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October 31, 2006


This morning I heard the familiar screech of the red tailed hawks that are so numerous in our neighborhood, due, no doubt to the gopher metropolis in Elysian Park (not to mention their lively outpost in my own yard). Two years ago there was a hawks’ nest in one of the three eucalyptus trees in my back yard, and the screeching was fairly constant until they fledged and moved on.

But we hadn’t heard them in a while and I ran to the kitchen window to see the bird that my husband had spotted on a tree branch. While we sat there looking at it three more red tails flapped into the tree, or maybe I should say lumbered into the tree because when they’re not soaring they look like VW bugs with wings. We watched while the latter three swooped to the ground somewhere behind our yard and the original sitter stayed perched.

In the meantime, this morning I received an email from James Bigelow, a Chicken Corner reader, who reports seeing a huge hawk in Elysian Park. I would try to describe where he said he saw it except that – unless it’s one of the Elysian Park birdman’s lifelike sculptures – it has probably flown. Who knows? It could be the bird in my backyard half an hour ago.

October 30, 2006

Well runs wet

The ground beneath Elysian Heights is laced with faults and underground springs that residents once tapped individually. Elysian Heights Elementary School, a lovely, old campus that looks like it’s been there forever, used to be the site of a water bottling plant, for example. My neighbor Joe D’Augustine told me this weekend that a different neighbor had shared the history of her house on Baxter Street. It is one of a row of tidy, well-kept Spanish-ish style homes where Baxter sweeps upward toward the famous Baxter Stairs after dipping then flattening out where the school stands. The elderly woman who lives there showed Joe a capped well in her garage. She also said that during prohibition a fourplex of garages behind her house had been built in such a way as to conceal a bar, where regular patrons included local police officers.

E.P. Pastoral

I have noticed that midday at Echo Park Lake, things sometimes get sleepy and sometimes a little ugly. My friend and neighbor Angela Wood sent me the following account of a visit to the lake. I am not sure what time of day she describes, but I imagine it to be after the early morning rush.

Angela writes:

I forgot to tell you about my morbid experience at Echo Park Lake the other day. It is quite the flip side to your pastoral account of the geese from October 29th (I am very fond of that entry), but I think both are valid Echo Park experiences.
I stopped by the lake the other day with B [my daughter], just killing time, with a pocket full of some extra stale bread. It was one of those rare, gray, overcast days. We went to that hinterland of geese muggers, the peninsula where there is often a homeless person or two fishing from a mattress. The geese started in. I was reminded of a scene in Barbarella where little baby doll-robots with metal teeth, come mechanically chomping at Jane Fonda's legs, and, despite their tiny size, end up tackling her to the ground and tearing at her leotards - this scene was much more organic and it was on Earth.
Anyway - the geese were coming at us, hissing and pecking at my ankles, I kind of lost it when they started in on B and careened her stroller away, down the path. We found a piece of lake where there were three unique examples of water fowl, James Brown duck (a.k.a. "Hairdo") -- that one with the black feathers and a little pompadour on top of his head -- his side kick (Dulce) a kind of caramel colored misfit duck, and a grebe who had his head down in the water - looking for food I assumed. After some time of throwing crumbs to this motley crew, I noticed the grebe was not coming up for air. I got a kind of queasy panicky feeling, and started calmly inching sideways, not wanting to instill fear of Echo Park Lake in my 1-year-old, inching away from the dead grebe. My mind was filling with angry questions and somehow a sense of shame for making this discovery. Then, as I was giving Hairdo and Dulce a what-for for luring me to this watery grave, I noticed on the other side of them, a fish, belly up, eyes bulging.

I agree there is something about the filthiness of the water in Echo Park Lake gives a feeling of horror to presumably “natural” events such as the death of a fish or grebe. Though a dead grebe AND dead fish on either side of the ducks -- that sounds like some kind of poison, whether intentional or not. In various corners, the water in Echo Park Lake is slick with dirty scum, and there is trash. It looks all the more filthy when you see a heron chick lounging just above it. In cleaning up the lake –- as there are plans to do -- it’s hard to know what would be worse, the removal, even if temporary, of the entire system, or scrapping plans and letting the water get worse and worse. My best hope is that there will be a way to clean the lake without draining the entire thing.

As for the geese. I myself reported having been mugged by a pair of over-eager birds. But I want to add that, although it’s quite scary for a toddler to see the geese nipping and harassing, the geese don’t have teeth. Although they do seem to have a chip on their “shoulders,” as they seem to be aware that most people prefer to feed the ducks.

October 26, 2006

Ross's goose

GooseHere's the goose. The same one I wrote about earlier today.

Photo: Ross's Goose, Echo Park Lake, October 2006
By Martin Cox

Delta Street II

Echo Park, California responds to Nancy Cleeland's Los Angeles Times story about an Echo Park family that was kicked out of their home, from a Delta Street building that has sat vacant since the eviction of all tenants. The site points to a lively back and forth on about whether rent is a racial issue.

An angry comment on Echo Park, California, from a Latino reader shows that bigotry knowns no color.

In the meantime, my own rent and race story in Echo Park is as follows. When my husband and I decided to look for a house to buy we had been renting in Echo Park for a few years. We looked at MANY houses in the neighborhood. They were almost all owned or occupied by white residents. The house we ended up buying was the home of two young white men, one of them from Iowa. They loved the house and tried to raise the money to buy it. They were able to raise only half the asking price. We felt badly about it, especially as we had met them, and liked them. And they, in turn, were decent to us. We also knew that walking away from the house would not change the verdict: the tenants were going to move. At least no one ever pointed a finger and said we were getting the house because we were white.

