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Branching Out!

I’ve originally made this blog to document my community observations and activities, but I decided to spin-off my Cahuenga Library Botanical Garden posts into its own separate blog – CahuenGardeners.

So from here on out, you can read about our Cahuenga Library gardening exploits at cahuengardeners.blogspot.com

Dodger Stadium Beating Suspect Arrested — A Little Too Close To Home

The apartment complex at 822 N. Mariposa Ave, where Dodger Stadium beating suspect Giovanni Ramirez was arrested on Sunday morning.

I heard the Big News Story Of The Week on Sunday morning while driving. So went the radio:

“There’s been a breaking development in the beating of Giants fan Bryan Stow. The LAPD has confirmed that they have arrested a suspect this morning at an apartment in East…

[all concept of time and space slows down for a moment at this point]



Obviously the element of surprise set in. The suspect, identified as 31-year old Giovanni Ramirez, had been arrested during a SWAT team raid, somewhere in my neighborhood. Thank God there was no gunfire or hostage standoff involved. All Sunday I was obsessed with finding out which street it all went down on. Was this really in East Hollywood proper, or a nearby area that for all intents and purposes was called “East Hollywood?” Certainly the L.A. Times has their geographical notion of East Hollywood, and so does the Council District 13 office, which also incorporates Koreatown north of 3rd Street.

Eventually I got my answer later in the day, including a Channel 4 news segment, which showed the apartment building with the characteristic A-frame entry arch, on 822 N. Mariposa Avenue. Some friends of mine from Ramona Elementary School (my elementary alma mater, all but 3 blocks north of here) used to live on that street, and I still remember visiting their houses and apartments. Definitely East Hollywood, and all but seven blocks from where I live.

Do I feel bothered? Offended? According to news reports, people who live in the apartment building have said that the suspect has only been seen there in “the past couple months” and was also reportedly living with a family. Certainly not from here, perhaps.

The seven-week-long search for suspects in the March 31 Dodger Stadium beating was sort of like the local equivalent to the Navy SEALs raid earlier this month to kill terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, found in the Islamabad, Pakistan suburb of Abbottabad.  The locals there had no idea the world’s most wanted man was living in their backyard.

Now I can suddenly identify with the residents of Abbottabad.
And like the Pakistani suburb,the media descended upon that place, where news reporters filming remotes were juxtaposed against everyday signs of life.

On Monday, I rode my bike there (which took all but three minutes) and right away found five news vans parked there, broadcasting transmitters extended almost as high as the palm trees. Residents walked their dogs, children wearing Ramona Elementary t-shirts bought ice cream from a cart, a produce tuck was selling its wares. But at the same time, the whirr of electric generators and the sight of news reporters rehearsing and filming their remote segments also set the scene on the street.

KCBS 2's Dave Lopez films a remote segment on Mariposa

And once in a while, the two activities would meet: As KCBS reporter Dave Lopez was preparing to to a remote, a resident’s car, parked diagonally on the ultra-wide, palmtree-lined street (the last vestiges of the street’s affluent past), was pulling out, another resident’s vehicle pulled in, and the remote paused for a minute as the cameraman navigated the incoming vehicle backing up into the diagonal spot.

I snapped a few photos myself as a (local) lookie-loo, and even chatted with a photographer and reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle. The reporter even got a few quotes from me, mentioning the Abbottabad similarity.

“Yep, guess he is L.A.’s bin Laden,” one of them said.

Meanwhile, KCBS’ Lopez iterates his segment and mentioned that there is a photo of Ramirez, but the LAPD has chosen not to make it public at this time.

“See? Another bin Laden similarity,” I told the photographer.

The photographer also mentioned to me that Ramirez’s last known address was nearby — on Clinton Street, just east of Vermont. He told me he was there to take pictures, but there was no activity, though he mentioned the road was somewhat hilly there.

Great, so this beating suspect really does live in my neighborhood.

