Friday, July 26, 2013

Happy 10th Birthday, Metro Gold Line!

Remember "Discover Gold?"
A decade ago today, The Metro Gold Line, Los Angeles' first light rail line in the 21st Century opened on one hot Saturday. Originally planned as an extension of the Metro Blue Line to Pasadena, it's the only direct transportation link between the Los Angeles and Pasadena downtowns (The 110 Freeway ends short of it).

The Militant, who has yet to miss an opening day for a Metro Rail line, was there, and remembered waiting in a long-ass line that snaked around the Gateway Plaza parking garage (the one some of you park in to ride the Dodger Stadium Express bus to games). It took nearly forever, but The Militant got on his train, rode all the way to the Sierra Madre Villa station, where the celebration had already ended in the parking structure there, and headed back.

Old-school Gold Line vehicles, now since replaced with the silver/gray Italian-built Ansaldobreda trains.
A few things have changed since Opening Day; the original 13.5-mile line is now nearly 20 miles long, having been extended from Union Station to East Los Angeles back in 2009. Originally an under-performing line due to its apparent slowness (something the Expo Line knows all too well), it now carries over 42,500 riders per day. Also, the orange-striped white Siemens light rail vehicles no longer run on the line, having been moved to their new tours of duty on the Green, Expo and Blue lines. And a few of the stations have changed their names: Lincoln/Cypress (originally Lincoln Heights/Cypress Park), Heritage Square (originally French Ave), Highland Park (originally Avenue 57) and South Pasadena (originally Mission).

Long-ass lines that day in the parking structure!

The future's bright for the Gold Line: In just two years it will be extended even farther into the SGV, terminating in Azusa with a station near Azusa Pacific University and Citrus College (The Militant won't miss that one fo' sho!). And by the next decade, the line will function as it was originally planned, when the two-mile Regional Connector tunnel is completed under Downtown Los Angeles. But alas, most of what the "Gold Line" is known for will no probably longer be named as such. Potential plans for the line may likely integrate the Union Station-to-Azusa section into the Blue Line, leaving the Eastside segment remaining Gold (and turning the Expo line into "Gold") in the process.

If you're feeling nostalgic for re-living the line circa 2003, take The Militant's Ultimate Gold Line Tour, which came out in 2009, and shows you places of significant interest along the old school Union Station to Sierra Madre Villa route.

Happy Birthday, Metro Gold Line! Here's to many more years, in whatever form you may or may not become!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Militant Takes On The Natural History Museum's 'Becoming Los Angeles' Exhibit!

Though The Militant Angeleno blog is not a history blog per se, it was intended at its founding six years ago to educate what The Militant found back then to be a largely lost and clueless blogosphere in terms of basic knowledge and appreciation of life in Los Angeles. Back then, many transplants and natives alike still clung on to inaccurate pejorative generalized assumptions of Los Angeles, which were designed on purpose to deflate the pride and morale of this city's populace in the name of self-degradation. One of them was, "L.A. [sic] Has No History."

Really now. Even a settlement founded five minutes ago has a history. There is a backstory behind the hows and whys of the existence of that settlement, and the people who founded it. Not to mention that the settlement is now no longer five minutes old, but seven minutes old.

Despite that explanation, there are still some suckas who still insist that "L.A. [sic] Has No History." So instead of inflicting bodily harm on various people, The Militant decided to assume an identity and start a blog. The rest is history. Pun may or may not be intended.

The Natural History Museum is one of Los Angeles' first major civic institutions aimed at a populace that was inevitably bound to be more than just a sleepy agrarian town. A direct product of the "City Beautiful Movement" that swept the United States around the turn of the 20th Century, the museum opened 100 years ago on November 6, 1913. Along with the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which opened the day before, these were civic benchmarks of a place that was undergoing a metamorphosis, as citrus groves and avocado orchards bordered by dirt roads were being transformed into commercial districts and neighborhoods bordered by paved streets.

More than just an old-ass building with dinosaur bones that occasionally becomes a hip venue for KCRW DJs, attaining centenarian status also meant re-asserting itself as an important and vibrant  institution of learning and discovery to a city that's undergoing a new kind of metamorphosis in the 21st Century. With that, they unveiled the new "Becoming Los Angeles" permanent exhibit earlier this month. The Militant was faithfully there on Thursday to Check. It. Out.

"Becoming Los Angeles" basically explains the transformation of Los Angeles in ecological and sociopolitical aspects from Tongva nation to Spanish pueblo to Mexican rancho to Californian town to American city. The Militant realizes that it's a herculean task to condense 232 years of written history (and the few thousand years of unwritten history that precedes it)  into 14,000 square feet of museum space. Though it's not perfect, it most definitely succeeds at explaining (to newbies and hardcore militant history buffs alike, and everyone in between) the hows and whys of the origins of this grand city that we live in.

The Militant will not attempt to give you a play-by-play rundown of the entire exhibit. He doesn't intend to not only because he thinks it's important that you visit this exhibit yourself and come away with your own experience of learning our city's history, but because he doesn't want to end up writing another overtly long-ass blog post that takes him into the wee-hours of the night and causes him wake up in the early afternoon, only to discover that maybe 30 people have bothered to read his volunteer dissertation (now you know why The Militant doesn't blog as much these days).

