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Saturday, April 21, 2018

50 years ago this month

Fifty years ago my mom, dad, sister and I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. 

We lived in a pretty fab "brownstone" in the Lincoln Park neighborhood just north of downtown. Check out the apartment buildings right behind our home. 

My dad worked a couple miles away at the Prudential Building on Michigan Avenue. The sea of cars you see here eventually became Chicago's Millennium Park. 

Family photo our last year living in Chicago.

Chicago as a city is pretty great. The weather, not so much. In fact, after a couple of particularly harsh winters (and the impact it was having on my mom and my sister's health) my parents began to think about a possible move to California. So my dad jumped at the opportunity to relocate when his advertising firm asked if he'd be interested in a job transfer to Los Angeles. 

The firm, Needham, Harper & Steers, was located in the second office building (the white one) on Wilshire Blvd in Westwood, in Los Angeles. 

Here's another view. What's not to love the "Googie" style Ships Coffee Shop that was located next to his office at the time?

Julius Shulman's iconic 1960 photograph of the Stahl House (also known as "Case Study House #22"). This one photo was the greatest influence on the kind of house my dad wanted to live in someday. No chance of this happening in Chicago. But we were moving to California. 

And how can I forget 1967's California My Way by the Fifth Dimension? It was released the year before we moved and my dad played it over and over and over again as we packed up for the big move. 

My dad had flew out about a week or so beforehand. My mom, sister and I flew about a week later. It was in 1968 sometime in the second half of April. I don't have the exact date - so, let's just say April 25th. Paul Williams' 1961 LAX "Theme Building" was only seven years old, looking super futuristic at the time. Here's a link to a previous post with some additional "Theme Building" photos. 

We moved into a small rental home on Mount Holyoke Avenue in Pacific Palisades. At the time, the community felt fairly middle class. Today, not so much. In fact, not at all. The median home price in the Palisades is now over $3 million. 

Despite the passage of time (50 years, yikes!) here's a few things I remember arriving in Los Angeles in April 1968: 

Driving through the McClure Tunnel. Driving on the relatively new Santa Monica Freeway towards the ocean, my dad said "there's an amazing view right after this bridge." We went under the Main Street bridge, pictured above. Nothing.

 "No wait," he said, "we've got to go through this tunnel."

We went through the dark, curvy tunnel, coming out to this incredible view of the Santa Monica Bay - best captured by artist Susan Haskell. Fifty years later, this view coming out of the McClure Tunnel still manages to impress. 

Other memories: seeing succulents for the first time. I'd never seen or touched anything like this Jade Plant. 

California had so many different types of plants and trees I'd never seen before in my life. Most of them - like us - where immigrants from elsewhere. 

And, of course, the weather. How could I forget that? Chicago was still cold and rainy. 

My mom enrolled my sister in I at the local elementary school for the last six weeks of the school year. The building looked so different than the three story red brick school I had attended in Chicago. I went into my new 1st grade class through an interior hallway. 

At recess, the teacher opened a second door, this one going out to the playground outside. I walked outside - and just stopped and starred at these palm trees, visible from the edge of the playground on Swarthmore Avenue. What amazed me wasn't just the beautiful palm trees. It was that the kids were running around and playing, and not stopping and staring at them. 

Walking around our new neighborhood, my dad, sister and I passed by some kids rolling by on what looked like a sled with wheels. I'd never see this before in my life. I thought "California is different. There's no snow here, so kids here have to have wheels on their sleds here." Little did I know that California had plenty of snow - in the local mountains. These 1960's era Flexy Racers might have existed in the Midwest, but, as a kid, I have never seen them in Chicago. 

This was the view three blocks from our little rental. 

Chicago has a lake. It's a pretty awesome lake, but it's still just a lake. Los Angeles has the Pacific Ocean. As a 7 year old kid, I didn't realize how stellar this was - and is. Fifty years later, I have a much greater appreciation. 

I mentioned how influenced my dad was by that single photo of the Stahl House. While the suburban ranch house we had built certainly wasn't the same style Stahl House, it was up on a hill. This is on Lachman Lane in Pacific Palisades. And like the Stahl house, had a equally incredible view. That's my dad's red 1968 Mustang in the driveway while the house was still being built. 

