Echo Park ~ Los Angeles

Echo Park: You could say it echoes Brooklyn’s Bushwick; it might even be compared to nearby Silver Lake (a less developed version of it , anyway). This neighbourhood, located 10 minutes from downtown LA, has that energetic feel so prominent of communities that attract a newly-moved-in younger demographic of artists, foodies, and entrepreneurs.

Take Brite Spot, for example. I’ll admit to having passed it a few time, only to dismiss it as just another old-school American diner. Hey, it’s painted bright blue, it’s on busy Sunset Boulevard, and claims to be Echo Park’s original diner since 1949. Ever since I tasted “the best margarita” in New York, I have avoided places making grand statements. However, my husband was convinced is was going to be a find based on many favourable Yelp reviews, so with a twist of the arm, my tummy gave in. We hopped in the car on one very warm Sunday in May and drove inland for brunch.

I have to say that when I entered the diner, I was quite taken with its cosy interior. Even more promising was that the place was buzzing with all sorts: yuppies huddled in a booth discussing last night’s drinking antics, grandparents feeding grandkids; a lone brunette in the corner reading the paper and eating eggs over easy. The space looks like a 1970s ski chalet crossed with grandma-chic — bronze vinyl booths and large windows that let in the gorgeous L.A. light line one side; perpendicular to it is a wall of mirrors, interspersed with retro-looking black-and-white light sconces. Wooden swivel pub chairs surround the central coffee bar, mood lit by an overhanging orbital chandelier. On the menu: on-trend items like egg-topped kale salad, vegan Garden Burger, as well as modern twists of the usual diner fare: 2 eggs any style with sausage and bacon (note: substitutes include egg whites, tofu, or veggie bacon). But it’s the dessert display case that was the apple of my husband’s eye — I immediately knew that our meal would end with a piece of the sinful-looking Chocolate Caramel Banana Creme Pie, piled high with lashings of freshly-whipped cream. I have to admit that our meal was good. Really good, and fairly priced.

Served by a tattooed, plaid-shirt-wearing waitress and surrounded by patrons of all ages — yuppies discussing last night’s drinking antics, grandparents feeding grandkids; a bookish young lady reading the paper over eggs in a corner — Brite Spot Diner feels like a microcosm of what’s happening in Echo Park today.

So, what is going on in this ‘hood? Here’s what Eric Brightwell wrote in the Los Angeles Times back in late 2011:

All you hipster-haters need to check yourself. Yes, hipsters are offensive to the eyes, ears and nose and yes, they provoke violent urges in me but remember, the Echo Park you grew up in wasn’t always that way either. Echo Park began as a wealthy, white, Victorian neighborhood. Places change for the better and for the worse. I remember El Prado when it was a dive (I liked it then) and like it as a posh wine bar too (certainly there are more women in there now).

I miss some of the old Echo Park but it’s still got the Film Center, Pizza Buona, Echo Park lake, the Baxter Stairs, the memory of Room 8 the Cat, Jensen’s Rec Center (with its cool sign).

My advice? Ignore the haters, the hipsters and (most importantly) the hype. It’s not the Williamsburg of LA, it’s Echo Park… oh, and lying WEST of the LA River, don’t be an idiot and call it the EASTside.*

Today, the facades that stretch along this part of Sunset Blvd look relatively unchanged; the burrito joints, liquor store, and tobacconist have probably been here since the 1960s. It’s easier to make out progress by the new condo developments that have been fitted in between many Craftsman-style homes, standing since the early 1900s. If you take a drive down the quieter Echo Park Ave, you’ll pass newly sprouted coffee shops selling $5 coffee pour overs to a WiFi-dependent clientele, as well as a yoga studio, a quirky boutique, hair salon, a bodega, and a real estate agent.

Based on some research I had done earlier, we scouted a beautiful home on Valentine Street. Designed by architect Raphael Sorriano and built in 1938, it is a salute to Modernism – sleek , simple, and lots of windows. Because the neighbourhood is so hilly, many homes have great views towards the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, downtown LA, the Valley and the 5 Freeway. Some downhill descents are so steep that with the gradual build up of momentum, and a subsequent “woosh,” you feel like you’re riding a rollercoaster.

Echo Park is certainly an area to watch and has the familiar feeling of a community on the verge… It’ll take some time to get there but I am happy about that as things seem to happen way too fast in this technology driven world.

