The Most Photogenic City


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We had walked over from her place on Benton Way in the late afternoon and stopped into a bright Mexican restaurant and sat at the bar where they had expensive tequilas and cheap margaritas.

At El Cóndor, on Sunset at Edgecliffe, the bartender was tall and black and efficient, fast serving the cold, salted glasses with the green mixtures to go along with the guacamole and chips.

We were talking and then a young guy sat down at the corner. The server, the busboy, and the bartenders seemed to know him as if he were a regular. He talked to a blond, bearded bartender, who left, and was replaced by a clean- shaven, quiet bartender in a denim shirt.

“I moved in with a girl,” he told the quiet bartender who listened and nodded politely and stared into the distance.

“I came here to act,” he said.

“What time do you get off work?” he asked.

“I’m going to a party later,” he said.

He was looking for a friend, maybe something more, but his plaintive loneliness reminded me of so many days and nights ago, and that certain summer twenty years ago when I moved to Los Angeles and lived with a girl. There was nothing to the relationship, other than a brittle friendship, and it died in the fall of 1994, never to return.

When you drink, you think, and you are articulate. The intuitions and insights flood your mind, and you feel relaxed and the fear and the anxiety leaves you and you can walk and laugh, cry and remember, and nothing will stop you, no inhibitions or tentativeness, no wary caution or reversion to propriety.

And the next day, if you are lucky, you remember a tiny portion of last night’s enormous revelations.

After we got back to her place on Benton Way, she told me I was her first activity of the night. Jason was downtown, visiting from Montreal, and she would be driving there to meet him.

But first she showed me those crazy, 1980s sweaters I gave her that had once belonged to my late Mother. She said they smelled like Louise, who died on September 1, 2014. My mother always dry-cleaned her clothes and hung them on wire hangers shrouded in plastic.


We sat on the gray sectional couch that had been in my mother’s apartment on Admiralty Way in Marina Del Rey, the couch that had been purchased at Crate and Barrel in Paramus, NJ on Route #17 in the summer of 2008, the couch that was selected as I pushed my reluctant father in a wheelchair around the store and my mother hobbled along. That couch covered the events of the last seven years, the deaths of its two owners. It lived to find a new home in Silver Lake.


We are not more than friends so I left to make way for love, which was fine, as I was happy to drive into the waning light and go back to a street I found a few months ago where the giant Church of Scientology looms over a motley block of cheap apartments.

That street was Berendo, near Lexington, and I found it just when the sun was setting, and the harsh ugliness of old, broken-down, and neglected buildings became comely, enticing and seductive.

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There were markers of Western history dropped onto the streets, like French chateaus and Spanish castles. There were homely, plain and workaday brick and wood apartments and houses, old wooden electrical poles and wires, and cars that were packed into tight alleys, and parked along the curb. Occasionally, a cat would crawl out from under a car and dart into another shadow.

Berendo was blasphemy, watched over by a cross atop on an old blue hospital now advertising SCIENTOLGY.

Under the gaze of the cult, I was walking, and photographing, a city unique in its fate and form.

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Los Angeles: the most photogenic city in the world.

Whatever you imagine it is, it is.

Her beauty is fragile and fleeting. Her people arrive to grab onto to something illusory and transforming.

She should be seen and felt in the fading light, after the hours when the sun is brightest and before the hours when the darkness descends.

Teardown on Kester


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Up until a few days ago, a blue and yellow auto repair building with Honda, Datsun and Toyota signage stood at Kester and Delano, a retro oddity imprisoned behind high, steel- spiked fencing.

Now the fence is down, and a bulldozer is making fast work tearing up the asphalt and the evidence of the existence of the former business.

What will go here? It seems likely that it will be another modern apartment, like the one just to the north of this lot. That makes sense, as this area is predominately residential, and the auto repair was the only one of its type north of Delano.

What is sadder is the probable fate of the mid-century building. It might, in a more imaginative use, be saved, and surrounded by gardens, trees and chairs, transformed into a cafe. It could, in this area, provide badly needed nature and respite from the violent cacophony of grit, crime, and poisonous fumes that surround it.

And if an apartment is built, let us hope it imitates the modernity, restraint and white crispness of the new units next to it. We have had enough of the multi-colored, brown and rust, red and orange, loopy, asymmetrical, glib, cartoonish and “fun” styles that have disfigured much of modern Los Angeles housing.

Even Kester, once on the critical list, seems to be turning a corner.

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The Getty: Light, Line and Texture.

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The Getty Museum is one of those destinations in Los Angeles tourists come to see. I played a tourist yesterday and went there.

