Monday, January 30, 2012

Iconic L.A.: "The Chateau"

THE SUNSET STRIP is an open wound, twinkling bacteria and brilliant billboards in shades of lime and tangerine and cherry litter the sidewalk. 

 The yellow train-car, rusted and repainted, a piece broken off from the forties, has been converted into a very narrow diner and complains lazily that LA has been written about and re-written about; seems to complain that everything in LA has been done. 
Beyond the train-diner are tufts of slender trees that play with the light and rise up into a microcosm of forest and a brief suggestion of wilderness.  Through the trees, a series of pale stone towers emerge, pointed and withered and majestic.  White cloth blows gently in the wind, stripped with tenuous gold. 

The grey shackled roof flickers light and dark swallowing up slits in increments, rows and rows of windows, no two the same size.  One tall, slender shrub juts up the front of the building, trying, unsuccessfully to penetrate.  Where the smooth, cream fa├žade bends into an L, a light spray of bare, bony branches erupt over the outer wall.  They seem to shiver.  Palm trees and telephone wires collide amicably, making room for each other; they share rust, becoming one.  I am potently aware of my exclusion from their tight bond.

Directly in front of hotel stands a larger-than-life bottle-shaped advertisement for Absoulut Vodka, that can be recognized even from behind, a network of iron rails, also bottle-shaped.  Everything glows and blurs together as if I’ve consumed the entire bottle.
The Chateau Marmot on Sunset is a real place.  At sunset, when you have only heard the name in movies and internal monologue fantasy sequences, it doesn’t appear to be so.  It is more like a palace of mesh and lace, a mirage rising up from the burnt nothingness of Los Angeles terrain.  An apparition, most definitely, it has to be.  But it isn’t.  It is a real place (whatever that means), and real people eat and drink and smoke there.  Some of those people are even regulars.  But tonight may be my only night at the Chateau: the vodka mojitos we order are eighteen dollars each.  And it is things like this that expose it as a real place: the glossy red, white and black woven chairs, the charmingly uneven marble mosaic walls and tables, the touches of gleaming brass on knobs and handles, the cold and cruel smell of various liquors, mixing and chilling in the air like gaseous metal.  It is a real place that wants to be a fantastic mirage, most likely for business purposes, or something bigger, like our fear of being average pushes us to strive for the whimsical.  I am calmed, then excited, by the dream that I could vanish here behind these fantastic, phantasmagoric walls, never to face the outside world again.

The Chateau Marmot is built on an incline, into the base of the Hollywood hills.  It is modeled after a French-Normandy villa, intentionally crumbled and covered entirely in ivy, made to look delicate as table doilies.  Everything is tinged with nostalgia for the 1920s with classic art deco designs woven into the makeup of the building.  The elevator we ride up to the exposed courtyard is plated in gold leaf with intentionally scuffed up patches that give the narrow box a soft, cinematic glow.

-- Zahra Lipson

(image: robertjasoncross via flickr creative commons)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Let's Get Lost: The Serendipity of Reporting

REPORTING, as we will discuss next week, is an open-ended journey. Sometimes you'll be assigned to go out into the world and "bring back" a very particular story,  a slant or an angle on a particular event or a shift in the culture.

The best stories, however, sometimes bloom out of not the story you went out the report, but the story that you didn't expect to find. In certain ways it's about taking a side road instead of the main road and being open to what you'll find.

Your blog post assignment for January will play on this idea of serendipity. What I'd like you to do is take a "side road" and "get lost" on purpose. That is, throw a figurative dart at a map and go down a street, into a neighborhood to an event, that you wouldn't ordinarily explore. Be a visitor.  Describe what you see using as many of your senses as you can. However, instead of summing things up, make sure your language is vivid, take us along with you. Be a camera.  Then, tell us what your impressions are: What surprised you? What put you off? What entranced you? What did you learn about this segment of Los Angeles? How does looking at L.A. from this perspective change your impression of L.A. as a whole?  You can add voices to your piece. You might meet up with someone who can tell you more about where you are, the history or the concerns, the secrets or the joy of this spot/street/outpost/intersection you've landed in quite by happy accident.

-- L.G.

Photo: The Reporter's Notebook
Credit: L.G.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Behind the Scenes of "The Sign"

THE VERY top of the iconic Hollywood sign. More than just nine letters spelling out a city's name, it is one of the world's most illustrious symbols.

