Monday, April 30, 2012

Coordinates: 3819 and 2827 Dunn Drive Culver City

THE LAWRENCE and Martha Joseph Residence and Apartments, also known as the ‘Hobbit Houses’ located right around the corner from Sony Studios at 3819 and 3827 Dunn Drive in Culver City looks more like a scene from a storybook than the average apartment building.
Lawrence Joseph, a former Walt Disney artist, brought a fairytale to life between 1946 and 1970 with these residencies in Culver City. Behind trees and tall blades of grass lies the cottage built in the Storybook Style. Pillars and garage doors made out of tree trunks, cobblestone exterior, and a wood shingled roof sits behind the green swamp inhabited by turtles.
A Conservancy's page on the complex said, "Joseph redesigned an existing single-family residence and added two two-story buildings with multiple units. He also created nautically themed interiors for the three buildings. The apartments feature galley kitchens, vertical-grain boat plank flooring, and built-in furniture with hardware made from boat latches. The interior looks like you are in a combination of a boat and tree house."
Los Angeles is a city built on fantasy, and this becomes even more evident when looking at the Lawrence and Martha Joseph Residence and Apartments. As I stood in front of the buildings I forgot I was in the middle of the city until I turned around and saw the normal street and the normal houses surrounding the fairytale apartments.

-Nastassja Habers
-Photo Credit: Nastassja Habers

Brick-and-Mortar Jewel Boxes

Some of the brightest gems I love in Los Angeles are its movie theaters. What could be a better tribute to the art of film than to house them in celestial-inspired shrines? The exterior facades are as alluring as the magic inside flickering on film. Embellished stone or color-encrypted light bulbs decorate what would otherwise be a normal building. "Going to the big picture show" isn't just "going to the movies." It's an entirely unreal experience: from the first footfalls approaching an exterior illuminated to a state of spectacular, to the moment we look over our shoulder, remembering a world outside our own. 

The Majestic Crest:

Since its opening in 1940, the Crest Theater has undergone many transformations, renamings, and remodels. Located close to the UCLA campus, the theater was known as UCLAN for a time, in concordance with the university's name at the time: University of California at Los Angeles. It has also been known as the Westwood Theater or the Westwood Crest. By the 1980s, the interior was redecorated in art-deco style, complete with a ceiling of stars. Before a show starts, a shooting star explodes across the mimic-night sky. 

Grauman's Egyptian:
The Egyptian Theater is the site of Hollywood's first movie premiere in 1922 for Robin Hood. Tickets for the opening were $5, a hefty price at the time. Showman Sid Grauman and real estate developer Charles E. Toberman built the theater, deciding on the Egyptian theme soon after plans for a Hispanic theme were already in development. Hieroglyphics paint the walls, and huge columns stand throughout, although in one ceiling section, Hispanic designs remain intact. Grauman built the world renown Chinese Theater five years after the Egyptian opened. 

The Million Dollar Theater:

Quite possibly L.A.'s oldest theater, built in 1918, is the Million Dollar Theater. It was designed by Albert C. Martin, a prominent architect at the time, and was developed by Grauman before the Egyptian was built. Carved into its stone facade are figures of bison heads and long horn skulls, in traditional Spanish Churrigueresque style. Located in Downtown, it stands across from the Bradbury building, another historic architectural landmark. When it opened, it housed 2,345 seats, one of the largest theaters in the world at the time. After refurbishing in 2008, the theater reopened and now plays shows on a special basis. 

The El Capitan Theatre:
The El Capitan originally housed live performances, instead of films. It opened in 1926 with Charlot's Revue, starring Jack Buchanan, Gertrude Lawrence, and Beatrice Lillie. Also developed by Toberman and Grauman, the theater was built across the street from Grauman's Chinese and a few blocks away from the Egyptian. In keeping with the ongoing cultural theme, the El Capitan was designed with Spanish Colonial influences. The world premiere of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane was held at the El Capitan in 1941. From 1941 to 1991 it was known by the name of the "Hollywood Paramount." It is now operated by Walt Disney Pictures.

