Downtown L.A.: A Light Ramble Through the Fashion District

    If Downtown L.A. is beginning to resemble a seedy but colorful Disneyland with its signposts marking out territories like the Historic Core and the Jewelry, Flower, Toy, and Old Bank districts, then it wouldn’t be remiss to dub the whole area Tomorrowland.

     Touring it, as I did the other day to see a friend’s new neighborhood, you get an undeniable sense that a foundation is being laid for a whole new future, one that in 15 or 20 years could make Downtown the true center of the city once again.

     For now, it’s alive with creativity and energy and the signs of change.  My friend, whom I’ll call Double N, has lived downtown for more than a year, and says the prevailing vibe is hustle and drive.  “The question here is not ‘who are you,’ but ‘what did you get done today, and where are you going with it?,” she says.  She recently moved from the tony South Park lofts to the newly opened Emil Brown building, which I love because the lofts are spacious with big banks of industrial-style windows.

Silhoutte of NN inside Emil Brown's Art Deco lobby

At the street level, this area near the corner of 9th and Santee is teeming with life, with vendors at work, storefronts open to the sidewalks and row upon row of crazily colorful bolts of cloth on display. 

    The Fashion District supplies all the raw materials of the design trade – cloth, sewing machines, mannequins, labor, and design and retail space – and it’s eight times the size of the garment district in New York, NN says.  “People on the Westside think they’re supporting downtown, but actually it’s downtown that makes the Westside possible,” she observes. 

  NN gave me a brief walking tour, starting across the street at Gram & Papa’s, a coffee and healthy eats café with the motto “Eat Clean, Play Dirty,” and on to the spectacular Bottega Louie, which opened last fall on Grand Ave. at 7th, and despite the grim financial climate, is a huge hit.  “Now this is downtown,” said Double N as she pushed open the glass door. We were immediately hit with an electric high of energy from happily chattering diners seated in a spacious, elegant, and appealing bistro that wouldn’t be out of place on the Champs d’Elysee.  The place includes a gourmet market with artisan-style takeout fare that looked incredibly tempting, and the prices for lunch are within reach. 

     Bottega Louie is housed in a former bank building, and that relates to what makes L.A.’s emerging downtown scene special and unique, according to Double N.  “In Boston, this would still be a bank,” she notes. But in L.A., where the whole downtown renaissance was kicked off with the 1999 adaptive reuse ordinance, there’s a large inventory of abandoned and neglected buildings that are actually stunning and ornate, and that are slowly being re-purposed.  That takes vision and passion, which is part of what draws a certain breed of people to the downtown scene.

    We also stopped at the spectacular Eastern Columbia building, a turquoise and copper-colored Art Deco edifice with a clock tower, built in 1930 as a clothing and furniture store, and converted several years ago to lofts (Johnny Depp is probably the best-known resident).   And we passed by the Orpheum building on Broadway, where loft residents get two free tickets to each live musical event in the historic Orpheum Theater.  That may be so they won’t complain about noise, but it might make it my residence of choice if I moved downtown (the likes of Van Morrison and Patti Smith recently played there).  What do you think?   If you live downtown or would like to, please add a comment.

    And that’s all for this time – I wish I had better photos for this post, but hopefully I’ll get some soon and add them in.


Filed under Downtown L.A., Los Angeles history, Uncategorized, Urban Exploring

Spirit chasing in the California desert

Some say he was a star/but he was just a country boy/his simple songs confess/and the music he had in him/so very few possess

'Joshua Tree Trip"

Room at the Inn

Like many a pilgrim before us, we finally made it to the Joshua Tree Inn, where we spent the night in the very room where the life of cosmic country rock pioneer Gram Parsons ended when he was just 26.

The original plan was to stay at the kitschy motel in Pioneertown where the Western movie stars used to stay in the 1940s while filming B pictures out there in the desert – but that place recently closed down.   That almost derailed our plan to drive all the way out to the Mojave to see an L.A. roots rock band with the genius to call itself Dawes, which was playing at the Pioneertown roadhouse Pappy & Harriets, a magnet for the crazy little music scene out there. 

