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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Work in Ventura: Gordon Grant WPA Murals

The Gordon Grant murals, located in the Ventura Post Office, are a series of beautifully restored scenes depicting life in pre-World War II Southern California. 

Last Fall I was at a work-related conference in Ventura, California, a wonderful city located approximately sixty miles up the coast from Los Angeles. I stopped by the post office to drop off some letters - that's where I discovered the murals.

The sign outside was helpful in terms of information: Depression-era artist Gordon Grant painted these murals between 1936-37 as part of the Works Project Administration. They were restored and expanded thirty years later in 1966.

The Works Project Administration was a federal project in the 1930's designed to put unemployed Americans to work on various public works projects, including building bridges, dams, roads, etc.

It's impressive how these murals wrap around the building's architecture, including the square ventilation openings, when the building was expanded in the 1960's.

I love the style, known as American Scene Painting, or Regionalist painting. According to a wikipedia article, "Much of American scene painting conveys a sense of nationalism and romanticism in depictions of everyday American life. During the 1930s, these artists documented and depicted American cities, small towns, and rural landscapes." 

I also appreciated the subject matter: work. With an unemployment rate of 25% during the Depression, I wonder how many men and women were still looking for work when these murals were painted. 75 years later, I'm glad artist Gordon Grant was able to find work in terms of these murals.

When I was in High School, still very new to Christianity and to faith, a friend my own age was talking about his job at a local gas station (remember when High School kids actually worked at places like gas stations?) and said "hard work is a good thing." Wow, really?

Thirty years later, I realize that he was really right but as a typical (read: lazy) teenager, hearing a comment like that from someone my own age came as a shock: "Hard work a good thing? Is he nuts?" I grew up with a mindset that work, especially hard work, was something to be avoided, certainly not something I would have considered "good." 

Journalist and University of Texas, Austin professor Marvin Olasky has written extensively about work, specifically from a Christian world-view. I came across a fascinating interview between Olasky and Darrow Miller on attitudes of work and how this can effect entire societies

Is work something to be avoided, or embraced? What happens to a society when work is seen as a "curse"? I found the interview with Miller, a Los Angeles native and a 27 year veteran of the non-profit organization "Food for the Hungry," really worth reading. 

You'd have to be a real fan of Depression era public art to make a trek to Ventura just to see these murals. On the other hand, if you're in Ventura, or heading up the coast (a la the 1970's band America's song "Ventura Highway") it's only a couple of minutes off Highway 101. Stop by and have a look. 

View Ventura Post Office in a larger map

Located at 675 East Santa Clara Street, Ventura.

.© 2011


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Christos Anesti: Easter in Hollywood

Anyone who has driven along the 101 Hollywood Freeway in the last few years has no doubt noticed the spires of the Russian Orthodox Church visible near the intersection of Sunset Blvd. & Western Avenue. Earlier this year I was driving by and decided to stop and take a look.

The church building is located in a commercial and very urban part of Hollywood. Don't mind the barbed wire, it's pretty much everywhere in Los Angeles.

I parked and took a walk around the neighborhood.
Gas Station & Russian Church = Los Angeles, or more precisely Hollywood.

This needs a caption, but I'm not sure what.
Definitely an "experiencing L.A." moment.

I finally found the entrance. The church is located at 5436 Fernwood Avenue, a half a block east of Western Avenue in Hollywood. Apparently, the church building has been around for many years, the cupola project - the massive golden onion domes - were added afterwards.

In fact, they're still working on them. The crew (who spoke English, not a given in L.A.) was taking a break - and said they've been working on the domes for over nine years. Wow. Above is the scaffolding used on the project. Looks like they're close to being finished.

Aside from the guys working on the domes, no one else was around - and the church was locked. I saw this sign, which would be great - if I spoke Russian.

Walking around I finally found something in English: Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Church.

I tried to get some information off their website - but it seems to be "stuck."

I'm not Russian and I'm not Orthodox. Then there are the obvious language and cultural differences. Add to that some significant theological differences (topic, perhaps, for another blog post) and Holy Transfiguration Church isn't really a church I'd ever consider attending.

Regardless, I can appreciate their church's building - it's very impressive, and certainly stands out. Hey, it got me to stop.

With Easter approaching, I would certainly wish them a greeting shared by believers around the world: Christos Anesti - Christ is Risen.


Directly across the street from Holy Transfiguration Church was the "Deluxe" lab. You know how at the end of every movie it says "Color by Deluxe"? Well, this is the lab where every Hollywood film is sent for final production.

A half a block away from the church, looking across Western Avenue with the Hollywood sign in the distance. Most visitors from out of town are surprised how urban and industrial parts of Hollywood are.

