Monday, June 24, 2013

Miracle Smile: CicLAvia Takes On Wilshire Blvd

When The Militant first heard that there would be another CicLAvia added between the April and October editions, he was stoked. Then when he found out the route was a simple 6-mile stretch of Wilshire, he was bummed. But then when it was revealed that the event's hours were finally extended to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., he was stoked again.

The six-mile course was the shortest to date and the first one to not incorporate any parts of previous routes. Billed as "Iconic Wilshire Boulevard," The Militant couldn't help but read that as "Ironic Wilshire Boulevard." No, not because of all the hipsters blasting Daft Punk's Random Access Memories album on their iPod boom boxes, but because Wilshire was, for all intents and purposes, a road developed for the car. H. Gaylord Wilshire donated his land along the former Orange Street on the condition that it not have streetcars or commercial trucks run along the thoroughfare. And when developer A.W. Ross pulled a Miracle some three decades later, the stores were built to autocentric scale. So how ironic, yet how appropriate, to have the street closed to cars and open to human-powered transport.

The six-mile course wasn't actually that bad. Though it lacked the sense of adventure and accomplishment of April's Sea-cLAvia, it was short and sweet enough to enjoy multiple times over if one wished. At no point did The Militant feel the need to rush the route (whereas he always did before).  There were shops, green space and historical wonders galore. There was almost something for everyone - yoga, zumba and KBBQ. And it was also quite walkable. The Militant probably walked almost two miles of the route (of course, with the large dismount areas at the ends, everyone walked 1/6 of the route).

Since two months fly by just like that, here we are...and there it went. Time flies when you're having fun, and despite the longer CicLAvia hours, the final CicLAvia of the Villaraigosa administration still went by all too quickly. Still, the two additional hours were much MUCH appreciated since The Militant was not only able to ride the entire course and back, but was able to chill out along the route. One downside though, was the lack of the 30-minute or so grace period after the official end of CicLAvia's hours, that grey area where cars aren't sure whether they should be back on the road yet, so, at least for part of the route, CicLAvia goes on extended play.
Not so this time. In fact, it was 3:55 p.m. when LAPD cruisers and City vehicles sweeped through Wilshire telling cars, in a stoic loudspeaker voice to "move to the right." So while CicLAvia might have gained two hours on paper, in reality, because there was never anyone keeping us off the route before the start time anyway, we really only gained half an hour.

How about CicLAvia follow this formula: One hour per mile, plus one, equals the appropriate length in hours of a CicLAvia event? Sunday's route was 6 miles, plus one equals the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. span of the event. Perfect. Ergo, this just means that the 16-mile "To The Sea" route via Venice Boulevard will have to be 17 hours long next year [wide grin].

This being the first CicLAvia to experience June Gloom, Sunday's seventh iteration of CicLAvia may or may not have broken the streak of cloudless CicLAvia days, but as the afternoon wore on, the sun shone through the rest of the day. Never fails. The Despicable Me 2 blimp also never failed to stalk us.

Of course, one asshole (most likely talking on their cellphone like all motorists do) decided to stage an AutoLAvia for a few yards and strike and injure a cyclist. Unfortunately, The Asshole In The Car got away. If such a thing happens again at CicLAvia, The Militant hopes all you CicLAvians mob together en masse, force them to stop, force the asshole out from their car, dangle a noose from the nearest tree and proceed with the lynching, wild west style.

That aside, why don't we ask some experts what they thought of Sunday's CicLAvia? Thanks to a couple of his San Dimas-based operatives, The Militant was able to obtain a phone booth and travel back in time to gather some of the most influential white males in the history of Wilshire Boulevard! Joining us in our panel of experts (If you read the recent Epic CicLAvia Tour post, these names should be familiar to you by now...) is developer and Great Depression-era Miracle Mile founder, A.W. Ross; late 19th-century real estate magnate George Shatto and last, but certainly not least turn of the 20th century land developer, publisher and failed politician H. Gaylord Wishire.

MA: Gentlemen, thank you for being here.