Lopez concluded his remote: “Reporting from East Hollywood, this is Dave Lopez…”

As conscious and sensitive I can be about my neighborhood’s portrayal in the media, the East Hollywood connection and reputation from this current news story doesn’t really bother me. The beating didn’t happen here, after all.  Besides, our neighborhood got lots of love during CicLAvia, with “East Hollywood to Boyle Heights” being mentioned during every news report of the tremendously positive event. So I figure that was the yang to the beating suspect arrest’s yin. Worse things have happened to better neighborhoods, after all.

As someone who was also at the Opening Day game at Dodger Stadium, I have to admit that there’s already enough connections to the incident than I would prefer to have. A couple other suspects of the beating are still at large. But I’m personally hoping they don’t live in the neighborhood too.

Muralist Kent Twitchell Restores East Hollywood Landmark

All my life, while driving, biking or walking along Fountain Avenue, I’ve always seen it:  The image of a mustachioed old man on a wall with wavy, spaghetti-like white hair staring in a gaze towards the east.

Many people have (understandably) mistaken the man for 20th century scientist Albert Einstein. But somehow I’ve always known it wasn’t him, though the real identity of The Man On The Wall still eluded me. Until today.

While headed to a nearby vacuum repair shop, I saw a couple people working on the mural, so I had to talk to them for answers. I not only got my answer, but I got quite a bunch of stories too.

“Are you the artist?” I asked the bearded, grey-haired man pulling out jars of paint from the trunk of his car. “Yes, I am,” he replied, almost matter-of-factly, with a hint of pride yet devoid of pretense.

It turns out during conversation this man was none other than muralist Kent Twitchell, who has emblazoned his iconic imagery on walls around Los Angeles for the past four decades. He painted the towering image of the L.A. Chamber Orchestra overlooking drivers on the Harbor Freeway on a Downtown parking garage, as well as many other murals. By far his most famous work was “The Freeway Lady” mural in Angelino Heights that overlooked the 101 freeway for years (since decimated by tagging, unfortunately). When he mentioned that to me I was about to kneel down and bow to the guy. I almost felt guilty that I hadn’t known his name before, but fortunately his down-to-earth demeanor kept that from being an issue.

The East Hollywood mural on the southwest corner of Kingsley and Fountain avenues smack dab in front of us is actually of actor Strother Martin, best known for this line from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke:

Twitchell described Martin as “One of the great character actors of the 1960s” and was such a big fan of Martin, he began to paint the mural in September of 1971 (the mural is two months older than me!).

“I loved Strother Martin, it was the hippie days, I was sympathetic [to his characters],”  Twitchell said.

Eventually, the actor saw the mural and struck up a 9-year friendship with the muralist until Martin’s death in 1980. The actor even posed for a headshot image of himself that was originally painted towards the left of the original mural (since blackened out). I guess you can say mural art was the social networking of the 1970s.
The mural has been restored and repainted over the years, assisted by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles. It was originally done with enamel paint and was re-done with acrylics. Today’s version was last restored circa 2003. This time around, Twitchell and his son Artie are painstakingly restoring the mural back to its original 1970s look, with the help of  a newly-formulated anti-graffiti fluid (a milk-like substance in a plastic jar labeled, “Invisi-Seal Protect”) and gel designed by someone who lives in the same Downtown L.A. apartment building where the artist lives.

“You just put some on, and the graffiti just wipes right off,” said Twitchell.

The artist said that the anti-graffiti fluid and gel haven’t yet been marketed. Perhaps this might be a successful solution to vandalism and blight one day.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a bumper sticker seen through the back window of Twitchell’s car:
No way!!!

I briefly told him about my community organizing activities and that I had designed the bumper sticker. He told me it was given to him by a local businessowner that turned out to be a friend of mine, Mino Jegalian, who is aiming to turn the former Grasshopper Bar on Fountain and Normandie into a combination coffeehouse/beer & wine pub.

“I’ve always considered this neighborhood to be ‘East Hollywood,'” said Twitchell, who was based in Echo Park for most of his career until the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. “This neighborhood has always had a unique character…it’s one of my favorite neighborhoods in L.A.”

