Thursday, March 30, 2006

Star Sighting of the Week

Sho Kosugi

There was a tall, dark man ahead of me in line at the coffee house this morning. He paid with a credit for his muffin and cup a joe. The counter-jumper was just finishing up the transaction when he glanced at the name on the card. He nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Kosugi!" he exclaimed, eyes blazing. "Kosugi!" he repeated. Then he started bowing and scraping and spitting out Japanese phrases -- domo origato! domo!

Turns out Mr.Kosugi is big in Japan and in martial arts films. His latest, Return of the Ninja, is due out this year.

Little known fact: The Ninja of Japan, famed assissins, never actually succeeded in assisinating a single target, according to the magazine, Mental_Floss.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Backroads Back Home

In which M2 takes a California road least traveled

Coming home from a wild warehouse party in the badlands of San Francisco on Sunday morning (more on that later, when I get the pictures), I stopped at Harris Ranch to buy some fresh Harris Ranch beef to bring to some friends at in the south. I bought some pre-cooked BBQ ribs, a Bobby Darren CD and a map – I had forgotten to bring one on the way up.

Looking at the map I noticed a thin red line running southward that vaguely paralleled the I-5, but to the west, called Highway 33. There was little on the map to indicate any points of interest, but I was curious and decided to take a chance. It turned out to be a chance well taken.

I took State Highway 198 East to toward Coalinga, a little town noted only for a famous kidnapping of an entire school bus full of children in the 1970s, when I was a boy. Where 198 met 33, I noticed a historical marker. I pulled over to investigate and was pleased – no, thrilled – to see that it marked the place where Joaquin Murietta, the notorious bandit of early California and the precursor of Zorro, was finally killed and beheaded. Actually the marker, California State Marker # 344 doesn’t mark the exact spot of the killing, but points rather to it – about 15 miles up a dirt road that winds around Black Mountain peak. Since I was not equipped for this route, I opted to continue south. Now that I know it’s there, I’ll one day visit the place where Murietta lost his head and his accomplice, three-fingered Jack, lost the rest of his handas well as his life.

I passed through the little towns of Coalinga and Avenal and on sped through the cattle country of the Kettleman Plain, with the rolling Kettleman hills to the east and the Reef Ridge to the west. It being the wet season in California everything was green and in bloom. The bright green of the grass was broken by the bright yellow of the mustard blossoms as well as by the purple of… well, I don’t know what the little flowers are called, nor does it matter much, but they were gorgeous in the morning light.

Eventually I came to a crossroads populated only by a little mon-and-pop gas station and corner market. Its sign read: “THE WORLD’S LARGEST PARKING LOT.” If any claim of grandiosity deserves scrutiny, well, that’s pretty much it. I went in and bought some soda and asked the man behind the counter: “So is this really the world’s largest parking lot?”

He said: “General Patton used to do maneuvers around here. His tanks were parked behind us. They stretched from here to the hills. One giant parking lot of tanks. That’s what Pattoned called it – ‘the world’s largest partking lot’.”

Looking out over that fertile grassland I tried to imagine it but could not. Moving further southward, however, I could see better the general’s plan. As I sped south, the countryside changed dramatically. Fresno County giving way to Kings County and Kings County to Kern. Grassland gave way to dry, desert alkali soil and tumbleweeds – Patton’s war planners must have thought it a good stand-in for parts of North Africa, where Patton finally took on and defeated Rommel. It must have been a magnificent sight t to see. But the fantasy was short lived.

Soon the landscape became crowded with nodding oil wells – the Belridge Oil Fields of the Antelope Plain. Speeding over a rise I came into the Midway Valley, where I noticed several banks of steam rising dotting the bleak landscape. Usually, for me, this is a sign of unreconstructed hot springs – ones I can bathe in and, with a little work with a shovel, can tune to my liking. I stopped near one steaming vent to reconnoiter.

