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- People from the Spanish-speaking countries of Central and South America have had an enormous impact on Los Angeles. Which isn’t at all surprising when you consider nearly fifty per cent of the population of Los Angeles today is considered Hispanic. In fact Los Angeles County’s five million people of Hispanic descent works out to be almost ten per cent of the entire country’s total. So for Hispanic Heritage Month (which actually just ended yesterday, on October 15) I’m going to take a look at two Mexicans, whom we often talk about on our tours, and the impact that they had on Los Angeles.The name “Pico” is one you see around L.A. a lot. There’s Pico Boulevard, the fifteen-mile street running through Los Angeles from downtown to the Pacific Ocean, Pico House, the old hotel on the Los Angeles Plaza and Pio Pico State Historic Park near Whittier. But who, or what, is Pico? Well, Pio Pico was a hugely important figure in the early history of Los Angeles. He was the last Mexican Governor of California, who remained here after the state became part of the U.S. and became a very wealthy cattle rancher, before dying in comparative poverty in 1894. Pio Pico was born at the San Gabriel Mission, near where I live, just east of the city of Los Angeles. His ancestry was Mexican, Native American, African and Spanish – a common mixture in this part of the world in those days. At his birth, in 1801, the Mission was in New Spain, the Spanish colony that encompassed almost all of Central America and the western third of what’s now the United States, although California itself had only recently been colonised. Pico therefore was a first generation Californio. While still a young man, in 1821, Spain lost its New World colonies (or most of them) and so California became part of Mexico. These years were kind to Pico and from an early investment in a general store in San Diego his wealth grew, as he became owner of several enormous ranches in Southern California. Eventually, in 1832, he would become interim governor of Alta California (as California was known then). Later, in 1845, he would become Governor again, just as the U.S. and Mexico were squaring up to each other in the run-up to the Mexican-American War of 1846-8.Pico was ordered back to Mexico for the duration of the war, but returned upon its conclusion to find California now part of the U.S. I guess he had experience in these sudden territorial changes and so he knuckled down again and made another fortune from selling cattle to hungry prospectors, brought to California by the Gold Rush of 1849-50 (prices went from $2 to $70 a head almost overnight). Spying another opportunity, in 1869 he sold his enormous ranch in the San Fernando Valley to James Boon Lankershim and Isaac Newton Van Nuys, using the money to construct the three-storey, thirty-three room Pico House, for a time the largest building in Los Angeles and its finest hotel. Every luxury was available there, including gas lighting and no less than two toilets on every floor! We’ve often visited it on our tours of downtown Los Angeles.Unfortunately this was his peak though, as his legendary generosity, propensity for gambling and a serious illness all conspired against him. He lost his ranch in Whittier (now a State Historic Park) when he unknowingly signed away the deed in return for a loan in 1892 and he died, penniless, at his daughter-in-law’s house in Los Angeles in 1894, the tiny town of barely three hundred inhabitants of his youth having grown to being a city of around seventy thousand by then.Once upon a time Dolores Del Rio was a name that everyone would have known. She was renowned for her beauty, her acting talent and even her mellifluous voice. Orson Welles described her as, “the most exciting woman (he’d) ever met”. Celebrated playwright George Bernard Shaw pronounced that, “the two most beautiful things in the world are the Taj Mahal and Dolores Del Rio”. And she, too, has left her mark on her adopted country and the world.Del Rio was born in Mexico to a wealthy family and originally wanted to be a dancer, but in 1925 was discovered by a film director at a party in Mexico City. He persuaded her to move to Los Angeles to pursue work in the then still relatively new film industry there. Within a couple of years she had become a huge star, due to hits such as Ramona, What Price Glory? and No Other Woman. She even survived, and thrived, after the transition to talkies, a change that killed the careers of many of her contemporaries. By the 1930’s she was a huge international star, one of the biggest in Hollywood.One of the most interesting things that one notes when reading reviews and interviews from this period is how she was described. Nowadays Latino actresses and singers are often described as being “hot”, “spicy” – maybe even a “mamacita”. Del Rio however was more often said to be “aristocratic”, “elegant”, “sophisticated” and “refined”. She acted, danced and sang in many movies, proving herself to be a hugely talented triple-threat.As work in Hollywood began to dry up for Del Rio in the 1940’s she moved back to Mexico to work in movies there. This coincided with the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema and she had great success in movies such as Maria Candelaria (the first Latin American film to win the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival) and La Otra. After that she worked between Mexico and Los Angeles, appearing in 1960 in Flaming Star, as Elvis Presley’s on-screen mother. In many ways Dolores Del Rio was the prototype for many later crossover stars and Hispanic actresses, such as Jennifer Lopez, Rita Moreno and Penelope Cruz. There’s a beautiful mural with Del Rio in Hollywood, just off the Walk of Fame, with a list of all her movies, Mexican and American. I enjoy standing before it, paying homage to this amazing woman and offering silent thanks for the contribution that Hispanic people, such as her and Pio Pico, have given to the U.S. and indeed the world.By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshawTHE HISPANIC HERITAGE OF LOS ANGELES
People from the Spanish-speaking countries of Central and South America have had an enormous impact...Posted on : 17th Oct 2019
- There are some great things happening in Los Angeles this month. Being that it is October, there’s a heavy Halloween content to the list. That’s only to be expected, but anyway, whether you live here or your visiting, if you’re in L.A. for this month you’re going to need to get in the mood. Every month we produce a list of ten events or attractions that we at The Real Los Angeles Tours think that visitors could enjoy. Some are free, but any of them will give you an authentic experience of Los Angeles’ food, music, art and/or general joie-de-vivre. Have fun, be safe and let us know what you think.1. Boo at the L.A. Zoo (October 1-27). “This Halloween, let’s hear you howl!” And with that let it begin! What better place to get in touch with our animal side? There are spooky strolls, mystery mazes and wild, weird and wonderful tours (just like ours then :-). Great for the little ones too!2. DTLA Murder Mystery Ghost Tour (all month). If we can do just one heinous self-promotion every year let it be this one. This tour could very easily be titled “Crime and Cocktails”. We go on a noir exploration of the dark underbelly of the city of Angels and try and answer the big questions. Why do these horrible crimes happen? What can we learn of human nature from this? And what ingredients went into this Black Dahlia cocktail? The last one we can’t tell you, but the others we’ll answer (or at least try :-).3. Beverly Hills Art Show (October 19-20). You’ve probably heard of Beverly Hills. There have been a few TV shows that have taken its name. Here’s an idea: instead of joining the throngs of tourists on Rodeo Drive visit this free art show (which has been going for over 45 years) and snap up some art as a memento of your trip – it’s more original than buying a plastic Oscar at one of the tourist traps on Hollywood Boulevard!4. After Dark Tour: Tales From The Other Side (all month). We don’t often recommend other tours – you can’t exactly blame us – but this is one that we thought looked really interesting. You get a tour of the Paramount backlot, with all its great history AND the Hollywood Forever cemetery, last resting place of many movie stars and important L.A. figures. And a glass of champagne.5. (Halloween) Rooftop Movies (all month). Rooftop movies are the new rooftop pools in Los Angeles. Popping up in the some unlikely – and likely – places. And always fun to do. The Montalbán in Hollywood is a great location for a rooftop movie at the best of times and even in October if you put on a warm jacket and bring a blanket the weather’s more than forgiving enough. This month the films being screened include Sleepy Hollow, Let the Right One In and Beetlejuice.6. All My Friends (October 19-20). Want a break from all the Halloween themed events? How about this live music festival in downtown, with DJ sets by Justice, Black Coffee and none other than Idris Elba? It’s going to be crazy.7. Taste of Soul (October 19). This is a fantastic free event that takes place every year (it’s now in its fourteenth) in October around Crenshaw Boulevard in west Los Angeles. Around 350,000 people attend, so it’s pretty big, and it celebrates all things “soulful”, including food, music and entertainment. Tastes good.8. CicLAvia (October 6). CicLAvia is without doubt one of the best things to happen to Los Angeles in the last decade. When whole neighborhoods, which had been lost to pedestrians and cyclist and taken over by cars, are periodically reclaimed by banning said cars, it’s amazing what can happen. People walking, cycling and having fun – suddenly Los Angeles feels like a very different place and we can realize that actually L.A. wasn’t actually designed around the car.9. The Light in the Piazza (October 12-20). For those craving a little bit of romance in their lives this could be the perfect solution. At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, home of the Los Angeles Opera. The synopsis reads: “Florence, summer 1953, Americans Margaret and her daughter, Clara… “. You can guess the rest – but the fun is in watching it :-). This transfer from the London stage promises to be entertaining.10. Craftoberfest (October 12). The other thing October is famous for – the annual Bavarian beer event. Oktoberfest has spread all over the world and of course we have our own editions here in Los Angeles. The one by the Rose Bowl in Pasadena is easy to get to if you’re visiting Los Angeles (you can just take the Gold Line). “With over 20 carefully curated craft breweries from the Southern California area”… they could say, what are you waiting for?by Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshawTHE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LA IN OCTOBER
There are some great things happening in Los Angeles this month. Being that it is...Posted on : 29th Sep 2019
- Union Station is to Los Angeles what Grand Central Station is to New York. It’s our major rail terminus, designed and built to reflect the history and feel of the city back at us as we pass through. It opened in May 1939 with much fanfare, ironically just as the US was falling out of love with train travel, its head turned by those twin symbols of the twentieth century, the automobile and the plane. For many years Union Station was allowed to gently decline into genteel poverty, like Miss Havisham in a west coast version of Great Expectations, largely forgotten by the city around her. Now however, with the rebirth of metro and suburban rail in Los Angeles in the last thirty years, Union Station is back! As the station becomes busier there are new plans afoot to extend its rail lines over the freeway, which runs to one side of the station, and build a major new concourse below the platforms, to allow for the millions of new passengers expected to use it. So, with these recently announced and exciting plans in the works, and in honor of her 80thanniversary, I wanted to take a look back at the history of this much loved Los Angeles icon and look forward to what the future might hold for her.At the turn of the last century there were two main train stations in downtown Los Angeles, the fabulous Moorish styled La Grande Station and the Arcade Depot. Both of these stations were in the heart of what’s now downtown (in those days downtown more or less was Los Angeles) and served the city suburbs, surrounding towns and interstate trains. However as L.A. rapidly grew (the population doubled between 1890 and 1900, from 50,000 to 100,000 people and tripled between 1900 and 1910 to over 300,000 inhabitants) it was felt by the city leaders that one big terminus would be better. They decided that this station should be a symbol of Los Angeles’ progress and new status as an important and wealthy west coast city that was snapping at the heels of San Francisco.Naturally the course of progress in a city such as L.A. never runs straight or smooth and a simple proposal to consolidate the three major rail companies then operating in Southern California into one terminus, instead of the two then existing stations, immediately became bogged down in a bitter turf war between the various different stakeholders. This then became caught up in a wider battle about the very nature of Los Angeles’ public-transit system and how to plan and build it.Needless to say it was a battle that could only be settled in court and so it went all the way to the very top, the United States Supreme Court. Twice. Eventually the road, or should that be railroad, ahead was cleared and the city won the right to develop a new station against the wishes of the railroad companies. But that still left the question of what kind of suburban rail network would be best for Los Angeles. In 1926 there was a ballot measure, asking Angelenos if they wanted a Union Station or an elevated railway system (similar to the one in Chicago). The Los Angeles Times came out against the elevated railroad, writing that the proposal would lead to “miles of hideous, clattering, dusty, dirty, dangerous, street-darkening overhead trestles.