Cesar Chavez Avenue Bridge

Looking north from the Cesar Chavez Avenue Bridge.

Looking north from the Cesar Chavez Avenue Bridge.

A while ago I took a walk across the Sixth Street Bridge to get some photos of it before they tear it down. Looking out over the landscape, I saw the other bridges that span the LA River, linking Downtown and East LA. I started thinking it would be cool to take pictures of them as well.

I started walking on the Downtown side of the bridge.

I started walking on the Downtown side of the bridge.

It’s taken me forever to get started on that project, but recently I took a walk across the Cesar Chavez Bridge. There is something kind of thrilling about seeing the surrounding area from that vantage point. Much of the landscape is hard, grey concrete. Power lines criss-cross the sky. But you can also see the hills in the distance, and on the day I crossed the bridge there were massive clouds billowing all along the horizon.

A view of the First Street Bridge.

A view of the First Street Bridge.

Today the bridge is part of Cesar Chavez Avenue, created back in the nineties to commemorate the courageous labor leader who helped organize California’s farm workers. The segment that includes the bridge was formerly called Macy Street, but it’s also part of the historic Camino Real, the road built by the Spanish to connect their missions back when they governed California. The first bridge built on the site was erected in the nineteenth century, but it was demolished at the beginning of the twentieth. In the twenties, the City of LA began an effort to construct a series of viaducts across the LA River, and this bridge, then called the Macy Street Bridge, was part of that effort.

A huge mound of debris on the north side of the bridge.

A huge mound of debris on the north side of the bridge.

For years I’ve seen this massive mound of debris resting on the north side of the bridge. I have no idea where it came from or if it’s ever going away. If you look closely you can see that plants have started to grow here and there. It’s become part of the landscape, an artificial hill rising up over the river and the rail lines.

A view of the bridge heading toward East LA.

A view of the bridge heading toward East LA.

The bridge is lined with lampposts on either side, and decorated with porticos ornamented in the Spanish Revival style that was popular in the twenties. There are plaques affixed to the porticos explaining that the bridge is dedicated to Father Junipero Serra, the founder of the California missions. Serra’s legacy is controversial, since he was a major player in Spain’s effort to subjugate the native population. The Vatican’s recent decision to canonize him has ignited the debate all over again.

One of the porticoes that decorate the bridge.

One of the porticoes that decorate the bridge.

Another view of the same portico.

Another view of the same portico.

If you want to learn more about the Cesar Chavez Avenue Bridge, below is a link to an article on KCET’s web site that talks about the origins of a number of LA bridges. To see more images and to access info about it’s history, check out the links to the Library of Congress.

A Brief History of Bridges in Los Angeles County from KCET

Cesar Chavez Avenue Viaduct from Library of Congress

Photos of Cesar Chavez Bridge in the Library of Congress

CC 40 Deb Hills 1

We Still Haven’t Crossed the Finish Line

front of N.F. Stokes Residence

front of N.F. Stokes Residence

I was thrilled last week when I heard that LA’s Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously in favor of designating the N.F. Stokes Residence a historic cultural monument. The building, at 1905 Grace, dates back to 1917 and is one of the few structures from that era still standing in the Hollywood area. At the same meeting the CHC voted to consider the Mosaic Church, at Hollywood and La Brea, for designation as well. There were a number of people in the community who have worked long and hard to save these buildings, and reading the e-mails from those involved it seemed like everyone was breathing a collective sigh of relief.

But the fight isn’t over yet.

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but we have to remember that the Stokes house won’t actually be declared a monument until the City Council votes on it. That’s when it becomes official. And as for the Mosaic Church, I was at a meeting last week where a developer’s representative flatly declared that the building did not deserve monument status. Now, you might be thinking, Hey, the CHC vote was unanimous. They clearly believe that both buildings are worth saving! How could the City Council ignore their recommendation?

Better think again. Not too long ago Mayor Garcetti pushed for the demolition of the Oswald Bartlett House over the loud objections of the preservation community, and he got his way. That house is gone. Over the past few months the Mayor has overridden the City Planning Commission to revive two major developments that faced strong opposition from the neighboring communities. There are no guarantees here. Recent history has shown that the Mayor and the City Council will do what they want. Which is often exactly what the developers want.

