The "make your own noise thing" workshop offered by Machine Project reminds me of a yard sale last weekend on Park Drive, across from Elysian Park. Our friend and neighbor Moe and his next-doors Rocky and Lisa held a house-to-house sale. Their daughters stayed up late the night before making lemonade, and -- at the event -- if you bought some you got a bonus prize: you could play Moe's theramin (think "Good Vibrations" from the Beachboys) for a minute or two.
And now Machine Project has a workshop at which you can make something like your own oscillating music machine.
This weekend (Saturday September 30th) Machine Director Mark Allen will be teaching a one day workshop entitled "A build your own noise thing workshop spectacular". This will be focused on using 555 timers to make square wave oscillators. We’ve done this one before and it’s a good time.
Then, starting next weekend (oct 7th), we have a four week class called "Spooky Projects - Introduction to Microcontrollers with Aurdino" taught by the illustrious Tod E Kurt. If we had known that Tod engineered the hardware and software for robotic camera systems that went to Mars (as well as possessing degrees in physics and electrical engineering from Occidental and Caltech) we would have been too shy to ask him to teach this class. But we didn’t know.
A lot of people who live in Echo Park came originally from Mexico, or Cuba. A smaller but still significant portion came from Brooklyn. In fact, I moved here from Brooklyn (where I had lived for a couple of years). So did my neighbors a couple of doors away. The playwright-performer Heather Woodbury also came from Brooklyn, and in her most recent theater production, Tale of 2 Cities, she links the stories of Chavez Ravine with the New York borough.
Woodbury moved here in 1998. Before then she was an established figure in the New York experimental theater world, receiving commissions from the Public Theatre and PS1. In August, I began communicating with her by email: she wanted to check in with the Echo Park Historical Society (of which I am a board member) as she was doing a play that involved Echo Park history. A couple of days after we first spoke on the phone I was at a yard sale, and I overheard her, with her husband, talking about her play. So we met in person. She helped me carry some of my loot home.
In the meantime I had heard from my other neighbors that Woodbury had written and performed in a “living novel,” a theater piece that involved some one hundred characters, performed by Woodbury. It’s a well-known piece, and I love the idea of writing a novel via theater, as opposed to adapting a novel for the stage.
Woodbury’s most recent play is Tale of 2 Cities, and it runs as part of UCLA’s Live series from September 30 to October 8. Broken into two chapters, Tale of 2 Cities tells a story of the Dodgers’ move from Brooklyn to Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles. After its run at UCLA it moves to New York City.
One of the things that has made Echo Park such a rich place to live is that is was poor for such a long time: no one tore down old gas stations and old houses in an effort to cash in. As I said before, the place felt like a small town that had been overlooked – in fact, forgotten -- in the midst of a big city. Buildings were readapted by economic necessity, not for environmental politics (not that there is anything wrong with readaptation by choice).
So the old art deco style gas station at 1901 Echo Park Avenue never was torn down. It has been many things, including, recently, a gang hangout/dwelling. It appeared to be older gang members, and they were quiet. For the past couple of years it was surrounded by mobile homes and canvas-covered chain link. A high-end tile-makers’ studio was built behind it about four years ago. The artists create both modish modern designs and re-creations of Batchelder-type arts-and-crafts tiles, beautiful and in-sync with one layer of Echo Park: the bungalows of the 20s and 30s. Recently the tile-makers – one who was planning to move to London, the other who comes from Germany – sold their studio and the former gas station to a developer, who plans to build condos.
In the meantime, this week I started seeing changes. The cotton weeds were chopped down. A sofa appeared and then disappeared. Then there was a sky blue Mercedes maybe five or six years old. Today, I met a guy named Depak (he says his parents were into Depak Chopra) who was getting set up in the space, which is now to provide vegetable oil for diesel engines.
Depak says he came from Lovecraft Biofuels, the Silver Lake purveyor of vegetable-oil for diesel. Where the sofa had sat there was a giant plastic tub with wire mesh. I said I couldn’t be happier than to have a business like his in the vicinity, and he replied that a lot of neighbors had been stopping by saying exactly the same thing. A neighborhood that prefers a vegetable-oil gas station to upscale housing. I wish I could stop the churning of the neighborhood right here…before the bulldozers come.
Depak gestured at the gas station and said that even though he was setting up shop all of this would be gone. “They are going to build townhomes,” he said. He is on a month-to-month lease.
