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May 29, 2008

Lotus leave us

One lotus

Photo: Martin Cox (c), May 29, 2008

The neighborhood, as well as lots of folks outside of it, are getting ready for July's 31st annual Lotus Festival at Echo Park Lake -- presumably in honor of the famous, dense lotus bed in the northwest corner of the lake. The festival machinery is in place. Everyone has it marked on their calendars. Except for the lotus. It looks like they're not coming -- to this or any other event in which they used to feature, such as weddings, lovers' portraits, a stroll. This year they did not sprout. Where there used to be the giant satellite-dish leaves and gorgeous pink blooms, there's the surface of the water. There are many theories (more on that next week), but no one knows for sure what is wrong. Conspiracy theories even come to my mind. And who knows? Were they priced out of the neighborhood?

Did I say the lotus didn't grow back this year? Let me correct the statement. One of them has made a late, if sickly, start, while several thousand didn't get that far. On Thursday, Martin Cox took a picture of the leaf. Above.

May 28, 2008

The billboard environment

From the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Echo Park Ave. to the end of EP Ave. there's maybe one mile. Not a great distance. But there's plenty of billboard: The price of conversation over the border. Nuestras comunidad, nuestras reglas. Dr. Pepper. Nic Harcourt's face/KCRW. Foreclosure harms everyone. Pozole in a can. Erotic Expo. And others. They're all displayed on residential properties, and none of them are supposed to be there. They're unpermitted visual noise erected by a company called Vista Media (What's that name again? Is that a joke?).

Recently, my friend Mr. X (he's one of two by that name who prefer not to be indentified by more than three letters), sent me a link to a video about this aspect of the built environment in Echo Park.

The video shows Eric Garcetti, a couple of years younger than he is today, decrying the smaller-scale "faceboards" unlawfully posted in front yards on Echo Park Avenue. Getting the blight removed, said the council president, was justification for the city to pay a settlement to billboard company Vista Media. (The company had sued to stop enforcement of city codes regulating billboards.) Garcetti says that, if the company settled, the 15 billboards he personally counted would finally come down. He talks about the beautification movement, which presumably is up against the forces of ugly. Great! But that was two years ago, and billboard ads remain there, like the hills.

May 22, 2008

Coffeehouse diary

Wednesday. Chango. The place is lively at 11 a.m. It's like a stage set for the new age of sincerity/post-sincerity: on the walls hang small, straightforward paintings of iconic dead celebrities -- Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger, Sid Viscous etc. -- by T Berman, and, over the speakers, it's Michael Jackson on whatever album "Beat It" occurs. (And what happened to Royal Trux?) Behind the counter, punk rock scowls (read: sincerity) have been replaced by positive energy (read: sincerity). There's croissants, fruit and people working hard on laptops as well as behind the counter. None of the languor I once associated with bohemia. This is corporate headquarters! Nikki from the Silversun Pickups is hanging with her pals -- a toned-down group, more subdued than they used to be (typical conversation for some of the old crowd, not including Nikki: the boredom of threesomes; they're so old school). And there are new regulars. I eavesdropped on a conversation of theirs last week, and it was priceless and innocent: in the middle of a dialogue I was already listening to intently one of them breaks subject to ask "Do palm trees stop growing?" He's gazing in the direction of the bendy mop-topped palms on Echo Park Avenue. You have to wonder.

So, Wednesday I'm sitting outside with my friend Becky and my dog, Rosie. Talking doggie haircuts, etc. Becky says she was observing some young-twenty-something groovy-looking lovely women -- people you want to watch. She was wondering about them, saw them leave the cafe, go to a car with Nebraska plates and drive away. Angelenos people-watching Nebraskans, that's Chango, that's Wednesday. One generation watching another. Almost all of the ten or so sidewalk tables are occupied.

