The National Trust is participating in the 2012 Pacifico Beer summer promotion, Make Adventure Happen, in which we are competing for a portion of $100,000 based on the number of votes we receive (voting instructions at the end of the post).
To raise awareness for the contest, we've partnered with five preservation fans to highlight "Preservation Adventures" in cities and states across America. This week's guest blogger is Lynn Garrett from Los Angeles, California. Lynn is the founder of Hidden Los Angeles, a group that uncovers and promotes the lesser-known history and culture of Los Angeles.
My great-great-grandfather came to Los Angeles in about 1905 or so. A lot of people don’t realize that not everyone in Los Angeles moved here to party like Lindsay Lohan or fulfill any of the other stereotypes. Sure, some of them did -- and you can spot them from a mile away -- but many average American Angelenos live here because it is their home, their heritage, and where their roots are.
There’s also a common misconception that Los Angeles has no important history other than the entertainment business, but the real truth is that Angelenos and tourists drive past incredible American history every day without realizing the treasures that surround them.
Part of the challenge is that our city covers a lot of ground. When something seems overwhelming, it’s just easier to discount it than try to really understand it. But L.A. is more than the entertainment business. It's where the French Dip sandwich and the laser were invented. It's where Julia Child and James Ellroy were born. It's where people still spend their lives trying to figure out how to land on Mars.
There's a lot to love about this city, and always something new to discover. That’s why Hidden Los Angeles caught on so fast with viewers on Facebook. While some large cities are like boutique stores where everything it offers is sitting in the window, Los Angeles is more like a big hot mess of a TJ Maxx.
To the unsuspecting eye, it’s a big place with a lot of cars and people and stuff strewn around -- but if you stop and walk down an aisle and really look, you might find the most amazing thing you never expected to exist, and your life is instantly richer for knowing about it.
The Villages of Los Angeles
It always makes me cringe when I hear of tourists jumping to book a hotel by the airport, driving to the Hollywood and Highland mall, taking a bus tour of the stars’ homes, and then leaving town telling everyone who will listen, “I’ve been to Los Angeles. It was everything I expected. I hate it.”
That's the same thing as booking a hotel room by JFK Airport, taking a cab to Times Square, and going home with the belief that you understand what New York is all about. Los Angeles is a big place (LA County is over 4,000 square miles!), and to understand it you have to look at it a little differently.
L.A. haters will often complain that it makes no sense, that there’s no center, that it’s impossible to walk here, that it’s too spread out and doesn’t have a heart or history. What they don’t realize is that L.A. is actually not a “city” the way other cities are; it’s more like a country with many many different very walkable villages, and each enclave has its own appeal, its own personality, its own history (that you might just not know about), and attracts a certain type of person.
They key to living (or visiting) here happily is figuring out which village to call home or visit, because you’ll likely never be able to see all of them. I'll say it again: Los Angeles County is over 4,000 square miles (with the city itself clocking in at around 468 square miles).
If you want sea air, you can hang out in Santa Monica or one of the other beach cities. If you want to experience more edgy and eclectic versions of local culture that typical tourists don’t, you can empower your inner hipster and wander the villages of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Echo Park, or Highland Park. There are also some amazing cultural experiences and food to be found in our international neighborhoods: Little Tokyo, Koreatown, Little Ethiopia, Little India, Chinatown, Little Brazil, Thai Town, Little Armenia, and more.
And if you want to see a side of Los Angeles that feels more like Mayberry, you can travel to villages like Sierra Madre in the San Gabriel Foothills or Downtown El Segundo where the Richmond Grill still makes fresh potato chips at their lunch counter and the Old Town Music Hall still plays silent films on the weekends.
And by the way, don’t worry about Los Angeles’ villages being unsafe to explore: Los Angeles’ crime rate is the lowest it's been since Eisenhower was President.
On a side note to the people who say Downtown L.A. is too remote and has no reason to be where it is, actually there’s an incredibly valid historical reason: The original 1871 pueblo of Los Angeles had to abide by the 1573 Law of the Indies, which stated that all New World construction had to be at least 20 miles from the sea (to avoid pirates), next to a source of fresh water (the flowing 51-mile Los Angeles River), and near a native encampment (so they could put them to work). Believe it or not, if you look at Los Angeles closer and with an open mind, it actually does make sense!
Few people (even native Angelenos) realize that there’s an idyllic hidden lake situated in the canyon just three miles North of Beverly Hills. Not only is this lake the geographic center of Los Angeles, it may also seem incredibly familiar to anyone who sees it.
That’s right. Not only was it the fishing hole for Andy and Opie, Franklin Canyon also doubled as Lake Tahoe in Bonanza and was “The Lagoon” in Creature of the Black Lagoon. Finding the lake is a little tricky, but once you’re there you would never realize you were in Los Angeles. There are hiking trails along the hillsides, pathways to walk, the Sooky Goldman Nature Center, and even a duck pond built by local Boy Scouts.