Photo: 1901 Echo Park Avenue, September 2006
By Martin Cox
I went back for more. After posting a notice about the tour of the east side of Elysian Park I got the bug to go again. It had been about a year and a half, and the east side was mostly the way I had last seen it. (Except that on this day, in parkland just below, the not-a-confield park project was having its opening day ceremonies.) Scott Fajack of the Citizens' Committee to Save Elysian Park and the Echo Park Historical Society led the tour. He made a point of mentioning that the east side is open for wholesome reacreation, under-used as most of it is. The meadow which now sits on the spot that once was a reservoir is often used in the afternoons, he said, by rugby players and for soccer.
We did see plenty of guys sitting around, otherwise known as cruising, looking like they were waiting for us to leave -- the tour being an inconvenience, but one they had to put up with.
Scott also said he does not know of any drug dealing going on in the east side of the park.
Another change: the playground equipment that had been closed off with chain link barriers was now refurbished and ready for romping, with new regulation soft tread padding. But no kids.
Echo Park is not mentioned In a New York Times Sunday Styles piece about Los Angeles toddlers who have significant collections of art hanging on their nursery walls (as in $20,000 worth, in one case). But, never fear, the neighborhood is in fact represented, if silently. Three of the artists named in Ginny Chien's article either live in Echo Park or used to. Monique Prieto and Ingrid Calame live here now, and Tom Knechtel is said to have moved out of the hood. And there could be more, hidden in those studios with their lights burning deep into the night.
It happens once every two or three months. The car clubs meet in a valley of Elysian Park. Car clubs have a long history in the area, predating the term “low-rider,” though it is the low-riders who come out in force to see the rows of antique and lovingly adorned auto machines. On Sunday it was Chevys. I got a call from my friend Angela Wood who had stumbled onto the car show while trying to sell her Westphalia VW bus. She said, “I am standing next to a car with naked women painted all over it.”
Up and down Stadium Way, in the shadow of Canary Island palms planted over a hundred years ago, Chevys dating from what looked like the ‘30s to the present sat on display. By far the most numerous, vintage Impalas were king for the day. The first Impala I noticed had two elaborate ventriloquist’s-dummy-sized dolls propped on wired supports at the front and back of the car. One of the dolls looked like a possibly white stoner guy; the other looked like a Latino dude, with a baseball cap. The black car had delicate pin striping. It gleamed.
The crowd – gasp – was mostly male. I’d say about two thirds had shaved heads, though the biker crowd was there as well, with hair. There were also a small number of short-sleeved button-down shirt fifties-style guys. The atmosphere was tense, with cops at both ends of the closed-to-through traffic stretch of road. A guy rapped while being videotaped. There was a large number of young sons with their dads. A lot of milling around, and waiting by cars. Waiting to have yours noticed.
Many of the cars had teeny wheels, a sign of tilt-and-bounce capability. One Impala 327, a bright yellow convertible with a cut-out metal sign that read “Millennium,” had five or six toy ants about the size of my hand propped up on the dashboard. The chassis of the parked car was lifted so you could see between the white wall tires and the undercarriage.
At 3-something, one police car started driving down the block lights flashing and siren blurping – a sign it was time to disperse. A second car (among several) remained parked but started flashing its lights. People started pulling their beauties out of their parking spots. (Though, to my surprise I did notice that not all of the cars were perfect or even restored. Some had been restored years ago, it seemed, and were due for a bit more restoration. I assume they either were for sale, or their beauty was on the inside, or their owners simply wanted to come to the party.) As the squad car moved its way slowly down the block, a guy in a black Super Sport blared rap: “Shoot first and ask questions latah.” The only women drivers I noticed drove behind the Super Sport. The women had a tangerine Impala with a white interior. After that came a car named Top Dollar. It was green, with pinstriping and a dent on the right hand side. Because there was a guy with a large video camera it began bouncing and tipping, lifting the wheels on one side off the ground, high enough that the passenger in the car looked very nervous.
