Thursday, November 30, 2006

Guac Squawk



I'm sure you've read or heard the news by now about the woman who's suing Kraft because it turns out the company's guacamole dip contains virtually no avocados:

The guacamole sold by Kraft Foods Inc., one of the bestselling avocado dips in the nation, includes modified food starch, hefty amounts of coconut and soybean oils, and a dose of food coloring. The dip contains precious little avocado, but many customers mistake it for wholly guacamole...

Kraft and other food companies said they weren't deceiving customers by skimping on the avocado. A Kraft spokeswoman said most people understood that guacamole was part of the company's line of flavored dips.

"We think customers understand that it isn't made from avocado," said Claire Regan, Kraft Foods' vice president of corporate affairs. "All of the ingredients are listed on the label for consumers to reference."

Nonetheless, Kraft is relabeling the product, which could not be found during a random check of six Southern California supermarkets this week.

Regan said the company was changing its label to make it clearer that it was selling guacamole-flavored dip. She said she was not familiar with the lawsuit.

Thankfully, we mostly either (a) make our own guacamole (c'mon people, it's easy: Mash some avocados. Add salt, tomato, habanero pepper -- if you like things spicy -- and very important, lime) or (b) buy it at Trader Joe's which -- who knew this was such an anomaly -- actually puts avocado in its guacamole.

What's next? Kraft "Cheese-Flavored" Cheese?

Correction of the Day

From the L.A. Times:

Stones: The Nov. 23 Section A briefing referred to the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as the Glitter Twins. They are known as the Glimmer Twins.

But the "Glitter Twins" sounds so much cuter!

AMBASSADOR UPDATE: The Cocoanut Grove to be Demolished As Well



So much for even the L.A. Unified School District's token attempt at preservation at the Ambassador site.

As you know, most of the Ambassador was torn down earlier this year, as the LAUSD plans to build a new school complex where the historic hotel once stood. But as a tiny consolation prize, the school district agreed to save the famed Cocoanut Grove and refashion it into the school's auditorium.

More recently, rumors started to swirl that plans to salvage the Cocoanut Grove was lip service. And anyone who's passed by the Ambassador site can see (above) that the old nightclub has already been mostly gutted.

Now, Franklin Avenue reader Kevin emails us about signs that have popped up in front of the Ambassador site:


Mike & Maria,

I was driving by the Ambassador tonight & saw a few of these attached to the fence.

It looks like there will be very little, if anything, reused of the Cocoanut Grove.

It does seem that there is the opportunity to give written comment on LAUSD's desire not to have to revise the EIR.

The "Notice of Preparation, Supplement to Final Environmental Impact Report" reads: The 2004 FEIR included mitigation measures for the adaptive reuse of the Cocoanut Grove as an auditorium subject to structural materials testing. Based upon extensive testing and evaluation by the District's structural engineer, consultants and staff, the District determined that it is technically infeasible to retain and reuse all of the features that were described in the 2004 FEIR due to their age and degraded and unstable condition. In view of the potential changes in the retention and reuse of the Cocoanut Grove, LAUSD is preparing a Supplement to the 2004 FEIR to document these changes.

Written comments and responses are being accepted through Dec. 15, via fax (213-893-7412), email (ceqa-comments@laschools.org), or regular mail (Barbara Wu, LAUSD Office of Environmental Health and Safety, 1055 W. 7th St., Los Angeles, 90017).

I know what most of you are probably thinking: Yeah, well, if the building is unsound, then of course it should be torn down. But for those of us already stung by the decision to knock the Ambassador down, this just adds more salt to that wound.

Check out our entire coverage of the Ambassador's final days at The Ambassador's Last Stand.

'Tis Not the Season at IKEA; At Least Not This Year



IKEA's the Grinch who Stole the Christmas Tree.

We traditionally purchase our tree every year at the Swedish furniture behemoth's Burbank location. The trees are nice, but more importantly, they're the best deal in town... nay, America. The trees are usually $20... but IKEA then hands you a $20 coupon to use come January. Yup, essentially, the trees were free.

Not this year.

Figuring that this upcoming weekend we'd head over to the store to pick out our tree, Maria gave the Burbank IKEA a call.

"Sorry, we're not selling Christmas trees this year."

Whaaa? Why not?

"I'm not sure why."

It's not a global change; I stumbled across IKEA's Canada website, which shows that stores in the Great White North are still selling Christmas trees.

But for this year, at least, it means finding another reasonably priced tree. Where do you go?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hollywood Plays Itself



Authors Harry Medved and Bruce Akiyama have come up with a book that's a must for any movie buff who steps foot in Southern California. "Hollywood Escapes" features famous movie settings across the region, such as the "Star Wars" sand dunes, the chapel from "Kill Bill" and the Indian caves seen in "The Doors."

You can find the book here, or show up at Book Soup on Sunday for a book signing featuring Medved.

Medved e-mailed us to spread the word that he'll conduct a walking tour of famed movie sights along the Sunset Strip after the book signing:

We are hosting a free walking tour of Sunset Strip landmarks, as seen in such diverse movies as THE DOORS, THE TRIP, I LOVE YOU, ALICE B. TOKLAS, RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP and MURDER, MY SWEET – it follows the book-signing at Book Soup at 8818 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood at 2 pm.

Harry also let us know that there are several Franklin Avenue-adjacent spots mentioned in the book, including Runyon Canyon, Wattles Park, Bronson Canyon, Cedar Grove, and others.