I learned about the windstorm as dirt flew into my face and the newspaper went aloft ... and like the new host of Chango regulars, I sat through it for well over an hour and a half because I was enjoying myself and didn't want to leave. When I got home I realized the magnitude of the wind: big umrella turned over, tree branches on the ground, bits of plastic bags blasted into the hydrangea. It seemed crazy that anyone would choose to relax in this.

May 20, 2008

Pickens' haunt

Do you have confidence in ghosts? Good ones, bad ones -- they're not all the same. I didn't know Larry Pickens when he died suddenly in 2006, though I was aware of his good reputation as a community activist.

But I know Larry Pickens now. He was widely and deeply mourned. After his death, he beat other candidates (live ones) to win a seat on the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council. And these days -- when he's not busy in community government -- he looks over a native-plants garden known as Larry's Median. I learned about that Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times. Columnist Sandy Banks wrote about the garden, not because it received public grant money but because it is one of Larry's haunts.

Banks wrote:

The garden in the Elysian Heights median is easy to miss. These days, it is little more than a hillside of hard-packed dirt dotted with struggling plants -- spindly hollyhocks, sprawling cactus clumps, a few mismatched trees and scattered tufts of sage and poppies.
But you can't pass along this narrow stretch of Lemoyne Street without noting the poster-size sign in the window of a home across the street, declaring the garden "Larry's Median."

Native gardens often do look a bit ratty in these parts, when it's hot.

I'll have to take a moment to complain again about the Times and its reporters' sense of local geography. Banks admits she doesn't know the neighborhood. In fact, when she visited the garden, she didn't realize that she was in Echo Park. She seemed to think the poorer parts of the neighborhood are Echo Park and the hilltops are Elysian Heights. I'm sure that Larry would be glad to explain that they are one and the same, Elysian Heights being part of Echo Park. But we'll allow that press comments from Larry are very hard to get.

Well, Chicken Corner says a good neighborhood has good ghosts. And all the better if they're active.

*Tech note: the online version of Banks' story seems to be missing some text toward the end.

May 19, 2008

Mural talk ruffles feathers


Photo: by Rich Puchalsky. The original chicken mural at Delta/Echo Park Avenue; artist Aaron Donovan touches it up after the mural was tagged.

It's not the new mural itself so much as what the artist said about it that ruffled the feathers of Marsha Perloff, who is co-founder and former president of the Echo Park Historical Society as well as founder and current director of the Echo Park Animal Alliance.

The offending snippet, by artist Robert Meinhardt concerning the mural he painted with his wife, Billie Stone, and a third, unidentified artist:

“I wanted to paint a cockfight because that is what this corner is famous for, historically. My wife and I love this neighborhood and wanted to show respect for its history in these times of changes and resentment. I realized certain people might have a problem with animal cruelty issues, but I really don't give and shit, and those are the type of people I like to offend anyway."

And Marsha's response that before Meinhardt's likely frame of reference...

...Chicken Corner was a typically depressed little stretch where the storefronts housed failing businesses or were being used for storage. It also had a really rough bar called Suku-Suku where shootings (and 2 murders) occurred, but the actual ... lot where the condos are going up now, were where the Macias family kept an ongoing variety of barnyard animals – hence its nickname Chicken Corner. To my knowledge ... patriarch of the family grew up on a farm in Mexico and loved these animals. But if in fact, this [artist] is making up his own history of the neighborhood as I suspect (I mean, the lot is widely visible -– where exactly was the supposed illegal cock-fighting taking place?), to make a lurid claim such as this, degrades the family AND the community’s history.

I see a couple of different historical threads working here. Meinhardt seems to think the corner is famous for being the location of Aaron Donovan's mural, which sort of maybe included cockfighting imagery. And Marsha knows that there used to be actual chickens at Chicken Corner -- hence the name and Donovan's mural. I have to ask why Meinhardt would like to offend people who are interested in securing the humane treatment of animals. But I do think his mural is a vast improvement over the marginally conceived wall painting that preceded it, in the interim between Chango's ripping away of Donovan's work and our new mural (photo coming soon!). As for Aaron Donovan's chickens, they're gone: pieces of that wall are scattered all over the neighborhood, kept by residents who wanted a keepsake or scrap. A few of them are displayed inside of Chango.