But when I called the Joshua Tree Inn and they offered me Room 8, I sensed that it was meant to be. Both Billy and I have been Gram fans forever, and we even met at The Palomino, which used to hold an annual tribute on Gram’s birthday.  I’m pleased to report that things couldn’t be any nicer out there at the Joshua Tree Inn for Gram. There’s a very cool, respectful vibe, and you can definitely feel his spirit everywhere.  Photos, posters, mementos and a music player with a stack of his CDs are set out in the room, and there’s a red leather-bound, heart-stamped guest book where people leave their sentiments, drawings, and ghost stories. There’s even a shrine in the sand outside the motel room door, with a message that reads “Gram – Safe At Home” (after the title of his first album with the Int’l Submarine Band) surrounded by candles, feathers, Indian amulets, glass beads, tiny tequila bottles, sunglasses and guitar picks.  People say the room is haunted, and that the big round mirror opposite the bed moves for no reason – I didn’t see that, but the ceiling fan did come on by itself in the middle of the night for a while.

Some people leave tequila shots out here

One person who had recently stayed in the room and signed the book was guitarist Jock Bartley, who played with Gram’s band for a couple of months in 1973 right at the end. He wrote that he was with Phil Kaufman in L.A. when they got the terrible news that Gram wasn’t coming back from the desert.   There was a home-burned “Live in 1973” CD in the stack; we put it on, and when Gram’s band The Fallen Angels was introduced, Jock was mentioned as the guitar player.  Emmylou was singing with the band that night, too.

Barker Dam hike in Joshua Tree Nat'l Park

Remember “Boulder to Birmingham,” Emmylou’s tribute song after Gram’s death?  I thought of it when were out in Joshua Tree National Park, watching the sun go down from Keys View peak on the first “long day” of 2010.  An icy cold wind kicked up as the sun dropped, but Billy and I found shelter huddled against a low wall, and watched the deepening colors. It was gorgeous. 

“The last time I felt like this/I was in the wilderness/and the canyon was on fire”

Somewhere around there, Gram’s body was cremated, but we didn’t seek out the spot. Driving back in the inky blackness, what track popped on in Billy’s CD player but “In My Hour of Darkness,” which I quote lyrics from at the top of this blog entry. The music sounded blazingly clear and alive in the dry desert air. It was the tribute album, but I swear I heard Gram drop in to sing a verse.

As for Pappy & Harriet’s, it reminded me strongly of a typical Austin music hang, or a roadhouse in Alabama where I went to college.  Instead of gravel, the parking lot is made of desert sand, and there are Joshua trees growing right outside the door. Inside, it’s a rambling, rustic place, with the stage on one side, a room full of pool tables on the other, and a bar and kitchen in the middle.   The food is supposedly great, but the kitchen was closed so we had to make do with chips and salsa. The drinks are priced like in Texas – $2 each for cold draft beers, and the cover was $10 for three bands.  Dawes was loud and good, with a fun crowd of fans who’d mostly driven out from L.A. to see them, even though they had just played the Troubadour last week.  They told me they’re named after their grandfather, whose name was Dawes Goldsmith (two of the guys are brothers named Goldsmith), and they signed my CD “To the real Dawes.”

That and the T-shirt were worth the trip.  Out back of P&H’s, I saw two big patios with picnic tables.  where you can also hear the music.  That’s clearly where the scene is in the summer time, and I hope to find out on another occasion after the mercury rises.

Meanwhile, here are more of the pictures that Billy took.  What an eye, what an eye!  Please leave a comment if you have anything to add.

A pilgrim’s tribute


Filed under Americana, Getaways, Hiking, Roots Rock, Uncategorized

Spot Check L.A. (Friday photo puzzle #6)


Where in Los Angeles do you see this mural?

So there I was at this historic L.A. landmark that was utterly overrun with visitors, from old to very young, on Wednesday, Nov. 11 — the middle of the week, but apparently a day off for many because of Veterans Day — when I looked up and saw this and thought — anybody who’s a true Angeleno ought to be able to place this mural, right?  Because it really is iconic and historic and it was recently restored as part of a $93 million overhaul of the — the — the answer to this puzzle, that’s what.   That dark round spot at the top of this photo may look like a flaw, but it’s a big hint if you’re trying to guess where this mural can be found.  So if you know where it is, please post your answer in the comments section, and be as specific as you can.   The winner gets his or her name posted next week, and all attendant bragging rights. 

