While walking through Art Share’s exhibit honoring the 6th Street Bridge, I wondered how a piece of architecture could come to represent so much for a community. This Los Angeles landmark, made famous by movies, video games, and maybe the occasional music lyric, connects the burgeoning Arts District of Downtown L.A. with the neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. Set for demolition this month, the iconic structure was the theme for the gallery’s “Ode to the Bridge” exhibit.
The viaduct, now on the National Register of Historic Places, leaves behind an inspired collection of diverse artwork: gelatin silver prints, canvas wrapped photographs, satin laminate on gatorboard, all capturing what will soon be remnants of LA’s history. After spending a couple of hours at the exhibit, I did a little research on the bridge and the reason for its impending doom or development, depending on who you ask. Reading through old press releases and snippets from the Los Angeles Times, I came upon a quote by the architectural historian and critic Reyner Banham: “The point about this giant city, which has grown almost simultaneously all over, is that all parts are equal and equally accessible from all other parts at once.” Access: that’s what this bridge stands for.
Prompted to learn more about the bridge and the art history of the neighborhood, I put on my tourist hat and enlisted the help of artist Steve Lopez to give me a tour of the area. Snapping some shots of this soon to be demolished structure, Lopez and I talked about what moved him to pursue a career as an artist. “Los Angeles graffiti was my outlet. It allowed me to be angry and not feel insignificant. It seeded me with courage to stand up against the fear of violence, authority, and assimilation.” Using art as an outlet for the simmering frustration of being raised in two competing worlds, both culturally and physically, Lopez got his start here on the streets of L.A. Honing his skills through formal education and exposure to other artists in the field, he now has his work represented at galleries all over the U.S., including Hive Gallery in nearby downtown L.A.
The Arts District is where every street corner is a gallery, every wall a canvas. Guided through what Lopez called a “hub where international artists converge”, we wandered past works by David Choe, Alex Kizu aka “Defer”, and Asylm while Lopez mused on the intersecting history of hip hop, art, and politics here in L.A.
Stopping for a bite at Zinc Café, Lopez and I compared notes on how we thought the city has changed. Both LA natives, we laughed at the idea of being tourists in our own city and discovering its hidden gems. Ruminating about how the neighborhoods have evolved, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, we did agree on one thing: Los Angeles has become a destination for artists, art enthusiasts, and art historians.
With all of this renewed art appreciation comes boutiques, bars, and restaurants, or sometimes all three as is the case at Zinc. I first discovered Zinc when I came to the grand opening of Black Milk’s flagship U.S. location last year. It was by accident, which is always the best way to
discover a neighborhood dining gem like this. Since then, I’ve been back a few times and enjoyed the savory pizza blanco, a perfectly fluffy quiche, and their decadent dark chocolate brownie, but it wasn’t until my second visit that I realized the menu was completely vegetarian. There’s a room for every mood at Zinc: it has a front patio, an outdoor garden, a back bar, and a gift boutique that has a bevy of hostess gifts to pick up on the way to your next party. Glancing up at the wall in the back bar of Zinc, I noticed some paintings of the 6th Street Bridge and thought about how bridges not only connect neighborhoods, but cultures, communities, and generations.
The next stop on my self-imposed art walk of Los Angeles was the recently opened Broad Museum in the center of downtown. The newest addition to the family of museums that dot this urban sprawl opened in September and sits next to the equally striking Walt Disney Concert Hall. If there’s one word that describes the art at the Broad, it is “provocative”. Walking through the different rooms, I was met with a vast collection of modern art, some of which struck me as vibrant and dynamic, and others as vile and revolting. But one of the most striking pieces of art at the Broad is what architect Liz Diller labels the “veil”, or the outer façade of the structure. This veil, which Diller describes as beautiful because “it’s distorted, incomplete, ragged at the top”, has added a new dimension to Grand Avenue’s skyline.
Driving along the endless stretch of freeway towards the next stop on my seamless staycation, I thought about how the freeways bridge the suburbs of this sprawling cityscape. With Santa Monica as my next stop, I was grateful for the clear freeway that was uncharacteristically absent of any traffic. The song by the Missing Persons had it right: nobody walks in LA. Unless you are walking to the valet, the nearest bus stop, or those rare metro stops, you’re in a car and you’re going to need this transportation to see all of the highlights that this city has to offer. As the antiquated GPS in BBC’s 1972 documentary Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles narrates: “get in the lane marked ‘Santa Monica’ but watch out for traffic, and remember that flashing a signal does not constitute any right of way.”
My home for a few days of my staycation was the Ambrose Hotel. Santa Monica’s first LEED certified hotel, which artfully blends eco-friendly decor with what they call “holistic hospitality” sits right outside of the bustling shopping district of this southern California tourist destination.
