Looking Back

The fourth week of March in Southern California, from 2015 to 2020, from the archives –

Across the Last Canal (33 images) The isolated Marina Peninsula just south of Venice Beach, on the far side of the last canal down there – it’s all expressive condos, with the widest and emptiest beach in Southern California – and it’s quiet. It’s also a private place. The madness is elsewhere. ~ Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This is the City (35 images): It’s a hard to get a fix on Los Angeles, as a city, because many say Los Angeles isn’t a city – it’s just a thousand suburbs in search of a city. But there is a city. There’s a real downtown, even if it is a bit strange, a place with no history. On South Main there is the iconic 1928 Los Angeles City Hall, designed by John Parkinson, John C. Austin, and Albert C. Martin. That was on Joe Friday’s badge in the title sequence of every episode of Dragnet, and it’s in lots of movies. But if Joe Friday were working today, he’d be working out of the Los Angeles Police Department’s new all-glass administration building across the street, from 2009, designed by a joint venture of AECOM and Roth Sheppard Architects. The old city hall shows in its glass. The two coexist, but next door, at 100 South Main, there’s the new Caltrans district headquarters building. Its odd futuristic but environmentally-friendly design won Thom Mayne the 2005 Pritzker Prize, even if the massive thing is a bit scary. The old Los Angeles Times building sits off in a corner. It was designed by the fellow who designed the Hoover Dam. As Joe Friday used to say at the start of every episode of Dragnet, “This is the city, Los Angeles, California…” It is? ~ Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Past Returns (26 images): The scaffolding is gone. The restoration is complete – the Hollywood-Western Building, constructed in 1928 from a design by architect S. Charles Lee, on the southwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue – the first headquarters of Central Casting. Central Casting is now out in the San Fernando Valley, and this is a municipal building now, but its past is now on full display. Now it’s time to work on the other buildings in the neighborhood. ~ Friday, March 27, 2015

A Darker Nature (45 images): Late March, Griffith Park, up the hill from Hollywood, a late spring storm passed through overnight. That made the day mysterious. Sunny Southern California is a myth. ~ Monday, March 28, 2016

Rescuing the Past (35 images): Everything in Los Angeles is always new – what was built ten or fifteen years ago is torn down and replaced – but there are pockets of the past. On Fountain Avenue, just south of Sunset near Vermont, there’s a new Native American mural. There used to be Indians here, and that’s next to a mysterious white Art Deco building from the late twenties, looking like new – and next to that is the former Cedars of Lebanon Hospital at 4833 Fountain Avenue, built in 1929, now the centerpiece of the Scientology complex – their Pacific Area Command at the corner of L. Rod Hubbard Way. The Church acquired it in 1977 and decided to paint it chalky azure, replacing the former light-beige stucco. Perhaps that’s an improvement. Perhaps it looks better than ever. Either way, they did rescue the past. Someone has to do that now and then. ~ Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sun on Strange Walls (40 images): The strange walls in the heart of Los Angeles’ Koreatown – the blocks around Western and Wilshire – on a sunny spring day – Thursday, March 23, 2017

Under the Observatory (32 images): A walk through the mysterious dark woods under the Griffith Observatory – where there’s often a film crew, doing a location shoot for some mysterious dark movie – but not this day. Still, it’s quiet – too quiet. ~ Monday, March 27, 2017

In the Abstract (32 images): Hollywood abstracts – Sunset and Vine up to Hollywood and Vine – because Hollywood is better in the abstract. The real thing is a bit seedy. ~ Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Beverly Hills Bauhaus (35 images): The Beverly Hills Media Center, 100 North Crescent Drive at Wilshire Boulevard, an old office building, has been transformed by the ubiquitous architectural firm Gensler (M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates, Inc.) – because everybody needs a bit of Bauhaus now and then. Bauhaus was that German art school, founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919, that gave the world the Bauhaus style in modern design and Modernist architecture. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe took over the school in 1930, and that’s what this is about. The Nazi regime shut down the Bauhaus school – they said it was a center of communist intellectualism – but it wasn’t. It was a center of highly geometric architecture. It was harmless, and the Bauhaus style lives on. In this example, the City of Beverly Hills added a complimentary pocket park out back. ~ Thursday, March 29, 2018

Charlie and the Frog (40 images): The Charlie Chaplin Studios were built for him in 1917 at the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard – he filmed “Modern Times” and “The Great Dictator” here – but he had been born in 1889 in Walworth, South London, in poverty, so he had ordered up a Tudor mansion. That made no sense in Hollywood but made him happy, for a bit. He sold the place in 1953 and it became Kling Studios – used to shoot the Adventures of Superman with George Reeves. In 1959, Red Skelton bought the place and set himself up in Chaplin’s old office, and then, in 1962, he sold the place to CBS and the Perry Mason series was shot here though 1966 – and then Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss bought the place and turned it into recording studios for their new label – A&M Records. Carole King recorded her “Tapestry” album here. Then they moved on. In February 2000, Jim Henson’s children purchased the whole thing. That’s where the frog comes in. It’s the Jim Henson Company lot now, with Kermit on the roof, dressed as Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” – so everything is back as it should be, sort of. ~ Friday, March 30, 2018

A Stir of Echoes (45 images): This is Echo Park.  “A Stir of Echoes” is that 1958 novel by Richard Matheson, about a guy suddenly hearing the private thoughts of the people around him and learning what he never wanted to know, and then he gets messages from the dead. He’s overwhelmed. He goes mad. Kevin Bacon plays that guy in the 1999 film – and sometimes Echo Park is like that book and that movie. ~ Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Beach Eclectic (30 images): Anything goes on the Strand. These are the last houses on the Strand at the north end of Manhattan Beach. Those who live here all have different ideas on how best to live facing the wide ocean. Some choose irony. Some choose geometry. ~ Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Weekday Beach (30 images): This is simply California, the north end of Manhattan Beach in the middle of the week when everyone else is at work. This is what they’re missing. ~ Thursday, March 28, 2019

Empty Sunshine (25 images): Sometimes the light here is a bit unnerving. And with the state and city in a lockdown that will not end anytime soon, no one is around. There are no distractions. There’s just the light. This is the 9000 block of Sunset Boulevard. Everything glows. ~ Thursday, March 26, 2020

Quiet City (45 images): The music would be Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City” from 1941, but this is 2020 and things have changed. This is the Plague Year – a parked and empty Hollywood tour bus or two on Wilshire Boulevard, across the street from those sections of the original Berlin Wall that were enhanced by local artists eleven years ago, that odd new white Totem women, and the now iconic “Urban Light” installation at the county museum, and Wilshire Boulevard itself, silent and empty at noon. ~ Friday, March 27, 2020

Closed (45 images): No one expected this – Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard, Guitar Row – everything is closed and Hollywood is finally as surreal as it should be – under a spherical rainbow. Perhaps this is the end of everything. ~ Tuesday, March 31, 2020


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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