So we need to keep the pressure on. If you live in Council District 4, where the Stokes Residence and the Mosaic Church are both located, you might want to contact newly elected Councilmember David Ryu. His support will be crucial. Here’s his info.

Councilmember David Ryu
323 957-6415

And if you don’t live in CD 4, you can still contact your councilmember and let them know you think these buildings are worth saving.

Mosaic Church

Mosaic Church

Campaigning for Re-Election on Our Dime?

Garcetti Logo Signs

If you live in LA, you’re probably aware that the City is using all kinds of media to get the message out about water conservation. And if you’ve been paying attention to the news, you may also know that Mayor Garcetti is gearing up for his 2017 re-election effort. Why am I leading off with these two apparently unrelated items? Well, because actually it seems they are related. Even though they shouldn’t be.

I was standing at a bus stop where the bench displayed one of the water conservation ads. The first time I saw it I didn’t pay much attention. It was just another public service announcement, and I’d already gotten the message about cutting my water use. But after looking at it a few times, something caught my eye. Like most PSAs, it carried a few logos to let you know who was behind it. And one of them belonged to our Mayor.

Poster for Save the Drop campaign

Poster for Save the Drop campaign

You’re probably asking, So what? Shouldn’t the Mayor be throwing his weight behind this campaign? No argument there. It’s an important initiative. The thing that struck me was that the logo used here was remarkably similar to the one Garcetti used when he was campaigning for mayor in 2013, which is almost exactly the one that he’s using for his re-election bid.

Announcement from Garcetti's 2013 campaign

Announcement from Garcetti’s 2013 campaign

Screen shot from web site for Garcetti's 2017 campaign

Screen shot from web site for Garcetti’s 2017 campaign

If you live in LA, you must’ve seen it by now. A blue square containing the Mayor’s name in crisp, white, sans-serif type. There are a few different versions. The text varies slightly depending on when and where it appears. It’s a nice piece of design. It could suggest a clear blue sky, or crystal clear water, or a kind of zen serenity, or almost any other abstract positive association, which is one of the key concepts behind political advertising. It suits Garcetti perfectly. He’s a master salesman, and he’s spent several years refining his own brand. The hip, smart, 21st century guy who’s leading us all toward a brighter future.

All that’s fine. I congratulate the Mayor on his marketing savvy. But he should not be using a logo designed for his campaign on a PSA paid for by our tax dollars. Aside from the issue of using public money to support a private brand, this also confuses the City’s efforts to educate the public with the Mayor’s efforts to get himself re-elected. And this goes beyond the water conservation campaign. If you look at the City’s web page for the Mayor’s office, it displays the same logo.

Screen shot from the home page for the Mayor's Office

Screen shot from the home page for the Mayor’s Office

And the same goes for e-mails sent by the Mayor’s Office relating to public business. I realized in the course of writing this post that I had been confusing e-mails sent by the Mayor’s Office with e-mails sent by the Garcetti campaign. The headings are different, but the inclusion of the same logo on both makes it seem like they emanate from the same source.

E-mail sent by the Mayor regarding his State of the City speech

E-mail sent by the Mayor regarding his State of the City speech

E-mail sent announcing Garcetti's re-election campaign

E-mail sent announcing Garcetti’s re-election campaign

And this is really a problem. Eric Garcetti is the Mayor, that is, he’s an individual who’s been elected to serve in that capacity. But he is not the Mayor’s Office. That’s a separate entity which has been occupied by many people over time. To use the same graphic for communications from a politician seeking re-election and an office that exists to serve the people of Los Angeles creates a dangerous confusion.

If Garcetti is unhappy with the traditional seal for the Mayor’s office, he should ask City staff to redesign it, but it should be completely distinct from the logo he’s using for his re-election campaign. The Mayor’s communications regarding official business need to be clearly differentiated from his efforts to win another term. Sure, most politicians use their office for self-promotion of one kind or another, but we shouldn’t be subsidizing the practice. The Mayor needs to remove any graphics related to his campaign from all media used by the City to conduct official business. And he needs to do it now.

