Michael and Dan in the Southland: San Diego and Los Angeles


Daniel Emberley, June 2010


Michael’s brother Ellas wanted to take his wife and son to LegoLand, between LA and San Diego.  Michael had been to San Diego on a business trip, but had only gotten to see the strip malls of Mission Valley.  New city?  Sure, we’re there!


Tuesday, June 15


Virgin America’s new service between Dulles and LAX made it worth our while to fly there rather than into San Diego’s Lindbergh Field.  The new subway connecting terminals at Dulles, a seamless flight, and new aircraft made this the most pleasant flying experience we’ve had in years.  LAX is like a city unto itself.  Three different Holiday Inn’s on or near it, and different shuttle buses connecting you to them.  Got on a wrong shuttle, figured it out a couple terminals later, and jumped onto the correct one.  We’d landed at 10:50PM Pacific, which was 2AM Eastern, so crashed on hitting the mattress.


Wednesday, June 16


Back to the airport, Hertz counter, into a car and out on the San Diego Freeway.  About an hour on we saw “scenic point” signs, pulled over, and discovered we were:


-          On a crest above the Pacific,

-          Amongst a tribe of groundhogs & flocks of seagulls, and

-          In the middle of Marine base Camp Pendleton.


Got a great photo of me in front of the ocean and a line of tanks.  Is there a better analogy for the economy of San Diego:  military, ocean, and tourism all in our first shot?


Ellas, Mary, and Zachary had arrived a few days previously, and done some of the big theme parks already (Knott’s Berry Farm, LegoLand).  We all stayed at the Porto Vista Hotel in Little Italy.  It’s a 1960’s building that has been reinvented, attempting a chic-cool-1960’s vibe.  Eh, it was an attempt.  Pleasant, the lemon water urn in the lobby nice, and the roof deck and glass-walled breakfast room overlooking the harbor pretty to wake up to. 


Staying in Little Italy was a bonus.  It’s a walkable neighborhood of new loft condos in the former Italian-Portuguese tuna canning community.  The restaurant row on Olive Street is still Italian, aimed at both locals and tourists.  We got lunch at Mimmo’s, which acts like a deli for lunch and sit-down for dinner.  The interior is a simulated village, with every Italian cliché from the wrought iron balconies to the wall fountains.  We got good pasta salads, although they’re famous for their sandwiches. 


Most tourists come to San Diego for the beaches and the weather.  Architectural tourists come for Balboa Park.  This was the site of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, then the California-Pacific Exposition of 1935.  Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (Nebraska State Capitol, West Point Chapel) created Mediterranean Revival architecture for the 1915.  If you’ve ever liked the stucco wall, unframed arch, or red tile roof of a bungalow, you can thank Goodhue.  For 1935, his disciple Richard Requa built on that foundation, reusing some buildings and introducing more Spanish-theme-park style gardens, arbors, and an entire “Spanish Village” of crafts people.  Before, during, and after the expos, Kate Sessions introduced Pacific Rim and Mediterranean plants to the grounds.  The buildings now house a variety of museums in the middle of one of the largest, most lush urban parks in the country. 


It’s pretty sensational.  We parked on the western edge and walked across Laurel Street Bridge.  Dramatic canyon views, and a vista of Spanish-Revival theme buildings ahead.  The main road into the museum complex is the Prado; halfway down is the San Diego Museum of Art.  We had low expectations, but were surprised by the quality of the small but select collection.  A good late-Medieval painting by one of my favorites, Carlo Crivelli, brilliant Asian, and decent sculpture garden with a lovely café to decompress. 


The Mingei International Museum houses folk art from around the world.  At least as fun as the Alexander Girard collection in Santa Fe, or the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.  When we asked the info desk for a gallery map, they told us “that is against the spirit of the Mingei”.  Seemed pretentious, but no, they were right.  It is a treasure house of toys, fabrics, pottery, baskets, and furniture that you explore at whim, drawn by a flash of color, or a cool texture, or the way a beam of light is hitting a column.  Yawned through a temporary show of South Asian village stuff.  Corner gallery of three doll houses worth the entire trip to California: a British mansion from the 1700’s, Victorian American, and a multi-tiered fairy cottage made of leaves and wax titled “Wednesday’s Palace”.  Amazing.


