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Los Angeles, California, USA: Life beyond stardom
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Los Angeles (lovingly called LA) is strongly associated with Hollywood; its stars and stardom. But there’s more to LA than what meets the mind. The question in Los Angeles is never what to do, but where to begin. The city is home to many famous attractions in a relatively concentrated space. Choices include amusement parks, architectural landmarks, art museums and galleries, beaches, parks, hiking, shopping, comedy clubs, live music and of course movies.
I was attending a travel trade show that was being held at The Los Angeles Convention Center. I was hosted at Hotel Omni Los Angeles bang in downtown known as Bunker Hill. I was surrounded by skyscrapers and my room overlooked the California Plaza and the Angels Flight Railway Station. Actually this would be the smallest railway in the world… transporting people between two streets at different levels with tracks set at an inclination of 33 degrees.
A day was kept aside for the trade delegates to explore LA. I opted to take a half-day guided bus tour that would highlight the spirit of LA. Of course, the allotted time was grossly unjust… there’s so much to the city.
Starline Tours rank amongst LA’s largest and most popular tour company. They offer many day trips in LA to suit travelers’ varying needs. We had a guide and a large bus at our disposal. We left the Convention Center at 11AM. The schedule was to explore LA with a boxed lunch sponsored by Hard Rock Café.
Our first stop was Walt Disney Concert Hall. At South Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, it is the fourth hall of the Los Angeles Music Center. Bounded by Hope Street, Grand Avenue, and 1st and 2nd Streets, it seats 2,265 people and serves as the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Lillian Disney, widow of Walt Disney made an initial gift of $50 million in 1987 to build a performance venue as a gift to the people of Los Angeles and a tribute to Walt Disney's devotion to the arts and to the city. The building designed by Frank Gehry opened on October 24, 2003. The total cost of the project went up to $237 million, which was funded by Walt Disney Family, Walt Disney Company and private donations. The concert hall is considered an epitome of fine acoustics.
Very unique to Los Angeles is its concentration of skyscrapers in downtown namely Bunker Hill. The prevailing LA laws prohibited buildings to go up beyond 12 floors. Save for Bunker Hill which enjoyed the privilege of building structures that met the sky. As we drove around Bunker Hill and the neighbourhood, we came across many private and Government buildings including Wells Fargo Center, Bank of America Center, Los Angeles Times Building, Los Angeles Police Department Building, Town Hall, Civic Center, Court House to name a few.
Our next stop was the birth place of Los Angeles – Olvera Street.
The indigenous people of the Tongva Nation, the aboriginal tribe of the Los Angeles Basin had long been established near the river when King Carlos the III of Spain ordered the settlement of the territory by Felipe de Neve thus sending 44 families on the long journey from Mexico to Alta California to start the pueblo de La Reina De Los Angeles in 1781.
Olvera Street is located on the general site of the birthplace of the city of Los Angeles, near the Plaza, the Plaza Church and the Zanja Madre. Originally called Vine Street, in 1877 it was renamed after Agustin Olvera, the first judge of the county of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, by the 1920’s the once robust community had become a dangerous and dilapidated area long abandoned by its prosperous founders.
So when Christine Sterling, a wealthy young matron who loved history, found herself surrounded by original adobes and run down historic buildings, she began a crusade that would change her life and preserve the heritage of Los Angeles.
Along with several other wealthy citizens of Los Angeles, she founded the “Plaza de Los Angeles Corporation,” and became its lifelong manager. Christine Sterling opened Olvera Street to the general public in April 1930. Although there have been many developments in the last eighty years, her idea of a Mexican Marketplace still exists and continues to attract visitors from around the world. We moved around the narrow lanes in the marketplace intrigued by the over 80 stores that offered curios and handicrafts. When there, make it a point to enjoy Mexican and other cuisines served in many restaurants as also visit Avila Adobe – the oldest home in LA. Entrance is free of cost.
From the old, we would soon reach the very new – Hollywood. As soon as one hears this magic word, the image of the famous sign comes to mind. We got our first glimpse of the ‘HOLLYWOOD’ sign whilst driving towards Hollywood Boulevard. Through the years – from its splashy real estate billboard roots, to its long neglect and decay, to its current status as a revered international landmark – the sign has emerged more symbolically powerful than ever. It conjures an ever-expanding parade of images, desires and ideas with just nine simple letters.
We parked our bus at the parking lot of Starline Tours located on Orange just off Hollywood Boulevard. We would tour Kodak Theatre, pick up our lunch at Hard Rock Café and then be on our own, for an hour or so, to explore the action on the boulevard – home to many street performers, restaurants, souvenir shops, star walk, hotels, museums and what have you.
Kodak Theatre is the crown jewel of the Hollywood & Highland Center retail, dining and entertainment complex located in the heart of historic Hollywood. The 3,332 seat theatre opened in November 2001 and soon thereafter became known to more than one billion people across the globe as the first permanent home of the Academy Awards.
Inspired by the elegance of a European opera house, with state-of-the-art technical capabilities, Kodak Theatre has been host to many of the world's top performers including Celine Dion, Prince, Barry Manilow, Alicia Keys and the Dixie Chicks. Kodak Theatre also hosted high profile events such as The Daytime Emmy Awards, The ESPY Awards, The BET Awards, the American Idol finals, Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and many more. During the Oscar awards evening, part of the Hollywood Boulevard is closed for public. A red carpet is laid down on the street that leads stars and celebrities to the theatre entrance. Guided tours of the theatre are available at a cost.
