Posts Tagged ‘travel’

The Triforium

October 27th, 2019


Easily the strangest thing in downtown LA is the Triforium, a concrete sculpture covered in colorful glass prisms in a public plaza, surrounded by government buildings.

The obvious question — what is this thing? — doesn’t have a simple answer.

Artist Joseph Young built the Triforium for the plaza. Originally the plan was for it to have a computer controlled system of lights to illuminate the prisms, to rhythmically illuminate it in sync with a carillon.

Oh, and it was supposed to be topped with a laser that projected straight up into space.

There was one problem: it was 1975, and the technology was too primitive to realize this vision successfully. Also, the laser was never installed as it was already over budget. LA Weekly has more details on its history.

The public apparently didn’t care for the Triforium much after a while, the sound was disabled, and as attention to LA’s urban core shifted outward, the Triforium was not only ignored, but the reflection pool under it was drained and replaced with plants.

Now that downtown LA has become a much more vibrant place again, with it is renewed interest in the sculpture. Twice over the past few decades there have been restoration efforts, adding a new sound system, a modern computer, and LED lights to illuminate the prisms.


Triforium at night


Unfortunately it’s still not always on, even at night. I took the photo on Saturday well after sundown at around 8 PM and it wasn’t doing anything. I suspect it’s only activated for special events.

Fortunately Curbed LA has several short videos of the Triforium back in action. I just wish I had the chance to see it working in person.

LACMA and the La Brae Tar Pits

October 27th, 2019


I left the Hollywood History tour a little tired, but decided to soldier on via an LA Metro bus to see LACMA and the La Brae Tar Pits next door. I should point out in advance I didn’t pay to enter either museum; LACMA’s main gallery is currently being rebuilt, and the La Brae Tar Pits museum is largely aimed at kids from what I understand.

The first exhibit I encountered at LACMA’s grounds is an outdoor piece called Levitated Mass. It’s an enormous boulder held in place with bolts over a subterranean concrete ramp. Seems simple enough, but due to a mishap with the original boulder the artist had selected, it took several decades to complete.




The other big installation outdoors at LACMA is Urban Light, a series of outdoor light posts you might find lining a street, except all bunched up in close-knit grid.

It is kind of a headtrip to wander through this and see standard urban street furniture intentionally misused, though the main attraction seems to be getting one’s photo taken among the light posts.




A more traditional sculpture garden off to the side features various sculptures, currently focusing on “The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness” by Zak OvĂ© .

This series of statues feature a semi-faceless series of nearly identical statues that look abstract yet somehow of African descent. I was surprised to see it again as this particular work was recently exhibited at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco.

Unlike the San Francisco version of the exhibit, LACMA’s is enclosed on three sides by a fence with a security guard out front. This changed the meaning completely for me — as a white man — particularly since the security guard was a black man. I don’t know what more to say here other than art can be powerful when the context is shifted.




While trying to find the restrooms I wandered through a massive, two story tall geometric sculpture called “Smoke.” From ground level it felt intimidating, but when I wandered up the stairs and looked down upon it, it seemed much less interesting.

It’s amazing what perspective can do with large scale art installations.


La Brae Tar Pits


On the other side of the block there’s the La Brae Tar Pits, an excavation site where various fossil remains were dredged up back in the day.

Today the tar pits are known for their absurd recreations of… woolly mammoths, I guess? They look like some embarrassing 1950’s highway attraction like the “world’s largest ball of twine” or whatever.

The tar pits themselves smell like tar, similar to when a building is getting a new tar roof. It’s not very pleasant.

I’ll admit part of the reason I went over there was to see if I could spot LA puppeteer, actor, artist, and singer David Liebe Hart — an oddball local character who’s known for hanging out there. Unfortunately for me he was nowhere to be found.


The LA Metro Purple Line extension is being built a block down the street, and since it’s located so close to the tar pits the excavation is a slow process with paleontologists ensuring our natural heritage is preserved. As such I had to take a very crowded Metro Rapid bus back downtown instead of the yet to open subway.

Hollywood History walking tour

October 27th, 2019
Walk of Fame


This morning I took the LA Metro to Hollywood and Vine, the meeting place of another Downtown LA Walking Tour, Hollywood History. The name of the tour company is kind of a misfit here as Hollywood is not located downtown.

