Where Is this Bridge Going?

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The old Sixth Street Bridge is gone. It was torn down early in 2016. The demolition was necessary because the concrete in the original structure was decaying. Work has begun on constructing a new Sixth Street Bridge, and right now it looks like it will be finished in 2020. (For the record, the formal project title is the Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project.)

Bridges are about making connections. The original structure was built in 1932, and was one of a series of bridges that spans the LA River. This ambitious infrastructure project started in the 20s and continued through the 30s, eventually allowing numerous crossings between Downtown and East LA. Here are a few photos of the old Sixth Street Bridge.

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A shot from the base of the bridge.

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A truck coming down the west side.

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A view of the bridge facing west.

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Downtown in the distance.

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A view of the San Gabriel Mountains from the old bridge.

The renderings of the new bridge are striking. It was designed by architect Michael Maltzan, but the project is a team effort, and the goal is to produce something much more than a bridge. Here’s a quote from Maltzan’s web site.

The design team including Michael Maltzan Architecture (Design Architect), HNTB (Engineer and Executive Architect), Hargreaves Associates (Landscape Architect), and AC Martin (Urban Planning) began with the fundamental understanding that the Viaduct is more than a simple replacement thoroughfare crossing the Los Angeles River. The project instead foresees a multimodal future for the City, one that accommodates cars, incorporates significant new bicycle connections. It also increases connectivity for pedestrians to access the Viaduct, not only at its endpoints, but along the entirety of the span, linking the bridge, the Los Angeles River, and future urban landscapes in a more meaningful relationship.

The project also includes a park and an arts center. You can see some images here.

Sixth Street Viaduct/PARC from LA Bureau of Engineering

Here are some shots of the project site from March 2017, when work on the new bridge was just beginning.

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For the time being, this is where Sixth St. ends.

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Lots of machinery on the project site.

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Looking across the river toward East LA.

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A shot of the riverbed when construction was just starting.

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Another angle.

And here are some shots from August 2017.

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A little more progress has been made.

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A closer view.

For the team involved with the design, this project is all about bringing things together, creating connections and offering new ways for people to experience this space. One of the chief goals is to link the Arts District with Boyle Heights and the LA River. That sounds pretty cool in the abstract, but in actual fact there are a lot of reasons to worry about the downside. I’m sure Maltzan and his team see this project as a positive thing, but that’s not surprising. They’re architects and engineers engaged in creating a spectacular new piece of infrastructure. And of course the City’s website  is all about the upside.  But really, the City’s glib promo materials don’t begin to describe what’s happening here. By itself, the new bridge may sound great, but if you look at it in the larger context of the area’s culture and economy, you start to realize that this project could have serious negative impacts.

Any large scale infrastructure project, any attempt to remake the landscape, is going to affect the surrounding communities. These impacts can be good or bad, and often it’s a mix of the two. In this case, the biggest issue is one that never gets mentioned on the City’s web site. It’s the same issue that communities all over LA are dealing with. Displacement. Downtown LA has been going through a massive construction boom, with high-end housing and high-end retail largely transforming that community into an upscale enclave. Now developers are eyeing neighborhoods on the other side of the river.

The residents of Boyle Heights are already feeling the effects of gentrification, as real estate investors looking for cheap land and big profits have been buying up parcels in the area. Evictions are already happening, and many people who live in this largely Latino community are afraid they’ll be next. You may have read about the protests that have taken place in recent years. Here are some shots from an action staged by East LA residents in September 2016.  Protesters met at the intersection of Whittier and Boyle, where the old bridge touched down on the East Side.

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“Boyle Heights Is Not for Sale.”

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Families are worried about losing their homes.

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Many people on this side of the river see gentrification as violence.

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New art galleries are seen as harbingers of displacement.

The protest movement in Boyle Heights has gotten a fair amount of media attention, partly because in some cases the protesters have used aggressive tactics in trying to shut down a new coffee house and some local galleries. They see these businesses as the first outposts of coming gentrification. There are people who have questioned the protesters’ methods, complaining that they’ve gone too far. But let me ask you this. If you were in danger of losing your home and being driven out of your neighborhood, how far do you think you’d be willing to go?

