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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Vintage Santa Monica Pier

I found this beautiful painting of the Santa Monica Pier by Los Angeles based artist Dick Burg a few days ago on another site. Click on the image above for a larger view. 

Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1970's, this is how I most remember the pier. 

The old carrosel building was used extensively in the opening scenes in 1973 film "The Sting." I had the privledge of seeing "The Sting" at a theater just three blocks from the Pier.
The entire audience gave a collective cheer when the Pier - thanks to some excellent matte work - stood in for 1930's Chicago. Totally unexpected. One of those experiencing L.A. moments. 

The Santa Monica Pier celebrated it's 100 year anniversary back in 2009. 

It's a great place to hang out for a few hours - or the day. You'll find parking, and the crowds, much more managable just south of the Pier. The north side can get a little zoo-ey at times. But that might be part of the fun. 




Saturday, May 24, 2014

Skirball Center (Los Angeles Family Vacation, Part 14)

This is our final installment on our little family get-away back to Los Angeles in March 2013. Here's a link to everything we saw and did. 

Today we'll be focusing on the Skirball Center, located at Mulholland Drive & the 405 Freeway, just a couple miles north of the Getty Center. 

The Skirball Center is a Jewish Cultural Center open to the public. During the five years we lived in Los Angeles, we took our kids - much younger then - to see the "Noah's Ark" display many many times. 

The Noah's Ark display is fabulous. In order to prevent overcrowding, especially on Thursday (when admission is free) and weekends, you need to get a timed entry admission ahead of time. It's not very hard, and it's possible during the week to get an entry the day of. 

Our kids loved coming back and seeing the displays that they remembered when they were younger. Much of this was "remember when . . ." which was great. The displays are very hands on. 

Every "animal" in the display is made of recycled materials. 

It's incredibly creative and enjoyable for both kids and adults. 

If you're looking for the historical, that is, the biblical account of Noah's Ark, you may be disappointed. The Skirball Noah's Ark is more along the lines to what you'd find pictured in a child's bedroom - rather than the historical event described in the Scriptures (see Genesis 6-9). We expected an artistic interpretation, it was a great opportunity for our family to talk about the difference between the two. 

In addition to the permanent Noah's Ark display, the Skirball also has various temporary displays throughout the year. While we were there, they featured "Exodus Steps" - an interactive display of the Book of Exodus (second book of the Bible, after Genesis). 

Exodus 1:8 "And there arose a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph."

The display was both inside and outside. 

Following the steps - out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. 

Unlike Noah's Ark, the Exodus Steps display was very simple. Above is the interaction between God (the Hebrew word is יהוה - meaning "YOU ARE") and Moses at the burning bush, as described in Exodus 3. 

Outside, the mist sculpture was creatively used to describe the parting - and crossing - of the Red Sea (see Exodus 14). 

My son walking back through. I'm reminded of passage in the Christian Scriptures: "By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned." (Hebrews 11:29). Hence, the broken chariot wheels along the side. 

Heading back inside the museum. 

The Skirball Center also features a permanent display called "From Antiquity to America" - which does an outstanding job explaining the history of the Jews from Abraham (circa 2000 BC) to the present. As a Christian, I found this display highly educational and informative. Whether you live in L.A. or are just visiting, I highly recommend a visit. 

Featured was a spotlight on President Abraham Lincoln's interaction with the Jewish community in the 1860's. 

As my own grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, I imagine that their experience was similar to the Jews from Poland, Russia, and Germany through Ellis Island 100 years ago. Similar, yet also different. 

I'm reminded of St. Peter, a leader in the first century church, who referred to early Christians as "strangers and aliens." That remains true today. There's a real danger when Christians get too comfy and forget that they are strangers and aliens in the larger society. And yet, in a very real sense, this idea of "strangers and aliens" can be said of the Jewish people. "I am a stranger in a strange land" wrote Moses. As I've shared before, I believe Christians can (and should) learn from Jews in what it means to live in and engage with the larger culture from an extreme minority position. Jews represent less than 2% of USA population - and yet despite incredible challenges - they have been able to maintain their identity and influence the larger culture in areas like medicine, science, law, and the media. I find this fascinating, and something Christians can and should learn from. 