I don't want to try to minimize the effect that losing their homes has upon lower-income Latino renters. Cleeland's story shows how devastating it is. I just want to point out that the dynamic -- landlords selling their rental properties as prices rise -- transcends race.

Ross's goose/Lake diary

Thursday morning, Martin Cox and I are making the circle at Echo Park Lake, 7 a.m. Martin is an avid bird watcher, and most of what I know about the waterfowl at the lake comes from him. This morning, there are a couple of dozen exercisers -- joggers, Tai Chi practitioners, walkers. Almost all of the people are moving around the lake in a counterclockwise direction, and Martin and I are going the opposite way. Usually, I choose counterclockwise, too, for no particular reason except habit. The homeless people have not yet arrived with blankets and sleeping bags to snooze on the lawns. I am guessing that some of them keep their things, and sleep, behind Vons on Liberty Street.

Martin and I are talking about the semi-rare Ross's goose who lives at the lake year-round, keeping company with the domestic and Chinese geese.

Martin says Ross, as he calls the goose, is a good example of a certain type of Echo Park resident: one of a kind, came from somewhere else, got separated from its flock, landed here by accident and liked it, keeps odd company. That's the gist of how Martin described the goose, whose gender we don't know. It's a tiny thing, by goose standards, the size of a mallard duck, with delicate features, almost all white but with a flare of black tail feathers. Most Ross geese nest in the far northern reaches of Canada and in Alaska. This one now swims close to Martin and I, calmly taking a look.

Then Martin spots a night-crowned heron fishing on the cement bank of the lake, the second heron we've seen. A few minutes earlier we walked underneath a great blue heron that was sitting high in a eucalyptus tree, its neck curled close to its body. I've seen it before, on the island, which, though connected to the "mainland" of the park by a gated bridge, is off limits to most humans. Martin believes there is a heron nest in the park somewhere, and a few moments later we see a brown speckled heron juvenile.

Like myself, Martin worries that the Prop. O-funded cleanup of the lake will upset the very specific ecosystem here.

The level of activity at 7-something a.m. is much higher than it is at noonish, the hour at which I have usually seen the lake. Cormorants are fishing, the ducks are swimming faster, turtles are not yet sunning. The sun has not yet dried the grass, and so no people practise guitar, play chess or lounge or sleep. The pigeons and other birds are not yet napping. The grebes are busy, but they always seem busy, even at high noon.

Martin has been told by a parks and rec person that the lake is home to some ancient large bass -- huge things that eat the other fish (which are stocked for recreational fishing) and are big enough to eat ducklings on ocassion. People fish for the bass but rarely catch them.

At the lotus bed Martin and I both marveled that there are still blossoms, even a few buds, this late in the season. The other day I counted fourteen. (I had said to myself that if I counted twenty I would blog them.) There are thousands (or at least many hundreds) of pods getting ready to drop. They look like brown shower heads, and they also remind me of radio receivers, tilted or upright, tuned to the music of every direction.

I have been hoping to see a particular mated pair of ducks: the male is black with a large tuft on his head, and the female is white with crisp brown patches. I usually spot them near the island. A friend of Martin's named them Hairdo and Dulce. Today Martin and I see two other black ducks with tufts, but no sign of the pair. Perhaps we'd have met them had we walked counterclockwise.

October 25, 2006

A fan's notes

I am a fool for Machine Project. I never get to go to the events. They have a way of being planned in the middle of visits from out-of-town friends or can't-miss attractions such as staying at home with my two-year-old. But there is barely a single calendar item that I didn't wish I could just rearrange the particulars of my life for this one time only. Well, at least Machine's calendar is a blast to read, an event in itself. Machine is so...what I want the world to be. Creative collective, environmentally conscious AND arts-conscious; simultaneously groovy and dowdy, the collective seems really to want to be helpful. It's poetry and edible gardens, crazy cubes, macrame and radio waves and now the colors of the rainbow. Just seeing that poetry bus parked on Sunset Boulevard last week and the tomato-mint etc. micro organic gardens in a trashcan in the window of Machine's storefront yesterday and knowing the two "events" were connected made me feel I lived in a good place.

Here's two of three of this coming weekend's offerings:

The first installment of ing’s eight month series on the origin of the rainbow. This installment is red. Please wear something red. This show will start exactly at 8pm. No late entry! We’re serious. We’re locking the door at 8pm.
Red - Episode #1 of ing's Origin of the Rainbow Saturday October 28th 8pm sharp (no late entry!)
Edible Estates closing party at Machine Project Sunday Oct 29th 2-4pm. Meet your fellow urban front yard gardeners.

I'll be thinking red, and considering the alternatives.

October 24, 2006

Delta Street

The story of an Echo Park family forced out of the neighborhood by rising real estate "values" is featured on the front page of the Times this morning. Written by Nancy Cleeland, who won a Pulitzer recently, the story centers on the residents forced out of the purplish building on Delta Street, which is now vacant. Many of the remaining residents in Echo Park -- those fortunate enough to be able to continue affording it -- have noticed that the building was empty. Cleeland's piece describes movingly what couldn't be seen from outside.

October 23, 2006

Undesigned/desperately seeking "Echo Park"

Undesigned: the sign in the window has not changed since the chic indie clothing designer's studio and shop at Paul Terrace and Echo Park Avenue closed its doors and moved to Silver Lake about a month ago. The "Undesigned" sign remains in the window behind the curvy wrought-iron bars in the shapes of twigs and leaves.

