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July 31, 2008

Happily happening

Machine Project marches on. A weekend of superheroes and public fruit jam. Chicken Corner fluttered back from campsite society -- went to the woods to do a lot of talking (and it was fabulous) -- to find Echo Park's special gallery experimental people at Machine Project had issued the following invitation:


Photo: Machine Project

Dear Friends,
Please join us this Saturday August 2nd at 8pm for a lecture on real life superheroes by Joshua Bearman. Previous visits from Joshua have covered Bigfoot and Teddy Roosevelt, the world Ms Pacman champion, and a mission to China to cuddle panda bears. This talk is based on a year of research on citizens who dress up in costumes, attempt to stop crimes, and foil criminal masterminds. A familiar topic from books and movies, the only difference is that these are real people trying to stop real criminals. Free.

And then:

Sunday August 3rd from 12-3pm brings the return of our favorite summer ritual, jam making with Fallen Fruit. Jams will be based on the fruit that the participants provide. The fruit can be fresh or frozen. Fallen Fruit will bring public fruit. We are looking for radical and experimental jams as well, like basil guava or lemon pepper jelly. We'll discuss the basics of jam and jelly making, pectin and bindings, the aesthetics of sweetness, as well as the communal power of shared food and the liberation of public fruit. When the jam is done, it is spooned into small, hopefully recycled jars, and the participants take some of their own, leave some for others, and perhaps take a jar of another team's jam. Bring fruit, small glass jars, a willingness to share the goods and an enthusiasm for delicious jam chaos. Free.
Love, Machine

Superheroes love jam, too, right? But don't feed them too much. Best to just let them help you get out of a jam, I guess.

July 28, 2008

Babcock: Soundboard listened wrong*

A lot of ire (some of it funny) was raised when Soundboard ran an interview with Jay Babcock on his move from Los Angeles to Brooklyn. Babcock used terms like "psychic death hole" to describe Los Angeles -- or "Carusoland," depending on your interpretation. To the L.A. Times reporter at Soundboard, and to me, Babcock seemed to be saying he was leaving L.A. because he, uh, didn't like it here anymore. What he wrote to me, at least, was pretty sour on the subject of Los Angeles. But I was sincere in writing that Brooklyn's gain is our loss. Babcock's Arthur is a great publication, and Babcock's Nature Trumps was a great blog, which may have helped in the river-preservation/park creation efforts of people who remain in Los Angeles. He has done good here, not harm, and some spouting about things "devolving" in the city doesn't erase it. I was also sincere in mocking the term psychic death hole. But that was too easy.

So Soundboard's message board was all lit up with offense taken (154 comments) -- so were other sites -- and Babcock has not traveled so far away that it didn't sting, badly. He has written postdates on Arthur online and to Soundboard. He also sent me a letter describing his feelings on having his feelings misinterpreted vis a vis the City of Angels.

*Postscript: I posted that letter, but Babcock wrote to me, asking that I take it down, which I did.

July 24, 2008

Not a sex scandal sale

While Chicken Corner was away in Boston, an email soft-landed in the box from Tod Tamberg of the L.A. Archdiocese with some clarifications regarding the sale of the building that is famous as the home of Self Help Graphics. Tamberg said the venerable arts organization is NOT being evicted.

Self Help Graphics is rather upset nonetheless, as expressed on their website (in a July 15 post as well as a passionate July 11 post).

Tamberg wrote:

I read your post at LAObserved referring to the Archdiocese and the sale of SHG.
I'm pasting the press statement from the Sisters of St. Francis of Mt. Alverno
that was released to media [on July 11].

There's a lot of misinformation that's been spread around about the sale
of the building. The most noxious claim is that the Archdiocese sold it to pay for
sexual abuse. Gloria Molina said that, and it ain't true. The settlement was
announced in July 2007. The list of Archdiocesan-owned properties to be sold was
compiled by that time. The Archdiocese did not own the SHG building in 2007, the
Sisters did. In 2008, the Sisters approached the Archdiocese to help them sell the

Also, the fifth bullet point of the Sisters' statement below is also worthy
of note, considering that some have formed an impression that SHG is being evicted.
Not according to the Sisters or the new owners.