It’s no accident that communities like Boyle Heights have been targeted by real estate investors. Land is cheaper there than in Downtown, and they know that the completion of the bridge and the accompanying amenities will make the area more desirable to upscale residents. We’ve already seen something similar happen in the Arts District. A largely low-income community has been rapidly transformed by a massive influx of developer dollars, and the people who had lived there for years, in fact, the people who actually built the community, have been driven out.  A similar scenario has been unfolding in Hollywood, and with the construction of the Crenshaw/LAX line you can see the same thing happening in communities like Leimert Park.

Investment in a community can be a good thing, but not when it drives out the people who have spent their lives there. And these days it’s not a gradual evolution. City Hall works with developers to target areas for rapid growth, almost all of it geared toward affluent new residents. When the City or County lays plans for new infrastructure, like light rail or parks or, in this case, a bridge, real estate investors move in quickly.  Often these investors are well connected at City Hall and already have possible projects in mind.  In other cases they’re speculators just snapping up parcels that they know will rise in value. They don’t plan to build anything, since they know they can make a profit just by sitting on the property until new infrastructure is in place.  And Mayor Garcetti gleefully promotes the aggressive transformation of these communities, apparently without giving a thought to the real suffering that displacement is causing for thousands of Angelenos. It seems he feels he was elected just to serve the affluent.

These days I hear so much talk about making LA a “world class city”, and I’m really sick of it. Garcetti’s idea of creating a “world class city” is about pouring billions into new infrastructure so that developers can cash in by building upscale enclaves for the affluent. Personally, I don’t care what class LA is in. If we can’t help hardworking people stay in their homes, if we can’t support communities that people have invested their lives in building, then this city is a failure.

You can spend all the money you want on bridges and parks and rivers and rail lines. All that stuff is meaningless if at the same time we’re dismantling our communities, the human infrastructure that really holds this city together.

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What Does this Building Mean?

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What does a building mean?

It’s an interesting question, and there’s no easy answer. Any building is going to have different meanings to different people. But the question is crucial when you start talking about preservation. Maybe we want to save a structure because it’s beautifully designed. Or maybe it held a special place in the community. Sometimes we want to hang on to a structure because of the role it played in the city’s history. Then again, there may be reasons why people want to see a building go away….

Back in 2016 I was at a City Planning Commission (CPC) hearing when Parker Center was on the agenda. The former home of the LAPD, the building has been closed for years. It was built in the mid-50s, and was orginally called the Police Administration Building (also the Police Facilities Building).* It was renamed Parker Center after the death of Chief William Parker in 1966. But it’s been empty since the LAPD moved into its new headquarters almost a decade ago. And since then the City has been trying to figure out what to do with it.

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The marker at the entrance bearing the dedication to Chief Parker.

Actually, it doesn’t seem like there was much debate at City Hall over the building’s fate. A new master plan has been proposed for the Civic Center, and there seems to be general agreement that Parker Center needs to be demolished. But the LA Conservancy argued that the structure should be preserved, both because of its design and the role it played in LA history.

So on the day I was at the CPC hearing there were two speakers on different sides of the issue. One was Jeremy Irvine, who argued for saving Parker Center. He pointed out that it was designed by Welton Becket & Associates, an innovative architectural firm that played a crucial role in shaping the look of mid-century LA. Irvine went on to talk about the building’s place in the life of the city, arguing that it was an important piece of LA history.

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A side view of Parker Center

The other speaker agreed that the building had played a role in LA history, but from her perspective it represented pain, loss and prejudice. Ellen Endo is a journalist with deep roots in Japanese community. She talked about how at the beginning of the 20th century Little Tokyo’s boundaries extended far beyond where they lie now, and how over the years LA power brokers have carved out large chunks of the neighborhood. The site where Parker Center stands now used to be a part of Little Tokyo. Endo said that for many in the Japanese community the building represented prejudice and opression.

