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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Experiencing Los Angeles: Griffith Observatory

Earlier this summer, my wife, teenage kids, and I were in Southern California on a week long family vacation. We spend our first afternoon and evening in Hollywood, finishing up at the Griffith Observatory. 

We took a moment to roll up Beachwood Avenue. That's the Hollywood Sign in the distance. If you want to see the Hollywood Sign up close, I'd recommend Lake Hollywood Park. Here's a previous post with more info. 

The 1936 Griffith Observatory is perched high above Hollywood, with spectacular views of the city - and the Hollywood Sign. Above, my wife taking a photo of a couple visiting from Europe ... 

... who were kind enough to take his photo of us.

If the Griffith Observatory looks familiar, it's probably because you've seen in a movie. This being Los Angeles, it's been featured in dozens of films, including Rebel Without A Cause, The Rocketeer, and - most recently - La La Land

Apparently, La La Land has actually increased attendance at the Observatory. 

Of course, it doesn't hurt that aside from parking, a visit to the Griffith Observatory is absolutely free. 

Hundreds of locals and visitors enjoying the view. 
Including my kids, who were snapchatting their friends. 

The Observatory is located on the south facing slope of Mount Hollywood. In the distance, to the left, is Downtown Los Angeles.

Inside, people enjoying the Foucault Pendulum. According the the Observatory's website: "The gently swaying pendulum in the central rotunda has long been a visitor favorite since the building opened in 1935. One of the largest such devices in the world, the fully restored pendulum is actually an elegant scientific instrument which demonstrates the Earth's rotation.

The 240-pound bronze ball, suspended by a cable 40 feet long, swings in a constant direction while the Earth turns beneath it. The pendulum is mounted to a bearing in the rotunda ceiling that does not turn with the building as it rotates with the Earth ... As the day passes, the pendulum knocks over pegs set up in the pendulum pit and indicates the progress of rotation."

My daughter and I - good memories from 2013 on a previous visit.  

Ballin Murals on the ceiling. 

Watching the Pendulum with more Ballin Murals on the walls inside the Central Rotunda. 

Back outside, plenty of people enjoying the view as the city lights became visible. Unlike the Empire State Building in New York or Sears (now Willis) Tower in Chicago, the view - and the Observatory itself - is free. 

City lights - the street to the left coming directly into the hill is Normandie Avenue. At over 22 miles long, Normandie is one of Los Angeles County's longest north-south streets. 

The Observatory is open every evening until 10pm. We stayed until around 9pm. Here's a final view of the city, downtown Los Angeles, and the Observatory. 

Here's a link to their website. 

© 2017

Griffith Observatory

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Experiencing Los Angeles: Hollywood Blvd (Part III)

Last June my wife and I and our two teenage kids were in Southern California on a week long family vacation. The first night were in Hollywood before heading down to Orange County. After dinner our first night, I took a few minutes to explore a bit of Hollywood Boulevard. Here's a link to Part I and Part II. Above, the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of the (1927) Outpost Building, a retail and office building. 

Last week, I highlighted some of the grittier aspects of Hollywood Boulevard, especially the stretch of east of Highland Avenue. In contrast, the area immediately west of Highland Avenue, featuring the Hollywood & Highland commercial development an adjacent Grauman's Chinese Theatre, has seen a lot of improvement over the years. Here's a link to a post highlighting the area around Grauman's Chinese. 

And there were certainly bright spots east of Highland - where I was walking. Above, Chateau Demin at 6753 Hollywood Boulevard. 

There also seemed to be an over abundance of souvenir shops. Although I will admit that "4 T-shirts for $9.99" is a great deal. 

Another souvenir shop, more T-shirts. 

More of the same. I guess 4 T-Shirts for $9.99 is the going rate. 

And more street vendors. This guy seems a whole lot more organized, and a bit more legit, that the folks I saw earlier. 

And a sidewalk food vendor. Estrada's has an "A" rating. I already had dinner. 

I passed by the Musso & Frank Grill. Musso & Frank has been proudly serving Hollywood since 1919. My wife and I enjoyed lunch here a few years back. 

Classic Chevrolet parked out front. Any guess what year this car is? Leave a comment below. 

It wouldn't be Hollywood or Hollywood Boulevard with a visit from Superman or Spiderman. Would be actors often will pose as movie celebrities or characters (including a Michael Jackson impersonator, Darth Vader, Batman, Joker, Iron Man, and really bad versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse). 

These characters WILL expect tips and apparently (especially those camped out in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre) some can get fairly aggressive. A pic with a character could be fun - just make you ask what their "standard rate" for a tip is first. 

Another view of Musso and Frank. Here's their website

I walked as far as the (1926) Baine Building, on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Whitley Avenue. The building was built by Col. Harry M. Baine, a prominent businessman and Hollywood booster who became a Los Angeles County Supervisor a few years after this building opened. I cheated a bit: the above photo was from a previous post.

What makes this building interesting (to me, at least) is that the Baine Building is the inspiration for a similar building at the Disney Studios theme park at Disney World in Orlando and the Disney California Adventure theme park in Anaheim. 

Across the street, another look at the (1928) J.J. Newberry Building on the left and the (1935) Kress Building on the right. This is just down the street from the Hollywood Motel Six, where we were staying. 