It wasn’t a hot spring, however, but a set of bubbling, oozing, tar pits, rank with the smell of sulphur. Interesting to see, but not something you want to bathe in.

Aside: The people who want to develop the oil feilds in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) say that they can do so with minimal impact on the natural environment. I hope they can, because it's clear that the Antelope Plain has been permanently scared by oil extraction.

I pressed on, passing through the oil town of Maricopa and down into the green farmlands of the Cuyuma Valley that looks up to the snow-dusted, 6000-foot peaks of the on the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest, where I was bound. Driving into the mountains the landscape became dramatic and views back down into the spectacular. The road wound up to the Pine Mountain (about 5000 feet) and down the other side into the breathtaking Sespe and Wheeler Gorges.

The picture-perfect little wine-growing town of Ojai is literally nestled between the Santa Ynez and Sulphur mountain ranges. I stopped for a bit to stretch my legs and get a bite to eat.

Tip: If you live in the L.A. area, don’t bother with Santa Barbara’s wine country; go to Ojai instead. It’s closer, less crowded, less formal and feels like the Napa Valley in the funky 1970s.

At last I made my way home through Moorpark, Thousand Oaks and back into the Valley along 101.

What I loved about this journey was that within four hours I was able to experience a wide variety of landscape and history, simply by taking my time as well and a less-travelled road.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mulling over Mulholland

In which M2 finds that while not every day is a winding road, Sunday was

It’s been a brisk, shiny sort of winter here in the Southland. The skies have been crystalline when there hasn’t been a chill rain falling. A light dusting of snow is often seen shining atop the peaks of the San Gabriels.

After reading a piece in the L.A. Weekly about good bike rides around town, I decided to try my wheels on Mullholland Drive last Sunday morning. Mulholland – named for William Mulholland, the primary architect of the L.A. water system and the bain of the Owens River Valley – stretches some 55 miles from the Hollywood Freeway along the backbone of the Santa Monica Mountains to the Pacific. A round trip would be 110 miles. Having a massage appointment at noon I wasn’t going to be able to do the whole thing (that is, I had a perfect excuse), so I determined to ride from my apartment on Vineland up the hill to Mulholland and down to the San Diego Freeway or thereabouts. I lit out in the sunny but chill morning about 7:30 a.m.

I am out of shape. A number of times on my way up Wrightwood to Mulholland – admittedly a pretty steep grade – I had to stop to catch my breath. But once at the top the road winds and rolls gently up and down. The morning light and clear blue sky made the views down into the Valley and the Basin all the more dramatic. I could easily see all the way down to the Port and Catalina beyond. I stopped for a few minutes at each of the overlooks, taking in the placards that tell tourists about the environment of the Santa Monicas and the wildlife that inhabits it – foxes, bobcats, deer and birds of all kinds. I did see a little family of quail, one of my favorite birds.

I rode on over the San Diego Freeway and eventually found a path back down into the Valley on a street named Havenhurst that dopped me into Encino. From there, I rode back along Ventura, window shopping along the way. The total distance: about 25 to 30 miles. One of these days I’ll do it all.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Multi-culti Mick's Day

In which worlds collide amusingly on St. Patrick’s Day in Studio City

For St. Patrick’s Day I went to Maeve’s Re$iduals down the street on Ventura. For those not familiar with this neighborhood hole-in-the-wall, Maeve’s is a hangout for the Valley’s Hollywood hard workers – the key grips and best boys and boom operators and those hard working career actors who fill in the blanks between the big name stars and the starlets. Legend has it that if you bring in a residual check – that is, one of those little $1.98 checks that writers and actors and musicians sometimes get when their three-year-old work suddenly appears in some third-string cigarette or car ad in Thailand – you get a free drink. The legend, however, is not substantiated on Maeve’s website. I love Maeve’s Re$iduals, and Maeve herself is true Irish heart.