A month later it was painted. A month after this photo was taken, the landscape was in. 

Oh, and mountains. How can I forget mountains? Until we moved to California, I'd never even seen a mountain. Chicago, like the rest of the Midwest, is flat. Now we weren't just looking at mountains, we were going to live on one. Here's a link to a previous post on hiking - decades later - to that high peak in the distance. 

My sister and I were talking recently. How would our lives have been different if we lived in a different neighborhood in the Palisades? Say, closer to where we lived the first few months while our house was being built? Down in the flats. We had a beautiful home, but - as a kid - flat streets were more appealing.

Or how would our lives have been different if we moved to a different community somewhere else in Los Angeles? 

And then my sister said, "what if we had stayed in Chicago? What if we never moved to California?" 

I honestly can't even imagine what my life would have been life. They say immigrants often have a greater love for their new home, because they remember where and what they came from. Don't get me wrong. Chicago is a great city. But I'm so thankful to my parents for moving to California back in 1968. It impacted my life in so many ways: the friends I made, the experiences I had, where I went to college (UCLA), the career I choose, the person I married ... and, most of all, my relationship with God, which began ten years later (here's a link to previous post focusing on what has become the most important part of my life).

Both my mom and my dad's parents were in Chicago, and all four of them eventually followed us to California a few years later, both living in Pacific Palisades for a time before purchasing homes in elsewhere in metro Los Angeles. Even by the early 1970's, the community had already gotten a little too pricey. Some things haven't changed. 

© 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Cliffside, Sunset Blvd, Pacific Palisades

One of my favorite buildings in Los Angeles is a single family residence home in Pacific Palisades, located along the coast between Santa Monica and Malibu. The entrance to the home is actually located above on a quiet residential street. 

Meanwhile, the view driving along Sunset Blvd looking up is impressive - really impressive. According the Zillow, the home was built in 1988 on an incredibly small and challening lot. 

As mentioned in previous posts, I grew up in the Palisades and remember asking a local realtor what the least expensive empty lots were in the community. He mentioned this lot, but added "it's basically unbuildable." Obviously, someone had the vision. 

Those cement pillars are simply massive, they look like they could hold up a freeway overpass. There are other hillside homes, also referred to as platform houses, around Los Angeles that, for the most part, are built on stilts. Thanks to a bit of Hollywood showmanship, one of them got pulled down in a Lethal Weapon film. 

I don't think this house is going anywhere.  

A final view. Really outstanding feat of engineering. And, no doubt, an equally impressive view. 

The best views are along Sunset Blvd between Chautauqua and Brooktree Road. 

Please exercise caution as there is no parking or stopping anywhere along this generally busy stretch of road. These photos were taken early on a Saturday morning. 

© 2018


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

40 years ago today: March 28, 1978

March 28, 1978 doesn't mean a lot to most people. But for me, it was huge. I'll let the "short version" of my story speak for itself:

How many of you enjoy cleaning out the garage?

It was 2001 and I had to clean out more than just a garage. I had to clean out an entire house. I was 39 and my dad had died in January. My mom had already died five years before that, so this meant that I was responsible for cleaning out everything. It was really sobering going through all their stuff. My sister and I kept a few things, we sold a few things, but most things, well, had to be thrown out. You wonder, is life all about living 70 or 80 years, only to have what you did end up in a landfill somewhere?

My old High School: Palisades High School, located in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles

It was during that time that I thought back to a decision I made when I was almost 17 years old. I remember as a High School kid asking my parents “what is the meaning of life?” They weren’t sure, and said “guess you have to figure that out on your own.”

In contrast, someone I was taking with at High School said “without God life is meaningless.” I laughed at the comment that somehow God was part of the meaning of life.

Another view of Palisades High School, aka Pali High

But what if she was right? What if the whole Christianity thing that she and her friends at school talked about was true? My family wasn’t particularly religious. We never went to church, we didn’t have a bible anywhere in our house.

But what if it was true?

What if there really was a God? What if there was a heaven or hell?  Was I good enough to get to heaven? Hardly. Was I bad enough to go to hell? Hmmm. Maybe.