Next door, the Timken Museum is a 1970’s Modern marble anomaly amongst the Spanish pavilions.  It houses a brilliant collection of Western art from the Renaissance forward.  The Italian and 1800’s American are particularly memorable, including great Fitz Hugh Lane and Peto canvases. 


We walked the Prado, and met up with the Setos at the big fountain by the Science Museum.  They’d happily spent the morning at the U.S.S. Midway, now a tourist attraction docked in the harbor.  We walked around the rose and cactus gardens, through the crafts stalls of the Spanish Village, and back to the Botanical Hall.  This is interesting.  In any other city it would be a greenhouse, but in San Diego they don’t have to worry about the climate, so it’s all wooden slats instead of glass.  Never were able to time it to get in, but the fountains in front host turtles, lizards, carp, even a rabbit.  All through the grounds, and around the city, is a striking purple tree that we eventually identified as jacaranda.  Stunningly beautiful. 


We convoyed back to Little Italy.  We showed off Olive Street, then returned to Mimmo’s for dinner.  Even better than lunch: shrimp ravioli, a Caesar, calamari, and eggplant sandwich, washed down with a glass of Orvieto and an Oregon Pinot Grigio.  A post-prandial stroll aimed at the waterfront, but we never quite got there, as it’s blocked from the neighborhood by the trolley tracks to Tijuana.  Instead found the fabulous Art Deco County Administration Building, the only edifice constructed of a planned government center. 


Thursday, June 17


Michael and I took a walk uphill around the ‘hood, through Our Lady of the Rosary, and on to Amici Park.  This pocket park commemorates the area’s heritage with bocce courts and tables with bronze sculptures of Italian food, complete with recipes for marinara sauce.  We weren’t far from downtown: we sighted the skyscrapers and kept going.  Despite the hype, it’s not a really active city center.  There are many vacant lots, new buildings housing banks, and old ones SRO’s, bail bondsmen, and court services.  The raison d’etre of San Diego is military and retirees, neither of which requires an active central city.  The renovated Santa Fe terminal nicely combines trolley and heavy rail service.  It’s next to the Museum of Contemporary Art’s recent glass building, which we walked by but never got into.  The nicest buildings were 1920’s brick Renaissance Revival, although there’s a notable Helmut Jahn tower that Zack identified as “the building with the monster eyes on top”.   

We picked up the Setos and drove to the Zoo.  I’d not planned to see this, but Mary wisely convinced me otherwise.  This is the best zoo we have seen anywhere.  Enormous, expensive, and worth it.  This was the first zoo to put animals in open enclosures rather than cages.  They’ve worked hard to both protect the animals and make the visitor experience enjoyable.  Right through the gates we jumped on the aerial tram straight across to the polar bears.  We did the Arctic area together, then separated somewhere in the Lost Forest trying to find our way to the restaurants near the entrance.  The Lost Forest is aptly named; our cell phones got a work out trying to figure out where we all were.  En route we wandered through a five level aviary, then another one, and got to see zebras, warthogs, gazelles, and hippos.  We weren’t even trying; we just strolled and looked where everyone else was looking to see animals up close and active.   Best part was lunch in a mediocre burgers-n-fries pavilion shared with a mother duck and three ducklings.  I’d sat Zack and myself down at the first table for five I could find, and at our feet when we looked down was the duck.  A staff person told us she shelters in the restaurant area, with humans a safer risk than a hawk that’s been picking off her flock.   

We split up after lunch, Ellas, Mary and Zack for more zoo; and Michael and me to find the rest of Balboa Park.  I knew the Zoo was physically in the Park, but every map made it look like we’d have to drive to get there.  Instead out the Zoo entrance, a five minute path, and we found ourselves back at Spanish Village.  Very happy.  We hit the Casa de Balboa, home to three different museums.  We skipped the photography one.


