It's no secret that Los Angeles is a massive sprawl with gridlocked streets and congested freeways. Nonetheless, Southern California with all of its attractions and stellar weather will always be one of the most scenic locations in not only America, but the entire world. This week L.A. Letters spotlights a new book and its two authors who take great pride in showing readers how to deeply explore the city -- without ever stepping into a car.
"Loving L.A. The Low Carbon Way" is a new book co-authored by Grace Moremen and Jacqueline Chase, featuring twenty-four adventures across the City of Angels and beyond. Moremen and Chase are both senior citizens, but only in age. Their book shares a youthful and effusive enthusiasm akin to Huell Howser. Each of the journeys begin at Union Station, and are accessible via public transportation and a short walk from each stop. The twenty-four day trips not only include a greatest hits of local locations, like Union Station, the Disney Concert Hall, City Hall, Griffith Observatory, the Central Library, LACMA, La Brea Tar Pits, the San Gabriel Mission and the Watts Towers, but also lesser known but equally worthy sites, like the decadent churches of West Adams and the underappreciated murals in Boyle Heights and at Cal State L.A.
Each segment is about five to eight pages of text that includes the specific bus or Metro line that will get you there, a few photos, and all the details you need to know in order to enjoy the journey. The title of one of the book's subsections gives further insight into their intentions: "Demystifying the Geography of Los Angeles."
The book in many ways is a cliff-notes of notable Los Angeles places, but what makes it a valuable contribution to the dozens of similar books out there is its meticulous organization. There are some historical details in each chapter, but just enough to whet your appetite and encourage you to get out into the city and see it for yourself. They also include practical tips about services like the Metro-Info Phone Line and its team of live operators, who can tell callers how they can get to any destination in the Los Angeles area.
The defining spirit of their book, according to the authors, is to "offer a spirit of welcome, and an invitation to discover and enjoy the city's landmarks and hidden treasures. And second, to bring a spirit of accessibility by providing information that enables the visitor to travel in an eco-friendly manner without using a car." Jacqueline Chase adds that "This book was written precisely for the intimidated visitor to Los Angeles, and anyone else who doesn't want to drive into the city. It is a guidebook with useful information, maps, telephone numbers, and websites."
I recently communicated with them through a series of emails, and they offered great insight into the rationale that inspired their work.
The book has been several years in the making. The two close friends initially found their inspiration from both the Downtown L.A. walking tours offered by the L.A. Conservancy, and also after reading Bob Herman's celebrated book, "Downtown Los Angeles, A Walking Guide." In the book's Acknowledgements section they also give thanks to the Los Angele Department of Cultural Affairs, and extra special praise goes out to Metrolink, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority, and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. Similar to people like Deborah Murphy and her group, Los Angeles Walks, Moremen and Chase are all about maximizing the infrastructure of the system and doing it in an ecofriendly way.
As they began exploring Downtown L.A. and Broadway in particular, they were deeply impressed by the architecture of spaces like the Million Dollar Theater and the Los Angeles Theater. "We were startled and amazed by their incredibly ornate interiors," Jacqueline Chase told me. One thing led to another, and they started taking the train and bus to every corner of the city. The success of some of their early missions inspired them to explore the city further. For over 18 months, they took dozens of missions and the book slowly began to write itself.
The book aims to debunk many of the standard L.A. myths, like our supposed lack of public transportation and the vast distances, which make the city difficult to traverse. "We were favorably impressed by the cleanliness, efficiency, and timeliness (for the most part) of the different modes of public transportation," Chase told me. Furthermore, she added, "Our surprises included the accessibility and relative low cost (or no cost) of many of the venues." Their many good experiences on the train and bus encouraged them to venture further.
Along the way, they also found the city to be friendlier than expected. Time and time again they had warm encounters with strangers that enhanced their journey, like one afternoon at Cal State L.A. "While we were looking at a map at Cal State," Chase told me, "a woman came over and asked if she could help. She not only answered our question, she told us how to find a fabulous mural inside the gymnasium that otherwise we would not have known about." As Chase writes in an early segment of the book, "The urban myth that people in big cities are unfriendly was definitely debunked for us. On each of our adventures we have found the people of L.A. to be helpful and friendly."
Grace Moremen was born in Los Angeles, and Jacqueline Chase is originally from New York City. As much as their book is an ode to 21st Century Los Angeles, they are not blind boosters by any means. "I cannot say that I love all the history of L.A.," writes Moremen in the book, "too many decisions along the way have resulted in tragedy and injustice. But I honor its tiny beginnings ... Today I applaud its rebirth as a modern city while it makes its beauty and resources more accessible to people in various ways -- better public transportation, 're-greening' the L.A. River, and reinvesting in some of the older neighborhoods." Their book spotlights this rebirth and offers a great starting point for anyone who wants to see some of Southern California's best-known sites.
The co-authors' love for the city is palpable on every page. Grace told me that she especially enjoyed the L.A. River, Griffith Park, Sunset Boulevard to the sea, and the murals in Boyle Heights; and Jacqueline's favorites were Highland Park, Union Station, the Bradbury Building, and Biddy Mason Park and the timeline of her life. In addition they told me, "We both enjoyed the Biltmore Hotel and Central Library, especially the Children's Literature Department, where the reference desk is a child's height. We also loved the charming and historic Carousel on the Santa Monica Pier, and wading in the chilly Pacific."
In a future edition they are considering adding the Norton Simon in Pasadena, the Getty Center in Brentwood, and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City. Their plans for adding these sites will be determined after they take a few practice runs on the light rail and bus routes. They are excited by the expansion of rail across the city, and also looking forward to a few of the new museums that are set to open in the following year. "We look forward to adding information about the Expo Line when it reaches Santa Monica," Chase told me, "and the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue and the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard when they open."
More than anything, their book is an invitation for others to do their own exploring. As Moremen writes, "L.A. is where I was born and grew up. But I feel that it is everybody's city, and that no matter where we have come from, or where we live now, we can all belong to this City of the Angels." The book is indeed aptly titled, because these two are both definitely guilty of "Loving L.A. the Low Carbon Way." Salute to Grace Moremen and Jacqueline Chase for creating this book and doing their part to excavate the complex topography in the geography of L.A. Letters.