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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Experiencing L.A. - January at the Beach

I love this picture - it's one of my favorite photographs of Los Angelels. I have a framed copy hanging above my desk.

With the Santa Monica Mountains in the distance, I'm not sure where else in the world you could get a similar vista.

The exact same spot, minus the zoom lense.

I took these photographs on Super Bowl Sunday in 2007. In that we never had network or cable T.V. while living in Los Angeles, Super Bowl Sunday was a great day to take our kids to the beach. Too cold to swim, but they enjoyed splashing around in the water.

What was surprising was how many people were out and about, not watching "the big game."

Maybe not as big of a deal in L.A.

View Ocean Park Beach, Santa Monica in a larger map

© 2012 - originally posted 1/31/2009


Painted Garage Door

When we lived in Los Angeles, I came across this garage door in a nearby neighborhood.

I wonder what the Homeowners Association would say? Fortunately (or unfortunately for some people) the few Homeowners Associations that exist in Los Angeles are strictly voluntary.

I lived down in Irvine, in Orange County, for several years - which is "HOA central." Apparently in Irvine it's against the law to leave your garage door opened for more than 30 minutes. I seriously doubt something like this mural would have been allowed. Too bad. It's what gives a neighborhood character.

Oh, and for whatever it's worth, homes in this neighborhood of Los Angeles - 1800 square foot 50 year old tract homes - start at about $1.5 million. Yikes.

© 2012


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Experiencing the 1st Amendment at UCLA

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The 1st Amendment to the United State Constitution

The 1st Amendment is designed to protect all forms of speech, even - or, more accurately, especially - offensive speech.

I was reminded of this a couple years ago while at the UCLA campus.

Please note: the following images are both graphic and disturbing.

On May 18, 2010 the Center for Bioethical Reform, a pro-life (what others would refer to as anti-abortion) organization based in Southern California, set up a large display at the base of Bruin Walk.

Massive and graphic images focused students' attention on the issue of legalized abortion.

This is looking north from the 2nd floor of Ackerman Union.

The displays consisted of a twenty-foot high ring of images and text.

"Live Action," the UCLA student organization that acted as the sponsor and helped bring this display, the "Genocide Awareness Project," on campus.

Students on both sides of the issue were engaged in meaningful discussion on what continues to be an emotionally charged issue. A student with a handmade sign voiced a dissenting opinion.

Despite the very graphic images, the conversation remained civil and respectful.

The fence around the display was designed to prevent vandalism from counter-protesters. The small sign on the left says: "warning: for security purposes, video monitoring is in progress in this area."

A quick look inside the circle of images.

A student volunteer engaged in conservation.

As a UCLA alumni, I certainly hope that those who are pro-choice (that is, pro abortion-rights) would respect the 1st Amendment rights of those they disagree with, and protect their right to erect this display in the center of campus. Campuses like UCLA constantly speak of "celebrating diversity." That sounds great - if it means diversity of opinion.

photo credit: Los Angeles Times

In a related story, today's Los Angeles Times featured an article about Melinda Guido who was just released from the hospital. Melinda was born on August 30 - four months premature - weighing just nine ounces at birth, making her the smallest baby ever born in California, and the second smallest ever born in the United States. Incredible. Here's the link to the story.

Over the years, both as a student and then working at UCLA, I've seen and heard groups and causes that I absolutely disagreed with, yet respected their right to be heard.

That's how the 1st Amendment works: even - especially - with what many may find offensive.

Even - or especially - in L.A.

© 2012


Experiencing Matt Logue's "Empty L.A."

A couple of years back, when we were living in Los Angeles, 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. Almost 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 who's lived in Los Angeles and been stuck in mind-numbing 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:

© 2012 - originally posted 2/20/2010


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Experiencing L.A. at Noah's Ark at the Skirball Center

Noah's Ark at the Skirball Center is a permanent display designed for children 3-8 and their parents. If you live in Los Angeles, or are just visiting, I highly recommend it.