Upon entering the bar I found not the madding crowd one would find at, say, Timmy Nolan’s on Riverside or Tim Bergin’s in the mid-Wilshire, but a happy, mixed and relaxed little crowd of Irish and Irish-at-heart revelers. The new bartender, Brian, flinging liquor and suds at the devil’s pace, wore a leather kilt and sporran. He quickly talked me into going home and donning my own kilt, sporran and bonnet.

I went home quickly, changed, and hightailed it back to get another drink, just in time for the piper to start up. He played Danny Boy and few other well-wrought tunes. Then, a smallish fellow who had been sitting on the sofa, listening, went up and whispered in the piper’s ear. The piper nodded and the fellow went and opened a huge case and from it produced an enormous African drum, called, I found out later, a djembe. As the piper played the drummer drummed. A lot of Celtic music is rhythmically based, but I would never have expected the great pipes – which after all is classified by the British government as a weapon of war and not a musical instrument – and an African drum to work so well together. In fact, the two complimented one another brilliantly. (And no, I’m quite sure it was not the Bushmills a-talkin’, thank’ee.)

Turns out that the drummer – Ricardo Sarabia, a veteran actor, musician and Valleyite – didn’t know the piper, but just happened to have his drum with him at the time. After his duet with the piper, Sarabia serenaded the crowd with a solo performance of one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard, “My Czechoslovakian Boyfriend,” by Darlene Treen, who Sarabia knew many years ago from a theater class. Banging the hell out of his African drum atop a coffee table, Sarabia belted out the words:

He's My Czechoslovakian boyfriend
He's My Czechoslovakian guy
He's My Czechoslovakian boyfriend
He ain't no Russian spy
And he dresses like a straight boy
And he talks like a creep
Everybody thinks he's suspect
But I just think he's neat

He doesn't know much English
And he doesn't often speak
We spend our nights in conversation
Half in Czech and half in Heat
Half in Czech and half in Greek
Half in Czech and half in Heat

He's My Czechoslovakian boyfriend
He's My Czechoslovakian guy
He's My Czechoslovakian boyfriend
He ain't no Russian spy
And he dresses like a straight boy
And he talks like a creep
Everybody thinks he's suspect
But I just think he's neat

I met him on the subway
You know he was so all alone
He looked so damned incredible
I had to take him, take him home
I had to take him, take him home
I had to take him, take him, take him home

He's My Czechoslovakian boyfriend
He's My Czechoslovakian guy
He's My Czechoslovakian boyfriend
He ain't no Russian spy

And he dresses like a straight boy
And he talks like a creep
Everybody thinks he's suspect
But I just think he's neat
And I just think he's sweet
And I just think he's peachy-keen
He makes my heart skip a beat

And he's not going back to Czechoslovak
No he's not going back to Czechoslovak
No he's not going back to Czechoslovak-ia-ia

He's My Czechoslovakian boyfriend -
Eeee-ya, Eeee-ya

Admittedly, it loses a little without the drum and Sarabia’s vibrant personality, but still I think you may get the picture. Sarabia proceeded to assure the audience that he was, in fact, straight. The lady he was with was certainly lovely.

Sarabia plays around L.A. and in the 818 and will appear in episode six of The Loop in April. You can also see him in this ad for Full Tilt Poker and in playing his drum in the Cypress Park Cinco de Mayo Parade. Look for him. He’s worth it. And spend some money at Maeve’s. She’s worth it, too.

Da Godfaddah a Judea?

Pacino to star in Oscar Wilde's Salome. No, really

Al Pacino -- da Godfaddah and Scarface hisself -- will star as Herod in a reading-style production of Oscar Wilde's Salome at the Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles from April 14th to May 14th.

I'm sure it's fabulous and all -- it ran on Broadway after all (but then so did Cats) -- but the jibes in my head just keep coming and I can't make them stop.

