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August 31, 2007

Breaking news is upbeat

This just in from one of Chicken Corner's trustiest sources -- the Downbeat is open for business! According to X (who wishes to remain anonymous) the cafe is looking a little bit newer for wear. It's hard to come through a fire and water damage unscathed. We all know that. So no more hole in the floor. The floor is now shiny. The wonderful green couch, which recorded a secret diary of all my daughter's many visits -- she writes in juice, cream cheese, cookie crumbs -- is gone, sadly, replaced by a brown couch. A clean slate! The rest of the old tables and chairs are back. Word got out quickly and there was a long line to the counter. According to source, there's a nice new painting of the Downbeat's building, too. Best of all: Dakota's back.

Old houses and the juggernaut

9A update: A Superior Court Judge ruled against the Right Site Coalition yesterday morning in Norwalk, declining to grant an injunction stopping the LAUSD from razing houses on Mohawk, St. Ynez site where it plans to build a school. Right Site was granted a one-week extension -- the group (with which I am affiliated, through the Echo Park Historical Society) has until next Friday to convince a state appeals panel that the ruling is flawed. So the empty houses stand at least a few more days.

The LAUSD convinced the judge with an argument that they were losing $100,000 a week by the delay in flattening those ugly old houses. Which to Chicken Corner sounds something like a surgeon arguing that he/she is losing money by having their surgery theater dark and their hands idle when they could be amputating a healthy leg.

August 29, 2007

The view from a distant shore

Change of address? From the NYC offices of Time-Warner, EP appears to have shifted a bit to the west. A reader named Laura sent me the following, regarding Right at Your Door:

I saw [Right At Your Door] at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and I'm so glad it's finally being released in theatres! It is truly chilling, watching the scenario play out from what appeared to be my own front yard.
I was a bit disappointed when I read the Entertainment Weekly review of the film---not because it was a bad review (it got an "A"), but because they claimed the film was shot in the Hollywood Hills. Ha!

At least they're not called Cartographers Weekly or We Care About Echo Park Weekly. Still, some things, you just can't let them slide.

August 28, 2007

At Your Door

The film Right at Your Door is unrecognizable as Echo Park, which is part of its charm. The bio-warfare horror movie was filmed on Cerro Gordo in Elysian Heights, and it seemed like the crew was there forever, and then 99% of the movie takes place at the lovely craftsman at 1621. It's supposed to be Anywhere LA, though the views it offers of downtown are pure EP. Anyway, the Cerro Gordo house provides the vantage point for a scenario in which many dirty bombs are let loose on Los Angeles. As with most California disaster movies and others in which exceedingly unpleasant things happen, the story begins with the morning radio news. In this case it’s put to good effect because the only other information we receive is what the main characters can see with their own eyes -- minus a quick frantic drive around Silver Lake and Echo Park, it’s all house house house. No one utters the words Echo Park (that I noticed) or Elysian Heights. Good thing, since the movie is as close to being a genuine nightmare -– the experience of watching it -- as I can think. Save one horriifying film they made us watch in 9th grade about a thermo-nuclear blast in England. Anyway, they dress up the exterior with white virus ash that looks like a massive white-fly infestation. Then a bunch of ladybugs come and eat it all up, and nearly everyone lives to tell the tale. Just kidding. There is a smart twist. There is even genuine horror -- moral as well as government-sponsored. There are no ladybugs.

Well, Mr. Nichols...

...this is what a Chicken Corner reader, Jennifer Lerew, has to say in regard to your steep grading system (in which Baxter and Fargo potentially lose their status as meanest streets).

Lerew writes:

Just try driving down Baxter from the top as I did (at age 18 no less) in a 1973 Cadillac and you’d agree with me that THAT sucker is the steepest—don’t care what an assayer says. Never since, including in San Francisco, have I had such a pants-wetting driving task. That, and parallel parking on aforementioned Baxter-or, yes, Fargo. Good luck to your friend, though. L.A. is waiting for the answer—the better to strike the champion demonic pavement off our Google driving maps.

As the Beegees once said: How steep is your street? How steep is YOUR street? We really need to know.

Private street surveyor Chris Nichols also is author of The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister.

