With No Pro Football, L.A. City Hall Needs a Winning Play Downtown

Not In Play
| Photo coutesy of MS Images

Downtown Los Angeles was used to being kicked around. But like the wimpy kid who grows up to be an All American, downtown has beefed up as place to live and work and become a destination for the kind of entertainment that downtowns are there to provide. City Hall -- for reasons both admirable and self-serving -- has sought to cash in.

What downtown Los Angeles doesn't have, say the consultants that City Hall pays to say the obvious, is enough hotel rooms to justify building a bigger and better convention center ... or was it build a bigger convention center to justify more hotel rooms?

This conundrum had an answer in the scheme of the Anschutz Entertainment Group to bring pro football to the neighborhood of L.A. Live, AEG's sports and nightlife complex. AEG offered to modernize and operate the underperforming convention center (via some peculiar fiscal magic) as well as build the Farmers Field stadium.

Remembrance and Ritual: The Manzanar Pilgrimage Experience

Buddhist and Christian ministers say prayers and chants during the interfaith service at the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.
| Photo: Elson Trinidad

They came from miles around. From San Diego, from the San Gabriel Valley, from Sacramento, even Seattle. They came here like they have every last weekend of April, to convene in this special, even sacred, spot in the desert.

They were for the 45th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, to pay homage to the 10,000 Japanese Americans who were uprooted from their everyday lives in Southern California and elsewhere, to live here in the seemingly remote expanse of the Owens Valley, against their will, from 1942 to 1945.

The pilgrims were surviving former internees themselves, who were here as babies, children, teens and young adults, and are now senior citizens. They were family members of former internees, they were fellow Japanese Americans, they were college students, human rights activists, history buffs, Eastern Sierra locals, and even punk icon Henry Rollins.

Bike to Work Week, Ventura County Style

This week, Ventura County celebrated Bike to Work Week. Astute readers will note that Bike to Work Week has passed, ably serving to illustrate two important points. The first is most important: Bike to Work Week is akin to approaching laughter or love. The chance to bike to work (or anywhere else) should be recognized, and if possible undertaken, every day of the year.

Nonetheless, the Ventura County Transportation Commission and Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, the organizations behind the week, should be applauded for bringing the bicycle to our attention. In the weeks leading up, both organizations provided interesting tips and tidbits of information about bike commuting. It may surprise you to know that an estimated 70 percent of vehicle trips are less than two miles. It may not surprise you that, "Bikes are an environmentally friendly means of transportation, cutting emissions from tail pipes, evaporation, gasoline pumping and oil refining, in addition to producing zero carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases. Plus, they don't contribute to noise pollution."

I'm guessing someone at the Air Pollution Control District is paid by the word, or perhaps also distributes their media releases on Mars.

San Pedro's Ports O'Call: The Theme Ends, Then What?

The Ports O'Call retail and restaurant complex is at the foot of the bluff that overlooks the harbor in San Pedro. When commercial fishing declined in the 1950s and the sardine and tuna canneries closed, the Port of Los Angeles in 1963 tried to re-imagine what 30-acres of disused wharves might become. This being Los Angeles, they became a theme park for shoppers.

The theme was a New England fishing village, since what could be less authentic to San Pedro (with its Slavs, Croats, Scandinavians, and Latinos) than a simulation of Cape Cod. The wood-shingled buildings of Ports O'Call were set among meandering cobblestone walks occasionally shaded by tropical bougainvilleas. The walks meandered to a Polynesian-theme restaurant, since Tikis and drinks with parasols are just as authentic as all the rest.

Ports O'Call today isn't much of a tourist attraction. The art galleries and nautical antique stores are gone. Some of the buildings have stood empty for years, their mullioned windows papered over. When the developer of a waterfront hotel in nearby city of Redondo Beach wanted to remind city officials of the ugly alternative to his project, he warned them that "otherwise you're gonna have a Ports O' Call here."

Echo Park's Lake Began as a Drinking Water Reservoir

Echo Park, circa 1895. Photo by W. H. Fletcher, courtesy of the W.H. Fletcher Collection, California State Library.

You shouldn't sip from it today, but in 1870, the recently completed Echo Park Lake was the centerpiece of a promising new drinking water system. Known then simply as Reservoir No. 4, the lake -- now part of the city's flood control system -- sat in what was then the city's undeveloped west side, and property owners hoped it would spur real estate development there by providing the hilly area's first ready supply of domestic water.