Break Me Off A Piece of That Kit-Kat Bar



I'm still kicking myself. Santos has Pumpkin Kit-Kats -- you heard that right: Pumpkin Kit-Kat!!! -- with our names on it. But sadly, by the time I finally emailed her back yesterday, she was already halfway back to Guam.

Pumpkin = delicious. Crazy overseas Kit-Kat flavors = awesome. That's right: Deliciously awesome treat, now no longer within my reach. They're still sitting in her L.A. fridge... and next time she's in town, I don't care how old the Kit-Kat is: I'm eating it.

Meanwhile, Santos reviews the latest flurry of Kit-Kat entries here. Chestnut, Green tea maccha, strawberry, wine, white chocolate/maple syrup... and yup, pumpkin:

how do i put this? at once completely repellent, and compelling at the same time. NOT to be mistaken for pumpkin pie flavour, the smell of pumpkin assails you the minute you rip open the wrapper. the flavour tastes like real pumpkin, not artificial, but is so strong and so unspiced, it's like eating raw pumpkin covered in chocolate. only not as pleasant. it reminds me of kabocha squash tenpura. wrapped in greasy chocolate. mmmmmmMMMM. and the lingering squashy taste only makes me crave it more. gaaaaaah.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Country Radio, The East Coast's Taco Aversion, and What's the Deal with the Inland Empire?

Keeping up with the L.A. Times... quite a few interesting pieces so far this week:



:: Radio correspondent Steve Hochman looks into independent radio station owner Saul Levine's decision to flip his two AM radio stations to a country format:

Beginning Friday KKGO-AM (1260) in Los Angeles also will be carrying the programming. For now, that's a combination of nationally syndicated shows and automated segments, but after Jan. 1, the stations will offer a mix of local and national programming, some featuring former KZLA personalities.

"I began to get dozens if not hundreds of telephone calls from country fans saying, 'You're the last one who can save it,' " says Saul Levine, president and general manager of Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters, which owns XSUR and KKGO. "This kept going on and I thought, 'These were really nice people.' "

These also were more desirable people — at least to advertisers — than KKGO was attracting with the "standards" format the station had for the last two years.

Surprisingly, the story doesn't mention the Inland Empire's KFRG-FM 95.1 ("K-Frog"), which has posted strong ratings in Los Angeles since KZLA went off the air -- even though KFRG isn't even meant to be heard in L.A. proper. Given a choice, I think listeners will choose to listen to their country music on an FM station -- even with some static -- than on an AM station.

Especially because K-Frog's signal is actually pretty strong into Los Angeles. K-Frog posted a 0.8 rating (among listeners 12+) in the most recent Arbitrons -- ironically, better than Movin 93.9 (KMVN), the station that replaced KZLA, which did a 0.7!



:: File this under "Lucky we live Southern California." In some parts of the country, a fast food joint like El Pollo Loco would still be considered exotic. (Keep in mind that El Pollo Loco doesn't even sell fish tacos, which still confounds people back East.) The paper writes that El Pollo Loco hopes to break into the East Coast market, even though questions of whether consumers will be confused by the chain (Is it chicken? Is it Mexican?) remain:

El Pollo Loco — "the Crazy Chicken" in Spanish — derives 85% of its sales from Southern California. Its fusion of flame-grilled, marinated chicken and Mexican fast food has worked well in an environment in which the lines between mainstream and ethnic food are blurred.

As the company attempts to satisfy the East Coast palate, the challenge will be to promote its dual identity as giving customers two reasons to check it out, analysts and company executives say.

This month the chain opened at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., its first restaurant east of Chicago. The franchise group that owns the location plans to develop 24 more in six Northeastern states. El Pollo Loco also recently announced franchise agreements to build 61 stores in Arizona, Georgia, Missouri, Virginia and Utah. The deals will give the 353-unit chain a wider reach, placing it in 16 states....

Stephen Carley, a former Taco Bell marketing executive who is El Pollo Loco's chief executive, is confident that the chain can compete with established national fast-food brands.

"I remember when we took Taco Bell to the East Coast and people asked what a 'take-oh' was and pronounced the L in tortilla," Carley said. "When they ordered a burrito, they got out a knife and fork, cut it open and ate the insides out."

Two decades later Americans have developed far more sophisticated tastes and are more adventurous in their eating habits, he said.

I hadn't come to appreciate El Pollo Loco until recently. Besides hitting the In-N-Out Burger, my parents make sure to hit the 'Pollo Loco whenever they visit from the midwest. (And that's just a chain. Could you imagine life without L.A.'s taco stands? Nope.)



:: Where did that quirky name "Inland Empire" -- the catch-all used to describe Riverside, San Bernardino and vicinity -- come from? The L.A. Times ventures to the 909 to find out, but comes up empty. Even the debate over where the Inland Empire starts and ends isn't clear:

The origins of "Inland Empire" are as obscure as its boundaries. A portion of the region, namely Redlands and Riverside, used to be known as the Orange Empire or the Citrus Belt when fruit groves carpeted the foothills, said Burgess, director of the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands.

Some local newspaper columnists and historians have attributed the designation to the marketing genius of an area bank or bygone radio deejays. The San Bernardino Sun ran a lavish illustration bearing the appellation "Inland Empire" in 1920, featuring cities from Upland and Ontario in the west to Beaumont and Banning in the east.

Late Riverside history buff and columnist Tom Patterson declared in a 1992 column that the Press-Enterprise first inked "Inland Empire" as early as 1914.