Press release text (in its entirety as received by Chicken Corner) after the jump:

By Sister Carol Snyder, Provincial Minister of the Sisters of St. Francis-Mt. Alverno Regarding the Self Help Graphics and Art Building July 11, 2008
For 29 years, the Sisters of St. Francis provided Self Help Graphics rent-free use of our building. It is now time for Self Help Graphics to stand as an independent organization.
The sale of our building was initiated by the Sisters-not the LA Archdiocese- and has been discussed with Self Help Graphics for nearly three years.
Self Help Graphics tried unsuccessfully twice in 2006 and 2007 to obtain grants to purchase the building under the California Cultural and Historical Endowment program.
The building's new owners desire Self Help Graphics to remain as tenants in the building after December 31, 2008 with the payment of a reasonable rent.
The Sisters of St. Francis believe that our available resources can best be used to serve the community of East Los Angeles by providing art scholarships in memory of Sister Karen Boccalero.

What? "Art scholarships?" No punk scholarships? You may recall that Sister Karen Boccalero is also something of a saint/patron for the East L.A. punk scene in the late 1970s/early '80s. She let Latino punks use Self Help Graphics' upstairs stage space for shows when the performers could not get bookings in Hollywood.

Meanwhile, here's a snippet of what SFG wrote on July 11 about the sale:

Over the last 24 hours elected officials, community leaders, artists and residents throughout Los Angeles expressed their outrage that the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese secretly sold the mosaic building that is home to Self Help Graphics & Art. After its founding by Catholic nun Sister Karen Boccalero more than 35 years ago, non-profit organization Self Help Graphics & Arts was notified that the Catholic Archdiocese sold the building to a private real estate and investment company. The organization had no knowledge of the sale or pending sale.
Chicken Corner Zen Master Abby

In response to "Arthur to graze in N.Y. pastures," Chicken Corner received the following query from a reader who signed "hopeful in Santa Monica":

I guess when a guy like Jay leaves town it makes me question whether I'm wasting my life here or if I'm missing something out of stubbornness or resistance to change. But, I know I have a great life here, I'm not crazy... right?
[signed] hopeful in Santa Monica

And Chicken Corner's Zen Master tossed some pennies and replies:

Dear Hopeful in S.M.,
When moving cross country the way is most fortunate when you to go to something rather than away. A river travels in one direction. So does time. Happiness exists where happiness exists. Carusoland is not so easy to dismiss so easily, much as we find it tempting.

That's all she wrote.

July 23, 2008

Arthur to graze in N.Y. pastures; Nature Trumps left behind

When Arthur's main brain, Jay Babcock, moved to Brooklyn, the magazine went with him (as LAObserved reported yesterday). Issue #30 -- on paper -- is coming very soon. And it will be available at Chango, so, movers and slackers, no need to worry about your reading material. It'll be available for download, too. All would be fine, except that Babcock shut down his Nature Trumps blog about the L.A. River. The last headline: "Nature Trumps is kaput." No need for flowery prose when you've already decamped. So Brooklyn's gain is our loss.

I emailed Babcock and asked why on Earth he had moved to Brooklyn (though, for the record, I LOVE Brooklyn). It took him about two minutes to respond to that and other questions with:

I lived in Atwater Village, beneath the police and tv helicopters, and amidst the almost-nightly gunfire and break-ins.
I graduated from UCLA in 1992 and have been in L.A. ever since.
It's devolving very fast now -- there are creeping crises (overdevelopment, journalism implosion, traffic, health care, schools, crime, bad police dept, general cultural dumbness and hostility to the Arts) that, short of catastrophe, are unsolvable given L.A.'s government structure -- and I finally figured a way out. I don't want to live anymore in the psychic death hole that is Carusoland. And I don't want to be there when the next earthquake hits, or when Griffith Park and the Hollywood Hills finally burn. Angelenos don't strike me as being particularly resilient. The city is terminal.
I have so many friends in L.A., but ... well, you have to spend too much time driving and finding parking to make visits and get-togethers as pleasant as they should be.
And so on.
Bright spots: Family. Cinefamily. McCabe's. FoLAR. Elf Cafe. The L.A. Record.

Psychic death hole. No one should live in a place they regard as a psychic death hole.

