California Fool’s Gold — An Imperial County Primer

INTRODUCTION TO IMPERIAL COUNTY

Imperial County map

Imperial County, along with San Diego County, comprises California’s Southern Border Region but their similarities pretty much end there. Whereas the presidio at San Diego was established by the Spanish in 1769 and is the oldest European settlement in the state. On the other hand, Imperial County, created in 1907, is California’s newest. Whereas San Diego County is the second most populous county in California, Imperial County is the least. San Diego’s climate is characterized as chaparral, Imperial County is located within the Colorado Desert. But yes, both counties lie just north of the Estado Libre y Soberano de Baja California.

A map from the Salton Sea Museum showing the size and location of Lake Cahuilla and the Salton Sea.
A map from the Salton Sea History Museum showing the size and location of Lake Cahuilla and the Salton Sea.

Before the Spanish Conquest the Colorado Desert was home to the Iviatim and Kumeyaay peoples, who emerged as distinct cultures around 7000 BCE from earlier Uto-Aztecan language-speaking peoples who archaeological evidence suggests arrived along the shores of the prehistoric Lake Cahuilla some 12,000 years ago. There is some evidence that the area may’ve been what the Mexica referred to as Aztlán. There are disagreements about the etymology of the Nahuatl place name but most interpretations are along the lines of  “home of the snowy egrets,” or the “place of whiteness” which is in turn often interpreted as a reference to Lake Cahuilla and its descendant, the Salton Sea, being important resting and nesting areafor the migratory birds of the the Pacific Flyway.

The first Spaniard to arrive in the area was Melchor Díaz, who came in 1540 in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. The conquistadors were disappointed to discover the humble Zuni-Cibola Complex in present day New Mexico) and returned to New Spain. In 1821, after elevent years of revolution, Mexico achieved independence from Spain. In 1846, the US invaded Mexico and two years later, ceded 1.37 million square kilometers of its territory to the US including Alta California and what’s now Imperial County.

The creation of the Salton Sea.
The creation of the Salton Sea.

California became the US’s 31st state in 1850 and at the time, modern Imperial County was part of San Diego County. Most of the remote inland settlements in the county were quite small when in 1905, torrential rains caused the Colorado River and irrigation canals to flood, creating in the process California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea in the same depression that had once been the site of Lake Cahuilla.

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The Salton Sea in 2013

Imperial County was carved from San Diego County in 1907. Although mostly desert, the economy of Imperial Valley is dominated by agriculture. Thanks to those aforementioned irrigation canals, the desert blooms with alfalfa, carrots, lettuce, and sugar beets. Tourism was once a primary draw to the region, thanks to the Salton Sea. However, as it evaporates in the desert heat, its salinity increases making it less hospitable to live both within its waters an along its shores. The old resort towns along its coast have long been abandoned by crowds of vacationing Angelenos. Filling their void are much smaller numbers of people who in many cases choose the Imperial Valley as a place to take a longer sort of vacation, an exile perhaps, from mainstream society.

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Salvation Mountain

In the Imperial Valley one can get a taste of life off the grid. There is folk art like Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Driftwood Charley’s World of Lost Art, and the Wheels of Karma and War; there are historical sites like Fort Yuma; and there are natural attractions like the Algodones Sand Dunes (the largest dune field in the US), Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (the largest state park in California), portions of the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, a stretch of the Colorado River, Fossil Canyon and Painted Gorge, a portion of the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, and the natural-but-unnatural Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a weird and wonderful place and I’ve only just scratched its sun-baked surface. If there is sufficient interest in reading about my explorations, I’ll head out to any corner and share what I find. Here’s a poll, in which you can vote for as many places as you’d like — and a primer to whet your appetite and inform your votes!

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ANDRADE

Andrade is a small, unincorporated community located on the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation. It was originally known as Cantu, named after Col. Esteban Cantu. It was renamed in 1912 after the establishment of a post office. As of 2010 it had a population of 59, 100% of whom identified as Latino. Andrade is also home to Driftwood Charley’s World of Lost Art.