The Los Angeles Times began throwing the term around less precisely between 1910 and 1920 to alternately describe Fresno, Kern, San Bernardino and Imperial counties plus swaths of Western states — any place considered rich with agricultural or development potential.




:: Time for the annual "The Hollywood Christmas Parade is a pathetic shell of its former existence" story. Bob Pool and David Pierson note the sad roster of D-listers who now make up the bulk of the parade... which continues to be seen by smaller crowds:

Over the last few years, officials has been trying to breathe new life into the parade. Johnny Grant, Hollywood's honorary mayor and former longtime parade organizer, wrote an open letter to Hollywood begging big-name entertainers to participate. Last year he made Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa grand marshal as part of a strategy to lure young Latino families.

"The A-list stars are not around and not in the community to give back like the old stars were," Grant said Monday. "Show business has changed because of television and the Internet. You have so many things going."

In the past, big-name stars were required by their studios to participate in parades and other events to generate publicity for their movies. These days the top actors and actresses work on independent productions where studio heads have less clout, he said.

Others believe that today's younger generation of superstars simply don't have the same fond feelings about parades, seeing them more as a throwback than a civic event.

To be fair, the story goes on to note that many of the "High School Musical" castmates were in the parade... sure to delight most 9-year-olds in attendance. Who, in turn, were probably less than thrilled by grand marshalls George Lopez and Regis Philbin.

Meanwhile, check out Tony Pierce's take on the parade here.

Wait, Do You Mean "The Holiday" or the holiday?



While standing at a bus shelter with Sharpie marker in hand, this anonymous commenter ("The Holiday"... "is not how 'God' intended it to be") is either trying to make a statement about the crass commericalization of Christmas... or really, really thinks God hates Jack Black.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Around the Blog-LA-Sphere

A few quick shout-outs to three friends of Franklin Avenue:



:: Congrats to Dodger Thoughts blogger Jon Weisman, just named one of L.A.'s most influential people in this month's Los Angeles magazine.

Unfortunately, the story's not online... actually, nothing is, as LA Mag promises a site redesign in "early November."



:: Head over to LA City Nerd and nominate your picks for L.A. personalities of the year.

The Nerd will pick (or open the floor for a vote) winners in several categories based on passion, knowledge, promotion and positive contributions to our fine city.

Here are the categories:

1. 2006 City Nerd Blog (any kind: group, individual, municipal, etc.)

2. 2006 City Nerd Blogger

3. 2006 City Nerd Elected Official

4. 2006 City Nerd Elected Official Staff Member

5. 2006 City Nerd Department Head

6. 2006 City Nerd Neighborhood/Community

7. 2006 City Nerd Project

8. 2006 City Nerd Neighborhood Council

9. 2006 City Nerd Citizen of the Year

And the highest honor, which may not be given out every year:

10. "The LA City Nerd Award"

The Nerd is requesting noms by December 15; I'm still putting my list together. Send 'em to lacitynerd@gmail.com



:: Congrats to the team behind 1947project for scoring a mention in Rolling Stone as the top crime blog.

Writes the 1947 folk:

Making special note of the site's year-long exploration of forgotten 1940s crimes, RS raves: "If you're a fan of Raymond Chandler or 'Chinatown,' this
L.A.-noir site goes deep into the year 1947 and the murder of the Black Dahlia, positing the homicide as one of the most pivotal events in the city's history.

The crime-a-day posts on 1947project, penned by social historians Kim Cooper, Nathan Marsak and Larry Harnisch, explore the forgotten Los Angeles of 1947 and, more recently, 1907. From corrupt mayors to Mexican revolutionaries, monkey house mashers to regular old cads, lady killers and killer ladies, the site specializes in bringing to life the weird characters and circumstances that shaped L.A.

Kim and Nathan spent Thanksgiving Saturday showcasing the seedy side of Pasadena history for one of their monthly bus tours, visiting spots such as the bungalow where RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan lived with his family and the site of the 1926 Rose Parade grandstand collapse.

Their next tours include Weird West Adams (December 16) and the 60th Anniversary Real Black Dahlia (January 13).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Official Great Wilshire Walk Video



Thanks to fellow Wilshire walkers Alex and Anke for documenting our journey last weekend, and splicing together a 10 minute recap of our all-day adventure.

Alex and Anke came to L.A. from Austria to take part in the MAK Cente's Architects and Artists in Residency Program here in Los Angeles. The duo are here for the next five months working on a project titled "Los Angeles Without a Car" -- so it was serendipity that they stumbled upon Franklin Avenue and our Great Wilshire Walk.

By the way, Alex and Anke are open to more suggestions on how to experience L.A. in a car-free environment. Feel free to add some suggestions to the comments below.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Black Friday: Never Again



A few weeks ago, Maria turned to me and said, "You know, we should just sleep in the day after Thanksgiving and not try to wake up early and chase down some ridiculous sale."

I agreed.

Too bad I didn't stick with that plan.

As you know, we've been in the market for a flat-screen HDTV. I'd decided to follow the advice of many of you and try to buy one online. But then the Day After Thanksgiving ad from Circuit City hit our doorstep. The ad featured a decent 42" Panasonic plasma TV, at a decent price: Even lower than any Internet seller.

I decided to do it. Luckily, Circuit City was selling the TV for that price through Friday and Saturday. In other words, I could still sleep in.

My excitement for the TV was contagious. My brother-in-law, Jason, decided to get the TV as well. He also decided to go online to see what Best Buy was hawking for Black Friday. It was there that he saw our TV -- all 42" of it -- as a "doorbuster" special for $200 less than the Circuit City price.

