Midnight at Wilshire and Fairfax

W&F 1 Scaf

Last week I went to one of the screenings in UCLA’s preservation festival. I think I left around eleven, and then caught the bus on Wilshire. I got off at Fairfax, where I have to transfer. It took a while for the next bus to show up, so I took some photos while I was waiting. It seemed like there was a lot of stuff going on….

Night time is when the MTA crews show up to work on the Purple Line extension. You don’t see them during the day. Just metal plates lying all over the street. But at night these guys set up their barriers and their lights and go to work.

MTA crews work on the Purple Line at night.

MTA crews work on the Purple Line at night.

Just across the street, the old May Co. building is surrounded by scaffolding. It seems that the Academy is finally starting the process of transforming this dinosaur of a department store into a new museum devoted to film. I have no idea when it’ll be completed, but I’m glad to see that work has begun.

Scaffolding set up on the west side of the May Co. building.

Scaffolding set up on the west side of the May Co. building.

I was standing there on Fairfax snapping photos, when a few runners went speeding past. At first I thought it was just some people who lived in the neighborhood out for some exercise. But then another group ran by, and then another, and then it was a steady stream of people racing down Fairfax. My guess is that a couple hundred people went by, but it could have been more.

Runners stampeding down Fairfax toward Wilshire.

Runners stampeding down Fairfax toward Wilshire.

More runners heading down Fairfax.

More runners heading down Fairfax.

As usual, there was a homeless guy camped out in one of the recessed areas along the side of the May Co. building.

A homeless man taking shelter for the night.

A homeless man taking shelter for the night.

And of course there’s Johnie’s, blazing away in the darkness. The banks of lights that surround the building are slowly going out, but those that are left let you know that this classic coffee shop has not gone away. The place has been closed for years, but the flashing lights seem to be insisting that it’s still open for business. That it’s still alive.

Johnie's refuses to die.

Johnie’s refuses to die.

Putting Lives Back Together

SRHT Main All

LA is suffering from an affordable housing crisis, but there is some good news to celebrate. Thanks to the efforts of the Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT), formerly homeless people are getting a roof over their heads and a place in the community. The SRHT is using innovative approaches to creating housing in the Downtown area.

Homelessness is a complex problem. It’s not just a matter of giving someone a place to live, because people living on the streets are often struggling with a variety of issues. In the first place, finding a job, which can be tough if you don’t have skills that are currently in demand. Depression, mental illness and substance abuse are also common problems, and these are not solved simply by giving someone the keys to an apartment.

But having a place to live is the first step. And the SRHT offers assistance to people grappling with other issues by creating permanent supportive housing. This means that the residents living in these communities have access to counseling, job training, health care and other services in order to get their life back on track.

The SRHT has been working on two new projects in Downtown. First, let’s take a look at the Star Apartments….

SRHT Star Frnt

The Star Apartments are located near the corner of Sixth and Wall. The project was designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture, and they used an interesting approach. The site was occupied by a one-story building, which they wanted to expand to create more units. The solution they hit on was stacking pre-fab cubes on top of the original structure, which in addition to being fast and economical, resulted in a striking piece of design.

SRHT Star Sky 1

You can read more on Maltzan’s web site.

Star Apartments

Next, check out the New Pershing Apartments at Fifth and Main. This project actually combines two structures, the Pershing Hotel and the Roma Hotel, built in 1889 and 1905, respectively. The new design, by Killefer Flammang Architects, preserves original elements of the exterior. In addition to the residential units, the New Pershing will also offer a courtyard, two recreation decks and planters for gardening.

First let’s look at a couple of shots taken while the project was under construction, back in October of 2014. The first was taken from the corner of Fifth and Main.

SRHT Main Const 1

This next photo was taken on Main, directly across from the building.

SRHT Main Const 2

Now let’s look at the finished project.

SRHT Main Frnt

And another shot from Fifth and Main.

SRHT Main Full

Here’s the article that the Downtown News ran on the New Pershing earlier this month.

A Victorian Victory

You can find more information about the SRHT’s activities by visiting their web page. And if you want to support their efforts, I’m sure a donation would be welcome.

Skid Row Housing Trust

On-Line Archeology

RG Close 1a

I first saw Renée Green’s work years ago at MOCA. It’s hard to describe what she does, because she uses a variety of different media, and her projects don’t fall into any traditional category. My personal take on her work is that it seems like a meditation on the world around us, but not just her own meditation. She invites us to join her. She wants the audience to be a part of the experience.

I found out just recently about a project of hers called code: survey. There’s a physical installation in the cafeteria at Caltrans in Downtown LA, but that’s just one aspect of the piece. Really it’s much bigger than that. The project gathers images, words and sounds from a variety of sources, and allows the viewer to access all of it on-line. It’s like a multi-media collage of the history of LA, but it allows you to choose what you want to explore.