George Shatto: We cannot see your face, young sir.

MA: The Militant's face is irrelevant to the topic. What did you think of Sunday's CicLAvia?

Gaylord Wishire: It was delightful to see so many bicycles on my street. They come in so many colors. Just like the people riding them. But I was much bothered by the trucks parked along the road. I specifically told the city, no trucks allowed on my street.

MA: Oh, those are food trucks, sir.

GW: Food trucks? Where are they delivering them to?

MA: They're not delivering food, they're selling food.

A.W. Ross: Food-selling trucks? Why, that's just nifty! I oughtta try that sometime on The Mile!

MA: No, don't do that, you'll mess up the space-time contin...oh never mind.

GW: Ross, was it you who erected these horrid capitalist edifices on my street?

AWR: Why, yes I did.

GW: You...swine!

AWR: Why, I oughtta pound you!

MA: Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Let's all just calm down. We're here to talk about CcLAvia. Mr. Shatto, your thoughts?

GS: What in criminy's name happened to my house? What happened to the other houses?

MA: Well, it's now a hospital. They demolished your house after you die...err...uhh...feeling awkward right now.

GS: I died? When?

MA: Die...di...dial..ed...dialed the telephone. Yes, that's it.

GS: What is the "telephone," exactly?

MA: Never mind. Hey, did you know a bowling alley was named after you?

GS: You don't say!

MA: Back on topic...Mr. Ross, what were your impressions of CicLAvia?

AWR: What happened to all the cars?

MA: Well, CicLAvia is a day where we close off the streets to cars.

AWR: Now why in tarnation's name would you ever want to do that?

MA: Well, because there's too many cars on the streets these days.

AWR: And that's a swell thing!

MA: No, because we have congestion and air pollution now.

AWR: Bah, that's just a bunch of applesauce.

GW: What does he know? That Ross is nothing but capitalist swine.

AWR: Oh dry up, Gaylord!

GW: Do you want to settle this in fisticuffs?


GS: Is anyone interested in investing in some Santa Catalina Island property?

[Ross and Wilshire engage in a fistfight]

MA: Okay, gentlemen, thank you for participa...YO, SECURITY!

[The three panel guests were quickly escorted back into the phone booth time machine. Huh? "Station?" Who said that?]

Enjoy The Militant's Epic Militant CicLAvia Photo Gallery!

What's left of the Wilshire Grand Hotel, soon to be the freaking tall Wilshire Grand Center building.

CicLAvia has clearly gone to the birds this time.

The Militant sincerely hopes this dude's tongue was planted firmly within his cheek with this one.

Gen. Otis directs CicLAvians to the yoga class at Mac Arthur Park.

JAIME: Hey Edward James, do you think Los Angeles is a bike-friendly city now?

Stupid tall bikes were soooo April 2013. This is the newest bad-assness right now.

Homeboy kept following us the whole time.

Los Angeles County presents the highest-capacity bike rack ever made.

And the Oscar goes to...

Wilshire Hopscotch at Crenshaw.

...'Til the Po-Po shuts us down.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Militant's Epic Militant CicLAvia Tour 5.0!!!!!

View The Militant Angeleno's CicLAvia Tour 5.0! in a larger map

Wait a minute, didn't we just have a CicLAvia a couple months ago? You mean we don't have to wait until October? WOO-HOO!!!

Yes, fellow Angelenos, we have a third CicLAvia this year, albeit a short one. At six miles, it's the shortest and simplest route to date (Just Wilshire Boulevard between Grand and Fairfax avenues). Ironically, it's also the longest CicLAvia chronologically: The CicLAvia folks have finally listened to our pleas and will have CicLAvia run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Sunday! You heard right! Six miles in seven hours! It is also the first completely new route, which does not encompass any part of a previous CicLAvia route, though it crosses or closely parallels them.

Since the route is short and incredibly flat, there's talk about this being the most walkable route yet. The Militant may or may not ditch his bike and hoof it this time around! Maybe...argh. But if you want your very own preview of what Sunday's route will look like (at least from the sidewalk) check out the first four minutes of this video:

Well, we know why you're all here -- to check out interesting things compiled by the doesn't-blog-too-much-anymore Militant Angeleno (but he Tweets often...). So here goes!