The catch: Quantities were limited. The online ad said that each store would have a "minimum" of five TVs. Would they have many more beyond that?

We couldn't resist. A 42" brand-name plasma TV for under $1000? We had to try.

So we altered our game plan. After my radio show ended at 2, I'd swing back to Jason's house in Granada Hills, and we'd trek to the Porter Ranch Best Buy. (In hindsight, we decided that another location, such as Los Feliz, would have made better sense.)

We made it to the Porter Ranch shopping plaza around 3. The place was already jam-packed with cars. We saw a huge teeming line in front of Wal-Mart and stretching down the strip. Rabid Wal-Mart customers?

Nope. The Best Buy line was so long, it stretched for big box after big box, in some cases formed parallel to the Wal-Mart line.

We still kept our hopes up: Perhaps these people hadn't seen the online specials, and were simply here to pick up what they saw in the printed ad.

But deep inside, I think we both knew it was a longshot. There were probably at least 1,000 people (likely more) already in front of us. (Another 500 or more wound up behind us.) At 4, Best Buy employees were supposed to hand out vouchers to people in line who were planning on buying the special sale items (just like our TV). The employees never ventured as far out as us, and we never saw any tickets.

People closer to the front of the line had erected tents, pulled out portable chairs and were even playing musical instruments to pass the time. I guess a cheap-o DVD player meant more to them than sitting around a Thanksgiving table.

Meanwhile, as we stood in front of Wal-Mart for what felt like an eternity (in cold weather), what sounded like a fight broke out near the front of the Wal-Mart line. We heard some screams and some shouts, and soon enough the police arrived. The Wal-Mart queue erupted in applause, and soon after we started seeing more LAPD cars cruising up and down the shopping center perimeter.

(The pic above, by the way, comes from Koga at blogging.la, who coincidentally was checking out the Porter Ranch scene at the same time we were standing in line. That shot happens to be close to where we spent a chunk of time standing.)

At 4, the line started to move. Hey, would Best Buy open early? Nah, false alarm. People at the front of the line were putting away their tents (getting ready to rush inside), which suddenly freed up space and brought the line closer to the store.

The Best Buy store opened at 5, and by 5:25 we were inside. We raced to the flat-screen TV department and asked where we could find the Panasonic one. The Best Buy employee just chuckled. Those TVs sold out almost immediately, he said. Vouchers were passed out at 4, and if you didn't get one, you were out of luck.

Damn. Should've known that this was a fool's mission.

But after waiting in the cold for almost three hours, Jason and I were determined. We were going to buy that damn TV.

So we booked it out of Best Buy. Yup, we'd waited in line to spend... less than five minutes inside the store.

Jason and I decided to hit the Circuit City in Northridge and grab the flat screen we had now invested time and given up sleep to procure.

When we arrived, the place was a zoo. But our TV was there, and plenty were in stock. High-def plasma, here we come!

We were directed to a line in the TV department where we could purchase it. The line was long, and seemed pretty slow. But the Circuit City guy said this was the line for flat screens. So we waited.

And waited.

Still waited.

The guy manning the cash register was beyond slow. And he took his time helping each person out. At no time did it dawn on the Circuit City folk to open another cash register for the flat screen purchases, or send in assistance for the beleagured cashier.

Nope, they just made us wait. We stood in the same spot for almost three hours. Eventually, we realized that people in the back of the line had been switching to other lines. We should have done the same... but we were stuck in a catch-22. We were too far up in the line, and had invested too much time in the line, to cut bait and move elsewhere. But by not switching lines, we were stuck.

We finally got to the head of the line. It was then that we found out -- along with the guy in front of us, who'd planned to buy the same TV as us -- that our Panasonic plasma TV, the one that this location supposedly had plenty in stock -- had just sold out.

Yup, while people in other lines, who'd come to the store AFTER us, were able to purchase and bring home the TV, we -- by the sheer unluckiness of landing in the slow line -- were screwed. The guy in front of us was so pissed, he just left -- even after waiting three hours. We weren't going to spite ourselves just to teach them a lesson they'll never understand... so we bought the TVs anyway, on special order.

By then, it was 8:30 a.m. And we were heading home empty. Jason and I could have slept in, avoided the crazy early-morning crowds and simply bought our TVs later in the day. But oh well.

I'll say it now: Next year, I'm sleeping on Black Friday morning.

Postscript: After being treated like crap by Northridge Circuit City employees, I switched my order to the Glendale location.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Add a Little Island Flavor to Your Holiday Kick-off



It's the day after Thanksgiving, which means the holiday season has once again reared its head.

Actually, who are we kidding -- it started two weeks ago. KOST-FM has been playing wall-to-wall Christmas music for several days now; decorations had already been installed in department stores; and your nieces and nephews have already handed you detailed gift lists.

If you're looking for a slightly more mellow soundtrack to the season, go download or stream Thursday night's episode of Hawaiian Eye. In the second hour, I play a mix of island holiday tunes that offer a nice antidote to the same old Christmas tunes you're now being assaulted with in public.

Friday, Black Friday



I said I wasn't going to do it. Wake up early and stand in line before dawn for some discounted home entertainment item.

Yet, when the Best Buy/Circuit City/Target/etc. circulars hit our doorstep yesterday, I got sucked in. So yes, I'll be in line at Best Buy this morning. At 3 a.m.