I have been driving past this space since 1999, when I moved to my present house in Echo Park. I don't recall exactly, but I believe it was a small grocery shop. I first took note when the shop closed and the space was gutted. It was for rent, empty. Then a renovator came along, probably in 2001, when the gallery scene farther down the street was in full swing. It was redesigned and became an art gallery. Later it was renovated some more, and the two-room space became Undesigned. The designer, who lives in the neighborhood still, worked inside while her beagle Dora watched the front door. Then a for-sale sign appeared. And Undesigned moved.

About a week ago, I met the new owners, a couple. The woman was white and her partner was Latino. They told me that one side of the space would be a travel agency. (If you have walked down Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park recently you may have noticed that there are numerous travel agencies still in business. Apparently, not everyone books their flights online.) The new folks weren't sure about the other room -- maybe a vintage furniture slash gallery space, they said. In the last few days a sandwich board sign has appeared in front of the storefront during business hours. It advertises a variety of services, "Autorizaciones," "Tax" "Immigracion." The sign, in bright yellow and black, declares that the English-speaking boho community is not the only viable market in Echo Park.

I have been traveling a lot recently. I went to Nashville, as I wrote in recent posts. And then yesterday I went to Westwood. I was meeting a friend from my Iowa days, Bridget, who is doing an internship at UCLA. She doesn't have a car, and so I drove to the Westside. Nothing like an out of town visitor to reshape the landscape of the city we live in. Bridget and I had a fine lunch, and afterward, I went to the mystery bookstore that I had visited one time before,maybe four years ago, this time to purchase Michael Connelly's Echo Park, my third attempt to buy the book. About a month ago, I went to Vroman's too early, the book wasn't out yet. Last week, I traveled to Dutton's Brentwood (for a reading by Lee Montogmery) too late; Echo Park was sold out. But I showed up in Westwood at just the right moment. The mystery bookshop had a stack of signed Echo Parks waiting. I was the only customer in the shop. I grabbed it and went straight to the register. I was met there by a classic independent book seller: a bit bookish, avid.

"Have you been here before?" he asked.

"Not recently."

He wanted to know if I was connected to UCLA. Did I live nearby. I suspected that despite the central location, they didn't get a lot of foot traffic. He wanted an explanation for why I had burst through the sleepy doors, gone straight to the diplay table, grabbed a book and headed straight to pay.

"I live in Echo Park," I said, nodding at the book.

"Oh," he said, his smile sudenly turning into something disciplined, if now bored. Something he owned. "Do you want a bag?"

I said I did. And I drove my book and myself back home.

October 20, 2006

Glad I asked

In response to my plea for more information on the chicken muralist Cache, Scott Fajack sent me the following trove (I won't say cache) of images and an interesting blog entry by another Echo Park chronicler. Scott is president of the Citizens' Committee to Save Elysian Park, and he's on the board of the Echo Park Historical Society. And, clearly, he is a chicks aficionado.

Scott says:

Check out Will’s post. More chicks are on Glendale near Beverly and Beverly near Union. The stair chickens have changed from a machine to the current rocket.

October 19, 2006

Echo Park chicks - process of discovery

A couple of days ago a Chicken Corner reader named Tenlay called my attention to a chicken mural on Sunset Boulevard. Tenlay assumed I would know which six-foot-plus chickens he was talking about when he asked if I knew the identity of the artist who painted "the chicks." I have to admit that these chicks, of which I am a new devotee, hadn't pecked their way past a peculiar membrane in my consciousness. Lyrical and witty, they were just so much soft visual noise. But it turns out that everyone was listening to the music except me. "Oh, I love those chickens!" was the universal, immediate response I got from everyone I asked.

Jesus Sanchez says there is a second chicks mural on one of the staircases leading down toward Echo Park Lake.

My reason for seeing the mural on Sunset but not noticing it? Until now I have reserved that particular stretch of Sunset, near Coronado, for thinking about ducks and ravens. (That and the fact that I am always in my car at that spot.) But now I'll have to find a new stretch of road for thinking about ducks and ravens.

I drove by the chicks today, and, parked in front -- though not completely obscuring the chicks -- were two vehicles. One of them was a dilapidated camper that looked like it might be "permanent" housing, though most of the area "homeless" who reside in campers keep theirs down on Riverside near the river*; the other vehicle was a Green Tortoise bus, which had a large, permanent-looking sign on the side that read "POETRY BUS." This is thesame bus that will supply poets for the poetry-and-sustainable-environment event planned for tonight at Machine Project.

In the meantime, I heard back from Tenlay, who answered his own question about the chicks artist, informing me of the name, Cache. Any more information, I'll be all ears and eyes.

*In Echo Park there is also a mini-homeless encampment along the back side of Vons on Liberty Street -- I am sure the heartbreaking irony is not lost on many of the inhabitants of the boxes and tents on the sidewalk there.

Nashville Observed/Your EP library

Coincidence? Both Chicken Corner and Native Intelligence posted this week from Nashville, Tennessee.

But now Chicken Corner has fluttered back to Echo Park, twanging a little bit. In Nashville, I was asked by relatives who are not familiar with Los Angeles what my neighborhood is like. They didn't really want a history lesson, which made it hard to nail it. I started with something like, "well, it's inner city, but it's green and there are woods, and the hills are very steep." I was at a loss to explain how the white cement streets give the neighborhood a dusty, quiet look. Or how to explain the charm of the Echo Beauty Salon (now a rehearsal studio for the band Future Pigeon), with its pink and black facade and gang-style gothic lettering.

Nashville is a classic twenty-first century city of sprawl and geographic division, similar in many ways to Los Angeles in its unfriendliness to pedestrians and planning short-sightedness. As in Los Angeles there was talk of mixed-use solutions for urban sprawl and talk of historic preservation overlay zones. There is no shortage of gated communities. But Nashville certainly takes its music seriously.

