Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
On Saturday, we left the beach life and headed into Los Angeles, a very big city (496 square miles!).
Our first order of business was food for us and Carla. Culver City seemed like a good location, midway to downtown. The charging station was on the second floor of a parking garage and very busy. We lucked out when a Model S left just as we got there, but more Teslas arrived after us, more than the eight charge stations could handle. This may be the way of the future, as electric cars become more common. For ourselves, we found appropriate breakfast goodies downstairs at Bianca Bakery.
On a whim, we stayed in Culver City to visit the Wende Cold War Museum. I don't expect this is on most tourists' must-see lists, but with current attention to post-Soviet Eastern Europe; maybe it should be. The main hall was festooned with flags from the Soviet era, under the title of "The Medium is the Message: Flags and Banners". Most of the older banners celebrated the accomplishments of the empire, but there were also a few protest banners from the late 1980s. Protesters won I suppose.
Martin Roemers, a Dutch photographer, showed selections from his collection of Soviet-era "relics". His accompanying video explained his decade-long search for scenes that represented both the ruin and the original human side of the locations. Interesting history and fine photos.
The Wende is more research resources than displays, with extensive collections of Soviet books, journals, and memorabilia. Too bad our Russian never got good enough to read the language. The book on the right is a local government "year book" from 1971-9174 in Sevastopol. Past glory. Future turmoil.
From Culver City, Marianne drove us into the heart of Los Angeles. Our approach for entering large cities for the first time is for her to drive and for me to navigate. She is more calm, nervous but calm. I am a decent navigator, but not always calm enough. We had a few minutes of stress.
Our destination was the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a gleaming Frank Gehry structure right in the middle of the city. Parking beneath the structure was a bargain $9 and a self-guided audio architectural tour was free. This is a great way to spend a couple of hours! We started inside, seeing lobby space and an ancillary performance space. The main concert hall was off limits for the tour.
Off Level 3 is "The Blue Ribbon Garden", with a small childrens' amphitheater and gardens, complete with trees. Over the edge is the LA cityscape.
Near the top of the outside walk is a section of the wall where the inner ironwork is visible, as is the complex joining structure of the "simple" stainless steel outer skin. Our guide noted that there are virtually no duplicate pieces of skin. The process of designing, forming, and erecting such a building is just amazing.
Back down on street level, seeing the whole structure becomes more meaningful. I can see why one should return at night, in rain, at sunset, and at a time of any other light! Across Olive Street is a new high rise, offering downtown living space, with the Broad Art Museum showing off across 2nd street.
From touring it was lunch, in a restaurant that emptied just as we entered. Must have been something we said.
Then we made it over to the Hotel Normandie in Koreatown. The remodeled hotel would be home for the next four nights.
Using the last bit of our energy, we explored the neighborhood, discovering a thriving restaurant scene, with dozens and dozens of Korean and other Asian shops, some small and several quite large. We will need to eat locally, for a few times at least!
Sunday started unplanned, like usual. I left Marianne sleeping, quietly stepped out the door, and checked the view. Interesting somehow. Four blocks away, I opened up the laptop in Starbucks. Three hours later I had finished Saturday's diary, enjoyed my one coffee (grande, blond, splash of cream), eaten a simple breakfast, and left with a simpler one for Marianne, along with her decaf triple cappuccino. All comforting routine.
By now, we had a plan: visit the Grand Central Market and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). These would involve a subway return to downtown. The two blocks to our nearby station was big-city gritty, but the underground station was clean, enough. Our four-stop ride to Pershing Station was in an almost-empty rail car, good for these days. On our return, the station was more crowded, we saw a quick assault, and the car had more riders. Overall, we were not impressed with the LA subway experience. The cars were old tech. Announcements were unintelligible and stop markings hard to read. I think Europe spoiled us.
The Grand Central Market was less market and more food court. When built in 1917 it was the city's largest food market, but today it is 90% small restaurants, interesting enough, but not what we thought we would see.
Across the street, we rode the Angels Flight funicular. Built in 1901, the cable car is billed as the country's shortest railroad. Fun enough and we emerged surrounded by skyscrapers. Los Angeles really does have a downtown.
