Thursday, July 19, 2007

Visiting...with the Militant Angeleno

The Militant would like to take this opportunity to admit one of his many daydreams/goals/aspirations to the blog-reading public: To one day be Huell Howser's successor upon his retirement or demise (Lest you be concerned, the Militant has absolutely no intention of expediting the latter...I said I'm Militant, not psycho!). Granted, there will be no doubt that the producers at KCET would have serious reservations about my militant attitude, but on the other hand, if Channel 28 is known for having aired Masterpiece Theatre during my youth but now shows rock concerts, there could be hope for this Militant yet. Until then, this Militant will have to live out his dream on the series of tubes called the Internet. So welcome to the first installment of Visiting...with the Militant Angeleno.

The Boxer's Wild: Wild Card Boxing Club, Hollywood
Just mere blocks south of the World's Most Famous Intersection and stacked atop a nondescript aging minimall stands a powerhouse of professional boxing's history and future: The Wild Card Boxing Club, packing a punch in the center ring of Hollywood. Owned and established by renowned boxing trainer Freddie Roach, an Irish American second-generation former boxer from Massachusetts who has since gone on to train Iron Mike Tyson, Angeleno golden boy Oscar de La Hoya and Philippine pehnom Manny Pacquiao. The room is heavily decorated with framed and unframed photographs, fight posters and magazine clippings of the above fighters and an his diverse clientele over the years, including posters and photos of Roach's own boxing days. The place is a literal United Nations of boxing, with flags of the USA, Ireland, Italy, Russia, South Korea, the Philippines, Ukraine, Scotland and Australia adorning the walls, and boxers from or possessing roots in other countries such as Mexico and Armenia are seen busily jumping rope, punching on bags, doing sit-ups or sparring in the ring. The diversity in this gym doesn't look too much different than the city that buzzes outside its musty, noisy quarters. There are even a few female boxers in training here as well. During our visit we saw Philippine boxer Rey "Boom Boom" Bautista (black trunks) sparring in the ring as part of the training regimen for his upcoming title fight on August 11 in Sacramento. Louie, can you get a shot of that (pictured above)? "Dominate, Boom Boom, dominate!" shouted Bautista's assistant trainer as the fighter jabbed his sparring partner seconds before electronic bell tones signaled the end of a simulated round.

While the nearby sound stages crank out movies and television shows, this production house in the heart of Hollywood is cranking out today's newest prize fighters.

Shadows of Transit Past: Vineyard Junction, Mid-City
People driving along Venice Boulevard in Mid-City Los Angeles have no doubt seen an unexpected overpass just yards from San Vicente Blvd. What many people don't know is that the immediate area carries a lot of history for Los Angeles' transportation past. The overpass, which carries West Street, was built so that it could be grade-separated from not only Venice Blvd but the Pacific Electric Red Car trolleys which rolled there in the early 20th century. In fact, the eastbound lanes of Venice used to carry both directions of auto traffic while today's westbound lanes carried the Red Car right of way., which is why the overpass over the westbound lanes has a higher clearance than the eastbound lanes. Back in the day the place was called Vineyard Junction, which was a major interchange point for our trolley systems. The tracks diverged at San Vicente and trolleys coming from Downtown Los Angeles could either continue to Venice beach on the eponymous boulevard, or dash over to Santa Monica on San Vicente. Just a few yards north of the junction was the Pico/Rimpau "Loop" of the Los Angeles Railway's Yellow Cars, the narrower street trolleys that ran primarily in Los Angeles city proper. This was the western terminus of the "P" line which traversed Pico Blvd. towards Downtown.

In 1913 Vineyard Junction was the site of the worst accident in the history of the Pacific Electric, where one train collided with the rear-end of another on July 13 of that year, killing 14 and injuring 200.

The line to Santa Monica was abandoned in 1940, the line to Venice ended in 1950 and the "P" line trolleys said adios in 1963. The junction was also previously the site of a large Sears store as well as a few industrial buildings and inevitably, the area had become blighted.

Today, it is the site of a CIM Group retail development which now sports a Wells Fargo branch, a Foot Locker and yes, a Starbucks. But wait, there's more! A Lowe's home improvement center is coming in the near future, but on this smogless Wedensday evening with the sun calling it a day and the purplish silhouette of the San Gabriel mountains looming in the distance to the northeast, it remained a vacant pit on the property.

The trolleys are long gone, but the "loop" infrastructure remained as a transit center for RTD (now Metro) buses and the eastern terminus of the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus local lines until recently, when CIM built a replacement transit center several yards towards the west on San Vicente Blvd., at no cost to the transit agencies.

Incidentally, the Pacific Electric originally planned a subway line from the Ambassador Hotel to Vineyard Junction, with property purchased and rights of way secured, but the plan ultimately failed to see reality, especially during a period when the old railway was approaching its decline. More recently, the junction was planned in the 1990s as an eventual Metro Red Line (well, they called that branch the Orange Line, which is the Purple Line now, got it?) stop on the now-defunct Mid-City alignment which was meant to circumvent the once-feared gaseous subterrain of Miracle Mile. Now that the Wilshire tunneling ban will soon be defunct itself it only means that Horny Tony's Purple Line will eventually thrust faster and faster into a deep tunnel and climax in Santa Mirth, er, I mean Monica.

Uhh...I think the KCET folks closed the browser window already. There goes my audition.

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