The interior of Brite Spot Diner

The interior of Brite Spot Diner

Stumptown (artisan) coffee

Stumptown (artisan) coffee

A bit retro, a bit old school, a bit ski chalet

A bit retro, a bit old school, a bit ski chalet

Stumptown Americano

Stumptown Americano

Kale Salad: Chopped kale, fried egg, bread crumbs, toasted pine nuts, lemon garlic chili dressing $9.75

Kale Salad: Chopped kale, fried egg, bread crumbs, toasted pine nuts,
lemon garlic chili dressing $9.75

Chocolate Caramel Banana Creme Pie

Chocolate Caramel Banana Creme Pie

The Brite Spot vibe

The Brite Spot vibe

Catering to the DAFT PUNK demographic

Catering to the DAFT PUNK demographic

The view from Fargo Street

The view from Fargo Street – looking toward LA’s downtown

DSC_0312PS

Steep streets with view that look onto the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory (right)

Steep streets with view that look onto the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory (right)

If you like rollercoasters, you'll like driving in Echo Park

If you like rollercoasters, you’ll like driving in Echo Park

A sunlit wrought iron gate

A sunlit wrought iron gate

Looking onto the 5 Freeway - the Los Angeles River is in the background too

That’s my husband looking onto the 5 Freeway – the Los Angeles River is in the background too

Smelling fresh baby peaches

Smelling fresh baby peaches

Modernist architect Raphael Sorriano designed this home, built in 1938

Modernist architect Raphael Sorriano designed this home, built in 1938

Another view of the Raphael Sorriano home

Another view of the Raphael Sorriano home

DSC_0293PS

*http://projects.latimes.com/mapping-la/neighborhoods/neighborhood/echo-park/comments/

Prelude to the US Road Trip ~ The Move

Sometimes being prepared is not preparation enough.

Exhausted.

It just so happens that our long distance move took place today, the day before we’re to set off on a grand cross country road trip. We did actually schedule it this way, but a little bit of extra pre planning wouldn’t have gone astray. Read: packing a couple of days earlier so we could have anticipated that another pod was required in addition to the 2 we had ordered weeks ago.

Thinking we have less stuff than we actually do is calling for a reality check. Perhaps I just live under the illusion that I abide by the motto – less is more.

My husband, who celebrated his birthday taping boxes, hardly slept a wink last night, and proclaimed today, at 6am, that we’d need an extra pod to fit all of our possessions. He had calculated this by measuring various bits of furniture and visualizing how the boxes would need to be stacked, in a Tetris like order. He’d concluded that another 5 x 7 x 8 ft container was essential so as to leave no piece of furniture behind.

Oh, the early morning stress.

Choosing portable storage – versus a moving company, or self-driving a truck – was my idea. We’d experienced the delayed arrival, damaged furniture, and overcharges of a van line company years ago. We’d driven a truck across the country, filled to the brim with our possessions, and understand how tackling such a lengthy trip in a span of 3 days can leave you unbelievably tired… especially the driver, who has to maneuver his body in exaggerated ways at the wheel of a heavy truck, navigating it down steep hills hills, and around sharp corners.

I will never forget the vibration of what sounded like faulty breaks as we drove downhill from Mt Rushmore. My face was as stony as those of the Presidents carved into the rock face; my knuckles were white from their fearful clench.

Moving with pods was something I’d never considered until this time around. I wanted to experience the beauty of the southernmost cities in the US on this trip sans the extra baggage, and I wanted to test out a 3rd method of moving/relocation in hopes of smooth sailing.

Luckily, ordering a 3rd pod this morning wasn’t a problem but it did highlight the importance of planning ahead of time, keeping a well calculated track of inventory, and budgeting accordingly. Math and volume equations do come in handy, after all!

The best thing about this experience was noticing my husband destress immediately as we heard the truck pull away from out apartment building, 3 ‘full’ pods in tow.

Crisis averted – not a bad start to the moving process. But let this be a lesson to all: have your husband do the bulk of the packing early! Just not on his birthday.

A New York Love Story

Written in the Spring of 2012

Cherry Blossoms in Central Park

Looking down upon 79th Street Transverse from Central Park, the ubiquitous yellow cabs passing underway feel as natural as the cherry blossoms that surround me. Juxtaposed against an oasis of calm, Fifth Avenue bustles at the Park’s perimeter with a constant stream of boot-to-pavement. To my left, a scene just as frenetic is playing out in the Met Museum; stoic, its interior is overrun by tourists trying to navigate its expanse.

This is New York – a city of dichotomies. Home to millions of people, and a holiday destination for millions more, it is the most bustling metropolis in the United States. New York City is where I, an expat based in a city charged with an unstoppable energy, found my peace.

Park Avenue, New York

I had been caught in New York’s embrace from the onset. Whisked into its whirlwind, the city subsequently unraveled a series of monumental moments along the way. Meeting him was the most definitive – it sparked a new beginning.

