Saturday, March 31, 2012

Magic Moment

LAST WEEK, I had the privilege to attend the Los Angeles Urban Economic Forum, co-hosted by The White House and Mayor’s Office of Los Angeles. This event, held at LMU, was organized to bring together business leaders in the area and inspire them to continue investing in our city’s economy. Throughout the day there was an emphasis on small businesses. Mayor Villaraigosa opened the day’s event by acknowledging the lure of Los Angeles’s economy. He reflected on the big businesses that have since moved out of L.A., but also reaffirmed us that this city still remains the best location for small businesses. A restaurant like Tak’s on Crenshaw is a great example of a small business that has thrived as Tak’s has become a part of the community it serves over the years. Similarly, L.A.’s legendary Lakers basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s businesses have thrived in L.A. in the same way Mary’s coffee shop Tak’s has—they have found ways to cater their businesses to their communities. Johnson was one of the early speakers of the event, and highlighted a few of the business decisions that have made him successful. He mentioned how his movie theatres have catered their food to their communities by offering spicier sausages and condiments. While these stories were at times humorous, they were real, raw stories of success. L.A. will chew your theatres food and spit it out, but Johnson has managed to bring various businesses into neighborhoods that have proven a need for them. Johnson has not ignored these communities, and advocated to bigger business leaders that these communities want to spend just as much as communities with higher discretionary spending. Speaking of spending, this week it was announced that Johnson’s group of bidders won the bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion, in cash. Once again, Johnson is setting an example for fellow Angelenos to follow as he is risking his reputation for the sake of our city’s.

--Art Flores
Photo: Art Flores

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vanished L.A.: The Exiles

This is the trailer from, The Exiles, the film by Kent Mackenzie, I was telling you all about last night. This is the larger project that came out of his time on Bunker Hill. If you can get a chance to see it you should. Another look at a vanished Los Angeles. This is why we need archivists who are really storytellers.


The Making of El Chavez Ravine

LAST NIGHT, we watched and listened to people talk about various places in Los Angeles that no longer exist quite in the way that they once remembered them.

One of the enduring stories of "erased" Los Angeles is the story of the old neighborhood of Chavez Ravine.  Earlier this semester, I passed out a profile I wrote about a young artist, Vincent Valdez, who had the task of reconstructing the saga of the old neighborhood on the body of an ice cream truck -- a low rider ice cream truck. Yes, that's right.  Upon completion, Vincent named the truck: El Chavez Ravine.

Below is a mini-doc of Valdez at work. Remember when we saw the image of the woman being dragged out of her house last night? This little piece starts with a reenactment of the event that Valdez is filming so that he can better reproduce the action on the side of the truck.

The truck was commissioned by musician Ry Cooder, for his album Chavez Ravine, that told the story of the old neighborhood in 360 -- taking the listener from it's days as a "poor man's shangri-la" to the green turf and bright lights of night baseball, but told from the perspective of a fan whose family lived just about where third base is.
 Here are a couple of pieces that take us down the trail of the story....

The photos you see are by Don Normark who documented the old neighborhood on film. 

"Poor Man's Shangri-La"

"Three Cool Cats"

"Third Base, Dodger Stadium"

-- L.G.
image: Chavez Ravine cover via Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Echo Park Goes To Hollywood, Sort of ....

ACCORDING TO an exclusive on the site Deadline Hollywood, Brando Skyhorse's (yes, that's right) novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park is making its way to HBO. It involves Echo Park gentrification which we will be talking more about tonight. From Deadline Hollywood:

 The project, to be written by award-winning playwright Julia Cho, takes a look at the lives of a community in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Los Angeles. It explores the relationships -– romantic, professional, familial –- of the Latinos that have built the community over the years, and the hipsters who’re making their way in now, examining the complicated dynamic between the two as they struggle to build new lives for themselves in pursuit of the American dream.

You can read the whole story here.

I have it on my book pile, but have yet to crack it. I too, a former Echo Park resident, watched first-hand as the neighborhood began to shape-shift -- a very awkward dance. It will be interesting to see how this very uncomfortable story of money and land that is happening in real time, gets interpreted for your home flatscreen.

To be continued...

-- L.G.

J. Michael Walker: Saints and Scribes of the City of Angels

WHEN WE reconvene in April, our guest that night will be the artist J. Michael Walker. He will be in class to speak about his various L.A.-rooted projects, among them "All the Saints of Los Angeles" and "City in Mind" his literary map of Los Angeles.  Please do a little research on him and be prepared to ask questions about his project. I will be calling on everyone to participate in the evening's discussion. He will be traveling from Highland Park to speak about his work as an artist and poet/essayist.  His website is here.

I think you'll enjoy his take on the city.

The photo above is from a studio visit I made a little earlier in the semester to see the map. He's pointing to Chavez Ravine now the home of Dodger Stadium, but we'll talk l more about that complicated history tonight in class.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hollywood and Highland: Footage from the Fifities

THIS WAS up on Vintage L.A.'s Facebook page yesterday and made me very jealous. Boy did Hollywood look like a place you might want to visit because it had character and a certain elegance. The palm trees are pretty lovely too.

-- L.G.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"It Never Rains in California"

"IT NEVER rains in LA." But yesterday, it did. I haven't seen lighting or heard thunder in awhile, and it sent me shivering, although not quite in fear. At home in Michigan, I'd sit window side and watch the tallest trees sway and rain droplets fall and pierce  the soil. You can feel humidity in your lungs when it reaches 95 percent. You can see the atmosphere linger with its queasy-green heaviness. The Earth's about to sneeze.

The experience is different here in LA, and maybe that's a good thing. We all miss what we've grown up with, I certainly do; it's a pretty universal feeling of nostalgia, I suppose. But there's much to be enjoyed in walking across campus, Loyolan newspaper covering over my head, experiencing the slow drizzle that perpetuates through most of the day. Sometimes, it is nice to experience the unexpected. You can count on me to be unprepared - I've easily grown much, much accustomed to many sunny, warm days.

