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Monday, December 30, 2013

Falling Plates

Some friends put together an interesting 4 minute video dealing with the big life questions: where did we come from? why are we here? where are we going? 

Unlike other posts on this blog, "Falling Plates" is less about experiencing Los Angeles - more about experiencing life. 

Thoughts, impressions, and feedback welcome. 


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Vintage Los Angeles: City Hall, Christmas 1973

photo credit: Joe Messinger
City Hall, downtown Los Angeles, Christmas 1973.

Peace on earth, good will to men ... and Merry Christmas to all.


© 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

50 years ago today: the Baldwin Hills Reservoir collapse

photo credit: Los Angeles Public Library collection

50 years ago today, the 19 acre 300 million-gallon Baldwin Hills Reservoir collapsed, destroying 65 homes and killing 5. This video clip from the History Channel gives an excellent overview in this often overlooked chapter in Los Angeles' history. 

© 2013


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Back to Bethlehem 2013 - St. Stephen Presbyterian Church, Chatsworth

A little Christmas gem in the northwest corner of Los Angeles is the "Back to Bethlehem" event, held on the two weekends before Christmas.

This year the event will be held at St. Stephen Presbyterian Church 20121 Devonshire Street in Chatsworth. 

The event's web site describes it as "more than a nativity scene ... not a play". That is an understatement. It's a very impressive re-enactment of what life might have been like in Bethlehem as Mary and Joseph would have experienced it, entirely staffed by volunteers.

These photos were taken a few years ago when my family and I attended. 

The wait to get in is very minimal. While Los Angeles doesn't get snow, it can surprisingly cold, especially at night. OK, not East Coast or Midwest cold, but still pretty chilly. If you plan on attending, you'll probably want to bring a warm jacket - and hats and gloves.

It's also an outdoor event - and certain evenings will be canceled if it's raining. Check their website.

Hundreds of volunteers do an amazing job bringing this event to life.

There was "no room at the inn" ... but a donkey outside of the simple stable nearby gave a hint of what might be inside.

Waiting to visit Mary and Joseph, and their newborn son.

This is a fantastic event for families to help explain the Christmas story to their children.

Mary and Joseph inside the stable, sharing the story of the first Christmas with the thousands of visitors every night. Each year this event attracts 18,000 people over two weekends. The night we went, the event seemed well attended but never felt overly crowded.

Outside the stable, sheep and goats. A reminder of the environment Jesus was born into. A volunteer lets kids touch a goat.

At the edge of Bethlehem is the rabbi school. Children and adults gather around to hear the village rabbi share the prophecies about Messiah from Old Testament prophet Isaiah.

Every visitor receives free shekels at the entrance. Spices were just one of the many items you could buy.

The Roman soldiers walking around were a reminder that Bethlehem in the first century was a conquered, occupied territory (I have no idea how these guys - again, all volunteers - stayed warm in togas and sandals.)

Pomegranates. This vendor was smart and was prepared for a chilly evening.

Warm bread: another popular item.

The shops and stalls were in a circle around a large field that is part of the church's property. When we attended, the entire event was outdoors (I'm assuming that is still the case). 

Our kids loved the freedom of being able to go from booth to booth, running around buying little things, having the small samples of food. It really helped bring the Bible to life: Jesus was born in a real place at a real time.

A shepherd recounting his experience of the angelic visitation announcing Jesus' birth. What was impressive was that this particular volunteer playing the role of a shepherd was bi-lingual. 

It was neat seeing the diversity of visitors that night, as well as many of the volunteers. A reminder that the gospel is for "all the people."

At the edge of Bethlehem, a group of Magi were encamped, looking for "Him was was born King of the Jews."

Here's a map and link to directions. Parking is free and there is $2 per person suggested donation to help cover some of their costs in putting on this outstanding event. 

On behalf of our family and the thousands of kids and adults who experience this every year, a huge THANK YOU to the hundreds of volunteers that make this event happen!

While the concept of a "walk through Bethlehem" is not unique to Los Angeles, it is the largest American city where an event like this can be held - weather permitting - entirely outdoors. Hard to image this in a place like Chicago or New York. Come to think of it, our climate (Mediterranean) is also the most similar to what Jesus and those around him would have experienced.

In what can unfortunately been a very busy and stressful time of the year, this final photo sums up both this event, and Christmas itself:

"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2: 10-12

© 2013
originally published 12/14/08


Christmas Lights, Los Angeles

I love this photograph, taken by our friend Shawn in Los Angeles.  