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A view of Parker Center from First Street

So at the hearing in 2016 the CPC heard two very different versions of what Parker Center means. And really, I think the discussion was moot. The Conservancy’s efforts delayed the process, but I believe it was decided long ago that the building’s coming down. The Board of Public Works will be reeciving bids for demolition through February 21. It will probably be gone by the end of the year.

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The main entrance to the building.  The sculpture, by Tony Rosenthal, is meant to depict a policeman protecting a family.

As to what’s going to replace it, I think that’s still an open question. While the City has an ambitious master plan for Civic Center, nobody knows where they’ll get the money to build it. The plan lays out a long-term vision with multiple phases, and it could be years before any real decisions are made. If you want to learn more, check out this article from the Downtown News.

New Civic Center Master Plan

(* Sam Fuller fans may remember that Parker Center is featured in The Crimson Kimono. Shot in Downtown during the late 50s, the film spends a good deal of time documenting life in Little Tokyo. It’s an amazing view of the community at that time.)

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From Benevolence to Malevolence: The Awful Story of PAMC

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It’s amazing how running across a random news story can open doors you never knew existed. A couple days ago I was flipping through the Downtown News web site and I came across an editorial dealing with the closure of the Pacific Alliance Medical Center (PAMC). I’d never heard of it before, but the article made clear that shuttering the facility was a major problem for the low-income Asians, Latinos and Blacks that live in the area. Local politicians were apparently talking to County and State officials to try to find other healthcare options for the community.

Like I said, a week ago I didn’t even know PAMC existed. After a few hours of surfing the net, I’d read enough to realize that this facility wasn’t just a crucial part of the local healthcare network. It had also played an important role in the City’s history. It began as a laudable effort by 19th century Angelenos to care for the people of the community. Sadly, it seems to have ended as a result of the greed and dishonesty that plague our healthcare system.

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View of Pacific Alliance Medical Center at Hill and College

It was a surprise to me that back in 1860 there was a significant French community living in what we now call Downtown. When it became clear that LA’s first hospital, St. Vincent’s, couldn’t provide care for the growing population, local leaders banded together to form the French Benevolent Society. In time they acquired some land at what is now the corner of College and Hill, and built the first version of the French Hospital. The lovely building that stands there today is much larger than the original structure. It was expanded and remodelled a few times over the years. According to the LA Conservancy, architects W. S. Garrett (1916), Armand Monaco (1926 remodel), and R. C. Nielsen (1964 remodel and expansion) were among those involved. If you want to learn more about the history of LA’s early French community and the origins of the hospital, here’s a link to the blog Frenchtown Confidential.

Joan of Arc in Chinatown: A Brief History of Los Angeles’ French Hospital

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Statue of Joan of Arc

The hospital has been operating continuously since it was founded, but in the 80s it ran into financial trouble and was acquired by a group of doctors and investors. That’s when it became the Pacific Alliance Medical Center. By that time it had become a crucial resource for the Chinatown community, serving the local Asian, Latino and Black population. It offered healthcare to thousands of low-income residents who were covered by Medicare and Medicaid. Also important, staff at PAMC spoke a variety of languages that enabled them to communicate with patients who spoke little or no English.

Fast forward to fall of 2017. In early October PAMC abruptly announced that the hospital would be shutting down. The owners claimed that they were closing the facility because it didn’t comply with seismic safety requirements, and said they couldn’t afford to build a new structure. PAMC was shut down on November 30. With less than two months notice, the patients who had been receiving care there had to find other doctors, and over 500 employees were out of a job. Here’s the editorial from the Downtown News that makes clear what a hardship this is for the community.

Pacific Alliance Closure from Downtown News

The owners claimed they closed the place because they couldn’t afford to comply with State earthquake requirements, but some people suspected there were other reasons. Earlier in 2017 PAMC had paid a $42 million settlement as the result of a Justice Department investigation. A whistleblower had accused PAMC of creating marketing arrangements that provided kickbacks to physicians and also of paying inflated rates to rent office space. The owners denied this had anything to do with the closure.