When it rains in LA, things flip upside-down. People get frantic. Mud slides. Hair frizzes and poofs (mine did, without fail). The walls come down. People can be caught at their worst moments. I teasingly joke with my friends that "Californians don't know how to drive in the rain" although it's started to sink into me as well. Hydroplaning, right? I fear the day I may have to face driving in the snow again...

Thank God for the rain. It's a disappointment and it's a relief. It's like a facelift for the pavement. It may grow dark and cloudy, but it's the city's best way to become brighter. The rain reminds me of home, until I remember: I am home, here in Los Angeles.

- Jennifer Pellerito
(photo credit: tanakawho via flickr creative commons)

The Anna Zacsek Compound: History of Sunset Blvd.

Part 2 in the History of Sunset Boulevard Series

We Tell Stories: Jean Baudrillard

WE'VE ALL SEEN it from above but what do you see when you look down at the maze of light?

"There is nothing to match flying over Los Angeles by night. A sort of luminous, geometric, incandescent immensity, stretching as far as the eye can see, bursting out from the cracks of the clouds. Only Hieronymus Bosch's hell can match this inferno effect. The muted fluorescent of all the diagonals: Wilshire, Lincoln, Sunset, Santa Monica. Already, flying over San Fernando Valley, you come upon the horizontal infinite in every direction. But, once you are beyond the mountain, a city ten times larger hits you. You will never have encountered anything that stretches as far as this before. Even the sea cannot match it, since it is not divided up geometrically . . . . Mulholland Drive by night is an extraterrestrials vantage point on earth, or conversely, an earth dweller's vantage point on the galactic metropolis."

-- Jean Baudrillard

What do you see when you gaze down at Los Angeles?

(photo: los angeles at night; credit, b.mune flickr creative commons)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reading L.A.: Mike ThePoet Runs It Down

JOURNALIST, TEACHER  and poet, Mike Sonksen, (better known around town as, Mike the Poet) touched down in class earlier this semester and spun L.A. history via shimmering rhyming couplets. He threw out names of some of his favorite books, authors and hidden places in L.A. Full list to follow but here are a few of the books and/or authors he made mention of both in conversation and verse:

Budd Schulberg: What Makes Sammy Run?

Kamau Daaood, Leimert Park CD

John Fante, Ask the Dust

Charles Bukowski, Hollywood    

-- L.G.

photo: Mike The Poet visits Telling L.A. Stories
credit: L.G.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Being Neon in Los Angeles

Here is a poem I wrote about living in Los Angeles.

Being Neon in Los Angeles

You might have been reborn here one august morning by accident.
Say they’ve forgotten you. 
You were never going to be enough for them anyway. 
You breathe this air breathed into by the chimneys of homes 
and those of a million little mouths, red painted or glossed over, 
inhaling the dusty oxygen of other people’s sin, the love that didnt last, 
the sex that did, the extravagant perfume 
pumped from extravagant replicas of real-life heart beats.  
But here only the envy will truly beat. 
You wont know the depths of passion, only it’s pale and saturated waters. 
Your first good kiss will be years from now. 
Your first real kiss a decade after that. 
But you will never be kissed properly 
in the city where desire grows from flat screen TVs, escapes onto the walls, pressing
like the fevers of afternoon shadow, 
let alone made love to properly in the city where 
daily massacres bred from lust are far less frightening
then the thirsty flowers that may grow from the seeds of honesty. 

The sickness that propels us forward now
is nausea. Headaches in awe of an infinite neon series
the movie theatres beg, I need you I need you
A certain addiction for deceit, deceit in powdered lines soothe the day
and the pretty faces who’ve forgotten, over time, how to look away.  One death each year by the side of the Pacific Coast Highway isnt enough to lull this city’s engines. Death illuminated by the scalding stellar light of a ferris wheel blurred by marine mist receives no other word then “tragic”
filed away for poetry or painted across faces--
glittered faces of the curvy girls, and the skeleton ones, and the boys who watch them dance, they will all always be dancing, dancing the way chemicals dance, fighting, always, for the neon, a chance to be paramour to this evasive city, a chance to be wanted by such degrees of color, colors in raging denial that they are nothing more then gray.

Isnt this what you once loved? That grotesque affair
still generating leftover blush to your cheeks? Isnt this larceny
the sweetest you’ve ever found, the sweet of our cyclical tradition?
will you meet this year at the unadulterated battlefields 
of pizza restaurants painted yellow?

Don’t cowards also blush? Are cigarettes and curling irons
enough to mend holes in your stillborn philosophies where
embryos deserve thrones of queens until nobody knows what youre talking about? not only los angeles, but all necrophiliac cities
worshiping, to a state of desire, law long since buried. Do you love 
those laws, still, with maggots living in sockets where sapphire once was?

Give in to her. The ethereal villain, not yet eleven when the storyline first grew ill. She rages on, though moths have made homes of her organs. One day, maybe,
she says, you can burry me among the virtuous.
Of course, you say, and, seeing that there are now only golden 
flakes of her to speak to,You speak to yourself.

The moment that brought you here is rotted to impotency.
The marriage that once loved you to life
now leaves you with quarters for busses and 
corroded body parts to suck on. 
Nothing else for comfort, so use it well. And spectators who may look on with disgust?
Let them do so.
The angels, drugged and baked, who hold keys to your cages will one day be only radiation scars on the marble of your life.

-- Zahra Lipson

image: los angeles, 2019,  the opening shot of "blade runner"

From Downtown to The Sea -- Eventually

THE METRO  Expo Line is (FINALLY) due to open on April 28th,  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced yesterday Test and press rides this weekend. It's the first leg of a highly-contested stretch of rail that will snake through the westside of Los Angeles, much of it on existing railroad ties.

 The video above "imagines" what the *next* step of the ride will look like as is presses further westward in Santa Monica. It's a kick for me to watch this as it slides through landmarks I grew up seeing and often wondered what was behind or under "there."

I'd be happy to feel as if *all* of L.A. were mine again, in that it was still a thick collection of short stories I could dip in and out of when I like and in any order.

-- L.G.