“ Voter turnout was 60%, one of the largest in the city’s history, and it was 61% to 39% in favor of the cheaper option of Union Station! Now the city could finally begin the construction of its long awaited terminus. Or not. Because they still had to decide where to build it!Originally the plan had been to build the station in the old Los Angeles Plaza, in front of Olvera Street. It was here that the city had been founded in 1781, as a tiny outpost in the vast Spanish Empire, and as such it was the birthplace of L.A. So why build the station there? Well, in 1876, when the transcontinental railroad reached Los Angeles, the city began its period of explosive growth. Most of the new settlers were Anglo in origin and as the city grew its center of gravity moved south to what’s now the Historic Core of downtown, leaving the dusty Pueblo to L.A.’s Mexican and Chinese immigrants. Indeed the area east of the Pueblo, where the station is now, was the city’s original Chinatown. North of the Pueblo was Little Italy and the area around the Pueblo was called “Sonoratown”, after the state in Mexico (which happened to be, ironically, where the founders of Los Angeles were from). Once again a spanner was about to be thrown into the Union Station works. The concept of historical preservation didn’t really exist in the 1920’s, but a lady called Christine Sterling, was strolling down Olvera Street in 1926 when she saw a demolition notice on the door of the Avila Adobe. Outraged that the city was about to knock down the oldest building in Los Angeles, she single-handedly started a campaign to save the Plaza area. One person to support her campaign was Harry Chandler, who happened to be the owner of the Los Angeles Times and arguably L.A.’s most influential citizen. He donated $5,000 for the preservation of the Plaza, but his more important contribution was to put the Times behind her campaign. Ultimately the decision was made to move the site of the station from the Pueblo several hundred feet east to the heart of L.A.’s old Chinatown. City Hall liked the idea of building the station there anyway, since it meant the neighborhood, which it considered a crime-ridden slum (it wasn’t), could be razed as an act of urban renewal. Nonetheless Christine Sterling’s vision of a revitalized, reimagined Pueblo, which harked back to Colonial Spanish and Mexican times, did come to pass and if you visit the area now you can still see it more or less exactly as when it reopened in 1930. Chinatown was moved to the old Little Italy (most of the Italian immigrants having by this time departed) where it was reconstituted (again under the auspices of Christine Sterling) as “new” Chinatown.For the design of its grand new station the city went to its premier architects, the father and son duo of John and Donald Parkinson. Given a brief to help promote Los Angeles’ to the tourists who would use it, they decided that the station should reference the city’s Spanish history, especially since it was literally only across the road from the Pueblo. Therefore the design used a healthy doses of Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial, a style that many movie stars were using for their houses. This was melded with Streamline Moderne, a development of Art Deco, which was in fashion at the time and was all about movement and modernity and therefore, it was felt, eminently suited to a station.Construction only finally began in 1933, thirty years after the station was first proposed, and by the time it opened in 1939 John Parkinson had died, but the station is a more than fitting legacy for his architectural genius. Every detail was considered and finessed. The gardens on either side of the station were designed to evoke a tropical Eden, with palm trees and bird of paradise flowers shading its benches (much of L.A.’s appeal in those days was thought to rest on it being seen as an exotic, tropical locale). Inside there was a cavernous ticket concourse with acoustic tiles, so that the train announcements wouldn’t echo and be hard to make out, which would naturally lead passengers into the waiting room and on to the trains. Only the best materials were used, travertine marble for the wainscoting on the walls, brass for the enormous chandeliers (which weigh as much as a car). It was by far the largest station west of the Rockies and the last station of the golden age of American rail to be built. The grand opening was celebrated with a three-day extravaganza attended by nearly half a million people.Until its recent rebirth its heyday was considered to be the early 1940’s when it had a very important role as the terminus for U.S. servicemen and women coming here to ship out to the war theatre in the Pacific, as well as being a great backdrop for movie stars returning from war service or vacations. It also made for a beautiful movie location, such as for Paramount’s 1950 Union Station, with William Holden. One thing for which we can all be grateful for though is that, unlike Pennsylvania Station in New York or Euston Station in London, it wasn’t demolished. That’s probably due to there being no economic imperative to develop the land on which it stood. The reason for that is that in the 1950’s the 101 (Hollywood) freeway slashed its way through downtown, separating Union Station from the main business district and leaving it somewhat isolated. Ironically (and Union Station’s story is full of irony as you can see) the reason for putting the La Grande Station and Arcade Depot where they were was because the original station for the Southern Pacific transcontinental railroad was close to where Union Station is now and too far away from the main activity in downtown. Somehow that fact was forgotten only a few years later, meaning that Union Station is not really in the heart of the city, but on the edge of downtown.Now rail is having its moment once again and trains and people are returning to Union Station. In 2011 Los Angeles Metro bought the station, bringing it back under public ownership. The neighborhood surrounding the station is being redesigned to knit it back into the fabric of the city. Gardens in front to replace the ubiquitous parking lots, which cut the station off from the street, a redesigned pedestrianized route leading from the station to the Pueblo and extending the railway tracks over the 101 freeway. The reason for this last modification is that at the moment all the tracks (apart from the ones for the Metro Gold Line) end at the station, meaning it takes much longer to get trains moving again and so limiting the station’s capacity. By making Union Station a through station, as opposed to a terminus, its capacity can be vastly increased, which is crucially important in an era when we’re trying to get Angelenos out of their cars and onto eco-friendly modes of transportation. Still there seems something symbolic about the fact that trains will no longer end their journey at Union Station and that, having been cut off from the city by the freeway, it’s now the turn of the train to be prioritized, literally, over the car. Happy belated birthday Union Station! You don’t half look great for your age. By Damien BlackshawDamien Blackshaw is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshawLOS ANGELES UNION STATION
Union Station is to Los Angeles what Grand Central Station is to New York. It’s our...Posted on : 20th Sep 2019
- There are some great things happening in Los Angeles this month – from al fresco cinema to Korean festivals, via art and music shows and Mexican Independence Day celebrations. Every month we produce a list of ten events that we at The Real Los Angeles Tours think that visitors to L.A. would really enjoy. Many are free and all will give you an authentic experience of Los Angeles food, music, art and general joie-de-vivre. Have fun, be safe and let us know what you think.1. Rooftop Cinema Club (September 1-30). Rooftop Cinema Club have 2 venues now – Level Downtown and Neuehouse Hollywood – and an amazing line-up of movies this month, including Brief Encounter, Rear Window, Moonstruck and 500 Days of Summer. The weather in Los Angeles in September is perfect for watching a movie outside too.2. Burbank International Film Festival (September 4-8). You may have heard that films – or movies – are often made in Los Angeles. So why not go to a film festival while you’re visiting and see work by emerging talents who’ll be filling multiplex’s in a few years time? There are drama, comedy and feature presentations to enjoy.3. East Los Angeles Mexican Independence Day Parade & Festival (September 8). Every September for the last seventy-three years Los Angeles has lined the streets of East Los Angeles for this Parade featuring floats, folkloric groups, school bands and people on horses. Mexican Independence Day is actually on September 16, but get your celebration in early and Viva Mexico!4. Muse ‘til Midnight: The Allure of Music (September 7). Music and Art – they go to together like Chicken and chips, fish and chips, or a burger and fries. But certainly in a much more healthy and lower calorie way. LACMA, who have been proponents of this mash-up for some time, now bring you this dance party designed to “to showcase the allure of music, inspired by the exhibition The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China”. Arty on!5. Abbot Kinney Festival (September 29). Venice – and Abbot Kinney Boulevard in particular is always that oxymoronic thing, a fun and cool place to hang out, but then they go and do this! Organise a festival with food trucks, Kids rides and games, live music and beer gardens and take it up to a whole other level. Oh and did I mention it’s free?6. Day of the Drum and Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival (September 29-30). The Watts Towers aren’t on the radar of a lot of visitors to Los Angeles. Which is a shame as they are a uniquely L.A. landmark. Created by an Italian immigrant on his own time and dime, over three decades, the Watts Towers are a great symbol of the city’s openness to immigrants and outsider art. Now you’ve got the perfect excuse to go. Day of the Drum celebrates the role of drums and drummers in various past and present cultures and the Jazz Festival pays tribute to the American music forms of jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues. And it’s free!7. Final Fridays Food Truck Festival (September 27). There are many reasons to visit the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, a legendary sporting venue which has held many important sporting events, including the final of the 1994 Football World Cup. Now you’ve got another reason. Food trucks, live music and outdoor games, all take place on lush lawns shaded by magnificent oak trees (which were also used as a backdrop in the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood).8. Los Angeles Korean Festival (September 26-29). Los Angeles has a large Korean community, centred on the aptly named Koreatown. Now in its 46thyear, the Los Angeles Korean Festival is a great advocate for Korean culture here in California encompassing music and other performances, food (of course!), shopping and exhibitions. As they say “There are festivals—and then there’s Los Angeles Korean Festival”. You heard it. This is not to be missed!9. Off the Hook, Santa Monica Seafood Festival (September 14). Who wants to go to a seafood festival in Santa Monica? Duh! Who doesn’t? It just seems so right. Take a beautiful city by the sea in Southern California, add delicious seafood prepared by the best restaurants in the neighborhood and live music, then garnish with profits going to a great cause (Heal the Bay, an environmental non-profit dedicated to making the coastal waters of Los Angeles healthy and clean) and voila! Tastes delicious.10. The Heal (September 5-28). Every fall the Getty Villa runs a program of classical plays, often with a modern twist, in its replica ancient Greek theatre by the Pacific. This year it’s presenting a new work inspired by Philoctetes, the famous tragedy by Sophocles. It’s the perfect venue for this “irreverent, spiritual, musical exploration about the wounds we carry”. Timeless.By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshawTHE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LA IN SEPTEMBER
There are some great things happening in Los Angeles this month – from al fresco...Posted on : 30th Aug 2019
- By the 2000′s the Los Angeles River had become something of a joke in the city to which it lent its name. used only as a filming location for crime and post-apocalyptic films and as a punch line for late-night chat show hosts. Despite the fact that many of Los Angeles’ inhabitants didn’t even know of its existence, it nevertheless winds its way through Los Angeles for fifty miles, concreted and industrialized, a prime example of L.A.’s destructive impact on the natural environment that gave it life (and continues to sustain it even now). In Pre-Columbian times the Los Angeles River served as a source of food, water and community space for the Tongva, the native American people that occupied the area of today’s Los Angeles. They built an estimated forty-five villages along its its serpentine path, no doubt drawn by the abundance of animal and plant life to be found along its banks. Of particular use were the oak trees, which shadowed the river, providing shade, wood and acorns.However, unfortunately, change was coming - a tidal wave that would sweep aside the old way of life for the Tongva, and ultimately the Tongva themselves. The Spanish Crown had long claimed more or less the entire land mass of what’s now the United States west of the Rocky Mountains. Now concerned about the Russians, British and French encroaching on what they considered their domain, the Inspector General of New Spain, as Mexico was then known, José de Gálvez, gave orders to send an expedition up the West Coast from Mexico. The aim being to find out what the land contained, in terms of resources the Spanish could exploit, and establish a series of missions and military bases, to assert their control.What became known as the Portola Expedition was duly dispatched from Sonora, worked its way up the coast and, in early August, 1769, the explorers camped on present day Boyle Heights. On looking down on the river below one of the members of the expedition, the Franciscan missionary Juan Crespi, named it El Río de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula, which translates to The River of Our Lady Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula. Of course, the obvious thing to do nowadays would have been to ask the locals what they called the river that ran through their land - but Spanish Conquistadors didn’t work that way. Unfortunately now we don’t even know what the Tongva called the Los Angeles River, but over time the small settlement that was built on its banks took its name from the river. And that’s how our city became Los Angeles.One of many myths of Los Angeles is that it was built in a desert (in fact the climate is Mediterranean) and when it does rain here it really rains. So the river was often unpredictable, spilling over into the surrounding area every few years, whenever there was heavy rainfall (our weather is part of the El Niña/La Niña climate system). This abundance of water actually regularly turned parts of the Los Angeles area into marshland, which in turn facilitated the growth of large forests. It also led to the Los Angeles River jumping its banks after particularly severe storms in 1835 and, rather than making a right turn south of Bunker Hill and heading towards Santa Monica, it instead made a beeline for Long Beach. Indeed it’s followed that course ever since, leaving its old estuary to become the marshland now known as the Ballona Wetlands.The Los Angeles River, and its various tributaries and source streams, supported extensive farming in the Los Angeles area throughout the nineteenth and into the early twentieth centuries. Additionally, the river served as the principal water source for Los Angeles until 1913, when the L.A. Aqueduct supplanted it. The river continued to run through the center of town, relatively unmolested, until the Great Flood of 1938. Caused by Pacific storms in February of that year, the resulting floods killed 115 people and caused $40 million of damage to the city and the surrounding area, destroying over five thousand buildings. Afterwards Mayor Frank L. Shaw became the first mayor of a major American city to be recalled from office, partly due to what was seen as his incompetent handling the crisis, which compounded a rising corruption scandal at City Hall.Following these events, the Army Corps of Engineers began encasing the river in concrete as a flood-prevention measure. The measures taken were so successful that there’s never been a flood since, but they also had the effect of reducing the once beautiful river to a grey and very ugly shadow of its former self. And so it would remain for 75 years, until 2013, when the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation announced plans to transform the river, well, back into a river, with a proper riparian ecosystem. Part one of the plan involved officially declaring the river to actually be a river, rather than a flood control channel, which it had been officially classified as since 1938.Since then, popular support for the revamp has steadily grown, culminating in the announcement that Los Angeles’ very own starchitect, Frank Gehry, had been commissioned to design the masterplan. Since then numerous other riverside projects have been announced running the gamut from bridges, to parks, to apartments. The Los Angeles River, it seems, is back, no longer the butt of bad jokes, and a new chapter in its history can be written.By Damien BlackshawDamien Blackshaw is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshawTHE LOS ANGELES RIVER: A BRIEF HISTORY
