Window Seats

img_0006

“I believe that anyone who flies in an airplane and doesn’t spend most of his time looking out the window wastes his money.”

Marc Reisner
Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water

Could not agree more.

This particular shot is over the Shimonemoto village, looking toward Shimokimiyama, both in Ibaraki Prefecture on the Island of Honshu in central Japan. The white dash on the rice field on the center right is actually a helicopter, flying low.

Not terribly topical for a California blog, but for a point: there is so much to look at, whether in this state or anywhere else across the west, that we will never see in person save out of the window of an airplane. We owe it to ourselves to look.

Advertisements

The Ace in L.A.’s Art Deco Deck


The Lobby
Ace Hotel
929 S. Broadway, Los Angeles

The Renaissance that Downtown L.A. has experienced in the quarter century since I last haunted these precincts is astounding, and nowhere does it hum with such subtle joy as Ace Hotel.

The hotel was crafted from the gutted interior of the old United Artists building, and the architects only touched the grande dame’s Art Deco exterior sufficiently to restore it to its former elegance. The rooms manage to meld the period and the contemporary in a way that you almost want to give a name, like “Art Deco Revival” or “Art Deco Moderne.”

I walked into the lobby and was charmed instantly. The fidelity to the era reminded me of the corridors of the Wilshire-Ebell Theater or the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The parquet floors, the arched doorways, the moldings, the iron trim, and the high ceilings above narrow spaces bespoke the architects’ determination to restore more than renovate.

True to its origins, the Ace is arguably less capacious in either room or public area than your average Courtyard, but the lack of opulence is more than balanced by its surfeit of character. To walk through her main doors is to take a step back in time and down in speed.

One is tempted to linger in the lobby, to dawdle over breakfast at the L.A. Chapter restaurant in the lobby, to set aside the email and to think, to breathe, to be in the moment. Sip the coffee. Read the script pages decorating the lobby wall. Watch the people walk by on the street outside. And listen to the sounds and echoes.

You may accuse me of wallowing in nostalgia, but you would miss the point. What is precious about the Ace Hotel and its anachronistic ilk is not a siren call to a supposedly better past, but their Zen-ish insistence that we eschew internet speed so that we may more fully occupy the moment.

A Better Kind of Ride

My first amusement park was a gravel-covered block of unincorporated West Hollywood at Beverly and La Cienega  called Beverly Park. The home of a ferris wheel, a merry go-round, a smallish steel roller-coaster, pony rides, and a host of tamer amusements, Beverly Park was what I dreamed about on cool LA weekends when the boat and the beach were out of the question.

I’ll confess that I was more thrilled by the boats riding in a circle than I was the roller coaster, and I never tired of the park’s offering. it was a place where I could go where it was all about being a kid, where everything was designed, in the Disney-esque words of Beverly Park founder and owner David Bradley, to “bring life and laughs to people.” It was an innocent, almost naive mission, and Bradley succeeded admirably.

The park thrived for nearly three decades, until fatigue and rising rents compelled Bradley to close. It never lacked for patronage. Hadley Meares, a writer and historian, dis a superb profile of the park on KCET’s website where she hints at the park’s appeal as a salve for the consciences of fathers who, for whatever reason, had few opportunities to spend time with their kids or who simply lacked other alternatives. That’s no doubt true, but it’s never the whole story. Some families, like ours, went there because the kids loved it so much and pestered our parents until they relented and took us there.

Los Angeles lost something special when the park closed. In a metropolitan area that hosts four of the nation’s largest and best known theme parks, the closing of Beverly Park left a hole in the collective psyche. Over the past decade, that hole has begun to fill. The Balboa Fun Zone and the Pacific Park at Santa Monica Pier – and to a somewhat lesser degree, Belmont Park in San Diego – thrive because there is more to a great California amusement park than fear.

Because a great amusement park doesn’t need to be a competition to see who can ride the highest or fastest roller coaster. The goal of a great amusement park is not the incitement of terror or the adrenaline rush that comes with fooling your hypothalamus into believing that death is imminent; that goal should be creating a space that is safe for fun, joy, and escape. Upon that simple premise David Bradley built his life and two successful businesses and earned the gratitude of two generations of Los Angeles families.

It should incite no surprise that Walt Disney spent a fair amount of time sitting on the benches at Beverly Park taking notes, and he picked up on Bradley’s epiphany – or perhaps detected a kindred spirit. Walt and the wiser heads among his successors have managed to create, on a far larger scale, a place where not only children could enjoy being children, but where adults could do so as well without fear or embarrassment. My family have annual passes to Disneyland, and there are days when, perched beneath a shade tree in New Orleans Square, I wonder whether my son is just our excuse for coming to Disneyland and doffing our worldliness for a while.

Beverly Park could never lay claim to being “the happiest place on Earth,” but it was and ever shall be one of my happy places. I reckon that I am not alone.

California Showpalaces: Carthay Circle

Source: Cathay_Circle_Theater.jpg (648×518)

The Fox Carthay Circle Theater, one of the great movie houses in the home of the film business.  The photo shows the theater at the premiere of The Life of Emile Zola in 1937.

Architect Dwight Gibbs created the Spanish Colonial Revival building, which housed a round theater within the building’s square frame, for developer J. Harvey McCarthy. Completed in 1926, the theater became the anchor for the Carthay district, bordered by Wilshire, Fairfax, San Vicente, and Pico.

Sadly, the great lady of the Mid-Wilshire district is no more, demolished in 1969 to make way fro two low-rise office buildings and a park.

Friday at the Videos: A Ride on the Embarcadero Freeway

A Friday reminder of how things used to be: a 1984 video of a ride on the now-demolished and sometimes-missed Embarcadero Freeway, 3 minutes in each direction.

There are moments, driving up Third Street and then Kearney on my way to the Financial District, that I sorely miss the elevated, two-level concrete monstrosity. And then I have lunch outside on the Embarcadero, and I remember what an awful eyesore the thing was.

Not everything an earthquake does is a bad thing. Sometimes Nature does for us what we should have done for ourselves.

The Bigger Boeing Long Beach Story

Boeing is leaving Long Beach, and California is no longer in the business of manufacturing aircraft as it has done for over a century. It is the end of an era, and this video offers a glimpse at what was the final hope for the airframe assembly business in California.

One point of note in the video is that the reporter actually reached out to Governor Jerry Brown’s office to see if they were talking to Boeing about keeping an assembly facility open in Long Beach, but the office was gently evasive. If that has you scratching your head, that is because this reporter did not tell the whole story. Boeing still has around 18,000 employees in the state, a far cry from the heights of the Cold War, but still one of California’s largest employers.

All of this points to a larger fact. While aircraft are no longer flying out of factories in California, there is a large and thriving aerospace industry here still. According to A.T. Kearny, 203,000 direct jobs and 511,000 indirect jobs can be attributed to the aerospace industry in California, more than Hollywood and agriculture combined. The industry is a lot harder to see, but it is still there, even as airplane factories across the Southland fall under the wrecking ball.