Hollywood Journal – It Wasn’t What I Wanted

Egyp Pylons Angle

Things change, and sometimes change is hard to accept. Part of the reason I spent years keeping a journal on Hollywood was to record the transformations that were taking place. One of the biggest upheavals was in the way films were exhibited. Hollywood is home to a handful of movie palaces, all of them built over the course of a decade starting in the early twenties. Up through the eighties, those palaces were still playing first run movies, and on opening weekend you might see lines going down the block.

But in the eighties multi-plexes started springing up, and the huge Hollywood theatres couldn’t compete. They either had to change or die. The Egyptian Theatre was shuttered in 1992. I was really upset. I’d seen so many movies there, including 2001, Alien and Point Break. When it suffered major damage in the 1994 Northridge quake, I was sure the next step was demolition. So I was overjoyed when I heard the American Cinematheque had bought the building and was going to renovate it.

Overjoyed, that is, until the theatre reopened and I saw the results. The auditorium was less than half its original size and the screen was significantly smaller. Plus, there were a number of minor changes that bugged me. I wrote it all down in the journal entry below. I was ticked off.

On the plus side, though, the Cinematheque was on Hollywood Boulevard and they were showing some great stuff. I eventually signed on as a volunteer, and ended up giving tours of the theatre, which made me look at the changes in a whole new light. In the first place, there was no way the Cinematheque could run the Egyptian as a 2,000 seat house. It just wasn’t possible to fill an auditorium that big on a regular basis. They had to find a way to solve that problem, and the solution was building two smaller theatres inside the original structure. Second, the theatre I remembered was very different from the theatre Sid Grauman had built in nineteen twenty two. He created a silent movie palace. As soon as sound came in, the theatre had to start adapting to stay viable, and numerous changes had been made over the years. In the process of renovating the Egyptian, the Cinematheque actually revealed parts of the original structure that had been concealed for decades. Third, the process of renovating a historic building is incredibly complex and costly. The Cinematheque had to follow the City’s code for historic preservation and find the money to pay for everything. They were lucky to connect with a couple of very talented architects, Craig Hodgetts and Ming Fung. The team came up with a number of innovative and elegant solutions to some difficult problems.

I love seeing movies at the Egyptian these days. If the screen isn’t quite as big as it used to be, it’s still one of the largest you’ll find in LA. And the sound is way better than it was when the Egyptian was operating as a commercial movie theatre. So while the journal entry below shows my initial disappointment, as the politicians say, my views have evolved. When the theatre first reopened, I wanted it to be the way I remembered it in years past. That wasn’t possible. Things change.

Here’s a link to a page on the American Cinematheque web site that shows images of the Egyptian over the years.

Egyptian Theatre Past

And here’s a link to the Hodgetts and Fung web site that shows images of their renovation/restoration.

H+F Egyptian Theatre

Egyp Hier

January, Nineteen Ninety Nine

Well, last night I finally made it over to the American Cinematheque. And I’ve gotta say I’m pretty disappointed with what they’ve done to the Egyptian. I mean, if you just want to look at it as a modern, mid-sized theatre it’s fine. But, aside from preserving some of the decorative elements, it has nothing to do with what the Egyptian was. It seems like the auditorium is about half its original size. The screen is considerably smaller. The seats are cozy but narrow, and there’s very little leg room. I was more comfortable the other night at the Beverly. Why do they have that sign up that says it’s Grauman’s Egyptian? It’s not. Did any of the people involved seriously think they were restoring or renovating the original theatre? All they’ve done is build a mid-sized auditorium inside the shell of a movie palace. They’ve completely changed the interior and the exterior of the building. The experience of going to this new Egyptian Theatre is totally different, and it’s certainly not a change for the better.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I also have to say I’m really glad to have the American Cinematheque on Hollywood Boulevard. I’m pretty impressed by their programming so far. It seems like they really want to offer all kinds of films. In spite of what they’ve done to the Egyptian, I look forward to going back.

Last night we saw Cruising, and Friedkin was there to talk about it. I really liked the film. It was interesting to hear the director’s comments, too.

