Posts Tagged ‘los angeles’

View from Griffith Observatory

February 21st, 2018

Griffith Observatory

Before leaving Los Angeles last night I figured I had to take one last look at the city. Although Griffith Observatory was technically closed, the area around it was as open as ever.

According to everyone I spoke with the main attraction is not the observatory itself, but rather the view from the area on the hill around it. So it didn’t bother me that the observatory was closed, but the DASH bus service up to it was concerning. Not only did it run infrequently but I’d barely heard of DASH before. As it turns out my concerns were unwarranted — DASH service runs in weird spots, costs very little, and they accept LA Metro’s TAP card as payment. Not knowing this I paid far more for a Lyft ride up to the top of the hill.

Griffith Observatory

From the hill on Griffith Observatory one can easily spot many landmarks. The Hollywood sign is in the distance, as is downtown Los Angeles. On the way up the hill I began to worry about the views — the city had become engulfed in clouds. Yet from such a high vantage point, those clouds only served to frame the city down below as an contrast to the weather patterns above.

As a T-Mobile subscriber I’m used to the occasional odd spot where there’s no coverage. Griffith Observatory proved to be one of such spots; at first I wondered if it would be best to wait for the DASH bus down the hill, but eventually I discovered that even while closed, Griffith Observatory provides a free wifi hotspot. Using this I requested a Lyft from there to LAX. It’s a long ride but my driver was cool about it. Better for him than those short, cheap rides anyway.

LA’s Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and Koreatown

February 21st, 2018

Los Angeles has three Asian neighborhoods you’ll find on the map, and I decided to give them all a visit. For starters I booked a tour of Chinatown and Little Tokyo from Downtown LA Walking Tours (same company that runs the Haunted Tales tour.)

New Chinatown, LA
New Chinatown, LA New Chinatown, LA

The tour started in Chinatown, where the central plaza was covered in confetti from the previous night’s celebration of Chinese New Year. A group of janitors were out trying to clean it up and fish it out of the fountains, but the wind wasn’t being terribly cooperative. It was pretty dead in the area as it was not only Monday morning but also President’s Day.

This is technically New Chinatown, as the original Chinatown was located where Union Station is today. For a variety of reasons it had fallen into decline, and was moved to the previous site of Little Italy after most of the Italian community had migrated away to the suburbs. To say ethnic minorities weren’t treated well in America back in the day would be a huge understatement. Although significantly smaller than San Francisco’s Chinatown, both were given a stereotypical Chinese-ish theme that looks like something you’d find at Epcot in Disney World.

Various movies have been filmed there including Chinatown (well, duh) and more recently Rush Hour.

Going back to the theme, a new modern looking housing development nearby had some elements of theming including hanging lanterns and a color scheme dominated by the color red. Sure it’s whimsical but it felt like a tasteful departure from the older parts of Chinatown.

New Chinatown, LA

One last thing before moving on — Bruce Lee fans will appreciate the statue in his honor located in Chinatown.

The tour then boarded a Gold Line train on LA’s Metro. We only went two stops so you could probably do this on foot without much trouble. Then again, Metro tickets are relatively cheap.

Little Tokyo
Little Tokyo Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo seemed more varied than Chinatown, with a museum, a Buddhist temple, a couple of shopping centers, and various public art including the “Friendship Knot” of two metal poles tied together. That said my tour guide’s wife was Japanese and he clearly knew more about Japan’s culture as a result — perhaps we skipped some obscure but interesting parts of Chinatown.

One interesting takeaway from the tour is Los Angeles is the birthplace of mochi ice cream. These balls of ice cream wrapped in a rice-based dough are now sold in grocery stores across the country, but were once an unusual fusion cuisine you’d only find in LA.

Little Tokyo

A model of a Space Shuttle isn’t something I would have expected to see in Little Tokyo, but it’s not just any Space Shuttle — it’s the Challenger, which exploded seconds after launching, killing everyone on board. Among the seven dead was Ellison Onizuka, an Air Force test pilot who became the very first Japanese-American astronaut.