Factoid: The original Chicken Corner mural was titled Moron.

May 18, 2008

Sunday diary

Blazing heat. And it was an eventful day in Echo Park. There was a morning bird count at Echo Park Lake. I was not lucky enough to attend, but am looking forward to learning the numbers. I've heard some distressing news about avian botulism in waterfowl down at the Los Angeles River, and I am wondering if any of the same has been seen at Echo Park Lake, where the lotus are so horribly sick this year.

In the early afternoon, I did finally make it to Echo Park Lake, briefly, for the Cuban Music Festival, which celebrates that nation's disengagement from Spain in 1902. We were there in time to hear the Echo Park Project shake their marimbas for the grannies in Orlando visors, the salsa dancers -- an all ages crowd, well-dressed, on the northwest edge of the park, near the Cuban poet Jose Marti's memorial. Lots of folding lawn chairs and a big crowd dancing down by the stage. We stumbled onto the scene by accident, and if we hadn't been set to visit the Kaprow exhibit at MOCA downtown I would have been happy as a healthy duck to stay all afternoon. Not to mention that beneath the huge trees, and with the grass and water, the heat was defanged in the park.

Book coverFour p.m. and it was time for the historic event of the day -- the dedication of Sunset and Echo Park Avenue as Leo Politi Square. We parked in what we now call the Walgreens lot. Except that there's a food market that just opened -- after the retail space was empty for what seems like three years (and probably is). And the lot where usually you could put your car horizontally across three designated vertical spaces and no one would notice was now creeping with cars looking to park.

A crowd had gathered in front of the Bank of America building at the corner where the sign would be unveiled. There were school children, who would do a well-rehearsed recitation as part of the ceremony. There was Council Member Ed Reyes. And there were community activists, including most of the board of directors for the Echo Park Historical Society as well as the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park (Elysian Park also has a Leo Politi designated area) and neighborhood council reps. There was also a big orange condor-like city truck with a couple of orange-vested burly guys and a cargo of all kinds of street signs. There were some speeches that I couldn't hear from the back where I stood. But I was glad to be there. Having been raised in a city (Wash DC) that is crammed with statues of military cult leaders, I love the fact that Echo Park's local historical hero is a children's book author and artist, an early observer and champion of the culture of Olvera Street.

Leo Politi's son delivered a short speech. It was all perfectly lovely until the ceremony's end -- which was when the burly guys released doves -- five metal crates full of domesticated birds that are not generally fit for survival on their own. The birds were not great at flying. They lumbered in the hot air and didn't seem sure where to go. Some of them resisted leaving the cages. A couple did not want to fly at all. One of the burly men picked them up and threw them in the air to get them to fly. One flew in through an open car window. One walked in the street. What were supposed ot be "Oohs and ahs" from the crowd became "Oh's" and cringes. I would have thought the symbolism of a permanent sign -- and some heartfelt applause -- would have been sufficient without the live-animals display. The dedication happened in tandem with the Angeleno Heights home tour/fund-raiser, Politi having been a longtime resident of that part of the neighborhood.

At six p.m. I was going to the excellent Elf Cafe, a vegeterian restaurant on Sunset. Two of the doves were still on the roof of the Bank of America building. I got ready to do my own special bird count, but I didn't see any other white doves, though certainly the hawks did. Hawks, of course, are famous for their good eyesight.

May 15, 2008

La Gran Limpieza

Speaking of responsible care of the Los Angeles River: La Gran Limpieza, Friends of the Los Angeles River's public cleanup event, will be held at the river this Saturday. Fourteen sites will be de-junked, ethically. Chicken Corner thinks it sounds like a blast.