The history museum focuses on the mythological “early days of old San Diego”, with a smiley view of Spaniards, natives, and Anglos that I’m sure makes funders happy but tells one nothing about how contemporary, or even 20th Century, San Diego developed.  The major collection is of dresses donated to the museum by city debutantes.  It’s a pretty stellar costume collection, and well displayed.  Would it have hurt, though, to have talked about the fishing industry, or the Marine bases, or the aircraft industry that played such a big part of its past?  I’m not even considering more controversial issues like the city’s habit of putting things it doesn’t like in Tijuana, or of appealing to white Midwestern retirees, or of calling in the American military whenever they get nervous about Mexican politics.  Just sayin’.  Nice gift shop.


The model railroad museum fills the basement of the building.  It is brilliant.  At least six different railroad clubs have created layouts here, some idealized, some reflecting actual lines.  One enormous one shows the Southern Pacific/Santa Fe route through Tehachapi Pass.  Better than the history museum, this demonstrates the limitations of San Diego’s geography.  Yes, it has one of the three great U.S. Pacific ports.  Unfortunately, mountains to the east and south make it a cul de sac.  If we had settled the country from west to east, that might have been overcome, as Boston was able to develop its hinterland despite the abysmally meager Charles River.  However, we didn’t, and any intelligent rail or highway planner has run out to Los Angeles, not San Diego.  An interesting problem and opportunity for the city.  Very little of this academic theorizing was going on while we were there, there are too many trains in motion, ones you can start, and layouts that you can watch club members building to spend time on thinking.  Fun.


We drove through the North Park, Hillcrest, and Mission Hills neighborhoods to Old Town.  Hillcrest is historically San Diego’s gay community.  It flows into Mission Hills, one of the city’s swankiest, with mansions and comfortable homes from the 1920’s forward.  A decent mix of housing types, and a good drive. 


Old Town is the site of the original Spanish settlement.  Not the mission, that’s another couple miles northeast, but the presidio and town plaza.  The whole city shifted east in the 1880’s when the railroad made it here, leaving Old Town as a backwater.  In the 1930’s San Diego rehabilitated its birthplace into a sort of Spanish theme park.  Original buildings around the plaza have been converted into an open air museum, infiltrated by stores selling Mexican themed merchandise.  Should be repulsively crass and commercial, but something about it works.  The whole experience is delightful, even for someone with my critical eye for presenting history.  We shopped, we bought tacos, we learned about the early days of the Butterfield Stage, Wells Fargo, Spanish missions, and vacqueros turning into cowboys.  Architect Richard Requa was behind a lot of the historic reconstruction and rehabilitation, and creation of what must have been one of our first “festival marketplaces”.   A genius of the 1930’s, wish I knew more about him.


On Juniper Street near the hotel is a shopping district of antique and furniture stores.  They have sensational mid-century Modern and contemporary work.  We almost picked up a stereoview of D.C.’s Pension Building, where we were married.  Heading back to the car we were buzzed by a Southwest Airlines jet flying near roof level.  We hadn’t realized how close Lindbergh Field is to the city until then.  Cool to see the bottom of a plane so close up, sorry we didn’t have the camera handy. 


For dinner we all drove up to Hillcrest.  Earlier we’d seen a place called Porkyland, which we thought was BBQ.  How can you resist a name like “Porkyland”?  Actually, it’s Mexican, with homemade carnitas.  Cheap, easy, tasty, and with big portions.  We walked around Hillcrest, and it was a totally different experience.  By car it looked sort of cool, sort of Connecticut-Avenue-north-of-Dupont.  By foot we saw even more bums and drug addicts than in Seattle.  Have to give Mary credit, I freaked out when we walked past the couple shooting up (huffing?  it involved a plastic water bottle) in a store front, and I wasn’t escorting a six year old.  Sad.


Back to the hotel, then Michael and I walked back through downtown.  The Gaslamp District is hailed as San Diego’s vibrant living center.  We found historic buildings filled with sports bars, girls gone wild, and the straight boys who love them.  Uggh.  Even the lobby of the U.S. Grant Hotel (Emma Goldman was once kicked out of town from there) seemed overdone and tasteless.  Between the soccer World Cup and Lakers-Celtics game, the sports morons ruled.  I suspect that if D.C. attracted partying conventioneers instead of lobbyists and families, Seventh Street could look this way.  Cruised by Horton Plaza, a Westfield shopping mall that is credited with helping bring retail back downtown and theme shopping to the country, but it looked too dispiriting for a walk through.  We went down to the harbor and trolley stop, hoping to get back to Little Italy that way, but it turned out to require a change of train for only four stops, not worth the wait.  We hailed a cab and gave up on public transport in Southern California.