Another part of Hollywood: a month or so later, my wife and I were at UCLA to hear Oxford professor John Lennox. Near the corner of Melrose and La Brea, we saw a billboard for "Easter At the Bowl".

"Easter at the Bowl" is an annual event sponsored by Bel Air Presbyterian Church. The church holds a massive 11am Easter Sunday church service at the Hollywood Bowl. My wife and kids and I went with friends a couple years ago. I've been there - and, yes, it's an amazing experience - highly recommended.

Here's a photo of our time there and link to some thoughts from our visit a couple years back.

Happy Easter. Christos Anesti - Christ is Risen.

Even in Hollywood.

Especially in Hollywood.

View Hollywood in a larger map

.© 2011


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Passover Wishes from Ralphs Supermarket

Ralphs is a Los Angeles based super market chain with stores located throughout Southern California.

Normally, I don't take photos of grocery bags, but this being Los Angeles, the bags my wife brought home caught my attention. In other parts of the country, you might see a grocery bag wishing you Happy Easter. In Los Angeles, at least on the westside, our local grocery store was wishing everyone - both Jews and Gentiles - Happy Passover. 

Interesting that there was no Jewish equivalent to the Easter Bunny as part of this Passover Greeting. A Passover Seder, complete with the Star of David, was part of the design. In a world where most holidays are dumbed down for fear of somehow "offending" someone, Ralphs choose a design that both respected the holiday - and those who celebrated it. 

Passover celebrates the Jews freedom from slavery in Egypt during the time of Moses. A lamb was sacrificed so that God's judgement on Egypt would "pass over" the Jews. 

As a Christian, especially during Easter, I'm reminded that Jesus was publicly introduced as "the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world." Christians often forget that the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with his disciples was a celebration of Passover meal - and a foreshadowing of his own death, burial, and resurrection. 

A bit ironic perhaps, but the Happy Passover shopping bag from Ralphs was a more significant reminder of the events of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday than images of bunnies and eggs. 

Thanks, Ralphs.

Happy Passover. 

.© 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Crossroads of the World, Hollywood

One of the most fascinating, and certainly one of my favorite, buildings in Los Angeles is the "Crossroads of the World," located on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. 

Anyone remember the 1970's band "America" and their Greatest Hits album? 

As a teenager, it was the back of the album that caught my eye. There beneath the Hollywood Sign, two members of the band stood next to an amazing art-deco style building surrounded by open fields and palm trees. 
Was this building real? 
Just an artists' imagination? 
Did it still exist? 

Growing up in Los Angeles, I remember driving down Sunset Blvd with my parents a year or so later. And then I saw it. 
"THERE IT IS!" I screamed (which I'm sure my parents appreciated). "THE CROSSROADS OF THE WORLD!" 
My wife and I were in Los Angeles last week (see my previous blog post). We stopped by Crossroads on our way out of town.

Crossroads of the World is located at 6671 Sunset Blvd, two blocks south of Hollywood Blvd, in Hollywood. Opened in 1936, it is described as America's first outdoor shopping mall. 

Today, Crossroads consists of offices, mostly tied to the entertainment industry. When it first opened in 1936 retail shops filled the first floor. 

According to their website, shops at Crossroads of the World originally included hair stylists, a French parfumerie, an Oriental arts and gift shop, a Spanish cigar maker, a high-fashion ladies dress shop and even a "handkerchief specialist," catering to celebrities (including W.C. Fields and F. Scott Fitzgerald) and upscale shoppers. 

Here's a classic old photograph I found on "google images."

The center of Crossroads is a ship-like building, appropriately known as the flagship building. It was designed by architect Robert Derrah, who also designed the similarly styled "streamline modern" Coca Cola building a few miles away in downtown Los Angeles. 

It was the flagship building with it's distinctive 60 foot tower and globe that was featured on the back of the America's Greatest Hits album I first saw. This is the west side of the building, looking south towards Sunset Blvd. 

Here's another vintage postcard. What made Crossroads of the World so interesting then, and today, is the variety of architectural styles surrounding the ship building, hence the concept: "crossroads of the world."

Long before Epcot Center in Florida tried to transport visitors to various countries around the world,  Crossroads boasted a series of buildings featuring Spanish, French, Moorish, Italian, and English architectural styles. 

There are some amazing architectural details. Apparently, each door is custom designed. 
Like much of Hollywood, Crossroads of the World fell on hard times in the 1960's and '70's, and was close to being demolished and replaced by an office building. Developer Morton La Kretz purchased the site in 1977. Over the next several years Kretz worked to restore it to it's original grandure. It's funny, but I wonder if the artwork on the back of the America's 1975 Greatest Hits album had any influence on Cross Roads being saved from demolition two years later. 