L.A. River

Photo: Nature Trumps

May 13, 2008

Re: new mural

Re: new chicken mural at Chicken Corner. Chicken Corner received a statement from one of the artists, Robert Meinhardt, who says it is a coincidence that their mural hatched on the same morning as the official groundbreaking across the street for new condos -- the same project that some people read as a symbolic if not physical demise of Chicken Corner (the "place").

In response to queries about the mural by Chicken Corner (the blog), Robert Meinhardt wrote:

I'm Billie [Stone's] husband who painted that mural along with Billie and an anonymous friend of ours. We got permission through the owners, because Billie works there [at Chango]. It was really just because the old mural had been covered with graffiti and some negative messages aimed at Chango's customers. The building's landlord Sergio was really pissed off, and so we decided to paint a new mural that was bigger and better and hopefully wouldn't suffer the same fate as the previous one. I wanted to paint a cockfight because that is what this corner is famous for, historically. My wife and I love this neighborhood and wanted to show respect for its history in these times of changes and resentment. I realized certain people might have a problem with animal cruelty issues, but I really don't give and shit, and those are the type of people I like to offend anyway. Evalia who owns El Batey likes the new mural and so does Sergio the landlord, that's all that really matters to me. My other friend (who helped paint it) and I, have been working on a book about the L.A. river called "The Unofficial Guide to the L.A. River" . ... Its website should be up in about 3 weeks. Chaz Bojorquez and some other important people have been involved, and it should be really interesting for anybody who is into Los Angeles history or art. As for your write up so far, I'm from Chicago, not Ohio ... but we have been here for a few years now and like to consider ourselves locals. ... No we didnt know about the opening of the condos or whatever but that's pretty funny.

Yes, sometimes fate (in progress) has a sense of humor.

Un-greening the river

The best thing about the L.A. River as it runs through Frogtown/Elysian Valley and other areas nearby is the trees and other green that have defied the concrete and found a foothold. Islands of rock, soil and roots have formed. There are cottonwoods. And there's also the not-so-fabulous weed "bamboo" (arundo donax) known for choking streams (but not rivers). By accident, there is beauty down there in the margin, in a place that was designed as an open-air drain. It came to us without the city's permission, but we shouldn't trample it. The trees should be treated with care. They're a natural gift from the present moment. So I felt quite ill when I received an email from Jay Babcock of Nature Trumps reporting that city contractors were down at the river cutting trees. According to Babcock, it was two trucks-full of "at risk" young workers, who apparently had substandard supervision. They cut the bamboo with chainsaws. Clearing the bamboo seems to have been their assignment. That job probably requires digging tools, not chain saws. And they were not prevented from unnecessarily turning the saws on cottonwood trees. The results, which you can see on Nature Trumps, are pretty ugly (no oxymoron intended -- but the situation demands one, much as the bamboo demanded a foothold).

For more details and to view Babcock's still and video footage of the mess, click here.

Chickens at the corner redux

There they are. This morning, two new large, fancy chickens painted onto the wall where the original Aaron Donovan mural asserted itself so memorably. (Pieces of that mural are on display inside Chango Coffeehouse, whose owners demolished it to make the picture window that offers a view of the construction for the new condos at Chicken Corner). Graffiti art style mixed with something a bit less mannered and more fanciful, even if it does suggest cock fighting. It was painted last night.

So, if the first morning that these two new chickens bask in sunlight happens to coincide with the "groundbreaking" ceremony (from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.) for the condos? The ceremony wasn't much to spectate (which I did from a distance): a blue tent -- market vendor sized -- and some suits and skirts. One of the suits may have clothed Eric Garcetti. But I couldn't tell for sure because I didn't have binoculars. The timing of the mural's appearance is probably a coincidence. Gordy Grundy of Artillery magazine (which is based in Echo Park) emailed me that the new chicken artists live in the Del Mor Apartments, above Chango.