The first thing anyone should know about Hollywood Boulevard is — if the two wax museums and the Hard Rock Cafe weren’t a dead giveaway — it’s a tourist trap. Expect people to try to hand you pamphlets for bus tours, and unlicensed costume characters to pose for photos with you in exchange for tips. I counted at least two Spider Men, three Mickey Mouses, and one Edward Scissorhands.

The tour makes all of this a little more palatable by focusing largely on the history of the place rather than the current spectacle.


Capitol Records Building


The starting point of the tour is also kind of the starting point of Hollywood as it relates to the entertainment industry. Although these days Hollywood is almost synonymous with the film industry, the intersection of Hollywood and Vine is where both local and national radio broadcast studios were located, as well as record companies. The 1950’s era Capitol Records Building — shaped like a stack of records — is located half a block away.

On a related topic, the Hollywood Walk of Fame (see photo at the top of the post) is not just movie stars, but recognizes entertainment stars in various categories. Theater actors, singers, TV actors, etc. are also eligible in their respective categories. This also means a few people have more than one star for their multiple talents.

I wasn’t paying super close attention, but I spotted stars for everyone from W.C. Fields to Lucy Lui to the band Rush.


Egyptian Theater Chinese Theater


Heading east along Hollywood Boulevard, the sights of the tour started looking more familiar. The Egyptian Theater and the Chinese Theater are two of the more iconic cinemas in the area where new films are screened, though they’re not the only ones.

One weird quirk our tour guide pointed out about the Egyptian Theater is the Spanish tiles on the roof. Apparently the building was originally going to be built in the Mission Revival style, but just after construction kicked off, King Tut’s tomb was discovered. So the plans were shuffled to cash in on the newfound popularity of Egypt, but the owner was too cheap to redo the existing roof.

The newest theater on the street that I unfortunately didn’t get very good photos of is the Dolby Theater, where the Oscars now take place. It’s attached to a new strangely shaped mall with a series of viewing platforms where tourists can go to get a clear view of the Hollywood sign.


Jimmy Kimmel Live theater


The theater where late night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! is filmed is also on Hollywood Boulevard. Filming notices are posted outside, but if you’ve ever seen Jimmy Kimmel’s show on TV you’re probably aware a film crew might pop out (possibly with a celebrity in tow) and strike up a conversation to use on the show. Our tour guide had a personal story about this.


The Hollywood Roosevelt


The tour ends just across from The Hollywood Roosevelt, a large hotel frequented by celebrities, politicians, and — according to legend — ghosts. I wandered into the lobby to snap some photos. Can’t say if it’s haunted or not though the interior is quite stunning.


My recommendation: Like I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this is a tour of a neighborhood that’s become a tourist trap. I’m of mixed feelings about this one, I think someone who’s more interested in Hollywood than myself would get more from learning details of the history of the area. That said it’s certainly much more enjoyable than trying to take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard on one’s own.

Arts District tour

October 26th, 2019
Arts District Arts District Arts District


Yesterday afternoon I took a tour of LA’s Arts District from Downtown LA Walking Tours. I had the same tour guide as I did when I took the Chinatown and Little Tokyo tour on my last visit, and as it turns out he’s intimately familiar with the local art scene through his other job as a photographer.

The general story of an art district anywhere in the world follows pretty much the same pattern: a bunch of old warehouses in a poor part of town become available on the cheap, artists show up and turn them into art studios, those same artists improve the neighborhood over time, and are then forced out when the rents increase. It’s a classic tale of self-gentrification.

LA’s Arts District is a little more complicated than that, as it turns out — these artists were more organized than most. First the city codified the status of artists living in former warehouses where they worked, even if the buildings weren’t up to code. Second, some of the artists were able to hold on to their apartments even as those buildings were changed to new uses. Lastly, there are still a number of galleries in the area.

Oh, and the chickens. I should explain the chickens.

The first stop on the tour is Hauser & Wirth, the LA outpost of a Swiss chain of high-end art galleries. It’s actually several galleries in a building that was constructed as a flour mill.