BARD

The Cloud Museum, Bard California (AZ Backcountry Adventures)
The Cloud Museum, Bard California (AZ Backcountry Adventures)

Bard is an unincorporated community named after booster Thomas R. Bard. It’s first post office opened in 1910. It’s also home to The Cloud Museum, a large collection of old, rusting, cars.

BOMBAY BEACH

Inside Ski Inn
Inside Ski Inn

Bombay Beach is a CDP on the Salton shore which in 2010 reported a population of 295. I’ve enjoyed a few beers at its famous Ski Inn, a popular filming location also visited by Huell Howser, Anthony Bourdain, and The Mentalist.

BRAWLEY

In 2010, Brawley reported of 24,953. A cow town, it annually hosts the Cattle Call Rodeo. It was originally named Braly, after landowner J.H. Braly. Attractions include an octagonal Post Office and the Belvedere Theatre (now the Brawley Playhouse Theatre).

CALEXICO

Calixeco is a portmanteau of California and Mexico located across the border from another portmanteau town, Mexicali, Mexico. In 2010 Calexico reported a population of 38,572. Calexico began as an Imperial Land Company tent city in 1899. The first post office in Calexico opened in 1902 and it incorporated as a city in 1908. Every May Calexico hosts Fiesta Popular | Calexico Mariachi Festival.

CALIPATRIA

The Calipatria Flagpole
The Calipatria Flagpole (Image source: The Center for Land Use Interpretation)

Calipatria is a city which in 2010 reported a population of 7,710,  4,000 of whom are inmates at Calipatria State Prison. The town was founded by the Imperial Valley Farm Lands Association as Date City in 1914 but was renamed Calipatria and incorporated in 1919. Located 55 meters below sea level, Calipatria lies at the lowest elevation of any city in the Americas. It also boasts of having the “World’s Tallest Flagpole” (even though the 56-meter-high Calipatria Flagpole is dwarfed by the 165-meter tall Dushanbe Flagpole in Tajikistan).

EL CENTRO

El Centro is the county seat and largest city, reporting a population of 43,598 in 2010. It is also the largest city in US lying beneath sea level, in El Centro’s case, -12 meters. It was founded as Cabarker, named after landowner C.A. Barker. The first post office opened and it was incorporated in 1908. Its population is about 82% Latino and although located in the desert, is primarily oriented around agriculture made possible by water diverted from the Colorado River.

DESERT SHORES

Desert Shores (formerly Fish Springs) is a CDP located at the western shore of the Salton Sea which in 2010 reported a population of 1,104.

FELICITY

Felicity, California (image source: Pasadena Adjacent)
History of Humanity in Felicity, California (image source: Pasadena Adjacent)

Felicity was founded in 1986 by parachutist Jacques-André Istel and his wife Felicia Lee. In 1985 Istel published the book, Coe: The Good Dragon at the Center of the World and soon after erected a pyramid to mark the exact spot of the world’s center, Felicity, California.

THE FORT YUMA INDIAN RESERVATION

The Fort Yuma Indian Reservation was established in 1884 and lies mostly within Imperial County but partly in Yuma County, Arizona. The Yuma Indians’ mononym is Quechan (or in the Quechan language, “Kwtsaan“). As of the 2000 census, there were 2,376 living on the reservation, 56.8% of whom identified as being solely Native American, and 27% of whom identified as white.

GLAMIS

Glamis is an unincorporated community originally developed as a Southern Pacific railroad stop around 1886, when the first post office opened. Today it is home to the Glamis Store and Boardmanville Trading Post.

HEBER

c is a CDP which in 2010 reported a population of 4,275. Heber was founded by the Imperial Land Company in 1903 and named after the president of the California Development Company, A.H. Heber. The first post office opened in 1904, after it was transferred from Bradtmoore.

HOLTVILLE

emain

Holtville is a city which in 2010 reported a population of 5,939. It was founded by German-Swiss in the 1880s and was founded in 1903 as Holton by W.F. Holt. It was incorporated in 1908 at which time its name was changed to avoid confusion with Colton. A contract killing of a Holtville resident by his wife in 1974 was chronicled in Milton J. Silverman‘s book, Open and ShutToday, Holtville hosts an annual carrot festival.