An update for Your Echo Park Home Library: I have been told that former LA Times reporter Denise Hamilton's novel Last Lullaby has numerous scenes set in the hood, one of them just steps from Chicken Corner proper, at the "Castle" at the top of Delta Street. (Disclosure: Denise is also a contributor to LA Observed.)

October 16, 2006

Your Echo Park home library

Echo Park funnels itself into words right and left (Chicken Corner notwithstanding). Some recent books about Echo Park or just set there (I would say “here” except that I am writing from Nashville*, Tennessee, where my daughter and I are visiting family) include:

1) Echo Park by Michael Connelly. Latest in the crime writer’s Harry Bosch series. A Janet Maslin review appeared today in the New York Times.

2) Bohemian Los Angeles by Daniel Hurewitz – published by the UC Press, this L.A. history is about Edendale, as Echo Park once was known. It's about the bohemians on the hill, I believe, and I am not sure if the book is yet available.

3) Paint it Black by Janet Fitch. A novel. Much ado made of this one.

4) A fairly new biography of long-time Echo Parker Carey McWilliams.

More about some of these titles to come. I am particularly interested in the Hurewitz book. While Connelly is in a class by himself as a writer of literary genre fiction, I think he is overrated as far as evocation of place goes. He works hard, studies his Los Angeles maps, he makes his on-site observations and somehow misses the magic. But I haven’t yet read Connelly's "Echo Park," and I do plan to read it because (despite a ridiculous Connelly offering I once read that was set in Venice) he is generally good with people and moral complexity, better than he has to be. This in spite of two marketing gimmicks -- a "voice mail" for the main character, Harry Bosch, and a YouTube interview with same -- that make me leery. Still, maybe this title will come closer to nailing that special Los Angeles something for which he already gets credit.

*One of the ways that Nashville is different: Lettering on the glass entry doors to the glitzy Country Music Hall of Fame reads, "No weapons permitted." Then you go upstairs and see Web Pierce's Silver Dollar Convertible, a Nudie custom job, with a rifle replica mounted on the back and a revolver mounted on the front along with a set of alloy silver dollars that replaces the real ones that used to be there. In fact, it's a terrific museum: pure, modern celebration and entertainment. It has Elvis's gold piano and half a dozen of Ray Charles's sunglasses. It looks like the Getty gone country glitz.

October 11, 2006

Graffiti pit

Graffiti Pit Speaking of graffiti, this is the graffiti pit of Elysian Heights. The footprint of a house on what has been an "empty" lot for decades. On Ewing Street near Elysian Park, the site has served as a set for the Allison Anders film Mi Vida Loca. And it's a party spot both for the guy who owns the lot -- who occasionally invites his friends to enjoy the sunset and, I presume, a cocktail or two from the west-facing parcel -- and for taggers and skateboard kids, layer upon layer upon layer. Probably generations of gangbangers and taggers have memories of the spot. I have my own memories of poking around here, wondering what happened, why it has been undeveloped, where the front door would have been. Below it and to one side are "empty," read beautifully wooded, lots. There is an architect/developer who has plans to build two houses on those lots. She scaled back her plans, from "four to six" luxury dwellings (wine cellars in Echo Park!) to two, after various neighbors opposed her efforts. At one neighborhood meeting the architect stood up and said that as a tax payer and property owner she had a right to develop the lots. (Consider the idea of luxury-home-sellers complaining of NIMBY-ism!) If you assume the laws are current with morals* then she does. Which wasn't exactly the point to those who don't want to see the neighborhood turn into "Brentwood." The irony, of course, is that the classic gentrifier's argument -- don't overbuild! Preserve green space; don't kill the trees! -- is here the rationale behind trying to keep away snazzy modernist houses that would raise property values.

Graffiti PitAbout a week ago, I heard from one of Chicken Corner's most inquisitive sources, the filmmaker Joe D'Augustine, about the "origin" of the graffiti pit. Joe says he learned from Fred -- who owns the distinctive house called Villa Deborah at the intersection of Avon and Ewing -- that the graffiti-pit property once belonged to a man who was a sculptor. The sculptor had a commission to create artworks for Queen of Angels Hospital sometime in the 1970s. While he was working to fulfill the commission, his kiln exploded, killing him and burning down his house. Its ruin has been exposed for thirty-some years.

Fred is an old-time Echo Parker. He once told me if I ever had trouble with any gang members to talk to him and he'd straighten it out. I repaid the hypothetical favor with avocados from my hundred-plus-year-old tree, which is a copious producer. Everyone around here talks about Fred's property, the Villa Deborah, which is now vacant, due to earthquake-related safety issues. The house looks like a super-mini stone manor -- a sort of greco-gothic bungalow with Spanish tiles -- but it's made of some sort of stamped concrete, consecrated in the days when it was permittable to build in such a fashion. It's still standing, but you don't want to be inside when it shakes.

PS: just heard from Joe D'Augustine, who caught an Ayn Rand story in today's Calendar section of the Times. Joe believes Ayn Rand once lived in Angeleno Heights. I'm not an Ayn Rand fan, but that definitely is a good nugget.

Photo: Graffiti pit #1, October 2006
By Cindy Bennett

Photo: Graffiti pit #2, October 2006
By Cindy Bennett

Dorkbots/Downbeat upbeat

Delta StreetAt left is another photo taken on Delta Street the morning of the vintage car rally departure. The small crowd in the background is the rally drivers and their fans and friends. That was Saturday morning. I would have run the photo on Tuesday, when I wrote about the rally in Chicken Corner, but I had overlooked it in my files.