In the patio of the building there’s a restaurant called Manuela, which is pricey but also apparently well liked, and is often frequented by celebrities. They grow some of their own spices and such on the patio outside, and have a fenced in area with chickens to provide fresh eggs. The chickens even have their own Instagram.

Like the former flour mill, other buildings in the area were either warehouses, or production sites for companies like Challenge Butter and Coca Cola. These businesses all left the area when the shipping economy shifted from railroads to trucks.


Arts District Arts District Arts District


Though the tour stopped at three very different galleries, there’s also a focus on the outdoor art, from enormous murals to sculptures, which includes the oversized mailbox seen above.

There’s so much street art in the neighborhood that the same tour company has a tour devoted just to that topic. Unfortunately it wasn’t available during my trip this time or I would have booked that as well.

The last place we visited, Art Share LA, is more than just an art gallery. It also includes classrooms, studios for resident local artists, and even an event space that’s used for everything from ballet classes to church groups to weddings. The whole place has a welcoming atmosphere and features some of the most quirky art in the area.


Arts District


One of the last spots on the tour is Wings by Colette Miller. What started as a simple pair of angel wings painted on a corrugated metal wall right here in the Arts District, designed to attract selfie-takers, is now an oft-imitated global phenomenon. Miller herself has been commissioned to paint many of these all over the world.

Even if you haven’t seen the original, you’ve almost certainly seen someone’s photo on Instagram standing against a wall with wings painted on it.


My recommendation: If you don’t know much at all about LA’s Arts District this is a solid tour. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what you’ll see on it, so if it sounds interesting I’d recommend it.

Grand Central Market

October 26th, 2019

On my last visit to LA I kept kicking myself for not taking any photos of Grand Central Market, the big local food hall downtown. It’s also one of the best food halls I’ve ever been to and I have some recommendations. So here we go.


Grand Central Market Grand Central Market Grand Central Market


Opening at 8 AM, a handful of vendors serve coffee and breakfast. Although I’m not much of a morning person myself the weirdly named Eggslut chain has a popular outpost here with their various egg-based sandwiches, and long lines to show for it.

Lunch is the main attraction at Grand Central Market when everything is open. Aside from made to order lunches from pasta to tacos to salads, you can also buy ingredients from tiny grocery stores to cook your own food.

Snack foods and beverages are also available. I’d recommend trying La Fruteria, a Mexican street food joint with spiced fruit cups and aguas frescas.


Grand Central Market Grand Central Market Grand Central Market


Grand Central Market closes around 10 PM, but many of the vendor stalls close after the lunch rush and the crowds thin out.

One solid place for dinner — also open for lunch, but is usually slammed — is Olio, an Italian place. Though they offer salads as well, the real focus is on small thin crust pizza. It’s a better bet for dinner just because there will be open seats and you won’t have to wait as long, though if you’re willing to take it to go lunch works too. The dough is a little chewy for my taste, but the perfect tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings more than make up for it.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a “foodie” Grand Central Market is located between two Los Angeles landmarks: Angel’s Flight and the Bradbury Building.

Pershing Square

October 26th, 2019
Pershing Square Pershing Square Pershing Square


Just like my last visit to Los Angeles I’m staying near Pershing Square, a public plaza spanning an entire city block. I’ve also found it’s a convenient orientation point when I’m not quite sure where something is located in downtown LA.

The square is named after American WWI general John J. Pershing. Though he was a famous general in his day, as far as I can tell he has no direct connection to Los Angeles.

In its current incarnation the square features a mix of boxy and curvy concrete structures, mostly painted in pastel purple and orange. It should come as no surprise this design is the work of the late Ricardo Legorreta, whose designs are notorious for this style and color scheme.

But what surprises me most about Pershing Square is just how similar it is to Union Square back home in San Francisco. Aside from being public squares in California, consider these similarities:

  • Both are named to honor wars that have very little to do with their respective locations, let alone the west coast.
  • Both are in historic neighborhoods, surrounded by hotels, shops, and restaurants.
  • Both were rebuilt on top of underground parking garages in the mid 20th century.
  • Both are located downtown on one city block and are about the same size.
  • Both have a subway station located located nearby.

