The Getty Villa: A Bit of Ancient Italy in L.A.

More than two years after moving to LA, I finally visited the “Getty Villa,” one of the two J. Paul Getty museums in LA, the other being the much more known Getty Center.

The Getty Villa’s history is interesting. In the early 1950s, millionaire John Paul Getty opened a gallery next to his home in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood to house his art collection. In the early 1970s, as the art collection grew, he decided to build a museum (The Getty Villa) not too far from his house. The building was inspired on the Villa of the Papyri, a luxurious villa at Herculaneum, Italy. But since the Villa of the Papyri was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and much of it remained unexcavated, many of the villa’s architectural and landscaping details were inspired by other ancient Roman houses in Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae. Getty died in 1976 without ever visiting the Villa, which opened in 1974.

With the move of the Museum to the Getty Center, the Pacific Palisades building was renovated and reopened on January 28, 2006. The Getty Villa collection has 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities dating from 6,500 BC to 400 AD.  Admission is free but parking is $15. And you need to make reservation due to parking space restrictions. They also have a very nice casual restaurant in the premises. It’s worth a visit!

The Museum Grounds

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Beverly Hills Turns 100. Let’s Eat Cake!

The City of Beverly Hills turned 100 in January of 2014 and has been celebrating the milestone ever since the year started.

The year-long celebration went on yesterday, April 27, with a “Block Party” on Rodeo Drive. The city closed the three blocks of the street that house high-end stores and turned them into a carnival event open to the community and visitors.The biggest attraction was a 9-foot-tall, 12-foot-wide, 24-foot-long chocolate cake anchored by a miniature of Beverly Hills’ Spanish-style City Hall that would yield 15,000 slices.

Well, I had to see that! And so I went; and so I saw it; and so I ate the famous confection.

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It was a fun party and families were having a ball, trying foods from the best restaurants in the area, riding a ferris wheel, playing games and going on rides, or just dancing. A lot of interesting characters showed up to make it a typical Beverly Hills event. No celebrities, just some eccentric types. But all in all, a fun event, very open and very family oriented. Congrats to the organizers!

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The American Venice

In a earlier post about Venice Beach, I mentioned the Venice Canals and posted a few photos of it. Having spent a delightful hour walking around the three-mile grid of canals recently, I enjoyed it so much I thought the area deserved a separate post just for itself.

Since the Canals are not easily seen from the more touristy sites in Venice, not every visitor has the opportunity to visit them. So while large numbers of fun-seeking tourists visit the outlandish Venice Boardwalk and the adjoining residential area near the Venice Pier, the Canals neighborhood see fewer and more low-key visitors who appreciate a relaxed stroll over a number of inter-connecting pathways and bridges, where one can admire the peaceful beauty of the place and the interesting properties along the way.

Here’s a slide show of my photos of the Canals and a bit of the area’s history.

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“The Venice Canal Historic District is a district in the Venice section of Los Angeles, California. The district is noteworthy for its man-made canals built in 1905 by developer Abbot Kinney as part of his Venice of America plan. Kinney sought to recreate the appearance and feel of Venice, Italy, in Southern California. The canals are roughly bounded by Eastern Court on the east, Court A on the south, Strongs Drive on the west, and Court E on the north. There are four east-west canals (Carroll Canal, Linnie Canal, Howland Canal, and Sherman Canal) and two north-south canals (Eastern Canal and Grand Canal). The beautifully lit canals with gondoliers and arched bridges drew widespread publicity and helped sell lots in the development. However, as the automobile gained in popularity, the canals were viewed by many as outdated, and the bulk of the canals were filled in 1929 to create roads. By 1940, the remaining canals had fallen into disrepair, and the sidewalks were condemned by the city. The canal district remained in poor condition for more than 40 years, as numerous proposals to renovate the canals failed due to lack of funding, environmental concerns, and disputes as to who should bear  the financial responsibility. The canals were finally renovated in 1992, with the canals being drained and new sidewalks and walls being built. The canals re-opened in 1993 and have become a desirable and expensive residential section of the city. The residential district surrounding the remaining canals was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. However, in recent years, there has been extensive renovation work on many of the old houses, and many large, modern houses have been built.” (Wikipedia)