I realize that’s a depressing note to end the tour on, but I can’t go into detail on the final stop because it’s a secret location. Sorry about that — you’ll have to go on the tour yourself to find out, but trust me it’s a tranquil and unexpected place you’re extraordinarily unlikely to find on your own.

Koreatown Koreatown

I asked the tour guide about Koreatown. He suggested taking a bus or car ride as it’s pretty far from Little Tokyo. His advice was completely on the mark; I took the Metro’s Red Line subway and it still involved a fair amount of walking to get to the heart of Koreatown.

Unlike Chinatown and Little Tokyo there’s virtual no theming to Koreatown. It’s a typical LA neighborhood near downtown with a weird mix of large and small buildings. You know you’re in the right place when you find people speaking Korean, see Korean writing on various buildings, the occasional Korean flag, and of course many Korean restaurants. Unfortunately being a holiday and a Monday not much of this was open.

Koreatown’s architectural styles vary wildly and large churches/temples fill the area more than anywhere else I found in Los Angeles. It was early in the afternoon by this point and I needed a coffee — which wasn’t hard to come by at all. There was also a lot of construction going on.

As I wandered eastward out of Koreatown I wound up in MacArthur Park. The west half of the park seemed fine with kids playing soccer and such. But heading to the east side there were some sketchy dealings going down. I requested a Lyft out of there and it couldn’t have come soon enough.

Barnsdall Art Park and a curious encounter with the legacy of L. Ron Hubbard

February 19th, 2018

View from Barnsdall Art Park

Once I’d finished sipping my little cup of espresso at Blue Bottle, I hopped on another bus; this time to Barnsdall Art Park in East Hollywood. It’s a unusual park on the top of a hill, featuring a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright.

There’s a not particularly large patch of lawn outside the fence around the house though it seems to be a hot spot for young couples to sunbathe and picnic. The best feature of the park is the view. On one side you can see Griffith Observatory and the iconic Hollywood sign in the distance.

On the other side of the park you can make out the top of the big blue Scientology building with the gold cross thing on the top. It’s a little hard to see as there are a few trees in the way, but it’s unmistakably the back of their Fountain Avenue building.

After leaving Barnsdall Art Park I had to make a choice — soldier on to Griffith Park, or head back downtown. Ultimately my legs were getting tired so I went with the latter and headed to the Metro’s nearby Red Line station. As I took the second escalator I noticed something out of the corner of my eye — a small book or pamphlet with an oddly cult-like design on the front. Thinking quickly as the escalator descended downward I reached back and grabbed it.

The little book turned out to be The Way to Happiness: A Common Sense Guide to Better Living by (who else?) L. Ron Hubbard. In that spontaneous moment I felt the universe winking at me, as though someone had left this artifact for me and me alone to discover.

"The Way to Happiness: A Common Sense Guide to Better Living" by L. Ron Hubbard

The cover features what appears to be an oil painting of a path through greenery leading to a sunrise in a relatively clear sky, with the ridiculous long title floating among the clouds. It’s truly the stuff of nightmares for any competent graphic designer.

On the back cover is a sort of reverse warning, a claim that the book presents a completely secular moral code, presumably there to disavow any connection with Scientology, and claims to be “based wholly on common sense.” Do people need common sense explained to them? Apparently L. Ron Hubbard thought so.

Whereas the Ten Commandments managed to sum up a moral code with only ten bullet points (well, sort of) Hubbard needed twenty one items in his list with detailed short essays for each and often multiple subheadings. Say what you will about the man, brevity wasn’t his strong suit.

Hubbard goes so far as to provide definitions of many words he uses in footnotes, even rather simple words such as “example” and “practice” where it’s unclear how someone would be able to understand the definitions but not the words themselves. This concept comes directly from Scientology’s Study Tech which places an emphasis on readers understanding words correctly. While building your vocabulary is a pursuit most of us agree upon, Hubbard’s insistence that it’s always the reader’s fault for not understanding written text is awfully convenient for authors such as himself; it provides a form of inerrancy where authors cannot be wrong, only readers for misunderstanding written text.

