Ornamental Pear Tree

Callery PearCallery Pear FlowerCallery Pear Tree

I’m well aware of what a hardy winter means, after all, I did go to college in Maine.  But, I feel almost reasonable when I say that I was grumpy for those 3 recent weeks of “cold” because one of my favorite Southern Californian amenities is its warmth.

Everyone says, “Angelinos forget how to drive when it rains.”  Partly, yes, but we can’t ignore the facts that no one here has all-weather tires, our streets weren’t built to drain adequately, and oily deposits always surface because the rainfall is so infrequent.  Likewise, we’re equally susceptible to the cold because our buildings aren’t properly insulated, we don’t have closets stuffed with long underwear, and most importantly, the cold hurts the heart as though the skies have broken their promise.

All of this is to say, I love spring.  What more could you ask of a tree than for it to bring the promise of spring in the early month of February with its tiny white flowers?  For this reason, I feel quite fond of the Ornamental Pear Tree and I am willing to overlook the fact that it is highly invasive across the United States.

Struckus House

Struckus House, William GoffStruckus House, William GoffStruckus House, William Goff

After Northrup Grumann moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in 2010, it became increasingly reasonable to forget LA’s former leading role in the aerospace industry.  In 1987, just before the end of the Cold War, Los Angeles County was home to 10% of the national aerospace jobs.  Al Struckus was one such aerospace worker employed by the Canoga Park company, Rocketdyne, now defunct.

So, I suppose it’s no wonder Oklahoma architect, Bruce Goff, designed this bachelor pad to look like something in between a multi-eyed alien and a rocket ship.  Though it has 1,730 square feet of living space, it’s a 1 bed/1 bath.  Perhaps this house is not the most practical design, but it’s Goff’s only residential building on the West coast and the last building he ever designed.

For more information, check out this Dwell Magazine article: http://books.google.com/books?id=hMYDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA78&lpg=PA78&dq=al+struckus+death&source=bl&ots=iSfI3MMzJK&sig=Rv_tj_aI-_i8JrITrqVHjJnRl3A&hl=en&sa=X&ei=61iwUImwO8miigLKz4HwBQ&ved=0CFAQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=al%20struckus%20death&f=false

The Garden of Oz

The Garden of Oz The Garden of Oz The Garden of Oz The Garden of Oz

In 2nd grade, I played the lion in my elementary school’s version of The Wizard of Ozzzzzzzzzzz wherein we relayed information about insects via the timeless tale of Dorothy’s exceptional search for Kansas in a land of bees and termites.  We were in good company of word play based on the 1900 novel/1939 film.  The Garden of Oz is among said company in nomenclature, but it’s distinctly Los Angeles in experience.

Like Simon Rodia of Watts Towers, Hollywood Hills resident, Gail Cottman, has mosaicked her garden with glass and other found objects.  Like the mélange of heritage in Los Angeles, the Garden of Oz has multiple thrones paying homage to various figures from Duke Ellington to Hiroshima survivors.  And, like the Angelino sensibility of public life, the garden is closed off behind locked wrought-iron gates and is unassuming to the driver-by.

From the outside, one has access to “The Wall of Toys,” designed by Arthur Sellers  (one of 75 contributing artists), “A Throne of Your Own,” and a mail box where one can deposit letters to Oz.

Crestwood Hills

Crestwood HillsCrestwood HillsCrestwood HillsCrestwood HillsCrestwood HillsCrestwood HillsCrestwood HillsCrestwood HillsCrestwood HillsCrestwood HillsCrestwood HillsCrestwood Hills

This Brentwood canyon community started with cooperative aspirations.  An original vision wherein residents would share a bus to work was never realized.  This was not the only glitch in the cooperative design.  Only 160 of the 500 homes in the original plan were built.  60 homes were destroyed by wildfire in 1991.  Several homes have been lost to alterations.

Personally, if I lived in an A. Quincy Jones house, I would want to make sure it stayed the way he intended. It turns out I’m not alone in my sentiment.  Residents banded together and got 17 of the 33 remaining homes to be designated as historic-cultural monuments. Even if you’re not into modern architecture, the views from Crestwood Hills is still worth the trip.

For more info on the Mutual Housing Association, check here: http://crestwoodla.com/

Wilshire Boulevard Neon Corridor


Wilshire Boulevard Neon Corridor, Bryson ApartmentsWilshire Boulevard Neon Corridor, Westlake TheatreWilshire Boulevard Neon Corridor, Bryson ApartmentsWilshire Boulevard Neon Corridor, Gaylord Apartments

There are three census tracts overlaying Wilshire Blvd. between Hoover and Alvarado.  They take up .23 square miles, a fifth of which is MacArthur Park, and still 10,080 people live there.  It’s no wonder Westlake is second only to Koreatown with respect to population density.

But is density the lens through which we view Westlake?  Los Angeles is complicated and this area takes no exception.  For years, Angelino high school students flocked here for fake ID’s.  As white 16-year-old females, when we parked on Alvarado there would be at least four men at our window, thumb and pointer finger wrapping an imaginary square, “You want ID?”  Growing up here, this was my only point of reference for the area.  But, between crack deals, prostitution, and gang violence, fake IDs were the least of people’s associations with the area once known as the Champs-Elysees of Los Angeles.