Comprisons to Nick Nolte as Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson in Paris spring to mind unbidden. Will Salome dance the Dance of the Seven Veils to the Godfather Theme? Instead of beheading John the Baptist, will Herod have him whacked like Freddo with a cap to the the back of the testa? When Harrod pulls out all the stops to have JtB whacked will he exclaim, "Say hello to my leettle friend?!"

Read on >>

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Hey lady!

You got a felony running out of your nose!

So this afternoon after my massage at Spoiled on Tujunga, I went out furniture shopping. Needing to gas-up the scoot, I pulled into the local Union 76 station, where a green Range Rover was parked rather... askew. I went in to plunk down my $2.50 for next week's gas and found there a slightly agitated woman attempting to communicate with the little man behind the counter. I couldn't quite make out what she was saying because she was talking so fast. I don’t think he understood either. She was typical L.A., though; thin, tan, wearing those ghastly winter moccasin boots and a pair of olive green cargo pants of some kind.

But I discovered her most striking feature when she turned to go out the door. Her right nostril was veritably coated in a crust of white powder that stood out brightly against her tanned upper lip. She went out and, as I paid for my gas, I exchanged “the look” with the counter jumper, who tsk-tsked, shaking his head.

When I left the counter the woman was sitting in the badly parked Range Rover, sort of busily hunting for something. I’m not sure why I did this, but I felt a sort of pity. I went up and tapped on her car’s side window. She didn’t hear. Her nostril was still encrusted. I tapped again and she turned and looked at me through the glass as if I had just caught her in the act of having illicit sex with Ghandi in a jetliner lavatory. It was that sort of, “Can I help you?” look. I gave her the universal “roll-down-the-window” finger-roll.

She brought the window down and said, “Yeah?”

“You ought to be more careful, sweetheart,” I said, “you know you got a felony running out of your nose?” I tapped my nose.

She said something incomprehensible and I went about the business of pumping of my slightly less than one gallon of gas. But I turned back to look and, sure enough, she had her face up to the rearview mirror, sweeping the powder away with her hand.

And what thanks did I get, I ask you, for this act of sort-of-Good Samaritanism? Zilch. Nada. Zip. Not even a "Gee, thanks!" Serves me right.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

No just playin' possum

But an actual possum

Saw one of these cute li'l marsupials today crossing the green belt along Chandler BLVD on my way to the office this morning. He slinked across the bike path and underneath a parked car, where he gazed at me for a while before slinking away again.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Adventurous locals made good

In which M2 reviews a pretty good book: The Enchanted Quest of Dana and Ginger Lamb, by Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz & Jerome Klinkowitz, University Press of Mississippi, $28.00

I am, for the most part, an armchair adventurer. Ever since friend, CaliBubbles, gave me a copy of Byron Farwell’s epic biography of the famed 19th century traveler, Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton , KCMG (Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George), many years ago, I have been a huge fan of exploration and adventure literature. I’ve planned half a dozen trips either following in Burtons footsteps or blazing paths I thought anew. None have ever come to fruition, though I have been on many smaller adventures since.

Last night I was meandering about Studio City when I happened to pass by Bookstar on Ventura. I had vague idea that I wanted a new read, but I didn’t quite know what. I ventured in and headed back to the history and biography section, as I usually do. Browsing there, my eyes lit upon a slim volume with a distinctively “pulp fiction” jacket. The Enchanted Quest of Dana and Ginger Lamb, read the title. The cover art depicted a muscular, almost Frank Frezetta-style, couple hacking their way, half-dressed through a jungle with machetes. Well, I love that kind of kitsch, so I picked it up out of curiosity, leafed through it for a moment and took it to the check-out counter.

Turns out that Dana and Ginger Lamb were Orange County natives. Married in the early 1930s – he in his mid thirties, she eleven years younger – they lit out for an adventurous honeymoon. They built a boat; a sort of half canoe, half sailboat rig, from scratch, and sailed and paddled it to Panama. It took three years. Along the way, they searched for buried treasure, lived on a desert isle, dallied with pirates and were accused more than once of being gringo spies. Eventually, they took their tiny boat through the Panama Canal itself – the smallest craft to date – and returned to the U.S. via steamer. High adventure indeed.

