Saturday, November 29, 2014

Manuel Gomez Cruz

I was driving on Cesar Chavez past Evergreen Cemetery when I saw this wall.  I had seen it before.

It was just before Christmas in 2010.  I saw a mural on Fresno, and turned for a closer look.  First I was impressed by the contrast between the Nativity Scene painted on the wall, and the Christmas decorations in the window.  Two versions of what Christmas means.

  I photographed the rest of the mural.  

Religious art fills many of the walls of Los Angeles.  This  L.A. Times opinion column includes this mural, and others.  I was impressed with the reverence.  I was sure the artist knew a lot more about the life of Christ than I do,  but it looked like he had never took a figure drawing class.  I photographed some of the details that didn't show well in the pictures of the whole wall.

I especially liked the way the screen was painted to depict Barabbas imprisoned.  

I googled the artist.

Manuel Gomez Cruz was a muralist from the early days of Chicano murals in Los Angeles.  I only became aware of this movement when I saw the murals of Ramona Gardens and Estrada Courts featured in the L.A. Times.  That was when I lived in a neighborhood that has officially declared it's not on the Eastside, but is nevertheless included in The Eastsider blog. The only thing it's on the east side of is Hollywood.  I admired the pictures in the paper, but I wouldn't see them until most were faded and gone, with only a few that had been restored. The east side and the west side are divided by not only culture, but that big traffic jam called "downtown."

Artist Sonya Fe remembered Cruz from their days at the Mechicano Art Center and wrote an article for KCET in 2012.  

He published two or more books-- A Chicano Christmas is in print again and available from SPARC.  Cholito and the Artist is out of print, but available at Los Angeles Public Library.  

"To ace out a homeboy from another barrio is to kill La Raza" was painted at Ramona Gardens in 1974.  I found this picture of it on Pinterest.

I went to see whether it is still there.  This is what I found-

I didn't even recognize it until I uploaded the photo.

I looked at the lists of where his murals had been. I've checked many but not all of the locations.  I found this mural at the Moctezuma Cafe in Bolye Heights.  If they'd been open, I would have eaten there.  It's not completely free of tagging, but looks like its being regularly maintained. According to the signature it was originally painted in 1981and restored in 1996.

There are different versions of what happened when Cortez encountered Moctezuma in 1519. This one shows the Aztecs putting up a good fight against the Spanish invaders.

Carlos Duran worked on this section in 2005.

I haven't learned anything about Carlos Duran except that he worked with several artists on a mural called "Inspired by Siqueros" in Culver City.  

He also did this wonderful mosaic, "La Cometa."

Eric Huerta posted a wonderful link on Facebook with pictures of many L.A. murals taken between 1998 and 2002.

Cruz painted these at the  La Princesita Carniceria on Cesar Chavez Ave. One and another.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What They're Building Now

AVA Apartments is leasing now as they put the finishing touches on this development at 2nd and Los Angeles Streets in Little Tokyo.  I wondered who Ava was and learned that its Avalon Bay Communities, a big developer with a lot of buildings in the states of the East, West and Gulf Coasts, but none in Wisconsin, Nebraska or Missouri.  It looks just like a lot of what is being built these days.  According to AVAs website, currently available 1 bedroom apartments cost from $2,180 to 2,864 per month.

I wondered what these sculptural doodads were.

In my perverse mind, I thought of canine urinary stations.
 However, neither Buddy, the Golden Retriever about to cross the street, nor the two Corgis I saw earlier were interested.  I'll go there one evening, because there real function seems to be as light reflectors.  

Dogs are welcome at the AVA, and their owners are provided with conveniences.
They say they have a dog spa, whatever that is.  

Here's another view of the project.

It's not completely gray, and might even be a nice place to live. It got good reviews on Yelp.

It's just too bad the people on the sidewalk in front of Baba Perfumes, next door, can't afford to live there.  I don't think the man sitting on the fire hydrant in the first picture can either, and I know I can't.

I went back one evening in January to see those "sculptural things" after dark.

Although the AVA opened in December 2014, the lower floor, where the retail is supposed to be, is still empty, according to this Curbed L.A. article.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Will Development Spoil Mariachi Plaza?

Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights is where you go if you are a musician, or looking to hire a musician.  

I saw it for the first time in 2006, on a rainy day, while looking for a place to walk my dogs, and hoping the rain would go away.  The Metro Gold Line was under construction, and the fences around the construction were painted with murals.  

I took one picture from the kiosk looking down first street, and two more of the murals on the businesses around the plaza.

I've been catching up on the history of the place.  It had been a gathering place for mariachis and people looking to hire mariachis for parties for a long time, beginning in the thirties , forties or fifties.  You know, the kind of place that had just always been there.  It was the  parking lot of Olympic Donuts.   

In around 1983, the Cultural Affairs Department had started thinking about a more official sort of gathering place.  Starting in 1990, annual mariachi festivals have been held there in honor of the feast of St. Cecelia, patron saint of musicians.  Her day is November 22.   On that occasion, in 1993, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for the Mariachi Plaza, with Mayor Richard Riordan, Councilmen Richard Alatorre and Joel Wachs, and Adolfo V. Nodal of the Cultural Affairs Department.  It was set to be completed in June, 1994, and do to include a fountain, bandstand and antique street lights.  Unfortunately, it had become a center for illegal drug sales as well as for hiring musicians.   One local resident was quoted in the Times"We don't need a plaza," said Robert Chavez, who has lived at the corner for 11 years and can see the mariachis from his front porch. "We need more police." 

In 1994, the Times stated that little had changed.  Then they quoted Anita Castellanos, head of the Mariachi Plaza Committee: "It's becoming more and more a welcoming area,We got rid of the drug dealers and the winos hanging out, and the market is now pulling the women and kids across the plaza. They never went there before."  She and other merchants helped close down a bar there and asked students from the Academia de Arte Yepes, a free youth art academy in Boyle Heights, to paint the new murals on surrounding property.  Even though the kiosk had not been built, things were already changing.

In 1996, the donut store was still there, and musicians celebrated St. Cecilia day.  The 24th Mariachi Festival will be held Nov. 23, 9:30AM-7:00PM

Santa Cecilia 
restaurant in this  picture has been here for 19 years.  The owner, Armando Salazar, fears displacement of the development takes place.  
The gazebo, or kiosk was built in 1998. It was designed by Mexican sculptor Pablo Salas. The stone was quarried in Jalisco and cut there, then shipped to Los Angeles. 

See how the kiosk looks in sunshine, with the restored hotel in the background.  The hotel and the Gold Line station are stories I will tell in future installments.  

These children were playing there on Saturday.

Libros Schmibros moved here from its previous location at 1st. and Cummings in 2012.

What is the future for Mariachi Plaza?  This rendering shows a slicker and duller place.

Do architectural renderings make places look more slick and boring than they actually turn out to be?  When I saw this on streetsblog, I was alarmed, because Mariachi Plaza is a lovely place, just as it is.

These plans include two new commercial buildings and a six story parking structure.  The buildings with the restaurants and bookstore will be sacrificed, with their beautiful murals, and there will be less space for the mariachis and other folks.  If you have free time on Thursday, November 13 at 9AM, you can put your two cents in at a Metro Board of Directors Meeting at One Gateway Plaza.

Update Jan. 22, 2015 Residents of Boyle Heights expressed their unhappiness about the plan at a community meeting.  Read about it in the L.A. Times. and another time here.

The lot on the other side of the intersection is still under debate.  Read about it in L.A. Streetsblog.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ed Reyes River Greenway

There was a place I sometimes walked, at the end of Avenue 18 near railroad tracks and the L.A. River.   Three little houses were the remnant of an early 20th century neighborhood.  They had been built in 1905. All around were small and tired looking industrial buildings and the sprawling parking lots of the Young-Nak Presbyteran Church.  A chain link fence prevented entry to the river and the tracks.

One evening in May 2013.  I noticed construction was going on.   The gate to the fence had been left open, so I let my Buddy sniff around there.

I went home and found this picture, taken 4 years earlier.

From the historical picture I saw, it looked like there had been nothing but  an old road with railroad spurs before the land was cleared.