Awesome. Likewise, I told him that his Strother Martin mural is a neighborhood landmark, an artistic gem. As we exchanged contact info, he asked me to sign the “I <3 East Hollywood” bumper sticker. I was flattered nevertheless. I should be asking an artist like him to sign something.

As I left him to finish his mural restoration, I reflected on what an awesome moment it was to have a conversation with one of this city’s most renowned and celebrated muralists, especially sharing some of the stories behind his work. Every picture tells a story, the saying goes. But I would hasten to add that every mural tells a thousand more.

Cahuenga Library Mini Clean-Up, May Edition

Today wasn’t only another Cahuenga Library Mini Clean-Up, but the one-year anniversary of the native plant garden at the Library. So I went out to European Baking Co. on the way to the Library on Santa Monica Blvd and got a small red velvet cake for the volunteers.

I got to water the plants as well and noticed that the aloe planted in the alley side of the Library one year ago was starting to flower:
It turns out this month the volunteer force was comprised of only Amanda Colligan and I. Fortunately, the amount of trash was manageable and we were able to get the job done.This time though I had a different experience cleaning up the Library.

It’s no secret that homeless people either like to hang out or even sleep on the Library grounds. Yes, this bothers me, especially when they leave trash behind, or stuff their belongings behind the bushes. But I wanted to try something different this time…I decided to talk to them.

I’m no expert on homelessness by any means, but I have had prior experience being exposed to that world when I volunteered in the Great Homeless Count for Los Angeles County in 2005. One of the main things I learned was that people are homeless for many different reasons, which is primarily why it’s so difficult to find a solution to homelessness.

There was a thin woman with greying brown hair who was napping on the built-in seating at the front of the Library. She saw me sweeping and offered to move aside. I asked her how long she had been staying here, how long she had been living on the streets, where she had been living before she was on the streets. I asked her what her name was.

She told me she had been staying there with her boyfriend. She recently stayed at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital and is taking medication for anxiety. She had been staying at the Library for the past three weeks, and had been living on the streets for about a year. Previous to being homeless, she lived with a relative in the Valley. She mentioned something about having a son, though it didn’t sound like her son was living on the streets with her. Her boyfriend’s name is Carlos, who is an alcoholic and is presently off drinking somewhere. She’s in her late 50s. Her name is Annette.

She was one of those people who couldn’t stop talking, and normally that annoys me but I was patient this time as I’m sure she doesn’t have many chances to converse and express herself to others. Though dirty and physically emaciated, she is coherent and can articulate her thoughts normally. She talked about being on Social Security and having to go to the SSI office on Vine Street to pick up her check, which was in the form of a debit card, but she admits to constantly misplacing it. She also talked about her relationship with her boyfriend, who is at least a decade younger than she is. though he isn’t physically abusive she worries about his alcoholism and how he can be verbally abusive. She openly wonders whether she should just leave him or stay with him.

When I finally had the chance to talk, I asked Annette if she was hungry. She confirmed.

As Amanda and I finished up our cleanup duties, we had celebratory cake with some of the Cahuenga Library staff in their breakroom. Everyone enjoyed the cake, which seemed to also have a cheesecake-like frosting. I briefly stepped outside to bring Annette a piece of cake and a cup of water, with one condition – that she throw away the plate, fork and cup in the nearby bus stop trash can when she was finished. She thanked me for the food.

I realized during talking with Annette that one thing did not happen the entire time we conversed: at no point did she ever ask me for any money.

I left Annette by telling her I would contact the people I know at PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) to see if they could refer both her and Carlos to any resources, but that they might not be able to come until Monday.

Dealing with the homeless takes on a totally different dimension once you actually get to know them as a human being.

The Road To Big Sunday: Unloading Day

One year ago today, we did our successful Big Sunday event at the Cahuenga Branch Library, and now we’re heading toward another. Just a block away from the Library is Lexington Ave. Primary Center, where I took the U-Haul cargo van onto the school campus and got to unload the mulch, water and t-shirts (and Pine-Sol too…I never requested any but they offered me the box anyway…).  I also loaded my loaner bike into the van as a means of getting home.