1. One Wilshire Building/Wilshire Bookend Palm Trees
624 S. Grand Ave, Downtown

Built during the first wave of modern skyscrapers following the repeal of Los Angeles' building height limit laws, this building, designed by architectural rockstars Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (who also went on to craft Chicago's Sears Tower, among many others) stood for most of its life as the address of legal and financial institutions. After a renovation in 1992, this building is now the location of CoreSite, a major data colocation center, which carries the primary Internet connections for Los Angeles (without this building, you can't read this!)

Take note of the row of palm trees, planted here in the 1970s: They are meant to evoke the end of Wilshire Boulevard, as on the opposite end, at Santa Monica's Ocean Avenue, 16 miles from here, you will also find a row of palm trees.

2. Wilshire Grand Hotel Site
Wilshire and Figueroa (SW corner), Downtown

What we see today as the Wilsh...ZOMG IT'S GONE!!!!

Oh well, up until a few months ago on that empty lot was the Wilshire Grand Hotel, formerly (in reverse chronological order) the Omni Hotel, Los Angeles Hilton, Statler Hilton and Statler Hotel.

On this site will rise Los Angeles' (and the West's -- suck on it, Transbay Tower SF!) tallest building at 73 stories and 1,100 feet (kinda sorta, there's a spire, you see...). It will also be Los Angeles' only modern skyscraper without a flat roof. It will house Wilshire Grand Hotel 2.0 and a bunch of shops and condos.

The building will also have a "sky lobby" up at the top and will be the first skyscraper anywhere to sport a mohawk.

3. L.A. Prime Matter Sculpture
Wilshire and Figueroa (NW corner), Downtown

Wilshire is full of awesome-looking public art. Here's one relatively-recent sculpture right at the northwest corner of Wilshire and Figueroa. Designed by the late Venice-based artist Eric Orr, who had a penchant for utilizing elemental themes in his art, L.A. Prime Matter features twin 32-foot bronze columns that feature water sliding down its faces, and during random moments, FIRE emanates from the middle channels of the columns! The effect is total bad-ass, and its bad-assnes is magnified at night.

Hopefully participants in a bad-ass event like CicLAvia would get an opportunity to see the pyrotechnics!

4. Site of George Shatto Residence/Good Samaritan Hospital
Wilshire Blvd and Lucas Ave, Downtown

Before it was named Wilshire Boulevard, it was once called Orange Street, and on the corner of Orange and Lucas was a Queen Anne-style mansion belonging to George Shatto, a real estate developer who first developed Catalina Island and the city of Avalon. If you read the Epic CicLAvia Tour 4.0 post, his name is brought up as one of the famous Angelenos buried (in a rather ornate pyramid) at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery.

But check this out! Take a look at the picture above, and pay close attention to the masonry wall going uphill that fronts Lucas Avenue. Now, on CicLAvia Sunday, look at the exact same spot, on the northwest corner of the intersection. The house is gone, but the original wall still remains!

Good Samaritan Hospital, which was founded in 1885 and moved to the current site in 1911, is also the birthplace of many native Angelenos, including incoming mayor Eric Garcetti.

5. Los Angeles Teachers (a.k.a. 'Stand And Deliver') Mural
Wilshire and Alvarado, Westlake

Art imitates life imitating art imitating life in this mural by popular SalvadoreƱo American muralist Hector Ponce depicting actor Edward James Olmos, who portrayed Garfield High School math teacher Jaime Escalante in the 1988 movie Stand and Deliver, standing next to the real-life Escalante, and delivering a mural that's part-Hollywood, part-Los Angeles, part-Latino pride, part Eastside pride and if the Internet were as accessible back in 1988 as it is today, would make one epic photo meme. And it's painted behind the 1926 Westlake Theatre, which is slated for renovation into a community-baed performance arts venue sometime soon. Celebrate the 25th anniversary of Stand and Deliver by having the ganas to stop by.