From the other side, at Avenue 19, it looked like this

I don't know when the news caught up with me that this was to be the Ed Reyes River Greenway. L.A. Stormwater had announced the groundbreaking in October 2012, but I knew nothing about it until the middle of 2013, at which time it was supposed to have opened already. 

I read that the was not just a small park.  In fact, being a park was to be the secondary function. there would be abiofiltration system to clean the urban runoff water from the storm drains that collects water from 135 acres of mostly industrial land.  This would be pumped by the solar power that would also light the park at night.

I took a few pictures through the chain link fence on Ave. 19 around that time.

It was working and ready to open in February 2014, but couldn't officially open until a fence was installed.  Materials had been stolen during the construction, so it could not be left unfenced.  However, the temporary fence was not doing much good, and I managed to slip in for a few pictures.  Because it was a project of the Bureau of Sanitation rather than the Department of Recreation and Parks, the usual funding was not available.

By April, men were at work installing fences on both sides.

Then in May, it opened at last.  The Matalija poppies were in bloom.  Buddy likes it here.

I photographed the informational panels explaining how the system works.  Things like these can get tagged up in a short period of time.

 It would be hard to read it all from your computer screen, so I've posted the words here:

“The Ed P. Reyes River greenway on the north bank of the Los Angeles River daylights stormwater runoff   from an existing storm drain that once delivered untreated runoff with high levels of pollution to the river.  The greenway mimics a dry-creek or arroyo ecosystem and supports a biological community that filters and further cleans runoff.  The non-motorized public access between Avenues 18 and 19 represents a new and emerging street type for our city called a “Stormwater Greenway.” As Stormwater Greeways enhance the natural processes that clean our waters, they also transform our streets by offering new economic, environmental, and social opportunities.

“Prior to the natural treatment process large quantities of trash and sediment are removed with a structure called a hydrodynamic separator.  This allows large sized pollutants to be easily collected and removed.  Next, dry-weather runoff and a managed volume of the most polluted stormwater runoff called the “first-flush” enters the basin.  Larger storm volumes either bypass the hydrodynamic separator, or enter the basin to overflow back to the original storm drain.  Solar panels drive the pumps that circulate stormwater to areas where it can be further treated, or “polished” by bacterial organisms, and used to water plants in the landcape.

“Green infrastructure relies on the power of sunlight, and the organism in soils and on plant roots to treat pollutants in stormwater runoff.  Because it is economical and provides recreational and habitat benefits, it is the City’s preferred approach  to maintain healthy waters and to support sustainable communities. Unlike traditional storm drain systems, which rely on pipes to move and to dispose of rainwater, green infrastructure directs runoff to locations where vegetation and natural processes help to control pollution.  Infiltration and reuse also helps to reduce flooding downstream.  Replacing concrete with living soils and other permeable surfaces, and providing more space for natural processes to flourish within our urban environments, enhances flood management, air quality, habitat, and recreational opportunities. The Ed P. Reyes River Greenway at the terminus of Humboldt Street is one of the first among many greenways proposed to extend the natural benefits of green infrastructure into our urban watersheds.

“While infiltration and evaporation reduce the volumes of water that flow downstream, specialized fungae called ”mycorrhize” create a vast network of cells called “hyphae” in the soil.  The huphae seek out water and nutrients bringing them nearer to root zones where bacteria, working in association with plant root hairs, naturally degrade or absorb pollutants.”

 When I achieve a greater understanding of this myself, I explain it in my own words.  In the meantime, I'm posting a few of the diagrams on the panels.

I thought that for something with so many ecological and esthetic benefits, the Ed. P. Reyes River Greenway was not getting enough fanfare.  
I was happy on Oct. 26, when the Greenway was blessed with dancers.  there were quite a few spectators, not just neighborhood dog owners.

It was presented by Pieter dance studio, as  part of Play the L.A. River.

This dancer had a costume made of rubber disposable gloves and crumpled newspaper, but unfortunately she was done dancing by the time I arrived.  

It's a great place to watch Metrolink roll by, too.

Even more exciting than the dancers was the rain that fell on the night of October 31.  Five days later, I heard the sound of water in the waterfall.  It's beautiful to see this creation at work.