After unloading, I headed down Virgil and Hoover to Washington Blvd, where I filled up the tank ($25 worth) and returned it to U-Haul. Final cost was $49, grand total $74. I’ll put it in my Big Sunday project budget anyway and get reimbursed, so no worries. After returning the trusty van, I departed on my loaner bike and made a good bike ride out of it, visiting  Jefferson Park, chilling in Exposition Park and riding through the USC campus on a bike for perhaps the first time (I was a commuter student back then and only bothered to ride my bike along the beach those days), amidst the crews packing up the numerous Festival of Books tents. And quite a fine warm day to be doing this as well.

Read On, SC! The L.A. Times Festival of Books

I was ecstatic to learn last fall that the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books will be moving from UCLA to my alma mater, USC – for many reasons.

Aside from my collegiate allegiance, it’s a lot closer, parking is easier to find (my entire time at USC I never needed to buy a parking pass- I have my secrets), and I can easily take the bus down if I had to. But most of all, it’s centrally located, more accessible and will inevitably attract a more diverse crowd than the upscale Westsider elite that dominated the Festival in its Westwood days (Westwood traffic sucks, BTW).  I only attended the Festival once before in 2002, and UCLA’s distance and relative lack of accessibility kept me from coming back. So this time around, I wanted to make a statement and show my support for the new venue. UCLA’s loss is USC’s gain!

To quote a popular song from my college years, "Isn't it ironic?"

Because of my busy weekend, I had but two hours out of the entire weekend to enjoy the Festival. Fortunately, I knew the USC campus well enough that I didn’t have to worry about getting lost. Most of the booths took up the main Trousdale Parkway north-south walkway through the campus, with other areas at the Alumni Park and in the grassy area near Leavey Library. I was able to traverse this area easily.

Objectively speaking, I did hear a few complaints about programming glitches (I didn’t have the time to attend much of the panels and talks) and lack of food booths, but many people liked the setup better, which lacked UCLA’s hilly, sprawling topography. And the weather? Beautiful.

I ended up buying just two books, one, Los Angeles Noir, from Akashic Books, an anthology of short stories based on various neighborhoods (LA Times columnist Hector Tobar contributed one entry based in East Hollywood — yes I bought the book on that notion alone; that and it was discounted at $10) and Jessica Hagedorn’s Toxicology from the Philippine Expressions Bookshop booth as a late birthday present for my sister, who’s returning home tonight from the Philippines.

Children's Stage entertainer Hip Hop Harry. Go Harry! Go Harry!

There was the popular $5 Or Less Bookstore tent, which was too chaotic for me to check out, but I did have time to check out the Target Children’s Stage, who had the kiddie rap act Hip Hop Harry entertaining kids and their parents, which was pretty, shall I say, dope.

The Festival also got props for not shutting down early on the last day like many other events are prone to do. The day ended at 5 p.m., but I was able to squeeze in an extra 15 minutes. Thank you, Festival of Books.

Next year should be even better; the long-awaited Metro Exposition Line will take me there. With a station just a few feet from the campus (the recently-completed station standing there, as if to tease), that should really make USC the ideal venue for this event (Flashes “victory” sign).

The Road To Big Sunday: D(istribution)-Day!

A Big Sunday volunteer loads in the water bottles into my rental cargo van at the Distribution Day activity at Universal Studios.

It’s May already, and that means Big Sunday Weekend is just around the corner!

Today was Distribution Day, a day where Big Sunday project captains pick up their event supplies from the Big Sunday organization. It normally happens on the Sunday before Big Sunday Weekend, but that Sunday this year is Mother’s Day, so they moved it to two weeks prior.

And I was sooo not ready.

First off, a heavy schedule today. My church music duties in the morning, then Big Sunday distribution pickup, then the L.A. Times Festival of Books at USC, then my other church gig. Phew! Then I have to pick up my sister at LAX later tonight.

