Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mission San Juan Capistrano

In 1769, Spain's King Charles III sent a group of Franciscan priests led by Father Junipero Serra to establish Spanish missions in Alta California. The purpose of the mission system was to extend Spanish influence and power in the New World by converting and controlling indigenous populations. Between 1769 and 1823, the Franciscans built 21 missions in coastal California along the Camino Real (the 101 Freeway now roughly follows the old Spanish "Royal Road") from San Diego in the South to Sonoma in the North.

In 1775, the Franciscans founded Mission San Juan Capistrano. With its beautiful gardens and fountains, Mission San Juan Capistrano, which is located in Orange County about an hour south of L.A., is one of the prettiest of California's historic missions.


Through the missions, the Franciscans introduced Spanish farming practices and crops such as wheat, citrus fruits, figs, grapes, and olives to California. The Spanish operated the missions and their farms as coercive labor camps. Indian converts, once baptized, were "attached" to the mission and were obligated to remain at the mission and work the land. The Spanish actively searched for runaways and forcibly returned escaped Indians to the missions.

Here is a statue of Father Junipero Serra baptizing an Indian boy:

By mistreating the indigenous population, destroying traditional food sources, and introducing new communicable diseases to the region, the Spanish decimated the Indian population of California. In 1770, there were at least 300,000 Indians in California; by the mid-1800s, the Indian population was reduced by more than half.

The Catholic Church still owns and operates 19 of California's historic missions. The California missions usually have low-quality exhibits and weird dioramas that tend to gloss over their troubling histories. Here is one of the dioramas at San Juan Capistrano:

The 1776 adobe church at San Juan Capistrano, referred to as Father Serra's chapel, is the oldest known building in California. The chapel has an ornate golden altar and a traditional painted wooden ceiling:
A niche-statue inside of Father Serra's chapel:

In 1796, the Franciscans, using Indian labor, constructed a large stone church at Mission San Juan Capistrano with limestone mortar and stones from a nearby quarry. The building, which was the largest of the California Mission churches, collapsed during an earthquake in 1812 killing 40 Indians who were inside attending mass. The older church, built out of traditional adobe, survived the earthquake. Here are two views of the ruins of the great stone church:
Bells were an integral part of mission life and were used to signal the beginning of the work day, breaks for meals, and prayer time. A view of the coast in nearby Laguna Beach:



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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cat of the Week: Buster

Buster of Westside Village enjoying an early walk on Christmas morning:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

1950s Gas Station

One of my favorite things about L.A. is its distinctive mid-century roadside architecture. Here are a few pictures of the Union 96 gas station on Cresent Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills:

For more classic L.A. 1950s design, check out my posts on Googie diners, Randy's Donuts, the Chemosphere House, and architect Welton Becket.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bullocks Wilshire

The Bullocks-Wilshire Department Store, which opened in Los Angeles in 1929, was one of the country's first major Art Deco buildings. The proprietors built Bullocks on Wilshire Boulevard about 3 miles west of downtown Los Angeles with the expectation that consumers would travel by automobile to shop at the upscale department store.


The main entrance to the store faced the back parking lot where shoppers arrived by automobile:

The structure is built with reinforced concrete clad in terracotta tiles and decorated with copper detailing.


The copper-topped tower is 241 feet high (74 meters):

Here is a detail of a copper spandrel (a decorative panel between windows):
Carved terracotta tiles over the building's Wilshire entrance:

Bullocks-Wilshire operated as a successful department store for 5 decades until the 1980s when the owners sold the business. The store stayed open until 1993 when it declared bankruptcy and closed its doors. A year later, in 1994, Southwestern Law School purchased the building and renovated it for use as its law school library. Southwestern did an excellent job with its renovation and the building is currently in great condition with many of its original decorative details intact. Here are some views of the main lobby:

The ceiling over the main parking lot entrance is decorated with a mural entitled "The Spirit of Transportation" by Herman Sachs. The mural includes images of steam trains, ocean liners, planes, and giant blimps:

The building's silhouette with its elegant vertical lines and tapering tower is quite beautiful:
Bullocks-Wilshire is located at Wilshire and Westmoreland (2 blocks east of Vermont). Southwestern Law School opens the building for architectural tours once a year. If you are interested in Art Deco architecture, check out my earlier posts on downtown L.A. and the Wiltern Theater.



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L.A. County Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

Los Angeles County operates a large arboretum and botanical garden in Arcadia. The L.A. County Arboretum is less pristine than L.A's privately operated botanical gardens like the nearby Huntington, but admission is cheaper and the grounds are less crowded.