As for the advice in the book, most of it seems pretty reasonable. Don’t harm others, brush your teeth, follow the golden rule, set a good example for others, etc. That said much of the advice is weirdly specific and seems purely reactionary to events Hubbard himself despised such as the rise of Communism and the American hippie counterculture movement.

For a book about common sense it contains two sections that are absolutely shocking. First, in section eighteen titled “Respect the religious beliefs of others” it starts out preaching tolerance, but by the end swings in the opposite direction instructing readers not to respect atheists and agnostics. To call this section self-serving for a man who started his own cult (with the express purpose of profiteering) self-serving would be a massive understatement.

Second, the book’s first full page titled “How to use this book” instructs the reader not only to give the book to a friend who needs the advice, but to order additional copies and give them to that friend so they can distribute them to others. This is a classic pyramid scheme.

But in the end, you know what the best part is? Scientology’s lawyers cannot threaten to sue me for any of these criticisms. After all, this book is completely secular and therefore unrelated to Scientology in any way.

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart

February 19th, 2018

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart
The Echo Park Time Travel Mart The Echo Park Time Travel Mart The Echo Park Time Travel Mart The Echo Park Time Travel Mart

After spending the morning gorging myself on a food tour, I plopped my bloated ass down on a bus seat for a ride to the Echo Park neighborhood so I could visit a store aimed at time travelers.

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart sells items for a variety of time traveling use cases, such as a Viking odorant (the opposite of deodorant), a device for disabling evil robots (a magnet), soap from the Soviet Union, a gel that prevents cloning (the shopkeeper explained it must work because he uses it and there’s only one of him), as well as robot milk which is inexplicably some type of powder.

Now, obviously there’s an ulterior motive at work here. The store is a front for a local branch of children’s writing workshop 826, also known as the people who run the pirate store in San Francisco at 826 Valencia Street.

In exchange for a purchase and small donation, I was allowed to spin The Wheel of Fortunes. Apparently a lot of candy will be coming my way tomorrow!

Before leaving for the Blue Bottle next door, I was encouraged to step into the garden in the storefront, which was built for its photogenic properties.

The Last Bookstore

February 18th, 2018

The Last Bookstore

Late this evening I stumbled into The Last Bookstore, a large downtown LA store selling books as well as music, DVDs, and various other items. Much of the store was somewhat inaccessible due to author Rowan Blanchard speaking about her new book. This took up most of the main floor thanks to a sizable audience — a good thing for the store but it also meant I couldn’t explore all the shelves.

Their selection goes all over the map; including classics, books on LA and California (several books on Oakland caught my eye) and even photography coffee table books which had their own separate room.

The place is immaculate and mostly well organized, though some mischievous acts led me to discover unexpected books. For example on a shelf of new books about entertainment I found a used copy of Max Headroom’s Guide to Life from 1986. It’s a silly book and doesn’t attempt to reproduce Max’s digital stutter (how could you in book form, really?) but does a decent job of replicating his arrogant ignorance.

Mostly I was glad to find a late night reprieve of the insanity on the streets from the NBA All Stars game. What kind of bookstore is open late? The Last Bookstore is your answer. I was glad to stumble in and find this quirky LA landmark. It served as a welcome reprieve from the chaos on the streets outside.

Haunted Tales tour from Downtown LA Walking Tours

February 18th, 2018

Pico House, Los Angeles

This evening I took the Haunted Tales tour from Downtown LA Walking Tours. Their website kind of spoils many of the locations — but it also undersells the tour.

First problem: all the photos of buildings and locations were taking during the day, yet this is a night tour. Everything looks creepier at night so why show the daylight photos? Second, while it mentions “parental guidance” regarding “graphics…” that’s not exactly accurate. Let’s just say this tour probably shouldn’t be offered for kids.

Of all the haunted tours I’ve been on this one really kicks things up a notch and there’s a pretty simple reason for that; California has had some horrific acts over the past 50 years or so and downtown LA was ground zero for many of them. Unlike events from way back when, modern forensics leaves much less room for doubt even when someone isn’t found guilty (spoiler alert: OJ Simpson is mentioned a few times.)

