www.richard-seaman.com / USA / Cities / Los Angeles

Highlights of Los Angeles

Los Angeles is famous as being the first American city to wholeheartedly embrace the motorcar, a decision which many people now wholeheartedly regret!

The infrastructure hasn't kept up with population growth, so if you can drive at 55 miles then you're doing very well.   Like many other people, I made my decision on where to live based on traffic patterns during the morning and evening commutes, but there's no way to avoid traffic jams on the weekends!

The car is also largely responsible for giving the city the worst air pollution in the United States, but it's not as recent a phenomenon as most people think - even before Europeans arrived, the Chumash tribe of native Americans called the area "the valley of smoke", because of the haze from campfires.

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Like many other major cities, the geography of Los Angeles determines its destiny.   The Los Angeles basin is surrounded by mountains on the north and high hills on the south, which funnel together into the narrow San Gorgonio Pass, immediately west of the Coachella Valley.

The mountains trap pollution within the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and the low precipitation levels ensure that the smog isn't washed from the air by rain showers.

In spite of its dismal history and even its current status, the city is actually an example of how pollution can be successfully controlled.   In the 1970s it was rare to be able to see the mountains, even from close up, and there were usually more than 100 stage one smog alerts each year.   The Clean Air Act of 1970 eventually resulted in the current situation where the mountains are usually visible and there are virtually no stage one smog alerts at all.   This piece of legislation was put into force by Richard Nixon, who hailed from the Los Angeles basin city of Yorba Linda, where I worked for four years.

The pollution at least gives Los Angeles some wonderful sunsets, though you'd have to be looking west, rather than north as in this photo.

This shot does illustrate another feature of Los Angeles, which it shares with other California cities such as San Francisco and San Diego - the marine layer.   This is a fog which develops in the afternoon or evening over the ocean and then moves inland, sometimes considerable distances.   It mostly occurs only in spring, and the sun usually burns it off by about noon, but it's still referred to as "June gloom" by the inhabitants of this normally sunny city.

The marine layer is very unfortunate for photographers - I was on my way to photograph downtown Los Angeles for this page when the fog rolled in and forced me to turn back, and the same thing has happened to me in San Francisco and San Diego!

The coastline north of Los Angeles is rugged.   There are some nice beaches, but many of them are rocky, and there's some serious surf at most of them, which makes them unsuitable for most swimmers.

It's a nice drive along highway 1, the Cabrillo Highway, which follows the coast from Los Angeles through Santa Barbara and hugs the coast as much as possible all the way up to San Francisco and then further north.

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The beaches within the Los Angeles metropolitan area are much broader and have nice sand, even if the color of the water often leaves something to be desired.

This is the world-famous Santa Monica pier, which is over a century old and remains very popular to this day.   As well as the Ferris wheel there's also a small roller-coaster and a carousel from the 1920s which was used as a set in the Robert Redford movie The Sting.   The movie was set in Chicago, but Redford himself was actually born in Santa Monica!

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A surf lifesaver at the Muscle Beach section of Venice Beach, one of the most well-known strips of sand in Los Angeles.

The many beaches in the region are internationally famous because of their portrayal in Baywatch, which remains the world's most popular television series ever, though not necessarily for the quality of the plot or the acting!

Venice Beach is home of the real-life headquarters of the Los Angeles County Fire Department lifeguard division, which employs 200 full-time lifeguards and 700 part-timers.

It's a nasty surprise for many visitors to find that the water at the beaches is usually on the chilly side, because of the California Current, which carries cold water all the way down from Canada!   The current is also responsible for the marine layer fog.

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The whimsical "Ballerina Clown" statue by Jonathan Borofsky is also in Venice Beach, which has long been a favored hangout of poets, visual artists and street performers.

The 30 foot tall sculpture used to slowly move its right leg up and down, but the mechanism is in disrepair.

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The Hollywood Sign was originally built in 1923 as a temporary advertisement for a housing development called "Hollywoodland".   Its letters were 50 feet high and lit with about 4000 light bulbs.

The sign soon became an icon, and in 1949 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce took responsibility for it, but reduced it to "Hollywood" and removed the lighting.

Hollywood is considered a glamorous place by almost everyone, except for people who know anything about Los Angeles!   The area has actually suffered badly from urban blight, and the sign underwent the same fate, enduring many indignities along the way.   As early as 1928, the sign's drunken caretaker ran his Model A Ford off the hill, destroying the letter "H", which was restored and in 1932 was literally used as a jumping off point for a Hollywood starlet's successful suicide attempt.   The 1949 restoration helped, but things went steadily downhill until by the 1970s the first "O" had half collapsed and the final "O" had fallen completely.

The sign was saved by an unlikely band of rescuers, led by the shock rocker Alice Cooper who donated a 45 foot tall replacement for the final "O" in the name of Groucho Marx!   Hugh Hefner donated the "Y", and less controversial people like Andy Williams and Gene Autry donated other letters.

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This mural in Hollywood celebrates many of the movie industry's most famous performers.

In the front row you can see Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields with Shirley Temple on his knee and Lassie at his feet, and James Dean.   I'm not a great movie buff, but perhaps that's Audrey Hepburn in the second row with Mae West at the other end, and other stars scattered around include Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Woody Allen, Laurel and Hardy, and Richard Pryor.   And don't forget to look in the lobby, where E.T. is phoning home!

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The Hollywood Walk of Fame has over 2000 stars dedicated to actors in movies, television, theater and radio, as well as musicians, and assorted dedicatees like the first Americans to walk on the moon, a couple of mayors and even Disneyland!