I could have walked to the car show, but I drove. So I got in my car and joined the procession out of the park. On my way down Morton, I saw that a house that had been used in the movie L.A. Confidential was having an open house. (It’s the one where Russell Crowe finds the body of a corrupt cop underneath the house. The woman who lives in the house calls out to Crowe, “Was it a rat?” “Yeah, a great big one.”) So I pulled over to take a look inside. Most of the people I saw inside were Echo Park neighbors, including one friend, Rick Morton, who had worked on the film as a still photographer. I remember when they were filming L.A. Confidential on the block. It was ’95 or ’96, and for several days (it seemed) old cars – similar to the ones that were now making their way down Morton – had been driving on Morton as they filmed at the house. One of those coincidences that make you feel there is some sort of thematic design to your life, like an arabesque.
I went down the Chango coffeehouse to have a mint lemonade at a table on the street. Jesus Sanchez, who had been at the open house, sat with me for a few minutes with his lemonade. I wanted to see which way the vintage cars were going, whether they would turn in both directions and scatter through the neighborhood, or whether they all would head toward Sunset and possibly out of the neighborhood. They all headed toward Sunset.
Photo: Stadium Way, September 2006
By Angela Wood
Photo: 4 cars, September 2006
By Angela Wood
The western end of Elysian Park is heavily used by residents of the surrounding communities. Every day there are hundreds of dog walkers, joggers, wanderers, a couple of horses who trod the dirt trails on this edge of the 600-acre park. It is rare that I don't see either a person I know or at least a dog I recognize while I walk my dog and enjoy the views and the feeling of floating above the city and all its problems. Meanwhile, the eastern half of Elysian Park is the badlands. It is green, lovely and under-used in terms of g-rated recreation. Portions of it are enjoyed mainly by cruisers, drug dealers and cops. I have a friend who once walked his dog, Frisbee, on the east end, and a cop asked him what he was doing there. (Answer: walking my dog.) He now drives to the other side of the park for Frisbee's outings.
But the east side is vast and lonely. There is a reservoir, a ghost aqueduct, barely used meadows, giant public art no one sees up close. I know because I once went on an excellent two-hour tour of this side of the park. The tour was given by Scott Fajack, representing both the Echo Park Historical Society and the Citizens' Committee to Save Elysian Park. Scott is an architect for the DWP, and he is passionate about the history of the park. This Saturday, Sept. 23, Scott will lead followers through the eastern fields of Elysian Park, at 10 a.m.
According to the Echo Park Historical Society's website:
This tour takes about two hours to complete and includes walking up and down hills and upon unpaved trails. Reservations required. Please visit the Walking Tour section of www.HistoricEchoPark.org for details.
Photo: View of Downtown from Elysian Park
By Cindy Bennett
To make a truly long story short, Mike McGonigal was in town last week with his girlfriend, Lily. They live in Portland, Oregon, which Mike says he prefers over Seattle (and presumably New York, where my husband and I met Mike so many years ago). Mike edits an arts journal called Yeti, and he used to publish the somewhat legendary ‘zine Chemical Imbalance. Guys like Mike gravitate to Echo Park, when they visit Los Angeles, and as Mike sipped his coffee in my kitchen it was clear that he knew a great deal more about the people who hang out in my local coffee house than I do. (Example: I mention Lavender Diamond, and Mike starts rattling off names of band members – first name only –- as though I knew them, too. Not to mention the other bands who pass the time at Chango, telling tales.) Mike said one of the nice things about his visit to L.A. was being in the presence of people who didn’t know the old stories about him (tales of excess and extreme experience). Mike had been to Chango, the coffeehouse on Echo Park Avenue twice, I think he said. The first cup of coffee was served by a depressed-looking clerk who was playing a Royal Trux CD, and that cup was good, by coffee-snob standards. The second cup was served by a cheerful, pretty guy with whom all the girls were flirting, and that cup didn’t pass. Mike used to say he wasn’t a coffee snob. But those days are over.
There is a ghost town in the south-west corner of Echo Park. It is two blocks of houses that are now vacant -- with a couple of exceptions -- after tenants and homeowners were forced out by the LAUSD under threats of eminent domain seizure. Only a couple of holdouts had the wherewithall to call the district's bluff. It's a complex story, and I have described it before. The district wants to build a school. But it didn't do proper impact reviews before forcing some 200 people out of their homes; most of these people are immigrants, may of them poor. The "project" is now stalled as the LAUSD faces a lawsuit concerning its tactics.