Disassembly complete

Gas station

Photo by Martin Cox, September 2006

The destruction has been a work in progress recently, but as of about noon today it's gone. The old deco gas station at 1901 Echo Park Avenue. The address as an entity may be gone, too, as the site is scheduled to host nine new dwellings. Today I arrived in time to see three sweating guys taking down the last pieces of the old kit station, which dated from the 1950s, when it replaced an older gas station that had burned down. The only thing left now is two poles that are set in cement. The metal pieces that looked like panels from an old airplane were stacked fairly neatly in piles. The good news is that these pieces will be rehabbed and reassembled by a San Diego Automotive Museum at SD's Balboa Park. But even in disrepair I would have preferred to see them here. The station was like a sculpture and landmark, and it gave us a bit of open space, a bit of thought space. Call it a pocket park, L.A. style. It gave us a live connection to the past, including the not-so-distant past when gang members hung out there behind chain link curtains. The lot, of course, looks much smaller without its tiny little defunct gas station. And the metal gate that is propped against the poles -- well, that's a gate to nowhere.

July 20, 2008

The 'shoal has risen and the District ship has hit it'

Keep in mind that over 200 people, many of them elderly immigrants not well-versed in their rights, were thrown out of their homes, and the passion of L.A. County Superior Court Judge John Torribio in his tentative 9A opinion is not surprising. The draft is dated from May, and it was finalized on Friday, July 18.

In response to the LAUSD's arguments that they did do adequate prep work before they started seizing houses, Judge T mixed a metaphor or two, but his disgust for the LAUSD's conduct is clear.

Los Angeles Unified School District is ordered to fully comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act by preparing an EIR [environmental impact review] for the Central Region Elementary School #14 project [aka Site 9A]. ... LAUSD is restrained from any actions in furtherance of the project unless an EIR has been properly prepared, publicly circulated, and approved.

Some snippets:

The court finds that purchasing the property [Site 9A] ... was made at the District's peril. ... That shoal has risen and the District ship has hit it.
The court will not address the sham EIR [that the LAUSD prepared after already having thrown people out of their homes]. ... The court's conclusion is based on an examination of the EIR to see what if any analysis was actually done. ... The record [of the prep work LAUSD did before it went High Noon on Echo Park] is essentially empty of analysis.
The purposes of the [9A] project are muddled to say the least.... The court finds that the EIR is inadequate and that the District acted in bad faith....

Looking forward, Christine Peters who led the Right Site Coalition along with Andrew Garsten and many other volunteers, called for new uses for the blighted 3 acres that used to be residential:

Peters said:

Let's fight as a community now to see something great happen at "Site
9A". Let's restore affordable housing, develop a multi use building
with a continuation school/and or senior center on the site of the
demolished La Fonda and Lopez Tires. Let's pay tribute to our former
neighbors who egregiously lost their homes of many years.

Andrew Garsten commented:

We did this for all the other communities out there that have been rough ridden by local politicians, developers, and yes, LAUSD. If we need to, we must take these battles to court so that the wrongdoing can be stopped, and illuminated for everyone to see.

Early this afternoon, I drove down to Mohawk Street to see the empty houses, which are surrounded by curtained chainlink, the sites overlayed with grafitti, the houses empty for years now. Where the pleasant La Fonda restaurant used to be is no more than a graffiti mound. It used to be a regular corner of the neighborhood, with homes and businesses. And then it changed.

July 19, 2008

Little guys win again II

It was bold of the Right Site Coalition to challenge the juggernaut in court. Tiny grassroots organizations like this one don't scare the LAUSD. But on Friday they officially beat the bully in court -- again. (The judge's decision unofficially was written about a month ago). A talented lawyer, Robert Silverstein, worked pro bono for many months. And the coalition, led by Christine Peters, worked hard to keep him working. Yard sales and a small-scale auction for minimum, good-faith downpayments for legal services.

If you're just tuning in: The LAUSD stomped into Echo Park four years ago, selected a "site" for a new elementary school (and called it 9A). It then ordered 50 houses on a bun with cheese. A low-income part of the neighborhood that housed mostly immigrants. Anyone not willing to sell right away was told all kinds of stories about how they had to sell or they'd be eaten etc etc. LAUSD didn't have the time to conduct a proper environmental impact review -- from the beginning, its argument for not considering alternative sites always had been that too much work already had been done. It was hungry and lazy. It seemed indifferent to opposition from the district's city councilman, Eric Garcetti, who said he would oppose giving the project an existing city street in the center of "the site." As soon as it got the last residents out of their homes, it tried to raze the houses immediately. The court ordered stays and extensions of stays for demolition. LAUSD let the empty houses rot. The area is now blight, the houses probably beyond repair and businesses long decamped.

