I saw my friend Steve Munch recently and it reminded me again of the surprise and raw beauty in this world, not to mention the lovely unfoldings and potential for visceral heartbreak that exist right off our noses.
Let me explain.
First, let me say that my friend Steve Munch is many things, many of which cannot see print, but above all he is a man who cares deeply about our oceans. He is also a supremely talented photographer. Steve photographs many things, but most of his photos center around the waters off our Ventura County shoreline. My friend Steve is not lackadaisical in his efforts. He spends over 200 days a year out on his boat shooting. This allows him some special moments.
The New York University Stern Urbanization Project recently posted selections from a new series of animations to show the expansion of "global cities" over the past 200 years. Los Angeles is one of those cities, and the NYU Stern map balloons a tiny dot of 1781 Los Angeles into a pool of deep red by 2000. The red that fills Los Angeles County is filigreed around the edges with large pods and tendrils that appear to extend from Ventura to south Orange County and eastward to Riverside and San Bernardino.
A similar presentation of the evolution of Los Angeles County -- but much more detailed and historically nuanced -- was prepared by Professor Philip Ethington of USC (with Samuel Krueger and Adrian Almer) for the Getty exhibition "Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future" in 2013. (Examples of the maps for Overdrive are here and here.)
There are problems with any representation of Los Angeles through time, and the NYU Stern attempt suffers from the worst of those problems of representation.
Palm Sunday -- when the pious receive a rib or two of pale yellow-green palm frond -- is April 13 this year. I'll be handed my fragment of palm by an usher at church, to be awkwardly held or folded into my jack pocket and forgotten there.
The adept in the pews during mass plait theirs into a cross -- a symbol bridging Palm Sunday and Good Friday.
Grand Park downtown -- which the Los Angeles Times calls "arguably the most beautiful new public space created in Los Angeles -- held its second annual book party on Saturday. I was supposed to attend (but couldn't) to read a version of an essay I wrote in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the opening of Union Station -- inarguably one of the most beautiful sort-of-public spaces in Los Angeles.
Along with other writers and historians, I'd been asked by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (called Metro) to consider how Union Station after 75 years fits into the texture of our lives in Los Angeles.
Metro bought the station in 2011 from Catellus Development (a descendant of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads) for $75 million. The station is beginning a multi-year program of expansion, renovation, and conservation.
I can only hope that the project will retain Union Station's capacity for daydreaming.
It's the missing link of L.A.'s freeway network: the 2, a direct connection between the Westside's 405 and Hollywood's 101. Known to planners as the Beverly Hills Freeway, this 9.3-mile cross-town superhighway would have relieved pressure on the 10 and provided local freeway access to West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Century City. It also would have torn through some of L.A.'s wealthiest residential districts -- a fact that ultimately relegated plans for the freeway to the trash bin.
When traffic planners first envisioned the freeway in the early 1940s, they sketched it with a broad stroke on the city's map, labeling it the "Santa Monica Parkway" because it roughly followed the path of Santa Monica Boulevard. (Today's Santa Monica Freeway, completed in 1965, was born on the same map as the "Olympic Parkway.") By the time planners plotted the planned highway's precise course in 1965, it had earned a new name -- the Beverly Hills Freeway -- as well as the wrath of local communities.
On planners' maps, the Beverly Hills Freeway began as an extension of the Glendale (CA-2) Freeway at a massive interchange with the Hollywood (US-101) Freeway near Vermont Avenue. (The 101's wide median still anticipates that canceled interchange.) From there, the planned freeway sliced between Melrose Avenue and Clinton Street, before jogging slightly to the north and cutting between Waring and Willoughby avenues.
In West Hollywood, it turned to the southwest and followed the path of Santa Monica Boulevard, plunging below grade into a submerged trench. In Beverly Hills, the city considered capping the freeway with parking and surface street lanes. West of Beverly Hills, it emerged from its trench and passed by Century City before finally dead-ending south of Westwood at the San Diego (I-405) freeway.
We Americans are keepers of many things -- in this particular matter, I can't bring myself to use the word "own" -- toasters that sear the image of Jesus on our bread and ticket stubs from Abba concerts, not to mention kangaroos, lemurs, muntjac deer, potbellied pigs, lions, capuchin monkeys, cobras, pythons, and white tigers.
Exotic animals were in the news here in Ventura County last week, the Ventura County Planning Commission denying exotic animal trainer Irena Hauser's application to house up to five white tigers in Deer Creek Canyon, an unincorporated residential community in the Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu. The commission's decision was close -- 3 votes to 2 -- and it elicited applause from residents who had feared everything from incessant tiger roars to tigers padding through their living room. The decision ended (for now at least) more than a year of debate, some of it, not surprisingly, heated. The writer of a newspaper editorial was incensed, as writers of editorials often are.