Amid concerns that the LAUSD will raze the homes before it can be ordered not to, Eric Garcetti recently promised the Echo Park Improvement Association that he will seek to have the LAUSD barred from destroying any homes before the lawsuit is resolved. Garcetti has long been on record as opposing the construction of a school on the site that the LAUSD "selected." The LAUSD calls it Site 9A. The place where 200 people used to live, their houses now encircled by chain-link fencing.
Photo: Site 9A, open gate
By Cindy Bennett
I am sure they were from the White House. A small band of aliens abducted me when I was in Washington, DC. I am not entirely sure what they did with my brain, but I believe that for a short while they left it in the six-doors box on Echo Park Avenue. That's why I said that Hannah Bleier had written Jenna Blough's story when I posted a notice about the Black Clock reading. In fact, Hannah Bleier has three spaces reserved for her writing on Black Clock 5's table of contents. And her tryptich is beautiful. She will be reading this afternoon at Dutton's Brentwood, as I said before, along with the other previously mentioned writers.
In the meantime, Jenna Blough's short story in the same issue is still set in Echo Park.
Los Angeles is the theme of the fifth issue of Black Clock. Among other fine contributions, the issue includes a Hannah Bleier story that I loved -- set in Echo Park. There is also I short story that I wrote -- set partly in Echo Park. Other stories are set in Malibu, Hollywood, uncertain locations in the basin.
Several contributors will give a reading from the issue this Sunday at Dutton's Brentwood. They include Joy Nicholson, AJ Albany, Hannah Bleier, David Martino, Lou Mathews and myself. 2 p.m., 11975 San Vicente Blvd.
Oh. Hollywood rediscovers Echo Park. In the L.A. Times editorial pages today. You may have seen it. I'd sputter, but there's really nothing terribly wrong with this editorial. I'm just not sure why it was written. I didn't know the up-or-down, cool-or-square, factors of individual neighborhoods were a matter for the opinion pages. But, then again, those measurements ARE a matter of opinion. I just don't hope the neighborhood doesn't end up with a terrible sun burn as J. Lo's cameras get their fill.
It should be noted, however, that Echo Park lived through the 1980s Michael Ventura feature film of the same name (starring Tom Hulce and Susan Day -- sp?), and we can't even find our scars. Not to mention Alison Anders' Mi Vida Loca.
In the meantime, I received an email from some peple I didn't know at first about their harvest of shiraz grapes in Echo Park. There were a number of photos included, and the people looked familiar. But it wasn't until I saw a photo of Lucy the dog nibbling grapes that I realized they were my neighbors, whose names I never knew before. Everyone in my part of the hood knows Lucy, a big bear of a dog, who trots around in front of her house, on ocassion wandering. The harvest and crushing of grapes at my neighbors' city-plot hillside vineyard looked like hard work. They say they harvested 250 pounds of grapes, all picked at their home in Echo Park.
I hate to be all doggy-expert, but I have heard that grapes are toxic for dogs. Though if your yard is full of the fruit, and your dog looks lively, I'm not sure it's time for drastic measures.
Martin Cox, who has evolved into Chicken Corner’s occasional waterfowl correspondent reports the following activity at Echo Park Lake:
Odd geese sightings, after week of absence the pair of Canada geese with their grown chicks number 11. Well, they came back one evening last week with 13 of their best friends. We heard them land with a great splash, and then in the twilight form a single line of 24 geese and head up the lake towards the island. They spent the night but were gone before 7AM. Since then various numbers have been coming and going, sometimes 18 and then back to the original 11.
Maybe they are making day trips to the county fair.
Martin is currently part of a group show of Los Angeles artists presented by the Millard Sheets Gallery at the L.A. County Fair. The exhibition, Fair Exchange, is curated by Irene Tsatsos, former director of L.A.C.E., among other things.
While I am contemplating the geese and my own peregrinations in efforts to see family and friends, I receive another email, this one from my friend Angela, who reports alarming gestures and swinging of arms from a “sharp-looking group of hucksters.” Angela lives across the street from me in Echo Park. She said the hucksters were...
...clustered on the front lawn of our neighbor-across-the-street. They were all huffing and puffing and scratching their chins - looking at the house at the bottom of a break neck slope that absolutely completes my southern view, one that I call, "the country in El Salvador". A vivacious Asian woman with spiked hair was making a swooping motion with her right hand - up into the air - and then spreading her fingers in a kind of spectacular fan shape to signify....what? A town house? A duplex? She did this a few times before her colleague stepped in - a 30-something, stately Lantino with a pony tail – and he responded with a similar sweeping motion to the left and then punctuated it with three long linear cuts, his hand like a spade - a giant parking structure? A home depot? Then, they all started cackling. Really, they did - which made me spill me coffee, just missing my one-year-old's head, who was shouting to them "Hi!!!!!" at the top of her lungs. I disappeared behind my curtains just in time for them to look up at my house, dollar signs gleaming in their eyes.