Friday, June 18


This was La Jolla morning.  Ellas and Mary took Zack up to Scripps Institute to see the Aquarium.  We started at the Salk Institute.  This is the research lab Jonas Salk founded after discovering the polio vaccine and becoming a celebrity scientist.  Louis Kahn did the design.  We are not fans of Louis Kahn.  Saw the biopic, the museums at Yale, the plans to shut down Philadelphia and surround it with parking.  Hate it all.  Give him a pass for the Kimbell in Fort Worth.  We were not prepared for the beauty and rigor of Salk Institute.  I think it helped that we were shunted to provisional parking, and so approached the complex from the ocean side.  Instead of the iconic image of concrete behemoths receding to an infinite Pacific horizon, we entered via corridors that seamlessly connect different research labs, providing both privacy and community.  Turning into the main passage, we saw the rows of teak-framed windows giving hundreds of researchers gorgeous ocean views.  I’d heard that a good photographer could redeem a bad architect; here we had an architect being mis-served by generations of photographers.  Dale Chihuly had been invited to install glass pieces around the grounds.  We stopped at the café, admired the waterfalls, the ocean, the space, the glass.  It’s pretty brilliant.  Makes you wonder what MIT might have looked like if they’d cared about grandeur or community.


La Jolla has become an enclave of the super rich and those who want to be near them.  While it’s always been affluent, until recently it was also smart.  Ellen Browning Scripps, sister of the founder of the San Diego Union-Tribune, turned her inheritance into research (Scripps Institute for Oceanography, health sciences).  That attracted other academics, who founded UCSD in the 1950’s.  The surrounding area is now a hotbed of genetic, health, and earth science.  In the center, sadly, are rows of shopping for Chico’s ladies and golf course retirees.  It’s an unusual mix.  We parked in front of the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, on the Pacific in what was once Ms Scripps’s home.  Somewhere under it all is an Irving Gill mansion, but what you see are the interventions by Venturi-Scott Brown.  We first walked around the Arts and Crafts St. James Church, then the Irving Gill La Jolla Women’s Club.  Were able to get into the church, but not the Club.  Across the street at the Museum the show was “Here Not There”, contemporary work by San Diego artists.  Some pretty good, about half mediocre.  The site, on the cliffs above the ocean, is brilliant; the grounds descending to the beach have been converted into a dynamic and interactive sculpture garden.


We shopped the main drag of Prospect Street, is like Bethesda with a view.  Met up with the family at Bubba’s Smokehouse for lunch, good and inexpensive.  Zack was drawn by the allure of the ocean, so we hiked down steps along the cliff to Shell Beach.  The beaches in La Jolla all seem to be in coves at the bottom of the cliffs.  This one was fairly small and private, with large boulders that reminded me of Boston’s North Shore, and an island of seals further out. 


We drove back to Little Italy, left a car in the garage and hopped into the other to go to Coronado Island.  Coronado is a peninsula, but the neck is so narrow, and for most of its history was only reachable by ferry from downtown, so one can forgive locals the error.  A good chunk of it is a Marine base, another chunk retirement homes for admirals.  In between are retail and the Del.  The Hotel del Coronado is the grand beach resort, white bungalows, red conical tower, that you see in the movies “Some Like It Hot” and “My Favorite Year”.  It is fantastic.  I was shocked at how welcoming it is even of non-guests.  It has excellent retail, candy and ice cream shops on the boardwalk, and several bars overlooking the ocean.  The beach is public, but dominated by the hotel.  In New England we would have privatized the strand a century ago, but here they seemed to welcome us day trippers.  We left Ellas, Mary, and Zack to enjoy the beach, and wandered up Orange Avenue, the main shopping drag.  Sorta beachy, sorta affluent, very laid back.  Just as we were making fun of a particularly schlocky shop’s merchandise we saw two crown-shaped robe hooks that we had to have.  They even havea small museum of local history.  We camped at a bar overlooking the beach while the Setos had their quota of sun and sand.  Most relaxing.  Even the crazed Michael and Dan Road Trip Show was seduced into lounging by the Del <smile>.