August 27, 2007

Grading the neighborhood

Spotted in the places where it gets steep this weekend: my friend Chris Nichols and his fiancee. Chris was equipped with a plastic protractor and a bucket of inspiration. They saw him on Lucretia. He was seeking truth. The author recently of The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister Chris is now out to find out which street really is the steepest in Los Angeles. Why, Chris? Everyone knows that Fargo in Echo Park is not only the steepest in LA but in Cali-whole, and that includes San Francisco. Well, Mr. Chris isn't satisfied. So he's been goin' round. Not just to Echo Park, but San Pedro, Highland Park. And he claims he's found something. Me thinks this truly fine but perhaps deluded soul needs a better protractor. Made of metal, at least!

August 24, 2007

Frogtown Artwalk

Or is that ArtTown FrogWalk? Keeping in mind that a major portion of this self-guided "tour" -- more like mini festival -- takes visitors through a neighborhood now full of art/artisan studios down to the river, where the frogs walk. Tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 25, 5-11 p.m. There will be outdoor river-related films. There's a non-self-guided tour of the river by Joe Linton, author of Down By the Los Angeles River. For water transpo, there's a Thai-style long-tail riverboat. Installations. Galleries. All in the shadow of Elysian Park in the dark. Organized by my friend Tracy Stone. At last year's walk, I had the pleasure of watching a fire-spitting organ. I've been having crazy dreams ever since.

Toss the band in your salad

It's been a while since Chicken Corner has considered the song of the tomato. Machine Project provides a reminder with this fresh late-summer concert.

Dear Friends, The Tomato Quintet is installed, so come by this weekend and see and hear the tomatoes ripening. A limited amount of ripe tomatos available for you to take home on a first come first serve basis.

Busy weekend coming, what with the Frogtown Artwalk and warbling tomatoes.

August 23, 2007

They want your...


...input. On both sides of the lotus: Lots of info-gathering taking place in EP these days as environmental engineering firms put together their proposals in an effort to nail the big-fish contract of about $90-some mil to re-something (restore, revamp?) Echo Park Lake. The would-be's have been going to meetings, sending emails, asking: do you want step-stone walkways? Lotus on the northeast side of the lake? Guarantee of protection for the birds? Amnesty for the giant bass and turtles? A bed of nails? Upside down bathrooms? A block-print dress for the Lady of the Lake? No chain-link at the southeast corner? Historical markers? More willow trees?

A mannerly and enthusiastic rep from MWH came to the Echo Park Historical Society this week to ask those very questions.* A rep from CDM emailed me yesterday.**

And, yesterday, Joan Valencia photographed the group above, whose posture and deameanor as well as plummage suggested to Joan (and I concur) that they belonged to the aforementioned contract-seeking sub species. She was careful not to get too close lest she be captured for study.

A few of the things Chicken Corner would like to see at the newer, better lake:

--A stepped schedule of work keyed to the natural rhythms of wildlife. For instance, never completely draining the lake at one time -- damming sections while others are drained in order to keep a portion for the birds and other animals.

--Genuine assistance for the homeless who will be parkless for a while.

--An underground new place for the pump house on the "isthmus."

--Removal of the chain-link at the southeast corner.

--Removal or improvement (somehow) of the foul, filthy drain area at the northeast corner.

--Willow trees.

--Protection of the lotus, at least in the western thumb of the lake.

--Preservation of the bridge in its present state.


August 21, 2007

EP Lake, Tuesday

Tuesday morning, 9 a.m. walking Echo Park Lake clockwise, with Joan Valencia, Jindo the jindo dog (cultural treasure of South Korea #54), Rosie the mixed-breed dog (canine treasure of my household #1) and my daughter, Madeleine. Sunny and peaceful, everything looks a little fresh and charged because I know it will all change soon, when the lake is emptied, the grounds torn up for revamping. Right now, it's lovely even though there's a lot of garbage in the water, mostly pushed against the lake's edges. Joan tells me three muscovy ducks, with clipped wings, have been dumped at the lake recently, but they seem to be okay. They've survived three weeks, which is at least one test of time.