Reservoir No. 4 sat at the bottom of Arroyo de Los Reyes, a ravine carpeted in chaparral and usually dry except during rainstorms. To create the artificial lake, the Los Angeles Canal and Reservoir Company built a 20-foot earthen dam across the arroyo, dug a long, serpentine canal between the Los Angeles River and the reservoir site, and then flooded the ravine with the diverted water. Once filled, the reservoir became the largest body of water within the Los Angeles city limits.

Mansionization Returns: The Too Big House and the Image of L.A.

The inflated homes of the currently well to do are back -- a new wave of the hulking McMansions that led Beverly Hills in 2004 to regulate teardowns and their replacement by oversize confections named "Persian Palaces."

Other cities followed with similar anti-mansionization ordinances (including even my tract house suburb of Lakewood) to limit how many square feet of house can be built on the typical 5,000-square-foot lot. But generous "lot coverage" rules and other loopholes -- particularly within Los Angeles city limits -- have been waiting for the lifting of the recession. Big houses in neighborhoods of not so big have begun to hit the market in Hollywood, the Valley, and West L.A.

According to Curbed LA:

It's the same story - cash-rich developers buying up every available property and replacing them with the largest boxes they can possibly build under current codes. Most residents aren't complaining too loudly about the style of these houses, at least not with the same undertones of prejudice there were in Beverly Hills a few years ago. These larger houses often don't even stray from popular standards of contemporary design. It's the scale and mass that has everyone so upset. Some are unhappy because they feel the new houses are ruining the character of their neighborhoods, others because they're losing their privacy. But they all have one thing in common--they are very angry.

Why Watching the Tour of California is Exhilarating

Amgen Tour of California riders race through the town of Piru in Ventura County. | Photo: Courtesy Doug Penisinger

Once, in a posh hotel lobby in Boulder, Colorado, I had the good fortune to visit with three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. LeMond, retired from competitive cycling, was serving as ambassador for the sport, and, in this particular hotel lobby, doing a fine job of it. Hair touched with gray, he politely answered questions. He posed (again and again) for pictures, beaming broadly. He signed autographs, graciously and genuinely inquiring about the autograph seekers interests and lives. Folding his hands on his knees, he listened in a thoughtful manner.

Eventually the crowd left, and it was just LeMond and me. I had been introduced by a good friend of LeMond's, and so was afforded even more gentlemanly treatment. We talked about family and life. Greg smiled pleasantly. And then I asked him what it took to reach the top of his chosen sport.

The smile wandered off his face, leaving no expression at all. His body coiled slightly. It was probably my imagination, but I had the distinct impression he was going to leap for my throat.

"Eat or be eaten," he said. "There are easier ways to make a living."

St. James Park: When a Private Playground Became a Public Park

Circa 1910 picture postcard of St. James Park in West Adams. Courtesy of the South Bay History Collection, CSUDH Archives.

It's one of the city's oldest parks, and you've probably never heard of it. Founded as a stately outdoor retreat for the city's wealthiest residents, tiny St. James Park in Los Angeles' West Adams district has never drawn much notice. And yet this postage stamp of a park joined the roster of city parks the same years as the better known and much beloved Echo Park.

An acre of sprawling lawns and fan palms just off West Adams Boulevard, St. James Park was born in 1887 as the centerpiece of an exclusive housing subdivision of the same name. The tract's developers, J. Downey Harvey and George W. King, borrowed the name from the aristocratic playground in the heart of London -- a sign of their aspirations for the place. And despite a real estate bust, by the early 1890s the tract had indeed attracted some of the city's wealthiest residents. Elegant Victorian houses fronted the landscaped park on all four sides. Residents paraded down the park's drives on their horse-drawn rigs and set up a tennis court on its lawn.

Can the Problems at Deltopia Actually Be Solved?

Deltopia in Isla Vista, Santa Barbara County. | Photo: Courtesy Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Dept.

Recently there was trouble at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was supposed to be a party, but when you gather thousands of people in one place things can go awry.

Specifically, at an unsanctioned (by the University) party called Deltopia held on April 5 in Isla Vista -- a roughly half-square mile adjacent to, but not affiliated with, the University - pieces of ugliness escalated into a riot. According to news accounts, between 15,000 and 25,000 people crowded the beachfront streets of Isla Vista. The party started during the day and ran into the night. Sometime around 9:30 p.m. a university police officer tried to break up a fight. He was hit in the back of the head with a backpack filled with liquor bottles. From this idiocy, additional idiocy ensued. People in the crowd threw rocks, bricks and bottles, rocked cars and smashed windows. Police brought in armored vehicles and employed tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets.

At this point, this doesn't sound like much of a party to me.

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