-- Jennifer Pellerito

Photo Credit: Jennifer Pellerito

Coordinates: 6067 Wilshire

Photo Credit: Myself

The Miracle Mile District is bordered by the Fairfax District, Hancock Park, Mid-City, West Pico, and Carthay. I never even knew that it existed, yet I have been down the Wilshire Stretch of the district many times. Wilshire Boulevard, west of Western Avenue, used to be a farm road, before becoming a part of the Pacific Electric Railroad System. But developer A.W. Ross saw its potential and set out on a journey to make it a commercial district that would cater to automobile traffic, rather than foot traffic. Many retailers and department stores were built, in a fashion so as to attract the most attention from cars, on this strip of Wilshire. Among them was the May Company, a department store chain that went out of business in 1993. Many of its stores were turned into Macy’s.
But not the May Company Building on Wilshire. This building, easily recognizable by the gold cylinder on its front, was acquired by LACMA and sits on the western end of Museum Row. It is now known as LACMA West. It is an impressive building, one that I have seen before but never paid much attention to because there are many other things to look at. It was built in 1939 and LACMA bought it in 1994 and moved some of their staff into it. While you can not go inside the building (yet), LACMA’s blog has some wonderful photos of what the portions that have not converted look like now. There is an outstanding employees Walk of Fame, a space for candy refrigeration, and a grid through which employees would look to make sure no one was shoplifting (before security cameras). The building was featured in many old movies, such as “Volcano” and “The Star.” The outside of the building looks virtually unchanged, except the giant letters spelling out MAY CO. have been taken off but not replaced with anything yet.
Photo Credit: taken from the LACMA blog
The building in 1976. Photo credit: found online on University of Washington's Digital Collection
Last year, there were talks of converting the space into a motion picture museum. LACMA and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences teamed up to put this together, however they are still working on fundraising and picking out an architect. 

-- Allie Flinn

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Downtown From Within

AS MANY of you know by now, I have a strong affinity for Downtown Los Angeles. I've discussed countless times in class the beauty of it's towers and how they can be seen from miles and miles away in every direction. I've associated downtown as somewhat of Los Angeles' capitol, a grandiose modern day Oz. While many of us pass through it - or others who only stare into its distance from afar - rarely do we relish the opportunity to be within it. Luckily, opportunity came knocking at my door.

Yesterday, I visited my mother at her work to pick her up for lunch. She works off Flower and 8th in the Macy's Plaza on the 28th floor for a subsidiary law firm for Farmers Insurance. The view from my mother's office was breath taking. I didn't snap a shot, unfortunately, yet the view made one feel like a corporate giant looking out to a million little worker. On any other day, the sun would shine down the large towers but on this day, overcast got the best of us and the cloudy skies glided above.

The picture above is taken right outside Macy's Plaza in front of a disgustingly delicious sushi restaurant, Octopus (4 stars on Yelp). What captivates me about this image is that I know these buildings from afar. Numerous times, I've driven around the cosmopolitan architecture but rarely have I been up close.

These buildings play host to numerous businesses on every floor. Law firms, Accounting Firms, Entertainment Firms; all the busy districts coming together under one roof to make our city operate daily. Each major city has its own flair and their architecture is what sets them apart. Walking the streets of New York, one sees angry cab drivers on crowded streets and skyscrapers made of glass that extend pass the stars.

In Los Angeles, however, while on may see angry drivers on crowded streets, our buildings are humble and our design is eccentric. Each building has its own personality and every entry way is a gate into another metropolitan world.

-- Michael Flores
photo credit: Michael Flores

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mike Sonksen's "WattstoLeimertPark" Unraveled


ALL IT takes is a listen to "WattstoLeimertPark" to tell that Mike Sonksen, often known by the moniker Mike The Poet, is an artist who knows and loves his city. Perhaps what makes this catchy track most compelling is that Mike acts not only as a poet, but also a Los Angeles historian.  The lyricism of his spoken word coupled with driving instrumental accompaniment is enough to satisfy any listener, but a deeper investigation leads to something much more culturally rich within the track.

For Mike, it's not just about his own artistic vision.  He's also invested in encapsulating some of L.A.'s greatest, particularly the artists whose work might slip through the cracks of history.  In the track he tributes countless people because for Mike, “The African-American artists, authors & musicians of LA give the city the soul it really needs. Along with the Eastside artists of Boyle Heights, the artists from Leimert Park & Watts represent the real substance of the city.”

Watts and Leimert Park are the two particular L.A. neighborhoods that Mike fixes his gaze on in the track.  Since certain regions like downtown and Hollywood gather more attention than some of the smaller cultural hubs in our city, many people pass by them without much of a thought.  In this track, Mike offers listeners a glimpse into a culture that they might not have noticed: "Leimert Park was designed by the very famous architects, the Olmstead Brothers in the 1920s. It is under-appreciated and full of amazing stores and culture."  And Mike definitely has an idea of why some of these cultural benefactors might be forgotten.  It's an L.A. thing.