6. Gen. Harrison Gray Otis Statue
Wilshire Blvd and Park View Ave, MacArthur Park

Gen. Otis is perhaps the most visible statue at the park, which predates MacArthur's WWII service. This general served in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars, and also fought as a Union soldier in the Civil War. But in Los Angeles, he is most known for being the founder, owner and publisher of the Los Angeles Times. So why is he here? His Wilshire Blvd mansion, called The Bivouac, was located across the street, was later donated to Los Angeles County and became the original campus of Otis Art Institute. It's thought that his statue is pointing to the site of the Elks Lodge, but he's probably just pointing to his old house.

7. Bryson Apartment Building
2701 Wilshire Blvd, MacArthur Park

This 10-story Beaux Arts apartment building, built 100 years ago, was the 20th century precursor to today's fancy modern 21-century high-rise residential developments. Built by developer Hugh W. Bryson, it was built in a part of Los Angeles that was known at the time as "the west side" (let's not open that can of worms right now, okay?). It was one of Los Angeles' most luxurious apartment buildings, and had a large neon sign at the roof (characteristic of these kinds of developments back then). Several Raymond Chandler books reference The Bryson. The 110,000 square-foot building is also part of the National Register of Historic Places and a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

8. LaFayette Park
Wilshire Blvd and LaFayette Park Place, LaFayette Park

Clara Shatto, the widow of George Shatto (remember him?) donated 35 acres of her land to the City of Los Angeles in 1899, which was once oil wells and tar pits. Her late husband wanted it turned into a city park, and so it became Sunset Park, which existed for 19 years before the locals wanted it renamed to honor the 18th-century Frenchman who was a hero in both the American and French revolutions. Gotta give LaFayette park some props for living so long in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, MacArthur (Westlake) Park.

9. Bullocks Wilshire/Southwestern Law School
3050 Wilshire Blvd

Perhaps one of the most iconic examples of Art-Deco architecture in Los Angeles, this former Bullocks Department Store was designed with a tower to resemble a New York-style skyscraper in then-unabashedly low-rise Los Angeles. It was the epitome of shopping in style in its heyday, with its own rear parking lot and other auto-centric amenities. It ultimately fell victim to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots and was closed down the next year. In 1994, the nearby Southwestern School of Law bought the building and incorporated it into its campus, restoring much of the Roaring 1920s Art Deco aesthetics.

10. Shatto Place
c. 1880s
Wilshire Blvd and Shatto Pl, Koreatown

Gee, we can't get seem to get away from that George Shatto guy, can we? George and Clara owned a plot of land here on this street, which was once home to some of the most beautiful mansions in Los Angeles at the time. Although Clara sold the land in 1904, George stipulated that all properties on the street maintain the character of the exquisite homes there, which was challenged several times until the late 1920s, when the homes started to be demolished in favor of more modern commercial development.

11. "The Vermont" Highrise Apartment Development
Wilshire Blvd and Vermont Ave., Koreatown

What's with the construction? It's a 30- and 25- story highrise mixed-use apartment development called "The Vermont" by J.H. Snyder Co. which is slated to open next year. It's Metro-accessible, but who the hell can afford the rents for this place?

12. Consulate Row
Various locations along Wilshire Blvd between Vermont and Crenshaw

Some 62 countries have consular offices in the Los Angeles area and 41 of them have addresses on Wilshire Boulevard. Proximity to various foreign financial institutions on Wilshire, as well as nearby Hancock Park, where many consul-generals have traditionally resided, are the main reasons for such a high concentration of consulates on this stretch of Wilshire. The consulate offices for Bangladesh, Bolivia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, South Korea, Nicaragua, Peru, The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Taiwan are all located on Wilshire between Vermont and Crenshaw. Many of them display their national flags in front of their respective office buildings. How many can you spot during CicLAvia?