One of the paddle boats is moored by itself over by the island, odd since the concession is closed Tuesday mornings. The trout fry are getting bigger -- they're about two-three inches now. When we get to the lotus beds we see Dave Foster alone in a pink paddle boat, pedaling away. A different parks employee has the motor boat. When Dave lands at water's edge he tells me that someone has been dumping garbage from the park cans into the water. A couple of weeks ago, it was three cans' worth, then another three cans, and then this morning, they discovered that eight park garbage cans had been emptied into the water. "Someone doesn't like us," Dave said. "Maybe it's political," Joan said. "Well, we've got to fish it out." He doesn't look the least bit upset, though. I do believe Dave loves his job as keeper of the park. The conversation turned to ducks and to their diet of Chinese takeout food and oats and other things people dump in various places for the to eat. Piles of fried rice. The ducks are fat. And probably happy. A minute or two later, we come across the muscovies, sitting together in the shade of some shrubs. Just doing their jobs.

August 17, 2007

Bob Smith, USA II

Is your name Bob Smith? Do you know one, or think perhaps maybe? Do you wonder? This film's for you. Edited by my friend -- and EP neighbor -- Angela Wood. Screening Sunday, August 19
11 a.m. in Hollywood, $6.

Someone said this:

This documentary is a look at seven of the more than 80,000 Bob Smiths
in the United States. Despite their common names, these men vary greatly in
profession, age, and religion - from septic tank repairman to yoga
instructor; from 28 to 88 years old. CFI members might be particularly
interested in the Evangelical Christian and the Evangelical atheist Bob
Smiths. The latter designed the "Jesus Dress Up" Web site and received
lots of hate mail for his efforts.

South African born director Neil Abramson will be on hand to discuss. More info.

The things they buried

Chicken Corner got an email from a reader named Darren who said that he had found an assortment of items buried in his yard in Echo Park. My yard, also, churns up bits and shards of other peoples' past. So...the things they buried in Echo Park yards include (but are not limited to): bones. big ones, tires, cigars, bullets, tap dancing shoes, sushi recipes, smaller bones, some sort of urn, and lots more tires. Shot glasses, old bottles intact, a bullet, a rusty horseshoe, a rusty whistle with cord attched, hundreds of bits of glass, a ceramic monkey. Old wounds, new wounds, sadness and happiness, the yellow and the purple. And some blue.

August 15, 2007

Starring Echo Park...

...and other points east: Another one of Chicken Corner's favorite Echo Park products -- or productions -- is Joe D'Augustine's dark and incredibly funny noir-comedy feature One Night With You. If you missed it in the Silver Lake Film Festival, where it won the Spirit of Silver Lake Award (which should have been the Spirit of Echo Park Award) One Night will screen tomorrow night in the Miracle Mile.

WHERE: A+D Museum, 5900 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036
WHEN: Thursday, August 16, 2007, 6:30pm (documentary program starts), 8:55pm ("One Night" screens)
COST: $5, includes screening and museum entry

One of my favorite blogs these days coincidentally happens to come out of Echo Park (when its author isn't posting from UC San Diego). Ruben Ortiz Torres' "Rants about art and culture across borders in a post colonial era" is witty and smart and usually in English. He lives with his family in Elysian Heights but teaches at Davis.

Ortiz's bio explains that the artist was born in Mexico City and educated "within the utopian models of republican Spanish anarchism. Then:

...After enduring Mexico City's earthquake and pollution he moved to LA with a Fullbright grant to survive riots, fires, floods, more earthquakes, and proposition 187.

A May 2007 post, Belfast Barrio, points out similarities between LA barrio murals and political murals of Ireland. (His most recent post notes the departure of the British soldiers from Belfast.)

The murals of Belfast achieve the same as the murals and graffiti of the barrios of Los Angeles, they delineate territory. The themes and styles are surprisingly similar: in the barrio they romanticize the Aztec past and in the communities of Belfast the Celtic past (the unionist murals depict the heroes and battles of the eighteenth century using a rococo style). In East L.A. they paint homages to their homies who were victims of enemy gangs and in West Belfast murals are painted in memory of the voluntary members of the Irish Republican Army (or the masked paramilitary unionists in East Belfast).
Irish murals have some characteristics of their own. British soldiers turn themselves into abstract expressionist painters by throwing paintbombs (balloons filled with paint) on the Republican murals to censor the parts they consider problematic.

