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: http://www.latimes.com/videogallery/77277149/Entertainment/Frank-Gehry-on-the-making-of-Disney-Hall


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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Venice Beach: Anything But Boring!

You could say that Venice Beach is Santa Monica’s wild sister. It’s both fun and edgy and during the summer and on weekends, the scene on the Ocean Front Walk (or “Boardwalk”) is out of this world. You’ll see everything: people with weird hairdos, painted faces, wild tattoos and outlandish clothing. Artists are selling their work, musicians are playing their music, dancers are dancing, beach bums are bumming. There’s a freak show in the corner, you’re invited to come in! And there are lots of funky shops selling wacky souvenirs, T-shirts, hats, and all other kinds of unusual stuff.

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If the Boardwalk’s circus-like atmosphere is too much for you, the beach is just steps away. You can go for a bike ride, or relax and enjoy a beautiful view of the ocean under a palm tree, even go for a swim, if the weather is right.

There’s also plenty of action outside the Boardwalk. There are good restaurants, bars, art galleries, and interesting shops in the streets of Venice, especially along Abbot Kinney Boulevard. But if you feel like taking a nice stroll, you can go to the quiet and picturesque Venice Canals, considered among the most beautiful and desirable residential areas in Southern California.

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I’ve been to Venice several times and always enjoyed the vibe. My advice is to go for a quick stroll around the boardwalk and then move on to explore other more interesting parts of this truly Californian beach town.

Discovering Downtown LA (Part I)

It’s taking me a while to fully explore downtown LA. I live on the Westside and hate the freeways –a must if you want to get downtown.

After moving to LA in the Fall of 2011, I first went downtown in March 2012 to visit the LA Times and hear a Times journalist talk. After the talk and exploring the Times building, we walked around the area, ate at a Pizza place, and took a few pictures, but rushed back home before the rush hour. At the time I was pleasantly surprised to see that, unlike most large cities’, downtown LA was calm and inviting.

An area of downtown LA worth checking out  and walking around is the Music Center, a complex of venues for music and performing arts that includes: the Ahmanson Theatre, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (home of the Los Angeles Opera) and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I had been there as a tourist several years ago on a weekend. The place was lively, bustling with locals and tourists. I loved the vibe! Recently I was there on a weekday and it was quiet and subdued, but still pretty and pleasant. We had a very nice lunch at Kendall’s Brasserie and Bar after exploring the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Another highlight of downtown LA, just blocks away from the Music Center, is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Designed by Spanish architect José Rafael Moneo, the stunning post-modern cathedral is among the largest in the world. Beautiful tapestries adorn the cathedral, the most prominent of which being the Communion of Saints along the south and north walls of the nave.

From the Cathedral we can walk to the Civic Center and the landmark LA City Hall. The building was designed by John ParkinsonJohn C. Austin, and Albert C. Martin, Sr. and built in 1928. It has 32 floors and is 454 feet (138 m) high. It’s the tallest base-isolated structure in the world, having undergone a seismic retrofit from 1998 to 2001 so that the building can sustain minimal damage and remain functional after a magnitude 8.2 earthquake.

There’s much more to see in Downtown LA and I look forward to further exploring the area. That’s why I’m calling this post Part I. More to come soon!

Meanwhile, here are some shots of the area.

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The Walt Disney Concert Hall: A Masterpiece

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is one of LA’s most outstanding landmarks. It is one of four halls that form the Los Angeles Music Center, and is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

The exquisite structure is the work of renowned architect Frank Gehry and Yasuhisa Toyota was responsible for the acoustics of the concert hall. The building and its surrounding grounds are absolutely beautiful and the main concert hall is both esthetically and acoustically perfect.

I’ve only been to one concert there and can’t wait to go again. Here are some images of the stunning structure. Enjoy! But nothing beats seeing it for yourself!

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L.A. Marathon

Every March Los Angeles holds its annual marathon. The LA Marathon is a  26.219 mile race that has been held since 1986 and seems to be fully embraced by Angelenos East and West, North and South. It’s a real party that brings together the huge community of LA residents and runners from all over the county, the country and the world.

I happen to live just around the corner from San Vicente Boulevard, where marathoners reach the 22nd mile. That is just four miles away from the finish line on Ocean and California Avenues in Santa Monica. So I made sure I was up early to be at the corner of San Vicente and Montana around 9:00am, as the élite runners were expected to reach the 22nd mile by 9:12am (the women) and 9:17am (the men). I couldn’t believe how accurate this was! I arrived on San Vicente at 9:10 and already could see the helicopters, police escorts and TV trucks coming.


Aleksandra Dulipa, led all the way to the finish line!

Soon after that, at exactly 9:12am, Belarus’ Aleksandra Duliba, the lead woman runner, appeared and the crowed went wild. She was far ahead of the other women and running beautifully, with no signs of fatigue. She went on to win the marathon. And this was her marathon début! Not bad for a first-timer.

Shortly after the women went by, a pack of élite male runners approached the corner of San Vicente and Montana. Among them were some of the usual Kenyans and Nigerians who dominate the marathon world. I could barely snap some photos of the leading two men as they went by fast. Erick Mose, from Kenya, ended up winning the Marathon. This was his first time running the LA marathon.


Erick Mose, on the left, was the winner of the men’s marathon.

After the élite runners went by, the party went on with people cheering all runners. The girls from Lululemon were great cheerleaders, singing, dancing and holding signs with words of encouragement.

Lululemon girls cheer marathoners on the 22nd mile.

Lululemon girls cheer marathoners on the 22nd mile.

By 11:00am, while the winners were already enjoying a much-deserved rest, the number of runners started to grow along San Vicente. The cheers and music went on for another couple of hours. I could hear them from my house.

Although some people complain that marathon-related road closings  mess up their plans, the LA marathon is a great event that both runners and residents fully enjoy.  So what if traffic slows down a bit? It’s definitely worth relaxing and joining the fun!