A view very similar to what my grandfather experienced back around 1910. 

Here's a link to the Skirball Center's website. 

Heading home around 3pm equals Traffic: also part of the L.A. experience. Fortunately for us, this was the worst traffic we experienced - and it opened up after a few minutes, and we headed home. 

© 2014


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spadena House, aka "Witch's House" Beverly Hills (L.A. Family Vacation, Part 13)

The Spadena House, popularly known as "The Witch's House," is one of the most unique private residences in Los Angeles. In March of 2013 my wife, kids and I were back in Los Angeles for a little three day get-away. Here's a list of everything we saw and did, including two other homes featured in TV shows or movies: the Greystone Mansion, and the Brady Bunch House

The Spadena House, technically located in Beverly Hills, was originally built in 1921 to serve as the offices and dressing rooms for a film studio in Culver City, and was moved to its present location in 1934. The first residents of the 3,500 square feet home, the Spadena family, lent the house their name. 

The converted private home, with its pointy, lopsided roof, tiny windows and stucco with a distressed paint job were then surrounded by an intentionally overgrown English-style garden and a moat-like pond. Eventually, the pond was filled by the second owners. By the time the house came on the market again in 1997, it had fallen into disrepair. Because of the value of its prime location, it was unable to immediately find a buyer uninterested in a teardown of the property. Consequently Michael Libow, a real estate agent, who did not want to see the home torn down, purchased it and began a gradual renovation. 

The home is located on the corners of Walden Drive and Carmelita Avenue in Beverly Hills. I grew up in Los Angeles. I went to UCLA, just two miles away. I've driven (or walked) along Wilshire Blvd - just one block away - hundreds of times. HOW IN THE WORLD DID I MISS THIS?

The residence still appears to this day in movies, including 1995's Clueless. The has been called a precursor to Walt Disney's concept of Imagineering, whereby stage sets become fully realized environments. It remains a landmark, included in tours of the area. Many thanks to the wikipdeia article for information on this post. 

Remember, like other homes in metro Los Angeles, this is a private residence. If you stop by, go no further than the sidewalk and please be respectful of the neighbors and neighborhood. 

Next week is our final stop: The Skirball Center in Brentwood. 

© 2014
originally posted 4/27/13


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Farmer's Market, The Grove, Holmby Park, Diddy Riese (Los Angeles Family Vacation, Part 12)

In March 2013 our family was back in Los Angeles for a little three day get-away. Day One we saw the sights in Hollywood, Day Two downtown Los Angeles and the Space Shuttle Endeavor at the California Science Center, and Day Three in the Mid-Wilshire district and the Westside. Here's a link to a list of everything we saw and did. 

After seeing Levitated Mass, Urban Light, the Wall on Wilshire, and the La Brea Tar Pits, we drove a few blocks over to the Original Farmer's Market, located at 3rd and Fairfax in the Mid-Wilshire district. 

Farmer's Market, also known at "Original Farmer's Market," has been around since 1934 when Los Angeles area farmer's set up a makeshift produce stand on the corner of 3rd and Fairfax. Here's a link to a previous post from 2011 - with a lot more photos and information. 

Farmer's Market has a wonderful, nostalgic feel - I have good memories of going here with my grandparents. But we already ate breakfast, and it was too early for lunch. So walked over the The Grove, the much newer outdoor shopping center immediately adjacent. 

photo credit:
The Grove, which opened in 2002, is a two block outdoor shopping center complete with an animated outdoor fountain (think The Bellagio in Las Vegas, only on a much smaller scale) and a double decker electric trolley - pictured above. It has the usual suspects you'd find at most any outdoor shopping center. 

When my kids were younger, they loved the fountain, street car and playing in the little statue water feature (above). For them, this short time was more of a "remember when we use to ...." than seeing something new. The Grove is fine - I'm not a huge fan of outdoor (or indoor) malls. But it's hugely popular, and led to the larger "American at Brand" development in Glendale. 