He will say that it's a largely aesthetically-pleasing , U-shaped exhibit, which is information-packed but not uncomfortably overwhelming. He will also say that even a militant Los Angeles history buff like The Militant learned a thing or two he either didn't know before, or was explained in much more coherent terms, like how cow poop was instrumental in changing the Los Angeles landscape (The Militant won't spoil it for you, if you didn't know already, then wait for the exhibit to break it down for ya). Incidentally, "poop" is the Museum's preferred synonym for feces/excrement/droppings/doo-doo/caca/shit, as its use is consistently used in the other exhibits (Dino poop, anyone?). He will also additionally say that some of the historical artifacts included here were mind-blowing in their inclusion, such as the actual table where The Freaking Treaty of Cahuenga was signed (to think that THE John C. Fremont and THE Andres Pico actually sat there...[mind blown]).  He will even more also additionally say that your Los Angeles History Geekdom can accurately be  measured by the amount of time in minutes (or hours) that you gaze at the Downtown Los Angeles Circa 1940 scale model and view it from various angles (and take photos of it). Mark The Militant's Word!

The Militant also stepped back and looked not just at the displays themselves, but at the people perusing them, with curiosity, delight and even various levels of expertise. It was quite a sight to see 21st Century Latinos make connections with their 19th Century counterparts, a number of which we get to be acquainted with by face and name via biography.  One of the visitors commented on the picture of Eutalia Perez de Guillen Marine, who lived to the age 112(!) and said she reminded her of her own great-grandmother, and how Señora Eutalia's eyes can "look into your soul." Others were equally fascinated by the 103 year-old Rogerio Rocha (Man, what were these people eating back then, that's what The Militant wants to know!), a blacksmith of Fernandeño Indian heritage who owned his own property in the SFV but lost it to Teh White Man when American property laws went into effect in the 1850s.

And for those who know your historical figures, people like Abel Stearns, Biddy Mason and Harris Newmark, among many others, get their due props here.

As The Militant mentioned earlier, "Becoming Los Angeles" isn't perfect. Though not adversely impacting the exhibit in any major way, he feels it could be much better if the following can somehow be addressed:

- The Native American section (described specifically as "Tongva-Gabrieleño" as various tribal factions have their own variations on the name) seems kind of nominal. Maybe it's because The Militant dedicated an entire month of posts on the original native Angelenos,  but you figured the people who have been here milennia longer than the Spanish, Mexicans and Americans combined should get a little more display love. We see some nice stone artifacts, but little in the way of what they looked like and what their environment was like. It would also have been awesome to see a map of Tongva villages overlaid on a modern Los Angeles like what The Militant did.

- The Pobladores display, though featuring a neato scale diorama and a full roster of the 44 founders of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Rio Porciuncula on September 4, 1781 by name, age and gender, still seems to be missing something. Maybe it's the (lack of) adequate lighting (these are the founders, c'mon!), maybe it's the awkward positioning in the exhibit (it's placed in a corridor, painted black, possibly easy to overlook), maybe it's way the description was written, which doesn't seem to make it plainly obvious why the Pobladores were dispatched from Mission San Gabriel and why they stopped where they stopped.

- On a similar note, the Pacific Electric display, though containing some nice mementos of our former rail transit system, doesn't seem to relay to the passing eye that it's presenting the history of a transportation system -- i.e. no pictures or models of streetcars.

- More interactive displays. The interactive video presentation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct was well done, The Militant expected a little more of that with the technology we have today. Maybe a display of how the freeway system grew over the years (many Los Angeles n00bs just assume it was built all at once when it, like today's Metro Rail system, was actually planned, funded, built and opened in phases).

- While the exhibit rightfully covers the impact of the motion picture industry, including some early artifacts, though it references the film industry's east coast origins, it doesn't explain why it ended up here (supposedly to escape possible lawsuits stemming from Thomas Edison's exclusive patent of the motion picture camera, and Hollywood, once located along a railroad line, was close enough to the Mexican border where scofflaw filmmakers could escape the country in a jiffy).

- The photo gallery along the walls towards the end of the exhibit have no captions/credits. Dunno if it's not finished yet, but it would help to have explanations for the pictures (The WWII photo display of multiethnic Angelenos involved in the war, flanking a photo of San Gabriel native Gen. George S. Patton looked nice though).

- The Internet! Dude, no mention whatsoever of The Internet's 1969 birth in a UCLA computer lab?! Whatup with that?

The exhibit ends with a photo montage projection of historic events from the 1940s to the 2010s and a video of the Los Angeles cityscape framed by questions that lead the visitor to ponder the city's future.
Because we are also a living part of Los Angeles history.

Do The Militant a favor and visit this exhibit. Give yourself about one and a half to two hours to enjoy the whole thing. Don't rush it (The Militant sorta did towards the end but it worked out in his favor since there was a power outage at the museum on Thursday afternoon). And after you do visit it, encourage your friends and family to visit it. And especially tell your friends/relatives transplanting themselves from Out East, Flyover Country and Up North to visit it, especially within their first month in town.