Friday, March 23, 2012

On the Road: Finding Literary Los Angeles

TONIGHT -- Friday -- you might want to check this event out at the Echo Park Time Travel  Mart.
It's an event celebrating L.A.'s literary landscape and the publication of a map that will help guide you through it.   It traverses some of the territory we've covered over the course of the semester -- voices and boosters, etc. . . . . It might make for a good event to cover for one of your postings.

For more information about the event, sponsored by 826 L.A.  click here
 It's $12 admission and that includes a copy of the map.

Go forth!


Elmore Leonard's Rules on Writing

THIS ISN'T so much L.A.-centric, but hits on some of the thoughts about writing we've been discussing in class. I share a similar list with my Intro class, I just saw this floating around Tumblr and thought I should share.

Pay attention in particular to #s 1, 3, 4 6 and 8. Well...that is just about all of them!


Chuck Rosenthal: Surfing the Elusive City

LIKE MANY writers who’ve come to Los Angeles, Chuck Rosenthal was drawn to L.A. because of its elusive quality - but not the typical “elusiveness” of L.A. that comes to mind. Beyond the never ending traffic, the intrigue of celebrity, the variety of neighborhoods, “L.A. has so many facets,” says Rosenthal. “It’s neither male nor female, it’s metrosexual.” And the exploration of that complex place in between has long been an element in Rosenthal's work.

Rosenthal, the author of seven books and a memoir, and a professor of English at Loyola Marymount University, has been a force in both the literary scene and has inspired and influenced students with courses he’s taught which deal directly with the city. Before the university nixed his RoadWrite class because of the higher budget it required, he took students all over Los Angeles and even up to Big Sur for a course inspired by Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” mentality.

The "metrosexual city" of Los Angeles, so dubbed by Rosenthal because of its eccentricities and materialistic nature, has been his playground ever since he moved here as a young writer in 1986. A native Pennsylvanian, he had high hopes that moving to sunny Los Angeles would fulfill his dreams of learning how to surf and riding his motorcycle every day. He inched his way from the East coast toward California with writing employment at several universities before he wound up in L.A., and aside from steady employment at the same university as his wife, he has remained ever since because he actually enjoys it. What he doesn’t like is the superficiality that L.A. has been branded with. Oh, and the city’s endless need for driving.

But Rosenthal has been able to find inspiration in its superficiality - in fact, L.A.’s superficial nature is a key element in his upcoming book, "West of Eden," that will be released in October. The book is a mixture of fictional stories and snippets from his own life, touching on everything from the entertainment industry to teaching at LMU to his daughter’s kooky decision to change her name to Jesus. “It’s funny,” Rosenthal said in his characteristically matter of fact tone. “I’m funny.”

He came up with the concept for "West of Eden" by pulling stories from his "Last Book of Everything," which was about 900 pages of work that he added to whenever he felt inspired. A few years ago, after he’d written a story chronicling his humorous battle to pawn off a live chicken to his celebrity neighbors - including Sting and Robert Downey Jr. - his wife told him “you love funny stories about L.A., you ought to write a book about it.” With that thought, he realized that there were about 7 or 8 stories woven throughout his Last Book of Everything to draw from.

Because of the interesting way the book came to be, some of its stories are from 10 years ago, but could also be made tomorrow. “If an animal died in 2004, it doesn’t matter if I say it died in 2012,” he said. “Those things don’t matter at all.” As the book is centered around his funny experiences living in Los Angeles, it makes sense that time is irrelevant - he will continue to have these experiences long after the book’s publication.

“You can do anything you want in L.A.,” Rosenthal said. “You just have to drive to do it.” One perk L.A. has on the literary front that other cities do not is the influence of the entertainment world. Although most writers in L.A. are screenwriters, the people Rosenthal hangs out with are some of the few that are not interested in writing for the movies. In fact, when HBO approached him about writing the screenplay for his memoir "Never Let Me Go," which deals with his six-year sexual abuse from a grade school coach, he told them to have someone else write it.

“It’s not like I’m not good at it,” he explained. “I just wasn’t interested.” Truth be told, a screenplay Rosenthal wrote several years ago was nominated for the Sundance Film Festival. But screenwriting is not where his heart lies, and as a result, he does not feel influenced by Hollywood like he believes many of the writers in L.A. do. He also believes there is a pressure on L.A. writers from the big rig publishers in New York to conform to the expectations of the noir, mystery and Hollywood genres that often sell.

But don’t expect Rosenthal to conform any time soon. Even though the majority of the literary world is centered around New York City, Rosenthal is happy to be in Los Angeles. For one of his current projects he is taking lines from old sci-fi poems, mixing them up in a hat, and making poetry out of them. “I like to mix genres,” he said. With this defiance against what typically “sells,” Rosenthal displays his capability to live in a city like Los Angeles while still holding on to his own voice.

He spent his early years in L.A.'s Venice Beach where he did surf every day, but these days he and his wife reside of Topanga, where he has replaced daily surfing with riding his beloved horse, Nikki. There are aspects about city life - like being able to “pick up wine, a baguette and fish for dinner; bring it anywhere and call it a meal” - that he knows he is lacking by living in an L.A. surburb, but the pros of Los Angeles outweigh the cons. The city entertains him, and his work has been successful.

Rosenthal thinks maybe he will stay in L.A. forever, depending on whether he can afford to live in Topanga or to get a loft downtown once he retires. He wouldn’t  mind remaining here, although if L.A. were a person, he probably would not like to be its friend. L.A. is “superficial - self consciously invested of the presentation of itself. Always on display. A fashion model,” he said. Maybe its because of the amusement he gets as a writer out of observing people, but within that superficial fashion model likes a city Rosenthal calls home.

-- Jordan Younger
(image via lmu library's webpage)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Coordinates: 3400 Wilshire Boulveard

Way Back When: 3400 Wilshire Boulevard

BACK IN the 90s, if you motored along the easterly stretches of the Wilshire corridor, at its 3400 address, you would happen upon a uniquely L.A. curiosity. Pushed back dramatically from the noisy boulevard, the remains of an expansive terracotta-roofed building had the distinct feel of a  suddenly abandoned story, or more precisely -- a vast encyclopedia of them.