Not lost in translation: a black-and-white photo essay titled "Mexipunx."

August 13, 2007

From robots to revolution...

...and back again? Whistling an imaginary tune. Echo Park musicians get a residency at USC, thanks largely to Popular Music Project's Josh Kun (a friend). Ordinarily, Chicken Corner is loathe to let a press release do the talking. But Dublab's media sheet describes the project's project nicely.

"From robots to revolution... Get weird with us"
Dublab is a...Los Angeles collective of boundary-blurring music selectors, podcast architects, sound bloggers, and visual dreamers who use music to explore ideas and imagine landscapes that move from the city to the world. Based in Echo Park, their projects include the acclaimed Dublab web radio stream (where Primal Scream meets Joni Mitchell meets Madlib meets Terry Riley), live performances featuring DJs from the Dublab Soundsystem (Nobody, Daedelus, Frosty, Languis, among many others), art exhibitions devoted to album covers for imaginary albums (Up Our Sleeve) and concert posters for imaginary concerts (Dream Scene), album releases ... and so much more. We are thrilled to have them at USC for the Fall semester where they will be participating in a series of public events and student workshops.

August 9, 2007


Recently, our neighbor Albert was found dead at Echo Park Lake. Unexpected as Albert wasn't elderly. He was a Vietnam vet, who did computer repair. He always wore a button-down shirt, usually short-sleeved. For many years he was a volunteer at the polls, and I have never voted in Echo Park without having a conversation with Albert. He knew my cat, who had been the ward of a young, irresponsible artist who abandoned her. For a while Monkey lived free -- or was homeless -- and had to fend for herself. She was a good gopher and bird catcher, a charismatic creature and mother, a Manx, and the minute she got a chance to move back into a house with people she seized it. Albert used to ask about her. He'd ask, "Is Monkey still alive?" Or, when I told him that she was probably laying on her back on the couch with her feet in the air, he said, "She survived!" A sense of real admiration in his voice. Then I'd vote for candidates of whom he probably disapproved.

Albert also was a landlord. One of his tenants -- a friend of mine -- used to be in the band The Angry Samoans. Albert lived in the back house with his wife, except for when she moved down the street, oaccasionally, to live with her sister -- but even when she was staying with her sister, Albert drove his wife to work every morning at 5 a.m. Even when things were messy, they were orderly. And he kept his property beyond tidy. It was distressing the way he cut his trees. They simply were barely allowed to show any green. Even the lemon tree had to be kept back, looking like a stick. I have always wondered if it was fear of anything wild and free or if greenery reminded him of jungles. Or maybe it was a cultural thing: he came from people who liked it clean and dry, no shade. The puzzling thing is that he didn't simply cut the trees down.

A couple of years ago, I heard a rumor, possibly untrue, that Albert had been a heroin addict, maybe a dealer. I heard it from people who have lived in the neighborhood a long time, the fathers/uncles of some of the dealers (and worse) around here. Suddenly, the pruning made more sense.

On his last day, a Tuesday, Albert spent the morning working on painting trim around his tenants' house, which recently got a new roof. He didn't finish. At some point, he took his bicycle and rode to Echo Park Lake, with its trees and greenery and the view of downtown. I've heard only neighborhood talk, and it's unclear what happened to him there. One friend said he had a bad liver, and the Bacardi they found with Albert killed him. The following morning, at six a.m., the police came to Albert's house. They brought his bicycle and started banging on doors.

Now it's closed, now it's open

OPEN: Echo Park Film Center, following a Ukrainian hiatus. EPFC's newsletter posts:

We are back in Los Angeles after a wonderful tour through Ukraine also known now as the wild, wild West. We played music and screened films in campgrounds, kino clubs, town squares, bars, seaside villages, museums, living rooms and everything in between.

Welcome back, EPFC.

CLOSED: The Brite Spot -- has been closed all week due to health code violations. Leaving lots of parking places open.

