Hell on Highland

An image from Jean-Luc Godard's "Weekend". Frustrated drivers, stuck in an endless traffic jam,  start attacking each other.

An image from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend”. Frustrated drivers, stuck in an endless traffic jam,
start attacking each other.

I wish I’d had a camera with me last night. I got off the Red Line in Hollywood around seven, and started walking north on Highland. The northbound traffic was backed up and moving slowly, but that’s not unusual. Then I got to Franklin and saw that westbound traffic was backed up there, too. That’s when I realized something was probably going on at the Bowl. (Later I learned it was a Katy Perry concert.) Again, this is nothing out of the ordinary. As the Bowl continues to schedule more off-season events, the horrible congestion that used to be confined to summer is becoming a year-round phenomenon.

But then I got to Wilcox, and I saw that the westbound traffic on Franklin was backed up all the way to freeway. I’ve seen congestion on Franklin before, but never this bad. This was also affecting the traffic on Wilcox, which was backed up as far south as I could see.

Now, I’m not bringing this up just to whine about traffic. The reason this spectacle freaked me out is because it seems like a vision of things to come. Anyone who lives in Hollywood knows how bad the traffic is already, but the City of LA continues to approve massive projects, often over the vocal objections of Hollywood residents. Just days ago I learned about two new residential complexes that are slated to be built on Highland, in this same area. Right at the corner of Highland and Franklin, a developer plans to build a residential complex with over a hundred units. And at Highland and Selma, just about a half mile away, the plan is to build a residential/retail complex with over three hundred units.

The fact that these two projects will make traffic on Highland even worse is probably obvious to everyone, except the people in the Department of City Planning. They are pushing these two projects forward using Mitigated Negative Declarations (MNDs), which means they have determined that building over four hundred new units within a half mile of each other in an already congested corridor will have no significant negative impacts. Remember, the recently completed Jefferson, at Highland and Yucca, contains two hundred and seventy units. And on La Brea there are a number of projects already under construction which will total over a thousand new units. Much of the traffic generated by these projects will be travelling through the Highland/Cahuenga corridor.

Is the City Council ever going to stop this insanity?! Not unless local residents apply a lot of pressure. If you live in Hollywood, and if you think the traffic is bad enough already, please call your City Council representative. It should be either Tom LaBonge or Mitch O’Farrell, but check the maps to make sure. The boundaries are tricky. Here’s the link….

LA City Council Directory

By the way, last night I stopped to have a cup of coffee at a place on the corner of Franklin and Cahuenga. When I left about a half hour later, the westbound traffic on Franklin was still backed up to the freeway.

Old and New

DSC02587There were two things I’d been wanting to do for a while. The first was to visit the Natural History Museum to see their show on LA history. The second was to take some photos of the Sixth Street Bridge, which is slated to be demolished and replaced, although that may not happen for a while. So Tuesday morning I took the Red Line down to Seventh and Figueroa, where I transferred to the Expo Line. Pretty soon I was standing on the platform at the Exposition Park station.

It might have been twenty years or more since I’d been to Exposition Park. Walking toward the fountain at the center of the gardens was sort of like walking into the past. In part, that’s because of my memory of visiting the museums as a child. But also, the three buildings that border the park are massive reminders of the ornate, imposing architecture that was considered appropriate for museums a hundred years ago. In fact, the Natural History Museum is celebrating its one hundredth anniversary this year. Their web site offers a brief history, which you can read by clicking here.

The photo above shows the current entrance to the museum, which presents a modern facade. It’s an interesting contrast to the NHM’s original entrance, which is what you see in this next photo.


The exhibition I went to see, Becoming LA, was really good. The curators did a nice job of presenting the area’s multi-layered history, weaving together the threads of all the diverse groups that made the city what it is. Of course Becoming LA is just the latest in the recent onslaught of shows about Los Angeles. Local museums have been giving a lot of attention to the city in the past few years. I’m all in favor of highlighting LA’s art, culture, etc., but at times it seems like we’re crossing the line into bombastic self-promotion. Which, I guess, isn’t really that surprising.

After I was finished with the museum, I took the bus north on Vermont to Olympic, where I had to transfer. This put me right in the heart of Koreatown. There’s an interesting vibe in many parts of Koreatown, which I think has to do with the zillions of small businesses competing for your attention. There are numerous strip malls, and they all seem to be bursting with restaurants, karaoke bars, tech retail outlets, nail salons, etc.. Here’s one example….