The colored lights up against the blue sky along with the variety of palm trees is particularly striking.

Definitely says "Christmas in L.A."

© 2013


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Experiencing the "Cyrus Cylinder" at the Getty Villa

This past week I was back in Los Angeles for a conference - and took an hour on the way there to see the "Cyrus Cylinder" at the Getty Villa.

The Getty Villa is located in the Pacific Paliades district of Los Angeles. Admission is free - but you do need to make a reservation ahead of time. On the weekday I went, I was able to make a reservation the day of.Apparently, weekends are much more crowded. Make the reservation on-line, print your ticket, and you're good to go.

Parking at the Villa is $15 - which is about right for Los Angeles. In an agreement with local residents, you absolutely can NOT park in the adjacent neighborhood and expect to get in.

However, there is one way to save some $$. I parked about a mile away at the corner of Los Liones and Sunset Blvd. 

I walked down Sunset Blvd a few blocks to the Pacific Coast Highway, caught the 534 going north. 

Got my Getty ticket from the bus driver. This is super important - you need this if you're walking in (as well as the on-line reservation ticket). 

Two stops up I got off at the Getty Villa. If you're solo like I was, nice way to save some cash. 

By the way, the building to left in the photo above is NOT the Getty. It's a private residence called "Villa de Leon." Here's a previous post with some addtional information. 

Keep in mind that parking on Los Liones Drive walking along Sunset to the PCH and taking the bus took time - and involved walking along a small section of Sunset Blvd that literally has no sidewalk. 

In other words, I would not recommend trying this on a "first date", or with kids, etc. 

Regardless is you go the cheap-o route as I did, or just pay the $15 to park on site, the Getty Villa is as stellar as ever. 

Thanks to the Getty Trust, the combined Getty Villa and Getty Center (located a few miles to the east just off the 405 Freeway in Brentwood) is the wealthiest private museum in the world.

If you've never been the Getty Villa, it's definitely worth a trip. Here's a link to a previous post on a visit I made a few years back with my wife and kids.

The reaon I went was to see the Cyrus Cylinder - which is on display until December 8th. As a Christian, I was excited to see something with a direct connection to biblical history. 

The Cyrus Cylinder is a 2500 year old clay cylinder with a declaration from the ancient Persian King Cyrus the Great. Discovered in Iraq in 1879, it is one of most celebrated discoveries of the ancient world.

The cylinder describes Cyrus' policy of allowing his subjects to worship according to their local customs. As a result, it is been called the oldest known charter of universal human rights. 

To Jews and Christians, the cylinder is seen as corroborative evidence of Cyrus' policy of allowing the Jewish people to return and rebuild the Temple, as described in the biblical texts in the Book of Ezra. 

To the massive Persian-American community in Los Angeles, the cylinder is seen as national symbol of Iran - and was put on public display by the Shah in 1971. 

Corroborative evidence of biblical history. Not something one normally thinks of when they think of Los Angeles. Like archeology itself, Los Angeles is actually very multi-layed and complex, including:

a massive Persian community due to political upheaval on the other side of the globe.

∙ the world's riches private museum due to an oil tycoon's preference for the city's climate.

∙ and, described in many numerous posts on this site, a 24/7 global influence due to a little something called the entertainment industry. 

Here's a link to the Cyrus Cylinder at the Getty. 

If you miss is, the Getty Villa is still woth a trip. And another way of experiencing L.A. 

© 2013


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Experiencing THE 405 Freeway

Most of what we feature on Experiencing Los Angeles falls into the category of "Points of Interest" but today I'd like to cover something a little more disinteresting; I-405. Like other freeways in the Southern California area, locals add a definite article when discussing I-405, so it is known as THE four oh five. According to David in LA, our resident LA historian, this is due to the fact that the freeways here used to have names rather than numbers (i.e., The Pasadena Freeway, The Santa Monica Freeway, The San Diego Freeway). And while this interstate is only 72.4 miles long and doesn't actually go to any other states it is the busiest and most congested freeway in America with an estimated 379,000 vehicles per day.

We're featuring the 405 because due to its location and congestion, as a visitor you will probably spend a significant amount of time on the 405 whether you like it or not. People spend a LOT of time, their whole lives, people are living, dying, and even recently, people are giving birth on the 405. So let's take a look at some of the most interesting aspects of a freeway that is so LA that it not only has its own twitter account but several parody accounts as well.