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A small green space at one corner of the building

Arranging for kickbacks to doctors and boosting payments for office space may sound bad, but there are reasons to believe it’s a lot more serious than that. I took a look at PAMC’s filing on the California Secretary of State’s web site dated November 18, 2016. It listed Dr. Carl Moy as the CEO. A quick search revealed that his reviews on Yelp were lousy. But I also found Moy listed on another filing at the State web site, this time as Secretary for a company called SynerMed.

Never heard of SynerMed? I hadn’t either. Turns out they’re one of the country’s largest medical practice management companies, with hundreds of thousands of patients in California. They work behind the scenes, acting as a middle-man for doctors and clinics, collecting millions of dollars in payments from Medicare and Medicaid. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of that money wasn’t going to patient care. In early October Synermed’s Senior Director of Compliance, Christine Babu, presented a report to her bosses. Apparently for years company employees had been improperly denying care to patients and faking documents to cover up the practice. According to Babu, the company made an effort to keep her quiet. Not long afterward her report ended up in the hands of state regulators.

SynerMed has announced that it will be closing down, and the State has launched an investigation. But the thing that caught my attention was the connection with PAMC. Dr. Moy has been listed as an officer for both companies. And it was just days after Christine Babu first presented her report that PAMC announced it was shutting its doors. In light of that, I have a hard time believing the seismic safety story. Just months ago they paid $42 million to settle a suit related to kickbacks, and now someone who served as a corporate officer is tied to a company that’s under investigation for massive Medicaid fraud. To me it sounds like there’s been shady stuff going on at PAMC for years, and it’s finally caught up with them.

If you want more details on what’s gone down at SynerMed, here’s the story the Daily News ran.

Managed-Care Firm SynerMed Improperly Denied Care to Thousands

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Sign posted on the side of the building facing Hill

This is really a tragedy. Whatever level of care PAMC was providing to the Chinatown community, the patients are out in the cold now. Some of them will find other places to go, but it’s getting harder and harder for low-income families to find providers who will welcome them. Add to that the fact that many of the patients are seniors who may have difficulty travelling farther, and those Asian patients with limited English skills could be hard pressed to connect with doctors who speak their language.

So that’s the story. A hospital is founded in the 19th century by a group of citizens who realize that the community needs healthcare. In the 20th century it expands to meet the challenge of providing care to a diverse, low-income neighborhood. And now, less than two decades into the 21st century, its doors are closed, seemingly the result of rampant greed and dishonesty.

Why do I feel like this story is just one more depressing reflection of the times we live in?

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Tenants Raise Alarm at Historic Schindler Apartments

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The speculative real estate binge that’s sweeping across LA right now has drawn a swarm of unscrupulous people willing to do whatever it takes to make a profit. In talking to community members over the past few years I’ve heard some hair-raising stories, but nothing that tops the reports I’ve heard from the tenants of the Sachs Apartments in Silverlake.

To give you some background, the Sachs Apartments (also known as Manola Court) were created by architect Rudolph Schindler for interior designer Herman Sachs. They’re a stunning example of Schindler’s work, a collection of buildings that step gracefully down a hillside, connected by steep stairways and terraced paths. The City of LA has recognized the importance of the site, naming it a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) in 2016.

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A view of the Sachs Apartments from Edgecliffe.

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Another view from Edgecliffe.

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A gate leading to a walkway between two buildings.

The Sachs Apartments were purchased by the current owners some years back. While there are three names listed on documents filed with the City, the person who has been dealing with the tenants and supervising the “restoration” is Paul Finegold. I’ve been hearing a lot about Mr. Finegold lately, and most of the comments have been pretty negative.

To start with, a number of tenants claim that Finegold has been harrassing them, and they believe he’s doing his best to get rid of them. There have been reports that he doesn’t maintain the units properly, and is slow to act when problems come up. I wanted to learn more, so last Thursday I showed up for a meeting of the Urban Design & Preservation Advisory Committee of the local neighborhood council. The only item on the agenda was the situation at the Sachs Apartments, and there was plenty to talk about. A number of tenants attended. They talked about water leaking through the ceiling, workers leaving debris on the site, and respiratory issues that may be related to dust from construction. Apparently Finegold has posted at least one unit on AirBnB, and the tenants said the guests are often out of control. One woman said she found a couple having sex right in front of her apartment.