A note: I did this hike two weeks ago. Sadly, you are unable to sit on the letters like they do in the movies.

-- Michael Flores

credit: michael flores

The SigAlert

WE'VE ALL been there:  As we're already sitting, snared in what seems to be an endless chain of automobiles, we hear the traffic reporter over radio speakers alert us to something we feel as if we already know, a SigAlert -- here, there, everywhere it seems!

But really, what does that mean?

Last week, Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge hosted an event downtown at the CalTrans building to honor Loyd Sigman (yes, with one "L"). A fitting place for a tribute for the man whose name is now synonymous with traffic meltdowns in the city.

According Kevin Roderick who writes and edits the great news/information and culture blog, L.A. Observed, "the original SigAlert went out on Jan. 21, 1955, not to alert drivers to traffic snarls, but to summon doctors to a horrible train wreck where Washington Boulevard crosses the Los Angeles River."

He goes on to quote a piece by City News Service: 
Sigmon was a vice president at Gene Autry's KMPC, which in the pre-wired world of the 1950s revolutionized Southern California driving by launching a fleet of airplanes and helicopters to cover traffic during rush hours. But the "KMPC Air Force" could not fly day and night, and Sigmon wanted LAPD officers to phone KMPC when freeways or streets were clogged....
According to radio historian Harry Marnell, a SigAlert could be triggered by a watch sergeant at LAPD headquarters if he pressed a button to generate the tone on the LAPD radio system. At 11 commercial AM radio stations in L.A., Sigmon's technology would prompt then-new reel-to-reel tape recorders to start up, and would flash lights or buzzers.
The news staff or announcers could then relay the breaking traffic news to the listeners. Chief William Parker approved the idea, but only if KMPC's competitors could also share the technology.
And here's some SigAlert History for you right here:

Nowadays a SigAlert is called for unplanned freeway lane closure expected to last more than 30 minutes.
Why does that seem like something that happens everyday?

-- L.G.

photo: the 10 to the 110
credit: L.G.

It's the Water

L.A, as we've been discussing, had to be wrestled into existence. One of the tropes you will hear, time and again, is the saga of the water wars. L.A. was --and is -- a desert. Without water, the city wouldn't have bloomed. Boosters -- businessmen, land speculators, the railroads -- had already embroidered more than a little on the L.A. narrative -- remember the citrus crate boxes we talked about last week? -- but big business saw a Utopia in the parched desert so close to the sea.
History tells us that what became to be known as "the water wars" began when Frederick Eaton was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 1898. He appointed his friend, William Mulholland (yes, that Mullholland), to head up a new city agency, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).

Eaton and Mulholland's vision stretched far greater than the little Pueblo that was founded in 1781. They set their sites on the run off from the Sierra Nevada river that ran through Owens Valley. The plan was to build an aqueduct that would deliever water to the basin -- essentially literally de-hydrating the Owens Valley -- its people and its prospects -- to allow L.A. to flourish.

It took nearly eight years,2,000 workers and the digging of 164 tunnels to complete the aqueduct in 1913. Water from the Owens River reached a reservoir in the San Fernando Valley on November 5. During the opening-day ceremony, Mulholland spoke these famous words: "There it is. Take it."

After all, he did.

-- L.G.

photo caption: Dynamite found during a string of sabotage incidents along the Owens Valley Aqueduct
photo credit: image via Wikipedia Commons, circa 1924

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Welcome to Our Island . . .

LOS ANGELES has struggled to just simply "be."

The "Arcadian Myth" --  that the city was a lush, verdant paradise, an untouched Eden -- wasn't quite accurate.   As well, that modern Utopian ideal that hopeful outsiders sought to build on what was essentially a desert floor didn't quite take root either.

So what are we left with?

If you've lived in Los Angeles for any little bit of time, you see how it is often "written over," broken down" like a set and re-built again and again --  in search of some different, elusive perfection.

That's the way it seems to exist both in our day-to-day lives as well as  in our imagination: What will I find today? What will tomorrow bring?

Here is the place for you all to explore the L.A. that you actually see day-in, day-out -- it's innate beauty, frustrations, blemishes, contradictions, possibilities.

Write deeply, write passionately, write honestly. Look. Listen. Feel. Smell. Touch it.
Remember, you're journalists writing the Los Angeles you experience not simply into view but into focus.

Welcome to our Island!

-- L.G.