landmarks


I was saddened to learn today from LA Observed that master burrito maker Manuel Rojas, owner of the famed El Tepeyac restaurant in Boyle Heights, has died. Susan and I were introduced to the legendary eatery by our friends Arnold and Martha Ontes, who took us there back in 2005, under the stipulation that I promise to eat what they ordered for me.

When our server showed up, Arnold quickly ordered a “Manuel’s Special.” But wouldn’t divulge what the catch was. Did it arrive flaming? Was it the spiciest burrito ever? There lips were sealed. In a show of solidarity, Susan decided to get the same thing and both Arnold and Martha and our server chuckled knowingly.

In a nutshell, the Manuel’s Special is basically two square feet of burrito. It is just about the biggest thing to occupy a plate that I’ve ever seen. When it arrived, the sight of such ginormosity alone was almost enough to take away the intense hunger pangs I was experiencing, but I dug in as best I could. Susan took a few bites of hers, and gave up. I managed to put away about 1/15th of the delicious burrito later before quitting. Ambitiously we got to-go containers and hefted the leftovers home thinking we’d have some more for dinner, but we were just kidding ourselves.

I went there next in 2006. I organized a Boyle Heights bike ride from Echo Park whose midway point was El Tepeyac. This time I ordered the still gargantuan (but markedly smaller) Hollenbeck Burrito — another of Rojas’ creations — for the price of $6.65, pictured below:

hollenbeckburrito

As you can see from that quarter I added for scale next to the plate, the Hollenbeck is still a monster, but far less intimidating than the Manuel’s Special.

I made the mistake of eating pretty much the whole dang thing — nd I say “mistake,” not because it wasn’t delicious, but because I then had to ride all the gut-busted way home from Boyle Heights to Silver Lake, and parts of that roll were pretty painful.

I haven’t been back since because I think I’m still digesting parts of it.

Rest in peace, Señor Rojas. Maker of the best burritos ever.

 

I was seriously  saddened to read in today’s LA Times that Charles Ray Walker (aka Bamboo Charlie) was found dead August 26. I first learned of him and the wonderful Boyle Heights space he transformed a couple years ago:

From the LA Times story today by Hector Becerra:

What Walker did, over two decades, was turn something grim into a wonderland garden of edibles and toys. He grew fruits and vegetables on bare slopes. He took discarded toys and whimsical signs and decorated terraces and elaborate stairwells he carved out of the dirt. He built a shack, and under the cool shade of a tree, a home entertainment room with a television set and sofa.

I’d always meant to go there and say hello. Now it’s too late for that. Now, all I can do is go and pay my respects, which I did this morning with Susan:

Flickr photosets: Susan’s and mine.

Originally posted at Blogging.la

One of the oldest spans across the Los Angeles River, the 7th Street Bridge dates back to 1910 when the at-grade version included two-sets of trolley tracks. It quickly became one of the most congested ways across the river and by the late 1920s it was decided that rather than demolish the entire structure, a second level would be built on top giving it a double-decker appearance and allowing traffic to move freely without being impeded by any freight trains traveling  through.

Ever since I first noticed that open but inaccessible lower level of the 7th Street Bridge about eight years ago, I’ve wondered what it’s like inside, and my curiosity only increased a couple years ago when LA River advocate Joe Linton found a way in and wrote about it on his blog LA Creek Freak. It again was piqued a few months ago when the news hit that there are plans in the very early stages to convert the space to an open-air market.

During a visit paid to the bridge last summer while on one of my riverbed rides, I couldn’t figure out how Linton got up there, and I had pretty much reconciled that the space was to remain off limits to me — until a couple weeks ago, when an acquaintance of Linton’s contacted me out of the blue and said she knew how he got in and would I be game to try. Of course I would, I said.

And so it is that I strapped my GoPro cam to my chest and this timelapse came to be. But it almost didn’t. When “Squeaky” and I first showed up, we found railroad ties leaned up below a grate-covered opening from which dangled a rope, but the grating looked locked. Back at our bikes and preparing to leave, a gentleman approached the opening and in a matter of a few seconds had clambered up the tie, pushed open the grate and made his way in. Squeaky quickly hustled over and struck up a conversation with him and asked if it was OK if we came up and looked around. He was hesitant, but said he wouldn’t mind. Squeaky went up first, but the bike shoes I was wearing wouldn’t allow me to get up the steeply angled tie so I had to improvise and add another “step” with another large tie that reduced the angle.

And in I went to enjoy one of the most unique urban explorations Los Angeles has yet to offer me.

Probably the coolest find inside: A construction worker stylistically carved his mark (DM No. 1 – 1927 – Chicago) into the concrete during construction of the second level.

If you want to skip ahead to the point where Squeaky climbs up, it’s at about 4:40. I reconfigure the ramp and make my ascent just after the 5:00 mark. But from wherever you check it out, this timelapse of us wandering around gives a pretty unique picture of what the space is like in there.

The flat version below of a 360-degree panorama I made from inside can be interactively rotated through here:

 

Above is a shot taken yesterday from Broadway of the landmark Higgins Building on the southwest corner of Second and Main, looking east at its backside bathed beautifully Hopper-esque in the afternoon light. Susan and I had a wonderful excursion that started with lunch at Cole’s, and then a stroll up to this building so that I could express my requisite awe in the wake of my discovery that one of my heroes, Clarence Darrow, kept an office here while representing the infamous McNamara brothers who bombed the original Los Angeles Times building (at First and Broadway) in 1910 and killed 20 people.