 Even if you knew nothing about the building's past, its many former lives, just the expanse of the lot, the formal elegance of what remained of the structure, you knew there was a reason it stood there so long -- waiting.  For what? It wasn't certain at first. 

Another piece of L.A. history on the guillotine. I'd grown up seeing this cycle time and again; the past leveled, turned to sand, a new future imagined in its spot.  This one felt different though.

The Ambassador Hotel, which once stood imposingly at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard, was built in 1921  designed by Pasadena architect Myron Hunt, and owned and operated by the Schine family for 50 years. The architect, Paul Revere Williams, made the 1949 additions to the property which included renovations to the interior, adjacent private bungalows and a facelift for the famous hotspot, the nightclub known as the Cocoanut Grove.

 The hotel attracted dignitaries from around the world, royalty, businessmen, film stars, presidents. It its heyday, it was glamourous and looked something like this:

But by the early 70s, the hotel had become an anachronism, and even more complicated, an end-of-the-golden dream symbol. Los Angeles' "center" -- always a point of debate -- had been pressing westward for sometime. What cast the most pernicious shadow, however, was that the hotel was the site of then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 assassination. From that moment on the Ambassador would not ever shake the taint.  The hotel eventually closed in 1989 and was vacant until demolished in 2006.

In the hotel's waning years, as a kid, I would find myself on occasion sitting at vast, ciruclar banquet tables at the Ambassador, attending  my mother's various "club" luncheons -- fashion shows, educators' meetings and the like. At first I wasn't interested. At all.  Listless, I'd tune in and out of the  program of speeches and presentations (there was even a woman who would "preform" bird calls) and eat dainty finger sandwiches and sip Shirley Temples. What I most remember is staring at the designs in the ornate ballroom carpet and getting lost in them like a maze.

It wasn't until much later that I began to appreciate the history, the layers of history whispering around me on those Saturday afternoons. I was a voracious reader and on the latter-end of those journeys to the hotel had discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and was particularly fascinated with his difficult Los Angeles years -- when he'd arrived in Los Angeles to work, not so happily, as a screenwriter.  According to lore, Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda stayed for a bit  at the Ambassador in one of those Williams designed bungalows.  During their stay, the couple met a young actress named Lois Moran.  Zelda was miffed at the attention her husband beamed upon the young woman, apparently so enraged after their quarrel that she threw her own clothes into bungalow bathtub and lit them on fire.

By the 80s, the Ambassador resembled  something that had been put into storage for too long. In the closed-off floors and rooms,  it gave off that odor too.  It had also acquired a deeper patina of sadness. Strangely though, my high school prom was held here, at the Grove, that by this time had been renovated once more and had a strange sort of disco-70s-glass-and-mylar-red-carpet feel to it. It was like a variety show set, you expected to see entertainers of that vintage, say Cher or Sammy Davis Jr., walk out on stage. For a time,  they did.  I opted out of going and instead wandered out with a tribe of friends to the beach that night -- a sort of anti-prom nonevent. It was a choice I didn't regret for years, until it looked as if the down-at-the-heels building would come down for sure.   

During the early 90s, the owners opened the grounds and invited  visitors to come in and pay their last respects. Although, the property had been used for movie and television shoots, the general public hadn't been allowed on the grounds for years. By this time, I was working as a journalist, so I, along with a photographer friend of mine, descended on the property to take photos and interview  people who lingered in the musty hallways or had a grilled cheese at the soon-to-be-shuttered coffee shop. Some of the visitors had married there, some had honeymooned, others, like me, had spent Saturdays with their moms at long Saturday luncheons.  After awhile, the stories began to feel like one large public collage, linking together the hotel's story past and present. In a few more months, a public sale of the contents was held: I purchased salad plates and a sliver casserole dish even stationery and cocktail napkins embossed with the Ambassador logo.

 After a decades-long,  bitter fight between residents, conservationists and the school board, the Los Angeles Unified School District erected a state of the art educational complex  on the old site. As a tribute to the fallen politician, it's been named,  The Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. 

In recent years, I haven't been able to drive past the building -- or where the building should be.  Even growing up where I know things very seldom stay the same, I knew seeing this huge block of memory vanished would break my heart.

One of the last evenings I set foot inside the hotel, when it was still a going concern, some other reporter friends of mine decided to meet up after work.  We were looking for a place that wasn't a scene. The Ambassador hadn't fit that description for more than four decades. Even still, there was an elegant lounge off the lobby, that opened out into a vibrant rose garden; The Palm Bar, it was called. By then,  the mix of clientele reflected the neighborhood's evolved new mix --  Korean businessmen, Silver Lake night crawlers and of course, some remnants from the old days -- couples who used to live just down the street in one of the high rise hotels topped with those elegant  signs that, after dusk, spelled out each building's name in cool neon script. They ordered their Manhattans and Martinis.  On demand, they happily regaled us with stories about the Academy Award events once held at the Grove, the dignitaries who once stayed there, and too, their memories of RFK's last night on the campaign trail.

I sat with my friends, near open doors that framed the fragrant garden and for once, instead of  trying to time-travel, instead of chasing antique ghosts, I made note of the soon-to-be vanished details before us -- the image of us arranged in those high-backed chairs, the rise and fall of excited voices telling and listening to Los Angeles stories, the sharp scent of the night-blooms on a eve-of-Spring night, I was aware that I would be both making and  then embroidering memory. I knew, this little moment too would be gone soon enough -- and yet until all of us ourselves were ghosts --  not the memory of it.

(For an detailed visual past to present timeline of the site in recent years you can click here.)

Today: 3400 Wilshire Blvd: Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools

-- L.G

Let Your Passions Fly You

Downtown Los Angeles from Above by Mike Miller via Flickr
AS THE propellers began to spin, you can see the dust and smog churn through the air outside of the short square window. You are suddenly lifted and as you move higher and higher, the City of Angels surrounds you until you are far above it and the circular platform looks like nothing more than a drop of grey paint on green grass. “It all started with my passion to fly,” Larry Welk shouts through his microphone attached to headphones as he softly guides the huge machine, so strong that it could easily over power him, through the depths of the thick Los Angeles air.