This was important, so on my own, I decided to I’d visit their church. I didn’t know how it all “worked” - that there was a High School group – so I just went to the church service and sat in the back. I went once, twice, three times. After a month and a half or so, something clicked. I sat down with one of the pastors who explained that God offered his forgiveness through his son Jesus Christ.

Here's a link to A Skateboard Tale, a skateboarding themed tract I had read several months before

I asked God for his forgiveness and his leadership over my life. That was March 28, 1978. I expected the sky to open up or a bolt of lightening (a la The Blues Brothers). Of course, that didn’t happen. But over the weeks, and months, and years that followed I saw my life begin to change in three areas:

First, I began to develop compassion for others, even the poor and people who could not do something for me. That may not seem like a big deal - but for me, it was huge.

Second, for the first time in my life, there was a sense of purpose and meaning.

And third, God gave me the ability to forgive. I was able to ask for forgiveness for those I had wronged and I was able to grant forgiveness to others based on what God had done for me.

I'm continually grateful for the ministry of Calvary Church of Pacific Palisades, located at the time at 700 Via de la Paz. The church has since moved to a different location in Pacific Palisades and continues to actively minister to the westside of Los Angeles. 

At the end of my life, as my kids or grandkids are cleaning out my home, I want my life to be about more than just what I’ve accomplished or a collection of stuff. I want my life to have been about a relationship with Jesus Christ.

© 2018



Saturday, March 17, 2018

Honoring Maewyn Succat -- Happy St. Patrick's Day from Experiencing L.A.

Maewyn Succat (aka Saint Patrick) doesn't have much to do with Los Angeles, but I enjoyed this video and thought today - March 17th - was a good day as any to share it. 

Happy St. Patrick Day from Experiencing Los Angeles. 


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Grand Central Market revisited

In September 2016, my wife, teenage kids, and I were back in Los Angeles on a Sunday morning, connecting with friends from our old church. We took some extra time in the afternoon to see the Broad Museum in Downtown L.A.. Here's a link to some photos of The Broad and our time there.

Despite the presence of some L.A. food trucks in front of The Broad, we decided to walk a couple of blocks to the Grand Central Market. 

My wife, kids and I had been to the Grand Central Market a couple of times the years we lived in Los Angeles (here's a link to a previous visit back in 2010). That is, before it was "discovered." We were curious to see if and how it had changed. 

Wow. Sunday afternoon - and it was packed.

The original building opened in 1905 and housed a department store (called the "Ville de Paris"). In 1917 the Grand Central Market took over the space and has been there ever since. 

Since as long as I can remember, Grand Central Market has had a working class/immigrant vibe and feel. It always felt like a time machine and reminded me of a place my grandmother - herself an immigrant from Poland - would have enjoyed. 

Much of the Grand Central Market looked exactly how it remember it - from my first visits there in the 1970's. You can find fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat. 

It always surprised me that people actually shopped for groceries here. I never ventured beyond the food counters. 

Yet, like other parts of Downtown Los Angeles, Grand Central Market has experienced significant changes since our family's last visit in 2010. 

According to this article in Los Angeles Magazine, starting in 2013 Grand Central Market has replace over half it's food stalls. Of the 38 vendors, 23 are new. 

New, and upscale (read: gentrification). "Sticky Rice" is an example of one of the new - and obviously popular - vendors. These new vendors have attracted new customers. A lot of new customers. 

Not all the vendors are new. Tomas (Tacos Tumbras a Tomas) has been around as long as I can remember. I took my dad here back in the 1990's. Good times. There was no formal line - just a crazy, huge crowd of people inching toward the front. Today, there's organized lines (in this case just to the left, our of view). 

Speaking of crowds, everything was packed the Sunday afternoon we were there - so my son just settled for a smoothie. Mostly because we wanted something quick and to go.  

Another new arrival: Ramen Hood - 100% Vegan. 

The last time we were here, I took my kids to this stall for inexpensive ice cream. The new vendor is selling upscale coffee. 

Growing up on the "westside," Downtown Los Angeles felt far away and the occasional visit to the Grand Central Market was an adventure. Most of my friends never ventured past Westwood Village, which was really hoping back in the '80's, They had no idea what the Grand Central Market even was.  