On top, we walked among the towers, looked for MOCA, and proceeded to get lost. My fault, but once I am certain of something, facts don't matter. Sheesh.
In our wanderings, we passed a movie/video shoot, reminding us this is a special town. I was impressed with just how many people it takes to shoot a scene. It's no wonder movies are an expensive business.
MOCA itself was interesting, enough. The display space is not overwhelmingly large, even if many of the pieces are. Walk-through art is not our favorite, better than classical, but I was glad it was a relatively quick tour.
Whew. From MOCA, we walked the few blocks to the subway, descended into the dimly-lit station, got on our train car, and made it home to Hotel Normandie. Our tourist day was tiring and not completely satisfying. Oh well, not everyday is Disneyland.
For dinner, we headed out into our Koreatown neighborhood. There were dozens of Asian places in our area, some big and some small. Randomly, we settled on Kong Ji, a small place with a half-dozen tables. The food was a mix of Thai, Korean, and generic Asian, but quite tasty. The people were friendly, even the other guests waved and said goodbye when we left. A recommendation.
The day ended with feet up, watching TV. We both watched a CNN special on the man held in Moscow for two or three years on feeble charges. No one should go to Russia. Then I watched my favorite sports team, The Warriors, win another playoff game, a positive end to a hit or miss day.
Monday was, once again, unplanned. Several of the museum and gallery attractions on our hit list are closed on Monday (or Monday and Tuesday.) We discussed options over morning coffee and decided an Uber out to a car collection might be a decent experience. It was.
First, the Uber. We tried the ride-hailing service a couple of years ago (pre-Covid) and had mixed results, but today the out and back rides were both in clean, comfortable cars with pleasant drivers. Letting someone else manage LA traffic on Wilshire Boulevard was a big-city luxury and worth it.
Our target was the Petersen Automotive Museum, famous among car fans for having the best examples of whatever genre one is interested in. Once inside, it was clear that the three floors displayed far more cars than anyone could digest in one viewing. Every car/truck/motorcycle/other deserved a picture or three. I needed a theme to focus my focus.
Later this week, we are visiting the engineering facilities of a San Diego startup company that is developing the "Aptera", a two-seat, three-wheeled, hyper-efficient electric car with several unique features. What might the Petersen collection have that provides the background for such a vehicle?
The oldest automobile, the 1886 Benz, was also three-wheeled. The earliest Model Ts, were two-seat, including this white "Petit Special", created for Southern California in 1914, even before the 1918 Model T "Complete", the ubiquitous model that made Ford a success.
This 1935 Hoffman was an effort at efficient streamlining, as was the 1955 Fuji. Neither made it big time. The Dale (in yellow) was an interesting development story. It was designed by a startup company that raised millions on the promise of efficient transportation, just as the oil crisis hit in the mid 1970s. Lots of hype. Lots of investors. No cars produced. A cautionary tale.
Aptera has adopted in-wheel motors, but this 1915 Smith Motor Wheel shows nothing new with that. The partial window on the Delorean is being repeated on the Aptera, not a universally-liked feature, but at least not without precedent.
Electric cars, generally, have a long and interesting story.
This Baker Electrics were made from 1906 until the early 1930s and, initially, were the most popular automobile. Even Mrs. Henry Ford drove one. Eventually, range advantages of gasoline cars made them far more popular, especially once electric starters became practical.
In 1962, Henney electrified this Renault Dauphin but the project never went past demonstration. (I learned to drive on my mother's red Renault like this - with an original little gas engine!) In the mid-1990s, General Motors marketed the EV1, the first mass market electric since the Baker, but ended up recalling them all for the scrap bin.
Of course, it was Elon Musk that opened up the new all-electric car world with
Tesla's Roadster and Model S luxury cars.
Faraday Futures' 2016 FFZERO1 showed how outrageous electric cars might be and, at about the same time, Malibu-based Sondors proposed their three-wheel speedster. So far, neither have made it to market, despite hype and investment. More cautionary tales.
Of course, we saw and did more than just electric Aptera prototypes and precedents. There were zillions of dream cars, dreams from every decade and movie, especially Bond movies. We even got a chance to drive race cars, simulated drives. It was all great fun, but tiring!