"The applicants for a tiger training facility near Malibu, which I oppose vehemently, are not conservationists. They are business people who intend to use these poor creatures for their own profit," wrote Van Vibber.
Those on the rejected end -- Irena Hauser and her sister, who operate ISIS Preservation, a company which supplies white tigers and other exotic animals for Hollywood productions -- were not happy, pointing out, among other things, a blemish-free safety record at the sisters' exotic animal facility in Canyon Country in Los Angeles County (they had hoped to open the Deer Creek facility to give the tigers more room; the two white tigers they currently own will now remain at the Canyon Country facility). Hauser also pointed out that the dogs in the Deer Creek community make far more noise than tigers ever would. Here I side with Hauser. We have dogs on either side of our home. Sometimes I wish a tiger would eat them.
There's an old home movie that my family likes to watch, given to us by a former neighbor who was up on the latest technology in 1964. In this silent black-and-white movie it is Easter Sunday, and all the kids on the block are gathered in the neighbor's backyard for an egg and candy hunt. My three older siblings, all of them under the age of 10, are among them. The day is bright and everyone is running around happily, sometimes waving at the camera or darting past its field of vision as they search for holiday grail.
The camera pans over to the sliding glass door in front of the back porch where my mother is standing. She is dressed smartly, her hair done in a Jackie Kennedy-esque style. She is smiling. I am peering out from behind her, two years old and not smiling at all; in fact, I am glowering like I resent being there. My brow is furrowed and the shadows on my face cast by the bright sun intensify the bona fide frown. Even for a two-year-old not quite used to the world and occasions like this, I am a dramatic contrast to the gaiety around me. My mother tries to encourage me to look at the camera and lighten up, maybe join in the fun, though she doesn't try very hard. She seems used to it already.
My family always laughs aloud when they see this part of the movie. "Look at you!" they shout. "Not smiling, all put out, mouth all stuck out. You haven't changed at all."
Lakewood celebrated its 60th year of cityhood last Friday. And as the city has done at each of its milestone anniversaries since 2004, the city named new "Legends of Lakewood" to remember those who made the city possible.
Among those honored last week is a man you probably haven't heard of, but he affected the lives of millions of Los Angeles County residents. He died in 2000. His name is Joe Gonsalves.
The son of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores and a successful dairyman, Gonsalves was thrust into the politics of municipal incorporation in the late 1950s. Southeast Los Angeles County, which was still a semi-rural borderland between Long Beach and Los Angeles, was in rapid suburban transition.
When the city of Dairy Valley incorporated in 1956, it was to protect Gonsalves' dairymen neighbors and their 10,000 cows from suburban encroachment. Gonsalves, despite his reluctance to run, was among the new city's first council members and later mayor of Dairy Valley.
Workers demolishing a Sunkist packinghouse in Upland recently uncovered a sign hidden by a long-ago addition to the building. And that got me to thinking about American language in the landscape, where it goes, and what nearly unreadable signs mean.
Some painted signs (often those facing north, because they are less faded) offer products and services hardly imagined anymore: MILLINERY, FIREPROOF HOTEL, CLOTHES IN THE NEW YORK MANNER, SYRUP OF FIGS, TRUSSES, ARTIFICIAL LEGS, TAXIDERMIST SUPPLIES.
These signs -- some still asserting brand loyalty after a hundred years and some a palimpsest of competing sales pitches bleeding through the successive decades -- are more than a museum of past desires and least of all merely nostalgic.
Call it an early version of viral marketing. Promoters of two products -- a fruit and the region that grew it -- created hundreds of images of oranges, orange trees, and orange groves during the reign of Southern California's Orange Empire. They then leveraged the social network of the time -- the mail -- to broadcast those images far and wide. And, these promoters didn't pay a cent; tourists purchased the images as picture-postcards and then bought the stamps that carried them across the nation.
A new book by David Boulé, "The Orange and the Dream of California," collects many of those images into 176 richly illustrated pages, exploring the historical associations between the Golden State and the "golden apple."
Published by Angel City Press, the book draws from the extensive private collection the author has assembled over many years. Boulé has found some 600 distinct postcard images alone -- some of them serially reproduced and retouched, evolving with each printing. Also in his collection: electric juicers, packing crates, and even silverware that was part of a clever Sunkist marketing campaign. All these documents and artifacts help Boulé answer questions like: Why did oranges take root in California? What was the relationship with that other Los Angeles-area industry, the motion picture business? And how was orange juice invented?
In a phone interview, I asked Boulé -- a longtime L.A. as Subject member -- to elaborate on some of the themes he raises in his book. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.