By the 2000′s the Los Angeles River had become something of a joke in the...Posted on : 18th Aug 2019
- August is a popular time to visit Los Angeles and, as always, there are a ton of things going on here this month. What we, at The Real Los Angeles Tours, try to do here is break it down and give you a list of 10 activities that we think would be totally cool and fun to do AND also give you a feel for what the real L.A. is all about. A lot of them are free and doing them will give you an authentic experience of Los Angeles’ food, music, art and general joie-de-vivre. Enjoy!1 Dance DTLA (Friday nights throughout August). This is the place to be on Friday nights throughout August for dancing under the stars. Every Friday a different dance genre is featured, with beginner dance lessons led by top L.A. dance instructors. So get down there, get your groove on and cut some moves!2. KCRW Summer Nights (events throughout August). KCRW, a National Pubic Radio member station, is required listening in Southern California. And then they go and organise an event series like this one? Garth Trinidad, Jason Bentley and Raul Campos, amongst others, are spinning the wheels of steel at various locations dotted around LA. If you like music – and having a good time – this is a must do this month.3. 626 Night Market (August 9-11 and August 30-September 1). This is a summer staple for Los Angeles. And with good reason. For several nights the Santa Anita Racetrack is made to resemble an Asian night market, with hundreds of food stalls offering every different kind of Asian (and some non-Asian) food. Nearly all of it’s good and reasonably priced too. This year there’s going to be music inside the racetrack too. Accessible via Metro Gold Line Arcadia station.4. Fiesta La Ballona (August 23-25). This is a great summer festival in Culver City, with live music, carnival rides, a beer and wine garden and loads and loads of food trucks. The perfect way to enjoy summer in Los Angeles.5. Cinespia at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (dates throughout August). Los Angeles has the perfect weather for outdoor movie screenings – and the perfect venues too. Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a piece of Los Angeles and Hollywood history in and of itself, being the final resting place of a host of stars (including the original King of Hollywood Douglas Fairbanks, Judy Garland, Fay Wray and Cecil B. De Mille to name but a few) and prominent city folk, such as the Chandler family (long-time previous owners of the Los Angeles Times). Cinespia always have a great movie line-up, this month’s includes Point Break and Psycho.6. LA Taco Festival (August 17). Everyone makes fun of Los Angeles’ obsession with taco’s, but this festival is in aid of homeless youth, so at least with this festival we’re spreading the love in a good cause. Grand Park is also just a great place to hang out on a Saturday in August. You can admire City Hall, the Music Center and Grand Avenue at the same time, that way putting your time and taco love to even better use.7. Taste of Los Angeles (August 30-September 1). The food scene in Los Angeles has really exploded over the last decade or so and is very deep, rich and varied now. Taste is the perfect way to dip your toe in the L.A. culinary water – you can try our local spin on Vietnamese, Mexican, French cuisines, all in one meal. And then go back for more, trying all the other variations. Even better, from our point view, is that Taste of Los Angeles takes place the Paramount Studios backlot. That’s right, the one made famous in The Godfather and countless other movies.8. Blink 182 + Lil Wayne (August 8). Blink-182 was a key band in the 90’s/early 2000’s pop-punk movement who had enormous success with the album Enema of the State, amongst others. Lil Wayne is a hugely popular rap artist who’s had enormous success on the back of his five Tha Carter albums. Why are these individually successful musicians all coming together for this double head-lining tour? Because they can, perhaps? And why not head down to the Forum for what promises to be a historic night?9. Smorgasburg LA (throughout August). This import from New York has fast secured its foothold here and is becoming increasingly popular. Probably the location helps, in a fast emerging part of the Arts District in DTLA, with cool shopping, creative offices and loft apartments. Apparently its now the largest open-air food market in the U.S. and there are hundreds of food vendors, as well as small businesses selling art and jewelry amongst other things. Head down on a Sunday in August, it’s fun.10. Getty Garden Concerts for Kids (throughout August). How are you going to keep the kids entertained through the sweltering dog days of August? Well how about taking them to this world-renowned art museum, in an architectural award-winning building, with stunning views of Santa Monica, the mountains and the Pacific? They’ve even gone and arranged these garden concerts just for the kids, with some of the best children’s musical artists from around the U.S.By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.THE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LA IN AUGUST
August is a popular time to visit Los Angeles and, as always, there are a...Posted on : 29th Jul 2019
- In the late 1910’s and 1920’s going to the movies had become wildly popular and dozens of ‘movie palaces’ (as they were known) were constructed in downtown Los Angeles. The whole concept of a theatre built solely for showing movies was quite a new one, as almost all movie theatres up to that point had been converted shops. Due to the price of a ticket normally being five cents, they had become known as ‘nickelodeons’. However the success of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation in 1915 had led to the feature film becoming by far the dominant type of film being released and so theater owners were obliged to charge more (doubling the ticket price to ten cents) and create better and more comfortable movie theatres. This gave rise to the concept of the movie theatre as a luxurious destination in and of itself and brought an end to the nickelodeon era.The first movie palace to be built in Los Angeles was the 1918 Million Dollar Theatre on Broadway, in the heart of the theater district in downtown Los Angeles, by Sid Grauman. Originally the theatre was known as ‘Grauman’s Million Dollar Theatre’, due to a huge publicity campaign featuring the then astronomical price tag for the building. The Spanish Baroque/Churrigueresque exterior and the office tower above were designed by Albert C. Martin, Sr., founder of today’s A.C. Martin architecture firm, and Spanish sculptor Joseph Mora created the whimsical, historic and fantastical designs on the façade. As patrons entered the theatre they would have been awed by the enormous, beautiful murals (using real gold), that covered the interior, which were designed by the theatre’s architect, William Lee Woollett. They told the story of The King of the Golden River, an environmental parable by John Ruskin, since Grauman’s vision was that the theatre itself would tell a story.The Million Dollar Theatre was shrewdly designed with a full stage, so it could also be used as a venue for live shows and there’s no doubt that this has contributed to its longevity, compared to other abandoned and demolished movie palaces of that era. A common program in that period would have involved a pre-movie spectacular, with dancing girls, comedians and novelty acts, before the main movie would begin (accompanied by a full, live orchestra). The theatre could accommodate almost 2,500 patrons in the orchestra stalls and balcony, making it, at the time, the biggest theatre in Los Angeles (it’s still the biggest in the Broadway Historical Theatre District).As a boy Grauman had spent time with his family in the Klondike, during the Gold Rush there (like that other Los Angeles theatrical impresario Alexander Pantages), before he and his father had success building and running theatres in San Francisco after the famous 1906 earthquake. The Million Dollar was their first development in Los Angeles and part of a strategy for relocating there from San Francisco. This National Register-listed property was one of several downtown theatres he built, the largest being the enormous Metropolitan Theatre on Pershing Square. That theatre had a capacity of nearly 4,000, but lacking a main stage, it was demolished in 1967.However Grauman didn’t own the Million Dollar Theatre for long, in 1921 his father died suddenly and there was a change in direction for the business once again. In 1922 he appears to have sold most of his downtown theatre assets to focus on his legendary Hollywood venues, the Chinese Theatre, the Egyptian Theatre and the El Capitan Theatre. Ironically the construction of these soon very popular theatres hastened the decline of downtown in the 1930’s, as Hollywood became the new entertainment district for the city.As for The Million Dollar Theatre, there was a refit in the 1930’s, when it closed for nearly two years and business seems to have steadily declined. However its luck began to change with the Second World War, as the stage at the Million Dollar Theatre enabled it to find a new use as a venue for Jazz concerts. With roughly 140,000 African Americans arriving to work at newly opened Southern California munitions factories, the few Los Angeles areas where they were able to live grew increasingly crowded. However with the Japanese American population of nearby Little Tokyo having been relocated to concentration camps in 1942, African Americans were able to take their place and the neighborhood became known as ‘Bronzeville’. By 1945 it was home to 70,000 predominantly black Americans. These wage-earning families had disposable income for entertainment, but were unwelcome at white suburban theaters. However the Broadway entertainment strip was within easy walking distance – especially its northernmost theater, the Million Dollar. It was returned to use as a venue for ‘flesh shows’ (live entertainment), which was news enough in the entertainment industry to prompt newspaper articles in places as far away as Pittsburgh. Top-notch acts of the day were booked to grace the stage, including Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holliday, The Nat King Cole Trio and Cab Calloway. By 1950 many of Little Tokyo’s Japanese Americans had returned and a good many of it’s African American residents had moved to the area around Central Avenue, in south Los Angeles. So what did The Million Dollar Theatre do then? It adapted itself to a new influx of arrivals and became a Spanish language movie theatre, returning to its early format, offering first-run films and variety acts (in this case mostly Mexican). The burgeoning Latino population in the area kept the theater running successfully for several more decades until 1993, when a church organization leased the theatre, again finding a use for the stage, for its services. What of the Million Dollar Theatre now? The offices above the theatre have long since been turned into loft apartments (back in 1999), and at the time of writing this, the theatre is mostly unused, apart from classic movie screenings, location filming and special events. However, if its history is to be any guide at all, I won’t feel too concerned about whether the Million Dollar Theatre will find a way to survive and stay relevant into its second century of existence. It always has.By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.THE MILLION DOLLAR THEATRE
In the late 1910’s and 1920’s going to the movies had become wildly popular and...Posted on : 15th Jul 2019