IMPERIAL

imperial-01

Imperial is a city which in 2010 reported a population of 14,758. Imperial was created by the Imperial Land Company and the first post office opened in 1901. Imperial incorporated in 1904. The town hosts the annual  California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta in February (formerly the Imperial County Fair).

NILAND

Building in Niland (image source: Bob and KC's Travels)
An old bank building in Niland (image source: Bob and KC’s Travels)

Niland is a CDP which in 2010 reported a population of 1,006. It was first developed as Old Beach, the name of the post office which served the settlement from 1905-1907. In 1910 the post office reopened as Imperial Junction. Its name was changed in honor of Richard H. Hobgood to Hobogood in 1913. It was renamed Niland in 1914 by the Imperial Farm Lands Association. It’s home to a few eateries: Ballesteros RestaurantBobby D’s Pizza PlusBuckshot Deli & DinerI V RestaurantOrsino’s #1 — as well as the Niland Inn and a service station.

OCOTILLO

Desert View Tower (Image Source: Notcot)
Desert View Tower (Image Source: Notcot)

Ocotillo is a CDP which in 2010 reported a population of 266 and was originally developed as a retirement community. Today it is home to the Old Highway Cafe, the Lazy Lizard Saloon, Red Feather Off-Road Market & Cafe, the Imperial Valley Desert Museum, and Bert Vaughn‘s 20-meter tall piece of 1920s folk architecture, the Anza Borrego Desert View Tower. 

OGILBY

What’s left of Ogilby, Calif. (Image source: Weekend Driver)
What’s left of Ogilby, Calif. (Image source: Weekend Driver)

Oglesby was founded by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1877. It was named after E.R. Ogilby, and although I don’t have the information, I have to wonder if it was renamed Ogilby after someone caught the spelling error. It was abandoned by 1961 and one of the few reminders of the town’s existence is a cemetery.

PALO VERDE

Not to be confused with Palos Verdes, a town with which it presumably has little in common, Palo Verde is a small CDP located in the Palo Verde Valley. It was formerly known as “Paloverde” but its name was changed to “Palo Verde” in 1905. It’s home to Lagoon Saloon & LodgeWheelies, and the Palo Verde County Park.

PICHACO

Remains of the old ore processing mill overlook the Colorado River (image source: Plazak)
Remains of the old ore processing mill overlook the Colorado River (image source: Plazak)

Picacho is an unincorporated community. Not only is it a ghost town, but an underwater one, lying beneath Imperial Reservoir. There are, however, some of the ore mills located above the lake level. The ore mills were built to process gold, which was discovered by Jose Maria Mendivil in the early 1860s and who founded the town as Rio.

PLASTER CITY

Plaster City
United States Gypsum’s Plaster City plant (image source: The Center for Land Use Interpretation)

Plaster City is an unincorporated community owned by United States Gypsum, which operates a large gypsum quarry and plant there. It is noteworthy for being the site of the last industrial narrow gauge railroad in the US.

SALTON CITY

Salton City Postcard from the 1960s
Salton City Postcard from the 1960s

Salton City is a CDP which in 2010 reported a population of 3,763, making it the metropolis of Imperial County’s Salton coast. It was developed in the 1950s by M. Penn Phillips and the Holly Sugar Corporation as a resort and although it includes many surveyed streets, most remains undeveloped or abandoned. That’s not to suggest that it’s a complete ghost town, though, as it’s home to a few establishments (e.g. Capt’n Jim’sPortobello’s, and Ray & Carol’s Motel by the Sea) and an Arco gas station with a map depicting Lake Cahuilla and the Salton Sea in different periods of history.

SALTON SEA BEACH

Salton Sea Beach in its resort period
Salton Sea Beach in its resort period

Salton Sea Beach is a CDP located on the banks of the Salton Sea which in 392 reported a population of 422. From 1942 to 1946 it was home to the Salton Sea Naval Auxiliary Air Station.

SEELEY

Seeley is a CDP which in 2010 reported a population of 1,739.  It is named after developer Henry Seeley. It’s home to Taqueria La Pasadita and The Real Seelee Club.