13. Gaylord Apartments
3355 Wilshire Blvd

Though the building's prominent neon sign has been source of many a snicker by immature junior high school kids, this building represents some serious history. It was named after Wilshire Boulevard's namesake, Henry Gaylord Wilshire, who was known as a wealthy real estate developer and outspoken socialist (Does that make sense?), who donated a 35-acre strip of barley fields to the City of Los Angeles on the condition that it would be free from railroads or trucking.

The building itself is a 13-story Italian Renaissance-style apartment building that actor John Barrymore (a.k.a. Drew's grandpa) and then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon once called home.

14. Brown Derby Site
3427 and 3377 Wilshire Blvd

The now-defunct "The Brown Derby" local chain of restaurants were synonymous with Hollywood glitz and glamour. The Wilshire Boulevard location was the first of four (the others were in Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Los Feliz). In close proximity to The Ambassador Hotel and its Cocoanut Grove swing/jazz club, this was the original hipster joint back in the day, only back then the hipsters were actually cool and looked good. In 1937 the building was moved across the street and closed in 1975. In 1980, a shopping center was built on the site and the iconic dome structure was incorporated into the shopping center that exists today. It's situated on the third floor, above The Boiling Crab seafood restaurant. It's something to ponder on while you wait 90 minutes for your table.

Note that the pictures for #13 and #14 connect vertically - that's the Gaylord Apartments behind the Brown Derby!

15. Robert F. Kennedy Inspiration Park/Ambassador Hotel Site
Wilshire Blvd between Catalina Street and Mariposa Avenue

The Militant wrote a post in 2010 about this unique public space dedicated to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated just yards away at the Ambassador Hotel, which was demolished in 2005 and where the LAUSD's sprawling and costly  RFK Community Schools campus now stands. There's Kennedy quotes on public art installations and benches for you to chill on. There's also speakers playing recordings of some of the jazz music that was performed at the hotel's famed Cocoanut Grove swing and jazz club.

16. Wiltern Theatre/Pellissier Building
Wilshire Blvd and Western Avenue (duh...), Koreatown

The 12-story structure, designed by Stiles O. Clements, is Los Angeles' emerald-green temple to all that is Art Deco. Originally operating as the "Warner Theatre" (Specifically the Western Avenue location of Warner Bros. chain of movie theaters; The Warner Theatre in San Pedro is another example), The Wiltern (named so since 1935) has seen many cycles of decay and rebirth, most recently in the 1980s, when preservationists renovated the theatre to a performing arts venue. The contemporary Wiltern Theatre has been operating since 1985.

17. The Last House On Wilshire
4016 Wilshire Blvd, Hancock Park

Wilshire Boulevard was once a prestigious address for many a prominent Angeleno, from General Otis to, yep, George Shatto (don't worry, this is probably the last Shatto reference in this post). But after the 1920s, Wilshire became undeniably commercial and even the most dignified free-standing household succumbed to the wrecking ball.

Except this one, standing (quite nicely) on 4016 Wilshire, just yards west of Wilton Place. Built in 1918, this six bedroom, three bathroom, 3300 square-foot single-family home is literally the last of its kind on Wilshire. The earliest recorded owner, John and Katherine Neeland (circa 1921), of Canada, sold it in 1925 to Elmer & Clara Neville. The Neville family trust still owns the house to this day. If you owned the last house on the street, you'd hang on to it, right?

18. Rimpau Blvd/Rancho Las Cienegas
South of Wilshire Blvd between Norton Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard, Hancock Park

You may or may not notice that all of the streets south of Wilshire from Norton Avenue to just past the Fairfax Avenue terminus of the CicLAvia route run in a diagonal fashion, akin to the way Downtown Los Angeles streets run. Why? This was once part of the old Rancho Las Cienegas Spanish land grant, which was given in 1823 to Francisco Avila, once mayor of Spanish-era Los Angeles. In 1866, the land was divided among his four children, one of whom was his daughter Francisca, who married a German dude named Theodore Rimpau...Does that name sound familiar? Yep, it's the namesake of Rimpau Blvd. The last remaining rancho land was eventually sold and subdivided by Theodore and Francisca's sons in the 1920s.