I entered into the parking lot via a new automated system where one pays at the end of the visit and no interaction with a human is necessary. It cost $15.

A tram transports you to the top. You ride up in it, like a European, secure in its cleanliness, safety and recorded instructions.

The plazas and the sculptures and the architecture are still here, but the water had been turned off, in deference to the drought.

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There were two exhibitions going on which I walked through quickly. One was full of drawings and paintings from the studio of Andrea del Sarto who lived in early 1500s Florence. Exquisitely wrought chalk portraits reminded me of what my father, who studied at the Art Institute in Chicago, used to aspire to.

“Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography” was an exhibition of various experimental, often abstract, tactile printed photographs from dozens of artists. Blotches on one print read, “chromogenic print soaked in Rainbow Lake water.” Another showed concentric circles, still another was shadows, and another drops of black splotches.

These were selected by experts, curated by intelligentsia, and worked in their incomprehensible oddity to expel me quickly.

The rooms where the prints hung were crowded and hot. Suffocation soon got the better of me and I ran out into the light and air as I always do when I visit the Getty.


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Better to me than seeing French tapestries in dark rooms is to walk outside and observe the light, line and textures of the Getty buildings and grounds.

The Getty design is now more than 20 years old, and just as a 1955 design looked old to 1975 eyes, so the architecture, with its squared and rectangular lines, seems dated in our present biomorphic era of computer generated forms and origami like skins.

Perched on top of the Sepulveda Pass in arrogant modesty, the buildings transformed the rural aura of the pass into something of a gaudy parade of wealth, equaled by the Skirball and its cold, pink, granite towers.

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Students from Brazil.
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David Cu

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The $1.3 billion dollar Getty, whose funds might have worked to transform a gritty neighborhood in South Central into something better, was also used to plant thousands of oak trees along the hillsides. The lands around the museum are now verdant and shaded.

$1.3 billion was spent on the museum. And twenty years later people sleep on the streets of Los Angeles. But art is safe, secure and protected.

Such are our priorities.

But that is another discussion.

There are still, to the photographic eye, many lines and textures and shadows dancing all over the buildings and grounds of the Getty.

These are some I captured.

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Alessandro Borsani, Student, Visting from Milan.

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Elliott Kai-Kee, Educator

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4th of July in Years Past


From the USC Digital Archives, one finds fascinating and unusual photos of old California.

A search for “4th of July” brought up these photos and captions:

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“Photographer: Gaze. Date: 1952-07-04. Reporter: Gaze. Assignement: 4th July–Santa Monica. #23-29: Navy landing craft comes ashore in Fourth of July exercises at Santa Monica. LCM No. 268 in the foreground has just landed and No. 175 has just taken off back through surf. In addition to these landing craft, visitors streamed aboard the heavy cruiser USS Toledo and the destroyer escort USS Whitehurst.”

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Philippine Independence Day celebration July 4th, July 4, 1951. Elizabeth Rigor (“Miss Luzon”); Mayor Fletcher Bowron; Sartonio V. Abrera (consul of Philippines); Maria Torres (“Miss Visayan”); Aurora Garcia (“Miss Philippines”).

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Special 4th of July rites at St. Vibianas, July 4, 1951. Processional into cathedral with Archbishop J. Francis A. McIntyre.

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“Photographer: Gaze. Date: 1952-07-01. Reporter: Gaze. Assignment: 4th July advance. #41: Pretty Rita Simon looks as though she were about to take off on a giant skyrocket at Ocean Park which is one way of calling attention to the annual 4th of July fireworks exhibition which will be held on the end of Ocean Park Pier on the night of July 4 in tribute this year to four warships which will anchor in the Bay. Visitors will be allowed aboard from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July4, 5 and 6. #42: L to R: Audrey Donahue holds her ears as Margie Brunner lights giant skyrocket and Rita Simon appears ready to take off with the explosive on the Ocean Park beach. The girls enact the scene to call attention to the annual fireworks exhibition to be held at the end of the Ocean Park Pier in tribute to 4 warships which will anchor in the Bay over the three-day holiday.”

FRESNO V. ECKBO


Here in Van Nuys:

Excellent article. You somehow manage to explore and explain the different facets of ideology, design and practicality without bias. I have a new appreciation for the mid 1960s pedestrian mall even as it failed to ignite the rebirth it intended.

Originally posted on Landscape Architecture Magazine:

BY MIMI ZEIGER

BEDIT_LAMdec14_Eckbospread To revive downtown, the city appears poised to drive right through a masterpiece.