The former general manager of the Department of Cultural Affairs, Adolfo Nodal, had a vision for MacArthur Park other than gang warfare and drug dealing.  Nodal looked at the area and imagined the bouquet of neon lights that once gave Wilshire Boulevard the nickname, “the neon corridor.”  Los Angeles was the first city in the United States to showcase the glowing bulbs in 1922 and a plethora of signs followed suit until WWII.  In “an attempt to bring magic back to the corridor,” the Department of Cultural Affairs facilitated a project called Living Urban Museum of Electric and Neon Signs (LUMENS). The $400,000 program restored 25 signs in 1996.

I’ve been stalking this area at night for the last few weeks.  Much to my disappointment, it seems as though LUMENS has run its course.  Either way, I can still romanticize the first night when the neighborhood known for its darkness turned neon.

Top of Topanga Overlook

Top of Topanga OverlookTop of Topanga OverlookTop of Topanga OverlookTop of Topanga Overlook

…More like top of the world overlook, or at least that’s how it feels on these crisp Santa Ana mornings.  There’s a dinky little park with some benches and native landscaping.  But let’s be serious, this place specializes in views and it’s doing a mighty fine job.


Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National ParkJoshua Tree National ParkJoshua Tree National ParkJoshua Tree National Park

When our beloved Entourage hero, Vincent Chase, has overdrawn his bank account and must decide whether to take an undesirable movie deal for $3 million, his agent suggests they go to a strip club to mull over the decision. Vince’s brother replies, “No No No, forget that, there’s only one place with real answers.”

What’s that one place? You guessed it, Joshua Tree.  To the ancient peoples of the land, of course Joshua Tree had practical answers.  They made use of over 121 plants for food, tools, and medicine, amongst other things.  To the rock climber, Joshua Tree provides answers with over 400 climbing formations, from basic bouldering to 5.12 climbs.  And, to the 18 million people who live hectic lives within a 3-hour drive of this protected desert, it’s where we go to set the record straight, to recalibrate when we’ve forgotten what’s important.

But when Minerva Hoyt, Joshua Tree’s equivalent to Yosemite’s John Muir, crusaded to make this land a National Monument in 1936, she didn’t have any of this in mind.  She was a plant lover, plain and simple. The desert plants were being removed and replanted in Los Angeles landscapes.  Minerva put her foot down.

We have come to refer to the park’s most notable plant as the Joshua Tree because some 19th-Centruy Mormon settlers thought the trees looked like Joshua with his arms stretched up in prayer.  Many would argue the plant is wildly misnamed- it is neither full of grace nor is it a tree.  Just as the plant is challenging to describe, the unearthly experience of a trip to this park is nearly impossible to illustrate.  You must explore it for yourself, just don’t take any of the plants home with you!

For more information about the park, check here: http://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm

Brewery Arts Complex Carousel Horse

Brewery Arts Complex Carousel HorseBrewery Arts Complex Carousel Horse

Though the Lincoln Heights Piggyback Rail Yard has a boundlessly romantic mixed-use vision for the development of the LA River, there’s still something about a rail yard that seems susceptible to the grotesque.  So on a mission to collect a package from the UPS Customer Center in Lincoln Heights that borders the Piggyback Rail Yard, it’s fair to say I had a fleeting feeling in my belly.  This feeling made my encounter with this giant, seemingly abandoned tangle of wire all the more distressing.

It turns out, the Brewery Arts Complex – the world’s largest artist-in-residence community – also shares borders with the Piggyback Rail yard.  Artists have colonized a former Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery since 1982. This carousel horse on a shipping container is a marker for the arts complex, and though I went 26 years without knowing this complex existed, the horse effectively communicates its message to the passerby.

The Brewery offers biannual art walks, so keep your eyes peeled for upcoming dates to get a peek inside this place.  Read more here: http://breweryartwalk.com/about

Canary Island Date Palm

Canary Island Date PalmCanary Island Date PalmCanary Island Date PalmCanary Island Date Palm

Sometimes we call this tree the Pineapple Tree because its unshaved trunk is a fabric of diamonds like the skin of a pineapple and its feathered fronds look like a pineapple’s crown.  But, while a pineapple is largely a summer fruit, these benevolent palms grace us with greenery year round.  And for the fronds that do, inevitably, brown and sag, we can trim them and build forts.

Gregory Ain Mar Vista Tract

Mar Vista Historic Preservation Overlay ZoneMar Vista Historic Preservation Overlay Zone

Mar Vista Historic Preservation Overlay Zone Mar Vista Historic Preservation Overlay Zone Mar Vista Historic Preservation Overlay Zone Mar Vista Historic Preservation Overlay Zone

“Roll down the window put down the top/ Crank up the Beach Boys baby/ Don’t let the music stop,” Randy Newman sings in his LA spoof turned anthem.  Regardless of whether we accept this song, it confirms our reputation linking Los Angeles and convertibles.

Well, 35 years before Randy Newman released Trouble In Paradise, Gregory Ain was also linking the California Dream and convertibles.  The dream- modern, post-war, sunshine-filled indoor/outdoor living. The convertible- the living room wall that can open so the room expands into the yard and the bedroom walls that can open to make one giant master bedroom.

The 1948 Advanced Development Company ads marketed these homes as “Modernique.” According to the Office of Historic Resources, the word is a combination of modern and unique.  The tract became an HPOZ because its residents came together and fought for its designation in 2003.  So, yes, that is quite unique.  The ranch-style neighborhood in which I grew up has been shamelessly mansionized.  But, these 1,060 square foot homes arranged in 8 different ways with respect to their placement to the street and to the garage… Residents are moved to protect them.  There’s just something about them.

To learn more that something something, check here: http://marvistatract.org/history.html

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