Afterward we visited the Bradbury Building, Grand Central Market, and rode Angel’s Flight to the top of Bunker Hill, which we descended via Hope Street to go to the Central Library and pick up the new biography of Darrow by John Farrell I had on hold, Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned. From the library we worked our way back to the Drkrm Gallery on Spring Street south of Seventh to check out an exhibit of Ansel Adams’ photographs of Los Angeles in the 1930s. Lastly we explored the incredible space of The Last Bookstore at Spring and Fourth Fifth.

But back to Darrow. I’ve been an unabashed idolizer of his (and subsequent skeptic of religion) since a 13-year-old when I checked out a copy of the play “Inherit the Wind” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee from the LeConte Junior High School library, based on the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee, in which he represented the defendant who challenged that state’s anti-evolution law. The first monologue I ever did as an acting class student at Beverly Hills High School was one of Drummond’s (Darrow) from that play:

Yes there is something holy to me! The power of the individual human mind. In a child’s power to master the multiplication table there is more sanctity than in all your shouted “Amens!,” “Holy, Holies!” and “Hosannahs!” An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is more of a miracle than any sticks turned to snakes, or the parting of waters. But are we now to halt the march of progress because Mr. Brady frightens us with a fable? (to the jury) Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain. You’ve got to pay fo rit. Sometimes I think there’s a man behind a counter who says, “All right, you can have a telephone; but you’ll have to give up rivacy, the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote; but at a price; you lose the right to retreat behind a powderpuff or a petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air; but the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline!” Darwin moved us forward to a hilltop, where we could look back and see the way from which we came. But for this view, this insight, this knowledge, we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis.

Anyway, through a recent issue of Smithsonian magazine I learned via an excerpt from Farrell’s book that he had an office in the Higgins during the McNamara trial and afterwards during what was the darkest time of his life and career as a lawyer, when he was tried twice on charges of bribing McNamara jurors. The first ended in his acquittal, the second with a hung jury, and a subsequent deal with the district attorney was struck in which he agreed there would be no retrial if Darrow promised never to practice law again in California. Darrow then went on to some of his greatest legal battles — including the Scopes trial.

As I looked over the buildings features and details and stood in its foyer where Darrow had undoubtedly stood more than 100 years ago, I figured it might be lost to history where his office had actually been within, but that of course didn’t stop me from googling it and finding via the LA Times that it was on the southwest corner of the ninth floor, the windows of which — second floor from the top — are visible in the picture.

The 2012 edition of my Watts Happening Ride took place this past picture-perfect Saturday, and it was my complete pleasure to share the following landmark people, places and events I’ve discovered there with the 28 cyclists who joined me:

  1. The last residence of jazz great Jelly Roll Morton
  2. The childhood home of Nobel Prize Winner Ralph Bunche
  3. The location of the 1969 Black Panthers shootout
  4. The Hotel Dunbar, centerpiece of the Historic Central Avenue Jazz Corridor
  5. The location of the 1974 SLA shootout
  6. The actual fictional location of the Sanford and Son Salvage Yard
  7. The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia
  8. The location of the incident setting off the 1965 Watts Riots
  9. The home of Eula Love, killed by police in 1979 as a result of a past-due gas bill dispute
  10. The motel where legendary singer Sam Cooke was killed
  11. The flashpoint of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots
  12. The location of Wrigley Field, demolished in 1966.

Unfortunately, the above annotated timelapse video abruptly ends at the third-to-last location we visited, leaving me to discover that I need to get a bigger memory card if I want to capture the entire 33-mile, six-hour tour on camera the next time — and there will be a next time. I hope you’ll join me.

 

While wandering through my entirely unorganized image archives for no particular reason beyond nostalgia’s sake, I came across these snaps made during an Echo park stroll with Susan in June 2004 of the landmark Jensen’s Recreation Center sign illuminated, an occurrence that’s pretty rare these days.

The pix themselves are nothing I’d brag about other than they capture a beloved link to the area’s past in its glory (click the thumbnails for the bigger picture):

From a 2005 post on the Historic Echo Park blog:

For more that 50 years, the 17′ x 28′ incandescent sign (illuminated with 1,300 red, green and white light bulbs) atop the building that depicts a bowler throwing a strike was dark. A testament to the neglect and disrepair the building and the neighborhood sometimes suffered over the years. In 1997, the sign was restored to its original appearance through a cultural affairs grant. For many residents, the relighting of the sign was a momentous event that signaled the revitalization of the community and gave the neighborhood an identity.

The sign’s most impressive aspect not found in these images is the animation depicting a bowler rolling a strike along the top of the sign.

Those deathless herkyjerky timelapse videos I compile from my bike rides are often filled with a whole lotta nothing happening beyond a 12 frames-per-second commemoration of whatever route I’ve taken.  But usually I can count on encountering something  eye-catching and worth a second glance. Maybe it’s a unique pedestrian or a scenario or an architectural aspect that I’m happy to have been able to capture.

Such is the cloud-crowded frame above (cinematic, if I do say so myself; click it for the bigger picture), snapped as I was making my way east across the Sixth Street Bridge onward to Montebello for some Broguiere’s egg nog last Monday. Pedaling  past these independent filmmakers during a break in the traffic flow as they rolled on a key moment between what I’d guess could be the protagonist and his or her love interest against a background of the downtown skyline.

Since my approaching presence posed no danger or impediment that forced them to yell cut and flee to the sidewalks, maybe the final cut of the film will find me pedaling along the outskirts of this scene.

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