I am glad to be passing this description along from a distance, didn’t have to witness the performance myself.
Director Neil Abramson, along with editor Angela Wood and others, searched high and low for Bob Smiths, who happened to be named the same. They found enough of these creatures to make a film about things that Bob Smiths would say and do and perhaps exemplify. I can't say for sure because I haven't seen the film yet. There will be one screening of Bob Smith, USA at the Echo Park Film Center on this Thursday, Sept. 14. 8 pm. Rated PG-13.
Named after an inventor, DeForest Moe Most was the king of Muscle Beach. The gymnast-acrobat was born in Echo Park and lived for a while across from Elysian Park. His family also lived on land they had "homesteaded" near Elysian Park after a downturn in fortunes. Filmmaker Joe D'Augustine emailed me with news of the Belmont High School graduate's death and wild, wandering life.
This past July the Echo Park Historical Society hosted a meeting at which several architects spoke about current or recently completed projects in the neighborhood. The meeting was held in the gutted industrial space of an old building on Glendale Boulevard. The building soon will be turned into condos, and while everyone is always so appalled to hear that their favorite old bank or church or whatever is about to go condo (myself included) I applaud the trend toward adaptive reuse.
So we sat inside the great gutted barrel of a building and heard about the future of built Echo Park. If you didn’t get there in time to nab a chair you got your clothes significantly dirty leaning against the wall or sitting on the floor. One of the presenters was Louis Montoya of Montoya-Turin designers. I had long admired a project I saw evolving on Echo Park Avenue in which they turned what looked like a tear-down shack into a sleek shiny new toy of a structure, which is barely visible from the street now that the front garden trees have grown in. It’s a new spot of green space and vitality just about half a dozen door south of the chrome fence I described last week in Chicken Corner. In any case, I was struck by a couple of comments Montoya made, the first being that he and his partner (in work and life) Laurent Turin were designing homes that did not have a front door: true indoor-out-of-doors spaces that were planned with great sensitivity to the specific conditions of their sites. The second comment was the most sustainable structure is one that already exists. The kinds of things everyone knows and no one thinks about.
I emailed Louis and Laurent some further questions about designing spaces in Echo Park and in general. They speak with one voice. Their responses follow in a Chicken Corner Micro-Interview.
Q: In the Echo Park Historical Society meeting, Louis said that his ideal is to live outside. Can you elaborate on that?
A: We are working on a project for a house in Echo Park where the enclosed portion is about 400 square feet. We are able to accomplish this by seeing both interior and exterior spaces as the house itself. To us this goes beyond the modernist interest of opening up the house to the exterior, and seeks to merge interior and exterior as a sequence of living spaces. In lieu of building larger homes, we encourage clients to consider the benefits (and cost savings) of their available outdoor space. Because of very favorable climate conditions, such as temperatures, breezes, shade from trees, it is very easy to live outdoor:; Dining, reading, playing, gardening, resting are all activities that invite you outside. Our projects always attempt to create strong connections to the outside. We try to make use of outside "rooms" as part of a broader concept of "house".
Q: You are very tuned in to environmental conditions in Echo Park. Can you describe these? In what ways are Echo Park conditions different than, say, Silver Lake’s or Glassell Park’s? Or that of other nearby communities?
A: While Echo Park shares many attributes with nearby communities it is the combination of these attributes that contribute toward making it a good place to live. These include situational and environmental factors such as its central location - making it easier to be a pedestrian or to take public transport, its geography of hills and ravines, its ocean influence in the form of mild temperatures and breezes, its sunnyness, and its mature vegetation including some native plants such as Toyons, California Black Walnut, Sycamores, etc.
Q: How did you approach learning what were the specific conditions of Echo Park? Did you use any unconventional methods?
A: Directly and indirectly. We explore Echo Park directly through living here, walking, hiking up and down stairs hills and Indirectly through reading, and through visits to local nurseries and gardens such as the Theodore Payne foundation. On several occasions we have brought students here to walk, talk, and explore contemporary issues as manifested in our neighborhood.