Watching Welk fly is like watching someone ride on the back of a great white shark. Although something like that is only an image that your imagination could devise, this experience, thankfully, is real. Since the moment the helicopter left the ground, a brilliant smile lights up, to simply, Larry’s face and doesn’t disappear until he has once again returned back to reality.

This is not just what he’s always wanted to do, but something he was meant to do. Despite the doubts that many people had, Larry has never allowed himself to be driven by the thoughts of others, but instead by his own passion. The guiding force throughout his life has always been flying.

In a time when it was almost unheard of for the public to receive news media from above, Larry was the one who brought this to the people of LA and experienced the crazed city from a whole new angle. He has been a true witness to everything that LA is: its beauty in its landscape and sunsets, its nasty temper that drives earthquakes, brush fires and floods, and its scandalous lies that are as thick as the smog that drifts between the cracks and crevices that have formed between its iconic magic. During a time when TV stations had to hire helicopter pilots, camera crews, technicians, mechanics and reporters separately in order to capture the news, Larry took his on going passion for flying and his developed passion for capturing LA’s profile and brought them together to form an innovative idea to sell the whole service (the helicopter, pilots, reporters, camera and crew) to TV stations as an all-inclusive package to deliver the news. Larry took this idea and is the founder and president of Angel City Air, a company that that does just that. “We provide the full service. The station gives us one big check and we put their name on the side of our helicopter,” explained Larry effortlessly as if it were the simplest idea in the world.

But, like he already said, “It all started with my passion to fly.” Larry, or Lawrence III, a local resident from the San Fernando Valley, came from a family produced from LA’s Television. His grandfather, Lawrence Welk, was the founder and creator of The Lawrence Welk Show in the 1950’s in which his mother, Tanya, was a member of the cast. Growing up, Larry knew that he wanted to fly, an idea that his parents did not like entertaining. Because of this, Larry tamped down this passion and gave acting a try as he entered into college as a theatre major. It wasn’t long before he realized that it was not for him. “At that time I had three passions, partying, school and flying,” he recalls with a smirk. So he dropped out of college to pursue the passion that could really take him places.

Larry moved to Santa Monica and took a job pumping fuel at the Santa Monica Airport because it got him a discount on flying. “This was a rough time in my life. My dad wasn’t talking to me because I dropped out of college. And I had no idea what the future held.”

One day, while Larry was cleaning the helicopter, he overheard a conversation that a man was looking to hire someone who knew how to operate a camera and could film while he was flying, a novel idea at the time. Larry suddenly jumped up and said, “I know how to shoot a camera!” He was hired and told to show up the next morning ready to film. There was just one problem, “I had never used a camera in my life,” he laughed as if it was a punch line to a practical joke. But with a little help from a friend, Larry learned the basics and was up in the helicopter the next day.

“This is where the passion part took over,” Larry explained. “This guy made me work. I was babysitting his kids, cleaning his car, washing hanger floors, cleaning the helicopter, shooting the camera and flying. I was probably fired about 425 times, but I was loving it!” Passion has always been Larry’s driving force in his career. The day that Angel City Air got its first job was the day that his oldest daughter, Madeline, was born. His passion for flying took him out of the delivery room to take the call. “The news director who offered me the job could hear Tracy [his wife] in the background,” he remembered with a laugh. He now has three passions, flying, his family and Los Angeles, which has taken him on adventures that could only be imagined. Some of LA’s most iconic moments have been captured through Larry’s lens. “The things that I have seen from the sky are exactly what the public is experiencing on the TV screen. The difference is, I see it from the truest angle, from above.”

“I was the pilot over the OJ Simpson pursuit,” he said and you could see the memory begin to form in his eyes. The unforgettable White Bronco chase is still, to this day, an icon in LA’s history. It’s a story that has been told over and over, by parents and grandparents who remember watching it on television. It’s a moment that freezes people in time. They can still remember exactly what they were doing when the images of the White Bronco flashed across their TV screen. Kids from Minnesota or Iowa might not know that OJ Simpson was a professional football player or even the crime he was suspected of committing, but they know that he was in a White Bronco and they know that he was in LA. It’s a bedtime story recreated through pure imagination, but for Larry Welk, it was screenplay that came to life. “It was so surreal,” he continued, “the whole story unfolded in a way that couldn’t be believed. I found myself 150 feet over the White Bronco.”

Larry does not just have a general passion to fly; rather he has a passion to fly over Los Angeles. “There’s no place on earth that has the diversity of things that are going on that Los Angeles has. We cover an area with 11 million people, somebody is bound to do something that others want to see.” He can cover a worldwide event, like an earthquake, brush fire, death of an iconic celebrity, awards show, political convention, bank robbery, or car chase, all in the same day. Larry immerses himself into these moments and strategically places himself within the storyline. His helicopter was shot at and took a round through the tail while covering a bank robbery, “which looked like a scene from Heat,” he said while adventure flashed across his face. There have been multiple times when he has been covering a brush fire in Malibu and realized that his father needed to evacuate or that his own home was at risk. “I was sitting in a sports bar in Dallas when Whitney Houston died. I looked up at the flat screen TV and at the bottom on the screen it said ‘Images from KTLA TV.’ Those were my helicopters providing those images.” 

In a place that is famous for its magical stories that people around the world experience through the giant screens in movie theatres, Los Angeles’s reality is an unbelievable legend written in its very own script. Only a passion like Larry’s can give him the courage to enter into the wonderland of LA’s sky everyday. “I can tell you this about LA; this is absolutely true. No matter how wild your imagination is, you couldn’t make up some of the stuff I’ve actually seen,” he concludes as he begins to land and the smile that lit as he took off begins to flicker out. When Larry goes in the air, he enters into the world of LA’s wild imagination and doesn’t come back to reality until he reaches the ground and finds that this isn’t just a story, it is real.

