located at 22800 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, this stand was originally a Frostie Freeze. Built in 1949, it had a larger than life "road side attraction" Burger guy on the roof. This photo was taken by yours truly back in 1984.

In 1987 the restaurant was sold to the La Salsa chain, and the Burger guy was tranformed into the Taco guy. Here's a link to the changes that were made.

While these road side attraction figures are not unique to Los Angeles, this is the only one I'm aware of that's received this kind of extreme make-over. Certainly symbolic in many ways of Los Angeles. That would be the real Los Angeles (not the L.A. everyone sees in the movies).

View La Salsa, Malibu in a larger map

.© 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

33 Years Ago Today: October 23, 1978 Mandeville Canyon Fire

photo credit:

Thirty-three years ago today, October 23 1978, a fire broke out at 9:41am near Mulholland Drive and the 405 Frwy in the Santa Monica Mountains. Stoked by Santa Ana winds and very hot, dry conditions within a few minutes a large brush fire started moving westward.

photo credit: Julie Keese

This is one of the very few color photos I was able to find of the fire. Looks like it was taken from the roof of what's now the CVS pharmacy in the Palisades. The old RTD bus is at the intersection of Sunset Blvd and Swathmore.

photo credit: Palisades Post

Via de la Paz, looking north from the business district. 

I was a student at Palisades High School. I pulled this and the next few photos from our school yearbook.

Thirty homes were destroyed in
Brentwood and Pacific Palisades - it could have easily been ten times that number. By contrast, the 1991 Oakland Hills fire destroyed 3800 homes - and killed 25 people.

Here's another color photo. It was actually a postcard, and was for sale for several years afterwards.The back of the postcard reads: "Santa Monica Mountais on fire-Fall 1978. The fire is nearly 10 miles wide in this photo taken from Venice, Calif. Photo and copyright by Jeffrey Stanton."

photo credit: Karl Edward Dean

Every year Southern California deals with brush fires. In fact, three years ago today, another fire broke (below) next to the 405 Freeway - very close to where the Mandeville Fire began 30 years earlier. Fortunately, it was put out quickly.

photo credit:

My family's home came very close to being destroyed in the
Mandeville fire. A few things I remember:

1) the
speed of the fire. When I got home from High School, I literally thought the fire might be near our home sometime in the next day or two. We were evacuating within 2 hours.

2) the
size of the fire. There is something terrifying about a 50-60 wall of flames several miles wide coming towards you. Trying to defend your home with a garden hose felt like a bad joke.

3) the
smell of the fire. I get an awful feeling everytime I smell a fire - bad memories of October 1978.

4) the
SOUND of the fire. This was perhaps the scariest thing of all. I still remember the low, loud roar. It was surreal.

Our family was very fortunate that the winds shifted just was the fire approached our street. Other families were not so lucky - loosing not only their homes, but everything inside.

photo credit:

The Marek fire (above) in the San Fernando Valley in September of 2008 was a reminder that brush fires in Southern California are not a question of "if" ... but "when."

As a Christian, I'm reminded that brush fires involve issues of environmental stewardship, protection of lives, protection of property, understanding the specific climate (Mediterranean) and topography (mountainous) of Southern California. Brush fires are NOT forest fires. Remember Smokey the Bear? Not the same here. In Southern California several of the native plants are designed to burn (there's that pesky "design" again).

One of my professors at UCLA stated that a fire every ten years is significantly less dangerous, less intense than one every fifty years.

"The probability for an intense fast running fire increases dramatically as the fuels [brush] exceed twenty years of age. Indeed, half-century old chaparral - heavily laden with dead mass - is calculated to burn with 50 times more intensity than 20-year old chaparral."
Mike Davis "Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster" pg 101

I have to now agree that it would make sense to have controlled burns of large uninhabited mountainous areas every 10-12 years - but most experts agree it will never happen - it would be political suicide.


.© 2011 - originally posted 10/23/2008


Saturday, October 22, 2011

City of Los Angeles: Who's In and Who's Not

One of most confusing aspects of Los Angeles is simply "what is Los Angeles?" As stated in the previous post, is it the metro area of 16 million people? The 10 million people in Los Angeles County? The 4 million people living in the City of Los Angeles? Or parts of the City that have a Los Angeles "mailing address"? 

Most people from out of the area (and a surprisingly large number of residents) assume that Hollywood is an independent city. In reality, it's a community within the City of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, West Hollywood, located immediately adjacent, is a seperate, independent city. 

photo credit:

Confused? You're not alone. Below is a list of communities that are part of the City of Los Angeles, next to adjacent ot similarly named areas that are independent seperate cities (or, in a case of the last three, unincorporated areas of the County): 

Hollywood: within Los Angeles - West Hollywood: an independent city

Bel Air: within Los Angeles - Beverly Hills: an independent city

Westwood: within Los Angeles - Inglewood: an independent city

Watts: within Los Angeles - Compton: an independent city

Encino: within Los Angeles - Pasadena: an independent city

Venice Beach: within Los Angeles - Redondo Beach: an independent city

Century City: within Los Angeles - Culver City: an independent city

Pacific Palisades: within Los Angeles - Palos Verdes: an independent city

San Pedro: within Los Angeles - Long Beach: an independent city

Toluca Lake: within Los Angeles - Burbank: an independent city

Brentwood: within Los Angeles - Santa Monica: an independent city

Highland Park: within Los Angeles - Monterey Park: an independent city

Studio City: within Los Angeles - Universal City: not

Playa Del Rey: within Los Angeles - Marina Del Rey: not

West Los Angeles: with Los Angeles - East Los Angeles: not

Finally, most of the San Fernando Valley is part of the City of Los Angeles - one exception is the City of San Fernando.