At least I kept part of my word. I'm not waking up early -- I'm simply not going to sleep after the radio show.

Yeah, I know it's nuts. But if it means grabbing an HDTV at a tiny price, I'm gonna do it.

(Above, things have gotten so out of hand that Best Buy must now spell out their pre-5 a.m. policies.)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Rate-A-Restaurant, #118 in a series Extreme Dining Edition



Restaurant: Pizzeria Mozza

Location: 641 N. Highland (Los Angeles)

Type of restaurant: Pizzeria/Italian

They stipulated: It's our first week, make a reservation. (Otherwise, we can seat you at 3.)

We stipulated: We want to try things out of our comfort zone, show us what you got.



What we ordered: Chicken livers, pancetta and capers bruschetta ($8); Littleneck clams, garlic, oregano, parmigiano and pecorino pizza (above; $14); Lardo, rosemary and extra-virgin oil pizza ($12)



High point: Surprisingly, it was the chicken liver bruschetta (above)--the pancetta was very salty and worked well cutting into the richness of the chicken liver. Also, the pizza dough is what makes Nancy Silverton the bread goddess that she is: the texture and taste are supreme.

Low point: I made a reservation the first day they opened. They confirmed said reservation that morning. We arrived right on time. Why did the hostess seat us at the bar by the door? She instructed us to sit there and she'll get us after clearing a table (I noted that 3 tables were vacant).

Hostess never came back. Bartender started to take out order and we grudgingly gave it to him. After it was becoming evident that we ain’t movin’, I embarrasingly asked the bartender if we could please sit at the table we made reservations for. Bartender was nice, explained the busy first week situation and quickly talked to some people. We were then directed to our table. Thanks sweet bartender, but was all that really necessary?



Overall impression: Seems like the chefs have painstakenly thought out all the ingredients that go into every dish and that is what's key to this restaurant. Another diner at the table next to us was complaining that there was not enough cheese in his pizza, well this is just not any pizza joint but I understand the sentiment.

I liked the clam pizza with the excellent blend of clams, herbs and garlic. Lardo, as the nice bartender explained, is basically pork fat so it was a little hard for me to get over its texture but it was still good and the rosemary really comes through in this pizza. (As seen above.)

Chance we will go back: Yes, but after all the excitement is over. I'll may even skip making a reservation and head straight to the bar.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Virtual Ambassador Hotel



In marketing the new Emilio Estevez-helmed "Bobby" -- about Robert Kennedy's final moments -- the producers have wisely realized that the Ambassador Hotel is one of the film's major characters.

Sadly, it's the Ambassador's final role. The hotel, which has appeared in countless films, was demolished right after "Bobby" finished shooting -- making Estevez the last filmmaker to roam the classic hotel's halls.

The Weinstein Co., which is releasing the film, has added a cool Ambassador-themed section to the "Bobby" website, located at ambassador.bobby-the-movie.com. The site includes a computer-generated 360-degree view of the Ambassador lobby, as well as a guestbook and New York Times front pages leading up to the death of Bobby Kennedy.

The filmmakers have also launched a Flickr group (at www.flickr.com/groups/bobbythemovie), where people can upload shots they may have of the Ambassador.

Above, a screen grab of the computer-depicted Ambassador lobby, including the famous water fountain. Below, here's a real-life shot of the lobby water fountain I took in 2003:


And the water fountain, as it sadly searched for a new home at last year's Ambassador auction:

Wilshire Observations: Superfreaky Mural?



One of the first mysteries we encountered on Saturday's walk down Wilshire: Is this Rick James, bitch? It appears to be a vandalized portrait of the late superfreak. But no one knew for sure.

Walt, meanwhile, notes that the mural is on the former site of Woodbury University, which "like so many other schools, moved away from downtown. These ruins from are what is left from a 1937 art deco building demolished in 1988."

For the record, Walt's not too sure that the above pic is of Mr. James.

(Flickr pic by Christina.)

Feliz Navidad in Los Feliz



Maria, Evan and I had a surprisingly good time last year at the Los Feliz Village's holiday festival. Held up and down Hillhurst, the event included free pics with Santa Claus, gratis food and wine at several establishments and a Christmas tree lighting in front of the Los Feliz library.

The event was successful enough that it's back for a second year on Saturday, Dec. 2. And it has expanded to include Vermont Ave. and Hollywood Blvd. in addition to Hillhurst.

According to the press release:

Featuring free rides on an antique trolley transporting visitors throughout the Village. Many shops along Hillhurst, Vermont and Hollywood will stay open late and offer complimentary refreshments and holiday cheer. Tree lighting ceremony with carolers in front of the Los Feliz Library at 6:00PM. The Fire Department will be collecting new toys for those kids in need. "Holiday Boutiques" with artist tables will be set up in front of local businesses to add to the festivities. Kids can also take a complimentary photo with Santa that evening.

The free event takes place Saturday, December 2nd, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. More info at losfelizvillageonline.com.

(Flickr pic by Glen Hentz.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ambassador Site Breaks Ground



It's been nearly a year since the Ambassador Hotel was demolished. Now, groundbreaking on the new school complex that will be built on the historic hotel's remains finally took place Monday. (Above, the latest rendering of what the high school will look like.)

The L.A. Times writes:

The price tag, estimated at $309 million, has jumped more than 14% in recent months after the discovery of potentially explosive methane gas deposits beneath the site that will require an elaborate mitigation plan. And, unless staggering increases in construction costs that have persisted in Los Angeles abate, the final cost of the school could climb higher, district officials said.