- The Ambassador Hotel is one of Los Angeles’ most famous hotels, which is no mean feat in a city which boasts the Beverly Wilshire, the Biltmore, the Chateau Marmont and countless other famous – and infamous – hotels. The Ambassador’s fame is principally due to its reputation as a place of entertainment and glamor from its opening to the 1950’s and from being the location of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968.The Ambassador Hotel opened its doors with much fanfare on New Year’s Day, 1921. It was located on Wilshire Boulevard, in what was then a fast-developing area three miles west of downtown Los Angeles, and in fact the new hotel spurred the development of the area into one of the main commercial and cultural arteries of the city. Designed by local Pasadena architect Myron Hunt, opinions always differed about the architectural quality of the design, but it nevertheless rapidly became a landmark building. The Ambassador’s swift rise to prominence was speeded partly through its willingness to serve alcohol (despite Prohibition) and partly by the opening there, a few months after the hotel, of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub. Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino, to name but a few, all became much-photographed regulars and the nightclub’s reputation as the L.A. hot spot was sealed.During the 1930’s and 40’s, the Ambassador’s reputation for glitz and glamor continued to spread as from 1930 to 1943 no less than six Academy Award ceremonies were held at the hotel and every U.S. President from Hoover to Nixon stayed there while visiting Los Angeles. Even Nikita Khrushchev, the Russian Premier, was a guest – and was visited at the Ambassador by none other than Mickey Mouse when he was unable to take a trip Disneyland.Unfortunately for the Ambassador’s owners in the 1950’s and 60’s the neighborhood around the hotel became less fashionable and lower income. Once branded as being the “Ambassador District” the area became known as Koreatown (which it’s now called), due to it becoming home to a large immigrant Korean community. This is the background to the tragic events of June 5th1968.That day saw Robert Kennedy give a speech in the Embassy Ballroom, following his victory in the California Democratic Primary over Senator Eugene McCarthy. After addressing his supporters, Kennedy was ushered through the kitchens to the waiting press and while walking through the pantry he was shot by a Palestinian radical Sirhan Sirhan who had immigrated to the U.S. as a child. Sirhan was incensed by comments Kennedy had made in support of Israel and also appeared to be suffering from mental illness (today he claims to have no memory of the actual shooting – but he has also stated that there was a second assassin who fired the fatal shots). After shooting Kennedy several times he continued firing and hit five other people before running out of bullets and being subdued. Kennedy initially survived the assassination, but he died in hospital after over three hours of neurosurgery. The assassination of Robert Kennedy, just a few years after his brother, has created one of the great what-ifs of history. Kennedy was almost certain to win the Democratic Primary campaign, which would have led to a Presidential contest between him and Richard Nixon (a Californian, let it not be forgotten). It’s hard to believe he wouldn’t have won and taken America in a very different direction. No Watergate to start with and therefore no Nixonian paranoia. Civil Rights, one of Kennedy’s main priorities, would have been elevated to a level of much greater prominence. Almost certainly no bombing of Cambodia and Laos – but also perhaps no rapprochement with China. Who knows? Nevertheless history was changed because of the events of that night at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.The assassination of Kennedy only hastened the decline of the hotel and on New Year’s Day 1989, exactly sixty-eight years after it opened, the Ambassador was permanently closed to guests, although it remained available for private functions and, perhaps more memorably, filming. The hotel has made appearances in The Graduate, Forrest Gump and Pretty Woman as well as many other movies and TV shows. However in 2001, LAUSD purchased the twenty-four acre property with the aim of building three schools there for the underserved neighborhood. In 2004, the Ambassador Hotel was demolished and in 2010 the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools were opened in its place. Many felt that naming the schools after the murdered presidential candidate only continued Los Angeles’ uneasy (or should that be queasy) relationship with its own history. After all, why demolish a famous historic hotel and yet name the schools built in its place after a tragic historic event at said hotel? To remember or to forget? Nevertheless I, for one, am glad that it was schools that were built on the site instead of a one hundred and twenty-five storey golden tower by a New York real estate developer called, you guessed it, Donald J. Trump.By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.THE AMBASSADOR HOTEL & ITS DATE WITH HISTORY
The Ambassador Hotel is one of Los Angeles’ most famous hotels, which is no mean...Posted on : 16th Jun 2019
- I’ll go out on a limb here and say that in my humble opinion since we began putting together this list of the best things to do in Los Angeles every month, back in 2015, this month’s line up of activities and events is the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what it is and why exactly this month has so many fun, interesting and must do things to do, but boy, Los Angeles really pulled all the stops out for June!THE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LA IN JUNE
1 Last Remaining Seats (June 1st-29th). This has been one of the highlights of summer in Los Angeles since the 1980’s, when the Los Angeles Conservancy opens up the historic movie palaces and theatres on Broadway to show beloved, classic movies. In recent years the Conservancy have spread the love by including movie theatres outside of the Broadway Historic Theatre District, such as the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, so there are always new (old) venues to experience. See It Happened One Night, the original romantic comedy, on June 1st.2. June First Fridays at the Natural History Museum (June 7th). What are First Fridays? It’s an event on the first of the month – usually involving music and food trucks. At the Natural History Museum it’s all about the dino’s and DJ’s. Sounds like fun, right? The museum is open late and KCRW provide the sounds, so you can enjoy the guided tours and talks by researchers and scientists.3. Ghostbusters Fan Fest (June 7th-8th). For fans of the paranormal, it’s time to retool the Ectomobile, charge the proton pack weapon and kick some ghost butt! Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City play host to screenings, panels, photo ops and most of the original cast will be there.4. LA Pride Week (May 31st-June 9th). Amazingly LA Pride began all the way back in 1970, nearly 50 years ago, but it does look amazing for it’s age though. It seems more important than ever nowadays to support people who are in minorities, or on the margins, especially the LGBTQ+ community, but you don’t need high-minded reasons to want to experience LA Pride Week – you can just want to have fun. Because this is, after all, one hell of a party :-).5. Bauhaus Exhibition (June 11th-October 13th). The Bauhaus was an art and design school in Weimar, Germany, established just after World War One. It quickly became incredibly influential, influencing the development of Art Deco and later post-modernism. Oh and the last director was Mies van der Rohe. Check out this exhibition at the beautiful Getty Museum.6. Eat|See|Hear (June 1st-22nd). One of the biggest of the outdoor movie screening organisers in Los Angeles these guys are all about movies, music and food trucks. It turns out that putting them all together creates a really fun night. This month they’re screening Young Frankenstein, The Princess Bride, Thelma and Louise and Fight Club.7. Jazz at LACMA (June 7th-28th). You never need an excuse to go to LACMA, but they’ve given you a good one here. One of the nicest things about these concerts is that they’re all organised around some of the very best L.A. Jazz musicians, so celebrating Los Angeles’ important role in Jazz.8. LA Zoo Sustainable Wine + Dinner Series (June 27th). Great food and good wine isn’t necessarily what you would expect from a visit to the zoo, but you’ll get that and more here. The evening offers “farm-to-table dinners, local wineries, and an exciting take on conservation and sustainability”. So there are talks on important various conservation issues, in cool parts of the zoo, followed by “animal encounters” and then a gourmet five-course meal with wine. Intrigued?9. Friday Night Wine Tastings, Barnsdall Park (June 7th– September 6th). Barnsdall Park is home to Hollyhock House, one of the most famous houses in Los Angeles. What’s so great about it? It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and it’s situated in a lovely little park, on top of a hill, overlooking Hollywood and Los Angeles. Bring a blanket and a picnic, add wine and enjoy!10. Fluxus Festival and Noon to Midnight (June 1st). Fluxus is an art movement, beginning in the 1960’s, that seeks to break down the walls between art and life. Sounds good, but what does that mean, right? In this instance a performance in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, where performers will mingle with the audience and slowly a thousand voices will rise up in harmony. After that it’s food trucks and beer gardens. How does that sound?By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.
I’ll go out on a limb here and say that in my humble opinion since...Posted on : 29th May 2019
- The toughest part of developing our DTLA Murder Mystery Ghost tour was reading about all the horrible murders that have taken place in and around downtown Los Angeles while I was researching it. I couldn’t get the gory details out of my mind. It seemed incredible that one human being could do these things to another. Of all the serial killers that I researched arguably the worst was Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker.Ramirez’s reign of horror began in June 1984 and for more than a year he terrorized Los Angeles, spending his nights driving around, looking for houses and apartments he could break into. Once inside he would attempt to kill any men and rape, then kill, any women that were inside. He would also take all the money, jewelry and other valuables he could find or persuade his petrified victims to give him. In the end he killed thirteen people. Throughout his crime spree he was a transient, sometimes living on the streets, or staying in cheap hotels and motels. The then night clerk at the Hotel Cecil, on Main St, swore that Ramirez spent a few weeks at the hotel during this period and it somehow seems preordained that it would be this downtown hotel that he would stay in, as the Cecil has its own hellish history, which includes multiple suicides, murders, deaths and rapes.Probably one reason I found it hard to get his crimes out of my head is the impossibility of understanding his motives. Was he a psychopath? Is it that simple? There’s always been a debate as to whether killers like Ramirez are created by circumstance or if they are born that way. In Ramirez’s case it seems likely that his own childhood experiences of abuse had a big impact. He saw his cousin, Miguel, shoot his wife in the face and later that was something he did to several of his victims.In describing Ramirez to guests on our tour I tell them to imagine him as the Terminator and I paraphrase a line from the first film in the series. There was no stopping this guy. You couldn’t negotiate with him and you couldn’t appeal to anything human in him. He wanted to kill, rape and rob – he almost seemed programmed for it. Friends of mine that lived in L.A. at the time still remember the period with a shudder. Thankfully he was stopped, finally, in August 1985. It’s very likely nowadays that right-wing politicians would use the fact that Ramirez was Latino to encourage anti-immigrant sentiment, but ironically it was a group of Hispanic women who pointed him out to police (a mug shot by then having been released to the media by the authorities). He was chased by a group of Latino men across a freeway, before being beaten up and captured. It’s said he was quite glad when the police showed up and rescued him!Richard Ramirez died in prison, in 2013, but his crimes continue to fascinate.(This article also appeared in the DTLA Book 2019)By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.THE NIGHT STALKER
The toughest part of developing our DTLA Murder Mystery Ghost tour was reading about all the...Posted on : 20th May 2019
- 1 Les Miserables (May 7th – June 5th). What can one say about Les Mis (as you should DEFINITELY call it if you can’t pronounce the name in full) that hasn’t already been said? As it says on the poster: “The Musical Phenomenon”). And it really is! Here it is – rolling into town – nearly forty years old and looking great for it’s age no doubt. Why is it so popular? Because it’s a timeless story told with some beautiful music. Go see it!2. Mainopoly (May 26th). Santa Monica at any time is just a great place to hang out. You don’t need an excuse. But in any case we’re giving you one: Mainopoly. What is Mainopoly? It’s a music and street festival that plays itself out on the streets around Main Street in Santa Monica. Sounds good, right?3. Cinespia (May 11th onwards). The ongoing movie screening program at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery is back and it’s got some great films on the list this year. Really? Yeah – The Matrix, Rear Window and Jaws.4. Food Bowl (May 1st – 31st). A new type of Food Festival? Well this one “features hundreds of events across Los Angeles with a mix of local favorites and world-renowned chefs. Spanning 31 days of food, Food Bowl encompasses a mix of dinners, parties, tours, pop-ups, classes and our 5-day Night Market in Grand Park.” I like food festivals, so I’m betting I’ll like this one.5. Beverly Hills Art Show (May 18th – 19th). This annual art show stretches for several blocks along the famous Beverly Gardens stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, right in the heart of 90210. This isn’t a high-end art sale for millionaires, it involves art, but also jewelry, ceramics, photography and sculpture. Great place to pick up a memento of that trip to LA?6. RuPaul’s DragCon Los Angeles 2019 (May 24th – 26th). I think you know who RuPaul is – and if you don’t I’m not going to be able to give you an adequate description here… This drag convention promises “three days of art, pop culture and all things drag. Join your squirrel friends in discussions that range from political resistance to fabulous makeovers.” With the crowd that you’re going to get going to this one it’s for sure going to be entertaining.7. Beachlife Festival (May 3rd – 5th). This is the inaugural version of this Redondo Beach based music fest, so the reviews aren’t in yet, but I feel with the location and the promised line-up this should be a fun L.A. event. Who’s on the list? Brian Wilson (how L.A. is that), Willie Nelson and Ziggy Marley to mention just a few of the well-known names.8. An Evening with the Clintons (May 4th). The ultimate in power couples plays the Forum in Inglewood for this one night. The fact is, love them or hate them, the Clinton’s have been there or there-about for many of the biggest events of the last thirty years. Even if you hate them what could be more beneficial than hearing what they have to say to make up your mind. Unmissable.9. PhotovilleLA (May 2nd – 5th). The Largest Photographic Event in New York City Is Coming to Los Angeles apparently. For the first time in it’s seven year history no less! The exhibition uses shipping containers, light cubes and lightboxes to create a festival like atmosphere. Sounds intriguing, right?10. Moby (May 6th). You know Moby. He wrote and produced the album Play, which was completely ubiquitous all those years ago around the beginning of the new millennium (oh those halcyon days!). Turns out he went a little off the rails back then. Which is what this tour is about. It asks the question “what do you do when you realise you have everything you think you’ve ever wanted but still feel completely empty? What do you do when it all starts to fall apart?” Good question. To answer it check out his show.By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.THE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LA IN MAY