Last year I was able to stuff 100 t-shirts and water bottles into my 2005 Saturn Ion sedan, but even with an anticipated 70 volunteers this time around, I also requested 15 bags of Home Depot-donated Kellogg Gro-Mulch for our garden. Ain’t gonna fit in my car this time. I send out a request to all my social network friends for a pickup or van but to no avail. So then came Plan B: Renting a pickup at U-Haul.

Shouldn’t take that long, right? There’s a U-Haul facility in my neighborhood, I should be able to find one there!

Dropped in — they were out of pickups. They had the small trucks, which was too bulky and overkill for my needs. I was able, though, to reserve one at another location, and 15 minutes later, on my way home, I got a phone call informing me that U-Haul’s Downtown L.A. location (actually located closer to Pico-Union and USC) had a cargo van available.

I wasted no time.

I got my dad to drop me off at the location since I had no time to spare at this point (1 p.m.) and after acquiring the van, I headed straight to Universal Studios, where the distribution activities were.

Same as last year, I was greeted by Big Sunday founder and executive director David Levinson (who’s also a TV and movie producer and writer in his own right), who sat at the entrance just like any other volunteer. The man’s total lack of pretense and the fact that he even remembered me from last year leaves you no choice but to admire the organization and the people who work and volunteer for it.

I'm supposed to pick up something from a guy named Marty. He's driving this funky DeLorean. Have you seen the guy?

The Big Sunday distribution zone had taken over Universal’s “main street” backlot (recently rebuilt after a devastating fire a few years back), which was the backdrop for countless TV shows and movies – Back To The Future being the most memorable. The “businesses” were pick-up locations, and I was guided to the appropriate spots where I signed up supplies for: mulch, water bottles and t-shirts.  The mulch was loaded in by volunteers faster than I could imagine them to. The water bottles were loaded efficiently as well, same with the t-shirts.

I also saw familiar faces from the Big Sunday organization, like Dylan Gasperik, one of the captains coordinators, and Gabe Peterson, the person in charge of finances. I was also interviewed by Linda Rubin from Studio City Patch (Here I am at 1:14):

There was also live music being performed at the event, and in fact it counted as a Big Sunday volunteer activity for certain groups who couldn’t schedule theirs on the weekend of May 14-15. Though I was in a hurry, I did take a couple minutes to take in the sights, both to immerse myself and be inspired by the Big Sunday atmosphere, as well as enjoy being in the middle of a famous Hollywood movie backlot (without being confined to a tour tram).

Avast! Me Big Sunday booty! 15 bags of mulch, 6 crates of bottled water, two t-shirt boxes, posters, fliers and even some Pine-Sol!

Then I headed home. Originally, I was to unload the items, then return the van, but I had until 1 p.m. Monday to keep the thing, so I decided to just park it on my street, unload the items at Lexington Ave. Primary Center tomorrow, and return it by noon. That way, I was able to make the Festival of Books. What a day…Big Sunday Weekend, here we come!

A Decade Reprise for ‘The Flip Side’

The Flip Side's cast, L to R: Esther Pulido, Abe Pagtama, Rona Par Miyasaki, Jose "Flipchild" Saenz and Verwin Gatpandan with director Rod Pulido

The passing of Filipino community icon Faustino “Peping” Baclig last March inspired filmmaker Rod Pulido (brother of Cerritos city councilman Mark Pulido – see how all these previous posts tie in together?) to dust off his film reel and do a 10th anniversary screening of his 2001 film, The Flip Side. The decidedly-filmed black and white feature-length had Baclig play the grandfather character in the movie, and was intended this time around to screen as a tribute to the World War II veteran as part of the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival at the Sunset Laemmle 5 theatre in Hollywood.

The film was notable upon its release as the first Filipino American film to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. For the uninitiated, it was a comedy film about a suburban Filipino American extended family centered around the family’s three siblings,: a whitewashed sister, a blackwashed brother and a main character whose come home for the summer after coming to a cultural awakening as a Filipino in college. All three characters play up to an extreme archetype, which ensues in hilarity.