First of all, I have to mention traffic again. As previously stated, it is the busiest, most congested freeway in the entire country. But unlike other, lesser freeways, the 405 is busy all the time, not just during rush hour. You may land at LAX at 11:30 at night and jump on the 405 only to be stuck in stop and go traffic. The heavy traffic creates a natural boundary between the Westside and the rest of Los Angeles. It affects the behavior of commuters who have to travel from the east to the west sides and vice versa. Many West LA residents will shop, dine, and work on the west side only even though there are perfectly acceptable options physically closer, but which will take more time to get there.

Why is traffic so bad? I mean besides the fact that over a third of a million cars are on the freeway every single day? That would be the construction. As previously noted in Experiencing Los Angeles the 405 was the site of the infamous and underwhelming Carmaggedon. Although in defense of that event, that was the best cycling weekend that the Westside had seen in years. Los Angeles Metro is adding a high occupancy vehicle lane through the Sepulveda Pass that should wrap up "sometime in the next couple of years." In the meantime the 405 is experiencing intermittent ramp closures that make up for Los Angeles's lack of unexpected bad weather.

So what do you do when you stuck at home due to a traffic day (its like a midwest snow day but with Priuses instead of snow)? Fortunately the same governmental organization that is responsible for the unpublicized and secret ramp closures also has a secret and unpublicized website of local discounts so that you don't feel the need to go wherever you actually wanted to go, but to stay in the area instead. It even includes hotel discounts.

But in the event that you do happen to find a moment when the traffic is flowing smoothly, the 405 happens to run along some great LA sites such as the Getty Museum, Randy's Donuts, Santa Monica Boulevard, and UCLA. Just in case you think you might be able to get away without driving on the 405, I have some bad news, it also runs directly past both LAX and John Wayne Airport, which means you may want to bookmark this blog and start planning your trip accordingly.

While it is true that you will need to factor Los Angeles traffic into your sight seeing agenda, don't worry too much because there is plenty of sight seeing to do on the 405 itself! In addition to being in multiple films and mentioned in several songs it was the site and title of arguably the first viral short film of the internet age. To top it all off, it was the site of the most famous car chase of all time, the O. J. Simpson police chase.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Be Sweet

One of the major draws of living in Los Angeles is being in a city that impacts the rest of the planet. Like it or not, the entertainment industry, centered in Los Angeles, influences seven billion people around the globe every single day.

My friend Alex Mebane has been working in Hollywood for years, and is currently assembling funding for Be Sweet - a G rated comedy. 

How many comedies are there that are funny and appropriate for 9 year olds, and 90 year olds? Be Sweet is trying to fill an huge void that our friends at the Big Six studios all too often ignore.

As Alex says on his site

"Be Sweet is the story of a hot tempered soccer coach who gets kicked out of his daughter's U-10 league. So in order to still be a part of her life, he dresses up like his mother to attend her games and ends up being the coach again, but with a slightly different perspective.

"I've been playing the "Sister" character since 1985 (based on an older lady I met at her garage sale) and often thought it would be a fun character for a film. Also, for the past 14 years, I've been a youth soccer referee and I've heard parents yell some crazy things. I often write them down. So last summer, I wrote a film that combines the two!
I have two daughters that played from kindergarten through high school and my wife and I loved every minute of it. We've all seen the nutty parents at kid's soccer games. Heck, we've all been the nutty parents at soccer games. I want to make a film that captures that misdirected passion and show what happens when you have to, kind...Be Sweet.
"If you're like me, you probably miss the live action fun, family, G-rated movies of the past. I think we can make a film that's funny and entertaining for all ages, without having to make it vulgar or crass."
So how do films get funded? Funny you should ask. Be Sweet is using Kickstarter to raise the funds. 

So take a risk, click on the link and donate a dollar (or five). How cool would it be to not only see this film, but say "hey, I helped fund this project." 
It's easy enough to bemone the lack of quality family friendly films. Here's an opportunity to support one. 

Another way of experiencing L.A. - where ever on the planet you might live. 