1 Les Miserables (May 7th – June 5th). What can one say about Les Mis (as you should DEFINITELY...Posted on : 01st May 2019
- On our LA In A Day Tour and The Real Hollywood Tour we pay respects to a Los Angeles institution, which this year is celebrating its centenary. Musso and Frank’s Grill opened in 1919, when Hollywood was something of a Bohemian enclave, seven miles from the political, financial and commercial center of Los Angeles, which at that time was downtown. Back in those days, Charles Chaplin would come with his employees, galloping down Hollywood Boulevard on horseback – and whoever came last would pick up the tab! The party kept their eyes on the horses from the only booth with a window view, which is still known as the Chaplin booth and is, so I’ve been told, by far the most requested table in the restaurant.Musso and Frank’s has changed little in its first hundred years of business, inside the Hollywood history is almost palpable. The menu and cocktails are exactly how you would want them to be, timeless classics, and the clientele continue to include the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry. As a movie location, Musso and Frank’s has featured in several notable films including Ed Wood (1994), Oceans Eleven (2001) and Chaplin (1992). The Hollywood icon, originally named Francois, opened in 1919, with the feel of a New York cafe and was an immediate hit with the East Coast movie crowd who nicknamed it “Frank’s”. When owner Frank Toulet teamed with restaurateur Joseph Musso in the early 1920’s it became Musso and Frank’s. It was sold to Italian immigrants Joseph Carissimi and John Mosso in 1927 and has been a Hollywood Boulevard fixture ever since. Today Mosso’s three granddaughters and their children run the restaurant. Its cultural role in the life of Los Angeles blossomed when, in 1935, Stanley Rose moved his famous bookstore, a hangout for many screenwriters and novelists, from Vine Street to a shop neighboring Musso and Frank’s. The fusion of these two Hollywood institutions created an unofficial club for the Hollywood set. Historian Kevin Starr writes: “The bookshop and the bar [at Musso & Frank’s] operated together with superb synergy, creating a welcomed sense of community for screenwriters suffering from an understandable sense of displacement.”The place became known as the Genesis of Hollywood and had an impact on the immediate locality with the Screen Writers Guild finding its home in the lovely Art Deco building directly opposite, along with many other bookstores, including Larry Edmunds, which opened in 1937 and has survived to this day. These writer-friendly environments inspired the title of Edmund Wilson’s 1940 monograph, The Boys in the Back Room: Notes on California Novelists, with one of the boys, a twenty-five-year-old Orson Welles, writing Citizen Kane in one of the booths in 1941 (a brass plaque marks the spot).In a town that doesn’t always hold fast to its history, Musso & Frank’s remains one of the strongest connections we have to the spirit of Golden Age of Hollywood, when the creative community required physical spaces to find like minds, to co-create and to do business. Everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Bukowski has breathed, laughed, eaten and drank here – and so it continues today, discreetly, with the restaurant’s current celebrity clientele. By Stuart WoodStuart Wood is a guide for The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @stuiewood100 YEARS OF MUSSO & FRANK’S GRILL
On our LA In A Day Tour and The Real Hollywood Tour we pay respects to a...Posted on : 12th Apr 2019
- 1. Foodie Con (April 6-7). Love food? It may seem like a funny question – who doesn’t, right? But some people just aren’t that bothered. If you’re like me though and you do love it, then you’ll want to go to this festival. It’s just on the edge of downtown’s South Park, with easy access by public transit, and promises classes, presentations, tastings, drinks and just all round foodie fun. 2. Cinco de Mayo (April 28). Fiesta Broadway is in its 30thyear and is one of the big celebrations here in Los Angeles. What is Cinco de Mayo? It means 5th of May and It’s the annual celebration of the Mexican’s defeating the French Army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Confusingly it’s not really considered such a big deal in Mexico – but it is in L.A. Join the fun as downtown shuts the streets off to cars, well known Latin American bands give performances, local vendors provide great food and carnival style games rule. This year we get the party going early. Why not?3. Earth Day (April 11). What could be better right now than celebrating this precious planet that we inhabit, as it’s increasingly under threat – from us? Earth Day events are centered on Grand Park, in downtown, and offers “ideas and solutions on how to live clean and go green. The annual event features performances, children’s recycled-art projects, e-waste collection, drought tolerant plant tours, plant giveaways and demonstrations of the latest in green technology.”4. Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (April 13-14). Even in this modern age, with smart phones, tablets and computers, there’s still something very nice about reading from an actual, you know, book. They also make for great home decoration. Since 1996 the festival has grown into the largest one of its kind in the entire United States. Based on the USC campus, the event features readings, including performances by well-known authors and poets and loads and loads of, you know, books.5. Noir City: Hollywood (March 29-April 7). Film Noir is a movie genre that gets its name from the French, but it started in Hollywood. Many of the most famous examples, such as Double Indemnity and Kiss Me Deadly are set in L.A. Directors and writers loved the idea of setting such dark stories about man’s moral ambiguity and illicit desires against the sunny backdrop of the city of angels. This Noir Festival is at the historic Egyptian Theatre in the heart of Hollywood and is not to be missed.6. Knott’s Boysenberry Festival (March 29-April 28). Knott’s Berry Farm is in Anaheim, just south of Los Angeles (near the Mouse Kingdom) and is a great place to visit if you’re in Southern California (it’s also considerably cheaper than Disneyland). The Boysenberry festival is “features over 75 one-of-a-kind boysenberry inspired dishes, drinks and more, plus foot-stompin’ entertainment, the Wine and Craft Brew Tasting Garden, and family fun”. Sounds good to me!7. Craig Ferguson (Ace Hotel, April 4). Craig Ferguson was for years the host of The Late Late Show, bringing his inimitable and free-ranging humor to a wide audience. This month the historic and beautiful theater at the Ace Hotel, in downtown, is hosting his stand-up comedy show. A great show by an in-form comedian is one of the best nights that you can have – this should be it.8. Wanderlust 108 (April 27). Los Angeles has quite a reputation for being, how can I put this, very New Agey and this Mindful Triathlon (the only one in the world apparently) is the perfect example of L.A. being on the cutting edge of the New Age. But then, can you blame us? What could be better than going to Santa Monica, on what will almost certainly be a lovely day, to run 5K and then join a mass Yoga event, fuelled by DJ’s. Oh, and after that you get to meditate for twenty-five minutes to clear your mind and relax your body. Namaste!9. Thai New Year Festival (April 28). Los Angeles is a city of neighborhoods: downtown, Venice, Koreatown, Hollywood, Little Ethiopia and many others. Thai Town, in East Hollywood, seems like the perfect place to celebrate Thai New Year. It’s one of the largest festivals in the L.A. area, as the streets close to traffic and simply amazing food is on offer everywhere you look. Even if you’re not super into Thai food there’s Thai Boxing, parades and stage entertainment to keep you occupied.10. Skirball Puppet Festival (April 28). A puppet show is one of those things that you may not have ever seen, and may not have ever really thought about going to see, but that once you do see one you fall in love with the art form. L.A. is home to the famous Bob Baker Marionette Theater, who will be performing here, but that’s not all we have to offer the puppetry world – we also have this amazing festival. Why are puppets shows cool? Because of the very fact that you have to work to suspend your disbelief, that once you do, and you really buy into it, it seems so magical. Take the little ones – they’ll love it.By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.THE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LA IN APRIL
1. Foodie Con (April 6-7). Love food? It may seem like a funny question – who doesn’t,...Posted on : 30th Mar 2019
- In honor of Black History Month (last month) and Women’s History Month (this month) we’ve decided to remember Biddy Mason, an African American woman who moved to Los Angeles (against her will) in the 1850’s, only to become a wealthy businesswoman and much loved community leader.The 1850 census for the city of Los Angeles showed only 12 persons of African descent and in the subsequent years, African-Americans struggled to find a place for themselves in the nascent town of less than 5,000 inhabitants. Lynching, illegal bounty hunters and California’s wishy-washy commitment to black freedom dogged them in their efforts to find work and raise their families. It was into this world that Biddy Mason stepped in 1856.Born in Georgia in 1818, the teenage Biddy was taken from her family and given as a wedding present to a man called Robert Smith. She had no education and would never learn to read, but she learned about child-birth and herbal medicines from other slave women and became well-regarded as a midwife. While working for Smith, Biddy gave birth to three daughters: Ellen, Ann and Harriet - all, apparently, fathered by her master.Smith, a Mormon, was inspired by church leaders to move West and so Biddy and her children were compelled to follow him to establish a new Mormon community, in what would become Salt Lake City, Utah (at that time part of Mexico). In 1848 she walked with her youngest on her back and two other daughters in tow for 2,000 miles, behind Smith’s wagon. Biddy’s responsibilities included serving as a midwife to several black and white babies born en route.Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – Biddy’s migration was not yet complete, as several years later Smith and his household would set out once again, this time for San Bernardino, California, to establish another Mormon community. Ignoring Brigham Young’s warning that slavery was illegal in California, Smith brought Mason and his other slaves nearly a thousand miles through the mountains and over the high plains, to the new community. In December 1855 Smith, fearing the loss of his slaves, decided to move to Texas, still at that time a slave state, where he could sell them for a profit. However Robert Owens, a successful black businessman in Los Angeles, had a vested interest in Biddy because one of his sons was romantically involved with Mason’s 17-year-old daughter, Ellen. When Owens told the County Sheriff that slaves were being held illegally, the lawman gathered a posse, which apprehended Smith’s wagon train en route to Texas and brought the group to the small town of Los Angeles (as it was only just becoming known then).So Biddy sued Smith in court for her freedom. Smith did not appear, nonetheless claiming that she and her family were not slaves, but members of his family (which at least seems to have been true of her children). Since California law at the time prohibited blacks from testifying in court, Biddy couldn’t speak on her own behalf. Nevertheless Judge Benjamin Hayes met with her privately and soon after found in her favor, citing California’s constitution, which prohibited slavery. At long last, at the age of thirty-eight years old, Biddy was a free woman.Biddy then moved to Los Angeles, accepting an invitation to live with the Owens family, and her life began to take a turn for the better. Her daughter Ellen married Robert’s son, Charles and Biddy herself began to work for Dr. John Griffin, a Los Angeles physician who was the brother-in-law of Judge Hayes. She quickly became much sought after as a nurse and midwife, assisting in hundreds of births to mothers of all races and social classes. She also gained a reputation for her herbal remedies. Biddy earned $2.50 a day working for Griffin and over ten years Biddy thriftily saved up the then princely sum of $250. Using that nest egg, in 1866, she bought two lots on the then-remote Spring Street, becoming one of the first African American women to ever own property in Los Angeles. There, on one parcel of her property, she built a clapboard house, which she occupied for the rest of her life. On the other parcel she built some small houses to rent for additional income (in an early version of Airbnb). However as the town began to rapidly grow after the transcontinental railroad reached L.A. in 1876, this ex-slave revealed a hitherto dormant talent for entrepreneurialism, buying several more lots. As the town continued to develop, her investments ultimately became the central commercial district of Los Angeles.By the 1880’s Biddy had become an independently wealthy woman. She spoke fluent Spanish and was a well-known figure, dining on occasion at the home of Pio Pico, the wealthy Los Angeles rancher, African-Mexican and last governor of the Mexican territory of Alta California. Biddy fed and sheltered the poor and visited prisoners in the local jail, bringing gifts and aid. She was instrumental in founding a traveler’s aid center and an elementary school for black children. Because of her kind and giving spirit many called her Grandma Mason. Biddy also organized the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest African American church in the city, in her living room. Their first church was built at a site donated by Biddy on Azuza Street, in what’s now Little Tokyo.Biddy Mason died in 1891 at the age of 73 and was buried in an unmarked grave at the Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights. Nearly a century later, her accomplishments were finally given the respect they were due when a tombstone, marking her grave for the first time, was unveiled in a ceremony attended by Mayor Tom Bradley, the first African American mayor of Los Angeles, and several thousand members of the F.A.M.E church. November 16, 1989, was declared Biddy Mason Day in Los Angeles. On the following day, the Broadway Spring Center, where Biddy’s homestead once stood, was opened. The site (known as Biddy Mason Park) includes a memorial wall dedicated to Biddy, which we visit on our LA: Wild West to Now tour. What a lady!By Margaret Wineland and Damien BlackshawBRIDGET “BIDDY” MASON: A LOS ANGELES PIONEER WHO BROKE ALL THE RULES
Margaret is on twitter: @maggiewineland.