Back in Little Italy we went to La Boca, an Argentinean restaurant, for our final dinner together.  The best Argentine we’ve had since Buenos Aires, a mini-grill of steak, sausage and sweetbreads brought sizzling to the table, grilled provolone, a chicken cutlet Milanese, and pizza.  The salad was better than we’d had in South America.


Saturday, June 19


Ellas, Mary & Zack were taking off from LAX that afternoon; we checked out before them and got a head start up to L.A.  First, though, we took the Irving Gill pilgrimage.  Gill is maybe the most important Modern architect you’ve never heard of.  Educated by Louis Sullivan, he came to San Diego in the late 1800’s and evolved from designing fairly conventional California Arts & Crafts buildings to his own brand of stripped Modernism.  His homes frequently look like four-squares, but with minimal window trim, shallow or flat roofs, and simple arched doorways or arcades.  Most of his work is in southern California, mainly San Diego.  A  lot of it is concentrated north of downtown.  We used the AIA Guide to San Diego Architecture to identify two clusters of his work, interspersed with other fine Mission, Modern, and Arts & Crafts homes.  The first set let us loop around over the Spruce Street Bridge, one of many pedestrian bridges over steep wooded canyons.  The second was on the western edge of Balboa Park, in an area developed by the Marston family.  The Marstons founded and ran an eponymous department store in the city.  We’d seen their name around town, especially at the Historical Museum.  Their store eventually was bought by the Broadway chain, which in turn was engulfed in the Macy’s Destruction of American Department Stores in the 1990’s.  But, that was all in the future.  The Marstons hired Gill to build their own home and others for their doctor, attorney, business partners, and eventually children.  It’s sort of an Irving Gill compound, with views over Balboa Park.  The original home is now a museum.  We warned the guide that we only had thirty minutes before we had to hit the freeway to L.A.; she gamely took us on and through the house.  I was psyched to be able to get inside one of these residences, had assumed the meager evidence at Museum of Contemporary Art was all I was going to get.  It reminded us a lot of Greene & Greene’s Gamble House in Pasadena, but less Asian, and on a smaller scale.


Our hope was to zip up to L.A. and see the Disney Concert Hall and the new Rafael Moneo Cathedral, but we were defeated by the traffic on Interstate 5.  Oh well.  Got lunch at an In-N-Out: the burgers and fries are delicious, worth fighting the crowds.  Crawled up the Santa Ana Freeway, reconsidered our options, and got out in the Hollywood Hills instead. 


The last big cluster of Frank Lloyd Wright work that we hadn’t seen is in Los Angeles.  Here he created his “textile block houses”, homes made from custom concrete blocks that were to be knitted together with rebar rather than mortar.  Not a stable construction, especially in earthquake prone L.A.  Usually two of these are open to the public, but due to damage from a 1986 quake none are today.  We took a gamble and drove up a canyon to the Freeman House.  USC owns this one; it is at the end of a promontory overlooking the city.  We were in luck, it is right on the street, and we were able to walk around on the patios and check out the construction.  It is totally unstable, but worth it to see the site and how the textile blocks create patterns.  Usually you see one or two in a museum; here you could see the ensemble working together on site as intended.  The access road was narrow and steep.  Two neighbors eyed us suspiciously when we parked, so we spoke with them as we left.  They seemed relieved that we were just architectural lunatics, and recommended other houses we should see in Hollywood.  Very kind, and unexpected.


We headed a mile east on Hollywood Boulevard to Hollyhock House.  This was part of an arts complex Wright designed for Standard Oil heiress Aline Barnsdale.  He so annoyed Ms Barnsdale that she fired him, but not before he’d seen several parts built, some under the supervision of his assistant and later major architect in his own right Rudolph Schindler.  The complex is owned by the County, who use part for art shows and part as a park.  They run guided tours of the house, which reminded us a little of the Martin House in Springfield, Illinois, but not as nice.  This is actually our least favorite Wright design.  We weren’t sure what was putting us off, the original design, the apparent antagonism between client and architect, the ignorant docent, or the state of repair, but something is not in balance.  Nice views from the hillside, though.  If you go, drive to the end of the parking lot on Hollywood; there’s a drive that takes you to upper level parking so you don’t have to hike up.  We didn’t discover that, so replenished our energy at Pollo Dorado, a chicken taco stand across Hollywood Boulevard.  Decent. 