Los Angeles never lacked a history. But for the longest time we lacked a common mechanism in which to learn it. It's not something the LAUSD teaches its kids (nor is it something the LAUSD wants its kids to learn, especially in this era of standardized testing and their overall systematic decimation of learning). It wasn't until websites, blogs and social media made it easier to learn the hows and whys of this grand city, and glimpse into the way our familiar streets looked like to previous generations.

Visiting the "Becoming Los Angeles" exhibit is probably one of the most important things you should be doing as an Angeleno. Though obviously not hyper-comprehensive, it's complete enough that it gives a baseline history that should form the basis of our common understanding of local history. And it stimulates our curiosities enough that if we want to learn more, we can. Militant-Approved!

Too bad it had to take 100 years to make all this happen.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

'Take Me Out' To A Los Angeles Tradition

It's a wonderful time to be a Dodgers fan. As of July 22, the team entered sole possession of first place in the NL West, just 22 days after being in last place. Yes, just 22 days from "suck" to "success," thanks to The Puig, Hanleywood, a more consistent rotation, a more improved pen, keeping Brandon League away from save situations and overall better health. Enjoy this one:

While The Militant was watching Sunday's game where The Boys In Blue swept the Washington Nationals, announcer Steve Lyons (yeah, we know...) made a comment about baseball's 7th Inning Stretch, how it may or may not have been originated by president William Howard Taft during the Washington Senators' Opening Day game in 1910 where the famously portly Commander-In-Chief stood up in the middle of the 7th and took a stretch to relieve the fatigue of sitting in a seat that was too small for him. The other spectators, seeing this, stood up along with the prez, and a tradition was born.

The other tidbit uttered by the unfortunately non-Vin Scully broadcasters was that the baseball anthem, "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" was first played at a baseball game in Los Angeles during a high school match in 1934.

"I find that hard to believe," quipped Lyons, fueling fire to the stereotype that Los Angeles was pretty much an empty desert until East Coast transplants arrived here, circa 1998 or so.

The story behind the song goes like this: It was written back in 1908 by Tin Pan Alley songwriters Jack Norworth (lyrics) and Albert Von Tilzer (music). Norworth was riding the subway in NYC (then brand-spanking new, only in existence for four years) when he saw an advertisement that read, "Baseball Today - Polo Grounds." The song was written with the songwriters having never been to a baseball game before (and hadn't even done so until over 20 years after the song was written).

And did you know the song as we sing it at Dodger Stadium, and at other stadia, is not the whole song? You're only singing the chorus part of the song! Here's the complete song, verses included, for y'allz:

The song was popular back in the days before records or even radio. People bought the sheet music and played and sang it themselves. It was also a popular pastime song in movie theaters - The audience sang it while the guy in the projector booth changed the film reels. But it would be some 26 years before it would be played at an actual baseball game, mainly because public address systems didn't exist until 1929.

Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" (now known as an Internet meme) is a song that came out 26 years ago, just to give you some perspective.

Several historical accounts mention "Take Me Out..." as having been first played at a high school baseball game in Los Angeles before being played at the World Series in St. Louis later that year.

But...which high school? 

It would be pretty awesomesauce if a certain high school's sports program took credit for it and literally ran the bases with it. Imagine having that distinction. Of course, Los Angeles schools don't care a thing about preserving their own histories, since teaching local history is banned in the LAUSD (assuming it was an LAUSD school). One account lists it as a "prep school" (which would likely make it a private school) and this page says it was first played "before the first game of the Los Angeles high school baseball season."

Well, there is a high school called "Los Angeles High School" which was founded in 1872 at Temple and Broadway in Downtown, moved to Fort Moore Hill in 1891 (right at pretty much the site of today's Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts) and moved to its current Olympic Blvd location in 1917. It once had an ornate gothic edifice (pictured left) which was damaged in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and destroyed by an unrelated, though mysterious, fire later that year. Today's ugly-ass penitentiaryesque '70s-era school building is what replaced a beauty of a campus.

Interestingly, Los Angeles High does boast baseball-related alumni such as former Brooklyn Dodger Mel Almada, who in 1933, became the first Mexican American to play in the major leagues as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Other players include former NY Giants catcher Harry Danning and former Yankees outfielder Bob Meusel.

But perhaps the greatest Los Angeles High alum to make an impact on baseball was not a player, but a young woman named Rosalind Weiner who was eventually elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 1953 and became the driving force in City Hall in bringing the Brooklyn Dodgers to their new home in Los Angeles.

Sounds like the stars were aligned for that one. So, unless any other school wants to take credit for it, you Los Angeles High Romans might want to steal this historical base.

"Take Me Out To The Ball Game" is a tradition of America's national pastime, performed over the years at the old Wrigley Field, at Gilmore Stadium, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, at Dodger Stadium, at Anaheim Stadium if you wanna count that, at Dedaux Field, at Jackie Robinson Stadium and at countless high school fields all over town where countless major league players once played. But one of them, whichever it is, was the originator.

If anyone out there has any solid leads on the exact high school that originated "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" in 1934, please contact The Militant [militantangeleno at gmail dot com] immediately.