Yesterday, my daughter, Madeleine, and I went to the Downbeat Cafe with our friends Willoughby and Angela. The place was crowded -- our special stakeout at the couch taken! Dakota Bertrand said the cafe's been packed for the last few days. He attributes the extra patronage to the LA Weekly's Best of LA item that came out last Thursday praising the Downbeat. Turns out a regular, a guy who is always in the cafe with his laptop, was not civilian after all. The quiet, unassuming keyboarder was an LA Weekly editor. Alas, now his cover is blown, and he may have trouble finding a choice seat due to increased attendance.

On the sidewalk next door to the Downbeat, I took a look into Machine Project's storefront. The cubes are gone. The place no longer looks like a gallery. Instead there were about eight steel trashcans, planted with a variety of edibles -- a drwarf citrus, sharing space with a tomato plant, mint and other greens, in one -- a sort of victory garden for the 21st century. It's part of the Edible Estates project. I assume the plants will have to clear out before the Dorkbots workshop at Machine Project -- in which found electronics are reassembled, and a good time is had by all.

Photo: Morning on Delta Street
By Cindy Bennett

October 10, 2006

Garcetti prolific/Farmer's market

On the groceries and community watering hole front: we lost the independently operated grocery store Pioneer Market not too long ago. The loss still hurts every time I look at the bleak Walgreen's parking lot on Sunset at Echo Park, where Pioneer used to be. It's like a big crater. The drugstore company didn't bother with the tiniest of design embellishments as our neighborhood does not have style mandates for developers. "We" tend to think that mandating style is not what we are all about. But then we get Walgreens. And there goes the neighborhood. (We already had two Save-Ons and a Rite Aid.)

But now we have some mitigating news: a farmers market in our own hood! In walking distance to Echo Park Lake. It's opening this Friday. Local activist Holly Hampton sent around the following open invitation:

Echo Park Friends & Neighbors, Please join me on Friday October 13th for the GRAND OPENING of the Echo Park Farmers' Market. Festivities begin at 3pm and the market continues until 7pm. The weekly market will be located in Parking Lot #663 on Logan Street, one block south of Sunset.

Sponsored by Council President Eric Garcetti of CD 13 and the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council. The market is operated by
Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 463-3171 or visit

Speaking of our council President, I received an email from Josh Kamensky on the councilman's staff. Josh wanted to let me know that Eric blogs every day, not occasionally, as my post "Back on the blog" would suggest. Good point.

Sanctioned graffiti/Road rally

Spray painted wall Saturday early afternoon I filled my tank at Magic Gas, the independent gas station at the cross road of Morton and Echo Park Avenue. While the pump was running I noticed that outdoor the tables had been moved to the outer sidewalk next to the street on Delta. Next to the brick wall was a guy spray painting the wall. No one was trying to stop him. In fact, he appeared to have at least one assistant. At the tables, Chango patrons were business as usual, having coffee, dogs laying at their feet. I surmised that the graffiti art had something to do with the planned opening for Saturday evening for the two-person artist collective or duo of Vague Robot. A press release that had been forwarded to me promised a dejay and snacks. It was planned for 7pm to 10pm, just early enough that I could go to the opening with my two-year-old daughter and three other friends, one of whom is one year old.

We were among the first people there. In time to get a look at the art, which was a mixture of installation and paintings hung on the wall. Paintings of robots and other creatures, other-worldly, influenced by comic book art, a little weird, a little beautiful. I learned that Vague and Robot were two different people. Vague is an Echo Park resident, while Robot lives in San Diego. I had a brief conversation with Robot, who looked like he was probably Latino. He said that he had spray-painted the mural on the side of the building that day.

A guy at one of the tables was busy putting together brown paper bag packages that had names and numbers (as in #1, #15) written on the outside. Inside were maps, info packets, t-shirts. It turns out he was prepping for a vintage car rally, the Soc Cal tt, for which several dozen drivers and their seconds were planning to leave from Chango the following morning. Breakfast at 8 am. Already, it was pointed out to me, there was an orange Datsun parked outside, along with vintage Porsches and American muscle cars, Barracudas and the like.

Around 8 pm, Chango was beginning to fill up – as were the boutiques on Echo Park Avenue, which were having openings, too -- but it was getting late for two members of our party, and so we left before the music started. But not before I got a chance to hear a friend of mine saying that some of the skateboard kids who are suspected of various acts of unsanctioned graffiti may have been standing around watching Robot spraying the wall of the Del Mor Apartments building, which is home to Chango. A couple of the group of Chango oweners also expressed anxiety over the “mural” when I asked them about it. Content was not the problem. The problem was in the materials and the means of application: the aforementioned spray paint. They said they didn’t know for how long the mural would be up. In this case, the fear was the medium truly would be the message, they feared (and I agreed). To the "real" graffiti-doers how to explain: our mess is okay, but yours is not.

Meanwhile, inside the coffee house, some of the cinder-block pieces of the original chickens that gave Chicken Corner (the place as well as the blog) its name were laying on the ground, having fallen away from the low wall to which they were attached.

The following morning, I returned to Chango at 8am with my daughter and Cindy Bennett to see the vintage rally cars take off for the hills. Auto-wise and demographically, this was a different kind of show than the Chevy event I wrote about recently. This crowd was white, middle-aged; they acted as though the had all the time in the world. There were no on-duty cops. The “mural” sat on its brick wall, pristine. Inside Chango, regulars were enjoying their coffee, while early Bob Dylan sang them good morning. It wasn’t always easy to tell the difference between the drivers and the people who just happened to be buying coffee. The biggest tell for a non-rally driver was that they were alone and reading. On one of the tables sat an unattended guide to India and Nepal. Most of the rally folks made their way outside where they milled and greeted, admiring the cars, waiting to get their numbers to place on the vehicles. They were headed for Indio via the Angeles Crest. There were VWs, a Pontiac Firebird, many old Jags, Triumphs, a Ford Falcon, a Citroen, about 60 entrants parked in every possible space within a few blocks.