Q: Do you consider yourselves environmentalists?
If you mean someone who cares about our environment and about the relationship of human culture and the natural world, then yes. We feel that everyone needs to be aware of, respectful of, and careful with, our entire natural environment. This includes but goes beyond the realm of architecture and into a much larger social, cultural, and political realm.
Q: Have you considered using green roofs?
A: We are working on three Echo Park projects at the moment that strongly deal with the roof in relationship to environmental concerns. One uses a curtain of solar panels expressively as a canopy and as vertical shading while collecting solar energy. Another relies on mature trees for cooling and shade, while a third project calls for a tree canopy to serve as the major roof for the house. To date we have not worked on projects with sod or other living materials on the roof.
Q: At the EPHS meeting, Louis said that the most sustainable structure is one that is already built. (!) Would you say that sustainability is one of your foremost guiding principles in design?
A: Yes. We are very interested in sustainable architecture. This to us is different than just sustainable buildings. It isn't only about putting solar panels on a roof or about building smaller. Our goal is for sustainability to be an intrinsic component of making; That it is a participant in the design and use of anything and everything. Along with considerations about space, material, form, human needs and tendencies, and culture, issues of sustainability help us find design expression and help make for better, more intelligent, and more responsible environments for living.
Q: Can you describe the project that you did on Echo Park Avenue? Did you design the landscape as well as the renovation of the cottage?
A: When we bought the property in 2000 it was sold as "land value only." We think this means tear-down. Two additional buildings used to occupy the front of the property but had been torn down, for lack of repair, in the 1970's. The house which sits at the back of the lot is 608 square feet. The lot itself is around 5600 Square feet. Originally built in 1923 the house had gone through some remodel trauma and was in a state of disrepair. Typical of its age, it was chopped-up into small separate rooms with little air flow and light. Constructed of true 2" x 4" redwood studs, the structure was doing okay except where insensitive plumbing, etc. had destroyed its integrity. Our goal was simple (and our budget was very tight): Link the house to its site, open-up the flow between spaces, make better use of natural light and air, and visually extend the sightlines inside the house.
The house is now composed of one larger space that is subdivided into a sequence of sub-spaces where one visually borrows from the others allowing a double or triple use of the same space. One long storage system runs the length of one wall housing books, clothes, laundry, stuff. A sliding 8'x8' panel can be used to cover the clothes but can slide along the entire length to serve other functions. There are 5 exterior sliding glass panels which when open turn the house almost into a covered porch letting in that afternoon Echo Park breeze. The sliders also facilitate the connection to the outside where a series of decks, gravel patios, and gardens, encourage you to spend the day outside. Being right on Echo Park Avenue we wanted some privacy but wanted to avoid fences and walls. Instead we planted a series of native and non-native drought-tolerant plants and trees that could be enjoyed from the street as well as from the house. At the front, a gravel area allows for parking while letting any water that falls to percolate into the ground.
There are a pair of enticing events in the neighborhood or near-neighborhood this weekend, which make me sorry I am going to Washington DC tomorrow morning and not Monday.
On Friday evening, Cindy Bennett (an artist whose photographs you may have seen on this site) will be opening her studio in Old Chinatown. She lives and works just off Chung King Road (address 945 N. Hill Street) and will be opening the street-level doors of her studio in coincidence with the opening of some of the established art galleries. A guerrilla act, she's swinging those doors wide open! Recently I heard that the Chinatown galleries now stagger their openings because the crowds were too large. In any case, it seems like only yesterday I went with my friend Steve Kurtz to a discussion event in one of the Chinatown galleries -- it was all about the new and wonderful thing they called blogs. The room was beyond standing room only, with people packed into a doorway and watching from outside the plate glass windows. A few bloggers sat on a panel and described to the avid audience what a blog was. A guy in the audience pulled out a cellphone and showed how he could blog from it. Audio! I remember thinking, cool, now all of our cell phone conversations truly will be staged. Or "candid."
Then, on Sunday, there will be a talk in relation to a fractals exhibit at Machine Project on Alvarado near Sunset. Recently, I saw the door open at Machine Project and wandered into what had turned into a gallery. (The pneumatic tube money-taking apparatus remained, but the floor had been cleared of tables, sewing machines, weird contraptions and whatnot.) The gallery contained displays of fractal cubes of varying sizes, one of them about five feet (square, obviously). Lengthy captions explained what they were and how to make them. Machine Project does seem to be the ultimate do-this-yourself-at-home-kids kind of outfit. Very friendly. And the cubes were cool.