L.A. Architecture: Frank Gehry’s Iconic Buildings

Before moving to L.A. I knew Frank Gehry was a prize-winning architect whose best-known works included: the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain; the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles; the Dancing House in Prague; the Vitra Design Museum and the museum MARTa Herford in Germany; and 8 Spruce Street in New York City. When I moved here, I found out that Gehry is based in L.A. and a long-time resident of Santa Monica, his house not very far from where I live. I also learned that about other famous Gehry buildings around L.A.’s Westside. So, last month, I decided to see and photograph Gehry’s house and other works of the famous architect in neighborhoods I’ve come to know well.

The Gehry Residence, located near the corner of Washington Ave. and 22nd St., in Santa Monica, is hardly a conventional home. It clearly clashes with the rest of the houses and, while I like its quirkiness, I can see why it was not a welcomed addition to the neighborhood back in 1977, when Gehry was not even a known architect. Frank and Berta Gehry bought a pink bungalow that was originally built in 1920. Gehry chose to wrap the outside of the house with a new exterior while still leaving the old exterior visible. He used unconventional materials such as chain link fences and corrugated steel in the house. The rear and south facades were hardly touched and to the other sides of the house he wedged in titled glass cubes.

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The Binoculars Building (formerly known as the Chiat/Day building), at 340 Main St, in Venice Beach, was built in 1991. It is currently home to Google, as part of its expansion in Southern California. The building is notable for the three different styles used in the main facade on Main Street, particularly the massive sculpture of binoculars designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The entrance to the parking garage is between the lenses of the binoculars. Unfortunately, unless you know someone at Google, you won’t be able to enter the building or the binoculars. It is indeed a very interesting and quirky piece of architecture.

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The Venice Beach House, at 2509 Ocean Front Walk, was designed in 1984 for artist Lynn Norton and writer William Norton. Much like Gehry’s own house in Santa Monica, the Norton House is a sculptural assemblage of everyday materials. It comprises several box-like units. The study pod, elevated on a massive support post, resembles the lifeguard stations on Venice beach. It’s not a pretty building but it is exquisite and it must be very pleasant to live in with lots of outdoor spaces to take in the beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean.

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The Walt Disney Concert Hall, at 111 S. Grand Ave. is one of Gehry’s most beautiful works, and is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, currently under the direction of maestro Gustavo Dudamel. Gehry was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1999 for his work on the Disney Hall. I have toured the building inside and outside (where there are beautiful gardens and a gorgeous large rose sculpture created for Mrs. Disney). I have also been to the Concert Hall for two performances. It’s magical. This building id definitely my favorite to photograph and to attend events at. And as many times as I go, I always stand in awe of its whimsical beauty.

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Click here to see the Los Angeles Times interview with Gehry about the making of the Disney Hall:

L.A. Without Palm Trees?

Los Angeles’ iconic palm trees are the signature look of the city. There are 75,000 of them in Los Angeles, 3,000 in Beverly Hills, and 6,000 in Santa Monica. Most of them are Mexican fan palms, which in the wild grow from 40 to 60 feet, but in the city have reached 100 to 150 feet.

I’ve always loved the view of the lined palm trees adorning the city’s streets and swaying gently in the sky. They warm my heart. So I was devastated to learn that many of these iconic trees, which were planted in the 1930s, are nearing the end of their natural life spans. They are dying of old age and a fungal disease that has attacked similar plants around the world. As they die, city planners are replacing them with oaks, sycamores and other species native to Los Angeles, which are more adapted to the region’s semi-arid climate and require less water. They also provide more shade and cost less to care for.