The Ambrose Hotel, founded by hospitality industry veteran Deidre Wallace, is the perfect combination of luxury, culture, high design, and sustainability. Wallace, who noticed a gap in the market for “affordable luxury and healthy hotels”, said that going green was not an afterthought that she just added to certain elements of the hotel, but rather an integral part of the hotel and her business. And it definitely shows, even down to the smallest details in the bathrooms, organic refreshments in the lounge, and the helpful complimentary local transport service.
I took a ride around the neighborhood on one of the bikes provided by the hotel, and marveled at the endless blue sky dotted with palm trees along the coast. Shooting photographs of the seductive sunset, I watched, listened, and eventually joined in as tourists from all over the world captured moments that would keep these memories alive long after they’d return home. And then I thought about how lucky I was to call such a picturesque place home. A place where people from all over the U.S., as well as the globe, come to catch a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, the sandy shore, and this coastline that they’ve seen in so many Hollywood movies.
My art tour continued at one of my favorite destinations, LACMA. Celebrating its 50th year in Los Angeles, this museum is where I’ve seen everything from King Tut’s tomb to Stanley Kubrick’s provoking manuscripts to Diane Von Furstenburg’s divine dress collection. Growing up, I spent countless Sundays here with my aunt Reenie as my guide and I fondly remember the first time I saw Diego Rivera’s work while she provided insight and perspective on the murals that I’d one day see in his native Mexico. Now I frequent the museum with friends and visitors from all over the world, passing on the knowledge I’ve learned over the years.
On my most recent visit, I was lucky to catch the last days of the Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada exhibit. Purifoy, the pioneer who brought art education to the California prison system, created masterpieces from his surroundings here in Los Angeles and throughout the Mojave Desert. His art is provoking and poignant, highlighting some of the more tragic moments of L.A. history. Using debris from the Watts riots, Purifoy’s sculptures, photos, and transcripts are a timeless reminder of how much healing still needs to be done in our local urban communities.
As I drove along the freeway back to downtown, I thought about how these highways acts a bridge, connecting the streets and the people. Streets that have hosted momentous occasions like the passing of an Olympic torch or the last flight of space shuttle Endeavor, while at the same time bearing witness to riots and outraged citizens. And then I was reminded of Lopez’s statement about art and how it was a vehicle for him to channel outrage and anger, ultimately acting as a cathartic release. This is one of the primary purposes of art; to provide a platform for people to express their perspectives, their emotions, their soul. Without art, our communities lack a healthy means to express the challenges and successes in their lives.
Hungry for a bite to eat, I stopped at Phillipe’s, home to the original French dip. While the origin of the sandwich is debatable, one thing is for certain: this deli is always packed. And rightfully so. The sandwiches are perfectly crispy on the outside and soaked in the signature au jus, making each bite a sumptuous morsel. Dining here with my father, he reminisced about how he would frequent Phillipe’s with my grandfather back in the day. Whether they were headed to a nearby Dodger game or a Rams football game, Philippe’s always made the perfect take-along sandwich. Always eager to share a good story, my dad’s eyes glistened as he recounted the good ol’ days in Los Angeles.
Back in downtown, I had the opportunity to join a private tour of the Los Angeles Public Library. The tour, led by our animated and encyclopedic docent, Diana, was a convergence of all things that make me happy: books, art, and history. Spending childhood summers between the beach and my local library, I was instantly transported to that larger than life feeling I had as a child when I walked into the Rotunda Room. Its centerpiece is a magnificent Lee Lawrie-designed chandelier, which helps
to illuminate the murals lit up by the natural light that floods the room. These murals, completed by Dean Cornwell in 1933, colorfully depict the history of California. Cornwell, who studied under Frank Brangwyn in London, used his artistic background as an illustrator to influence his renderings for this ceiling. Standing there in awe, I was delighted by Diana’s anecdotes about the artists, their style, and inspiration for the artwork in the library. My favorite piece on the tour was Lawrie’s Statue of Civilization, with her veined marble dress decorated with icons symbolizing progress and development throughout history. She glows from natural light that flank her from every angle while holding a torch, a tribute to the library’s theme: “The Light of Learning”. Crowned with angels and a bear, both nods to the city and state symbols, she looks across to the children’s room, another art-filled universe within this beautiful landmark.
My final stop of the day was to one of my favorite downtown eateries, Bottega Louie. The restaurant is always bustling no matter what time of day I dine, and the food is always delicious. My favorite dish, the trenne pasta, combines the most delectable and tender short rib pieces with seasoned kale and is set atop pan-seared pasta, with fresh parmesan as its finishing touch. Whether meeting friends or hosting out of town guests, Bottega Louie is always the perfect place to meet for a meal. Having dined here countless times since its opening in 2007, I’ve dipped in to pick up sandwiches and sweet treats from their Instagram-worthy patisserie, savored their smoked salmon benedict while brunching with friends, and enjoyed their wood-fired pizza after a night out.
Heading home, I drove east across the 6th Street Bridge for the last time. Tears welled up in my eyes with an uncertainty about what the future holds on many levels. But there’s one thing I know for sure, I’ll definitely be back, with each visit just as memorable as the last.