Being media savvy, the Lambs kept the hometown papers in Santa Ana and Orange County – and eventually the L.A. and New York papers – apprised of their adventures. By the time they returned they had become celebrities. Their book, Enchanted Vagabonds, written with a lot of help from a literary friend, became a best seller. Capitalizing on their succes, the pair went on the lecture, documentary and slideshow circuit, making a name for themselves, coast-to-coast, as family adventurers, teaching basic survival skills to the Ward and June Cleavers of America.

They went on to have more adventures: spying (for real this time) in Mexico on German suspects during World War II, searching for a lost city in the jungle between Mexico and Guatemala, hunting through Baja for a hidden mission. They never found anything they were ostensibly looking for. But that wasn’t the point. They were looking for themselves, and for a way of life – and a living – that was theirs alone. That they found in abundance.

It’s a great story and a pretty darn good book. If I have a complaint it’s that the authors, Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz and Jerome Klinkowitz tend to repeat themselves; by the time you've read the preface and introduction, you feel like you've already got the whole story. Also, not that much is known about this intriguing couple from a personal perspective and it shows in the writing. The Klinkowitzes rely heavily on old newspaper clippings; we don’t feel we really know the subjects in any intimate way. But perhaps that’s to be expected in writing about the Lambs, a public couple who gauged themselves by their reflections in the media’s eye.

But these are minor irritants. The Enchanted Quest touched me in an unexpected way. I am currently coming through a broken marriage. When I first met my then future wife, and I saw the fire in her eyes, I had thought we might have the kind of adventurous union that Dana and Ginger lived. But something always seemed to get in the way. And when things got "uncomfortable" for her – whether it was simple road-tripping, or surfing, or bicycling, or flying, or kayaking, or camping, or, at last, our marriage itself – she would just plain quit. After a while that kind of thing rubs off and before long I found myself wanting to quit, too; to stay at home where it was safe and warm and easy and dull. Home is an easy place to turn inward on yourself. It is a thing that I am still in the process of overcoming. Dana and Ginger's example will, I hope, take me out of myself and help me find my way back into the wide world where I belong.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Coffee clutch

In which a lament is raised at the state of Southland coffee house culture

So what's up with L.A.'s few locally-owned coffee houses?

They're never open in the early morning, when coffee is more a necessary food group than a elective beverage. My new local, Global Cafe on Ventura ("Where the World Connects") doesn't even hang out its shingle until late afternoon or evening. At night it's usually taken over by some private party of other. If I want to go and sit down and enjoy a cup a joe in the earlies in a cafe atmosphere, I've got to hit Megabucks. It sucks.

Even in my old 'hood in mid-town, the two locals, Stir Crazy on Melrose and Insomnia on Beverly, never opened until 10 or 11 AM, for crying out loud.

Hey, L.A., what gives? Got a locally-owned coffee house suggestion? Leave it here.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

HegeLiAn dialectic

In which M2 engages in dialogue with a most worthy disputant

Blogspot member, JST, writes to castigate me for my idea of letting hoity-toity developer, Rick Caruso, redevelop central Broadway in downtown L.A. (See Give my regards to Broadway -- then give it to Caruso).

Writes JST in his first note:

Surely something should be done to enliven and clean up Broadway. But installing another soulless shopping mall is exactly the kind of solution that makes this city a laughing stock. Think outside the box, for chrissake.

I replied saying that I rather thought my idea new and quite "outside the box" and would JST please enlighten us with a few ideas of his own? He complied, and in abundance.

He begins:

Back to your idea: Is it new? Yes. Is it outside the box? No.