Guests at Monday's ceremony, however, were not talking about money. It was a day of celebration and photo ops replete with golden shovels for tossing dirt. Speakers, including Councilmen Herb Wesson and Jose Huizar, repeatedly praised recently departed Supt. Roy Romer and school board members for shepherding the project forward despite preservation groups who fought to save the historic hotel.

"There could be no better memorial to my father than a living memorial that educates the children of this city," said an emotional Max Kennedy, speaking from a plateau of tightly packed dirt on the 24-acre construction site, overlooking the remains of buildings where Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.




Not much is left of the original hotel. And rumors are swirling that the LAUSD has canceled plans to preserve portions of the Cocoanut Grove and other remaining parts -- that the structures are beyond rehab.

But the LAUSD's most recent Ambassador Progress Report says preservation plans (well, of what little is left) are on going.

That includes:

-- Incorporating the Embassy Ballroom Ceiling (above, left) into the school's library

-- "The historic Cocoanut Grove will be renovated with a complete structural retrofit and modern electrical, HVAC and technological systems to covert it for use as a new auditorium... Additionally, the lower level shopping arcade, including the Paul R. Williams-designed coffee shop, will be used as faculty and student lounges and cafeterias."

-- The Ambassador Hotel pylon sign (above, right) -- uncovered in the demolition after decades of existing under a coffin of concrete -- may be restored. "The District is working with expert advisors and the Historic Monitor to determine a feasible strategy for the preservation of this feature, including considerations for its use as a feature in the public park."

There you have it. Not much. A sad day for those of us who had held on to hope (well, until a year ago) that the hotel could be saved. But the Ambassador ship has now sailed. Let's now hope that the LAUSD can build this new educational center quickly and with no more cost overruns.

Wilshire Observations: Jesus Christ Superstar



Located in front of the Oasis Christian Center... Jesus Christ, the one and only recipient of Wilshire's Walk of Fame!

(Pic taken by Walt.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wilshire Observations: Starbucks Slow to Conquer



On our almost-16 mile trek down Wilshire, I was struck by how few Starbucks actually exist on the boulevard. We counted (and Christina counted) just five.

For Starbucks -- famous for opening locations on virtually every street corner -- that's only one for every 3.5 miles.

Meanwhile, here's another bunch of factoids from Wilshire expert Kevin Roderick:

that's 206 cross streets, 412 curbs...you get the idea. used to be 100 gas stations you could stop in, now fewer than five i think.

Indeed, I didn't see many gas stations -- definitely fewer than five. Not a lot of eating options after you leave the Miracle Mile and before Brentwood, either. (As we found out!)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

From Downtown to Santa Monica: We Did It!



Above: Eight and a half hours after departing the One Wilshire building -- the start point of Wilshire Boulevard -- 15 of us (plus a few late joinees) celebrate reaching the other end: Santa Monica. And the Pacific Ocean.

We survived the Great Wilshire Walk. Why did we do it?

Why not!

I wanted to celebrate my tenth anniversary in Los Angeles by doing something absolutely nuts: Walking the entire length of Wilshire Boulevard. To my pleasant surprise, almost 30 people I had never met (or had only met once, or via email) decided to come along. These were cool people, who love our city and gave up a Saturday to do something few can say they've ever accomplished.



We snuck into historic buildings and churches -- and got kicked out of one (the Park Plaza, above) for brazenly hopping up to the roof. We danced along to banjo-playing Charlie at the La Brea Tar Pits. Withstood the evil stink eye of socialites dining in Beverly Hills. (And escaped the taunts of one crazy woman there.) Searched high and low for food on the one stretch of Wilshire that, quite unfortunately, didn't offer much by way of eats. Stuttered when people asked us our motivation for doing this ("Just because.") Picked up some wayward car parts (A license plate! A bumper!) And we saw portions of Wilshire we'd never seen outside a car. All while walking the almost 16 miles from one end to the other.



We lost a few comrades along the way, some due to prior commitments and others thanks to the physical strains of doing such a long walk. By the time we got to Santa Monica, though, those aching muscles and throbbing blisters were ignored as we started to feel and smell the cool ocean breeze. It was within reach.

And suddenly we were there. We got to the end a tad quicker than I expected -- 4:30, before sundown. Despite a lunch break, several detours and many bathroom breaks. Most impressive, our number had dropped to 15 strong (out of less than 30 -- not bad).

But talk of pain evolved into something a little more unexpected: Talk about which street we're gonna do next year. Stay tuned! And thanks to everyone who came out to take part in the Great Wilshire Walk -- whether you walked a block, a mile or 16. It was cool seeing so many of you out there.



Meanwhile, check back here for more pics... and links to others' blogs, Flickr pages and even YouTube videos. (And memo to Great Wilshire Walkers: If you didn't leave your email address on the sign-in sheet, send it to me now so that you can be included in the distribution list.)



Above, the crew at the start of the walk, at Wilshire and Grand.

Now, if you'll excuse me, my legs are in a world of hurt. Not sure I'm going to be doing much walking on Sunday...

UPDATE: Christina's excellent Flickr roll of Great Wilshire Walk photos can be found here. Click through all 168 photos, and you'll get a feel for the entire walk. Without developing those pesky blisters.

Shannon's blog recap here. Shannon didn't quite make it to the end, but it sounds like she and another walker, Nathan, had a pretty damn good time taking the bus back to downtown and drinking it up at the Bonaventure! Her pics from our adventure are here.