Obviously there are many, many differences between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but I think anyone who spends time in both California cities would be surprised by the similarities in their respective downtown squares.

The Last Bookstore’s upstairs labyrinth

October 25th, 2019

The Last Bookstore: Upstairs


On my last trip to LA I just sort of stumbled across The Last Bookstore, a large bookstore selling new, used, antique, and rare books and comic books as well as vinyl records.

Both times I wandered in I was a little distracted by well-attended events they were holding in the store with authors and poets. Not a bad problem to have for The Last Bookstore by any means, but it meant I couldn’t explore the space as freely as I would have liked.

As it turns out I’d missed two key aspects to the store. One I knew about: the upstairs. The other took me by surprise: the bank vaults. Yes, the building was once a bank, and the open bank vault doors now reveal small rooms lined with books.

So what’s upstairs? Balconies on each of the four sides of the building are roughly half devoted to art gallery spaces, and half to a quirky “labyrinth” of oddball book decor and oddly arranged shelving.

On those shelves you’ll find a strange blend of genres from science fiction to identity politics. A few bookshelves are devoted to single topics — Sherlock Holmes, for example.

Here’s a short video I put together of the crazy upstairs labyrinth at The Last Bookstore. I had to remove the ambient audio due to copyrights.


LA’s Union Station

October 25th, 2019
LA Union Station


It’s been almost two years since my last visit to Los Angeles, a trip I accidentally over-planned to the point where I had three times as much stuff to do as I did time to do it. So today I’ve returned for a few nights in an attempt to cross a few more of those items off the list.

But my first stop was actually a new item for me: Union Station. I’d become interested in the grand train stations of yesteryear during my Ameritrip2019 excursion on Amtrak. Many of these classic stations are named “Union Station” since they served a group — or union — of different passenger train services, like the one in LA still does today.

As it happens Union Station was the closest stop to my Airbnb on the LAX Flyaway “express” bus — which in reality has to share the same clogged freeways with everyone else.

The bus stops at a bus area behind the station. A short walk down a ramp leads into the newer half of the station, with the LA Metro’s subway downstairs, and both the regional Metrolink as well as Amtrak and Amtrak California on the outdoor upstairs level.


LA Union Station LA Union Station LA Union Station


The main passageway continues straight into the old part of Union Station. Unsurprisingly it’s the most interesting part of the complex, the uniquely beautiful interior in particular.

The building was completed in 1939, combining the Mission Revival style with Art Deco — a combination that sounds objectively terrible on paper, but the designers somehow fit it together perfectly. It’s worth noting the LA City Hall was designed by the same team.

Today the old half of the station is mostly waiting areas with shops, cafes, and a pair of outdoor courtyards. Still, my favorite feature in today’s 98F weather was a little more modern — the air conditioning.

The Peanuts statues of Santa Rosa

July 8th, 2019

Santa Rosa Peanuts characters
Santa Rosa Peanuts characters Santa Rosa Peantus characters Santa Rosa Peanuts characters Santa Rosa Peanuts characters

All over Santa Rosa’s downtown I stumbled across statues in the likeness of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters (Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, etc.) They’re all about the same height, but made from different materials and from different artists.

These were all commissioned after Schulz’s death in 2000, apparently because he didn’t like the idea of statues honoring his characters in his own hometown. Once he wasn’t around to say no anymore, I guess the statues were inevitable.

As I made my way to the Downtown Santa Rosa SMART station on my journey home, I couldn’t help but to notice a guy laying down a blanket to take a nap with his dog right next to the Charlie Brown and Snoopy statue.


July 8th, 2019


Easily the strangest thing I saw on this trip was the “Cyclisk,” an obelisk made of around 340 damaged bicycles. It was created by Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector as a public art project for Santa Rosa.

Ironically the statue is next to a car dealer and a car wash, but Grieve says “The statement is up to the viewer.” I’d also point out there are no bike lanes anywhere near the statue, and the street it’s located is even missing a sidewalk just north of it. So the meaning seems pretty clear… or is it?

If the nearby streets were rearranged with complete streets in mind, it would give the statue a completely different meaning. Perhaps in that context it could be seen as a call to action in its current state.