I’d fallen in love with him with the same ease I’d fallen for New York. Just as I’d experienced the spark of the city whilst standing in Times Square as a twenty-something year old thinking, this feels so right; years later I felt a similar sentiment as we dined together at my favourite restaurant on Park Avenue.

Ever since that first date, we’ve been walking the same path.

Now, standing in Central Park, newly married, I realise that my love for New York has taken on a deeper meaning. This is a city that can so easily seduce, enthrall, and enchant. But it’s when you stay a while that you really feel the beat of its strong, passionate, and loving heart.

The Proposal ~ From New York to Los Angeles

Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness.  ~Ray Bradbury

Foothills of El Paso’s (TX) Franklin Mountains via spysgrandson (all rights reserved)

Thank you so much readers, for the suggestions of where to visit as part of a cross country road trip from NYC to LA. In my last post, many seasoned travelers highly recommended Utah as a place to see. As much as I’d love to stop here, I know spending 1-2 days wouldn’t do the state justice; it’s worthy of a lengthy trip in the near future.

So…

Moonrise over Washington DC via pentaxforums.com

I am in unison with Bradbury in the sentiment that there’s beauty in venturing, uninhibited, into the unknown. But just as his words read, that’s half the fun. The other half, in my opinion, is influenced by the trip’s framework; there’s comfort in setting (loose) parameters. Wandering about aimlessly under time restrictions – a little over a week across 3,500 miles – promises a whole other set of challenges.

THE (loose) PARAMETERS

Keeping in mind that visiting New Orleans is a must, I’ve drafted an itinerary that traces a southerly route of the US. The list includes cities that I have never been to before (the Washington DC and Sedona drive-thrus don’t count). If you can advise, I’d love your thoughts on what to see/do, and where to eat/play.

Cafe du Monde, New Orleans ~ via myneworleans.com

I’ve done some preliminary research but am also looking for the not-so-seen, and hungry for local knowledge. I want to know what lies under the skin of place; I want to take in the smells of fresh produce markets, bite into a deep fried beignet, feast my eyes on centuries old architecture and innovative design, be immersed in nature’s stillness. Most importantly, I want to see how people live.

While I’ll certainly be documenting the details, a head start never hurts.

PROPOSED ITINERARY: NEW YORK TO LOS ANGELES

Brooklyn, New York > Washington, DC > Charleston, South Carolina > Savannah, Georgia (brief stop) > Tallahassee, Florida > New Orleans, Louisiana > San Antonio, Texas > El Paso, Texas > Sedona, Arizona (2 days) > Los Angeles, California

*Thinking of adding in Raleigh, NC between DC and Charleston as a stop. Not only will it give us more time, but I am reading wonderful things about this city.

Sedona, Arizona via prx.org

ADVICE NEEDED ON MUST SEES

Readers:

What are your favourite DC monuments? Can you recommend a noteworthy restaurant or bar in this great city?

Any recommendations re: where to feast on good Creole cuisine while in New Orleans? What about jazz clubs?

What are the Charleston essentials – sights, shops, cafes, neighbourhoods?

Know of a part of Savannah where one can linger for a couple of hours?

What do you love about Sedona?

What’s hot in Raleigh? The City of Oaks has me intrigued.

What about El Paso and Tallahassee; have you been to these cities? I’ve read that Tallahassee has an abundance of seafood – know of an oyster shack?

Look forward to tips, thoughts, and suggestions on anything, or all, of the above.

~Thank you!

Avenue of Oaks in Charleston, South Carolina via davidallenphotography.com

Brooklyn, at Night ~ NY

Greenpoint is located minutes away from Williamsburg. By day, it is a bustling neighbourhood with a distinct Polish influence. You’ll see the young and old; generations live alongside families, newly moved in.

Bakeries, cafes, delicatessens, butcher shops, and apparel stores line its main street, which leads to a waterfront with direct views overlooking the Empire State, and the United Nations buildings.

By night, its streets are quiet, for the crowds have migrated into its many restaurants and bars to partake in some late night eating and drinking.

It’s an added bonus to listen to live music played by passionate musicians. Pictured in this series, the Cereal Hero Killers performing at Matchless. Think Nirvana, crossed with Motley Crue, with a bit of Guns n Roses. These tunes brought back memories of when I played music on tape.

PS This was a good time to practice on my 35mm in low light situations. While I wasn’t expecting amazing results on my first go, I think the lens proves how able it is in the dark!

Enjoy!

Once in a Blue Moon….