One of the most popular stars belongs to James Dean, who died at age 24 in a motor accident in 1955.   Although he only starred in three movies over a two year period, his mystique continued to grow and his estate still earns $5 million a year from his work!

Here's another star, belonging to a four-footed performer.   I guess we should call this a "dog star" (but no, Siriusly folks...).

Lassie, it might be shocking to learn, was actually a Laddie, or in fact a whole sequence of Laddies!

Male collies are larger and have better coats than females, and so the first Lassie was a dog called Pal, who appeared in this role in seven movies and two television programs.   Ten more generations of his descendants have earned their dog food in the same way.

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The hand and foot prints outside Grauman's Chinese Theater is another tradition in Hollywood, dating all the way back to the 1920s.   You can see imprints of Al Jolson's knees, Betty Grable's legs, John Wayne's fist and Bob Hope's nose, as well as inanimate objects including Harold Lloyd's eye glasses, George Burn's cigar, Roy Roger's gun and the wands of the three stars of the Harry Potter movies.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was honored not only for his movies but also for his role as California's Governator, which started about a year before his prints were set in concrete for posterity.

I was surprised to see how narrow Arnie's feet are, looking very much like something a girlie-man might possess!   Of course, if Governor Schwarzenegger challenges me to a fist fight I'll be only too pleased to offer a retraction!

Capitol Records moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to New York some years ago, but they left the classic Capitol Records Tower behind!

Built in 1956, the design has aged very well.   The building is said to resemble a platter of vinyl records on a turntable, with the spike at the top being the center spindle!

The aircraft warning light at the top of the spike flashes the morse code for "Hollywood", and Samuel Morse's own granddaughter flipped the "on" switch for it when the building first opened.

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You can visit many of Hollywood's movie stars and musicians at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, but don't expect them to sign any autographs.

It was opened in 1899, but like much of Hollywood it fell into neglect and in 1998 the 62 acre property was bought for only $375,000, just as the cemetery was about to go bankrupt.

Since then the cemetery has reopened for business, so if you want (and you have some cash) you can join the current residents, who include actors such as Douglas Fairbanks, Jayne Mansfield, Rudolph Valentino and Fay Wray.   There are numerous musicians such as Johnny Ramone, shown here; Beatle George Harrison was living in the Hollywood Hills just before he died of lung cancer, so he was cremated here, but his ashes were scattered on the Ganges.   The gangster "Bugsy" Siegel is also here, alongside many other notable citizens.

Here are the tombs of the great director and producer Cecil B. DeMille, alongside his brother William deMille, who also directed movies.   And yes, the difference in capitalization of the two names isn't a mistake!

In the background you can see a water tower on the grounds of Paramount Studios, which is on the other side of a very high wall.

Mel Blanc himself chose the epitaph "That's all, folks!" which is now on his gravestone.

Blanc is famous as one of the greatest and most prolific voice-over talents in America.   As well as voicing Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, Woody Woodpecker and Barney Rubble, he also created the voices for hundreds of other characters, including the skunk Pepe le Pew, who starred in cartoons such as For Scent-imental Reasons and is the reason for the stuffed toy someone has left here.

One of the coolest graves belongs to a rather unfamous graphic artist called Carl Bigsby who died in 1959, when the space race was heating up.

Mr Bigsby decided that an Atlas rocket was just the thing to mark his burial spot, and in death he's certainly captured the limelight he never quite achieved in life!

He has a memorable epitaph, too, "Retired by God", as does his wife Constance Bigsby, who is memorialized here with the words "Too bad, we had fun."

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The La Brea tar pits are so good that they named them twice - "La Brea" means "the tar" in Spanish, so the name actually means "The the tar tar pits"!

Many visitors to Los Angeles don't realize that the whole area is rich in oil deposits, some of which still have active oil wells.   Quite a bit of the funding for Beverly Hills High School (model for the school in Beverly Hills, 90210) comes from 19 wells right on the grounds of the school!

The oil has been oozing out for thousands of years, and at La Brea it formed large, deep pools of gooey tar.   Animals attracted by water on the surface of the pits became trapped, which in turn brought in predators which also perished.

The Page Museum is right on the site, surrounding some of the pits which are still being excavated.

The bones and displays depict the large mammals found in the pits, including mammoths, bison, giant ground sloths, American camels, American lions, American cheetahs, dire wolves, short-faced bears and saber-toothed tigers, which are now the California state fossil.   The 9000 year old remains of a woman who seems to have been murdered were also found there.

In this shot you can also see the methane gas whose bubbles make ripples on the water as they come up along with the oil itself.

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The Crystal Cathedral is a megachurch not too far from Disneyland.   What you see here is the main sanctuary, with the Prayer Spire on the left and the Tower of Hope reflected in some of the ten thousand or so sheets of glass which make up the sanctuary walls and roof.

It's a great place to visit, though probably not during an earthquake!   You also wouldn't want to be there in summer if the air-conditioning broke down!

In this photo the apocalyptic-looking sky is caused by large wildfires fueled by the hot, dry and very forceful Santa Ana winds which blow from the desert and into Los Angeles in late fall, just when the grass and brush around the city are at their most combustible.

The winds can reach hurricane force, stoking the fires and carrying burning embers great distances, allowing the fires to leap canyons and freeways.   Huge amounts of property damage are caused when these embers rain down onto houses and other property - there was even a (sadly false) report that the company I was working at in Yorba Linda had been burned to the ground, even though it was across the Santa Ana river from the main fire.

Go to the Los Angeles wallpaper page or see the highlights of Chicago or Las Vegas.
www.richard-seaman.com / USA / Cities / Los Angeles