-- Elise Fornaca

An Island of Illusion

Venice Acrobats by Eddie Crimmins via Flickr
YOU CAN barely make it out—it’s cigarettes, covered by salty wind, sweat, fried food, and what’s that? Yep, it’s from the Kush Doctor. A woman in a red triangle bikini top and leopard printed G-string whizzes past you as the man wearing headphones with gigantic padding thrusts his newly recorded rap record before you as you walk in time with the crowd. Young boys run up and down the basketball court showing off their tan and the middle-aged couple wearing Velcro strapped sandals, khaki shorts that hover above their kneecaps, Hawaiian shirts and visors snap their camera that only reflects their freshly pink skin. Large men with engorging muscles squeezed into Speedos bench press as vendors sell fried food and hotdogs.  T-shirts that read “I love ketchup” and “Hello Titties” are sold with some more sensible accessories like margarita sunglasses.  Early twenties coeds walk their dogs and teenagers laugh at the shirtless, long haired dude holding the sign that says “Need Money for Penis Reduction” written in think purple calligraphy and toss him some leftover change. Certainly not quarters though, as they are a parking necessity. 

An island of misfit toys and forgotten dreams, the Venice Boardwalk is a place where you can put all normality aside and become anyone you want. 

Venice Beach by Glen Scarborough via Flickr
Lawrence Lipton’s essay, “Slum by the Sea” gave one of the most authentic descriptions of Venice through the people that inhabit this sea slum, “the poets…and the painters…The clowns, the make-believers, the self-deceivers—and the mad.”

Your imagination may come up with what you may think is something of insanity, however I can guarantee that the gray-haired, man and woman, half naked with skin wrinkled from endless amount of sun, rolling around in the sand are currently seeing crazier things. Venice is being trapped in a dream where you can fly.  It is the only place in the world where you can find a homeless man smiling. The characters that inhabit this mile and half rainbow road certainly prove that Venice is what you make of it.

You have two clear choices—either scoff in disgust or laugh hysterically at the absurdity.

-- Elise Fornaca

LA's Friendliness (Or Lack Thereof)

LOS ANGELES - the land of milk and honey. The city of opportunity, great weather, the entertainment industry, and... unfriendly people? Say what you will about all of the wonderfully personable people you know in Los Angeles, it is likely that for every one of them there are two Angelenos that are simply too busy to bother with friendliness. In Travel and Leisure Magazine’s “America’s Favorite Cities Survey” of 2010, L.A. was ranked the 35th city on the friendliness scale. That doesn’t seem so bad, right? The thing is, there were 35 cities in the article.

A close friend of mine, Heather, from Indianapolis, Indiana, visited  here last week. While I was in class she was tanning on my roof, and called out a friendly “Hello!” to a neighbor walking his dog. Instead of the civil acknowledgement she expected in return, he said “Where are you from, young lady? There is no way you are from Los Angeles.” Initially she was confused at his question, but he went on to explain that no one in Los Angeles waves hello to people they don’t know.

They struck up a friendly conversation and it came up that she was looking for work in Los Angeles for the summer. The man was so refreshed by her amiability that he offered her an interview at the talent agency his daughter owns, and called his daughter on the spot to make sure she would make an opening for Heather while she was still in town. She interviewed the next day and is currently waiting to hear back from the company.

In this case, and I would say in most, it pays to be friendly. Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with strangers on a plane or on the bus, and if not for the sake of making connections people should be friendly to improve their quality of life. Aristotle’s definition of happiness includes being friendly as “a mean between the excess of being ingratiating and the deficiency of being surly.”

Los Angeles should take a lesson from the Ancient Greeks, or even from the midwest, when it comes to this important feature.

-- Jordan Younger
image via Flickr 

A Trip to The Mansion

                THERE IS  a distinct microcosm of L.A. where poverty is feigned rather than realized, where misfortune is fabricated rather than experienced.  Here lies a counterculture where the residents may resist, but certainly don’t deny the luxuries granted by a state of privilege.  Here, money is rarely tight and the living is rarely anything but easy.  Still, there is an unspoken resistance to the ideals promoted by those who typically find themselves in this privileged state of circumstance.  This strange, paradoxical microcosm is known by the simple moniker, 'The Mansion', and serves as an eccentric home to spoiled hippies.

The Mansion looms over a neighborhood of reasonably sized houses.  It was lavishly remodeled by a man who quickly learned he could not afford the lifestyle the house demanded.  This is how eight college students belonging to the liberal youth were granted access to a house that they so clearly were not meant to belong in.  At The Mansion, all are welcome and the door is always left unlocked.
Anyone who enters the premises realizes they must abandon whatever assumptions they might have had about the house when judging it by its exterior.  As said by housemate Jared Egusa, "I think we're doing our best to respect it, but we certainly aren't limiting ourselves in what we want to do in it."  Beer cans litter the granite counters, trash is ever-present, pop art shrouds the walls.  Though furnished minimally, the clutter fills out the space and breathes livelihood into what would otherwise appear as a sterile and sparse environment.

The housemates willfully avoided the tendency to succumb to demands of ornate furnishing that a house with this level of architectural sophistication asks for.  Rather, it is representative of the lawless, liberal youth of L.A.  When housemate John Puppo had a chance to respond to how he felt about the home that he helped create, he quipped, "So it's beautiful, right, on the outside.  And on the inside it's been torn up and turned into something totally different.  We function opposite, in that a bunch of us look really ridiculous on the outside and on inside are pretty well put together."

           The Great Room is the first room seen upon entering The Mansion.  This sunken cabinet features a fireplace that only burns when intellectuals choose to sit down for an occasional game of chess.  A couple flowered couches decorate the barren room and literary anthologies are carelessly scattered on the floor.  The Great Room is a thinking room.
The next room in in the house is The Room of Chairs.  Largely unoccupied, the room once served as a dining room to the previous owner.  When eight college students moved in, practicality was superseded by experimentation and the room now serves stranger purposes.  One can understand the charm of the house if they are willing to enter a world that operates under its own terms, and as put by James Eckstrom, "part of it is a mentality of openness."  The Room of Chairs arose from the scouring of free furniture posted on craigslist, which gives all the sofas and chairs an appearance of aged wisdom.  What once was a refined dining table has been replaced with a massage table center-piece, still sporting the tape that appeared on it the day it was found on a poverty-stricken street of L.A.  Seven chairs and sofas surround the table, the walls are barren, and an American flag hangs dutifully from the chandelier.