United Colours of Dumbo, Brooklyn ~ Capture the Colour

I’m a huge fan of colour. Even though my outfits are black dominant, I’m instinctively drawn to bright hues. A splash of pink on a yellow wall, a dumpster decorated in pink and green graffiti against a white painted wall, a pastel yellow-gold sunset against a light blue sky overhead – these are just some of the colours I noticed today. A Taste of Travel and WITH A HOPE nominated me to enter Capture the Colour PhotoBlogging Travel Competition: “…publish a blog post with a photo that captures the following 5 colours – Blue, Green, Yellow, White and Red. Tell us where the photo was taken… what you could see, smell, hear, feel and perhaps a witty caption about that photo or trip in general. When you’ve finished writing your post, be sure to nominate 5 other bloggers to take part in Capture the Colour by listing their website…” Instead of going through my archives, I decided to challenge myself. My 35 mm and I, with husband in tow, braved the thunderstorms yesterday. I took  5 photos to showcase the colours of one of my favourite places in Brooklyn – DUMBO. BLUE The looming thunder clouds on a humid summer’s day provided such a contrast to both the demin blue in this street art installation, and the dirty blue of the Manhattan Bridge. DUMBO stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. This neighbourhood is one of the priciest zip codes in Manhattan. RED You’ll notice an abundance of red when you’re looking for it. At least I did. From red fire hydrants, and red backed STOP signs, to bright red traffic lights, and scribbled red graffiti. DUMBO is a former hub of industry and many of its buildings are made of brick. By the Brooklyn Bridge stands the shell of a 25,000 square foot former tobacco warehouse. It was constructed in the 1870s as a tobacco customs inspection center, saved from demolition in 1998 and, repaired and stabilized by The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation in 2002. It’s red brick frames an enviable view. YELLOW Each colour should be an element of the photograph and not dominate the whole scene. I am looking for something beyond the clichés like a red sunset, blue sky or yellow flowers. For me originality will always take precedence over a pretty photograph.” Judge, PlanetD Unlike red, yellow was a harder colour to come by. Apart from spotting a yellow flower, this advertising campaign, covering scaffolding around a construction site, caught my eye. The yellow in this part of the image series stood out. Is taking a photo of a photo considered cliché? GREEN Noticing a Vespa in Brooklyn is becoming as frequent as spotting a yellow cab in Manhattan. Well, almost! This photo may as well have been taken in Rome; the Vespa looks vintage with a bit of comic appeal stuck to its face.

WHITE

“I love photos that tell a story.  I want something that could have only been taken by you, in that moment, in that way.  I love it when a photo captures a place so well that even if I’ve been there before, I think to myself, wow, I have to go there.” Judge, Christine Gilbert

Well Christine, if you haven’t been to DUMBO, I highly recommend it. There’s no better spot to view Manhattan from the East River.

The end date for this contest is August 29, and hoping there’s enough time for these bloggers to turn around their submissions, I nominate:

space1eleven.wordpress.com

 I’monnet Photo

Tricia A. Mitchell

scottseyephotos

Pearls & Prose

Spirited Street Art ~ Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Along a quiet stretch of N 10th Street in Williamsburg, between Roebling St and Union Ave, stands a bottle company.

Over a week ago, I noticed street artists painting different works along the factory’s side wall.

I’m always inspired by the dedication of streets artists given the impermanence of their medium. It was only a couple of days ago that I’d spotted the blemish of blue graffiti disrupting the red background on the work below. The next day, it was painted over and looked new again. (You might notice the damage to the left of the left wing)

Street artist, Gilf!, who painted the work above, coordinated a group of artists to paint these quirky works.

“I would like to affect major social and environmental change… Life is too short and the world too delicate to ignore the serious challenges we face as a global society,” she said earlier this year.*

Gilf! went to art school, focused on interior design, but turned to street art in 2008 as response to “being completely outraged by what was happening in the world.”

“I’m motived by all the apathetic, uninspired people. I want them to care. That’s why my work is on the street, approachable, and easy to understand.”

About the collection of works on N 10th street, she told Brooklyn Street Art recently: “It’s so rewarding to know that we’re positively influencing the community by doing what we love.”

Above: art by Veng (RWK).

Icy and Sot, from Iran, contributed the “Dream” work, above -an international dose of whimsy to an eclectic collection.

Above: art by Joe lurato

Below: art by Sophia Maldonado (enlarge the photo to see its details)

I mentioned in a previous post  that Howard Truman’s quote speaks to how I describe Williamsburg, personified:

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

This outdoor art exhibition, and the artists behind the works, is a grand example of that.

Above: art by Cake.

It’s my hope that this community spirit will be strong enough survive the neighborhood’s rapid ascent.

banner image includes art by LNY (left) and Joe Iuarto (right)

*It’s all Gilf | Rag & Bone Official Blog.