© 2013


Friday, October 11, 2013

On Campus and on the Farm at Cal Poly Pomona

Earlier this week I was 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles - in Pomona. Above, the large agricultural area that's part of the Cal Poly Pomona university campus. The pumpkin patch opens October 19th. Information can be found here. More on that in a bit. 
I was staying with friends near Santa Monica. This is driving past downtown Los Angeles along the Santa Monica - "the 10" - Freeway. Fortunately, once I got past downtown, I was driving against traffic. Not so good for those driving in east from the San Gabriel Valley - and beyond. On my left, the office towers of downtown Los Angeles. 
On my right, "Glory Church of Jesus Christ" - located at the former Olympic Auditorium, built for the 1932 Olympics. While there are literally hundreds of Korean and Korean-American churches throughout Los Angeles, this location along the Santa Monica Freeway (or simply "the 10") is certainly the most visible. 
Cal Poly Pomona, located the intersection of the 10 (San Bernardino) and 57 (Orange) Freeways. 

Cal Poly Pomona is just one of the twenty-three campuses that makeup the massive California State University system.  With over 430,000 thousand students, and an annual budget of $7.2 billion dollars, it is the largest university system in the United States. 
People in other parts of the country (or world) have a hard time understanding this, but thanks to a Mediterranean climate, rain in Los Angeles in October is extremely rare. Nice little needed downpour for about a hour. It actually snowed in the mountains just above the campus. 
The administration building was featured in the 1997 science fiction film "Gattaca." Never saw it, but I refer to this as the "Gattaca Building."
Sycamore Trees on campus. A little know fact is Sycamores, along with California Live Oaks, are the only trees native to Southern California. Palm trees, along with everything else, are from elsewhere. 

Speaking of "from elsewhere," according to a wikipedia article, "Cal Poly Pomona has over 1,000 visa-bearing international students. The majority of them come from Asia, but many others also come from Mexico, Russia, Morocco, Germany, and Zimbabwe,"

While the campus has only 3% African American, otherwise it's very diverse ethnically, in many ways reflecting the rest of Los Angeles - with no single group constituting a "majority" - that is, over 50% of the student body. The largest minority group is Latino 35%, followed by Asian-American 30%, followed by White 23%. 

I had a few minutes in-between appointments. Above, the campus library. Not sure about the escalator. What? The university doesn't want students getting worn out walking up a flight of stairs?

Birds of Paradise, the official flower of the City of Flower, on campus. Betcha didn't know that L.A. had an official flower. Here's a link to some thoughts from a previous post. 

Palm trees and the Gattaca Building - and heading toward my car. 

Driving out, I spotted some eye catching sun flowers. I had a few minutes and decided to stop and see what it was all about. The flowers, the row of palm trees, and rolling hills together capture the beauty that is Southern California. 

While Cal Poly Pomona is very much part of the Los Angeles metro area, the campus covers a massive 1,438 acres - over two square miles. 
No, this is not rural Pennsylvania. I had no idea that Cal Poly Pomona had this kind of land - or beauty! Pomona's 15 minutes (or was is 3 minutes?) of fame occurred on a old I Love Lucy episode when Fred announced that he wanted to buy an orange grow in Pomona.  
At one time, not only Pomona, but most of Los Angeles County looked like this. 

Up until the early 1950's agriculture was not Los Angeles County's largest industry, but in terms of overall production Los Angeles County was the top agricultural county in the U.S. Incredible, really. It wasn't some county in Iowa or any of those Midwestern states - L.A. county was #1
The agricultural unit was setting up for it's annual pumpkin patch event. This year it'll be opening on Saturday October 19th.
Persimmons, in abundance, next to the pumpkin patch. 
Looking at these amazing fruit trees, I'm reminded of what theologians refer to as "Divine Providence" - that is, the provision of God. As my family and I buy most - really, all - of our fruits and vegetables at our local supermarket, it's so easy to forget what an orchard actually looks like. 

To anyone living in rural areas, this is no big deal. But to those of us living in urban (or suburban) areas, this is a nice reminder of where our food actually comes from. That alone is worth a trip here.
Looks like there is also a corn maze. LOVE the rolling hills in the background. 
The Farm Store isn't really a farm store, more of a place for locals and visitors to purchase local (and not so local) items. 
Inside the Farm Store. They had some locally made (not sure if it was locally grown) preserves. Picked up a couple of jars. Good stuff. 
Back into the reality that is Southern California. Yes, Los Angeles continues to have some of the worst the worst traffic in the country. 

But maybe that what makes the Farm at Cal Poly so unique - and such a jewel in the massive sprawl that is metro Los Angeles. 

Here's a link to the Cal Poly Pomona Farm site. 

Worth a visit, whether you have young kids, want to a taste of Los Angeles County's agricultural past, or just a reminder of what generations past referred to as Divine Providence. 

© 2013