To reach the Farmers Market which was our final destination, we drove past Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, Miracle Mile and George Page Museum.
Sunset Boulevard stretches from Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Coast Highway at the Pacific Ocean in the Pacific Palisades. The street is an icon of Hollywood celebrity culture and the phrase "Sunset Boulevard" is enduring shorthand for the glamour associated with Hollywood.
Beverly Hills is noted for its luxurious culture and its famous residents, which include executives, foreign and domestic dignitaries, artists, TV and film celebrities. It is also home to the famous upscale shopping district Rodeo Drive.
Attracted to an elegant lifestyle made possible after building of Beverly Hills Hotel in 1912, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford led the wave of movie stars here when they built their mansion, Pickfair, in 1919. Gloria Swanson, Will Rogers, Thomas Ince, Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix, Carl Laemmle, Ronald Coleman, King Vidor, John Barrymore, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Jack Warner, Clara Bow, Marion Davies, Harry Cohn and Rudolph Valentino soon followed and built stylish mansions.
In the post World War II years, Beverly Hills continued to develop as one of the most glamorous places in the world to live, eat, play and, especially, shop. The Golden Triangle, with Rodeo Drive at its center, was built and marketed to the rest of the world as the shopping destination of a lifetime. Many other glamorous hotels opened, notably the Beverly Wilshire, attracting visitors from all over the world. The City's iconic image was enhanced with the spread of television shows and movies set in Beverly Hills, among them The Jack Benny Show in the 1950s, The Beverly Hillbillies in the 1960s and, more recently, Beverly Hills Cop in the 1980s and Beverly Hills 90210 in the 1990s.
In the early 1920s, Wilshire Boulevard west of Western Avenue was an unpaved farm road, extending through dairy farms and bean fields. Developer A.W. Ross saw potential for the area, and developed Wilshire as a commercial district to rival downtown Los Angeles.
Ross's insight was that the form and scale of his Wilshire strip should attract and serve automobile traffic rather than pedestrian shoppers. He applied this design both to the street itself and to the buildings lining it. Ross gave Wilshire various "firsts": dedicated left-turn lanes, the first timed traffic lights in the United States; he also required merchants to provide automobile parking lots, all to aid traffic flow.
Ross's moves were unprecedented, a huge commercial success, and proved historically influential. Ross had invented the car-oriented urban form – a model later adopted across the United States. The moves also contributed to Los Angeles' reputation as a city dominated by the car. A sculptural bust of Ross stands at 5800 Wilshire, with the inscription, "A. W. Ross, founder and developer of the Miracle Mile. Vision to see, wisdom to know, courage to do."
The La Brea Tar Pits (or Rancho La Brea Tar Pits) are a cluster of tar pits around which Hancock Park was formed, in the urban heart of Los Angeles. Asphaltum or tar (brea in Spanish) has seeped up from the ground in this area for tens of thousands of years. The tar is often covered with dust, leaves, or water. Over many centuries, animals that were trapped in the tar were preserved as bones. The George C. Page Museum is dedicated to researching the tar pits and displaying specimens from the animals that died there. The La Brea Tar Pits are now a registered National Natural Landmark.
Farmers Market is located at the corner of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue in the Fairfax District. The Farmers Market is an area of food stalls, sit-down eateries, prepared food vendors, and produce markets. It is also a historic Los Angeles landmark and tourist attraction, first opened in July 1934.
The Farmers Market features more than 100 restaurants, grocers and tourist shops. Unlike most farmers' markets, which are held only at intervals, the Farmers' Market of Los Angeles is a permanent installation and is open seven days a week. The dozens of vendors serve many kinds of food - both American cuisine from local farmers and restaurants and Los Angeles' variety of local ethnic foods from the many immigrant communities of Los Angeles.
Farmers Market was our last stop of the day. From there we drove past Matrix Theatre on Melrose and the famous Paramount Pictures Studio.
After the Trade Show was over, I had the opportunity to visit Mammoth Lakes. Our bus would leave from the Convention Center at 9 AM. I reached the venue a little early that gave me some time to walk through the neighbourhood that housed famous neighbours… Staples Center, Nokia Theatre, Grammy Museum and the Historic Figueroa Hotel.
Staples Center is owned and operated by the L.A. Arena Company and Anschutz Entertainment Group. The arena is home to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League (NHL), and the Los Angeles Sparks of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). Staples Center is also host to over 250 events and nearly 4,000,000 visitors a year.
Nokia Theatre is a music and theatre venue seating 7,100, while Club Nokia is a club venue with a seating capacity of 2,300 for live music and cultural events.
On May 8, 2007, it was announced that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences would establish a museum dedicated to the history of the Grammy Awards. The museum opened on December 2008 for the Grammy Awards 50th anniversary. It consists of four floors with historical music artifacts.
The Figueroa Hotel opened in 1925 as a YWCA. It was converted into a hotel after the depression. Since then, this Moroccan style hotel has been welcoming celebrities. Paintings on its façade are indeed one of the LA landmarks.
It was now time to hop on the bus and get away from the city. Mountain air was calling.
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