No one guessed the location of the billboard in last week’s puzzle: I wasn’t surprised, because it’s on a tiny street called Washington Place, in Culver City right off Washington Boulevard, in the center of the well-traveled art gallery district.   While it may not be seen by many, you can’t forget it once you’ve seen it.  It’s so loony and retro, isn’t it?  I wish I knew the story behind it.





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Spot Check L.A. (Friday photo puzzle #5)


Where in L.A. do you see this billboard?

Friday the 6th is here, and that means that next Friday is…..the 13th.  Watch out, people.  Based on the news, some dark states of mind are on a rampage out there. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a pill or powder to make us happy every day?  Whoever put up this billboard must’ve thought they had it bottled.  I don’t know anything about the story behind this billboard, but it exists, in all its lunatic, traffic-stopping glory, somewhere in L.A. between La Cienega and the sea (what some people call the Westside).  If you know where, post your answer in the comments section, and be as specific as you can.

And congratulations to Rob, who solved puzzle #4 in a flash:  He identified the beautiful blue babe as appearing on a mural located on the east side of La Brea Ave, on a gate next to 330 La Brea, to be exact.  Way to be specific, Rob!  And within 20 minutes of the puzzle going up!

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Blue Hawaii


LA Explored has been in Hawaii for a spell, where the island waves and breezes quelled all industrious intentions, and an all-media sabbatical prevailed.  Aaaahhhh.  Given that Los Angeles is the closest big city to the 50th state, is it fair to post a few vacation images?  I have always wished we were even closer, but as someone pointed out to me, it takes no more time to get there than driving to San Francisco, or to Mammoth (about five and a half hours).  We took Delta, which dings you $20 each way for each checked bag, but sort of makes up for it by providing personal entertainment systems, which rock. I caught up on movies I’ve missed – including The Soloist, which is a very L.A.-centric movie about the friendship between L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez and a gifted, Julliard-trained but mentally fragile street musician, Nathaniel Ayers, who was homeless when they met. It stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. I liked the movie because it was very realistic about the causes and challenges of homelessness, and while this made it less than a fairy tale, it also made it more worthwhile.  For comic relief I watched some of The Hangover, but we were landing before they even got to Vegas.

Not the boat I stayed on, but close to it.

Not the boat I stayed on, but close to it.


We spent the whole time on Oahu, which was a treat because we had time to really explore it.  The weather was tropical – sometimes sweltering. For the first week, I lived on a sailboat in a marina in Honolulu.  It was on the airport side, and giant planes flew overhead regularly, which sounds like a minus but was actually kind of thrilling.  Waking up early to see the morning light on the water and having coffee on the deck was great – and the best part was when we actually took the boat out on the ocean, sailing past Waikiki and Diamond Head.

Our skipper reefs the mainsail.

Our skipper reefs the mainsail.


The boat, a 42-foot ketch, is the full-time residence of my friend’s son Roman, who’s just starting his marine biology studies at the University of Hawaii and is already a DJ at the college radio station.  When he learned that I’m an entertainment journalist in L.A., he wanted to know if I’ve ever met Snoop Dogg.  I can’t say that I have.


When my husband was able to join us, we moved to a vacation rental near the beach in a little town called Waimanalo, which is on the windward side of the island, reached by taking an extremely scenic drive along the coast from Honolulu of about half an hour (you pass the big snorkeling bay, and the beach where From Here to Eternity was filmed).   Billy – known in the blog world as The 99 Cent Chef – was thrilled that the main street of this tiny town featured Keneke’s, a plate lunch stand that draws people from all over the island. Keneke I was more impressed with the beach, a nearly deserted five-mile stretch of white powder and heavenly water, just a short walk down the lane from our house.   We swam and kayaked, and among other highlights, hiked Diamond Head (surprisingly strenuous, but with a dazzling payoff), hiked Manoa Falls (Jurassic Park-like), explored Chinatown (great tip: the happy hour at art gallery/scene bar thirtyninehotel, with artisan cocktails and live music on the sultry rooftop lanai), went to a Wailers concert (Bob Marley music) at the Waikiki Shell, learned about Hawaiian history and natural history at the fantastic Bishop Museum, and poked around on the North Shore, where we snorkled with the huge green sea turtles at Turtle Beach, ate from the shrimp trucks (I think Macky’s is the best) and sampled the shave ice at Matsumo’s grocery. 