Grundy wrote:

Chicken corner has a new mural and it's sensational. The artists are Billie Stone and her husband. ... He's from Ohio (?). She's from Australia. They live in that building. Six (?) months ago, they had a show at Han Cholo (next to El Batey). Beautifully done and wildly humorous stuff, like a kite painted with a portrait of Tupac. When I walked my pup yesterday at 4 p.m., that wall was empty. I cant believe how fast and well it was done.

Chicken Corner emailed the artists to ask if they had ever heard of the Angeles Group, which is "developing" the condos across the street from the bright, lovely new mural. Haven't heard back yet.

May 9, 2008


Not to get all clucking about it, but The New York Times online alerted Chicken Corner to the following:

“Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead,” from the Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman. Within its genre — “the satirical sexploitation zombie chicken gross-out musical extravaganza — it is just about as perfect as any film predicated on the joys of projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea can be,” writes Nathan Lee.

Inspired, perhaps, by development at Chicken Corner, Echo Park. calls it "the only chicken-themed horror film you need to see." Well, that would be a matter of opinion.

Puppy mills of Beverly Hills II

Off the Echo Park Animal Alliance news service (read: list serve): Posh Puppy in Beverly Hills has shut down. Chicken Corner clucks for joy! And chants: Rescue promotion, cruelty demotion! In January, Echo Park Animal Alliance members shuttled to the West Side to participate in a demonstration in front of the store, which naturally was associated with puppy mills -- details of those operations are hideous (think of ten-year-old dogs who have never once been outside of a cage). Demonstrations in front of Posh Puppy continued into this spring.

It was just one store among zillions, but it's a step in a good direction. For more details, click here.

May 8, 2008

Cache on the cover


Photo by Mark Mauer/L.A. Weekly.

Lots of people knew what he looked like before -- the artist Cache, who has painted the most recent generation of mural chickens not just in Echo Park but in Silver Lake and South Los Angeles and other regions of the county, I am sure. He is known for diligently maintaining -- and revising -- his character-chicken murals. But I never caught a glimpse of their creator, who is a bike messenger in his off-hours. Now we see Cache's real face on the May cover of the "eastside" monthly New Angeles, which dropped into my real mailbox yesterday, though I glimpsed copies of the magazine at Chango coffeehouse the day before. The story subhead: "Local muralist Cache spearheads a chicken-led rebellion."

If you haven't seen his work (e.g., on Sunset Boulevard near Benton or Glendale Blvd. across from Echo Park Lake), Cache makes playful, mostly un-corny pop mural images without seeming to over-reference Japanese pop styles (thank you!) -- not that there's anything wrong with anime etc., just that it's such a pleasure to see something so fresh.

From the article by Joshua Lurie:

CHICKENS BECOME POLITICAL: Cache painted his first chicken in 2003, near downtown. "The chicken thing started as a joke," he says, "but once I started reading and exploring the socioeconomic spiral, I figured there's a way to open people's minds. Carlos Castaneda wrote about humaneros--human chicken coops. I realized we're no different than chickens. ... The more I paint, the more political I get."

Oh, Chicken Corner wishes that last line had been "The more I paint CHICKENS the more political I get." But, apparently, that's not what he said.

In the same New Angeles issue, there's a positive review of the new Echo Park restaurant the Park. The restaurant also was a staff pick of KPCC; Hettie Lynne Hurtes, Anchor, Mid-day News liked it a lot.

May 2, 2008

The Borrowers united

Kim Cooper, Save LAPL co-creator, reports a good turnout at yesterday's rally downtown, the purpose of which was to convince the Planning and Budget Committee not to slash the public library's budget by $2 million. Yesterday was open meetings; today's budget committee meetings concerning the library are closed.

Kim estimates "4 librarians and 7 members of the public spoke on behalf of the library, and about as many arts producers on behalf of Cultural Affairs. There was one whole row of people clutching library books in support of the cause, which was very good to see."