Damien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.
In honor of Black History Month (last month) and Women’s History Month (this month) we’ve...Posted on : 19th Mar 2019
- 1. Contemplate the nothingness of existence at the Broad (all month). Visit this new kid on the block that’s no longer the new kid on the block – the museum’s now their older, more attractive sibling. In addition to the superlative 2000 piece collection rattling around upstairs there are now TWO infinity rooms downstairs to complete the seismic upgrade. You can even visit MedMen in downtown on the way in, in order to better appreciate the said nothingness.2. Watch a baseball game at Dodgers Stadium (March 28th). What could be a better thing to in Los Angeles in Spring than take part in this time-honored ritual? As recently as 2 years ago the Dodgers came within a whisker of winning the World Series. Welcome them home for the new season!3. LA Marathon (March 24th). What better way to spend time than showing up to the largest marathon on the west coast and joining all the other masochists taking part by putting yourself through a living hell? Seriously – you may not want to run for anything like 26 miles, but why not show up and cheer on the foolhardy, but determined, souls that do?4. See Cats at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre (March 1st-24th). See this Musical Theatre classic at the beautiful and historic Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, near Vine St. “Midnight, not a sound from the pavement…”5. See a different side of Los Angeles with CicLAvia (March 3rd). CicLAvia has only been a good thing for LA, closing streets to traffic all round the city for these events that feel most like a jamboree crossed with a street protest. This version is taking place in Culver City, Mar Vista and Palms. You can easily get to it via the Metro Expo Line.6. Become an art connoisseur at ArtNight Pasadena (March 8th). There are many reasons to visit Pasadena – the restaurants and bars of Old Town Pasadena, the Rose Bowl, going to the Norton Simon Museum or for that matter the Huntington Library (although technically that’s in San Marino) – but here’s another one. Pasadena has an underrated collection of art museums and this is the perfect opportunity to bring yourself up to speed on them.7. Visit the Descanso Gardens (March 16th). “As the sun sets, Descanso sinks into darkness and the fun begins.” Sounds exciting, right? Well it is! There’s music, science, “libations” and surprises. What more could you ask for?8. Laugh at Judd Apatow (March 2nd). Judd’s been pretty successful – you could say things worked out pretty well for him with the old writing/directing career. But he’s not resting on his laurels, oh no. Recently he got back into stand-up, where he started back in the day (not that successfully at the time, at least according to him) and you can catch him doing a set at the Largo. Some of his famous friends may show up as special guests…9. Watch a Ballet Hispanico performance (March 22nd and 23rd). Ballet Hispánico are the premier Latino dance-company in the U.S. and they explore the different Latino communities experiences through dance. Catch them doing their ground-breaking work the Broad Stage while you can.10. Celebrate St Patrick’s Day in DTLA (March 17th). What could be more authentic to Los Angeles than celebrating the famous patron saint of Ireland in downtown? Well, you may know that St Patrick’s day is a pretty big thing on this side of the pond too and Angeleno’s need no excuse for a street party – after all the weather’s much for better for it than back home on the often damp Emerald Isle. The New York and Chicago celebrations are bigger, but we make up for it here with our laid-back and light-hearted enjoyment of the day.By Damien BlackshawTHE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LA IN MARCH 2019
Damien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.
1. Contemplate the nothingness of existence at the Broad (all month). Visit this new kid on...Posted on : 28th Feb 2019
- With this month being the start of the lunar New Year (as celebrated in China and much of Asia) we wanted to take a look at the birth of Chinese-American culture in Los Angeles.The oldest surviving building of Los Angeles’ Old Chinatown is the Garnier Building (not to be confused with the nearby Garnier Block), which was built for local Chinese merchants in 1890 on the edge of the historic Pueblo area. Unfortunately in 1933 Los Angeles’ city fathers ordered the clearing of most of the neighborhood, where Chinese residents had been living for decades, in order to construct Union Station. Although many blocks, including several bordellos, gambling houses and opium dens were razed, a respectable section survived until the middle of the century, before the city ordered its destruction to make way for the 101 Hollywood freeway. By that time Chinatown had been re-imagined and re-constructed a little to the north, in what had been Los Angeles’ very own Little Italy. It was this – Los Angeles’ old Chinatown – that gave its name to the famous noir movie Chinatown, which was set during the 1930’s.There had been a Chinese community in Los Angeles since the 1850’s, when many Chinese made the dangerous journey across the Pacific hoping to strike it rich in the California Gold Rush. However due to their distinctive clothing, customs and language they weren’t easily accepted into American Society and faced increasing hostility, culminating in the Chinatown Massacre of 1871, still one of the worst mass lynching’s in U.S. history. In spite of this, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1883, the community survived and even thrived into the late nineteenth century in an area centered on Alameda and Macy (now Cesar Chavez) streets.Commissioned by Basque settler and successful businessman Philippe Garnier and solidly constructed from limestone and brick, the Garnier Building was a cultural home and sanctuary for early Chinese Angelenos, who had exclusive use of the building. General merchants, where locals could gather and gossip, lawyers and a Chinese Laundrymen’s Association were located on the ground and mezzanine levels, while social organizations (such as Tongs), schools and temples occupied the second floor. Being closer to heaven the top level was considered more appropriate for these institutions and, amongst other things, they would help resolve business and personal disagreements, care for the elderly and act as mediators between the community and Anglo Los Angeles. There were also theatrical and Chinese opera performances for the community. Many businesses and organizations that occupied the Garnier Building during this period are still active today in Southern California. It was almost considered a Chinese City Hall.What Los Angeles now considers its Chinatown is actually ‘New Chinatown’, only a few blocks away. It looks more Chinese, with its architectural China-fications, even on the modern buildings, but the Garnier Building, despite its strictly Western look, with a commercial Italianatefaçade, is the most Chinese building in Los Angeles. In fact, since the more famous San Francisco Chinatown was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, it’s been the oldest and most significant building associated with the Chinese community in any of California’s cities.The Garnier Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 as part of the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District. In 1987 the local Chinese community, including many descendants of those Chinese American pioneer families, formed the Friends of the Chinese American Museum, with the Garnier Building as the home for the museum. This is the group that puts on L.A.’s not-to-be-missed Lantern Festival in March. The El Pueblo Commission, the state-appointed group that runs the Plaza Historic area, also helped fund initial work. Many Chinese American families and businesses have donated cherished possessions to the museum, including antique furniture, children’s toys, herbal store furnishings and supplies, traditional wedding gowns, photographs and letters from loved ones. Elderly Chinese Americans have also had their memories of growing up in Old Chinatown recorded on audiotape.The City of Los Angeles’ contribution to the C.A.M. is substantial and demonstrates its commitment to small multicultural venues. For $1 a year, the city and state of California rent 7,200 square feet of the Garnier Building to the museum and fund the employees to staff it. We only wish the rest of the Historic Plaza’s unused buildings could be utilized so effectively!By Margaret Wineland and Damien BlackshawMargaret is on twitter: @maggiewineland.WHERE IS LOS ANGELES’ CHINATOWN?
Damien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.
With this month being the start of the lunar New Year (as celebrated in China...Posted on : 21st Feb 2019
- 1. Night of Ideas (Feb 1st). Night of Ideas is a worldwide event that celebrates the stream of ideas between countries, cultures and generations. Each year people from around the globe come together to learn about and discuss the latest discoveries and issues facing the world at that time. This year’s theme, “Facing Our Time,” explores global challenges around ecological and climate change through the lenses of science, nature, and art. Los Angeles’ entry is a collaboration between the Natural History Museum and the Consulate General of France.2. Elton John at the Forum (Feb 1stand 2nd). Elton John surely needs no introduction – even my eight year old knows some of his songs. He’s up there with the greats of popular music and he’s playing two dates at the Forum in Inglewood. There are still some tickets available…3. Museum Free For All (Feb 2ndand 3rd). We’re very lucky in Los Angeles to have the array of world-class institutions that are here. At the beginning of February many of them throw open their doors to let the general public in for nothing. Take full advantage of it!4. Sleepless: the Music Center After Hours (Feb 9th). What is this? It’s a series of late-night immersive art “happenings” that take place in the various spaces of the Music Center. Sleepless invites Los Angeles-based artists to re-imagine the Music Center experience through live music, performance and art. Sleepless: Quinceañera Reimagined takes on and plays with issues of class, gender and sexuality, and asserts the power of women. 5. Celebrate Lunar New Year in Chinatown (Feb 9th). As most people know, the Chinese and other Asian countries (and their descendents here) celebrate the lunar New Year in February. This means an annual Golden Dragon Parade (this year is the 120th) through L.A.’s Chinatown, near downtown, in which tens of thousands take part. It’s fun, it’s loud, it’s colourful – and watch out for the red packets of money.6. Cupid’s Undie Run (Feb 9th). This is one of those activities that might lead to raising an eyebrow or rolling the eyes – along with a comment along the lines of: “only in LA!” Running through the streets of Santa Monica in one’s underwear?! Except that this isn’t only in L.A. (it’s being held in cities all over the U.S.) and it’s “a brief, mile(ish), fun run that takes place in the middle of a BIG party – all to find a cure for neurofibromatosis (NF), a genetic tumor disorder that affects 1 in every 3,000 births”. So there you have it. This is a run in your smalls in aid of a good cause.7. Downtown LA Art Walk (Feb 14th). The LA Art Walk is no longer up and coming, it’s been around for a while (we’re now in the 15th year), but it’s always fun and it’s always interesting. There are over fifty galleries involved and more than ten thousand people attend. It’s a great way to experience downtown if you’re a visitor.8. Harlem Globetrotters Basketball Shows (Feb 15th – 23rd). Even if you’re not into basketball there’s something so infectiously fun about watching these guys do their tricks and show off some serious court skills. Tickets start at a reasonable $25 and, if you’re new to the states, what could be more culturally correct than experiencing a sport as American as this while in the U.S.9. Travel & Adventure Show (Feb 16thand 17th). Most people who come on our tours are into travel, it goes with the territory as it were, so this kind of event should be right up your street. At “America’s favorite travel show” attendees can explore different travel options, plan trips and attend seminars. All useful preparation for your next trip.10. Academy Awards (Feb 24th). Another event that surely needs no explanation. It’s the big cahuna, as far as the entertainment industry is concerned. It’s grown a lot since the early days – when just a few hundred people were invited and the whole thing would take barely half an hour. And it wasn’t televised live. But now it is and the whole of Hollywood is shut down for the weekend of the ceremony (we can’t operate tours in Hollywood on the day of the Oscars). There are many viewing parties around Los Angeles, often in movie theaters and bars. Why not take the opportunity to enjoy it with some Los Angeles natives as it takes place in another part of the city?By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.THE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LA IN FEBRUARY
1. Night of Ideas (Feb 1st). Night of Ideas is a worldwide event that celebrates the...Posted on : 01st Feb 2019
- The South Park neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles is undergoing enormous change at the moment, as new apartment and condo blocks sprout upwards and older buildings (such as the beautiful old Herald Examiner Building) are renovated and repurposed. The Staples Center, LA Live, restaurants, galleries and watering holes are steadily luring Angelenos to the area and property values are sky-rocketing. However, despite South Park’s popularity and despite having housed the publishing offices of Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs (who also gave the Tarzana neighborhood of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley its name, since he had a ranch there), the beautiful structure that is the Commercial Exchange Building on 8th and Olive Streets sat lonely and vacant for decades, not commercially viable due to the need for costly renovations and modifications and so rejected by one developer after another – until recently. This is even more noteworthy due to the building’s very unique engineering history. The Commercial Exchange Building was constructed in 1924 as offices, with ground floor retail space, to a design by the well-known Los Angeles architectural firm Walker and Eisen, architects of the nearby Fine Arts Building (which was completed in 1926). It’s a great example of the Beaux Arts architectural style that was all the rage in the U.S. at the time, although the design itself is not truly remarkable. Unfortunately a few years after the building had been completed the growing car culture in Los Angeles (which took off in the 1920’s) necessitated widening many of downtown’s streets, including Olive. In 1929 the city demanded that five feet be taken off the west side of the Commercial Exchange building, entailing the destruction of its beautiful bay windows and brick and terracotta cladding on that side. Enter George Kress, a house-mover since 1902, who’d had no formal engineering training but had made a successful business from this popular service. Believe it or not, but at that time homes were often moved, sometimes more than once in their lifetimes, usually by a team of horses and a big flatbed wagon. Especially in fast-growing Los Angeles entrepreneurial property owners found it profitable to sell the downtown land their house sat on and then move their entire home to an outlying area. So when the widening of Olive St. threatened the Commercial Exchange Building Kress devised a plan to save it.In 1935 he removed five feet of brick, masonry and steel from the CENTER of the structure, top to bottom, like removing a slice of bread from the middle of a loaf. Then, an inch at a time, using a series of jacks, tracks and a crew of seventy-five men, Kress moved the western half of the Commercial Exchange to join it back together with its other half. All this, apparently, while the workers inside went about their business at their desks (bear in mind that Kress is the house mover reputed to have moved a mansion in three pieces from downtown to Hancock Park while a party went on inside). The two Commercial Exchange Building pieces were reunited in nine hours, not one worker was injured and, Kress boasted, not a single window was broken. According the Los Angeles Times the whole operation cost $60,000. A truly remarkable piece of engineering for a very reasonable price, doubtlessly inspiring Burroughs, who was at the time developing a new Tarzan movie.Today the Commercial Exchange Building has become the Freehand Hotel, with a wonderful rooftop bar and swimming pool (see photo below). Since downtown Los Angeles’ unique adaptive reuse ordinance has resulted in massive residential development ‘between the four freeways’ over the past twenty years, many Angelenos expected the Commercial Exchange Building to become expensive condos or apartments. But since hotels add more to a city’s coffers than almost all other potential uses that this historic building could have, it makes sense that the Freehand developer was the one to finally bring the Commercial Exchange Building back to life. I’m sure that practical, solutions-oriented George R. Kress would approve.By Margaret Wineland and Damien BlackshawMargaret is on twitter: @maggiewineland.LOS ANGELES’ COMMERCIAL EXCHANGE BUILDING’S UNIQUE HISTORY
Damien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.