Just across Wilshire Boulevard from the Petersen is the recently-opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Did we have the energy for another museum? Sure, why not? In our household, we have a movie fan and a non-fan, but it seemed reasonable to both of us.
The Academy Museum is an even larger and more challenging tourist destination than the Petersen. It spreads over a half-dozen levels and covers all eras and aspects of the cinema business. The main sections are three "Stories of Cinema" and each could warrant an hour or more, not to mention all the other specific and special rooms. On top is the Dolby Family Terrace, offering quiet and views of Hollywood and LA.
Marianne's favorite room featured Academy Award acceptance speeches playing one after another, each one emotional. She said she could have stayed there to hear them all. Next time. For me, the non-fan of movies, everything was interesting, but completely overwhelming. I think one needs to be a cinema fan, especially one with a specific interest (old movies, drama, documentary, animation, special effects, etc.), to really appreciate the museum. You?
There were photo opportunities galore, but my clicking finger was getting tired, so here are only a few.
Exhausted, with two massive museums under our belts, we stopped at the nearest restaurant: Fanny's on the first floor of the Academy Museum. Again, we looked for stars and celebrities, but saw none. Maybe another time.
Refreshed, we opted for a third attraction: the La Brea Tar Pits. Neither of us had ever had the time for this quintessential LA tourist attraction, and now we found ourselves just down the street and a hour or two left in the afternoon.
It was a quick visit, but fun. The museum has tons of bones, retrieved from the tar over the last 100 years. And in the surrounding park, tar still oozes to the surface. Worth the time.
From our third stop, it was Uber back to the Hotel Normandie and rest. "Toes up time" in a phrase Bonny taught us. Dinner was a treat from the Paris Bakery, a shop specializing in French and Asian treats. All in all, a very good day.
Tuesday was more museums, ethnic history this time, not art. We walked to the Metro subway at about 9:30, half expecting a little rush hour crowding, but LA apparently saves that for streets and roads. I did notice that the underground was not being used by the wealthy, or even the middle class. Some day, perhaps.
We rode to Union Station where we walked from one side to the other, passing through a hall that runs under the tracks. It was a reminder of the our old days in European train stations, again without the crowds. The Art Deco West Station holds promise, if America can just get back to the efficiency of train travel. Some day.
Olvera Street was a short walk away from the station. It is the place to go for kitschy trinkets and fast food, mostly Mexican style and made. Lots of color. Avila Adobe, the oldest home in LA (1818) is also on the one-block street. In front of the adobe is a well erected in 1937 to honor "Women of Achievement". I'm not sure what took 240 years to provide the honor.
The Olvera Street area has a few small museums, but the only one open on Tuesday was IAMLA,the Italian American Museum Of Los Angeles. We were warmly greeted by Rick, the volunteer docent, who gave us a rundown on the Italian community that originally settled in the area. Displays included lace by Maria, a polio quadriplegic who crochets intricate pieces with just one finger and a needle held in her mouth. Sometimes we need to be reminded that others have a harder road than ours.
Inside the IAMLA, the displays present pictures of Italian immigrant life 100+ years ago. Most are celebrations of the success of hard immigrant lives. There were a few reminders of tough times as well, from lynching to WW II disenfranchisement. Not America's finest hours.
Across Main Street from Olvera is Our Lady Queen of Angels church, whose services are all in Spanish. This area is the heart of Los Angeles and, I suppose, languages have shifted over the decades, now returning to the Spanish of the original settlers.
In the church yard was a piece of the Berlin wall, donated as a letter from the citizens of Berlin to the president-who-shan't-be-named, explaining the futility of erecting walls.
From Olvera Plaza, we headed south to Little Tokyo, past federal and city offices and the grit of a big city center. It was hard to see beauty in these blocks, but I like this shady photo.
The Japanese Village was an Asian version of Olvera Street, but more prosperous and crowded. Our only task here was lunch-dinner and Maruya's filled the bill. Their bento box lunch specials were generous and the sidewalk tables provided great people-watching space.
Across 1st Street was the Japanese American National Museum (JANU) another interesting find. Interesting, but not terribly positive.
