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:

View Mission San Juan Capistrano in a larger map

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.

View Bullocks Wilshire in a larger map

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.

View L.A. County Arboretum in a larger map

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.

View Getty Villa in a larger map

Cat of the Week

An unnamed kitty in Venice:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Exposition Park Rose Garden

The City of Los Angeles has operated the 7-acre formal Rose Garden in Exposition Park since 1928. It is a traditional rose garden including concentric plots of rose bushes laid out symmetrically around a central fountain.

The garden includes over 20,000 rose bushes and over 200 different types of roses.

The garden, which is a nice location for a stroll or a picnic, is open from 9 in the morning until sundown but is closed from January 1st through March 15th for maintenance and pruning. A number of child-friendly museums surround the garden in Exposition Park including The California Science Center, The California African American Museum, and The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Exposition Park is also across the street from the University of Southern California campus.

View Exposition Park in a larger map

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Runyon Canyon

Runyon Canyon is a very popular urban park in Hollywood with a moderate 3 mile hiking loop.

There are great views over the city from the trail. Here is a view looking out over Hollywood toward downtown Los Angeles:

Cactus and Palm tree near the Fuller street entrance to the park:

The main entrance to Runyon Canyon is on N. Fuller Ave. one block north of Hillside Avenue. There are additional entrances on Vista St. and from the north on Mulholland. Dogs are allowed on the trails.

View Runyon Canyon in a larger map

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inglewood History of Transportation Mural

Southern California Modernist artist Helen Lundeberg (1908-1999) designed the History of Transportation Mural in Inglewood in 1939 as a project of the Works Progress Administration. The mural is 8 feet high, 240 feet long, and is comprised of 60 mosaic panels mounted on a curved cast concrete wall.

The mural depicts the historic inhabitants of the Centinela Valley including Native Americans, Spanish Missionaries, and Anglo settlers. The mural shows forms of transportation including walking, ox-drawn carriages, steam trains, automobiles, and airplanes.

The History of Transportation Mural is made with petrachrome mosaic, a process designed by the WPA specifically for California's hot, sunny climate. Petrachrome mosaics were made with colored, crushed stones embedded in tinted concrete mortar. The WPA designed the petrachrome process to be labor intensive so that the projects would employ a large number of laborers and artisans. The Inglewood mural is one of the last remaining petrachrome artworks in the country.

Here is a detail depicting a boy on horseback waiving at two girls in an ox-drawn cart:
Spanish Missionaries on horseback in the background:

By the 1990s, the mural was severely damaged from weather, pollution, car collisions, and vandalism. The City of Inglewood and a variety of preservation groups raised $1 million in grants from the Getty, the California Heritage Fund, the California Cultural Historical Endowment, and other private donors for a major restoration and re-installation that began in 2001 and was completed in 2007.

The Inglewood transportation mural is appropriately located just a few miles East of LAX International Airport.

Here are some closer details from the mosaic. Some of the color areas are delineated with thin, inlaid brass outlines.

Here is an even closer view which shows the crushed stone embedded in the tinted mortar:

The History of Transportation Mural is located at the corner of Manchester Boulevard and Grevallia Avenue across the street from Inglewood High School just a few blocks away from Randy's Donuts. There is more information about the mural, the restoration effort, the petrachrome process and artist Helen Lundeberg available on the City of Inglewood's website.

View Randy's Donuts in a larger map