The South Park neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles is undergoing enormous change at the moment,...Posted on : 15th Jan 2019
- 1. The Nutcracker: with the Los Angeles Ballet or the Moscow Ballet (dates throughout December). What could be more Christmassy than going to see this Yuletide staple? What’s more several performances of the Los Angeles Ballet’s version are at the Dolby Theatre. That’s right! Where the annual Academy Awards are held. The Wiltern Theatre, the venue for the Moscow Ballet’s production, is also very beautiful, with its 1920′s art deco design.2. Christmastime at Harry Potter World: (through December) what can we say about Harry Potter that hasn’t already been said? Many times. But the world of Harry Potter does seem, somehow, to be perfectly attuned to Christmas. Universal are being tight-lipped about what new twists they’re adding tot he attraction this year, but either way this is sure to be fun. 3. The Groundlings Holiday Show: (dates through December). The Groundlings is a breeding ground for comic talent that often ends up becoming very famous – including such talents as Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte to name just two. Their shows are usually very funny – and very reasonably priced. You may even see some well-known faces in the audience too! 4. Los Angeles Auto Show: (November 30-December 9). Some people are really into cars. If that’s you then get down to the Los Angeles Auto Show. It’s one of the biggest auto shows in the world – which makes sense for a city that’s so associated with driving. You can often see cool concept cars presented here before anywhere else, so it’s also a good way to see what the future of personal transportation could be like.5. Grand Park’s Winter Glow: (December 1-25). For the first time Grand Park is hosting an immersive nighttime art experience in celebration of the holidays, so that “families will make new holiday memories, strolling together through this 12-acre art, projection and light display… and experience the wonder of Grand Park lit up like never before”. It’s free. Sounds cool, right?6. CicLAvia: Heart of L.A.: (December 2). CicLAvia is without doubt one of the best things to happen to Los Angeles in the last decade. When whole neighborhoods, which had been lost to pedestrians and cyclists and taken over by cars, are periodically reclaimed by banning said cars, it’s amazing what can happen. People walking, cycling and having fun – suddenly Los Angeles feels like a very different place and we can realize that actually L.A. wasn’t designed around the car.7. Ice Skating in downtown Los Angeles: (throughout December). The annual ice skating rink in Pershing Square is always fun to visit, even if you’re skating skills are pretty rudimentary (as are mine). As the area around the park continues to develop it’s only going to get better and better. 8. Santa Monica Pub Crawl: (December 8). Pub crawl you say? Sign me up! Part of the joy of Christmas is the sense that it’s allowed – and even encouraged – to have just a little too much to drink… to get into the spirit of the season of course. And when you combine that with a pub crawl, well, you’re getting some exercise too. Santa Monica is almost the perfect place to have a pub crawl (the other is downtown), since there are so many great bars within walking distance of each other. Have fun! And stay safe!9. L.A. County Holiday Celebration: (December 24). This is a really fantastic FREE annual event held at the Music Center with all kinds of performers, from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, to Le Ballet Dembaya, to the Pasadena Girls’ Choir, to Kayamanan Ng Lahi Phillipine Folk Arts. It’s a cornucopia of Christmas celebrations and promises to be a lot of fun.10. New Year’s Eve Fireworks: (December 31). As you would expect we have fireworks celebrations to herald the New Year in Los Angeles. There are several different events around the L.A. area, but the big one for the city of Los Angeles is at Marina Del Rey, at the harbor. If fireworks are not your thing, or you want to try something different this year, consider going to the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Grand Park in downtown, which has a ball (like the one in Times Square, New York), DJ’s, food trucks and a big street party. By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.THE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LA IN DECEMBER
1. The Nutcracker: with the Los Angeles Ballet or the Moscow Ballet (dates throughout December). What could be...Posted on : 30th Nov 2018
- The modern history of Los Angeles begins in 1781 with the Los Angeles Pobladores, the forty-four settlers who founded what is now known as Los Angeles on September 4thof that year. At that time the tiny settlement was on the far reaches of the Spanish Empire and it had been incredibly difficult for the Governor of Las Californias, Felipe de Neve, to find volunteers to make the dangerous journey north from Mexico to settle this distant frontier territory. In fact pioneers had only been forthcoming once they had been promised the gift of some free land in return for their cooperation. Of course Los Angeles in those early days was nothing like Los Angeles today. Not least its name was different – or at any rate much longer. When what’s known as the Portolà Expedition passed through the area in 1769 a Franciscan Friar from Spain called Juan Crespi had named the river that flowed through the valley El Rio de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula. Quite a mouthful, right? The Portolà Expedition was the first expedition the Spanish had sent into the vast territory, from Colorado in the east to California in the west and from Montana in the north to Arizona in the south, that the Spanish Crown had claimed as its own. Of course the inhabitants of what’s since become Los Angeles, the Tongva, would have known nothing about the Spanish until 1769 and they had their own name for their main village, Yang-Na, meaning “place of the poison oaks”. In 1781, with the arrival of the Pobladores, it would be given a new title - the unwieldy El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula, so taking its name from its river. Over time it would be shortened to El Pueblo de Los Angeles and then Los Angeles (or even just L.A.).What is perhaps most interesting about the early Los Angeles settlers is just how diverse they were and the effect that diversity would have on the town that would eventually emerge. Only two of the Pobladores are listed as being Spanish or Peninsulares. This most probably meant they were of Spanish descent, since it’s highly unlikely that they had been born in Spain. The rest were a mix of either native Mexican, African, or mixed race – so basically Los Angeles was founded by people of Mexican and African heritage.By 1900 the African-American population had grown to around 2,200 people, mostly concentrated in what was known as the Furlong Tract, near downtown. The majority of those would have moved to Los Angeles after the Civil War, when, for obvious reasons, black people would have found it easier to move around the U.S. and could have moved West, looking for work. Some found a measure of success in Los Angeles that was not available in many other parts of the U.S. (such as Biddy Mason, probably the first female African American millionaire and the site of whose old home we visit on the LA: Wild West to Now tour), although, as one would expect, there were many barriers to success for them. The reason the African American community was concentrated in one area is because they were barred from almost any other part of L.A. by racist housing covenants that barred property owners from selling to black people – even if they’d wanted to, or if black people had been able to raise the money to buy property. This community produced the first African-American School in Los Angeles in 1910, the 51stStreet School, which hired its first African-American teacher, Bessie Bruington Burke, in 1911. She would become its first black principal in 1919, and the school would endure as the Holmes Avenue School to the present day.However, despite the evidence of Los Angeles’ rich history of ethnic diversity fueling its rise, there have been many attempts to suppress that past. In 1950 a plaque commemorating the Pobladores, and their ethnic diversity, was quietly installed in the Pueblo neighborhood. But, when the fact that the Pobladores had been such a mixed group became more widely known, the plaque was removed. Finally in 1981, the current plaque was installed, which lists the Pobladores along with their age, sex and ethnic background.By Grant Jossi & Damien BlackshawLOS ANGELES’ DIVERSE BEGINNINGS
You can email Grant Jossi: [email protected] Blackshaw is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.
