Thursday, May 27, 2010

Looking Around Los Angeles

I like to post a little about each city that I visit. Perhaps an attraction that might not get much notice, or an area of town that is worth a visit. Everyone knows about Disneyland and Universal Studios in LA, but many people spend their entire time in LA outside of the downtown area, which has a few things that might be intriguing.

Japanese American National Museum

There is an area in downtown LA known as Little Tokyo which is historically where Japanese Americans lived in the early part of the 20th century. There are lots of Japanese restaurants stores, and temples in the neighbourhood, but the prime attraction is the Japanese American National Museum on First Street, just south of Union Station. Opened in 1992, the museum contains a detailed history of the Japanese American experience. It's not a long history as Japanese immigrants didn't start arriving until the 1880's, and much of the display is dedicated to the internment that affected the Japanese population in 1942, one of the United States' most embarrassing acts. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, all Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in relocation camps for over two years until the Supreme Court ruled against the government. Because there are so many personal artifacts, the displays on this period are quite interesting and powerful.

There are some displays on baseball, and a great picture of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig who played a Japanese American team during a barnstorming tour. Another interesting topic was how Arizona had the most drastic anti-Japanese law on the books in 1935. Just 75 years later and now the boogeymen are Mexicans. The more things change...

The museum also has changing exhibitions which are detailed on their website. For anyone who has lived in Japan, this is a good place to see how those who left here over 100 years ago dealt with the problems of assimilating in the USA.

Next door to the museum is the Geffen Contemporary Museum of Art, but it was closed when I was there. Across the courtyard from the museum is the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, which is pictured below.


Downtown LA is not known for its tourist-friendly attractions, but rather as a place to be avoided. Historically this may have been true, but recent redevelopments make it worth your while to walk around if you have time before a game at Staples Center. City Hall (pictured at the top of the post) is here, as is Angels Flight, a small funicular railway that has just reopened in March after a 9-year hiatus due to a fatal accident.

As you walk southwest from Union Station to the Staples Center, you will pass through several neighbourhoods, including Little Tokyo, Civic Center, Bunker Hill, and South Park. Each has its own history and distinct feeling. There are some parks such as Pershing Square, and unique museums such as one dedicated to Neon Art.

Just to the northwest of Union Station are the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument and Chinatown.

There is really a lot to see here, so take your time to do some research and try to catch some of the lesser-known sights. You'll avoid the crowds who are all in Hollywood and maybe learn something as well.

Miracle Mile

The Miracle Mile refers to Wilshire Boulevard between Fairfax and LaBrea Avenues in western LA. From a roadtrippers perspective, this is an historic area as it is where the first dedicated left-turn lanes were introduced as well as timed traffic lights and parking lots for shops. All of these innovations were the brainchild of developer A.W. Ross who wanted to create a commericial area to rival downtown. He succeeded in a manner that was unimaginable, hence the area was named "Miracle Mile" and the model became the de facto standard for commercial districts across the country.

If you are going out to UCLA to catch a game, you can try the slow route along Wilshire. Museum Row is located here as well. The LaBrea Tar Pits (shown below) and Page Museum, LACMA, and the Petersen Automotive Museum are all within a few minutes of each other and you can easily spend a day going between them.

I did spend an afternoon at LACMA and was particularly impressed with their Japanese pavilion. It contains a number of screens and prints from all periods of Japanese history. My favourite display was the coloured woodblock prints by Utagawa Hiroshige, one of which showed the area in which I now live. It's amazing how much things have changed here in the intervening 150 years, especially after visiting London which has many of the same buildings from 500 years ago.

LACMA is not cheap, with parking and admission totaling $19, but it is "Pay What You Wish" after 5 pm. It's a huge complex and an art fan can spend hours here browsing a wide variety of works.

In-N-Out by LAX

OK, enough culture, let's talk about food! Before flying out of LAX, I make it a rule to have a Double Double at the In-N-Out on Sepulveda Blvd just north of the airport. It is the most famous location of the venerable chain as it is right next to one of the runways, so there are planes landing every couple of minutes. As I sat down to eat my burger yesterday, SQ12 from Tokyo arrived - this would be the same plane I would take back home a few hours later. The burger as always was superb but I was rather hungry so I finished it before I remembered to take a picture. Below is the iconic sign as a US Airways plane lands behind.

I can hardly wait to get back there.



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