Random snaps is steamy Santa Monica. Temps: 80F+.
Dreaming of Mexico…
A blue-tinged coastline…
A super sunset!
“… the Museum at the Getty Center, opened in 1997, continues to solidify the Getty’s position as one of the nation’s leading art museums, welcoming well over one million visitors each year with a wide range of experiences, from innovative exhibitions to inspiring programs for families and students, as well as brilliantly installed displays of our permanent collection.”
~ Getty Museum
Up in the Santa Monica Mountains stands the Getty Center — more a beacon of white than an imposing structure. I see it near-daily from the end of our street, and for months it has been beckoning us to visit. Finally we made the time.
The most beautiful thing about this museum is its juxtaposing architectural details — sleek stark-white surfaces soothe even if they’re a little rough around the edges; the design is at once futuristic, modernist, and timeless; the verdant palatial grounds echo Versailles yet fondly embrace California’s wild flora.
Here, the sum is greater than its parts.
The first of June fell on a Saturday. The news promised temperatures in the three-digits*; luckily, it turned out to be pleasantly sunny and breezy. The beach beckoned – we responded.
(Again, I only had the phone on me but I aim to photograph with the Nikon… soon! Oh and, *, that’s in Fahrenheit.)
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.
First impressions have left their mark as we travel across the US on a short trip. As much as I try to avoid it, I do make comparisons when I visit a new city based on other places I have seen and experienced.
I liked New Orleans as soon as I saw it. From a distance, its skyline is defined but doesn’t impose. Being introduced via the Garden District, my eyes and mind immediately became preoccupied. Lush green ferns cascade over lacy wrought iron balconies; Creole, Caribbean, and Colonial architecture decorate the streets, block after block; the opulent interiors of the neighbourhood’s stately homes stand on display, well lit by their high ceilinged grand chandeliers.
On a general scale, I initially likened New Orleans to some of my favourite places. I compared its palm fringed, neon lit Canal St with LA’s Hollywood Boulevard; the milliner, boutiques, and cafes of Magazine St with the main shopping arteries of Brooklyn’s Park Slope and Williamsburg; the Spanish and French Colonial styles of its French Quarter with the Gothic one in Barcelona; the oranges, pinks, and blues of its residences and storefronts with the colours of Havana, Cuba.
All these observations combined highlighted the well liked and familiar, but I gleaned a greater appreciation for the city by characteristics I found unique to it:
Receiving a warm welcome upon arrival at Terrell House B&B, housed in an immaculately maintained 3 story Italianate mansion; tasting my first spoonful of spicy gumbo, my first bite of tender alligator sausage, my first forkful of blue cheese topped fried oysters at the Red Fish Grill on Bourbon St; people watching and sipping on a chicory coffee in lively Jackson Square while listening to a saxophonist play the tune of Amazing Grace.
Seeing, feeling, and tasting so much in a short span of time, and being hungry for more, is testament enough that first impressions do count for alot.
In downtown LA, not far from its Arts District, stands the landmark Bradbury Building. Made all the more famous by the future noir classic, Blade Runner, it’s a must see for movie fans as well as lovers of architectural design.
“Built in 1893, the Bradbury Building is a local historic landmark whose architectural purity had been threatened by a sense of safety code modifications at the time of the Blade Runner shoot; in fact, the structure had fallen into a serious state of disrepair (however it was completely renovated in the early 1990s).
Commissioned by millionaire Lewis Bradbury, it was designed by George Wyman (who had been inspired by Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, an early utopia novel set in the year 2000 and featuring descriptions of numerous futuristic commercial buildings.) Editor’s note: Take a look at Julius Shulman’s black and white photograph of the Bradbury Building from its upper levels. Unfortunately, the general public isn’t allowed up there. It is 3/4 way down this post: Shulman Inspired, California Desired
Inside the building, the Blade Runner crew chose to stage scenes featuring the buildings’ geometrically patterned stairways, wrought-iron railings and open-cage elevators (still functioning today) by filming on the interior ground floor, top floor, central court, lobby, elevators and stairways.