This from Machine:
Perhaps more than anyone, we here at Machine Project feel the powerful magnetic pull of the multitude of art events all happening this weekend. And yet, we brashly invite you to join us this Sunday (Sept 10th) at 8pm, as Machine Project and the Institute For Figuring present a lecture by Dr Jeannine Mosely on the mathematical and engineering challenges of turning 66,000 business cards into a fractal object. Audience members will learn how to fold businesscard cubes and during the evening Dr Mosely will assemble a Level 1 Business Card Sponge. It's not inconceivable that it might be crowded (what with those giant fractal cubes taking up space in the gallery) so come a bit early for best seating. Free.
Morgan Neville -- whom LA nerds will know as the maker of Shotgun Freeway, among dozens of music documentaries -- recently shot a Todd Snider music video. The video shows the alt-country Nashville singer in a big ol' Echo Park boho kind of way. He wakes up in the morning, shaves, makes a decision about himself in relation to the means of production and then gets down to business, driving up and down Sunset Boulevard and other Echo Park thoroughfares. Neighborhood folks will recognize just about everything, but the highlights include Snider striding into Alexander's Brite Spot diner and convincing a kitchen worker to quit his job; at the Downbeat Cafe and other venues he sings freedom to the workers; at the CalFed Building, the closest thing Echo Park has to a skyscraper, he uses a bullhorn to call enlightened employees down to the street. The newly liberated drive around the neighborhood in Snider's VW bus. You can tell the video was shot very recently because the Rodeo Grill on Sunset is missing its sign -- the one where the donkeys pull giant tacos along the ground. I have always loved that sign and have been hoping it would return one of these days, but so far, nothing.
The Snider song is "Looking for a Job." Snider's The Devil You Know, from which Looking for a Job comes, happens to be one of my favorite CDs in recent release. But that's a coincidence.
I can’t remember exactly when, which month or which season, but sometime in the last 6 months or so, things started happening at a white bungalow, across from the Del Mor building, where Echo Park Avenue and Morton go their separate ways. First an odd, elaborate fence was built. It appears to be chrome. When the sun hits it in the morning it gleams white. It shouts, really, it’s so bright. It is probably the only chrome fence I have ever seen. When the fence was completed, I noticed a pile of wood. Plywood and other building materials. I never saw anyone actually working, but pretty soon a large rectangular box started taking shape. It could have been a photo booth. I wondered if it was part of a stage set. Since it was directly in sight of Chango, I am sure there was a significant amount of wondering that went on as far as the front-yard box was concerned. Pretty soon screen doors began to appear on the box -- two on one side, two on another side, and one and one. Full-sized doors leading to a tiny room. They were detailed with maybe-chrome, like the fence. The interior of this room is probably twenty square feet. Now people were saying it was a time capsule, a magician’s prop, a closet for claustrophobics, a display for doors. It was on wheels. It looked like a labor of love, whatever it was.
I went with my friend Cindy Bennett to take a picture of this marvelous weird thing. We arrived in front of the bungalow -– the front porch is piled high with furniture and boxes. As Cindy prepared to photograph, the automatic gate started opening suddenly. They were home. The chrome-fence-and-box people. It was a trim middle aged Asian-American woman and a younger woman. The younger woman, whose name is Jenny, explained to me what the box is about. It turns out her uncle makes fences and doors. He built the fence as well as the box, which is, in fact, a display for various types of doors he makes. His name is Ping Ya Situ. The box sits in the front yard because that is the best place to store it. The wheels will enable him to take it to trade shows. Or, I imagine, just out for a drive.
I didn’t ask what was inside, but I do know that there are six ways to get there.
Photo: Big box
By Cindy Bennett
Photo: Chrome fence and box
By Cindy Bennett
Yes, there is more to say. I hear from Joe D'Augustine that I have mis-copyedited Fellowship Park Way. He said it was Park Way and not Parkway, one word. I drove down Landa to the intersection where there is a Fellowship street sign, and the sign read "Fellowship Park Wy." Close enough. I was glad to be alerted to the error because it gives me a topical excuse to run the photo, below, that I had misfiled on the day I posted my description of Fellowship Park Way. Also, I worked as a copyeditor for years, plumbing the differences between one word and two. It matters.