Walt's Flickr set -- with an astonishing 325 shots -- is here.

Scott and Anne's pics -- including a great shot of crazy Beverly Hills boob job woman -- are here.

Kolby's photos -- including some cool cement imprints and Wilshire signs -- are here.

Melanie's write-up of the Wilshire Walk can be found on her blog, and her Flickr photoset here.

Eric writes up the walk at his Atwater Village Newbie blog.

More to come, including a video!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Tomorrow: Franklin Avenue's Great Wilshire Walk!



Greetings, fellow walkers!

Hope you're all excited about Saturday. I truly have no idea what to expect. Will 16 miles feel like nothing? Or will it feel like an eternity? Either way,it'll be something to share with everyone over the Thanksgiving table!

Kevin Roderick, author of "Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles," emailed with some highlights we shouldn't miss:

-inside westlake theatre at alvarado, go past the stalls into the "theater." can still see the old balcony and ornate ceilings.

-statue of harrison gray otis and newsboy at park view: buster keaton hid among the statues in 'Hard Luck," 1921.

-town house, at commonwealth: you might be able to check out the pool area through the sometimes unlocked gate on commonwealth. once the poshest hotel and pool in L.A. howard hughes lived on top floor.

-berendo and wilshire, the smiling monkey faces on the side wall of the spanish-style building on the northeast corner are distinctive.

-alexandria and wilshire: imagine that it used to be the mouth of the bimini slough that went all the way up past beverly. alexandria was going to be the final leg of the Silver Lake Parkway, a scenic expressway through the ravine and shortcut to Silver Lake.

-mariposa at wilshire was where a creek went under the early boulevard, with a swimming hole that oldtimers still talk about.

-Arroyo del Jardin de las Flores: creek still runs behind the homes on west side of longwood, visible crossing 8th street a block off wilshire.

-house of tomorrow at wilshire, you can sometimes get in the patio area via driveway on highand.

-chateau colline is cool in westwood, just before beverly glen. national landmark apartments.

-the tiny marilyn monroe cemetery in westwood should be open, behind the avco cinema building at glendon.

-the chapel on the VA grounds just past the 405 is the oldest building on wilshire. imagine president mckinley surrounded by white hairs in civil war uniforms in 1901.

-douglas park, 25th and wilshire, used to be a grass airport and douglas aircraft factory.

Thanks, Kevin. Now, I'll see all (most?) of ya on Saturday. Don't forget -- breakfast at 7 at the Downtown Standard. And we'll be leaving One Wilshire (Wilshire and Grand) at 8 a.m. sharp. The weather looks perfect for a day-long hike: Partly cloudy, but with highs in the upper 70s.

Orange You Glad We Told You?



LAist helpfully reminds us that it's fruit-picking time at the Orcutt Ranch in West Hills.

The ranch -- a popular site for weddings -- only allows fruit picking twice a year. In the fall, that means white grapefruit. People will be able to stop by this Saturday from 7am to 2pm, LAist notes, for their fill of the tart fruit. The fee: $2 for each filled shopping bag; $5 for a filled medium-sized box; and $1 for a fruit picker rental.

More details from the Orcutt Ranch website:

The Orcutt Ranch, formally called Rancho Sombra del Roble, was the vacation and retirement estate of William Warren Orcutt and his wife Mary Logan Orcutt. The adobe residence, as well as the estate’s garden, ranch structures, oak trees, and citrus orchard have historic significance because of the distinction of its owner W.W. Orcutt, pioneer of the oil production industry in California and discoverer of the prehistoric fossils at the LaBrea Tar Pits.

Jamba Juice's Pumpkin Boycott Continues



While the rest of the restaurant world goes ga ga over pumpkin, Jamba Juice has once again failed to bring back its delicious pumpkin smoothie this holiday season.

Justin at Calblog shared my frustration last year. This year, still no luck. I recently asked a Jamba cashier, who just shrugged his shoulders and agreed that it was odd that the flavor hadn't made a return appearance. (Thankfully, Robek's Juice has one on its menu.)

Thankfully, pumpkin is popping up everywhere else these days. Starbucks and Coffee Bean. Coffeemate creamers. Jack-in-the-Box milkshakes. (The Oinkster, too.) But with the mint drinks already arriving, the pumpkin flavors are about to go back into hibernation -- so enjoy em now.

Eagle Rocks


Looking out at the intersection of Colorado and Eagle Rock, Swork coffee and scone in hand. (Pic by Ilpo via Flickr.)

Yes, even the Los Angeles Times admits that hyping Eagle Rock as "the next Silver Lake" isn't new. People have been saying it for almost a decade. But as writer Susan Carpenter claims this time around, it's finally true.

It would be hard to find an L.A. neighborhood that's gentrified as quickly or dramatically as Eagle Rock has in the last couple of years. As escalating house prices forced aging hipsters out of Silver Lake and Westsiders sought more space for less money, this once-forgotten neighborhood in northeast L.A. has become a favorite nesting ground with its tree-lined streets, small-town vibe, affordable homes and top-ranked public schools. What was once a middle-class, largely Filipino enclave is becoming more hip, family-oriented and upscale, and it shows in the L-shaped corridor of boutiques, galleries and restaurants along Colorado and Eagle Rock boulevards.

As regular Franklin Avenue readers have probably noticed, we've been spending a lot of time in the neighborhood (which is adjacent to our Glendale 'hood) as of late. We raved in September that the corner of Colorado and Eagle Rock boulevards could easily be classified the most toddler-friendly block in all of Los Angeles.