Handing over the task of developing a blighted area to a well-funded developer with a proven track record of erecting bloated hotels/malls/entertainment meccas is the common default plan for LA city officials who are desperate to see an area attract more white folks with money, but don't seem interested in maintaining or creating any of the character/originality/eccentricity that makes great cities great -- and can still attract white folks with money. (For the record, I am white folks with at least a little money)

Maybe so. But I'm not a city official and that's not my intention. Rather, I want to save and preserve Broadway and the downtown area for everyone, bringing back some of the vibrancy and elegance of its past. That’s why in my original post I wrote that Caruso (or whatever developer) would operate under the stricture that:

the overall architectural integrity of the building exteriors be maintained. Provisions would also be made for the preservation of the grand movie palaces – those actually worth preserving, that is. Caruso’s builders would then gut the bulk of the office buildings and old hotels and develop new, state-of-the-art apartments, condos, offices and hotels, with some dwellings set aside for low-income residents. The ground floors would be renovated and new retail business, restaurants, nightclubs and so forth installed.

I should add here that I think it wise that the city also insist that the developer reserve numerous retail and dining spaces at lower rents for locally-owned businesses. I also think the city should insist the developer take care to preserve those building lobbies worth preserving. I suppose they could appoint some commission or other to oversee that.

JST continues:

Look at the new LA Live planned next to Staples Center, or the plans for Grand Avenue: High-profile developers installing generic chain stores, overpriced multiplexes and bad restaurants. We have enough of those in LA.

I was not aware of this project but will certainly look into it now that I am. But it should be remembered that in my orignal post I gave three examples of highly successful urban renewal projects I've seen in San Francisco.

Downtown is an opportunity to give the city something different. The most obvious starting point on Broadway is that series of magnificent old theaters you mentioned. Steve Needleman spent millions restoring the Orpheum, and has gradually been bringing some great shows there (I saw hundreds of indie rock kids flood the place to see Bright Eyes). He also built four dozen lofts above the theater, which are full. But unfortunately, the rest of the theater owners aren't doing their share. Michael Delijani tried to bring an allegedly groundbreaking European theater production to one of his Broadway theaters (I think it was the Los Angeles theater), but the show sucked and the tickets were like $150. It bombed.

I think what I described in the orignal post is different. It's not a shopping mall: It's a classic street given a new life with a mix of retail, dining, offices, hotels and residences. Theaters like the Orpheum would of course be maintained as a vital part of the neighborhood.

...if these theater owners were solid, community-minded, creative, entrepreneurial individuals, Broadway would be a different place. Not perfect, but well on the way to what it could be.
So, what to do? Political pressure exerts a tremendous amount of influence and power over what gets done, how it gets done, and how quickly. If the mayor, or even the city council, made it clear to these theater owners that it was in their best interest to get to work, you'd see changes. The city can also offer incentives and team up with the owners to organize events. But I think nature will run its course. The more people keep moving downtown, the more interest there will be in areas like Broadway and properties like its historic theaters. And some younger or more adventurous developers with some unique ideas and some - god forbid - taste, will start buying them up and making them lively again. The key is that the city ultimately has the final say on new developments - not only on paper, but in reality city officials can choose to get in developer's faces and demand they do x, y or z. So it's ultimately up to the city to "guide" what happens. They can greenlight a Caruso, or they can seek out more people like Needleman who can bring the Silverlake crowd to downtown (just an example of one of many non-Grove sects, which is what downtown needs, if you ask me or almost anyone who doesn't live in the suburbs -- no offense, but do we really want downtown to become another suburb?).

There are some good, if rather general, ideas here, and I say: "Get up off it, sir, and act on them."