A decade later, and though the underlying theme of Filipino American identity isn’t as urgent as it is in the 2011 world, it doesn’t seem that dated. At the end of the film, Pulido and the cast engaged in Q and A, and the filmmaker talked about the post-Sundance exposure into the Hollywood mainstream and how it soured him. But the day was about reuniting, celebrating and remembering the film’s late castmember. Baclig’s family was in attendance, and his grandson, O.J. Baclig, even showed a trailer of the documentary film about his grandfather, intended for release this Veteran’s Day.

Writing East Hollywood History

Santa Monica Blvd, east of Vermont, circa 1954. The Cahuenga Branch Library can be seen right of center (From USC Digital Archives)

I’ve never thought of myself as a historian. I’ve always been interested in history, particularly local history, and I’ve always been an active writer…but never a historian.

But oftentimes, you grow into the role.

As part of my East Hollywood Neighborhood Council activities, I’m currently busy re-vamping the easthollywood.net website for a long-overdue update.

I basically did the original version of the website around 2004 or so during our neighborhood council’s formation. One of the pages that I spent a lot of time on was the history page, which was basically an expanded and updated version of the Cahuenga Branch Library’s history page. Over time I would add new information (such as the EHNC’s 2007 certification).

Now, for the new EHNC website, I’ve learned considerably more about the neighborhood and about local history. For instance, “Cahuenga” or “Cahug-Na” was not the name of a native American tribe (the tribe was called the Tongva), but simply the name of a place or village (the suffix “-Na” in Tongva means “place (of)”); “Cahug-Na” meant “Place of The Hill” (Which hill, Olive Hill (Barnsdall Park), perhaps?).  Another corrected inaccuracy from new research has revealed that the old East Hollywood was mostly today’s Los Feliz and Griffith Park, while the majority of modern East Hollywood actually belonged to a town called Colegrove (which stretched as far south as Exposition Blvd).  Of course, it was too late, and other pages have picked up on the old history I wrote.

But I guess that’s just how history works: It’s the best that what we can remember, and the most of what we can gather of what happened before our time. And another qualifier: No one else is doing it.

A building near Vermont & Santa Monica burns during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, early May 1992 (Photo: Ely R. Trinidad)

Maybe one of these days, I’ll get to write or compile a history book on the history of East Hollywood…

The newly-updated East Hollywood history page can be found here.

Meet Me In The Meadow

The Silver Lake Meadow area is prone to winds, making it a *perfrect* place to fly a kite.

It’s Easter Sunday in Los Angeles. After my music duties at St. Eugene Church near Inglewood, I met up with my parents and brothers for brunch at Home in Silver Lake afterward. My mom wanted to go to a place where we can take some pictures, so I brought everyone to Elysian Park – which was extremely full today – and on to the Grace Simons Lodge.  Not knowing, until we got there, that it was closed.

So on to Plan B, which was a quick dash back to Silver Lake and up the hill to the brand spankin’ new Silver Lake Meadow park, which just got its ribbon cut but a couple weeks ago. A beautiful 3-plus-acres of parkland along the northeastern shore of Silver Lake Reservoir. Most obvious were the incessant winds, which were to the advantage of several people who went there to fly kites. A few families and couples picked spots on the flat grass field to have a picnic. One girl even walked through the park’s path with a bubble hoop and had the wind blow bubbles accross the park. I even spotted some native plants on the grounds like ceanothus and a few irises in bloom. Way cool.

Children go Easter egg huntin at Silver Lake Meadow for the very first time.

The coolest sight of all was seeing a group of children going Easter egg hunting on the eastern edge of the park, where there was a garden area. This was the inaugural Easter egg hunt in the Meadow, perhaps the start of an eventual yearly tradition at this park.

The park was a 15-year journey fielded largely by Eric Garcetti’s office that was at times controversial, with the local NIMBY-types fearing parking doomsday with the sight of people intruding on “their” gang turf. As one of these dreaded “outsiders,” even on a day like today, there was no shortage of parking, and the sheer beauty of the day was worth way more than the $1 million in City and State funds that were garnered to build the park.