The interior of the Bradbury Building was then “dirtied down” by adding various amounts of trash, smoke, revolving xenon spotlights, dripping water, and mannequins. A false wall and door were also erected before one of Bradbury’s offices to stand in for the entrance to Sebastian’s apartment.”*
(As reads the sign in the Bradbury Building. The text is excerpted from Future Noir, The Making of Blade Runner by Paul M. Sammon).
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is one of the most visually interesting museums I have visited. I only realize this now, despite having visited once before.
As I photograph its exterior for the nth time, I know that the camera-snapping must stop soon. The sun is starting its descent and Ali has been patiently waiting for what feels like ten minutes. Realistically, it’s probably been closer to an hour.
Ever since Ali gave me a Nikon DSLR as a gift, I have been guilty of tacking extra time on to any of our outings and excursions. Suddenly, every detail seems interesting and worthy of a capture – all angles must be photographed, every landmark requires my attention, I cannot leave any stone unturned. It’s a case of – have camera, will travel. Or, is it the other way around?
I take a few more shots of the museum’s exterior – there seems to be a never ending supply of architecture scapes to document. A pop of red against a stark white exterior, here; a cool industrial detail, over there; immaculate gardens punctuated with tall palms abound.
As is the usual scenario these days, whilst I snap, Ali busies himself elsewhere. This time however, he is sitting in my line of sight, at one of the many steel chairs scattered around Chris Burden’s famed sculpture of 202 restored cat iron antique street lamps named Urban Light, engrossed in what seems to be the museum catalogue. I wonder if he’s really reading something that interesting; I bet he’d rather be doing anything but. This is what marriage is all about, I console myself, I am sure the vows alluded to a dedication in equal parts to one another’s hobbies, til death do us part. Ali and his music, me and my photography.
I remember the last trip we’d made to the museum, around two years ago. Back then, I was likely suffering from tunnel-vision, more distracted with the action of ticking LACMA off of my list of pre-NYC-relocation LA-must-see’s as opposed to taking photographs of it. Prior to our trip back to the East Coast, I didn’t pay nearly as much attention to the details as I do now.
I must have already seen the museum’s 4-year-old Broad Contemporary building, though I can’t really be sure as I am sketchy on the details. Today however, I can’t get enough of it. Its architectural design intrigues me – the red fire escape style staircase that zigzags from top to bottom of one of its sides inspires a series of clicks. The red-on-white is reminiscent of pop-art, and brings to mind Warhol. Incidentally, his 1964 oil painting of the Campbell’s Soup Can on canvas, hangs within.
What I am certain of is that I had not seen the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion on the previous visit. Opened in 2010, this is an open plan museum with rotating exhibits, currently showing an enviably curated California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way. Right now, I cannot keep my camera lens away from the building’s exterior. Luckily, it stands opposite the Broad building, which brings me closer to where Ali – still nose-deep in literature – is sitting.
Feeling it too soon to be heading inside – the late afternoon light makes everything look so photogenic – I suggest to Ali that we enjoy a drink prior to viewing the art. We have the time; the museum is open late on Fridays. I had noticed the Modernist-inspired Ray’s restaurant and Stark Bar during my rounds of the exterior, newly constructed and recently opened. We sit in its retro-styled outdoor area and order a round of drinks – a glass of red for me, an artisan-prepared cocktail – tequila muddled with fresh orange peel – for Ali.
As so happens with those who are food-obsessed, drinks lead to a light dinner – we order hamachi, sausage pizza, sea bream in broth. Besides, this place is so chic and pleasant; it puts most other art institution eateries to shame. I insist that every dish is photographed – they beg for my camera’s attention.
Looking at the Renzo Piano designed indoor dining space from the corner of my eye, I suddenly recall a photo I’d seen of a similar construction taken by the late Julius Shulman. Inspired, I excuse myself from the table for a moment – it is a model subject, I need to take a photo of its lines while there is still a good natural light.