But the endnote: if you ask me or almost anyone who doesn't live in the suburbs -- no offense, but do we really want downtown to become another suburb? does rub me wrong. Here's the deal: JST seems to assume that because I choose to live in the Valley (where I have been living all of two months now), that I’m some kind of suburbanite living in a tract home with a pool that’s too big for my backyard and a minivan in my driveway – the sort of person who just doesn’t get the gritty-city aesthetic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For the record, I live in a little garden studio in an old building my friends refer to as “funky” on Vineland near Ventura (you can see exactly where if you explore the post below). Hardly a tract-home paradise and far more bohemian than my old address in the mid-Wilshire. Prior to coming south I lived most of my adult life in San Francisco – the Tenderloin, SOMA, the Mission, Lower Haight, Hayes Valley – and lived a life so bohemian I think most Angelenos, regardless what side of the hill they live on, would be staggered if they knew the all of the details (if they believed them). I’ve also lived in truly gritty Helsinki, Finland, and in pastoral Stratford-upon-Avon. Business and travel have taken me to London, Paris, Budapest, Copenhagen, Valladolid (Mexico), New York, Philly, Atlanta and Seattle. I think I know and appreciate the urban aesthetic -- or, rather many urban aesthetics. To me, most of L.A. (both sides) looks pretty much like a big suburb.

But I digress… JST goes on:

I say give it time. Look at what happened in, say, New York's meatpacking district. That used to be a shithole, and now no one can afford to live there and there's great restaurants and clubs. They didn't install a mall to make that happen. They let nature (or, rather, urban growth+capitalism+the city opting not to build an amusement park) run its course.

Agreed in part, but L.A. simply isn't New York; our downtown doesn't share the density of Manhattan. This is changing gradually, as the city opts to let big box developers build the kind of gawdawful, big boxy "lofts" that have uglied-up vast swaths of San Francisco's South of Market district.

I think that if the city fails to act quickly to preserve – and reinvent – Broadway and its architectural integrity, that the net effect will be an ugly hodge-podge of lofts, moribund theatres, crack dens and all that, and not the elegant boulevard that it ought to be. And I think Caruso has shown he has the skill and employs the talent to pull it off – if, as I stressed before, he’s given the right guidelines and incentives.

JST concludes:

But meanwhile, we can all let the city officials know that we're watching - and we don't want to see them take the easy way out.

That's certainly common ground.

Thanks, JST, for reading and taking the time to respond - and to care.

Lankershim legacy

In which a fellow blogster gives us some good tidbits about the Lankershim ranch

LA City Nerd responds to my January post, Hey! I can see my new house from here... Says the City Nerd:

Congrats on your new digs. To add to your post and to connect to the Daily News feature on Forest Lawn, I wanted to let you know that Mr. J.B. Lankershim is buried not in a cemetary, but at Mulholland and Lankershim. So, just a few blocks up (south) the hill, you can find the original owner of the Homestead you see at the back of the property, according to your landlord. Look for a marker on the south side of Mulholland. Also, his original library, a seperate building, is no now located at the Anbdres Pico Adobe in Mission Hills (which is actually an L.A. City Rec & Parks facility).

For the record, I don't know for sure if the house at the back of the property really is one of the Lankershim houses, but that's the rumor. As an experienced journalist, I suppose I ought to bother to find out, but I figure some conscientious reader will flame me about it sooner or later to straighten me out.

Anyway, thanks for the tip, LA City Nerd. I'll check it out this weekend and get a picture, if I can figure out how to download from my digital camera.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ten things to love about the Valley

10. Ventura BLVD (most of it, at least)

9. Better customer service, compared to almost any other business south of the Hollywood Hills or the Santa Monicas

8. Valleyites are shameless flirts who flirt with you and not your money

7. Hole-in the wall hobby shops

6. More relaxed pace -- so what's the rush? Sit a while; sit

5. Purple mountains majesty, every time you look up

4. Easier traffic -- fewer pricks who think they're Mario Andretti

3. Waiters who sing opera

2. The vibrant celebration of the history of flight

1. Great old-style Italain, like Vitello's, Little Toni's and Villa Serrento on Magnolia

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Give my regards to Broadway -- then give it to Caruso

In which M2 makes a modest proposal to the city

To say that downtown Los Angeles is, to steal a line from Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) in the original Star Wars, “a wretched hive of scum and villainy,” would be one of the understatements of the new century.