Friday's ruling orders the LAUSD to conduct a proper environmental review. Evelyn Larrubia wrote about the court's decision in Saturday's L.A. Times.

From Larrubia's article:

Pasadena lawyer Robert P. Silverstein has been litigating the case pro bono (the district appealed an earlier court decision to award Silverstein attorney fees). He called the district's environmental report "a bogus document to give them cover for an illegal decision they had already made."
In court papers, he accused the school system of failing to address the project's effects on low-income housing or seriously consider other sites, principally the LAPD's former Rampart station. In addition, he said, the agency kept changing the project's attendance boundaries, making its pedestrian safety and traffic analyses out of date before the project was even built.
On Friday, [Judge] Torribio agreed with Silverstein's criticisms.
"The writ is granted in its entirety," the judge wrote in a tentative ruling, which he made final at Friday's hearing in Norwalk. "The district did not act in good faith. . . . "

[Personal connection disclaimer: I am a board member of the Echo Park Historical Society, which supports the Right Site Coalition. With the EPHS, I have helped raise funds for the Right Site Coalition.]

July 18, 2008

Measuring the week in inches

On Wednesday night, my daughter and I returned from Boston, where I was awed by the "emerald necklace" of public parks designed by Olmsted and couldn't help wondering if Los Angeles can grow the political will to create anything even remotely similar along the L.A. River banks.

So, we were gone a week, fell completely and happily down the rabbit hole, but were glad to get back. A week is just long enough to measure changes. It's certainly long enough to create the need to catch up. On return, I found that the cinder blocks at the dismal Chicken Corner construction site had been moved toward the south end of the site. My tomato plants (given to me by my neighbors Joe and Heather) had grown no fewer than six inches. Parts of the old deco kit gas station that I had hoped would become a landmark had been removed, in prep for more condos. McDonalds had bought space at the (possibly illegal) faceboard in the yard space at Ewing and Echo Park Avenue -- in Spanish the ad dares you to "fill up your tank" with their food. New couches have been abandoned. Also a wicker chair below the McDonald's ad -- the chair looks so perfectly at ease it seems wrong to move it. I missed my court date for walking my dog in Elysian Park without a leash (I had forgotten about the citation, probably because it seems so fair and right to walk friendly low-key dogs off-leash on the western trail); I return to discover I am an outlaw. Paw prints and a layer of dirt coated my car.

Those were a few of the outward shifts in Echo Park. In my inbox:

I found a clip from KTLA on the Lotus Festival at Echo Park Lake, featuring Chicken Corner's very own waterfowl and lake correspondent, Martin Cox.

There was a reminder of the Echo Park Historical Society's first bike tour of Elysian Park points of historical interest. It takes place tomorrow.

The Echo Park Historical Society launches it's first-ever bicycle tour on Saturday, July 19 at 10 am. Hit the historic highlights of the park's western edge on this guided tour of Elysian Park (the route is limited to paved roads). The 90-minute tour organized by Matthew Dubois will include stops atBarlow Hospital, the old Navy Armory and Police Academy. Space isextremely limited. The tour is free to EPHS members and $5 for all others. Please reserve a spot by sending an email to

Neighborhood Council president Jose Sigala emailed a neighborhood list serve that the city clerk has denied requests for a recount in the recent weird election.

There's more of course, little bits of news and things people said and wrote. The news some friends are moving out of town. A week offline is a long time. It would take years to catch up on it all.

July 9, 2008

Self Help Graphics building...

...sold? What better use for the space could there be than the gallery-printmaking-performance space -- not to mention common-law historical landmark -- it is now? Echo Park community activist Isa-Kae Meksin spotted the news on LA Eastside. According to the site, the Archdiocese wants to disencumber itself of the Self Help Graphics building, if not all the good it brought to the Chicano movement -- everything from punk to prints, there was room for it in that airy space on Cesar Chavez Ave. Developers want the building now. And it seems the church doesn't.