Those who have fallen victim to the charm of The Mansion understand it for what it has come to represent to those who inhabit the space.  The house is constructed under the pretense of what  Jared Egusa comes to describe as a "bohemian paradise."  It's primary purpose is certainly not to eat and sleep, but rather to foster creativity in a unique atmosphere that always encourages before it condemns.  As James Eckstrom meditated on his experience living with seven other people, he said, "I think every good creative environment, at its core, needs a certain level of uncomfortability and a lot of different perspectives because if you get similar minded people, you're going to get strife and argument."  Though all the members of the house certainly embrace alternative lifestyles, their different creative pursuits allow for free-thinking and collaboration.
As might be expected, the majority of the living is done in the Living Room.  The large, open area is fused with an extensive kitchen where the sink is ornamented with foot pedals, just in case it turning the water on manually seems overwhelming.  It is a room where you’d like to offer your guest a place to sit, but the guitars, banjos, ukuleles, and bongos have already taken up all the chairs.  The florescent lights have been replaced with neon colors that give the space an after-hours feeling.  Most any night, people stand around the pool table for a end-of-the-day game of billiards.

The kitchen opens up to a back patio that is referred to as the Garden of Sounds.  There isn’t much space to walk around, seeing that most of the space is covered with water.  From the fountain against a cement fence that isolates The Mansion from the world at large, water pours into the Jacuzzi, which in turn, flows into our liver-shaped infinity pool.

It is hard to not be half appalled and half mesmerized by the lifestyle promoted by The Mansion.  It comes with all of the plagues and praises of the LA youth.  Ultimately, it is a place of unrestricted freedom because of the distinct vision of the eight individuals who invaded and transformed the space.  As Jared Egusa said, "I think we have done a fairly good job at inhabiting this mansion and filling it with out own, unique personal style.  Turning something that was very regal and untouched and then imbuing it with our craziness, our bohemian tendencies.  It's rather conducive to doing, really, whatever your heart desires."  At the Mansion, there is an undeniable sense that the house deserves better, but maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe the Mansion has finally been given the breadth of liveliness that it deserves.  Before the ranks of youth stormed this castle, it served as an unused fortress to an older couple.  Now, the space is both used and abused.  The luxuries are marveled at and thoroughly enjoyed by the unique group that transformed it.

-- Carey Uhl

All photos taken by Benjamin Magrdichian of Boijon Media

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Coordinates: Old Griffith Park Zoo

THE FIRST time I arrived at the Old Griffith Park Zoo ruins, and walked past what appeared to be a Quincenera on the edge of the free parking lot, I had strange expectations. It's the sort of place where one would expect Nicholas Cage to pop out from the recess of an animal enclosure--being chased by an aggressive animal ghost (which, with time, would actually grow to be a friendly ghost) in some sort of thriller in three dimensions (and after they greenlit Ghost Rider 2:Electric Boogaloo anything is possible). My first impressions were deceiving. First off, Nicholas Cage wasn't there at all. This wasn't some movie set that had been abandoned--still holding memories of shoots past (like the Paramount Ranch in Malibu). This wasn't just a fictionalized representation of life, much like a lot of what is left in Los Angeles. The place still had a breath, and a heartbeat (but hopefully not that of an animal ghost).

While you may know the Old Zoo best for the bear scene in Anchorman and a film called Eraser (which I have yet to check out), when standing amidst the ruins of a place that was once thriving with different forms of life, it is difficult not to feel like you're in the middle of something very real that ended really abruptly. It was a place to take the family on weekends until, one day, there was a sign telling them that they could never return. While the storefronts on Third may be stuck in a perpetual game of musical chairs between being vacant, a Pho restaurant with a pun name, and some sort of gluten free donut "hole (pun very much intended) in the wall" bakery, this is one of the only places that has remained (almost) untouched since its structures were unceremoniously abandoned sometime in the 1960s.
The zoo was cursed from the 1900s (so long ago now). There's this old story that says that Mr. Feliz (the human), the owner of the property, gave all his land to a man not related to him upon his death: Colonel Griffith J. Griffith (yes, same name twice). Folklore says Feliz (not the cat) "nodded his head yes" because Colonel GG had attached a stick to his head to control him much like a puppet (he probably stole the idea from a Charlie Chaplin movie). The story goes that Feliz's niece, Dona Petronilla, cursed the land and the Colonel (not that one, the eleven spices are a different story). In 1912, the (Old) Griffith Park Zoo was only the second zoo ever built in Los Angeles. By the beginning of the 1960's (curses ain't in no hurry), patrons began to recognize that there were too many animals for the small, inadequate, and poorly planned space. In 1965, the zoo was relocated to what is now the (new) Los Angeles Zoo.
The most fascinating thing about the zoo grounds is the mystery that surrounds them. There's a void of information about something that just isn't that old, but a place where your grandparents may have spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon, or a place where Marlon Brando might have taken a young lady he wanted to get to know (biblically). If you visit the grounds now, several brown and white signs inform you that the enclosures were not ideal for the animals, but that they are more than adequate for present-day picnics. These signs were added to the grounds in the early 2000's in an attempt to prevent graffiti artists from covering this historic monument (because there's nothing anarchist youths respect like some authority). Today, numerous tags make their way along the abandoned bear caves of the picnic area, and the "shack house" at the top of the hill.