Heading up Whitley Avenue. Pictured is the (1928) Fontenoy, a historic 13 story apartment building. According to a Google review, this is where Johnny Depp lived when he first moved to Los Angeles.

And the Hollywood Motel Six - where where we were staying. 

Next stop that evening - the Griffith Observatory. More on that next time. 

© 2017

Hollywood Boulevard

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Experiencing Los Angeles: Hollywood Blvd (Part II)

This past June, my family and I were in Southern California on a week long vacation. Here's a link to a previous post featuring a quick summar. 

Our first night was in Hollywood. After dinner at Miceli's, I took a few minutes to walk around and explore a few blocks of Hollywood Boulevard. Above, the historic Hollywood First National Bank Building at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. 

Looking west on Hollywood Boulevard, with traffic stopped at the light. 

Tourists from Europe grabbing some quick photos during the traffic stop. To the right is the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex. 

Across the street and to the west: this is in front of the First National Bank Building, featuring panhandlers, street merchants, and lots and lots of crowds. I have no idea what in the world the guy in the foreground was selling. It felt like the leftovers from a garage sale. 

Reflections of Hollywood: the etched glass of empty ground floor of the First National Bank Building featuring more crowds, palm trees, and the kitchy "Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum." 

It's hard to believe that building of this size and at this location is empty. As rents in Los Angeles are some of the highest in the nation in the nation, it's too bad that downtown Los Angeles' 1999 Adaptive Reuse Ordinance can't be used here. 

Hollywood Boulevard, this time looking west. 

This was mid June 2017, when fidget spinners were all the rage, and at the height of their popularity. Why bother with setting up a table? This guys was just selling them out of grocery cart. This was yet another "under the radar" individual selling stuff on the street. 

The ever popular Hollywood Wax Museum located at 6767 Hollywood Boulevard. For most visitors, this is the closest thing they'll get to seeing a celebrity. It's has been around since 1965 and, according to their website, the Hollywood Wax Museum is the longest-running wax museum in the United States. 

It's crazy, but apparently Hollywood is able to support two wax museums, both about a block apart. Madame Tussauds opened a similar wax museum next to Grauman's Chinese Theater in 2009. 

A few doors down is the Museum of Broken Relationships. 

At first I took this as a bit of a joke, but looking at their website, people who've visited have overall enjoyed it, describing it as "therapeutic."

The original museum opened in Zagreb, Croatia in 2010. The Los Angeles branch opened in 2016. Seems like an appropriate location. 

According to their website: "the Museum of Broken Relationships explores broken love and other human relationships – what they mean to us, what they tell us about what we share and how we can learn and grow from them.  It is composed of objects donated anonymously by members of the public from all over the world.  Each exhibit is an object (some of them ordinary, some of them extraordinary) and a story, which together recount a watershed event in someone’s life."

I walked in just to check it out. There were a few visible displays, and a small gift shop. I didn't want to pay (admission is $18, $15 for students and seniors). Apparently, there's a 20% discount if you sign in via Yelp. The Yelp reviews are generally positive. 

On the other hand, the reviews for the Church of Scientology are anything but positive. This is their Information Center, located across the street. Their International offices are located a few blocks away and have over 805 reviews - most describing Scientology as a highly manipulative cult. One a scale of 1-5 (1 = lowest, 5 = highest) their average rating is 1. Please, please steer clear. 

What comes as a jarring surprise to most tourists and visitors is how gritty much of Hollywood Boulevard (and Hollywood in general) feels. Most visitors are expecting a bit of glitz and glamour, if not movie stars. For the glitz and glamour, you'll have to head west - to West Hollywood or Beverly Hills. Both of which are separate, independent cities. Hollywood is actually a neighborhood within the city of Los Angeles. 

Meanwhile, if you're hoping to see a celebrity, you're much more likely in a community like Beverly HillsBrentwood, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monicaor Malibu than in Hollywood. 

What Hollywood Boulevard does seem to have is plenty of panhandlers. The gentleman above may have a place to live, so I don't want to describe him as "homeless." He was, however, asking passersbyers for change. 

This guy was sitting on the street, with blood coming down from his head. Did he get beaten up? Robbed? I reaching for my phone to call 911 - when I realized he had just poured some fake "blood" on his head - just to get people's attention. I certainly felt duped, and a little angry. 

My family and I volunteer time locally with a couple of groups helping the homeless. In addition, we are committed to financially supporting organizations that work to get men and women off the street, help them get clean and sober, deal with mental health issues, and re-enter society. There are numerous organizations (both religious and non-religious) in the Los Angeles area, including the Union Rescue Mission, which has an outstanding long-term program to get people off the streets. I have a close family member who struggled for years with addiction, so I speak (at least, somewhat) from personal experience. 

Utah, one of the most politically conservative states in the US, has reduced chronic homelessness by an incredible 91% through their "housing first" initiative. There's a desire to replicate something similar in Los Angeles, but the size, scope and cost certainly makes this challenging. Finally, here's an additional article describing how hard it is to keep those who do finally get permanent housing from going back to the streets. 

A few doors down, the now shuttered Vogue Super Club. The Super Club was a Hollywood nightclub that just didn't make it, closing in 2016. 

Here's a map of the the four short blocks of Hollywood Boulevard between Highland and Whitley Avenues - the area I was walking along. 

More next time. 

© 2017

Hollywood Boulevard