And there’s more. According to the people at the meeting, three tenants have already been evicted by Finegold, who claimed that he, his mother, and a resident manager were moving in. But according to the current tenants, neither Finegold nor his mother nor the manager are living on the site.

Beyond all that, a lot of people are asking whether Finegold is restoring the Sachs Apartments or wrecking them. Remember, this is a Historic-Cultural Monument designed by someone who played a key role in LA’s architectural history. Having pledged to do a careful restoration of the site, Finegold is receiving substantial tax breaks under the Mills Act. But tenants say he’s made significant alterations, reconfiguring the interiors of some units and removing the bathroom from one. They also claim workers have cut down 4 mature trees and removed tiles designed by the original owner, Herman Sachs. Former tenant Judith Sheine, an authority on Schindler’s work, has expressed her concern that Finegold’s crews are doing damage to the complex.

I decided to go to the LA Department of Building & Safety (LADBS) web site to check out some of the permits that Finegold has pulled. Here are some excerpts….

“REMOVE FULL BATH ON FIRST FLOOR AND CREATE A POWDER ROOM ELSEWHERE ALSO ON FIRST FLOOR. NO CHANGE TO PLOT PLAN.”

“CONVERT A 3 UNIT APARTMENT TO A 4 UNIT APARTMENT WITH INTERIOR ALTERATIONS.”

“ADD NEW BATH; REMOVE AND REPLACE SELECTED WINDOWS; NEW ROOFING; NEW COLOR COAT EXTERIOR PLASTER”

Is it really okay to do all this with a building that’s been designated as an HCM? Was LADBS aware that this is a historic building? Obviously, any structure that’s over 80 years old is going to need some work to comply with current codes, but removing a bathroom? Converting one structure from 3 to 4 units? Remember, Finegold is getting tax breaks under the Mills Act for the work he’s doing, and that means he’s required to follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Historic Resources Group, a widely respected consulting firm, helped Finegold file the Mills Act application. Do they know what’s going on at the Sachs Apartments?

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A view of the Sachs Apartments from Lucile.

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Far corner of the building on Lucile.

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Another view of the building from Lucile.

And to top it all off, now Finegold has applied to convert 5 of the units to a bed and breakfast. That may seem like a small number, but remember, we’re in the middle of a housing crisis. And based on their experiences with Finegold, some of the tenants are worried that he eventually plans to convert the whole complex to a bed and breakfast.

So, will the Department of City Planning (DCP) reward this guy by allowing the change of use? Seems likely. In spite of the fact that City Hall keeps telling us that we don’t have nearly enough housing, the DCP has shown itself to be more than willing to work with owners who want to remove rental units from the market. The DCP has heard all about the tenants’ concerns, and so has Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office. But so far nobody from the City seems willing to stand up and ask what the hell is going on at the Sachs Apartments.

If you think somebody from the City should be asking questions, maybe you could let them know you’re concerned. Send an e-mail to DCP staffer Azeen Khanmalek, and be sure to copy Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.

How about this for a subject line?

Investigate Possible Damage to Historic Sachs Apartments

Azeen Khanmalek, Department of City Planning
Azeen.Khanmalek@lacity.org

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell
councilmember.ofarrell@lacity.org

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The Broad

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Last week I finally made it down to The Broad. I lucked out because some friends had an extra ticket and invited me along. I really recommend making a reservation. The lines for visitors who don’t have one are still super long.

The front of the building on Grand Ave.

The front of the building on Grand Ave.

Riding up the escalator to the galleries.

Riding up the escalator to the galleries.