Los Angeles has tried to modify the Old Zoo over the years to give it new uses. There have been 'Shakespeare in the Park' events, and I've been told the popular 'Haunted Hayride' makes its way through the Old Zoo grounds (honestly, I've been too much of a wimp to check it out). Hikers hike, photographers shoot the forefront of earthy abandoned life into the backdrop of the Observatory and blue skies. During the day, people try to be Alexander Supertramp, if not for five minutes, drinking out of plastic bottles of water and eating apples down to their core. At night, teenagers come to party and drink cheap beer (which they stuff into the walls of the above mentioned "shack house" like a hoarder looking for cheap insulation). There are always a few people walking around, and it's always quite a mix (much like a late night, or an early morning, at the nearby Cafe 101). The ruins mean something to all of them. To some it's a playground: you can go in crazy old rusted monkey cages, take Facebook photos (for the timeline), and touch the ropes that almost definitely were put in by someone in the last few months. To others it's a rush: you can freak out your date and raise her adrenaline, or see who will frighten first as the sun goes down.

Even though this place is tagged in graffiti, the picnic benches (also tagged) aren't cozy, and there aren't any animals (rattlesnakes and coyotes excluded) there, the cages, shacks, and entrances that remain of the Old Griffith Park Zoo provide one of the best anti-Hollywood monuments within walking distance of the Hollywood sign. It's a place that is completely abandoned but at the same time, full of people. It's a place that was just cool, or uncool (hipster cool), enough to not need to be turned into something else (and we all know you could stack applications for Pho-bulous permits from the floor to the ceiling). The ruins, as creepy and foreboding as they are, offer us a glimpse into a different time. They offer us a chance to touch, physically, the progression of a city. As much as we try to mold it, or change it, or have thespians perform in it, it gives us all what we want from it. Because it has no meaning, it has every meaning.

-- Thea Green

photo credit: Thea Green

Thoughts on Falling Down

"DeFens" Taking Back L.A. from Falling Down (1993)
THERE IS something strange, exciting, yet almost eerie about watching a movie and realizing that the territory it is being filmed looks very familiar. So familiar, in fact, that it's almost as though you've been there yourself. You squint, question, and the words "wait a minute..." flash in your mind, until you realize you have been there yourself.

Films have always served as a sort of entertainment-oriented escape from everyday life, an insider's peek into someone else's complicated and problem-ridden world, even if this world is fabricated. But when you watch a movie or television show and you realize that you have walked along the same street that they are filming, bought groceries at the particular bodega where your favorite actor is doing the same on the screen, it ruins the illusion somewhat.

I experienced a bit of this feeling while watching Falling Down
because parts of the movie were so familiar to me. I've been to Venice and seen the street vendors with their strange merchandise, the overwhelming crowds, the reckless skateboarders, and the constant hustle and bustle of it all. When Bill, played by Michael Douglas,called his wife from Venice, the scene around him was all too familiar. When he was cornered by the detective at the end of the movie, I recognized the pier where he took his last fictional breaths before plummeting into the ocean all too well, as I have probably swam in it.

I enjoyed
Falling Down for many reasons. One, it's an exciting and fast-paced film in general, but more importantly, parts of the film really resonated with me. I found myself feeling compassion for Bill, despite the fact that he was clearly a rageaholic psychopath.

While I would never pull out a machine gun from my duffel-bag-assortment of weapons to threaten those who make my path through a typical day in Los Angeles more than frustrating, I do understand the annoyances presented to Bill in the film, which I think is why it is such an important film about Los Angeles.

Yes, his response is crazy which makes it an entertaining film, but who hasn't become so frustrated in Los Angeles traffic that they feel like they could scream? Why do breakfast places only serve breakfast until 11:30 and refuse to serve you anything breakfast related even a minute after, when you know there is a plethora of cold Egg McMuffins waiting to be thrown away in the back of the store? Why are people generally so rude and territorial when it comes to certain places, and why do some shop keepers treat you like you are less than human? Why is there seemingly unnecessary roadwork going on all the time in Los Angeles, and why do the workers choose to complete it during the most inopportune times, such as during rush hour to and from work?

The last question really relates to one of my annoyances about L.A. Road work on La
Cienega, which has been going on for at least a month and a half, makes an otherwise forty five minute commute to work an hour and a half long. As I inch by all of the orange signs and workers in their customary uniformed outfits, I strain my eyes to see what they are trying to fix. What is wrong with the road? is there anything wrong with the road at all? As Bill says to the construction workers in the movie, "What are you trying to fix? The road was fine yesterday."

Although Falling Down is obviously much darker, the little anecdotal annoyances and toils of life in Los Angeles reminded me of another movie that pokes fun at Los Angeles life, but in a much more humorous way--L.A. Story, starring Steve Martin.

I watched this movie with my family during my senior year before coming to L.A. for college, and one of the reasons I remember it so clearly is because each family member, at one point or another in the film, felt the need to nudge me and say, "That is so L.A.! That is what you're going to deal with when you go there," with a smile and a chuckle.

Really, though, how would they know this? Had they been to L.A.? Most of them had not. They were just basing these assumptions off of stereotypes they have seen in the media. All of this makes me wonder why Los Angeles is one of the places that is the most stereotyped, in the media, as well as in the minds of people who have never been there. I think that there will always be a sort of fascination with Los Angeles, whether it's out of disgust, admiration, or just ignorance, because of it's diversity and the fact that it exists as a melting pot of different cultures, things that people from other places have never experienced and aren't used to, like we talk about in class. I will end with some quotes from L.A. story, the first of which I remember my family members thought was hilarious and thought I would have to deal with every time I bought coffee (for the record, I don't, and people in Austin or anywhere else can be just as humorously picky about their particular coffee orders):

Tom: I'll have a decaf coffee.
Trudi: I'll have a decaf espresso.
Morris Frost: I'll have a double decaf cappuccino.
Ted: Give me decaffeinated coffee ice cream.
Harris: I'll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.
Trudi: I'll have a twist of lemon.
Tom: I'll have a twist of lemon.
Morris Frost: I'll have a twist of lemonl
Cynthia: I'll have a twist of lemon.

And, in conjunction with mine (and Bill's) thoughts on Los Angeles roads:

Trudi: He said it's the first day of spring.Harris: Oh shit! Open season on the L.A. freeway!

-- Caroline Queen
image via ifdb