Like many of California's botanical gardens, the L.A. Arboretum's collection focuses on plants from other regions with Mediterranean climates including the Mediterranean basin, Chile, South Africa, western and southern Australia, and northwestern Mexico. The L.A. County Arboretum also includes landscaped ponds, streams, and waterfalls.


There are many birds and animals at the Arboretum including dozens of beautiful Indian Blue Peacocks that walk around very slowly and make loud, horrible noises.

A close-up of a peacock's iridescent tail feathers:
A peacock in front of the women's restroom with its tail fully fanned:
A rear view of the peacock:
An Arboretum staff member taught me that female peacocks are called "peahens" and baby peacocks are "peachicks."

A colorful little Wood Duck:

A Black-Crowned Night-Heron:

A little turtle sunning himself on a log:

The LA County Arboretum is located at 301 North Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia, CA. Visiting information is available on the Arboretum's website.


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Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Getty Villa

In the early 1970s, billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (1892-1976) built a re-creation of a first-century Roman villa on his ranch in Pacific Palisades to display his growing art collection to the public. Critics derided the project as a kitchy theme-park, but Getty defended the faux-Roman villa arguing that it was more appropriate for displaying classical art than a traditional "neutral" museum setting.

The Villa is located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Here is the main pool with the Villa in the background:

The Inner Peristyle has bronze replicas of the statutes found at the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy, the building on which the Getty Villa is based:

In 1997, the Getty Foundation relocated its main collection, as well as its administrative and research centers to the giant Getty Center in nearby Brentwood. The Villa was reopened to the public in 2006 after a major renovation by architects Machado and Jorge Silvetti and it continues to house the Getty's ancient collection.


In 2005, the Italian government indicted the Getty's head antiquities curator, Marion True, for conspiracy to traffic in illegal antiquities. The Getty has since agreed to return dozens of pieces with dubious provenance to Italy. Despite its involvement in controversy, the Getty still holds an excellent ancient art collection which it displays thematically in galleries such as "Women and Children in Antiquity," "Athletes and Competition," and "Wine in Antiquity." The thematic displays and the villa setting make the museum particularly accessible and popular with the general public. Images from the collection are available online on the Getty's website.


The Villa grounds include beautifully landscaped gardens and courtyards, picnic areas, an outdoor cafe, and an open air theater.


With an average of 345 days of sunshine per year in Pacific Palisades, even grumpy people who think the Getty Villa is tacky will probably enjoy a visit.


Admission to the Getty Villa is free, but you have to reserve a time-slot in advance online. If you drive, parking is $15 per car. More information about visiting the Getty Villa is available on the Getty website. The Getty Villa refers to itself as the "Getty Malibu," presumably for marketing purposes, however, it is actually located in Pacific Palisades in the city of Los Angeles, not over the border in the city of Malibu.


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Cat of the Week

An unnamed kitty in Venice:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Watts Towers

Over the course of 34 years from 1921-1955, Italian immigrant Simon Rodia (1879-1965) built a series of giant structures in his backyard in Watts out of scrap metal and concrete. Rodia's Watts Towers are the largest folk art monument in the country built by a single individual.


Watts lies with the flight path of the Los Angeles International Airport so Rodia limited the tallest tower to 99.5 feet (30 meters) in order to avoid having to comply with special regulations governing structures over 100 feet tall.


Rodia was a construction worker and tile-setter and worked on his backyard structure in the evenings and on the weekends. Within the exterior wall surrounding the plot, there are over 15 separate sculptures including towers, gazebos, seating areas, and small fountains.

Rodia made the structures climbable so that he did not need scaffolding to work on the higher portions of the towers.

A detail of a support buttress between two of the towers lined with hearts:

Rodia decorated the sculptures with tile remnants, broken glass and pottery, hand-drawn and imprinted designs, and sea shells:



For many years, Rodia worked at the Malibu Tile Company and was able to acquire broken and remnant Malibu Tiles for his towers:

Bottle bottoms:

At the narrow point of his triangular-shaped plot, Rodia built a sculpture called the "Ship of Marco Polo" with its helm pointed East toward Italy:
Ginger ale bottles decorating the arch over a doorway:

The Watts Towers and the adjacent community arts center are open to the public for tours on Thursdays (10:30-3), Fridays (11-3), Saturdays (10:30-3), and Sundays (12:30-3). The tours are $7 for adults, $3 for seniors and teenagers, and free for kids under 12. There is additional information about the towers and the adjacent community arts center at The Watts Towers Arts Center website, however, the information on the website is not up-to-date. For updates on hours and visiting info, call 213-847-4646.

The Towers are located at 1761-1765 East 107th St. in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.



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