RG Full a

The link is below. You may have to play with it a little to get the hang of it. Each time you click on an image it allows you to go further, reading texts, listening to voices, choosing your own direction and making your own associations.

code: survey, a project by renée green

One piece of advice. Give yourself some time. Once you get started exploring, you may find it’s easy to get lost.

RG Close 2a


Hlwd Bars 1 Rd St

I want to go on record here. I like to drink. I’ve spent a fair amount of time hanging out in bars. But even I’m getting scared of how accessible booze is in Hollywood. The neighborhood is packed with bars and clubs, and it seems like every new restaurant that opens gets a full liquor license. If it was just a matter of dealing with crowded sidewalks and noisy drunks, I might be able to handle that. But the problems we’re seeing are actually much worse.

In fact, it’s getting so bad that last October LAPD Chief Charlie Beck wrote a letter to Linn Wyatt, the City’s Chief Zoning Administrator. In he talks about the “oversaturation of ABC [Alcohol Beverage Control] locations”. He mentions how these establishments “have generated numerous crime reports” which are straining police resources. And the crimes he lists include collisions involving pedestrians, DUIs, assault with a deadly weapon, robberies, thefts, fights, shootings and rapes. But don’t take my word for it. Click on the link to read the letter yourself.

Letter from Chief Beck

It doesn’t seem like anybody at the Department of City Planning read Chief Beck’s letter, because they keep on handing out liquor licenses like they were candy. I get the impression that public safety is something they don’t worry about much at the DCP.

Hlwd Bars 2 Vogue

But we’ve gotta draw the line somewhere. Recently I received a notice from the Department of City Planning regarding a project at the corner of Hollywood and Hudson. Hollywood Dreams, LLC plans to remodel an existing building to house a bar and four restaurants. They’re asking for five — yes, five — full liquor licenses. I was stunned. With all the problems we’re already seeing in the area, they want five more places selling liquor on the boulevard?!

I wasn’t the only one taken aback. Gilbert Mora and Robin Yoo of Behavioral Health Services were so concerned they made a list of existing ABC locations in the same census tract, roughly a half square mile. For this area, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control says that no more than two on-site liquor permits should be authorized. By my count, there are already 15 on the list. (If you include stores and caterers that have off-site liquor permits, the number rises to 21.) So the City of LA has already allowed over 7 times what the state allows. And now this developer is asking for five more permits for a single location. Remember, too, that this is just one tract. There are dozens of other bars, clubs and restaurants that serve alcohol in Hollywood.

But let’s take a look at the actual statistics for crime in the neighborhood around this project. I went to CrimeMapping.Com and entered the address. Click on the link to see what’s happened within a one mile radius over the past two weeks.

6529 Hollywood Blvd.

As you can see, this neighborhood gets a lot of action. The crimes include assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, and vehicle theft. A total of 79 crimes. Still, we need to check out some other location for comparison. So let’s go down the road about a mile and see what it’s like on a stretch of Melrose where there are far fewer bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. I wonder what kind of crime they have down there.

6500 Melrose Ave.

So just a mile down the road, there have been only 38 crimes in the past two weeks. Less than half. Does anybody think that just maybe there’s a link between the amount of alcohol being consumed in Hollywood and the amount of crime that’s occurring there?

Hlwd Bars 3 Fox

And it’s only going to get worse. There are many other developers that want to get permits in the area. Ten more hotels are planned for Hollywood, including three that are under construction right now on Selma Ave., which is just a block south of Hollywood Blvd.. The DCP has already given full liquor licenses to all three.

This is ridiculous. Enough is enough. There’s a hearing on Tuesday, March 10 at 9:30 am, and I’m going to be there. I want to ask the zoning administrator why they keep handing out these permits when there’s a clear threat to public safety. If you feeling like joining me, the more the merrier. Here’s the address.

Los Angeles City Hall
200 North Spring Street, Room 1020
(Enter from Main Street)

And if you can’t make it to City Hall, you can still send an e-mail to the DCP. Here’s the info. It’s a good idea to include the case number in the subject line.

Staff Contact:
Matthew Quan
Case No: ZA 2014-2008(MCUP)

If you do send an e-mail to the DCP, please copy me on it. I’m wondering how many other people out there are as ticked off as I am. Here’s my address.


I’m fine with people coming to Hollywood to have a good time, but this has gotten way out of hand. We need to stop handing out liquor permits to anyone who asks for one.