From the December 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

The city of Fresno sits in the middle of California’s San Joaquin Valley. When you drive into town from Los Angeles, the landscape is agricultural and framed by roadside eucalyptus trees. It gives way to off-ramp clusters of gas stations, fast-food chains, and light industrial warehouses. Most of Fresno’s neighborhoods, after nearly 50 years of decentralization and flight from the urban core, sprawl north, tracking the edge of the San Joaquin River. The city’s historic downtown and civic center are a near ghost town.

At the heart of downtown is the Fulton Mall. In the early part of the 20th century, it was Fresno’s main drag, Fulton Street, six blocks lined with banks and department stores. In 1964, the landscape architect Garrett Eckbo turned the…

View original 3,544 more words

Blight Walk.


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6552 Columbus Avenue; owner: Marinel C Agbunag
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6522 Columbus Avenue, Van Nuys, CA 91411 Alex Barker, owner.

The houses are unoccupied, neglected. The parched grass grows high, bottles and cans are everywhere, and their owners are seemingly oblivious to their blighted properties.

This is not a slum. This is Columbus Avenue between Hamlin and Kittridge, where some absentee owners have allowed large parcels of land to fall into abuse, or permitted and set up illegal businesses towing and storing cars.

For many years, complaints from residences about the eyesores have flooded into Former Councilman Tony Cardenas’s offices and are now on the desk of Nury Martinez, whose Field Deputy, Guillermo Marquez, joined LAPD Lead Officer Erica Kirk for a walking tour of the shabby, un-chic area.

Both Officer Kirk and Field Deputy Guillermo Marquez are consummate professionals: responsive, articulate, hard-working and complete attributes to our area. They spent hours yesterday listening to the gripes and the stories of crime and neglect.

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6522 Columbus Avenue, Van Nuys, CA 91411 Alex Barker, owner.

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Yet responsibility for the empty houses goes back to the owners who created, selfishly and without logic, properties that do not produce income and bring down the value of other homes around them.

In Los Angeles, it seems impossible to find affordable houses for purchase for people who make less than $100,000 a year. And others sleep in their cars, or in RVs, or on park benches. Rents are over $1500 a month, for two bedrooms, even in Van Nuys.

And the law says you cannot clear homeless people and their belongings off public sidewalks.

And the law also says you cannot compel errant property owners to fix up their private homes and rent them out or sell them.

So all around our neighborhood, where the average house sells for over a half million, some have decided that just letting their houses sit empty and open for crime and vandalism is the best policy.

And that is why we went on a walk yesterday, a walk that went around in a circle along Columbus, Haynes and Hamlin and ended up in the bright, hot sun with promises and handshakes.

“Better Call Marty” Re/Max Grand Central Marty Azoulay 818-424-5045
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15102 Haynes/ 15105 Hamlin; owner Kathy J. Bauer.

Future Gardens of Van Nuys?


One of the continuing themes of this blog is to look at what we are and imagine what we might be.

I think about that as I walk around Van Nuys, a misbegotten and deformed district.

But also an oddly lucky place where land is abundant and cheaper, yet frequently and usually, neglected and wasted.

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At 14550 Sylvan St., between Van Nuys Blvd. and Vesper, there is now an empty courtyard surrounded by buildings on three sides. They once fixed cars here. This is a street full of fine old buildings, including the former Van Nuys Library (now a law office) and the former post office. There are also small stores: a tailor, a barber, a school, and a storefront church.

This is where a garden belongs.  Buildings are small scale and human, within walking distance of every important building in downtown Van Nuys.

I took photos (with permission) from England. The  ‘London Permaculture’ Flickr page shows urban gardens transforming bleak and hostile spaces into fertile and green growing areas.

Brown brick, beer guzzling, working-class England can be drab, but these gardens are a morale booster for their users.

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Sylvan near Van Nuys Bl.

Our alleys, behind Van Nuys Boulevard, can be fixed up with cafes, bars, trees, plants and lights. Eating, drinking and socializing can replace public urination, rats, tagging and trash.

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14526 Victory near VNB

At 14526 Victory Boulevard, the NCJW (National Council of Jewish Women) has a donation center which again, is a North facing forecourt that would also do nicely as an outdoor beer garden, pocket herb garden, etc.

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Friar St.
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At Friar and Van Nuys Boulevard there is a large parking lot, which is across the street from another large parking structure, in an area with too much parking. Why does Van Nuys, in this ramshackle location, with its empty storefronts and dead buildings, need 2,000 parking spaces?

There are wasted opportunities of land and development all over Van Nuys.

We live in an environment built for the lowest common denominator of mediocrity and exploitation.

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West of Van Nuys Blvd. near Hamlin St.

Who can marshall the resources to bring money and planning into Van Nuys?

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