Note: Be sure to stop at all stop signs in the park, they have been known to give camera tickets!
Pierce Bros Westwood Village Memorial Park
Everyone comes to Los Angeles expecting to hang out with celebrities, but truth be told there is no place in Los Angeles where you can stand feet away from more world-famous iconic superstars than by exploring the local cemeteries.
Morbid? Nahhhh. In the turn of the 20th century, eternal optimist Dr. Hubert Eaton revolutionized the funeral industry by deeming that cemeteries should be joyous places for the living to visit and recreate. So, he took over Tropico Cemetery in Glendale (where my previously mentioned great-great-grandfather is buried), rechristened it as Forest Lawn Memorial Park, and deemed it to be as unlike other cemeteries “as sunlight is unlike darkness, as eternal life is unlike death.”
Similarly, Pierce Bros Westwood Cemetery is also called a "Memorial Park," albeit a far smaller park and mausoleum than Forest Lawn that is unexpectedly hidden at the end of a driveway behind towering Westwood highrises. While indisputably petite in comparison, Pierce Bros is the final resting place for a laundry list of America’s most beloved heartbeat-challenged celebrities… from Marilyn Monroe to Don Knotts to Truman Capote to Frank Zappa (Zappa’s grave is unmarked). Check out the full list of residents here.
If you’d like to be ahead of the game just print out or copy this map link to your phone. Although that map hasn’t been updated to include some of its newer residents, it will give you a head start to finding many of your favorite stars' eternal resting spots.
I live in Carthay Square, which is an amazing central walking area near Miracle Mile and the Fairfax District (I spent so much time booking visitors into hotels in this area I realized I wanted to live here myself!). Within blocks there’s an incredible amount of culture: LA County Museum of Art, La Brea Tar Pits, Petersen Automotive Museum, Craft and Folk Art Museum, and more.
For a rooftop cocktail overlooking the city, I like to go to The Roof on Wilshire. And if I feel like hanging out in a pub I have my choice between the old Hollywood of Tom Bergin’s House of Irish Coffee (once a favorite of Bing Crosby), Molly Malone’s (a favorite place for local bands to play), or Sheddy’s (a cozy little bar).
All of the delicious cuisine choices my heart could possibly desire can be found by walking up and down 3rd street between La Cienega and Fairfax or up Fairfax towards Canters (one of the most beloved old Jewish delis in town).
But when I can’t decide what to eat and don’t want to wander the street … all the choices I could imagine are in one place at the historic Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax. My grandmother used to take me here when I was little, and it will always be a sentimental favorite of mine. It's home to me.
In the late 19th century, the corner of 3rd and Fairfax was a dairy farm owned by A.F. Gilmore and partners, up until 1905 when they struck oil there while drilling for water and Gillmore Oil Company was born. In 1934, farmers began to rent space to park their trucks on the dirt lot to sell their produce, and Farmers Market grew into a community center over the decades from there, at one point including a ball field, racetrack, antique mall, an orchard, and nursery.
Nowadays the inside of Farmers Market continues to look much the same as it did when I was a kid (with some new restaurant additions amidst the old standbys). And while many of the old surrounding buildings no longer exist, after you’re done exploring Farmers Market you can stop by The Grove (a modern shopping center built next door in 2002) to see a movie or pick up a new outfit at Banana Republic. (By the way, The Grove and Farmers Market can sometimes be a good place to see celebrities … I saw Gordon Ramsey there just a few weeks ago and feel like every time I go in the Apple Store I see someone famous shopping for a new iPhone.)
After successfully opening the grand Million Dollar Theater in 1918 (still located on Broadway, Downtown, along with other surviving movie palaces), eccentric showman Sid Grauman spearheaded the building of The Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard to capitalize on the world’s raging obsession with "all things Egypt," thanks to Howard Carter's discovery of King Tut’s tomb.
Even though it was 1922, the theater cost $800,000 to build and took eighteen months to construct, and it’s said that for extra dramatic effect he even hired men in Egyptian guard outfits to patrol the perimeter of the roof during special events as flames rose from torches around them.
The Egyptian was the home of the very first Hollywood movie premiere, and a few years later Grauman followed its success by building the neighboring (and equally ornately themed) Chinese and El Capitan Theaters. (The Chinese became more famous in later years than any of the others due to the addition of celebrity footprints in its forecourt cement.)
Nowadays the Egyptian Theater is the home of American Cinematheque, an independent nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and public presentation of the moving image and its history. In other words, instead of seeing yet another Seth Rogen buddy film in a multiplex, American Cinematheque constantly offers chances to see incredibly cool and historic films on the big screen in an old-school Hollywood movie palace, and often presents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the cast on stage as they talk about the production.
Many of the theater's offerings are indisputably some of the best films ever made. Case in point: As I write this I’m realizing that they’re showing North By Northwest tonight and I really should go. Cary Grant? Yes please!
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