Our friends Amy and Neil put us up for two nights.  They and their sons Jonny and Jeremy live across the hills in Encino.  They have a beautiful comfortable house.  Amy and I met in our first classes at Chicago back in 1979; it was great to reconnect.  We went for dinner in Little Tel Aviv, a part of Ventura Boulevard that has become home for Israeli emigrees.  The best hummus and kabob ever at Hummus Bar, plus a sweet, cute and spunky waiter.  They serve a Romanian kabob that is to die for; and surprisingly good alfajores (an Argentine sweet) in honor of the World Cup.  It’s BYO, so stop at a liquor store first if you want to imbibe.


Sunday, June 20


Sunday was Getty day.  Oil magnate J. Paul Getty bought a ranch in Malibu in 1945.  He collected art, moved to England, and in 1954 opened the ranch as a museum.  He recreated a Roman villa excavated at Herculaneum as the Getty Villa to house the museum better.  It opened in 1974; he never visited.  When he died, Getty left the museum so much company stock that to meet IRS rules they had to spend millions a year on art-related purposes.  One answer was to hire star architect Richard Meier to design the Getty Center above Santa Monica.  That opened in 1997, and the Villa was closed.  The management decided to house the Greek and Roman antiquities in the Villa, and everything else in the Center.  In 2006 the Villa reopened after renovations and recreations by architects Machado and Silvetti.  That’s a plot that could be several seasons of soap opera.  The short answer is that there are now two Getty museums, ten miles apart in the affluent western sections of Los Angeles.  You need reservations for the Villa, but not for the Center.  Both are free, but require $15 to park your car. 


We started with the Villa.  A pretty drive up the coast along Will Rogers State Park, into the garage, and up via elevator.  Because the Villa is built into a canyon, there are lots of elevators and escalators that take you from ground level to another ground level.  The entrance reminded us a little of the way you go into the Alhambra: a place to store your car, then a transitional passage, then the main event.  Machado and Silvetti have shaped this as if you’re entering an archaeological dig, with the villa/museum as the reward.  I knew the firm of Machado and Silvetti back in the mid-1980’s, when my boss and his wife hired them to turn a Cambridge vending machine factory into a loft residence.  They’re all grown up now <wink>, with tons of museum experience.  The path leads you through layers that simulate historical strata, with twists and turns that bring you to an amphitheater.  You turn to the stage, and that’s the villa proper.  Café, shops, and offices are tucked into the new work, and upper level spaces that had once  housed Old Master paintings, Louis XV furniture, and photography are now equipped to show Greek and Roman work by theme (gods and goddesses, athletics, trade, etc.).  The lower floor and gardens of the villa are the best recreation of a Roman elite home anywhere.  It’s full of bright frescoes, painted statues, fountain pools and porticoes of lavender, lemons, and herbs teasing the nose as well as the eyes.  It’s amazing to see Roman statues with the eyes active, not dead.  Is it all a fake?  For sure, it’s Malibu, honey.  But they have the authentic, properly protected and accessible from the repros, so you can judge for yourself presumed original intent and the actual objects excavated.  Brilliant.  Temporary shows were on ancient glassmaking techniques and a comparison of Aztec and Roman sculpture.  We especially liked the museum’s interpretation of how Spanish conquerors attempted to reconcile Aztec gods with the Roman ones they knew.  Even the café tries to give you a taste of ancient Rome, or at least Italy.  Lunch was prosecco, a burger flavored with capers and fish sauce, and salad with prosciutto and beans, on a terrace where Lombardy pines frame a vista of the Pacific.


