People! I know it has been a while, and I apologise. But I guess it is better to be too busy to blog than to have plenty of time to blog because nothing is doing, if you know what I mean.
I’ll rewind back to late January, which is when mum visited. We managed to cram a hell of a lot into the ten days she was here. Our first outing was to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Park on Hollywood Blvd, perhaps the only Frank Lloyd Wright house anywhere that you can actually go into. The house was owned by a woman named Aline Barnsdall, who ran theatre companies, travelled a great deal and who generally sounds like a feminist hero. Her favourite flower was the hollyhock (hence the name of the house) and you can see Wright’s interpretation of the flower, mostly in concrete form, throughout the building. The house was left to the City of Los Angeles, was semi derelict for some time and is now about three quarters of the way to being completely restored.
The next day, still on the architecture tip, mum and I took a tour of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. A tour with a guide, that is. We were the only people on it, which was actually to our liking. We saw homes/buildings by the likes of Rudolph Schindler, Frank Lloyd Wright and Lloyd Wright (the son), a crazy house in Beverly Hills that was built for a film made in the 1920s that I can’t remember the name of now, and some other interesting things such as an early structure by Frank Gehry on Melrose that is now a gallery/studio.
That weekend we went to the extraordinary Getty Center in Brentwood. We took the scenic route there, up into the Hollywood Hills and along Mulholland Drive, passing through Laurel and Runyon canyons. You can see down into the huge expanse of the San Fernando Valley as you drive along Mulholland.
Designed by Richard Meier, the Getty Center is set high on a hill and affords magnificent views of (some of) LA and surrounds. The art housed there is ok; the point is really the whole experience, I think. Definitely one place you simply must go if you are ever in Los Angeles.
We also headed out to Santa Monica one day; unbelievably I still hadn’t been there up to that point. The beachfront is attractive and is home to the Santa Monica pier and its famous fun fair. The residential/shopping areas seemed pretty bland to me; I’m glad I didn’t capitulate to pressure to live there. It is ages away from Hollywood, the east side, downtown and anywhere someone like me might care to go.
Towards the end of mum’s time here we went to Las Vegas. The bus trip there was fantastic; early on there are amazing views of the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains (home to Big Bear, the resort made famous by Bold), then you move into the Mojave Desert – very desolate apart from desert ‘tufts’ and Joshua trees. And, at times, strange religious-oriented signage. We zoomed past ten signs set about 30 metres apart from each other; each one had one of the Ten Commandments written on it. Very ‘weird America’.
Vegas is, well, a trip. I think anyone with a soul would become hysterical if they spent more than a few days there. We were pretty sure we had the worst hotel on the whole strip (The Imperial Palace), but it was part of the tour package so we were stuck with it. The room was actually okay, but the casino there was pretty depressing. We checked out some of the other hotels while we were there – their casinos didn’t reek quite so heavily of desperation.
Part of the tour package was a trip to the Grand Canyon; specifically, the south rim, which is in Arizona. The trip there took about five hours. We had been warned it would be extremely cold there, and it was – the only other time I have been anywhere near that cold was in a shack in the Northern Territory at night. I was convinced I had frostbite – I had unbearable pain in my fingertips but they were also numb, if that makes any sense. The Grand Canyon really is an unbelievable sight, though, and I’m glad we made the effort to see it. According to our guide, Indian tribes still live in the bottom of it. Two things I had running through my head the whole day, because I am a sad product of 20th century popular culture, were the Brady Bunch’s trip to the Grand Canyon and ‘Arizona Sky’ by China Crisis.
That is pretty much mum’s trip; we did a few other fun things in LA like have a drink at the Chateau Marmont and dinner at the Bar Marmont, and we saw a gig by Olafur Arnalds at the Echoplex, where mum got asked for ID.
Mum left on a Saturday and the very next day I did another tour run by Esotouric, the people behind the Bukowski tour. This one was of South Los Angeles, somewhere I’d never been and where most people would have no reason to go. In other words, my favourite kind of area. The tour was inspired by English architectural critic Reyner Banham, one of the first critics to really love, appreciate and attempt to understand Los Angeles. He taught the main tour guide at the University of Santa Cruz.
I found this tour so interesting; we headed down into areas like Vernon (one of the few places you could legally drink in LA during Prohibition, apparently), Bell, Bell Gardens (which has some community housing designed by Richard Neutra), Gage, Santa Fe Springs (where we visited a home by Irving Gill that our guide believes to one of the earliest modernist structures in LA – conventional wisdom is that Neutra and Schindler brought that aesthetic to SoCal). Really, none of these areas are conventionally attractive but they were teeming with life – we saw Hispanic families having streetside barbeques and went to the Gage Bowl where everyone seemed to be having a whale of a time.
The last stop on the tour, and the one I was most excited about, was Downey. Most of my excitement stemmed from the fact that Downey is where the Carpenters came from. The area is a quintessentially Californian, Carpenters-esque, summery, 70s suburban dream – quiet, green lawns, sun-drenched. (I believe there is gang activity in Downey, as there is everywhere in LA, but that there have been huge community efforts to quell it.)
We visited two apartment blocks commissioned by Richard and Karen – one is called Only Just Begun and the other is called Close To You. Apparently a graphic designer friend of the tour guide said that he has never seen this font used anywhere else, ever.
We also went past the Carpenters’ high school.
Here is the third ever (and oldest existing) McDonalds in the United States and therefore in the world. I wish my pictures of it were better; it really was extremely cool. Oddly, this McDonalds is now not part of the overall franchise. I don’t really understand how that works.
The last stop in Downey was a diner that was central to the kustom kar kulture that certain types in Melbourne are in love with and which was born in Southern California. Completed in 1958, the diner was originally called Harvie’s Broiler and then Johnie’s Broiler. Hot rod aficionados would come from miles around to cruise its parking lot. It was nearly completely torn down (illegally) in 2007, but was saved at the eleventh hour by the Bob’s Big Boy chain. The current building incorporates elements of the original structure (most significantly the sign).
Our tour group happened upon a few grizzled, tattooed hot rod guys in the parking lot who told us tales of coming to the diner when they were younger and who let us have a good stickybeak at their cars. One of them had a record player in his car and started playing some ace 60s soul for us. I should have Shazamed it.
You might recognise the interior of the diner from one of the California episodes in the last season of Mad Men (Don and Megan take the kids out and one of them spills a milkshake; Megan deals with the situation in a calm, non-Bettyish fashion).
I’ll do another blog post about my trip up to central California and the Pacific Northwest before the girls arrive on 11th March. It’ll probably be my last, as I don’t think I’ll have much time to blog between SxSW and my return home. The post may or may not incorporate something about ‘wot I have learned’ – depends how expansive/reckless I’m feeling at the time.