Back in April 2008 - just as I was just toying with the idea of this blog - I took my kids there for a couple of hours. They were ages 7 1/2 and 5 at the time: perfect ages!

My son, especially, loved running around and finding all the interactive aspects of the display that could "do things."

The Noah's Ark display is a multi-room artistic interpretation of the Noah story. The focus isn't on the biblical account. If you're looking for that, you'll need to look elsewhere. The focus here in on the art. Sorry the pictures are a little blurry (low lighting).

What makes this display so appealing and unique is that everything comes from recycled parts.
This aspect is fascinating, and would be of interest to older kids.

My son, meanwhile, liked the cranks, ropes, wheels, and pulleys found throughout the display. There are also some tubes kids can crawl through - think a McDonalds playland at an art museum and you get the idea.

Story-time in the next room. There are also two large hands-on craft areas, where my kids made an art project.

This was the one of several visits we made to the Skirball. As I said, I highly recommend a trip here - as well as making reservations ahead of time to get in, especially if you go on their "free day" (Thursdays). Here's a link.

The Noah's Ark display is part of the much larger Skirball Center.

The Skirball Center is a large Jewish Cultural Center located two miles north of the Getty Center on Mulholland Drive. Above is their other permanent display: "Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America." My kids were too young at the time to appreciate this; we did come back a couple years later and walked thorough the entire gallery. As a Christian, I think there is much to learn about influencing a culture and society from a minority religious position; this is definitely worth seeing.

One of the final rooms of the "Antiquity to America" display has a life sized replica of the torch from the Statue of Liberty. My grandfather arrived in America as a very small child back in 1910, so this was especially significant to me as the grandson of immigrants.

View Skirball Center, Los Angeles in a larger map

Here's a link to the Skirball Center. They are open Tuesday - Sundays, closed Mondays. Admission is $10, $5 for kids - and admission is free every Thursday.

Totally unrelated to the Skirball, but a part of our day, was introducing my kids to Diddy Reese ice cream sandwiches on the way home. Diddy Riese is located in Westwood Village, a block from UCLA. Topic for a future blog post.

© 2012


Experiencing L.A. in January: UCLA Japanese Garden

Another hidden treasure in Los Angeles is the UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, located less than a mile north of campus on Bellagio Road in the residential neighborhood of Bel Air.

I lived in Los Angeles off and on since age 7 - and have driven within a few blocks of this location hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times. Like most people, including the vast majority of UCLA students and alumni, I never even knew it was there.

The UCLA Japanese Garden is in the secluded and tony residential neighborhood of Bel Air. The Garden is part of a former estate and as a result have a grand total of two parking spaces. Needless to say, entrance to the Garden is by reservation only. More on that in a bit.

During the first week of January two years ago, I took an hour around noon to see what the Garden was all about. This is the entrance off their micro parking lot. There is no street parking, so again - reservations are a must (and they do have someone at the entrance who checks). Oh, and admission is free.

Wow. I was impressed! There were beautiful streams, waterfalls, pathways, trees, rocks, and ferns. As the only other person there was doing some sort of maintenance for the University, I had the entire garden to myself - which actually felt a little weird. To me, that one of the few negatives of this Garden.

The Garden was donated to UCLA in 1965 by Edward Carter, then Chairman of the Regents of the University of California. It's style and design based on the gardens of Kyoto, Japan.

January in Los Angeles.

I'm sure the Garden is beautiful anytime of the year, but for me, it was especially impressive to experience this in the middle of winter. Pictured above is small ravine was filled with large ferns.

Parts of it felt like Hawaii, minus the airfare.

Another view from one of the pathways. Much of the Garden is built on a hillside (after all, this is Los Angeles) so if you visit, bring appropriate walking shoes.

You'll want to read over their website before making a visit. Here's a link.

For a reservation to visit, call 310 794-0320 or email

View UCLA Japanese Garden in a larger map

The Garden is only open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am-2pm. I know, a total of 12 hours a week: very limited hours. But it's a special place and I'd definitely recommend making an effort to visit sometime.