Surprisingly, a lot of Angelenos are OK with the idea of replacing the palm trees with other trees! Reading about the issue I realized that not everyone here is a fan of the giant palms. They consider them hazardous and a nuisance because their big, spiky fronds fall off the trees in the Santa Ana winds that sweep the region through in winter, hitting cars and sometimes pedestrians.

I’m still new to LA (two years this month) and haven’t had any bad experiences with palm tress, so I can’t stand the thought of the city without them. I’m glad there are others who feels this way, like the Palm Society of Southern California, a research group that supports keeping the city lined with palms.

While it may take a while for that to happen (hopefully not in my life time), if you come to LA, enjoy these beautiful palms and the view they provide because they may not all be here the next time you visit.

Beverly Hills: It’s Not For Hillbillies

Since I’ve written about Hollywood, the not-so-charming entertainment district of Los Angeles, I thought I’d devote a post to Beverly Hills, home to the rich and famous, to some of the most beautiful –and expensive– real estate in the country, and some of the most exclusive retail shops in the world. This will complete the Tinseltown portion of this blog…

What can I say about Beverly Hills? Well, for starters, it is a beautiful place. If you come to LA, you must go see it.

The residential streets of Beverly Hills are lined with multi-million dollar mansions, towering trees, and miles of manicured green lawns. Driving around Sunset Boulevard and some of the streets north of Sunset you will see some of the most spectacular mansions in California. Stay away from them, though. The residents of such mansions have very tight security in place, with armed men and all…

The commercial areas of Beverly Hills are packed with good restaurants and most of the shops you’d find at a mall, plus other fine boutiques. I love to go there for a meal or some light shopping along Beverly Drive and Canon Drive.

Of course a visit to Beverly Hills, especially if one is a tourist, must include at least some window shopping along Rodeo Drive, where most of the luxury shops are. That can be fun, even if you don’t buy anything. Go in and check the prices… A t-shirt for $500? A simple cotton dress for $1,200? Sure, dah-ling! Why not?

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Just as in Hollywood, don’t expect to see movie stars parading around the streets of Beverly Hills, although the chances of spotting someone there are a bit higher. Stars have their routines and unless you follow the paparazzi around town, it’s hard to catch them. But if you do, act cool and try to snap a picture without them noticing. It works better than jumping on them and getting the cold shoulder…

Although Beverly Hills is part of LA County, it is an independent city, with its own government. In 2014, the City of Beverly Hills will turn 100. The community is putting together a year-long celebration consisting of tourism initiatives, regional events and community activities to pay tribute to Beverly Hills’ past, present and future. That should be a good time to visit!



Hooray For Hollywood!

I just realized that, after almost two years in LA, I still haven’t written a word about Hollywood. I guess I’ve been so adamant to prove that there’s more to LA than “Tinseltown,” I forgot Hollywood is part of the local culture and, as such, it should be part of Discovering LA.

Hollywood is no doubt the most touristy district of LA. The commercial and entertainment streets of Hollywood are pretty crowded and a bit tacky, with lots of cheap souvenir shops, unsophisticated tourists, and celebrity look-alikes who’ll pose for a picture with you for a couple of bucks. It’s not a pretty place but anyone visiting LA must go there.

Take a tour of the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theater, home of the Oscars; or walk around the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theater, where the stars’ footprints, handprints and autographs are immortalized in cement. Visit Madam Tussauds Wax Museum, and stroll along the iconic “Walk of Fame,” which comprises over 2,400 stars embedded in the sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street. And you can eat and shop at the Hollywood & Highland Center, a large complex of restaurants, shops and boutiques.

Since most of the movie studios have long moved out of Hollywood, there’s very little chance you might see any real celebrities there, unless you manage to get tickets to the Oscars Red Carpet!

I don’t mind going to Hollywood when we have family or friends visiting. We usually start with a nice drive through Mulholland Drive, with a scenic stop to see the famous Hollywood Hill with its iconic sign, and a view of the surrounding hills. It’s a beautiful drive, where one can see fabulous houses and stunning scenery. Very different from the frenzy of the streets of Hollywood!

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