Hlwd Bars 4 Loaded

Time to Move On

LAC 0B Tunnel

You may already know that LACMA is planning a major overhaul. I think it’s a good idea. The original design has been pretty badly compromised, and the campus is kind of a mess. The biggest mistake was the addition of the Anderson Building, but there are other changes that contributed to the general feeling of chaos. So, yeah, it’s time to hit reset. Peter Zumthor’s design for the new campus is pretty interesting. You never know how these things will work out in the long run, but I’m ready to climb on board. (I do have serious reservations about the plan for funding it, but that’s another story.)

I have to admit, though, I’ve got a fondness for this funky collection of buildings that don’t really fit together. There’s a lot about the current set-up that I’ll miss. So even though we’re probably still a long way away from starting construction, I thought I’d take a trip down to the old place and snap some photos.

The museum was originally designed by William Pereira, and in its first state there was a real sense of space and light. Now the plaza seems claustrophobic. Just to give a sense of Pereira’s orginal concept, take a look at the photo below.

LAC 05 Plz Wom

On the left side you can see the Ahmanson Building, which has been there since the beginning. Back in the 60s you walked up a broad set of stairs onto a wide plaza that was surrounded on three sides by structures like this. It was a fantastic space, and a quintessential example of LA architecture. Now I move the camera to the right….

LAC 10 And Rt

…and you can see the Anderson Building, which was built in the 80s. It was great to have more gallery space, but the building always seemed like a massive intrusion. And if you look at the central plaza…

LAC 25 Plaza Brg

…you can see that the columns and the bridge and the canopy intrude even further. Nowadays this space just seems really odd and awkward. It doesn’t work at all.

But there are still things to enjoy about the plaza. Like Jesús Rafael Soto’s Penetrable.

Penetrable by Jesús Rafael Soto

Penetrable by Jesús Rafael Soto

I love this installation, and kids love wandering through it. I know museums aren’t always a big favorite with children, so I think it’s great that Soto’s work is right out on the plaza, almost like it’s saying, “Come on in and play.”

Another one of the original Pereira buildings houses the Bing Theatre, which I’ll really miss.

LAC 32 Bing Lobby 2

LACMA used to have incredible film programming. They did amazing retrospectives on Marlon Brando, William Wyler, Erich von Stroheim, FW Murnau and others. My friend Brian and I used to joke that there were times we were going there so often it seemed like we were living at LACMA.

LAC 40 Cafe Red

I’ll miss the cafe, too. I’ve spent lots of time there, either taking a break from the galleries or waiting for a movie to begin. Occasionally I’d take a cup of coffee outside…

LAC 27 Red Tbl

…and find a quiet place somewhere. In spite of all the people milling around the campus, it’s not too hard to get away from the crowds.

Inside the Ahmanson Building, Tony Smith’s Smoke rises up through the atrium. It’s a cool piece, but it probably needs more room to breathe. Maybe when the new museum is built they’ll create a better space for it.

Smoke by Tony Smith

Smoke by Tony Smith

Same as above.

Same as above.

Same as above.

Same as above.

I’m glad that LACMA draws as many people as it does, but sometimes I miss the good old days, before the blockbuster exhibitions, when it was just you and the janitorial staff. Still, some of the galleries are less crowded than others. The spaces where they display contemporary American art are often pretty busy, but if you just head upstairs…

LAC 80 Gallery

…you’ll find the older European art. I used to mainly look at painting from the last couple of centuries, but lately I’m getting into the older stuff. Like these Dutch landscapes.

Beach with a Weyschuit Pulled up on Shore by Willem van de Velde, the Younger

Beach with a Weyschuit Pulled up on Shore by Willem van de Velde, the Younger

Landscape with Dunes by Jacob van Ruisdael

Landscape with Dunes by Jacob van Ruisdael

One of the great things about LACMA is that when you’ve maxed out on the art, you can leave the galleries and head for the park just behind the museum.

A view of the park from the museum plaza.

A view of the park from the museum plaza.

Another view of the park looking toward the west.

Another view of the park looking toward the west.

And since I’m talking about change, I might as well mention the May Co. building right next door.

LAC 95 May

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is planning to build a museum devoted to film on this site. The plan is to restore the May Co., and to construct a new wing behind it, which will be designed by Renzo Piano. Not sure when work will start, but you can click on the link below for more info.

Academy Museum

This last shot is a view of Fairfax looking down towards Wilshire.

LAC 97 May Side

It’s interesting that with all the activity happening at LACMA and the May Co., just across the street you have Johnie’s, a classic coffee shop from the fifties designed by Armét & Davis, that’s been neglected for years. Closed since 2000, the City of LA recently declared it a historic landmark, but nobody seems to know what’s going to happen to it. The MTA is currently working on the Purple Line extension, and supposedly there will be a subway stop at Wilshire and Fairfax by 2023. Is it too much to hope that Johnie’s will be open again by then?