Egyp Columns

SCAG’s Scam

SCAG Comp 1

I don’t have a car, and I use public transit almost everywhere I go. So when In opened my e-mail one morning and found an announcement with the heading “SCAG Seeking Input from SoCal Residents”, I was definitely interested. SCAG is the Southern California Association of Governments, and they handle regional planning initiatives. The announcement explained that SCAG was holding six open houses to get input from the public on their Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS).

Because transit planning affects me personally, I felt like I should show up at one of these meetings. But when I looked at the schedule, I realized that it would be pretty difficult to attend any of them. In the first place, all but one of the open houses were happening during working hours, which meant I’d have to take time off work. In the second place, it would take at least an hour for me to reach any of the locations by public transit.

To me the most bizarre thing about these open houses is that not a single one was held within the City of Los Angeles. When you think about the fact that LA is the largest city in the region that SCAG serves, doesn’t it seem weird that they would ignore it completely? There are tens of thousands of Angelenos who depend on public transit to get around. Apparently SCAG doesn’t feel that they need to hear our input.

I found this so hard to believe that I wanted to research it further, so I went to SCAG’s web page for the RTP/SCS. I found out that a couple of meetings had been held in Downtown LA back in May, but as I read further I was even more dismayed. The two meetings they held on March 17 and March 18 were part of the scoping process for the Program Environmental Impact Report. In other words, these meetings were intended to get feedback from the public that would determine the scope of the PEIR, or the range of issues that needed to be addressed. And that’s all they had. Two meetings. One started at 3:00 pm and the other started at 5:00 pm. Again, SCAG seems completely oblivious to the fact that most of us have to work for a living.

And now we have the same problem in reverse. This recent series of meetings leaves LA residents ouf of the picture. But the scoping process apparently excluded everybody else. Were there other meetings held throughout the region to kick off the scoping process? I couldn’t find anything else on-line. The SCAG web site also alluded to a 30 day comment period, which ended on April 7. Unfortunately, I don’t recall receiving notification about any of this. I would’ve liked to be involved in the scoping process, but I guess I’m just out of luck.

The web site itself is an indication of how little SCAG scares about getting the public involved. On the page titled Public Participation Opportunites there’s a timeline with a series of links. Unfortunately, all of the links open a blank page with the message “404 File Not Found”. A number of PDFs are embedded in the page titled Staff Reports and Presentations. I clicked on all of them, and none of the files opened.

So back to this series of so-called open houses. Check out this map. The sites for the meetings are marked by black dots.

Map LA City w Locations

Yeah, I suppose I could’ve gone to the meeting in Culver City. If I’d been able to take the day off from work. If I’d been willing to travel at least an hour each way. But if SCAG really wanted to get my input, wouldn’t they have scheduled at least one meeting in LA? One meeting that Angelenos could easily get to on public transit? And why weren’t all the meetings held either at night or on weekends? Do they really think it’s fair to make people take time off work, especially when for many transit riders that would mean losing income?

The bottom line is, they don’t want my input. Or your input. Like many government agencies, they see public meetings as a nuisance. They’ve already figured out what they want to do. Getting feedback from the people is a time consuming process, and there’s alays the possibility that the public might want something different than the plan they’ve already decided on. The problem for these agencies is that a lot of the funding they get requires them to show that they’ve solicited feedback from the community. So in many cases, they slap together a series of token meetings which are deliberately planned to discourage attendance. And then when they submit the documentation required to justify the funding, they claim they’ve done extensive outreach.

SCAG isn’t the only guilty party. The City of LA frequently does the same thing. And I’m sure it happens all over the country. But SCAG’s series of “open houses” is maybe the most transparent scam I’ve seen along these lines. It really does make me angry. Not just because they’re shutting the public out, but because they have the gall to claim they’re serving the public. What’s really happening is that a closed circle of planners and politicians have gotten together and decided they know what’s best. And that they don’t need to hear from the people.

The timeline on the SCAG web site indicates that they’re planning to hold more meetings for public comment when the PEIR is released in October. But my guess is that when they post the schedule it’ll be more of the same. Call me cynical, but based on past experience, I’ve really lowered my expectations.