Unfortunately, from the boosters onward, Los Angeles has primarily stood as a city that basks in warmth cast by false promises and pretenses.  In the modern context, this often comes out through the media's propagation of sex and violence.  Mike's very aware of this, saying, "Positivity doesn't sell.. Gangs, sex and drugs do," but this awareness doesn't persuade him to cater to that type of content.  Much like the artists he plugs in "WattstoLeimertPark," the track itself stands against this lean towards negative projections of L.A.  He attempts to get to the core of Angeleno culture: “Much of my work is about clearing up misconceptions and showing the authentic side of the city rather than the false stereotype.”

Since the song dwells on the sound of LA, specifically seen in his refrain, "music is the heartbeat," I decided to ask Mike how he would define the sound of his city.  Like any Angeleno that understands the almost impenetrable depth of his confounding city, Mike acknowledges the true breadth of the L.A. sound.  He gives it up to, “Laurel Canyon singer-songwriters, late 70s punk rockers, the Eagles, heavy metal, gangsta rap, Beach Boys & several other movements.  Too many sounds to make one distinction, but the sound of Watts & Leimert Park are as historic as any of them."

And as it turns out, the highly quotable refrain is in itself an allusion specific to the local of L.A. that the song fixates on. "[It's] from a quote I heard in the documentary about Leimert Park.  One of the community figures there said "Music is the heartbeat." A man named Richard Fulton, he's passed now, but he was a major leader there for years. I liked the quote & felt it captured the area well & so I used it in the poem.. The poem is basically a collage of the areas writers, musicians & landscape.. And you are right about music uniting people.. Music & poetry are the backbone of Leimert Park, I felt the refrain captured the spirit on multiple levels."

-- Carey Uhl

Photo Taken from

Los Angeles Through its People: Descriptions from Christopher Isherwood

(Left to right) Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwood, Julian Huxley, Aldous Huxley and Linus Pauling, Los Angeles 1960 -by Ralph Crane Image via Life magazine's Tumblr 

IN THE beginning of the semester I was wowed by Christopher Isherwood’s piece “Diaries.” His incredible descriptions and attention to detail made me see the beauty of LA.  Because this was one of the first pieces we read, as well as my favorite piece, it only seems right that it is my last blog post. 

One thing I found during my time in this class is that Los Angeles is defined by its people. While I was reading the piece, I noticed that the descriptions of the people he recalled in his journal described and defined the city.  For my final post, I wanted to take his words, his descriptions of the people he met, and use them to define the city of Los Angeles.

LA is a “universal figure.  She is the woman whose life everyone wants to interfere with” (234). 

LA’s “general untidiness was obviously calculated” and there was “a tiny plaster between her eyebrows, to prevent wrinkles from forming”(232-233).

“With bloodshot eyes,” LA yearns “to be told the secret of eternal youth, the meaning of life” (233). 

LA has “faint traces of extraordinary beauty,” and “showed little sign of inward calm” (233). 

LA is “both a parent and a child” (234). 

LA has “done what no other man alive today has done; he refused to become a god” (233).  Instead, he is who he is and makes no excuses.

LA is make believe and says, “‘Let’s pretend we are two other people—quite, quite different,’” (234).

LA “pays no attention to the scenery” (234). 

“If you watch her for a quarter of an hour, you see every one of her famous expressions” (237).  “She is so amazingly beautiful, so noble, so naturally compelling and commanding, that her ridiculous artificiality, her downright silliness can’t spoil the effect” (237). 

LA is an extra in a film.  A copy “of famous filmstars—literal copies, made without the least imagination or individuality," in which there was "not the slightest interest in Chaplain’s instructions—but, when the shooting began, they put up a surprisingly convincing performance” (240).

LA teaches. But, “‘the only thing we learn in life is waiting’” (236).

LA “works til he’s tired, eats when he feels like it, sleeps when he feels inclined” (247).

LA is a “character from a Scott Fitzgerald novel who’d passed out during a wild party and slept for twenty years.  Now she’s just woken up and thought this was all a horrible dream” (246).

LA makes you feel “a terrible, shameful, almost insane attack of self-pity and despair” because you “can’t turn her into a stage for [your] own private drama” (240-241).

LA “chain-smokes nervously.  But, as always, there is something very attractive and even stimulating about him” (242).

LA “glanced at herself in the mirror without enthusiasm: she was no longer quite fresh” (245).

LA "accepts the will of the majority as long as its his will" (249).

LA knows that “‘we can’t really stop your hair from falling out.  We know it doesn’t really matter about being well-groomed, or attracting girls, or making the grade, or selling your personality. We know you’ll grow old and die, and others will be born, and new tonics will supersede us, with new slogans and old lies on the label” (244-245).  And this is LA’s secret.  LA's tragedy.