REOPENING SOON: Headstart facility on EP Ave. It came on three flatbed trucks: the entire building, lights, walls, windows and floors. Dropped it onto the new foundation, somewhat ready to go.

CLOSED: Clapboard bungalow court, 1500 block of Echo Park Ave. East side of the street. Windows boarded, as in tenants tossed. Doesn't look good.

OPENING SOON, WE HOPE: The Downbeat still closed due to fire damage.

OPEN, EVERY THURSDAY: Arthur's Echo Park investigation of interpersonal dynamics. I

Arthur Magazine presents The Echo Park Social(ist) & Pleasure Club at Little Joy in Echo Park 1477 Sunset Blvd. 90026 (Sunset at Portia St.) EVERY THURSDAY - FREE 9:27pm - close
Carte blanche deejaying tonight (Aug. 9):
9:30pm: Matt Greene & Trinie Dalton 11pm: Elisa Randazzo 1230am: it's a mstery, charlie brown

Wish I could go. Chicken Corner welcomes reports.

OPEN: Shoeshine gentleman on Sunset between Logan and EP Ave.

OPEN TO ALL DOGS EVEN THE FANCY SCHMANCY MAGNIFICENT BORZOI I saw yesterday prancing around the western trail: Elysian Park. For a moment I had no idea where I was and fell down. Echo Park? The dozens of odd mutts who subsequently pattered down the trail helped me regain my bearings.

August 8, 2007

Space to Chicken Corner

Echo Park blogger Hexodus noticed the other day that Google Streetviews is up and lurking. Now you can see Chicken Corner from space, and up close, too. Not the best view of our special corner, blurry and unselective, but it does a good 360. There's the stop sign. There's Magic Gas. There's the big empty lot that used to be called the ranch, it had ponies and goats,, wait! And watch. It's turning into condos! ... There's Chango, El Batey, Flounce, Custom Jeans, Han Solo, Lucas (the boutique), Show Pony, Silverwood Properties, Lucas (the salon). There's the little people, and a Pepsi truck, the posters for the missing dog, Kobie, who has a battallion of searchers still searching (he may be hiding in the park); there's the posters for the bands and the yard sales; there's the six doors to somewhere. There's where I was drinking coffee four days ago, and there's the guy who was eavesdropping on my conversation with my dog, Rosie. There's the yellow and the purple. It's all there.

Sizing up eminent domain

An excellent opinion piece by Matt Welch in yesterday's LA Times puts the LAUSD's 9A debacle (I'll call it theirs) into a broader context -- even as it links to Chicken Corner. Borrowing a metaphor from Lord of the Rings, Welch dares to peer into the darkness.

August 3, 2007

Magic Gas was Jack's

The thing I love about Magic Gas (if "thing" is the word) is that it's feminine. A feminine gas station. I never thought of gas stations in gender terms -- despite the nozzles, they all seem sexless. But then you have the newfangled Magic Gas with purple paint, olive and yellow, Cocteau-style lady lettering on its signs -- which have been evolving -- and pretty, decorative metalwork. There are flowers, a place to sit and have coffee, a "painted" banner picture of a man and a woman at a bistro table. It's owned by a woman who bought the place from Aramis, who was a neighborhood fixture for many years. Aramis, I believe, oversaw the renovation of Magic Gas, as it has been known for decades. After the renovation in the '90s, if my own observation was correct, business immediately picked up. (When my husband and I first moved to the neighborhood, we were cautioned not even to stop at Magic Gas, never mind buy gas there, though we weren't told exactly why -- guns, drug sales and gangs, but nothing specific. We did buy gas there, occasionally.) Mid-'90s. That was as far back as my knowledge of MG went till the Echo Park Historical Society received an email from John Duck -- whose brother Jeff is a friend of mine -- who remembers the gas station before it was Magic, when it was a Signal station, or Jack's, and not very ladylike. John Duck recalls:

The gas station at Echo Park Ave and Morton Ave . was a Signal Gas Station .. and Jack O'Neil ran it during the 1950's.
I still have a Signal Gas Station plaque on the wall in my office as a remembrance of one of my first jobs there. When I worked there they had already upgraded the equipment and a guy named "Red" ran it. .. this was around 1963 - 1964 shortly before Signal Gasoline and Handcock Gasoline (Handcock with the rooster and Signal with the traffic signal that only had 2 lights instead of three that always said GO were owned by the same people) were absorbed by one of the big guys and their gas stations started disappearing.
In the late 1950's Jacks corner gas station became quite a hangout for a car club called "The Fifths" as well as others that could only be described as juvenile delinquents.There used to be some great fights there .. Jack didn't seem to care - his attitude was "it's just a bunch of kids blowing off steam .." They rarely messed with us kids on our bicycles .. my group were all under the age of 12 at the time and some had big brothers hanging out there as well ...
After the equipment upgrade at Jacks Signal Gasoline Station in the early 1960's Jack O'Neil went to work with Herb at Herbs Lock and Key in a little building on the Sunset Blvd overpass of Glendale Ave (where the bank building is now). They were locksmiths who also bought used bicycles at the L.A.P.D auctions then would fix them up and sell them ... If you needed a bike , you went to Herbs Lock & Key for a used one or Honest Abes Auto Parts up the street on Sunset for a new one.
After the equipment upgrade at Jacks Signal Gasoline Station in the early 1960's Jack O'Neil went to work with Herb at Herbs Lock and Key in a little building on the Sunset Blvd overpass of Glendale Ave (where the bank building is now). They were locksmiths who also bought used bicycles at the L.A.P.D auctions then would fix them up and sell them ... If you needed a bike , you went to Herbs Lock & Key for a used one or Honest Abes Auto Parts up the street on Sunset for a new one.
Thanks to you, Echo Park Historical Society for the memory .. I wouldn't trade growing up in Echo Park during the 50's and 60's for anything I can think of. -- John Duck

John and his family moved here from Tennessee when the kids were kids. And until last year, Jeff lived in the neighborhood with his wife Bita. (We miss them; they moved to Calabassas.). Like seemingly everyone who grew up in Echo Park Jeff has big stories. The bad old days were good for stories.

Routine disclaimer: I am on the board of the Echo Park Historical Society.

August 2, 2007

2 Boots -- not Big Foot

Long ago and far away, my husband and I were regulars at 2 Boots, a sort-of-southern restaurant in Brooklyn, New York. We considered it exotic. Sort of. Then we moved west and, lo! Two Boots comes, too! Something like sixteen years later. And they come in peace. Not only do they bring pizza, but the organization has worked with the Echo Park Historical Society to restore portions of the building it will occupy -- on Sunset, next door to The Echo nightclub. Specifically, it is taking pains to keep the original window arches of the brick building. Few people knew they are there, under the facade. The venerable Chowhound reports on 2 Boots Pizza's arrival in Echo Park.

Hall of mirrors disclaimer (and boast): 2 Boots Chowhound post praises Chicken Corner.

Demo stopped


Update: a court order AND a cease-and-desist order have stopped the LAUSD's demolition of houses on site 9A -- at least for the moment. The temporary restraining order issued yesterday morning at 11 a.m. covers the next 30 days, pending the outcome of the lawsuit filed many months ago by the Right Site Coalition. On top of that, a city agency, Building and Safety, issued a cease-and-desist work order because the demolition was being carried out in an unsafe manner. Apparently, there was no tape put up to keep pedestrians out of the demo zone; there were no cones; the bulldozers were racing around, doing illegal U-turns in the not-closed street. A friend who witnessed the scene said it looked like the big-rig Grand Prix: Your choice of being run over by a big rig or Bob Cat. Perhaps the construction crew were in some kind of big hurry? Or do they always do it this way?

At a meeting at Rosemont Elementary School concerning the demolition last night, LAUSD had to explain to 9A project supporters (who think Mohawk/St. Ynez/Alvarado is just the right place for a new school) why the demolition had stopped. Well, there was this unresolved lawsuit, and we didn't think....etc. etc."

Photo: St. Ynez Street, Monday, July 30, 2007.

August 1, 2007

Snowy egret

A snowy egret/Ripples on Echo Park Lake/Paddleboats bob.

Photo: Snowy Egret, August 1, 2007
By Martin Cox

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