I don’t want to spoil this last bit because the tour’s website doesn’t mention it, and I don’t mean to make light of sad and tragic events, but a certain hotel on the tour was the base of operations for two serial killers and also a relatively recent case where a woman disappeared only to be found dead in the hotel under mysterious circumstances. You’ve probably heard of these cases but had no idea they occurred in the same building — which by the way is currently closed. Turns out that sometimes bad publicity is still bad publicity.

My recommendation: This tour ratchets up the concept of a haunted tour by including terrifying events in recent history as well as in the past. I found it fascinating but would not recommend bringing young children as newspaper photos of dismembered bodies and faces are shown.

Historic downtown LA walking tour

February 18th, 2018

LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour

I spent the morning on a long walk through downtown Los Angeles on LA Conservancy’s Historic Downtown Walking Tour. I won’t go over everything on the tour, but I’ll cover a few stops I found interesting.

LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour

The Central Library is actually two buildings glued together, and aside from books and such it’s also home to a variety of permanent and rotating art. The LA Conservancy helped prevent the stately old library from being torn down, although it was too late to save the interior due to a fire. See also the photo at the top of the post.

LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour

One Bunker Hill, aka the Southern California Edison Company Building, is an art deco masterpiece that was also the first building in LA to feature air conditioning. Thankfully, it still does. The building’s land was owned by Henry Huntington who was involved with SoCal Edison among other businesses. And where did he get the money for financing these projects? From one of San Francisco’s railway robber barons, his uncle Collis P. Huntington.

LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour
LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour

Angel’s Flight is known as the world’s shortest railway, intended to get lazy people up and down Bunker Hill. It raises some interesting questions, or rather one question really — why didn’t they just build an elevator? I suspect the answer is people will pay for train rides but would balk at paying for a very short elevator trip.

Confession: since it’s cash only and I don’t like bothering with paper (their claim to accept TAP cards is a bold faced lie) I skipped the ride and took the stairs instead.

I didn’t get any photos but the Grand Central Market is your typical foodie mecca selling everything from raw ingredients to freshly made cuisine. It’s pretty similar to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, Pike’s Place in Seattle, etc. Bringing the tour through here at lunch time was a poor choice as we lost a couple hungry tourists. I came back after the tour for lunch myself. Finding good food was easy, finding a table was not. Finding a chair was even harder — I eventually gave up and ate while standing.

LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour
LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour

Last but definitely not least is the Bradbury Building. Also known as “hey it’s that building from Blade Runner!” The iron work in the building was reclaimed from a World’s Fair exhibition. Today tourists are only allowed on the first two floors and not in the elevators as the offices are still actively used. Many of them appeared to be empty, presumably because workers got sick of answering questions about Replicants.

There’s a patio on one side of the building with a wall detailing the life of Biddy Mason, a slave who’s owners moved to California. Mason realized being a slave in a free state made no sense and successfully freed herself through the court system, then took up work as a midwife. Her former home was located nearby on the site of what is now (to the surprise of no one who’s ever spent time in Los Angeles) a parking garage.

My recommendation: If you like architecture and public art and don’t know downtown LA (that’s me!) this tour’s a good fit. Be forewarned it’s more strenuous than your average walking tour. A few older folks in the crowd were having trouble keeping up at times.

Museum of Jurassic Technology

February 17th, 2018

Museum of Jurassic Technology

Over the past few years I’ve told pretty much anyone who’ll listen about my fascination with the type of real life interactive adventures from the likes of Nonchanance, including their Jejune Institute, Elsewhere Public Works, The Latitude, etc. [citation NOT needed] and every now and then someone responds by telling me about this oddball thing in LA County called the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

From Venice I took a reasonably fast 30 minute bus ride (good thing I’d ordered and pre-loaded my TAP Card in advance) down Venice Boulevard to this strange museum in Culver City.

After buying your ticket — technically it’s a donation — there’s no prescribed order to the museum, but if you enter the exhibit area and make an immediate left there’s a TV screen which shows a video at the press of a button explaining what you’re about to see… sort of. It starts off in a long-winded explanation of the history of museums, then finally hones in on the (fictional) history of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

It’s worth noting here the word “Jurassic” is intentionally nonsensical; once you get past this the meanings of the exhibits start to fall into place. Nothing here is at it seems, and furthermore it’s all a series of stories that parody the very concept of a museum.