I got there a little early and spent some time just checking out the building’s exterior. It’s gorgeous. The two design firms that worked on the project, Diller Scofidio + Rensler and Gensler, worked from a concept they call “vault and veil”. The vault is where the museum stores its collection, and instead of trying to hide it, which is the standard approach, they allowed the structure of the vault to play a major role in shaping the space. The veil is the building’s outer layer, a porous sheath that lets natural light filter into the galleries.

Jeff Koons, Tulips

Jeff Koons, Tulips

A room full of Warhol.

A room full of Warhol.

Mark Bradford, Corner of Desire and Piety

Mark Bradford, Corner of Desire and Piety

Mark Tansey, Forward Retreat

Mark Tansey, Forward Retreat

Chris Burden, Bateau de Guerre

Chris Burden, Bateau de Guerre

Looking at the works in Broad’s collection, it’s clear that the guy’s got a keen eye and an open mind. Unlike the super rich predators who’ve crowded into the art market looking for status symbols and investment opportunities, Broad is passionately interested in the ways that artists express themselves and interact with the world around them. Wandering through the galleries, I was struck by the depth and diversity of the works on view, but I was even more impressed by how engaging this innaugural show is. It can be tough just getting the general public to take a look at contemporary art. Believe it or not, some people don’t get excited about looking at massive hunks of sheet metal or walking into galleries filled with rotting vegetables. But the wide variety of pieces in this first show offer a range of experiences, and there’s something for everybody. If you’re an art scenester looking for challenging conceptual stuff, Mark Bradford takes over a wall to talk about post-Katrina economic realities in New Orleans. And if you’re a teen-age pop culture freak, you’ll probably want to whip out your phone and snap a few shots of Takashi Murakami’s giant psychedelic mushrooms. With works on display by Kara Walker, Joseph Beuys, Susan Rothenberg, Chris Burden, Ed Ruscha, Yayoi Kusama, Mark Tansey, Cady Noland and dozens of others, you’re sure to find something that will grab your attention.

Thomas Struth, Audience II (Galleria dell'Accademia) Florenz

Thomas Struth, Audience II (Galleria dell’Accademia) Florenz

Art you can read, from John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha.

Art you can read, from John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha.

Charles Ray, Fall '91

Charles Ray, Fall ’91

I’m really grateful to Eli Broad for pulling this whole thing together. Aside from the thrill of seeing so much amazing art gathered together in one place, I was excited to see crowds of visitors milling through the galleries. And these people weren’t just passively strolling from one room to the next. They were posing with the art, laughing at the art, and talking about the art. This really is a museum for the people.

If you haven’t gone yet, what are you waiting for?

The Broad

Park located at the side of the building.

Park located at the side of the building.

Glendale Municipal Services Building

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LA has a remarkable architectural history. For decades writers and photographers have been documenting our homes and hotels, coffee shops and car washes, but there are still plenty of buildings that haven’t gotten nearly the attention they deserve. A prime example is the Glendale Municipal Services Building. It’s kind of surprising, given that the GMSB sits right out in the open at the corner of Glendale and Broadway, and that one of LA’s best known architectural firms was involved in the design.

The side of the building facing Broadway.

The side of the building facing Broadway.

Northwest corner of the building.

Northwest corner of the building.

Probably part of the reason for its neglect is that it’s in Glendale. When most people think about LA architecture, they think of Downtown or Hollywood or the West Side. Generally speaking, the Valley isn’t seen as a hotbed of innovation in design, though it does have its share of interesting structures. No question, the GMSB is one of them.

The building is lifted above street level by pylons of steel and concrete.

The building is lifted above street level by pylons of steel and concrete.

A close-up of one of the pylons.

A close-up of one of the pylons.

Stairway leading to the first level.

Stairway leading to the first level.

The fountain at the center of the courtyard.

The fountain at the center of the courtyard.

Another shot of the stairway.

Another shot of the stairway.