© 2012 - originally posted 1/24/2010


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Experiencing L.A. at the Beverly Center

The Beverly Center is an eight story enclosed shopping center located at the corner of La Cienega Blvd. and 3rd Street in Los Angeles. Despite it's name, it's actually not located in Beverly Hills.

The Beverly Center is near Beverly Hills, but technically located in the city of Los Angeles.

I mentioned driving by the Beverly Center in a blog post a couple weeks back.

The building consists of a massive five story parking garage, topped by a three story shopping mall.

But wait, there's more: according to our friends at wikipedia, "The mall's unusual shape and lack of street frontage along San Vincent Blvd is due to it's location on top of the Salt Lake Oil Field. The western portion of the mall property contains a cluster of oil wells, all operated by Plains Exploration & Production, in a drilling enclosure that is active to this date."

Yep, the entire complex is built on top of an opperating oil field.

Another feature is the massive and, personally what I find very ugly, power lines up and down both La Cienega Blvd. and 3rd Street. But enough on the outside, let's head in and take a look, shall we?

My wife Molly and I were having an anniversary dinner in Beverly Hills in May of 2009, back when we lived in L.A. I had driven by the Beverly Center a zillion times, but never been inside. My wife hadn't been inside since the early 1990's when she was working at UCLA. We decided to take a look. We found street parking (yes!) a block away and headed over.

Looks like if I'm going to take a picture of a Rolls Royce, I gonna have to hold my camera still. Sorry it's blurry; took in while running across the street.

Despite the massive parking garage, we still saw a lot of people coming an going via the street entrances, which consists of a series of elevators along the side of the building. Yes, you have to take five different elevators up just to get inside. It reminded me slightly of the George Pompidou Center in Paris.

The inside was OK, but felt a little . . . . underwhelming.

The Beverly Center opened in 1982, making it thirty years old this year.

I guess this was all state of the art back in the day, but it looks like pretty much every other mall in America.

I'm curious, what's the normal "life span" of a mall?

It also felt really empty, especially being in center of a big town like L.A.

My guess is that Steve Caruiso's "The Grove" complex - located just one mile to the east - has taken up all the slack, and (unfortunately for the Beverly Center) the crowds.

Here's a link to some thoughts from a previous blog post on "The Grove."

This was the view off the outdoor dining patio on the 8th floor, looking northwest towards the Hollywood Hills - and the Hollywood Sign around 7pm.

Los Angeles (and the rest of coastal Southern California) experiences a unique weather pattern in late Spring and early Summer called "June Gloom" - or, in this case, "May Gray" - with late night and early morning fog. Really nice view of the city; I bet this patio would be great when it's sunny.

Another view of the Beverly Center, standing on the southeast corner of La Cienega Blvd. and 3rd Street. What I didn't know was that just one block from here, at the corner of La Cienega and Beverly Blvds is the epicenter of the Hollywood entertainment industry.

A friend from the church we were part of in L.A., who works at Sony, explained that there is a thirty mile radius from the intersection of La Cienega and Beverly Blvds, called the Thirty Mile Zone or Studio Zone. The entertainment industry labor unions use this to determine the labor rates. Filming anything outside the zone is much, much more expensive. That explains why, for example, it was so much cheaper for a studio to turn two block of Sunset Blvd in L.A. into Santa Barbara, than actually go to Santa Barbara (here's a link to a previous blog post on that).

Out and about, heading back to our car.

Anybody remember that old song by Missing Persons "Walking in L.A."?

I don't know - I did a lot of walking in L.A. (here's a link to a good personal example). And we saw a lot of people out and about.

OK, so these people aren't walking. They're waiting for the bus.

But this feels like just as much as experiencing L.A. as walking around the Beverly Center.

View Beverly Center, Los Angeles in a larger map

The Beverly Center is located three miles north of the Santa Monica Freeway on La Cienega Blvd in the heart of Los Angeles.

Here's a link to their website.

© 2012