As a Christian, it's my desire to integrate my faith into life. Not just the "spiritual" parts of my life, but every aspect - even what might seem mundane. That said, I've tried to find articles on a Christian perspective on gentrification. As gentrification is often associated with displacing the ethnic minorities from their neighborhoods, it's - understandably - seen negatively. I'm far from any sort of expert, but a link to a previous post with some of my own thoughts on gentrification. 

There are negative aspects to gentrification. Many of the long time vendors at the Grand Central Market spent decades building a client base had to relocate - if they could find a place at all.

But Downtown, and the rest of Los Angeles, is changing. Grand Central Market is no longer what columnist Jesse Katz called a "struggling discount bazaar" - and has suddenly become hip, popular, and very crowded. Tens of thousands of new residents have move into Downtown - into formerly vacant historic buildings, or new apartment buildings built on parking lots. At least in Downtown Los Angeles, few residents, if any, have been displaced. 

Honestly, Downtown has struggled to for over half a century to be the "city center" for all of Los Angeles. It's still far from there. But, after half a century of trying to find it's place, the momentum seems to be in that direction. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing. 

Again, this was back in September 2016. Walking back up Bunker Hill to our car, we passed Angles Flight - Los Angeles' beloved historic funicular. But at the time, it wasn't feeling very loved. It had been sitting like this, inoperative and neglected, for over three years. By September 2016, when were visiting, it was covered with graffiti.

Really? Fortunately, a cameo appearance in La La Land got the city to get moving on this, and Angels Flight finally reopened in late August 2017. Here's a link to a previous post with with some additional photos. 

More next time. 

© 2018


Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Broad Museum, Part IV

In September 2016, my wife kids and I were in Los Angeles and had time to spend a couple hours at the Broad in Downtown Los Angeles. Here's a link to Part I, Part II and Part III from the past few weeks. Above, Jeff Koons' Tulips. 

The Broad  (rhymes with Road) is a private museum, named after it's benefactors, Eli and Edythe Broad, and opened to the public on September 20, 2015. Admission is free. If you go, we strongly recommend getting reserved tickets, which saves waiting in line to get in.

The expansive third floor gallery, with Jeff Koon's Balloon Dog (Blue) in the distance. 

This is looking back down the escalator, which is one way - taking guest from the first floor entry directly to the third floor. 

There are stairs and elevators to head down to the first floor. On the way down, on  the second floor, we noticed a hand on art studio for kids. 

My kids, at the time 16 and 14, are a bit too old for working on art projects in the museum, but it was still cool to see parents and kids enjoying making projects together. 

The second floor also has a window into the art storage area - with a reminder of just how much artwork The Broad actually has. Only a portion of their collection is on display at any given time. 

"Exit through the gift shop." Yes, there's a gift shop on the first floor towards the exit. 

Another view of gift shop. 

This is looking out through one of the massive glass windows at the outside shell. 

According the the wikipedia article, "the building design is based on a concept entitled "the veil and the vault". "The veil" is a porous envelope that wraps the whole building, filtering and transmitting daylight to the indoor space. This skin is made of 2,500 rhomboidal panels made in fiberglass reinforced concrete supported by a 650-ton steel substructure. "The vault" is a concrete body which forms the core of the building, dedicated to artworks storage, laboratories, curatorial spaces and offices.

Another look at the entry lobby, next to the gift show. You can see the elevator, which goes directly from the first floor up to the third floor. 

Andy Warhol Campbell Soup artwork - on skateboards. These boards are designed to look at, not to ride. 

Last look at the gift shop. Even if you're not a huge fan of modern art, the building alone is worth a trip. 

A final look out front on the street, with a couple of obligatory L.A. food trucks out front. I generally love food trucks, but will admit that they really detract from the look and feel of the building. 

Here's a link to some additional exterior photos of The Broad from a previous post (from an earlier visit). 

Despite the food trucks out front, we wanted to check out the Grand Central Market, a couple of blocks away, which my wife and kids hadn't been to since 2010, before it was "discovered." More on this next time

© 2018