Robin, one of the owners of Chango, was at the pre-departure scene with her two-month-old daughter Wyla, who slept in my arms for a while. Wyla’s father, also one of Chango’s owners, was one of the competitors.

At 9:30 am car doors started opening, drivers getting into their seats. It was time.

Photo: Chango, Oct. 7, 2006
By Cindy Bennett

October 8, 2006

Tar Fest/9A

HouseEcho Park, California, a site that also blogs Echo Park has a pair of posts that touch upon the return of a pair of owls, the mystery of the Bird Man of Elysian Park and a plea on behalf of the Right Site Coalition and Site 9A, which I have written about on Chicken Corner.

In the meantime, Echo Park was represented at the Tar Fest this weekend by at least one artist -- Karen Frimkess Wolff. Karen grew up in a family of artists and lived in Venice with her husband, an architect for many years before they decided to head east: Echo Park ho! Karen is known for installation work as well as sound sculpture. The striking thing is that Karen's visual art gives me a strong feeling of seeing sound, of experiencing sound as a spatial dynamic that can be read visually because sound does not exist in a vacuum -- it interacts with objects. For the last two decades, Karen has taught art at the Braille Institute for the Blind.

The Tar Fest was held near the Tar Pits, a big deal on a weekend of big deals: other major festivals included the Grand Avenue festival downtown and the Eagle Rock music fest. The planners must all be using the same astrologer. I wonder if the Astrologers' Assoc. has a code of ethics addressing conflict of interest.

(Disclosure: I own a Karen Frimkess Wolff drawing, a prized possession, which I purchased at the Echo Park Historical Society art auction in August.)
(More disclosure: The Echo Park Historical Society, of which I am a board member, is involved -- as a sponsor -- in the Right Site Coalition's lawsuit against the LAUSD.)

Photo: 9A house, now vacant
By Cindy Bennett

October 6, 2006

Robin's egg blue/Garcetti back on the blog

Our councilman Eric Garcetti is back on the blog with a report on his visit to Pensacola, Florida, where for two weeks he rose at 4:30 in the morning as part of the Naval Reserves program to which he devoted his vacation time. Garcetti also talks about a newly instituted green program of which he was co-initiator. The program creates a fast lane for contractors who employ green strategies, getting credits for using green power, employing water efficient landscaping, building near public transit, and using recycled materials during construction.

The same day I received Garcetti's e-news, I found a bright green flyer wedged into my front gate. Bannered "Occupational Medicine Program" it was from City of Angels Medical Center on West Temple Street -- visible from the only 101 freeway ramp to Echo Park. The flyer offered one service: "To treat your injured employees we provide on site...physician available 24 hours a day" etc. etc. Well and good, but I don't have any injured employees, and I wouldn't know where to get any (ebay?) even if I were inclined to respond to a flyer delivered to my two-bedroom house. But, if I do get a hold of any injured workers I'll be sure to bring them on down to City of Angels. Wondering also if there's a bulk discount.

This evening, Echo Park exported at least one band -- Future Pigeon, which rehearses at the old Echo Beauty shop on Echo Park Avenue. Future Pigeon flew all the way to Eagle Rock to participate in what looks like a very lively one-day music festival.

Meanwhile, back in ol' CD 13, Dov Charney of American Apparel fame is rumored to be the purchaser of the now robin's egg blue apartment building on Morton Avenue. Bucking the olive and earth tones mandate of recent years, the building looks like a two storey, multi-unit puff of cotton candy with white trim. According to Chicken Corner's sources, Mr. Charney may have said he was buying the building to house his workers from the garment industry. Reasonable enough, as Echo Park is pretty close to the downtown garment district. Good business? Maybe. Altruistic? Unlikely, but one never knows, do one? Well, we'll be waiting to see if there's a dress code in the building. Or a company store.

October 5, 2006

Echo Park, America

Martin Cox emailed me the following:

My Mother volunteers at a charity shop in Eastleigh, Hampshire, England. Princess Anne (The Princess Royal) is the patron of the Save The Children Fund who runs the charity shop. Save The Children organizers asked my Mother, "Your son, he's a professional photographer, can we ask him to donate his time to photograph the Princess on her visit to the Eastleigh shop in November?"

"I'm afraid not," said my Mother. "He's in Echo Park."

"Where?" they asked.


It made me think of an Echo Park Film Center project. The EPFC helps high school kids make films, which can be seen on anthology DVDs. A few weeks ago, I rented a DVD from the project. One of the kids had made a film in which he interviews a relative who came across the border the hard way. The uncle or cousin tells us how his relatives here were not happy to see him and wouldn't share their food, though they did let him stay in their home. He also says that when he got to Sixth and Alvarado someone in the car said something about being in America and he said he had thought they were still in Mexico. If memory serves, the name of the short film is "I Thought We Were in Mexico."

News notes

A pair of LA Times Calendar mentions in the last couple of days for Echo Park artists.

The artist Ruben Ortiz-Torres, who has lived in the neighborhood for many years, is quoted in a Wednesday story about the ten day book fair in Mexico City. The article describes Ortiz-Torres as part of an L.A. delegation identified with the Chicano art scene. As for looking through the mutual distortion of the cross border looking glass, Ortiz-Torres told the Times:

Mexico City tends to see Los Angeles as a place where the gardeners go. ... And in Los Angeles, they think of Mexico City as a place where the gardeners come from.