The modern history of Los Angeles begins in 1781 with the Los Angeles Pobladores, the...Posted on : 20th Nov 2018
- 1. Triforium Fridays (November 2nd). You can only now make the last act of this “three-part series of polyphonoptic parties” (the first two were in October). Nevertheles this is too offbeat and interesting not to make our list. The Triforium is an unloved sixty ton public artwork in downtown, which was apparently (according to the website) forty years ahead of its time. Many times there have been moves to demolish it – but it’s survived and “this fall… will live again. Its original light and sound programs will return, reacting in real-time to live musical performances” by THAO NGUYEN (of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down), TAIKOPROJECT, world champion whistler MOLLY LEWIS playing with accompaniment and RESTLESS NITES DJs. Piqued your curiosity?2. Tropicália Fest (November 2nd-3rd) Celebrate Mexican heritage, and music of all genres, during the massively expanded Tropicália Fest in Long Beach, with headlining sets by acts including Morrissey, Cardi B, Chicano Batman, Kalu Uchis, Mac DeMarco and Mazzy Star. Take the Blue Line to Long Beach and check it out!3. Puppet Up! Uncensored (November 2nd-3rd). This event, at the Jim Henson Company Lot (Charlie Chaplin’s old studio lot – a hundred years old last year) in Hollywood. The show promises “puppets behaving badly” and “comedy, music and mayhem”. Sounds intriguing, right? Just remember this isn’t a kids show – unless you’ll sitting next to your kids watching “raunchy, trash-talking puppets that’d make Miss Piggy blush”. Nuff said!4. Old Pasadena Day of the Dead (November 2nd-4th). The Day of the Dead is BIG in Los Angeles, so how about seeing it as “Old Pasadena celebrates the reverent yet vibrant Mexican holiday that honors loved ones who have passed before us. During the event, numerous Old Pasadena businesses will create beautiful altars in their spaces to showcase during the self-guided Tour of Altars”.5. Grand Ave Arts: All Access (November 2nd). Grand Avenue, from Central Library up to the Music Center, is one of the best cultural quarters in Los Angeles, housing the afore mentioned library, MOCA, the Broad Museum, the Colburn Music School, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, REDCAT, the L.A. Opera, Center Theater Group and Grand Park itself. On November 2ndall of the above hold fun and free events, such as scavenger hunts, talks, performances and tours. This is a must do!6. Rooftop Cinema Club (dates through November). Los Angeles loves outdoor cinemas – and why not? The weather’s perfect for them here and we do love our movies. It can get a bit chilly at night in November, but if you wrap up a little there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the experience. This particular series is at the historic CBS Television City, where many famous TV shows, and a few movies, have been shot.7. Rose Bowl Flea Market (November 11th). This is one of the largest and most famous flea markets in the world. Now in its 50thyear, around 20,000 people turn up to browse the 2,500 stalls in this historic stadium. A vast array of antiques, clothes, jewelry, arts and crafts and many other kinds of merchandise is available – as well as a good selection of food stalls. 8. AFI Film Festival (November 8th-15th). The American Film Institute was founded by Presidential decree in the 1960’s, to preserve American film heritage, educate filmmakers and honor the artists working in film. Obviously it’s always been based in Los Angeles. Every year the AFI organizes a film festival here and it’s a great one to see some classics and movies by emerging filmmakers. There are also panel discussions with well known directors and actors (amongst others).9. The Great Los Angeles Walk (November 17th). People don’t walk in L.A., right? It’s become such a cliché there was even a song titled exactly that. Well, they do! Especially for this annual event. Participants walk from Pershing Square in downtown to the sea, at Santa Monica (the route varies from year to year). Now in its 13thyear, this is a great way to see L.A. from a different perspective. And you don’t have to do the whole walk – you can just join the happy throng anywhere along the route.10. Annual Mariachi Festival (November 18th). Now in its 28thyear, the Mariachi Festival was established to promote mariachi music, the arts and the historically Latino community of Boyle Heights. The event is centered around the aptly named Mariachi Plaza. It’s a really fun, noisy and vibrant L.A. festival – with great food – and can be easily reached on the Gold Line via Mariachi Plaza Station.By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.THE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LA IN NOVEMBER
1. Triforium Fridays (November 2nd). You can only now make the last act of this “three-part...Posted on : 30th Oct 2018
- On our Central Downtown LA Tour we stop at the Tower Theatre on the corner of Broadway and 8th Street. The clock on the tower is stuck at 6 o’ clock, and I usually joke that this was the exact time that the 1971 San Fernando earthquake struck, taking the top off the tower and freezing time. To my surprise, I recently found out that indeed the quake struck at 6 am!Like many of the historic theatres in downtown it has been dark for many years, closing in 1987, and has been featured in numerous films, perhaps most notably the David Lynch’s neo-noir, Mulholland Drive (2001). I had the pleasure of seeing its interior at the annual Night on Broadway, in which many of the movie palaces in downtown’s historic theater district open to the public, and the interior is extraordinarily ornate, with much of its original charm and magical atmosphere perfectly intact.The original fabric of the building resonates with a fascinating history. On the night of October 5th 1927, the theatre opened with a very special showing of a movie that would change the course of cinema - the first fully synchronized sound feature film, The Jazz Singer. The official premiere was held the following night in New York, but this was the theatre where the first audience saw Al Jolson turn to the camera and say, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”. The audience jumped out of their seats. It put Warner Bros into the major league and ushered in the new world of ‘talkies’. The Tower Theatre was also the first theater in Los Angeles to have refrigerated air conditioning, the mechanics of which could be viewed through glass portals by the patrons. Rumours had circulated for more than a year that tech giant Apple wanted to lease the theatre in order to fully restore it as an event space for Beats Music, and would put a new Apple store across the street in the 1905 May Department Store building, which is also being restored. This seemed like a perfect match, a gesture of Noblesse Oblige from a $trillion California company towards its home state. Maybe even drawing inspiration from downtown Oakland’s beautifully restored theaters, which have had a hugely positive impact on their neighborhood.However, I was devastated to find that recent plans reveal that the theatre will become a new Apple Store instead. My stomach literally turned! The stage will be removed along with the original balcony seating and exterior doors and who knows what else? Well, I can tell you who - the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, who have approved the designs and agreed for a change in use, from theater to retail. Could this be another nail in the coffin for any hope of Broadway becoming the cultural mecca that it once was? Apple Stores all over the world, have very much the same clinical, overpriced vibe, but there is, however, only one Tower Theatre. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Apple’s senior director of retail design BJ Siegel explained that the planned stored will be “in the upper echelon of what Apple does”. Turning a historic movie palace into a retail space is a loss for all of us. It amounts to cultural vandalism and generations to come will blame us for not fighting more fervently for its preservation.By Stuart WoodStuart Wood is a guide for The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @stuiewoodEXIT STAGE LEFT FOR THE TOWER THEATRE?
On our Central Downtown LA Tour we stop at the Tower Theatre on the corner...Posted on : 22nd Oct 2018
- 1. Knotts Scary Farm (September 20-October 31). There’s a distinctly Halloween-like flavor to our suggestions on the 10 best things to do in LA this month. Obviously it’s a big deal here in the U.S. and there are numerous events associated with it in L.A. According to their website Knott’s Scary Farm “is the largest and most haunting Halloween experience in Southern California.” That’s quite some claim, but it’s probably true and this is definitely something to think about if you’re visiting Los Angeles with kids.2. Los Angeles Haunted Hayride (September 29-October 31). Here’s another Halloween event, this one at Griffith Park, in the Old Zoo – one of the best places to do an event such as this. The Old Zoo used to be Los Angeles’ zoo until the current zoo opened and even in sunny daylight it’s an atmospheric place to wander, with its old cages and deep caves, but all dressed up for Halloween it’s something else. “In this haunted village Halloween never ends…”3. Diavolo: Architecture in Motion (October 12-14). Once again the dance company Diavolo return to the Music Center with their signature style that encompasses modern dance, acrobatics and gymnastics. Recently they were top ten finalists on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, which has raised their profile even more. In this show Diavolo explore the relationship between humans and their architectural environment.4. Taste of Soul (October 20). This is a fantastic free event that takes place every year (it’s now in its thirteenth) in October around Crenshaw Boulevard in west Los Angeles. Around 350,000 people attend, so it’s pretty big, and it celebrates all things “soulful”, including food, music and entertainment. Go early and go big!5. Oktoberfest Downtown (October 20-21). The other thing October is famous for – the annual Bavarian beer event. Oktoberfest has spread all over the world and of course we have our own editions here in Los Angeles. The one in downtown is probably the easiest to get to if you’re visiting Los Angeles and it’s in Pershing Square. Large quantities of beer are available (as you’d expect), there’s an entertainment line up featuring some cool bands and entry is only $5. So what are you waiting for?6. Street Food Cinema (October) “is L.A.’s largest outdoor movie series featuring cool movies, tasty food trucks, live music, interactive games and more!” Now that sounds like a pretty good combination to me. There are 14 different locations all over the city, so undoubtedly you can find one that works for you. Tickets are very reasonably priced, there are great food options available and the locations are all cool, interesting places to visit. Check it out!7. Dia de los Muertos (October 27) – the big Central American festival of the dead. This is a big deal in Los Angeles and Dia de los Muertos at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery is one of the best. Obviously the venue itself is a key part of that and wandering past the graves and tombs in the landscaped cemetery while passing Angelenos in full costume is quite an experience. Put this one down in the calendar and “honor the Aztec goddess who gave birth to the moon, stars, and the sun”.8. West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval (October 31). This is an enormous free event on the streets of West Hollywood and is a must do if you’re here on Halloween. You’ll never forget it. It’s one of Southern California’s largest events of any kind, as it feels like almost the entire population of L.A. has descended on the Carnival in full make-up and costume for a night of fun and abandon. Don’t even think about driving to this event – you’ll never get parking anywhere near it.9. Coast Open Streets Festival (October 7). This is a fun, family friendly, event that takes over the streets of Santa Monica every year. The idea is to close off the streets to vehicular traffic so people can, you know, actually walk around and enjoy the city. In this way the festival explores art, sustainability and mobility with live music, art installations, activities and food. 10. Joshua Tree Music Festival (October 4-7). Joshua Tree National Park is about two hours drive east of Los Angeles and had a weirdly beautiful, almost Martian like, landscape. October is actually a great time to visit, as the days are not as insanely hot as they are in the summer and the nights are not as cold as in winter. The festival itself features Grammy, Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, World Music luminaries and “promotes personal growth through a variety of multidisciplinary workshops, such as yoga and movement, visual arts, music, and myth.” It’s also very family friendly and it’s not as intense as Burning Man. Commune, revel and bond!By Damien BlackshawDamien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.THE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LA IN OCTOBER
1. Knotts Scary Farm (September 20-October 31). There’s a distinctly Halloween-like flavor to our suggestions on...Posted on : 29th Sep 2018
- The theatre at 1735 Vine Street, now known as the Avalon, has been singularly successful over the course of its ninety one years (and counting). When it was born as the Hollywood Playhouse in 1927 most theaters were designed for moving pictures, meaning a smaller stage area was needed. The developers of the Hollywood Playhouse however still believed in ‘flesh shows’ (meaning live shows, not ‘nude’ as the name suggests) and gave it a full rope counterweight fly system for changing the background scenery and curtains, a double door to Vine Street and balcony seating. This has given it a long life as entertainment needs in Hollywood have changed over the last century.THE HOLLYWOOD PLAYHOUSE: FROM THEATRE, TO BURLESQUE, TO MICHAEL JACKSON
Built during a golden age of theater construction in California, the Hollywood Playhouse was constructed in the Churrigueresque, or Spanish Baroque, style, which was popular in the 1910′s and 20′s and is characterized by plain, adobe-looking walls and fancifully decorated windows and door openings. The architects were Gogerty and Weyl, who designed several other Hollywood landmarks that still stand.It’s had a number of names over the years including the Hollywood Playhouse, the WPA Federal Theatre, El Capitan Theatre, the Jerry Lewis Theatre, the Hollywood Palace and the Palace. During its “El Capitan” phase, it hosted a popular burlesque and vaudeville show: Ken Murray’s Blackouts. Murray’s greatest weapon was buxom blonde comedienne Marie Wilson, whose banter danced the delicate line between what was considered ‘racy’ and ‘vulgar’ in 1946. When asked what was new, Marie would say that she’d been reading a study about the advantages of using mothers’ milk over bottled milk. When Murray asked the advantages of mother’s milk she’d reply, “Well, it doesn’t need refrigerating, the cats can’t get at it and, best of all, it comes in such cute containers.” Although often portrayed as decorative fluff, her contribution to the show’s success was proved beyond doubt when Murray later opened the show in New York without her - and it flopped.In those days television networks often broadcast live shows and dozens were staged in the theater. In the 1960′s, the Hollywood Palace (as it was known by then) hosted ABC’s the Hollywood Palace Variety Show which was very successful and ran until 1970. It featured many notable guest hosts, such as Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland and Joan Crawford. Many famed musical acts appeared on the show, including the Rolling Stones AND the Beetles (in their first appearances in the U.S.), as well as the Jackson 5, featuring a young Michael Jackson. Today it’s known as the Avalon, a popular dance club whose events feature international DJ’s. Their promotional media invites the public to “… dance into the wee hours at this huge nightclub housed in a historic theater.” And so the Hollywood Playhouse continues to remain relevant by finding new uses (and names) for itself.You can see the Hollywood Playhouse/Avalon, across the street from the Capitol Records Building near the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, on The Real Hollywood Tour, our popular tour of Hollywood. It’s a beautiful building.By Margaret Wineland and Damien BlackshawMargaret is on twitter: @maggiewineland.
Damien is the owner of The Real Los Angeles Tours and is on twitter: @damienblackshaw.
The theatre at 1735 Vine Street, now known as the Avalon, has been singularly successful...Posted on : 19th Sep 2018