According to LA Eastside:

A public press conference is scheduled to take place at Self Help Graphics & Art on Friday, July 11, 2008 at 10am. Members of the Self Help Graphics Board of Directors will be present to answer questions about the future of our beloved and historical art center.

July 8, 2008

Lotus memorial restarting from seeds

Lotus shrine

Photo: Lotus Memorial II
By Stephen Roullier (c), 2008

Someone plucked the first one -- a lovely lotus blossom, or, rather, a picture of one -- which was planted by Stephen Roullier just before Independence Day. Now that Echo Park Lake is newly independent of its famous lotus bed. So Roullier, who lives across from the lake, came back with three. They're part of a memorial to the lotus that did not reappear this year. The lotus bed may date from as early as 1889. We know that by 1929 the lotus of the lake were well-established. They survived until 2008, despite being "protected" as a historic feature of Echo park Lake, which is a city cultural landmark.

Good news bears...

...repeating. This just off an Echo Park neighborhood list serve: The city has done right vis a vis Dodgers traffic and parking.

The City Council has given the green light to a plan for the city to provide shuttle service to Dodger Stadium during home games. Under terms of the plan, which the full Council approved on Friday, June 27, a bus line operated by the city Department of Transportation will travel between Union Station and Dodger Stadium, with stops along Cesar Chavez Avenue and Sunset Boulevard west of Downtown. The stops will be at Figueroa Street, close to several other bus lines, and at Marion Avenue, where the shuttle would connect with two more Metro bus routes. The target date for starting service is July 25. The shuttle will run during all remaining 2008 home games. The estimated cost for the rest of the current season is $70,000, to be paid by the city.

Too good to be true? Let's hope not. A few years ago, before the present Dodgers organization showed up, there was a shuttle service to the stadium from Union Station. It was canceled. Now it's back. Go-o-o-o-o busses!

July 5, 2008

July 4 diary

Independence Day: My friends, old guard Echo Park, have put together a gorgeous party -- lots of neighbors.

At the barbecue, it seems everyone is talking about how quiet things are this July 4, and it's true. People are talking about "disruptions in the flow" of fireworks from China. An artist friend of mine says factories there have been damaged in fires. (Fire at fireworks factories?! Doesn't sound good.) No one says a different obvious: it's been getting quieter and quieter on July 4 in Echo Park for the last few years. The noisy people, with their eruptions, are getting pushed out, replaced by the nosy ones.

The sun sets spectacularly -- partly due to smoke coming from Santa Barbara. The sun is red-red, dipping fast below the ridge over Griffith Park. Before it gets dark out, the flower-bloom-type of fireworks have started all around in the neighborhood, particularly to the south. It's a downward view of them we're enjoying, but they are lovely and not too loud from the ridge. My three-year-old daughter is enjoying them. I am, too. Some of what we're watching comes from Echo Park Lake. I am aware of what an untranquil scene it will be down at the lake, and can't bear to think of the four heron nests on the island, never mind the other nests. "Look, Maddie!" I say, pointing to the flower of fire in the air. (It can't be sky if it's below you, can it?)

To see what it was like at Echo Park Lake this July 4, 2008, click here. Footage by Kevin McCollister. In his email, McCollister says, it's "anything goes" down by the lake. Maybe the party people and the city think it's safer to set fires next to a body of water. Better than in Elysian Park, or most back yards -- if you're thinking in terms of fire. This morning, McCollister reported:

At 7:30 [a.m.] the place was pretty much trashed and you could still smell the gunpowder (cordite, smoke, whatever) in the air. Surprisingly, tho, the cleanup had begun.

It gets dark, it gets late. My daughter is out way past her bedtime. I am relieved that the Dodgers held their fireworks display at the Hollywood Bowl this year and not over Elysian Park, which is only cursorily brush-cleared by subcontractors to the city. They clear a buffer zone near the houses and other salient features of the park, leaving masses of dried tinder piling up toward the bottoms of the hills. My friend Steve has pointed out that there's enough fuel down there to light the tops of the trees, which then could send a fire racing up the hillsides, through the crowns. I am not a fire expert. But I did once talk to a fire fighter who helped run an inmates fire camp in the Angeles Forest. He said that most people look up at the hillsides and see beauty and nature, "I look at it and see the whole thing on fire." Well, there's a compelling point of view.