After The Grove, we drove to see the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. I blogged about this last week, which you can read about here

Driving along Sunset Blvd, we passed the historic Beverly Hills Hotel, and I grabbed a quick photo through the windshield. This was in March 2013, before the current controversy (and subsequent boycott) of the hotel. 

If you want to see the stars home, I'd recommend trying one of many open-top mini vans we saw driving around. This is on Roxbury Drive, which apparently has the highest concentration of movie stars homes in the world. It was interesting - sort of - drive by large homes ... but they were just very nice houses - and we missed was the background story. In many cases, especially with more current celebrities, homes are not even visible from the street. Frankly, who can blame them? By the way, if I was on my own, I think I'd just park and walk around for an hour or two. 

We drove over to Holmby Park, located in Holmby Hills. Holmby Hils is technically located in the city limits of Los Angeles, next to Bel Air and Beverly Hills. This park is only a few blocks away from UCLA, but worlds apart. 

How does a public park, located across the street from multi-million dollar homes (we're talking $5 million and up - way up) stay "nice?" It's a public park. So anyone can just come over and use it, right?  

As the local homeowners couldn't simply fence off a city park, they did - for them - the next best thing. The park is technically a "public golf course." No skateboards, rollerskates, bike, etc. So, if you have a set of golf clubs - come on over. Otherwise - stay out. OK, maybe I'm being a little harsh. Having a small public "pitch and putt" course is amazing. But it'd be nice to have a traditonal park "open to everyone" as well. 

There actually is a play structure, but my kids thought it was too much for "little kids" - so they just used the water fountain.  

By the way, immediately behind my kids is the 56,000 square foot Spelling mansion - which is apprently the largest single family resident in Los Angeles.

Above, a Bird of Paradise, which is the offical flower of the City of Los Angeles. Here's a link to a previous post with some thoughts this amazing flower. 

While my kids burned off some steam, I took a few minutes to walk around the park. I wasn't playing golf, so I may have been "breaking the rules." Again, if you want to play golf on a pitch and putt, it's great. Otherwise, you'll probably need to look elsewhere. 

We took a quick detour to see the Spadena House, also knows as the Witch's House, located on the corner of Walden Drive & Carmelita in Beverly Hills. More on this next week

Driving along Wilshire Blvd. The two miles between Beverly Hills and Westwood Village are often referred to "Condo Canyon" because of the numerous 20 story condo towers along the street. Immediately behind these buildings you'll find very expensive one and two story single family homes. 

Wilshire Blvd, heading into Westwood Village. My dad's old office building in on the right (the white building with green and gold windows). This is a few blocks from Wilshire & Westwood Blvd - the busiest intersection in Los Angeles.

L.A. has the distinction of having the nation's worst traffic congestion. Los Angles has a lot of great things going for it, but traffic is terrible. Think your city is bad? No matter what - Los Angeles is worse. 

Long term plans call for the Purple Line subway to be extended under Wilshire all the way from Koreatown to Westwood Village. Awesome plan, but it's not expected to be completed for another twenty years - sometime around 2035!

Diddy Riese, Westwood Village. There is two hours free parking during the day at the Broxton Avenue Parking Garage. If you're driving - I highly recommend it! Watch the signs, because after 2 hours, the prices REALLY go up. If you park after 6pm, it's just a flat rate of $3 - which for Westwood is an incredible bargin. 

Diddy Riese is located less than a block from UCLA - and almost always has a line. They feature awesome ice-cream sandwiches for just $1.75. Less than half what you'd pay anyplace else. When they opened back in 1983, the ice cream sandwiches were just $1.00 - and an immediate hit. I checked an on-line inflation calculator. $1.00 in 1983 would be $2.37 today. So, so adjusted for inflation, their ice cream sandwiches are even a better deal than there were when they first opened! 

Seating is very limited - we were able to score some of the few chairs out front. 

I know people who've driven up from Orange County (50 miles south) to do to Diddy Riese. Personally, I think that's crazy - but it shows what a loyal following it has. But if you're in the area, I would say stop off any enjoy what has to be the best ice sandwich (certainly the best value) in Los Angeles. 

More on the Spadena House next week, and finishing up with the Skirball Center after that. 

© 2014