The beach at Waimanalo.

The beach at Waimanalo.

Behind the counter with the shave ice guy at Matsumoto Grocery.

Behind the counter with the shave ice guy at Matsumoto Grocery.

Out front, Matsumoto shave ice mecca on North Shore.

Out front, Matsumoto shave ice mecca on North Shore.


I wish I could go on reminiscing, but the real world waits

Hawaii Theater in Chinatown - Film Festival opening night.
Hawaii Theater in Chinatown – Film Festival opening night.
Beach at Waimanalo, looking south.

Beach at Waimanalo, looking south.

PinkPlumeriaSurfboardimpatiently.  Enjoy the pics!

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Friday Photo Puzzle #4

Too bad about the Dodgers — and my baseball-themed photo puzzle of two weeks ago also bombed out, as no one even hazarded a guess.   For the record, that oversized baseball marks the entrance to the baseball stadium on the USC campus — formally known as Dedaux Field.   This week’s image is definitely located along a more heavily travelled path — so I know somebody will get this one.   Here goes.   Post your answer as a comment, and be as specific about the location as you can.DSCI0227

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Spot Check L.A. (Friday photo puzzle #3)

Where in L.A. is this?  Hint: campus.

Where in L.A. is this? Hint: campus.

Wow – between the Dodgers in the playoffs and the arrival  of G-D (Gustavo Dudamel, who made a splashy debut last night with the L.A. Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall (broadcast live on FM 91.5, hope you got to hear it too!), it’s an exciting time to be an Angeleno.   This week’s puzzle pic was chosen in tribute to baseball fever – but it’s not located at Dodger Stadium.   I’m going to give a one-word hint:  campus.   I’ll be interested to see if anyone gets this.  If you know where it is, post your answer as a comment, and be as specific as possible.

As for last week’s puzzle, it was solved in a flash by Jeff, who located it at The Brig, a bar in Venice where it’s on the outside wall, and then again by runner-up Billy Mernit, who noted that it’s visible on Abbot Kinney Boulevard as you drive toward the beach. This distinctive mural went up in 1973, and has been repainted three times since.  Luckily I was able to locate the artist, well-known Southern California muralist Art Mortimer, who gives us the full scoop via e-mail:

Mural at The Brig, Venice, on Abbot Kinney Blvd.

Mural at The Brig, Venice, on Abbot Kinney Blvd.

“The two people in the mural are Babe and Betty Brandelli. When the mural was painted (1973), the place was called “Brandelli’s Brig.” Babe and Betty were the proprietors. Babe had been a Golden Gloves boxer in Venice in the ’30s, and the place was full of memorabilia of his boxing days. I’ve been told by the present owner that originally the place was built with a bar downstairs and a dance hall upstairs. When Babe took it over, he and Betty lived upstairs and there was no more dance hall.”

Background detail: Mortimer paints mural within mural.

Background detail: Mortimer paints mural within mural.

Art continues: “And yes, that’s me in the background, over Babe’s shoulder, painting the mural. My original concept was to create a monument to the process of painting a mural. But when I found the site and met Babe and Betty, I just HAD to put them in the mural– and the “painting” concept got pushed into the background. I was going to put a mural inside the mural inside the mural, but L.A. County Parks and Recreation (the mural’s sponsors) wanted their scaffolding back to loan to another artist for another mural. I don’t think there’s a name for that picture-within-a-picture sort of image.”

How interesting is that?  Thanks so much, Art, for the mural and the history.

Puzzle #2 Location Scout winner:  Jeff.   Runner-up:  Billy Mernit.  Thanks for playing, and please play again!

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