But the look of Koreatown is changing. In the image below you’re looking up Vermont toward Wilshire, where you can see two high-rise towers that combine residential and retail. I understand some Koreatown residents aren’t too happy about the wave of high-density development that’s hitting their area. I doubt that bothers the City Council, though, and it certainly doesn’t bother Mayor Garcetti. They are all one hundred percent committed to serving the developers who put them in office. Click here for more info about this massive project.


The bus showed up and I got on. A few minutes later I got off at the end of the line, Sixth and Maple. I headed up Maple and over to Wall. As I was walking along, I heard a voice behind me.

“Excuse me. Are you a tourist?”

He must’ve seen the camera I was holding.

“No, I’ve lived in LA all my life.”

“Oh. Cuz I was just wondering if you knew this is a really horrible area.”

I laughed, but he had a point. The street was filled with people who were living on the sidewalk. The desperation was palpable. I can’t say I was really afraid, though. I spend a fair amount of time downtown, and I’ve walked through skid row now and again. If it was night, I probably would be worried. But in the harsh light of day, these people looked too beaten down, too demoralized, to be a threat.

We walked along together for a block or so. I told him I had the camera because I wanted to shoot photos of the Sixth Street Bridge. He knew the bridge was going to be replaced, but he felt it would be a long time before work actually started. Somehow we got talking about the LA City Council, and we both agreed they have absolutely no respect for the law. Interesting how the one thing that seems to bind Angelenos together is our absolute distrust of the people at City Hall.

Then we went our separate ways. I headed over to Little Tokyo for a bowl of udon and a beer. Then I started walking down Central to Sixth.

It was late afternoon. The streets were mostly deserted. There were few cars and fewer people. I walked past the Woori Market’s empty parking lot. It’s been closed for a while. There were large warehouses, like Los Angeles Cold Storage. A couple small restaurants. A lot of places have security fences, and a few were topped with barbed wire.

The bridge rises up over the warehouses and the railroad tracks. As you get near the mid-point, the landscape below stretches out for miles in every direction. Here’s a shot of the bridge looking back toward downtown.


And here’s another looking down on the LA River.


Freight cars covered with graffiti sit lined up below.


And here’s another shot of the downtown area.


On the other side of the bridge, Sixth Street becomes Whittier Blvd., which leads you into Boyle Heights. I waited for the bus in front of Carnitas Michoacán #3, which seemed to be doing steady business. And then the seven twenty showed up to take me home.

L.A. Aqueduct Centennial


In case you haven’t heard, and I hadn’t until just recently, this year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the construction of the LA Aqueduct. This project was a major turning point in the city’s history. Without the water provided by the Aqueduct, LA never would have grown the way it did.

The LADWP has set up a web site as part of its effort to commemorate the Aqueduct’s centennial. It contains lots of interesting info, and lists numerous events that are tied to the celebration. Just click on the link below.

LA Aqueduct 100

Change Is the Only Constant at LACMA

A view of LACMA as it was in the sixties

A view of LACMA as it was in the sixties

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is undergoing some major changes. Swiss architect Peter Zumthor has been commissioned to design a completely new campus for the museum. All of the original structures, plus the Anderson Building (now the Art of the Americas Building) will be demolished to make way for a brand new campus.

It makes sense. Over the years LACMA has become kind of a cluttered mess. I loved the original Pereira design, three unobtrusive modern structures surrounding a spacious plaza. To my mind the addition of the Anderson Building in the mid-eighties was a huge mistake. Sure, it was great to have the extra square footage for exhibitions, but the building itself was awful. The central plaza was taken away, and a blandly oppressive façade now towered over the sidewalk at the Wilshire entrance. Two years later they added the Japanese Pavilion, which I have mixed feeling about. Inside, it’s a great space for displaying art and artifacts. Outside, it’s just kind of weird and tacky, and adds to the general visual confusion.

So I totally understand why the LACMA Board wants to start over, more or less from scratch. Zumthor’s design is pretty interesting. Below is a link to a slide show on LACMA’s web site.

Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA

There are a lot of good ideas here. I love the fact that the design allows for more interaction with the surrounding park. And I’m really intrigued by the concept of storing art in areas that would allow for public viewing day or night, all year round. This could turn out to be pretty cool….

But I couldn’t find any information on LACMA’s web site about when all this is going to happen. Making Zumthor’s design a reality will be a huge undertaking. The first step will be to demolish the four buildings that make up the core of the campus. And my guess is that it would take at least a couple years to complete the new structure. Which means LACMA’s exhibitions would be confined to the BCAM and the Resnick Pavilion for quite a while, although they might also look for a temporary space.

Big ambitious projects like this often sound really exciting in the planning stages. Then, when you start trying to figure out how to actually make it happen, the excitement fades as people realize what a huge challenge it will be. But I hope they can pull it off. This could take LACMA to a new level.