Today, filmmaker (and guardian of Lucy the dog) Joe D'Augustine is mentioned in a story about musician Jake La Botz. The highly tattoed Buddhist La Botz has an acting part in the upcoming "One Night With You," directed by D'Augustine. If you want to see La Botz singing to his own tunes, he is making a cross-country tour in which he performs in tattoo parlors.

October 4, 2006

Time to keep going

Kill City Choppers moved to Joshua Tree this week.

Steg J. von Heintz showed up maybe three years ago: fiftyish with a silver mohawk and black jeans over feminine, English-style hips, black shirts, thick New York accent. He rented a space that had been a recording studio – it sits next to a different recording outfit that operates fairly covertly as the owners probably don’t want to advertise the location of lots of expensive equipment. The bands more or less sneak in and out of the building. A friend who has been inside says he saw Sean Lennon there recently. But if you didn’t know better you might think the place was empty. There’s trash in the yard, and black plastic sheeting.

Similarly, Steg’s Kill City Choppers, vintage motorcycles, had a sign no bigger than your hand, and it was some months before I knew what the mohawk guy was doing inside of his studio. I assumed it was music, and I was partly right as it turns out Steg was guitarist in more than a few bands, one of them being School of Violence, a metal band, which I hear was pretty well-known for a while. Most of the time the roll-up gates were rolled up, but occasionally you’d see the smoked glass – classy looking paned doors – and the choppers inside. You’d see Steg riding around on what now looks like a tiny bike that made a big noise – too much noise for such a small machine. The horror of thinking of how much noise all of our auto machines are making underneath their mufflers. Beautiful young women went in and out of the shop, and there was a brindle-striped pit bull who never got walked and may have been the culprit when a friend of mine was nearly attacked by an escaped pit bull, my friend on his way to help fold-and-stamp the Echo Park Historical Society newsletter at my house. A cursory google search shows that in New York, Steg had a motorcycle shop called Psycho Cycles. His name sometimes is paired with a vintage motorcycles guy called Indian Larry.

At Chango coffee house on Echo Park Avenue, Steg was a large presence. For a while he seemed to live there, sipping coffee and hanging out with a coterie of musicians who resided there every day, all the time, it seemed. Some of them gorgeous, assured people, beautiful young women who were glamour stealers: no matter how good you thought you were looking that day they took away a little bit (or a lot) -- just by being in the room. That said, one of the regulars was a helpful guy who often brought with him one of the ugliest dogs I’ve ever seen: skinned tail that sticks straight out, rippled flesh, feet that would look fitting on an eagle, etc.

It took about two years but after all of that time of passing on the street and not speaking I said hello to Steg one day, and he seemed surprised and pleased and said hello back. Ever since we’ve always said hello to each other. That’s pretty much the extent of my one-on-one dealing with Steg.

Steg had a thick New York accent that I assumed for no good reason came from Brooklyn. I once lived in Brooklyn, but the accent is hard for me to pin down. Anyway, if this sounds like an obituary, it’s not an accident; though never fear, Steg lives, even if Kill City Choppers has moved. I heard it was moving at the beginning of the week, and it seemed incredible news. It had been no more than a couple of years, maybe three, but he had made himself an institution, in the best Echo Park sense of the word. He seemed out of sync with the higher-end changes in the neighborhood, more the kind of character who would have shown up here ten, twenty, thirty years ago. (His haircut would suggest twenty.) Even if he was more in tune with the current hipster scene than I could ever hope to be. But, yes, he came and went. A few weeks ago I started noticing that the usual crowd was not at Chango every day. (I’d see them occupying the outdoor café tables as I sailed past in my Jetta.) Then, as I said, I heard he was leaving. Friday I saw a moving truck in front of the “shop.” And yesterday I went to see the vacated space with a friend who plans to rent it.

It was the first time I had been inside. I carried my daughter because I didn’t want her walking on the cables and bits of hardware and who knew what kinds of chemicals. We met the landlord – whom I thought would be older. His name is Anthony. I believe he is Latino, and he owns a number of commercial properties in the neighborhood and – if my gossip serves me – some residential ones, too. He was raised here. We pinned down the exact location of my house, and he said, yes, he had been in it many years ago, when the legendary Gutierrez family lived here. (Before the Gutierrez family, the Nelson sisters lived in the house -- spending most of their lives in it, until one of the sisters married and moved two doors uphill.) He told me the side door had been the front door in those days – which I didn’t know.

I asked him where Steg was going, and he said “Yucca-something, or Twenty-Nine Palms.”

For some Yucca Valley is the royal court of the rock scene in Southern Cal, if not a high-desert graveyard.

I asked Anthony why Steg was going, and he became uncomfortable. I suppose asking a landlord WHY a tenant is leaving can be like asking your cat WHAT happened to the goldfinch you’d been feeding. Anthony said, “It’s not for me to say.” I said, “Of course,” He added. “I never speak ill of the dead.”

On the side of the studio was a big flame-decorated painted sign that read: “Psycho Cycles” and other valuable-looking stuff. Anthony said Steg's friends were coming for it.

Some time after ten the same night (last night) I made a run to the drug store for sundries. On my way back, Echo Park Avenue was quiet, still, as usual at this time of night. When I got to Kill City’s studio there was another moving van. Steg was there – in the driver’s seat -- with someone else. I drove past, then I backed up. Steg said he was moving his shop to Joshua Tree. I would have wanted to hear more, but another car approached from behind, and it was time to keep going.