19. E. Clem Wilson Building (aka Samsung Building)
Wilshire Blvd and La Brea Ave, Miracle Mile

At 191 feet, it was once the tallest commercial building in Los Angeles (honoring the height-limit restrictions at the time). Built during the first wave of commercial migration from Downtown Los Angeles, this structure originally housed legal and medical offices belonging to Jewish professionals, and was part of the genesis of the Jewish community in this area (centered on Fairfax Avenue). The building once featured a large mast on top to serve dirigible blimps(!) but is most famous for the massive 4-sided neon advertisements installed on the crown in the 1960s: First,  Mutual of Omaha Life Insurance, then Asahi Beer and now Samsung Electronics.

20. The Los Angeles "Hair District"
c. 1970s
Wilshire Blvd between Cloverdale and Burnside avenues.

The Militant wrote about this interesting little business corridor five years ago, noting an unusually high concentration of wig, weave and human hair retailers along this part of Wilshire.

21. The Desmond's Department Store Building
5500 Wilshire Blvd

This is the building that started it all, the archetype that led to many miracles on this mile of Wilshire Boulevard. The Wilshire location of Desmond's Department Store was the first high-end department store on Wilshire, and the retail development anywhere to sport a rear parking lot, and a main entrance that faced the back, rather than the street, as well as large circular display windows to attract motorists.

The 10-story building will soon be adaptively-reused into 175 (luxury, The Militant can assume...) apartments which will open sometime next year.

22. A.W. Ross Monument
5700 Wilshire Blvd (Wilshire Blvd and Curson Ave)

"A. W. Ross, founder and developer of the Miracle Mile. Vision to see, wisdom to know, courage to do."

The story goes: Real estate developer A.W. Ross bought an 18-acre stretch of property along Wilshire Blvd in 1921 for $54,000 and in less than a decade's time, turned that stretch of dirt road, oil fields and farmland into Los Angeles' bougiest stretch of retail, which boomed -- of all times -- during The Great Depression. You can call that a miracle.

Ross was considered an innovator in his day; he brought large-scale, ritzy retail developments to his district, all with rear parking lots, and all made to be visible at 30 miles per hour. Left-turn lanes and synchronized traffic signals were credited to Ross.  Streamline Moderne and Art Deco architecture flourished thanks to Ross' development.

In 1956, this bronze bust was placed on this landscaped traffic island to honor the man who brought the "town" out of Downtown and stretched it out like Laffy Taffy.

But little else is known about A.W. Ross (no, he was not affiliated with the Ross Dress For Less stores). Where did he come from? What was his real estate dealings before the his purchase of Wilshire? What did "A.W." stand for, anyway?

23. Some Hairy Elephants In Some Oily Lake
16,000 B.C.
5801 Wilshire Blvd, Miracle Mile

You may or may not know about this place, built in 1976, and if you don't, there's really no hope for you.

24. May Company Building/LACMA
6067 Wilshire Blvd, Miracle Mile

Many people know the May Company Building - today part of the LACMA campus, and tomorrow the new home of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Museum - as a Streamline Moderne department store. But did you know it was instrumental in moving Los Angeles' Jewish community from The Eastside and Downtown to Fairfax Avenue?

It all began in 1881 when Asher Hamburger, a well-respected Jewish merchant, opened his People's Store on Main Street in Downtown. The business grew and moved in 1911 to a much larger building on 8th and Broadway and was then known as A. Hamburger and Sons Co until 1923, when the company merged with the Missouri-baed May Company. The new operation, formally known as May Company California, was largely run by the Hamburger family and enjoyed much support and patronage by the local Jewish community.

The opening of the aforementioned E. Clem Wilson Building attracted Jewish professionals farther west. In 1935, there were four synagogues along the Fairfax corridor. In the years following the 1939 opening of May Company's new flagship store on Wilshire and Fairfax, the Jewish population boomed, the number of synagogues tripled by 1945. Post-War growth continued the population boom along Fairfax.

Enjoy your CicLAvia and STAY MILITANT!