In surfing the net, I didn’t come up with a lot of information about the GMSB. Every web site I’ve been to mentions both Merrill Baird and the A.C. Martin firm. Baird is pretty obscure. It seems not much is known about him. The only other examples of his work I could uncover were a few homes, all in pretty traditional styles. Based on what I’ve seen, his involvement in a cutting-edge modern structure like the GMSB is pretty surprising.  It seems he had more to offer than his previous work suggests.  The Los Angeles Conservancy’s web site credits Baird with revealing the supporting pylons by removing decorative columns that were originally part of the GMSB’s design. Click on the link below to read more.

Municipal Services Building from LA Conservancy

All offices open onto the central atrium.

All offices open onto the central atrium.

A decorative pattern is worked into the railing.

A decorative pattern is worked into the railing.

There are three stories of offices, but the building is lifted off the ground at its base by concrete supports. To enter the GMSB, you walk down into the central courtyard, and then use the stairs or the elevator to get to the upper floors. All the offices open onto the central atrium, and there are plenty of windows allowing workers to enjoy natural light. Even though traffic is constantly flowing on the surrounding streets, the space at the center of the building is quiet and peaceful.

A shot of the fountain from above.

A shot of the fountain from above.

And a shot of the stairway from above.

And a shot of the stairway from above.

Walkway on the third level.

Walkway on the third level.

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The Conservancy’s web site describes the building as brutalist. While some of its features connect it to that school, it doesn’t have the heavy, blunt appearance of other brutalist structures. Generally the apartment blocks and office buildings built in that style tend to dominate the landscape. But not this one. It has a totally different vibe. It illuminates the landscape.

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1939 Meets 1984

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Not too long ago I was taking the train to visit some friends. I got to Union Station a little early, so I thought I’d buy a paper to read on the trip. But as I was walking in the direction of the newsstand, I got a small shock. It wasn’t there any more.

The place where the newsstand used to be.

The place where the newsstand used to be.

Now, I know people don’t read papers like they used to, so maybe I’m just a dinosaur living in the past. This newsstand did have a pretty good selection of newspapers and magazines, but it’s not like it was a historic landmark. It was just a tiny little shop that sold the kind of stuff you buy when you’re waiting for a train.

But that isn’t the only thing that’s changed at Union Station. In fact, the whole feel of the place is changing, and I can’t say I like it.

Completed in 1939, Union Station was designed by a group of architects led by John and Donald Parkinson. It brings together a number of different styles that were popular at the time, including Streamline Moderne, Mission Revival and Art Deco, and it has the feel of a massive museum devoted to a bygone era. It used to be a great place to chill. I liked hanging out there. I’d show up early if I was taking the train and relax in the old leather chairs. Read a paper. Have some coffee. Watch the sunlight streaming down through the huge windows.

These days it doesn’t feel so relaxing. In the first place, the chairs are now cordoned off and there are guards making sure that only people with a ticket get in. I know there have been problems with homeless people camping out there and asking travellers for spare change. And I still remember the time I was waiting for a train and there was a guy who kept screaming really loud. He sat on the floor against one of the columns while two guards tried to talk to him, and he just kept on screaming. So I know there’s a reason for maintaining some restrictions, but it makes the place feel a whole lot less inviting. And let’s be honest, this approach is typical of the City of LA. Rather than actually trying to deal with the homeless, the addicted and the mentally ill, the City just shuts them out. Putting up another barrier doesn’t solve the problem. It’s just a way of avoiding it.

Waiting areas are now cordoned off.

Waiting areas are now cordoned off.

And what about the bagel shop? There used to be a little mom and pop place that sold a wide variety of bagels, and often when I was taking the train that’s where I’d stop to pick up some breakfast. It disappeared a while ago. What do we have in its place? You guessed it. Starbucks. We lost a little independent business that sold good bagels, and now we have another corporate coffee house. In fact, more and more Union Station has been taken over by chains.

Corporate coffee...

Corporate coffee…

...corporate sandwiches...

…corporate sandwiches…

...corporate snacks.

…corporate snacks.

I used to like hanging out in Union Station, but not so much any more. These days it’s kind of like spending time in a detention center that’s attached to a strip mall. The vibe of the place has changed. It feels colder. More corporate.

But I shouldn’t be surprised. Isn’t that what’s happening to the whole country?