© 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

So where - or what - exactly is Los Angeles?

One of the most confusing and difficult things about the City of Los Angeles (above, in blue) is knowing where it actually is.

When someone says "Los Angeles" - what do they mean?
Greater Los Angeles? Greater Los Angeles represents a huge five county area (Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura Counties) with a total population of 16 million people. 

Los Angeles County? Los Angeles County (below) covers 4,061 square miles, and over ten million residents.

The City of Los Angeles? Located within Los Angeles County are 88 different cities (along with numerous "unincorporated" areas). The largest of these cities is, of course, the City of Los Angeles, featured above in red.

The City of Los Angeles covers 469 square miles, and has 4 million+ residents.

It's huge - and is perhaps the most oddly shaped city major city in the world.

The City of Los Angeles consists of all the areas in white - and red. 

Downtown Los Angeles? In the map above, Downtown Los Angeles is the small red area. As you can see, it's no where near the geographical center of the city.
photo credit:

From downtown, you can go less than a mile to the southeast - and be out of the city limits. Or, you can go 40 miles northwest and still be in the City of L.A. 
photo credit: Dan Wyman

So where's the geographical center of the City Los Angeles? The Franklin Canyon Reservoir (above) in the Santa Monica Mountains. If it looks familiar, it's because it was used in the opening scenes of the old "Andy Griffith" show. Here's a link to some additional information from a previous post.

As a Christian, I'm reminded of the importance of what a friend - and university professor in Europe - calls "the sense of place." Both Jewish and Christian Scriptures describe events in real places. Archeology continues to validate the historical descriptions found in throughout the Bible. 

More on the geography of Los Angeles, especially the City of Los Angeles, in a future post. 

(Hmmm, I said said over two years ago. Time to do it.)

.© 2011 - originally posted 6/27/09


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Original Farmers Market: 3rd and Fairfax

One of my favorite spots in Los Angeles is Farmers Market, located in the Fairfax District.

In July 1934, during the height of the Great Depression, a group of farmers set up some stands at Third and Fairfax. It quickly caught on as a cheap (and unique) place to get something to eat with the Hollywood crowd, and the rest - as they say - is history. Here's a link to more about the history.

California produce: what is today so common in super markets across the country (and the world) was really unique back in the 1930's. My mom, who was born just a few years after Farmers Market first opened, use to look forward to getting one orange around Christmas. It's not that they were poor, it's just that fresh fruit in the middle of winter was really unique. As a Christian, I'm reminded of the words of King David "You [God] crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance" Psalm 65:11.

More fruits and vegtables. My grandfather - who was from the Midwest and didn't move to California until he retired in the 1970's - used to take me to Farmers Market all the time. I think he like the fact the historic feel and vibe. 

I've jokingly called Farmers Market "Olvera Street for White People" - please don't take this in the wrong way. I'm just comparing it to Olvera Street, which opened in 1930 (here's a link to a previous blogpost on the history of Olvera Street). Farmers Market opened four years later. 

One of my favorite spots in all of Los Angeles is this little outdoor court yard - even better when the noon lunch crowd shows up.

Like this. Going through some of my grandmothers' old photos, I found this from the summer of 1967. The year before my family and I moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, my grandparents drove out just to "see the sights" (as they would say) and visit relatives. In a town that's constantly changing, I love the fact that this little courtyard looks pretty much the same.

Found this on-line somewhere. Just an old photo of Farmers Market back in the day. 

While there are several fruit and vegetable stands, and speciality stores selling nuts and candy, there are also numerous food stands. Loteria grill has Mexican food. 

My wife and I really enjoy the little French Crepe stand. 

We discovered it back in 2002, when our family was Los Angeles for six week work related trip, and we try to make it back here every time we're in the area. 

These gas meters overhead.

A group of ladies having breakfast with the five gas meters right over their heads. This is what gives Farmers Market it's funky charm. 

Ice Cream Stand: "We've Been Here Since 1963!!! Where Were You?" (I was living in Chicago!). Most of the rest of you reading this blog weren't even born. 

Deano's Gourmet Pizza. Above, a photo of the owner with Frank (Sinatra) and other celebraties. 

Walking around, you'll see numerous photos of what it was like in the early years. 

A recreation of the Gilmore Gas Station at was once here on the property. 

Much of this area was oil fields. More on that in a future post. 

In 2002, The Grove outdoor shopping mall (maul) opened up immediately adjacent to Farmers Market. The Grove is "OK" - it's a little fake for me, but it's hugely popular and the increased foot traffic has really helped introduce a whole new generation to Farmers Market. In that sense, it's a win/win. Here's a link to a previous blog post, with some additional thoughts - and night time photos.

Kips Toys at Farmers Market. A huge FAO Shwartz opened up a hundred yards from here as part of the massive "Grove" development. I figured that Kips Toys (above) would never survive. But guess what? FAO Shwartz is out (it's now an American Girl store). Little Kips Toys: still going strong. 

One of the four hundred fiberglass angels that were around Los Angeles in 2000. Here's a link to a previous blog post on these statues. I've got a photo of my son when he was 2 1/2 next to this angel. If I find it, I'll scan it and post it. 

A final view of the clocktower. A great taste - and experience - of L.A. 

Here's a link to their website. Enjoy. 

View Original Farmers Market in a larger map

.© 2011