The neon sign on Selma Avenue. 

Apparently, the oak tree in the courtyard is over 100 years old. Love the landscaping. Very different than the feel and vibe of Hollywood Blvd, just a couple of blocks away. 

Another view, looking towards Sunset Blvd. The tower is part of the large Roman Catholic Church immediately adjacent.  

As this is an office complex, it was very quiet. I wonder if the owners have ever considered converting any of the ground floor offices back to retail. This courtyard would make an ideal place for outdoor dining. How about a coffeehouse? 

Detail on the Moroccan style building. 

Another view of the flagship building, this time from the east side. 

Unlike Grauman's Chinese Theater, the Walk of Fame, or the massive  Hollywood & Highland retail complex (all just a few blocks away), there's not a lot to do at Crossroads of the World. But maybe that's OK. It's a step into Hollywood's past, an amazing architectural treasure, and yet another thing that make Los Angeles in general, and Hollywood specifically, unlike any other place in the world. 

In perhaps the ultimate compliment, a scaled down replica of the Crossroads of the World flagship building stands at the entrance to Disney Studio Theme Park in Walt Disney World, Florida. This was taken back in 1996 when I was living in Orlando for a couple of years. 

Here's a link to the Crossroads of the World website. 

View Cross Roads of the World, Hollywood in a larger map

© 2011


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A taste of Oxford at UCLA

Modeled after Henry VII's chapel at Westminster, UCLA's Kerckhoff Hall is the only Tudor Gothic building on campus - and one of the most beautiful. It was built in 1931 at a cost of $815,000 and served as the original Student Union building. 

Kerckhoff continues to house the offices of the Daily Bruin, a coffee house, offices and several meeting rooms, including the one above. 

The stained-glass windows reflect both California history and the interests of benefactor William G. Kerckhoff, a successful energy and lumber magnate.

 A California prospector.

Hydroelectric power and the Los Angeles aquaduct. 

The famous Giant Sequoia - with a tunnel at the base large enough to drive a car through. 

A beautiful ceiling, chandeliers, and a massive conference table. As a student at UCLA, this was my favorite place on campus for a meeting. 

This past week, I was in another meeting room in Kerckhoff, this time to hear Oxford University mathematician and scholar John Lennox at a lunch for faculty and graduate students. 

Dr. Lennox spoke on his new book "God and Stephen Hawking," making an excellent argument for theism in general and Christianity in particular. 

The event was sponsored by the "Veritas Forum," a Christian organization founded at Harvard University in 1992. According to their website, their mission is "to engage students and faculty in discussions about life's hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life."  

The lecture, attended by over 80 faculty and graduate students, was excellent. Afterwards, Dr. Lennox stuck around for some Q & A. 

At the lunch, I also had a chance to see a former history professor, Dr. Scott Barchy. Dr. Barchy teaches several classes on the historical background of the New Testament, and I had the privilege of attending the first class he taught at UCLA back in the Fall of 1981. 

Over the last thirty years, Dr. Barchy has encouraged hundreds of both Christian and non-Christian students to examine the historical context of the early Christian movement. He's both an outstanding scholar and an engaging lecturer. 

Picked up a copy of Dr. Lennox's book. Looking forward to reading it later this Spring. 

Outside in the hallway was a promotion for a similar, and yet much larger, program later that evening. UCLA Law Professor Daniel Lowenstein would be questioning Dr. Lennox on whether or not the claims of Jesus would hold up in a court of law.  Excellent, amazing time. 

Over 1000 students and faculty attended - with 200 being turned away for lack of space despite having several overflow rooms. The lecture, followed by Q&A, is available for viewing here.

After the lunch, just before heading out, I noticed the stained glass in the Grand Salon where we were meeting. 

Volleyball? Basketball? Your guess is as good as mine. And whose playing? A troll? Yikes!

Football. Love the leather helmet. 

Ye Auld Swimming Hole. Interesting. Wonder what the reaction was, if any, when Kerckhoff opened in 1931?

Boxing. Apparently, the three most popular sports (at least professionally) in the 1930's were baseball, horse racing and boxing.

Many thanks to the Veritas organizers, and Dr. John Lennox in particular, for putting together these events, including the lunch. 

Can't think of a better speaker for a UCLA audience than a professor from Oxford University. 

And can't think of a better venue on campus than Kerckhoff Hall. 

Here's a link to some additional information on Kerckhoff Hall, as well as a Daily Bruin article on John Lennox and his time at UCLA. 

© 2011