On to the Getty Center.  Unfortunately, this was jammed with Father’s Day visitors.  After a half hour wait we got into the parking garage, and then the vastness of the complex handled the crowds.  Yes, there were more people present than we had expected, but we got to see most of the art, all of the buildings and gardens, and enjoy ourselves.  Meier was given a much more complex task with the Center.  The site is another canyon; he placed pavilions on top, parking at the base, and gives visitors a tram to move from one to the other.  The tram ride itself is pretty spectacular, like the one on Mont Juic in Barcelona.  The Center houses working conservation labs and many more office functions than the Villa, plus a variety of media: European art from Italian Renaissance to Impressionist, furniture, sculpture, photography.  Again, gardens are used to broaden the experience and transform art viewing into something families might feel more comfortable doing.  Robert Irwin’s main garden space uses different sounds of water (running over pebbles, boulders, bursting from tight spaces, in jets) to create an audio installation in the midst of the competing pavilions and uses.  None of the art is drop-dead stellar; by the time Getty was collecting, that had moved into public collections.  But it is the best that could be obtained in the last half century.  The temporary shows were of da Vinci drawings and Jean-Leon Gerome.  We’d seen the da Vinci in London, and there was a very long line, so skipped and concentrated on the Gerome.  Actually, there was a line for him also, but for the elevator up.  We took the stairs instead, and were in.  French Academic paintings of the mid-1800’s, lots of dramatic (hysteric?) stories of ancient Romans, conniving Tudors, and fainting Victorians.  I liked it, but Michael hates this stuff.  Recovered in a café, shopped, but overall not as pleasant as the Villa.  The line for the tram ridiculous, so we took the path downhill and a pleasant ten minute walk put us at our car.  We suspect Angelenos don’t walk too much.


Our friend Neil makes an astoundingly good rotisserie chicken.  Amy whipped up a salad, and we debriefed on our days.  The family had spent a successful Father’s Day celebration with their folks, and the kids shared stories of past and upcoming travels.  Fun.  Amy and Neil are fans of True Blood, which they introduced us to on their ginormous 70” screen.  I think the television is bigger than any wall of our apartment.  Not sure that Sookie Stackhouse is going to be added to our gallery of divas in the near term, but you never know.


Monday, June 21


I panicked about the freeway traffic, so we were out the door at 8AM for a noon flight.  We sped in the HOV lane to LAX, got the car back to Hertz by 9, found our terminal and were through security by 9:30.  Virgin repeated their magic back (fabulous view of the red rocks around Sedona), and we were on the ground at Dulles by 8PM.  Too tired to play with Metrobus, we caught a cab home. 


Our take on southern California circa 2010? 


The food is good and reasonably priced, fresher than we ever see in the East.  We like the grids of streets running over the canyons, and the ways people found to name them.  The alphabetic trees and birds in San Diego are especially mellifluous, with intersections like Grape and Albatross, Curlew and Nutmeg.  San Diego’s parks are amazing, both the glorious Balboa and many pocket spaces around the neighborhoods.  The sun, the weather, the beaches, the mountains, yeah, we all know they have them better than we do.


We were surprised by the people, who seemed to understand what they were looking at in art museums, and to be able to speak intelligently about it.  At least, the people who were drawn to art museums. 


The cities have their problems.  They lack water, and are in an earthquake zone.  They cannot support the number of people there, and still moving in, especially in the suburban, each family in a single home with yard lifestyle they’ve chosen.  They are working to confront those issues, L.A. especially, and I look forward to seeing how they do so.  The solutions they come up with are probably the ones we’ll use around the world.


RANT ALERT!  Economically southern California is the result of seventy years of investment by East Coast and Midwest cities.  We paid for their highways, aqueducts, and infrastructure, and between their hard work and our money we’ve created one of the most successful economies in the world.  Now, however, they have to acknowledge that it is their turn to pay back.  IMHO, the state financial crisis is the result of a rich community expecting top notch services and wanting someone else to pay for them.  (I’m not talking about rich people, the elite; everyone has some of those.  I’m talking about the wealth and opportunity of the average Californian vs. the average resident of Michigan or Nebraska.)  Not only do they need to pony up and pay the taxes they can afford for their state, it’s time for them to start paying back the debt incurred to Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Chicago. 


Still, it’s awfully pleasant and seductive.  If you have the opportunity, visit!






Pier Plaza, Surfhenge, Seacoast Drive & Evergreen

Chicano Park, under the Coronado bridge     

Museum of Contemporary Art, Embarcadero                   

UCSD, sculpture collection

Pacific Rim Peace Park, Shelter Island Drive

Rancho Santa Fe Village, Lilian Rice architecture





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