I don’t want to spoil too much because it’s sort of against the rules (no photos are allowed) but I’ll describe some of my favorite exhibits in my own words.

  • A pair of western scientists explore a “savage” people’s demonic experiences only to find the phenomenon is the result of a species of unusual bats.
  • A room full of paintings of dogs pays tribute to each dog in the Soviet space program.
  • An exhibit of early 20th century motor homes inexplicably compares them to Noah’s Ark and the Garden of Eden.
  • An ordinary stairway features dioramas of staircases.
  • A series of “cat’s cradle” string manipulations is treated as a major exhibit across two rooms with interactive exhibits.

This “museum” originally opened in the late 1980′s and has expanded since then according to one repeat visitor I spoke with. Some of the exhibits were not operational during my visit, though despite spending over an hour and a half I didn’t see or hear everything before it closed for the night. While I usually ignore museum gift shops, I wound up buying a book detailing the museum’s exhibits because it was just that good.

My recommendation: If you’ve ever read this blog you’re probably the target audience for people who enjoy subtly bizarre humor. This is the museum for people like us — by all means pay it a visit.

Venice… California

February 17th, 2018

Venice, California

Over the summer of 2017 I took a long trip around various parts of the Mediterranean, with a stop for a few days in Venice, Italy. While there, I remember thinking “I wonder what that other Venice in LA County is like?” So I knew I’d have to go and find out at some point.

A month or so ago I decided to book a trip to Los Angeles over President’s Day weekend because airfare is cheap this time of year on a total whim. First stop after landing at LAX? Venice… California.

Venice, California Venice, California Venice, California Venice, California

From LAX I took a Lyft ride to an area near the Venice boardwalk. If you’re not familiar this boardwalk it’s your typical tourist trap, but also features some silly Venetian themed buildings, a really nice beach, and a popular skate park. As an aside it’s nothing like the boardwalk in Santa Cruz with rides and such. This is all retail, buskers, and hucksters.

If we’re being honest my favorite part about the area around Venice Beach are all the enormous street art murals. The one featuring Saint Mark as “the patron saint of Venice” got a solid laugh out of me since it’s both technically true (about Venice, Italy) and also not the kind of thing you expect to see in spray paint on the side of a three story building.

While around the boardwalk I kept noticing I was walking through camera shots of people filming what appeared to be b-roll footage. Later, I found myself walking behind two heavily tattoos guys pretending to be hella hardcore while lip-syncing to some agonizingly dull soft rock, the kind of music so bland Matchbox 20 would listen to as a lullaby. So yeah, all signs point to me winding up in the background of some terrible music video. Fame at last! How can I cash in on this?

Venice, California Venice, California Venice, California Venice, California

Next up I had to seek out Venice’s canals, because what’s the point of calling a place Venice if it doesn’t have canals? Well it turns out these canals bare little resemblance to the ones I visited in Italy. For one, it’s a very small residential neighborhood — you won’t find any restaurants, let alone Italian restaurants. Second, the canals are laid out in a rectangular grid rather than haphazardly since they’re all manmade. Third, virtual nothing’s made of brick, even the sidewalks are cement rather than cobblestone. Oh and fourth — there are cars. So aside from a few boats (but no gondolas!) it’s really more of a typical suburban neighborhood with an admittedly neat water feature.

In the gallery above you’ll see some of the more whimsical things I came across in Venice’s canals including a pink flamingo themed home complete with a matching rowboat, a Little Free Library primarily accessible via boat, and a tree filled with mid-century hanging lamps.

As a side note the canals aren’t well marked, but if you follow Google Maps the area isn’t too hard to find on your own.

My recommendations: Skip the Venice boardwalk tourist trap unless you’re interested in skateboarding. The beach might be a less crowded alternative to other SoCal beaches, but then again it’s February so take that with a grain of salt. The canals are a fun half hour or so if you’re interested in a weird part of California’s history.