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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Experiencing L.A. in Koreatown (Part IV)

In November 2010, I was back in Los Angeles and took an hour or so to walk around Koreatown. Here's the links to Part I, Part II and Part III of this series.

Standing on the second story of shopping center that now occupies what was once the Brown Derby Restaurant, I looked south across Wilshire Blvd. towards the other major change of the neighborhood ...

The Robert F. Kennedy School, occupying the former site of The Ambassador Hotel.

The school is actually a K-12 complex, so it's several schools on the same site. Built at a cost of $573 million dollars, it has the distinction of being the most expensive school in the country. The school serves 4200 students - giving it an "only in L.A." construction cost is $130,000 per pupil. I'll leave the commentary on the cost for others. Here's a link to the schools' site.

As stated above, the school sits on the site of The Ambassador Hotel, which operated from 1921-1989. It was the most famous hotel in Los Angeles and, along with it's Coconut Grove nightclub, one of the most famous hotels in the world.

Bing Crosby, Barbara Steeisand, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Diana Ross, Louis Armstrong, Nate King Cole, Julie Andrews - the list goes on - all played at Coconut Grove. It was also the site of both the 1930 and the 1940 Academy Award ceremonies.

The Ambassador Hotel's guest list was a virtual "who's who" of 20th century Hollywood Celebrities, U.S. Presidents and foreign dignitaries. Here's a link to an amazing site about the hotel and it's history.

Tragedy struck in June 1968 when presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was shot after finishing a speech there, dying the next day.

Today along Wilshire, there is a memorial to Senator Kennedy and the school complex is named in his honor. You'll also notice that the building's exterior is modeled after the shape of the original building.

Like other places in Los Angeles, an informational kiosk gives the history of area and the hotel.

The assignation of Senator Kennedy coincided with a general decline in the neighborhood in the 1970's, forcing the hotel to eventually close in 1989. The influence of Koreatown is certainly turning around the entire neighborhood, but The Ambassador is consigned to the pages of history.

photo credit: "Vintage Los Angeles" Facebook group

Found another amazing photo of the area from the 19050's. The Ambassador Hotel would be to the left, the Brown Derby is down the street on the right. 

Continuing along Wilshire, I noticed yet another historic church, Immanuel Presbyterian, with a strong Korean presence. In fitting with the neighborhood, the church has services in Korean, English, and Spanish.

Across the street at the corner of Wilshire & Berendo: a historic Spanish (or is it Moroccean?) style commercial building next to a 1970's style office building. This photo seems so typical of much of Los Angeles.

The "Wilshire Vermont Station" apartment complex at the corner of Wilshire & Vermont. Located underneath Wilshire, the Red Line subway turns north here towards Hollywood.

I was at the half way point of my walk. Hollywood was to the north, but I was headed south, and then west, back to where I started.

Here's a close up shot of the apartment complex, subway entrance, and mural. Rent in this complex are not cheap ($1500 for a 496 square foot studio) and I would definitely recommend reading the "Yelp" reviews.

More on a walk through Koreatown on my fifth and final post next week.

View Koreatown Los Angeles (Part 4) in a larger map

© 2012


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Experiencing L.A. in Koreatown (Part III)

I was back in Los Angeles for a few days in November 2010 and spent an hour or so walking around and exploring Los Angeles' expansive Koreatown district. Here are links to Parts I and Part II.

Since the 1970's, Koreatown has grown from just a smattering of shops and businesses in the along Olympic and Western - to large bank and financial institutions along Wilshire Blvd.

Above, the Hanmi Bank Building at Wilshire and Harvard Blvds.

Above, the Nara Bank Building and Saehan Bank Buildings, corner of Wilshire and Kingsley Drive.

I'm honestly not sure if Hamni, Nara, and Saehan banks are the owners or the major tenants of these buildings. Either way, this represents a major shift from the small struggling ethnic neighborhoods of a previous era to the economic engine that is today's Koreatown.

Wilshire Blvd. has been home to a variety of historic churches and synagogues. Koreatown is no exception. Above is the St. Basil's Catholic Church.

While most houses of worship along Wilshire are very traditional in terms of architecture, St. Basil's - completed in 1969 - is certainly an exception.

Typical street shot along Wilshire in the Koreatown neighborhood. Underneath it all is the Purple Line subway line, terminating at Wilshire and Western.

This is Wilshire and Kingsbury, looking west.

And Wilshire and Irolo Street, looking east.

One of Wilshire Blvd's historic churches. This is the The Wilshire Boulevard Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church, located at Wilshire and Normandie - and built in 1927.

What caught my eye was the large banner in Korean outside of the church.

An incredible 70%-80% of Korean-Americans identify themselves as Christians.

With the exception of the St. Basil's down the street, every other church I saw in Koreatown is either a Korean congregation, or - like the Disciples of Christ Church above - has a service in Korean.

Two blocks down, at the corner of Wilshire and Alexandria, was the location of what was, at the time, most famous restaurant in the world.

Any guesses?

A couple of hints:

1) the color of the brick is part of the name of the restaurant, and

2) a remnant of it's distinctive, whimsical architecture is to the left of the photo above.

Give up?

photo credit: Vintage Los Angeles (Facebook group)

The Brown Derby Restaurant.

The Brown Derby was located at the corner of Wilshire and Alexandria from 1926-1980. It - unfortunately - was unable to survive the changing times and was torn down in 1980, only to become rather non- descript two story mall.

The Brown Derby was not one but a small chain of four separate restaurants.

