For as long as I’ve been traveling Jefferson Boulevard either by bike or car, I’ve bemoaned the bunkerfication of so many of the buildings that line it — especially those between Crenshaw and La Brea. Squat, brutal, mostly windowless boxes seemingly fortified to repel looters and rioters, there is little in the way of architectural significance or a demonstration of history, and there are little opportunities for beautification.
One of these fortresses I’ve long appreciated (going back to 2007) sits on the northeast corner of Jefferson and Victoria, one block west of Crenshaw. I’ve admired it because whoever owned it allowed it to become fully engulfed in a thriving foliage that they then kept properly manicured. In effect, making organic and giving life to what I assumed was just another soulless nondescript structure hidden beneath.
Sometime last year whatever business was operating within it vacated and For Sale signs were posted on the walls. Eventually those came down and then one day a couple months ago, I did a double-take, fully shocked when I found the massive amount of greenery had been removed down to the last leaf… as if overnight.
Much to my delight the building it had long hidden from view was not a featureless box but a beautiful brick relic, and in the weeks of finger-crossing that passed I was overjoyed to see a restoration at work. After it was completed I snapped this drive-by shot and went in vain searching through some of my old bike commute vids to see if I had a frame that would show it in its previous state. Nope.
Then it dawned on me to Google Streetview the location, and as such I’m at least able to illustrate to you the dramatic then and now. I hope you enjoy it (click to enlargify the images):
In the 12-plus years I’ve been a-blogging, I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a week or two without posting SOMETHING. So you can imagine my shock when I saw I’d last been seen here basically more than three weeks ago.
The funny thing is, I’ve still been communicating, but mostly on Facebook, which for reasons known only to Mark Zuckerberg has been able to squirrel its way in to becoming something of my defacto mode of e-communication. I don’t even tweet much anymore.
But enough about that. Without any further preambling, here’s some of the stuff I’ve been doing of late:
1) Kayaking The Los Angeles River
As part of a pilot program this summer, a section of the long-lost Los Angeles River coursing through Elysian Valley was reopened to the public for use as a recreational resource, an opportunity angelenos have not had since the 1930s when the river’s channelization was begun to prevent flooding.
As a boy I accidentally discovered the river, and from that single experience I have never stopped being enamored with and zealously protective of what so many others have dismissed as our city’s woeful waterway — little more than a drainage ditch to the sea. Though I’ve been aware of its potential, I never imagined that one day I’d see such a sea change in perception so that the river would made accessible and embraced not as a prohibited place but as public parkland to be explored and experienced and as something to connect with after so long a disconnect.
So for me, thanks to L.A. River Expeditions (Facebook), to be among the first wave during this historic first season and doing what you see in these clips at the top and after the jump: putting a kayak into its waters and putting my butt into that kayak and paddling — however awkwardly — downstream for a water-level perspective of my beloved river, it’s not a dream come true. Because I never dared to dream this could ever happen. Not in my lifetime.
No, it’s much more than that. To me it’s nothing short of a glorious miracle. And for that I’m thankful to everyone who has fought so tirelessly and valiantly over the years to get the city’s much-maligned and misbegotten river recreated in enough influential minds so that it can now be leisurely recreated upon.
Physically and soulfully these waters were very moving.
2) Unrocking The parkway in front of our house
I can’t remember if it was four or five years ago, but it all began when our next door neighbor contacted me to tell me he was redoing the section of parkway in front of his house with river rocks, and would I be interested in going in for half of the cost and doing mine as well to give the two parkways some continuity.
I figured why not. It would look better than the dirt and dead grass that had been there and it would be an opportunity to do something positive with the guy with whom, frankly, I’m not on the best of terms.
So a few weeks later he shows up with a metric ton of the palm-sized rocks and we pour them out, and the continuity lasted for all of as long as it took for the grasses and weeds to grow from between our rocks. See, he keeps his section of the parkway completely sterile, using gardeners he’s instructed to pluck pretty much even the slightest growth of green. Me? I’m my own gardener and I instructed myself not to give a hoot about what grows.
The only thing I’d been meticulous about is putting the rocks back that people for some stupid reason can’t resist kicking or tossing all over the place: the gutter, the street, the sidewalk, our front steps. And yes, I’ve even confronted people I’ve witnessed taking the rocks – literally picking up several and walking off as if there’s a “Free Rocks — All You Can Carry!” sign posted.
Fast forward to this week, and I’m finally done with these rocks. Agreeing to partner this design option for our parkways did nothing to improve things with the neighbor, and so I decided that it’s time to reclaim or refresh our decidedly seedy section of the parkway and remove the river rocks.
I started yesterday (August 12), and quickly discovered that it was something easier said than done. What I thought would take a couple hours of clearing the roughly 40′ x 4′ area, is going to take about eight or more… mostly because over the ensuing rainy seasons, what started as one layer of rocks on the surface of the soil is now in places two or three layers of rocks that have been buried by the flow of water and soil, hastened by those people who’ve tromped on them and pushed them deeper. It’s really quite remarkable how low some of these rocks have gone.
I found out during the first four/five foot long section I cleared from the driveway apron to the magnolia tree, which also involved digging up all the dead patches of grass. And there are a LOT of dead patches of grass.
Soooo, what you’re seeing here in this timelapse is roughly 45 minutes of me attacking with little more than a spade and begloved hands the second four/five foot section between the magnolia tree and the brick walkway. Ended up filling the bucket three times. That’s a lotta rocks. And I’ll do it again tomorrow. And the day after. Until it’s done.
Not sure yet what I plan to do once it’s all cleared. I may just leave it bare. I may plant something. Or I may supersaturate the soil and set the rocks back into the wet dirt side by side like so many tiles. At least that way if some idiot wants to take one or toss one it’ll require a little more effort than just bending over and getting grabby.
Menial labor? Meaningful labor? Bit of both from where I’m toiling.
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.
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.