LA makes you say, “Goodbye.  Goodbye. I shall see you often—but differently I suppose” (246).

-- Elise Fornaca

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Read L.A.

I OFTEN SHRUG out of being pinned down on what L.A. books are my favorites. So this list merely represents books that, to me, nail some aspect of Los Angeles that I find evocative or resonant.

A few of them I have returned to time and again ("Day of the Locust" "Hope of Heaven.") The titles are nonfiction and fiction. photography, poetry etc.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Hope of Heaven -- John O'Hara

The White Album -- Joan Didion
What Makes Sammy Run? -- Budd Schulberg
Mildred Pierce -- James M. Cain
Day of the Locust -- Nathaniel West

Imagoes -- Wanda Coleman

Dreams from Bunker Hill -- John Fante
Playback -- Raymond Chandler
Chavez Ravine 1949 -- Don Normark
Days Without Weather -- Cecil Brown
 Devil in a Blue Dress -- Walter Mosley
The Other Side -- Ruben Martinez
A Single Man -- Christopher Isherwood
Low Down -- A.J. Albany

Out With the Stars -- Jim Heimann
Tapping the Source -- Kem Nunn
The History of Forgetting -- Norman Klein
The Nowhere City -- Alison Lurie

Days Between Stations -- Steve Erickson
In a Lonely Place -- Dorothy B. Hughes

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Genius Loci: Painting L.A.'s Story

Earth Crew "Undiscovered America" for L.A. Cultural Affairs

Photo Credi: Nastassja Habers - Taken in the Art District

Genius Loci: My L.A.

Many American cities have famed, distinctive skylines – think of New York, Seattle or Chicago and you’ll probably also think of the collection of buildings that make the city iconic. I haven’t found this to be as true for L.A., probably because this earthquake-prone city isn’t known for its skyscrapers – there is no Empire State Building, no Space Needle, no Sears Tower.

Instead of specific buildings, L.A. is recognizable for – among many things – its vastness. The city goes on and on. Whether seen from Griffith Park or from LMU’s own Bluff (as above), the stretch of lights – to me – is a reminder that there is so much more to explore in Los Angeles. It’s a city I’ve seen, for the most part, from a distance. The one part of the city I’ve really set my zoom lens on is its world of movies.

One visual that shouts, “You’re back in L.A.!” are billboards, especially billboards for movies. In Pierce County, Wash., where I grew up, there are laws significantly limiting where there can be billboards. They are a rare site there, in stark contrast to the mass of advertising around Los Angeles.

Movie theaters are my L.A. There are so many to choose from – multiplexes to small indie theaters, to historic revival ones. A marquee announcing the presence of a favorite filmmaker is Los Angeles to me.

Red carpets, dozens of camera flashes going off at once, a loud crowd of reporters packed into a small space: movie premieres are another part of my L.A., something I’ve gotten to see from the perspective of a journalist on the press line. Here is a look at the fans flanking “The Hunger Games” premiere and a behind-the-scenes peek at the Oscars red carpet, taken from the press route through Hollywood and Highland Center.

Genius Loci: Fountains

Peace on Earth Fountain at The Music Center Plaza - Downtown

Department of Water and Power - Downtown
Playa Vista

The Gateway Pool and Water Wall at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral - Downtown

A Rose for Lily at The Walt Disney Concert Hall - Downtown

The wall portion cascading to the lower level

Top portion of fountain at The Ford Amphitheatre - Hollywood

Los Angeles is a city on the water with a checkered past about it's techniques in getting sustainable water for the city. With this in mind, if you take a good look around you will see hundreds of tributes to water all around the city. They are both beautiful and can make you wonder, in a city that has had so much trouble with water why are there so many possibly useless fountains? To me, that question is Los Angeles and some of these fountains have functions and some of them are just beautiful works of art but they all have some sort of history.

Genius Loci: The "Spirit" of LA

 A famous comedian's house with a scary secret...

 A murder-suicide with many unanswered questions

A movie theater with a not so silent history 
Celebrating 40 years of laughter... and terror 

Surprisingly, many celebrities are still spotted here...

Genius Loci: My Los Angeles

Ramen @ Hakata - Gardena

 The Yost Theatre - Santa Ana

Dim Mak Studios - Hollywood 

Griffith Park - Los Angeles 

Little Ethiopia - Los Angeles

Genius Loci - Nooks and Crannies

Photo Credit: Myself (Except for the Getty Museum picture, that was my friend Nishan)