The Times shares that notion:

The eclectic shops and restaurants that now line Eagle Rock's two main drags are largely a reflection of who's been moving into the area. If the Silver Lake aesthetic is hip, twentysomething and single, Eagle Rock's reflects the next stage in life. It's just as hip, but thirtysomething and married with kids.

Parents looking to deck out their infants and toddlers with unique boutique fare can check out Twerps, the Rockin' Baby Shop and Swanky Blanky. For tweens, teens and twentysomethings, there's the action-sports boutique Transport, the clothing shop Eagle Rock Underground and the comics-art toy emporium Mini Melt Too.


The Eagle Rock that puts "Eagle Rock" in Eagle Rock. (Pic via Aerophilic on Flickr.)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Prepping for the Great Wilshire Walk



Looks like we're getting a good crowd -- most of whom I've never met! -- to join in on the Great Wilshire Walk this Saturday. The weather looks like it will be agreeable: Partly cloudy, with a high of 78. Sounds like perfect walking weather.

I asked Eric Lynxwiler -- who co-wrote the "Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles" book with author Kevin Roderick -- to share some insight on the walk. He did it several years ago. Eric writes:

The 15.8-mile journey took me and my friends about seven or eight hours to complete. I can't recall exactly how long it took, but we started at One Wilshire on Grand Avenue at about 8am and ended up having dinner by the beach before the sun set. We were fast walkers, but stopped occasionally to rest, eat and poke around places we'd never before noticed from a car.

Some advice:
Do wear comfortable clothes; I got several blisters in my walking shoes and two of my friends we uncomfortably chaffed by the end of the day. There's plenty of food, water and bathrooms along the way and you can find them in the usual places: grocery stores, Starbucks, fast food chains, LACMA, hotels. Do try to catch a few interiors as you walk; you may find an open door at some of Wilshire Center's unbelievable churches for example. St. Basil's is an under-appreciated favorite.

Don't forget to also bring a digital camera (of course, you bloggers out there already know to do this). And, of course, figure out transportation at the end -- how are you getting back to your car?

And yes, you're welcome to walk part of the way with us, or join us mid-walk.

See you Saturday! Don't forget -- if you wanna eat first, we'll be at the Standard Hotel's coffee shop at 7. And we're leaving One Wilshire straight at 8!

The 10's Identity Crisis



Have you ever seen a freeway with more names than the 10? In just the small stretch of 10 between the ocean and downtown, the 10 freeway struggles with several different names. Of course, we all know it as the 10 and the Santa Monica Freeway. But it's also known as...



.. the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway ...



... the Rosa Parks Freeway...



and now, most recently, the entire length of the 10 -- from Santa Monica to Jacksonville, Fla., has been renamed the Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway.

Can't wait for the 10's inevitable redesignation as the Arnold Schwarzenegger Freeway. I'm guessing around 2015.

(Photos by Mr. Goleta and Jessica Lea)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Three Days Until Franklin Avenue's Great Wilshire Walk!

Join us THIS SATURDAY as we walk all 16 miles of Wilshire Blvd., from downtown to Santa Monica! Click here for more details, and email us!

To Live and Pie in L.A.



We all know where to get amazing ice cream in Los Angeles. We continue to document the city's growing cupcake population. Milkshakes? Did it this summer.

Now, on to a new burning question: Where can you find the best pie in Los Angeles?

I'm actually asking on behalf of a Franklin Avenue reader (who I'll keep anonymous for now, since she's got a personal reason for needing to find the perfect pie).

Reader X asks: "Do you have any advice on where to get an awesome Dutch apple pie?"

Where do you go for pie? Chains like Marie Callender's? Los Feliz's landmark House of Pies? Pasadena's Pie N Burger? West L.A.'s Apple Pan?

Here's Citysearch's list of L.A.'s top 7 spots for pie. Add your own picks in the comments below.

New Owner, New Fate for the Park Plaza?



Earlier this year we noted that the Park Plaza Hotel -- a one-time Elks Lodge now used mostly as an events venue -- was for sale.

Over at blogging.la, Will Campbell writes about a weekend visit to the historic building, which he confirms has a new owner. A security guard, who gave Will and wife Susan a tour, told them that "the hotel's just recently been purchased for $29 million by a 35-year-old woman who 'owns a bunch of buildings on Sixth Street through Koreatown.'"



What that means for the structure is still uncertain. As I noted earlier this year:

I'd love to see the new owner take advantage of the Park Plaza's upper floors, which right now are completely stripped. Despite ambitious plans to turn the building into a boutique hotel by 2003, nothing has been done. The first two floors are regularly rented out for large-scale weddings and other events. Two tremendous upstairs ballrooms have been painstakingly restored, while downstairs reception rooms are also beautifully kept up. But beyond that, the Park Plaza is empty.



Meanwhile, Will and Susan also got some great color from their security guard pal, who has evidence that the building is indeed haunted:

One incident took place in the Grand Ballroom, wherein during his rounds he checked on the huge space and found it completely dark, yet when he returned the next time every light was blazing. Then there is the much more hands-on ghost up on the fourth floor. During one of his first graveyard shifts he was walking those corridors when he got this strange sensation of fingers scratching him on the back. Yet when he'd turn around nothing was there. He said it's happened a couple times since. Lastly is the black shadow in the lobby that he and other guards have witnessed lurking around the table there before it speeds directly toward the elevators and disappears.
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