October 3, 2006

Birdland/Dads on duty

Canada goose
The ducks are migrating back to Echo Park Lake, the ones who left for summer vacation. A week ago, the black speckled duck was back as was the tan and white speckled one. Today, my daughter and I saw an unusual black duck with a strange plume on its head and a white spot on the plume. It shared company with a white duck with clearly defined brown patches. There was also a duck that looked something like a Siamese cat, with brown color points accenting a tan body; and there was a gorgeous one with silvery feathers fading in and out of brown. I might have more ducks to report except my daughter wanted to get away from the birds after we were mugged by a pair of smallish white geese, who nipped at the hem of my pants and bit my leg. We had been feeding them bread when they decided they weren't getting it fast enough, hopped out of the water and charged us. I had to resort to stamping my feet -- to the horror of an onlooker, one of those perpetual park flaneurs, who happened on the scene just at that moment, having missed the mugging -- and my daughter was screaming, so we left the ducks and went to the playground. The Canada geese were innocent in this scene, though I must say that last week I saw about nine of them surrounding a pair of picnickers, even as the birds kept a cautious distance.

At the swings was a pair of men and a pair of girl twins, almost two years old. The younger of the men, who had a head that was last shaved about a month ago, kept scolding the older (in English), saying "Take her out of the swing, take her out, what are you doin', man?" And "Let her do it herself!" He wore baggy khakis and a white t-shirt. The older guy always answered in Spanish. "Man!" the younger dad shouted, "Now I have to brush her hair again!" And "They need juice!" "You can't smoke here!" Showing off for his own dad. The older guy looked pleased.

When I got home I had received a dispatch from Martin Cox, who also had been to Echo Park Lake. (Martin lives with his partner directly across from the lake and so, when he is not walking his dog in the park, is able to observe from his own balcony.)

Martin writes:

The MOST extraordinary thing happened: a fellow photographer, Bobbi Lane, once a well known downtown studio maven, who moved for love to Connecticut was visiting LA. We were chatting about her recent shoot in Nova Scotia over breakfast at The Brite Spot when the topic of eagles came up. I showed her my recent bird Echo Park photos, and she marveled at the diversity for a small urban lake. I then told her about the various bird goings on at the lake, with the wingless young ducks being regularly dropped off at the lake, (presumably they were once the cute young chicks who "disappeared" for several months), and the successful raising of 7 Canada Geese to adulthood. I told her that someone I met at the lake said an Osprey had been seen at the lake. In my mind, an Osprey is something one sees only after sitting in a bird hide for three weeks on a chilly Scottish loch -- I was doubtful. Right after breakfast we toured the lake, and to our astonishment there was an adult Osprey (likely a female) circling the lake! We watched for several minutes as the white bird of prey examined the lake for fish then headed off towards Sunset Blvd, both of us photographers and not a camera between us.

If she was headed toward Sunset looking for fish let's hope she stopped at the Pescado Mojado fish restaurant at Sunset and Logan.

Photo: Canada goose, Echo Park Lake, October 2006
By Martin Cox

Media frenzy

It’s been a big media week for Chicken Corner. First, I hear from a freelance writer for Los Angeles Magazine. She’s doing a shopper’s list for Echo Park. Then I hear from a writer for the Los Angeles Times. She is working on a story about housing in Echo Park. I feel like a rooster on a hot tin roof crowing: Echo Park Echo Park Echo Park.

I met the Times’ Nancy Cleeland for coffee at Chango this morning. She is following the fate of the families who once lived in a building on Delta Street, next door to the Del Mor Apartments, where Chango coffeehouse is located. Nancy, who has written for the Times on labor issues, said she was trying to suss out some of the complexities in the gentrification issue, of what has happened to the families who once lived in the gray-ish mauvish 16-unit shell with the vacant signs pasted around the front doorway. It sits directly across from an empty bungalow – the Chicken Corner bungalow, to those who know it in the neighborhood – for which the Echo Park Historical Society has been trying to find a new “home.”

We’ll have to wait and see, but it seems that Nancy’s story is not the usual hit-and-run (i.e., the stories I have already complained about, the annual “You thought Echo Park was dangerous, but it’s cool!” stories) as she has been working on the Delta Street piece for several months. And I am glad to see the paper taking the trouble with a story about Echo Park (including a recent, if odd, editorial about how the neighborhood was getting attention from the west side).

In the meantime, Los Angeles Magazine intends to sell the neighborhood as a place to visit and spend money. Yvette Doss emailed me saying she was compiling a list of the best places to shop and hang out in the Echo. I wrote back, saying I spent a lot of time at Chango and the Downbeat and a few other places, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized a lot of the best things in Echo Park are to be seen or adopted, not “purchased.” Like the ducks in the lake; the abandoned dogs who need homes; the teepee next door to Saint Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church; the owls; the Baxter hills; the huge mural of Room 8, the most famous cat in the world.* I started to make my own list, and, immediately, it started getting very long. So I stopped. (Full disclosure: my husband works for LA Mag.)

*Room 8 was a cat who lived at Elysian Heights Elementary School and once was written about in Time Magazine. He died quite a while ago, but a two-story mural remains as does the testimony of dozens of children, who wrote their remembrances in the cement on two sides of the school. They say things like, “I love Room 8 because he sleeps on my desk.” The majority of the kids’ signed names are Latino, but several are Japanese and Anglo. Disclaimer: recently a longtime neighborhood activist and parent of grown children was overheard saying, “The thing you have to know about Room Eight is…he wasn’t a very nice cat.” But the children’s testimonies say otherwise. In fact, I have a friend, Jeff Duck, who grew up in Echo Park, attending Elysian Heights Elementary. Jeff knew Room 8, and he remembered the tabby as “quite nice.”

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