Architecture and Design, Art, Behind the Scenes, Gardens and Architecture, J. Paul Getty Trust, Voices

Our L.A., Mapped

Lyra Kilston and Chris Alexander of the team behind Overdrive take Getty Voices to the streets of L.A. this week. We’re exploring what L.A. means to the people who inhabit it, and how our memories of a place change the way we understand it. Here, we visualize our own idiosyncratic L.A. in Google Map form.

“What’s your favorite place in Los Angeles?” We posed this seemingly simple question to the team who contributed to the exhibition Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940–1990, including curators, preparators, security officers, designers, exhibitions experts, educators, and web folks. The exhibition tells the story of L.A.’s architecture and urban expansion, a history rich with personal stories: to one person, a specific place may be associated with a TV show, while to another it may evoke memories of a childhood best friend—or even a taste or smell.

The result is this evolving Google Map of neighborhood hangouts, underrated monuments, impressive intersections, and even the occasional beloved family home. This is not a conventional listing of architectural masterpieces, or a handy guide to L.A. neighborhoods, but it is a representation of the diverse melting pot that is our L.A.


View Our L.A. in a larger map

This task yielded some pretty interesting results, and prompted me to search for places in my own mental map that were dear to me.

A view through the window of Mitsuru Cafe. The imagawayaki (red bean pancake) are a must-eat whenever I visit Little Tokyo. Photo by Nate Gray on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As I think of my experience in Los Angeles, I think of food. The diversity of cuisine offered in every fusion form reflects the communities here. Unsurprisingly, some of my favorite submissions are foodie features.

I’m a proud hapa, and my mixed background provided me with quite the experience growing up in Los Angeles. My Japanese mother would take me to volunteer at the Japanese American National Museum as a child (my name still survives as a “Courtyard Kid” in the front entry plaza). As a treat, she’d buy me an imagawayaki from Mitsuru Cafe in Little Tokyo. I remember the long lines and peering through the big front window at the skilled hands that could make 50 red bean pancakes in a minute! I still visit Mitsuru Cafe whenever I’m in that part of town. For me, it’s the ultimate Los Angeles flavor.

Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood exemplifies playing with food. How Amber makes it to work on time driving past this place on her commute is impressive in itself. Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0 

Another flavor came to mind for Amber Keller, a project specialist in exhibitions, when thinking of her L.A.: the donut. What could make a donut even tastier? For Amber, a giant rooftop sculpture of one. She wrote:

“Who doesn’t love a donuts-only bakery with a giant doughnut on the roof?! I drive near it during my regular commute shortcut almost every day and it can make me smile even when it’s 6:45 a.m. and the 405 is already backed up.”

You know a restaurant is pretty extraordinary when you mentally mark it as a favorite and you don’t even eat the food it serves. For Annelisa Stephan, Getty Iris editor, the abstract chicken-bucket building on Western Avenue is a reason for staying in Los Angeles.

“It takes a lot for me to like a KFC—I’m a vegetarian. I remember the first time I saw it, coming south on Western after I got out of college and came back to L.A.. It’s so awesomely weird, and that made me think, ‘Yeah, I can live here again.’”

High concept fast food? Certainly appropriate for Angelinos. Kentucky Fried Chicken (model), 1990. Grinstein/Daniels Inc. and Jeffrey Daniels. Jeffrey Daniels Architects

My version of Los Angeles has only recently been expanded. I grew up in South Pasadena. While it’s only about 15 minutes from downtown by freeway, it feels like a world away. But my father, a perfectionist and avid runner, took to exploring vast Los Angeles on a grid-like system. He ran major streets first, then divided the city into quadrants to explore the smaller veins that poured out onto the major boulevards. I look to him for sites generally unknown.

He pointed out to me this Holland Dutch-style bakery in Glassell Park. There was once a whole chain of such bakeries and windmill coffee shops, beginning in 1913. Now the bakery offers educational courses, and the only remaining coffee shop is a Denny’s in Arcadia.

Van de Kamp’s at dusk. Photo by Licorice Medusa on Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

“It used to be known as the ‘Taj Mahal of Los Angeles bakeries’ when it was first built in 1931.”

His knowledge of all the bridges along the L.A. River, of English Gothic-style high schools, of Japanese gardens in libraries, of East L.A. murals, and Craftsman-style houses has led me to look at Los Angeles with open eyes and an open mind.

While the glitz and glam of Hollywood Boulevard has faded away and much of the city needs care and rebuilding (as do all cities, always), I find Los Angeles to be both challenging and inspirational. It is like a “choose-your-own-adventure” book. It is simultaneously rich and impoverished, socially progressive and conservative, architecturally innovative and depressing.

The remaining windmill coffee shop from the Van de Kamp bakery empire stands in Arcadia on this Denny’s at the intersection of Huntington Drive and Santa Anita Avenue. Photo by “Caveman Chuck” Coker on Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

It is a city that is constantly changing—I swear that coffee shop on Melrose was a different coffee shop three days ago—and reworking itself. Buildings rise and fall. And I hope that this Google Map is a small token of one version of 2013′s Los Angeles. One that is full of quirky buildings (definitely quirky neighbors!) and stories that belong to the citizens and visitors that make L.A. such a joy to discover.

Of course we only know what we’ve experienced, and this map is reflective of what the Overdrive team makes of L.A. I know it’s a bit too empty in some corners of the city, so I turn to you:

What’s missing? What flavors would you add? What site in Los Angeles significant to you and why? Where do you take out-of-town guests to give them a taste of the city? What is your L.A.?

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      Mission style or “Spanish Colonial” architecture is a California signature. San Luis Rey de Francia was founded in 1798, yet shares many of the features of Los Angeles’ Union Station. Compare with The Huntington’s capture of the station to see just how similar in line and form these buildings really are. 

      We’re teaming up The Huntington’s tumblr to bring you historic Los Angeles images on Wednesdays through August 6 as part of No Further West.

      Mission, San Luis Rey de Francia, 1880, Carleton Watkins. J. Paul Getty Museum.

      07/30/14

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