The first display was an interaction with Lawson Iichiro Sakai, born in Los Angeles, but interred as a child in 1942. Part of that American shame. Mr. Sakai, or actually his artificial-intelligence-powered display, would answer spoken questions, personalizing him a little and making him a spirit. Interesting.
Several JANM displays explained the settlement of Japanese in Hawaii and the Mainland in the early 1900s, largely in response to the need for cheap labor. Ironically, this became more important as the US issued laws limiting Chinese immigration. Like with most newcomers, the welcome was not always warm. (James D. Phelan, a former mayor of San Francisco, successfully ran for US Senate in 1915, with the promise to "Keep America White".)
The bulk of the museum dealt with the World War II internment of Japanese and Japanese-Americans. Over 10,000 men, women, and children were taken from their homes and dispersed to remote concentration camps, mostly in the interior West. People were even taken by the American government from Peru and South America in response to the perceived, but non-existent, risk of collaboration with Japan. Leaders from the Japanese-American community were isolated in special Department of Justice facilities. The thoroughness and organization of the process would have fit within Germany's 1930s and 1940s paranoia.
There was an extensive explanation of Japanese-American participation in World War II. Sometimes, while their families were interred in concentration camps, young Japanese-American men volunteered for wartime duty. Some were assigned to units in the Far East, serving as translators and prisoner interrogators. Others were sent to Italy as the 332nd Brigade, a segregated unit with white officers and Japanese-American soldiers. It was one of the most decorated units in the war.
In addition to scores of regular, poignant photos, two more interactive displays made creative use of artificial intelligence (AI). In the first, we were given large, boxy, "cameras" that, when pointed at the train car background, showed internees being packed off. Another AI art piece displayed the scene from May 7th, 1942, when Japanese-Americans were lined up along this same sidewalk to start their trip to the camps. Creative, but sobering.
Overall, the day was satisfying tourism, educational and memorable. Reminders are important of how "others" have been treated in America, from Italian immigrants topeople those walls were meant to exclude.
Diary-writing for Wednesday events fell back a day, but I tried to catch up on Friday. There is a balance between time for writing about doing and time for doing so I have something to write. It's all good.
On Wednesday, our last day in Los Angeles, we needed one more art museum to check off - The Broad. (pronounced with a long "o" and silent "a" as if "brode"). The large white building is just next to Gehry's Disney building, so it was easy for us to find.
Inside, we ascended the long escalator to the third level, where most of the art is displayed in very large spaces. I can't possibly review all we saw, but here are an assortment of names; Bradford, Anatsai, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Johns, Koons, Basquiat, Therren, Kelly, Conds. Many pictures. I could not decide which famous artist to cut out, so I think I included some of everyone. They are all more than good.
All the above are from male artists and we were struck with the reality that women artists remain underrepresented in the Broad and elsewhere. Susan Rothenberg's Blue Body (left) and Jenny Saiville's Stare (right, with detail) were exceptions, but equality remains elusive.
Saturated with giant artwork, we floated down in the elevator and escaped to the streets.
Our next goal, The Bradburry Building, was a few blocks away, but the weather was perfect and the skyscrapers of the financial district provided a nice backdrop. Murals bigger than works in The Broad and small graffiti nearby provide an aged counterpoint. It's all good.
The tourist guide claims the turn-of-the-century Bradburry Building is the most photographed building in downtown LA. Maybe. It has also been featured in a number of films, including Blade Runner. It is still an active office space, so tourism was limited to the atrium lobby. Good enough.
Across Broadway is the Million Dollar Theater, a 1920s Art Deco skyscraper (for the 20s) built for its namesake cost. This historic space is waiting for new upstairs tenants. Anyone interested?
From "DLA", local speak for Downtown LA, we Uber'd back to Koreatown. We discussed the merits of trying the local favorite: Korean Barbecue. The biggest of these restaurants had been crowded on other days, but mid-afternoon Wednesday was not busy, so we settled in.
We were served 16 dishes, including five different barbecued-at-the-table meats. It was ... interesting. We left full, but resolved to not repeat the experience anytime soon. It was all good, but too much, and the meats were a bit too unidentifiable.
Completely full, we waddled home and packed in preparation for Thursday departure.
"Big LA" overall? It was all good and all VERY BIG CITY. I hope we get a break before our next city stay.
John and Marianne