The original was located here on Wilshire, the second - famous for it's connection with the Hollywood set - at Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood, the third in Beverly Hills, and the fourth in Los Felix. Here's a link to the wikipedia article.

The distinctive Brown Derby from the original building was preserved and incorporated into part of the building. I'm not sure how it looked when the building first opened in 1980, but today it's part of what looks like a Korean restaurant/nightclub.

The spiderwebs out front were for Halloween - I'm assuming not there the rest of the year.

Kind of sad that what at one time was the most famous restaurant in the world has come to this.

Here's the backside.

For better or worse, there's a replica of the Wilshire Blvd. Brown Derby at Universal Studios, Florida. A replica of the Hollywood Brown Derby is at the Disney Studios Theme Park in Walt Disney World.

More on Koreatown in the next post.

View Koreantown Los Angeles (Part 3) in a larger map

© 2012

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Experiencing L.A. in Koreatown (Part II)

Here's a link to Koreatown Part I from last week. Now on to Part II . . .

Located on the corner of Wilshire and Western in Koreatown is the Wiltern Theater. The Wiltern comes from the location: corner of Wilshire and Western. Clever, huh?

This is at the entrance: the theater opened in 1931 are is consider one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the United States.

This is Wilshire Blvd. looking east, with the Wiltern Building to the right.

Underneath Wilshire Blvd. - the busiest street in Los Angeles - is the Red Line/Purple Line Subway. Both lines begin in downtown and travel west along Wilshire. The Red Line heads north at Vermont and goes to Hollywood and North Hollywood.

The Purple Line continues along Wilshire another mile and terminates here at Wilshire and Western. The Purple Line will eventually continue along Wilshire to the Miracle Mile District, Beverly Hills, Century City, and Westwood (UCLA). I'm still waiting . . .

Turning around, another view of the Wiltern Theater. The Pellissier Building is the adjacent office building. Together this is known as the Wiltern Center.

Walking east along Wilshire. Los Angeles is a hard place to get your head around. While doesn't have the density of cities like New York, London or Paris, it is none the less very urban.

In addition, this entire section of Wilshire is also technically part of Koreatown, yet lacks the "ethnic" feel found on Western or Vermont Avenues.

Crossing Hobart Blvd, looking north. The apartment complex to the left is pretty typical of the feel of this area.

According to our friends at Wikipedia: "Wilshire Boulevard Temple, founded in 1862 as Congregation B'nai B'rith, is the oldest Jewish congregation in Los Angeles. One of the country's most respected Reform congregations, Wilshire Boulevard Temple's magnificent sanctuary, with its iconic dome and Warner Murals, is a City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places."

Throughout Los Angeles, there are dozens of kiosks like this with historical information about neighborhoods or specific buildings. This one describes Wilshire Boulevard Temple's connection to Hollywood and the entertainment industry, including Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack Warner (founders of Warner Brothers Studios).

As an aside, I understand that six of the seven major studio heads in Hollywood are Jewish. As a Christian, I'm continually impressed by the impact that the Jewish community - comprising less than 2% of the American population - has had, and continues to have, to have on the larger culture. I mean that in a very positve way, and really believe it's something I and other Christians can learn from.

Despite the fact that Wilshire Blvd. is the busiest street in city, and Koreatown is one of the most densely populated neighborhoods - this being Los Angeles, the Temple has a parking lot along Wilshire - in many ways a vestige of when this area was much more "suburban."

The Wilshire Boulevard Temple is just one of several historic "houses of faith" in Koreatown. More on this - and the impact the Korean-American community has had on several historic churches - in the next post.

View Koreatown Los Angeles (Part 2) in a larger map

.© 2012


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Experiencing L.A. in Koreatown (Part I)

Los Angeles is home to the world's largest Korean population outside of Korea.

There are over 325,000 Korean-Americans in metro Los Angeles. And the center of the Korean-American community is Koreatown, a three mile square neighborhood located in the mid-Wilshire district.

In November 2010 I was back in Los Angeles for a couple of days and had some time to walk through and explore Koreatown. I parked at the Koreatown Galleria, which is located at the epi-center of Koreatown . . .

. . . the intersection of Western Ave & Olympic Blvd.

The Koreatown Gallery is a large, three story mall catering to the Korean and Korean-American community. It was pretty quiet when I was there (about 3pm on a weekday).

They've got an awesome food court upstairs on the third floor. I've eaten there numerous times and highly recommend it.

There are pictures of almost everything, which helps if you're like me and not familiar with Korean food.

$3.99 lunch special - excellent deal! Great service, great prices, and great food. There's also an outdoor patio with a nice view to the south.

Korean book store and a cafe.

A kiosk in the center of the mall selling study skill materials - all in English, of course. Aside from Rosetta Stone, I've never seen seen a display for study materials in any other mall I've been to. Different values and priorities. I think this is something the larger dominate American culture can learn from.

Downstairs on the first floor is a large, full-service super market. Fortunately for me, everything was bi-lingual.

Huge selection of Kim Chi - spicey pickled cabbage! You haven't lived until you've tried it.

Back out on the street, on the corner of Western and San Marino, signs for dozens of Korean-American owned businesses.

Another block up Western was the "Koreantown Plaza".

I just stuck my head inside to get a picture. It looked larger and perhaps even more high-end than the Koreatown Galleria.
Back out on the street were even more businesses. This is on Western just south of 8th Street. I honestly didn't see a single vacant store front anywhere in the area. Koreatown has given new life and vibrancy to this area of Los Angeles.

View Koreatown Los Angeles (1) in a larger map

More on Koreatown - including a walk along Wilshire Blvd - in Part II, next week.

.© 2012