Broadway is particularly nasty. The magnificent old buildings, built between the 1910s and the 50s – offices, apartments, coffee shops and theatres – stand largely empty, except for their ground floors. Seedy clothing shops, cheap luggage outlets, five-and-dimes, naughty bookstores, check-cashing offices and all manner of other less-than-wholesome businesses are the major occupants. Just going to see a movie or enjoy a tour at one of Broadway’s classic movie palaces can be an adventure in bum-dodging seediness.

Fact is, downtown L.A. is an awful mess, one that every do-gooder organization in town – as well as the city government itself – has failed to ameliorate. From L.A. cultural critic, Mike Davis, to the French intellectual, Bernard Henri-Levi, many have complained that Los Angeles is a city without a center. Others say Los Angeles doesn’t need one – it’s a city of neighborhoods with a hundred little centers each with its own character (between the strip mall-laden boulevards, that is). Whatever side of the argument you fall on, I think you’ll agree that it’s a damned shame to watch Broadway and downtown fall into terminal decay. But what to do about it?

Give it to Caruso – Rick Caruso, that is.

Caruso, of course, is the developer of upscale, outdoor shopping experiences – “lifetyle malls,” he calls them – such as The Grove at Farmer’s Market in the mid-Wilshire and the Promenade at Westlake. Caruso’s designers’ deft touch with classic architectural detail, judicious employment of theming, and joyful use of water make his properties more than just malls; they become neighborhood showpieces and central meeting places. I know this for a fact. I lived in Park La Brea for some years, across 3rd Street from The Grove. It was almost always a delight to go there, sit on the terrace at Ristorante La Piazza and just watch people and enjoy the sunshine, the fountain and the trolley. I think, given the right incentive, Caruso could transform Broadway from a den of sleaze into the gem of the city.

The L.A. city government should condemn the buildings on both sides of the main part of Broadway, kick most of the existing businesses out and hand them over to Caruso for development for a nominal fee – with the stricture that the overall architectural integrity of the building exteriors be maintained. Provisions would also be made for the preservation of the grand movie palaces – those actually worth preserving, that is. Caruso’s builders would then gut the bulk of the office buildings and old hotels and develop new, state-of- the-art apartments, condos, offices and hotels, with some dwellings set aside for low-income residents. The ground floors would be renovated and new retail business, restaurants, nightclubs and so forth installed. The street itself might be pedestrianized, its sidewalks expanded to accommodate outdoor cafes, and include fountains, garden landscaping and perhaps a trolley.

I know what you’re thinking. Every NIMBY, neighborhood activist, weekly paper editorial writer, preservation fanatic and public policy junkie would jump on such a deal, screaming about the social injustice of it all, suing hither and thither to keep downtown down. It's a give-away! they'll shout. Accusations of cronyism will fly like starlings to a cornfield.

Let them scream. When the dust clears, 8 or 10 years down the road, and Broadway is a gleaming jewel that everyone can enjoy, that is the center of a vibrant and economically viable neighborhood that draws people from throughout the city and even tourists from abroad, the screams will be all but forgotten.

Similar things happened in San Francisco when I lived there. The city and developers struggled for years to get a new baseball park built downtown, to develop the moribund Embarcadero and create a new museum complex in what was then the S.F. version of skid row. How they howled. But today San Francisco is home to the most beautiful ball park in America, the Embarcadero is a ribbon of silver light that arcs along the waterfront, decorated in whimsical sculpture and anchored by a renovated Ferry Building that serves as the city’s farmer’s market, and the Yerba Buena and MOMA museum complex is a patch of cultured green amid the steel and glass towers of downtown. No one is screaming now, and the city is a better place for all.

I think Los Angeles can do this downtown, and I think Caruso’s just the man to do it.

When he's done with that, then we'll see what he can do with Alcatraz, a historic eyesore if there ever was one.