We get home. We see other neighbors who are walking back from Elysian Park where they had expected to see Dodgers Stadium fireworks but instead got a view of the skyline and the city lights and smaller bursts of friendly fire. Getting out of the car, we hear the muted but boisterous sounds of some neighbors having drinks together. Standing in the street is a group of young men. They are looking downhill in the direction of Echo Park Avenue, where fireworks are shooting straight up from the street -- one after another in regular intervals. Straight up the hill on the other side the same thing is happening, a coordinated effort that I'd like to watch, partly to see if it works and partly just for pleasure.

But it's almost ten and my daughter has not just hit the wall -- she has gone through it to the other side somewhere. My husband and I try to put her to bed fast, and when she sees the story pile, she looks at it and says, "Only TWO stories?" I am both pleased and appalled at her indignation. We pull out three more books, per usual, but she's asleep before we finish the first one. Shortly thereafter, I'm asleep, too, amid the explosions. But soon I wake up.

I am out of bed and puttering around at 2 a.m. when I hear an argument. It's three or four voices, which means a group twice as large, maybe. They're arguing loudly, and one of them says, emphatically, "Hey, no , no. Give me the heat! Give me the heat!" There's some response and arguing, then the argument doesn't just quiet down after that, it goes silent. No joking or shifting gears. Silence. A car parks. A different neighbor gets out and walks quietly to his door. Bleep bloop, his car door locks. More silence. No firecrackers, no voices, no cars driving. Nothing, until an airplane roars by way high overhead. After a little while I hear some different neighbors with a party that seems to be winding down and moving outside. One of them served in the Marine Corps a few years ago, and ocassionally he gets loud and yells like a drill sergeant, with an angry echo in his voice. "Fuuuuck yoouuu!" he yells at someone or something. Assuming there's a difference.

And then it gets really, really quiet.

July 3, 2008

Leave it to the leaves to speak and the trees to dance

Lotus shrine

Photo by Martin Cox (c), 2008

And here, above, is Martin Cox's most recent report on the lotus of Echo Park Lake, photo taken a couple of days ago. Martin, who is Chicken Corner's waterfowl-and-lake correspondent, leaves it to the lotus leaves to speak for themselves. Meanwhile, the palms, reflected in the water, seem to be doing some kind of crazy dance, which Chicken Corner isn't sure how to interpret. A rain dance, perhaps.

Chicken Corner wonders which of these reflected palms will have its fronds blown to bits or burned in the July 4 mayhem that usually comes to Echo Park Lake. Something about a celebration of independence wants to burn it all down.

Click here to see video footage of last year's Echo Park Lake fireworks amid the trees, by the Jimson Weed Gazette's Kevin McCollister.

July 2, 2008

Lotus memorial starting from seed

Stephen Roullier, who lives across from Echo Park Lake, is one of many thousands of people who have mourned the lotus this year. Roullier expressed his mourning with a small-scale installation -- a photo of a lotus staked by the lake, where the lotus used to be, shown in the picture below. Shadows tell us it was taken in the early-ish morning.

In a note to Martin Cox, Roullier wrote: "Wouldn't it be beautiful if hundreds of other photographers did the same thing, perhaps by the time of the Lotus Festival we could have the entire lake bank in that area filled with lotus images?"

Chicken Corner agrees. A beautiful shrine for our beautiful lotus.

Lotus shrine

Photo: Lotus Memorial
By Stephen Roullier (c), 2008

In a note to Chicken Corner, Roullier said he will probably add more pickets to the shrine after July 4 (when fireworks mayhem in the park is over).

Not all rosy... Echo Park. Curbed L.A. posted yesterday talk of two recent rapes in Echo Park, and an attempted assault. No added info at Chicken Corner, except to note that the senior lead police officer for the northeast district in Echo Park (north of sunset), Bobby Hill, is expected to be at the Echo Park Improvement Association meeting tomorrow evening. And representing the Rampart division, where Curbed posted that one of the rapes took place, will be the councilman for District 1, Ed Reyes. Might be a good opportunity to give/receive information.

EPIA meeting: 7 p.m., Thursday. Barlow Hospital, Williams Hall. 2000 Stadium Way.

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