Photo: Chair and circle, Fellowship Park Way
By Cindy Bennett
I have received a pair of notes concerning Fellowship Parkway. The first is from Richard Cromelin, pop music writer from the L.A. Times. Cromelin writes:
It must have been late 60s or early 70s, and I cant remember the reason for the
correspondence, but I got a letter from the Firesign Theater guys with a Fellowship Parkway address on their return label. It's an otherworldly place all right. I see Google Maps just has a big gray area where it should be....
The second note is from Diane Edwardson, who also mentions maps. Edwardson is a longtime community activist and a 16-year resident of what she describes as "the border between Echo Park and Silver Lake." She says that Fellowship Parkway is not part of the Semi-Tropic Spiritualists’ Tract (as my previous post claimed it was).
The Semi-Tropic Spiritualists’ Tract (where the Landacre Cabin is a historic landmark) is the last hillside in Elysian Heights. It is a City Tract cut in 1905 by the Semi-Tropic Spiritualists between Sunflower Ave and Walcott Way (northeast of Whitmore). The site was recently under the gun of a developer who wanted to destroy the lush hillside by cutting and grading similar to developments in Simi Valley and Orange County. (He’s currently redesigning his plans.)
Fellowship Parkway is a separate tract founded by yet another of Echo Park's many religious sects in the early part of the 20th Century. It should not be confused with the Holyland Exhibition at the corner of Allesandro Way and Lake View Ave across the 2 Frwy. (Also worth a visit – they have a great collection of historic photos of the neighborhood since 1922.)
It seems cartography in the Echo gets curiouser and curiouser, especially where religion is involved.
It’s an iced-coffee day. I take mine to an indoor table at Chango since I hope to read and write and I find the lively conversations out of doors too distracting, colorful as they are. The walls are bare, the Bonaparte show having just been taken down. The Weekly has just arrived, and in it I find one of those three-walls of the mirror moments when I flip open to Seven McDonald’s article The Other Art Tatum. The “other” Art Tatum of this article is a dog, who is the pet of the musician Guy Seyffert. It’s not just that I am at Chango (where I usually have my dog with me) reading about someone who comes to Chango with their dog. The article is a mini-portrait of the neighborhood, where people walk their dogs in Elysian Park, meet because their dogs are friends, take their dogs to Chango for coffee. Name their dogs after musicians.
While I am reading about Art Tatum a pair of silver-haired men stride in briskly, each with a painting in hand. They move rapidly. No nonsense. They go in and out, making perhaps a dozen trips, their pace steady if hurried. You’d think they were loading munitions from the highly focused expressions on their faces. On the Weekly’s calendar pages, I see that there is an art-show opening schedules for Chango this Saturday evening.
A young woman named Becky comes in. I haven’t seen her in many months. She has been in Germany, taking care of her sister, who is ill. She is Becky Stark of the band Lavender Diamond. Today, she is babysitting for a little boy (asleep in his jogger stroller) who is a friend of my daughter (who is at home with her babysitter today). I recall that Becky also sometimes writes for the alternative publication Arthur. We talk about getting together, but it will have to be after I return from a trip our of town and before she goes on tour with her band.
Becky then joins a friend of hers at a different table. Soon, they are approached by a young man who, in greeting, asks, did you see the photo booth at Lucas? (Lucas is a two-shop entity on the same block as Chango. In one storefront there is a hair salon. A couple of doors down is a clothing boutique, which offers partly vintage clothing and also the designs of Nina Lucas, sister of the the salon owner.)
A man rushes into the coffee house with a stack of The Onion. He slaps them down and rushes out. There are the usual musician-fashion-renegade types hanging outside just near the doorway.
I make a mental note to walk down the block to see the photo booth (and, in fact, in a few minutes, this is what I do. Sure enough, it has been installed in the narrow clothing boutique, a full-on spiffy Polaroid booth with a curtain. It looks new. Nina Lucas assures me that it is working.)
But before I head down the block, I want to read Dave Zahniser’s most recent story about Villaraigosa and the LAUSD in the Weekly. After that it’s time for the horoscope. To see if my coffeehouse stars are in alignment.
Photo: Del Mor Apartments and Chango
By Cindy Bennett