Kim passed along to Chicken Corner some interesting points from the discussion:

In the last year, 14.7 million people visited Disneyland and 16 million used LAPL.
The LAPL budget is the same as ten years ago--despite 6 more libraries in the system now and much higher use.
The proposed $2 Million cut translates to 100,000 new books divided among 72 libraries divided among twelve months = 114 new books per month for each library, to serve an average of 55,000 people.
Many cities offer much longer library hours, 7 days a week, and spend much more per person on books. Nonetheless, we are looked to for how our library has succeeded, especially with the bonds that fund new library construction.
A Mar Vista librarian said if the library didn't continually update its collection, it risks becoming a museum. She felt LAPL had been punished for budgeting its book money well when the mid-year budget adjustment swept in and took away $2Million that had not been spent yet.
Roy Stone of the Librarian's Guild (and Fairfax Branch) noted that librarians had put together a new efficiency plan, which they urged the committee to consult before laying anyone off. Also, he noted that the library saves the city a lot of money by providing a safe place for teens--their only safe haven in many neighborhoods.
A Vernon librarian who was opposed to cutting the book budget, noting that the unemployed need up-to-date job resources. Also, losing programs for teens and college prep means an alternative to gangs is missing from the community.

Click here to hear Kim Cooper on Which Way L.A.

I'm going to be thinking about those 14-16 million stats when I go to Disneyland the week after next for the first time since I was five years old. So, let's see, Chicken Corner counts thousands of library visits in roughly half a lifetime (optimistically speaking), vs. two visits to Disneyland (one them not yet accomplished). Hmm.

May 1, 2008

The Homeric question


No joy

Photos by Dakota/Curbed LA

So you say the thing about art pranks is that they are not to be taken seriously? I agree. May they be funny, or sad, as the case may be. And it seemed that, without once stopping to consider Homer, Chicken Corner had wrung all the funny and sad out of "There is no joy in this hipster hell" and "All is full of love" -- which were perpetrated on the community by a graffiti artist (or two) whose identity is not known to Chicken Corner.*

But, wait! It's not too late! My friend Steve Kurtz has opinions on "No joy" and "Love" and Homer.

("Actually" disclaimer: Chicken Corner asked Steve, who is a comedy writer and lawyer, if he had an opinion, so he gave it some thought, consulted the sediment at the bottom of his cup, and came to understand that the writer(s) of both messages connect(s) to Homeric literary traditions. And a few other things.)

Concerning the author's identity, Steve notes:

As to the question did two separate people write these, I'm afraid this [may be] lost to the mists of time, much like the Homeric question. Though I'd guess the one who writes about Love prefers The Odyssey and the other one prefers The Iliad.
The Homeric did one man write both The Iliad and The Odyssey? (Though sometimes it's said the question is did Homer write both The Iliad and The Odyssey or was it another man of the same name.) Both epics are ascribed to Homer--and certainly they have the same format and style--but that doesn't prove it was the same man, especially since the content and themes are so different.
Well, you had the same problem here--two pieces of literature from an unknown source with certain similarities--handwriting style (cursive) and medium (concrete). But the themes are very different--Love and Hipster Hell. Well, it just seemed to me if these were done by two different people, the Love writer is more inspired by The Odyssey and Hipster Hell harkens back more to The Iliad. The Odyssey goes all over the place, including hell, but is all about someone overcoming great adversity for love. The Iliad, however, while it has many themes, is centrally about someone (I'm talking about Achilles, though you could say this also applies to Agamemnon and Hector, too) willing to go through all sorts of misery just to make sure he looks cool in front of everyone.
So we see the muses sing the same songs over the centuries.

As for cursive, Steve says:

Speaking of the [graffitist] who wrote "There is no joy in hipster hell," the author does something I always wanted to do as a kid--mix cursive with cursing.

*Regarding who done it. Turns out that Maisie, who stepped forward to take responsibility for the vandalism, was at the beach romping when both acts occurred. When probed, the tea cup lab's story unraveled faster than a ball of yarn tied to the back of a Buick, Chicken Corner is sad to report.

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