SLAB CITY

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Slab City is a famous squatters’ camp built on the site of Camp Dunlap, an abandoned World War II marine barracks which were dismantled in 1956. The camp has no electricity, no running water, no sewers nor toilets, and no trash pickup service but many Slabbers choose to live “off-the-grid.” Located near the entrance of the camp is Salvation Mountain, a large piece of folk art created by the late Leonard Knight, who amended a hillside with acrylic paint, concrete, adobe, and Biblical verse.

WESTMORLAND

In 2010 Westmorland had a reported population of 2,225. Its first post officed opened in 1909, when the town’s name was still spelled “Westmoreland.” It incorporated with that spelling in 1934 and then dropped the “e” in 1936.

WINTERHAVEN

Winterhaven (formerly Karmack) is a CDP which in 2010 reported a population of 394 people. It is located partly on the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation. It’s home to historic Fort Yuma, built in 1851.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing,Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Click here to offer financial support and thank you!

Tim & Eric Present: To Live and Deejay LA

To Live and Deejay LA

Tim “Modern Brit” Shimbles (Amoeba employee and frequent traveling companion on California Fool’s Gold) and yours truly are going to DJ a set of “locals only” music called To Live and Deejay LA on 12 May at the Melody Lounge in Chinatown. (Click here to join the Facebook event page).

Los Angeles County flag

Los Angeles is a big place… bigger than the island of Jamaica in fact. It’s home to an estimated 10,116,705 people, making it by far the most populous county in the USA (and home to more people than 43 entire states). The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim census area is also the mostly densely-populated region in the country. I’ve had a long and hard think, aided by suggestions, trying to come up with a great list of Angeleno musical acts (and no, I didn’t forget Red Hot Chili Peppers). Just for the occasion* I painted a huge map of every community in the county and every neighborhood in Los Angeles which has helped stoke the memory.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of Los Angeles Communities and Neighborhoods

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s Map of Los Angeles Communities and Neighborhoods

Attendees can expect to hear some, if not all (it’s taking place from 10pm until 1:45am) of the following Angeleno acts: Abstract Rude, Aceyalone, Allah-Las, The Amplifiers, The And ActionsThe Angry Samoans, The AntarcticansArabian Prince, Armored Saint, Art Pepper, The Association, Autolux, The Bangles, The Beach Boys, The Beat, The Belairs, Best Coast, Bill Perkins, Black Flag, The Blasters, Blood on the Saddle, Bloods & Crips, Bob MarkleyBoo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.The Bourbon Saints, BreadBuddy Collette, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, The Cadets, Cambalache, Canned Heat, Cannibal & the Headhunters, Captain Beefheart, The Centurions, Chico Hamilton, Circle Jerks, Congo Norvell, Cruzados, David CrosbyDengue Fever, Dennis Wilson, Destruct, The Devil Bats, The Dickies, The Dils, DJ Quik, The Doors, Dramarama, The Dream Syndicate, Dum Dum Girls, E. Coli, Eazy-E, Eddie & The Showmen, The Egyptian Lover, El Chicano, The Electric Prunes, Emily’s Sassy Lime, Emitt Rhodes, Eric Dolphy, Faster Pussycat, Father Yod, Fatlip, Fear, The 5th Dimension, fIREHOSE, Fishbone, The Flesh Eaters, 45 Grave, Freestyle Fellowship, The Friends of Distinction, Funkdoobiest, The Generators, The Geraldine Fibbers, Germs, Giant Drag, The Go-Go’s, Great White, The Groop, The Grown-Ups, The Gun Club, Guns N’ Roses, Gwenmars, Heidecker & Wood, Hollywood Rose, The Hondells, Ice Cube, Jan & Dean, Jane’s Addiction, Jay Rock, Jenni Rivera, Joe Byrd & the Field Hippies, Kaleidoscope, Kendrick Lamar, King Tee, The Knack, L.A. Dream Team, L.A. Guns, The LA UntouchablesLas Cafeteras, The Last, Lavender Diamond, The Lazy Cowgirls, The Leaves, Lee Harvey (Lee Jones), Lena Park, Lifter, Lone Justice, The Long Ryders, Longstocking, Los Lobos, Love, The Manson Family, Marvin & Johnny, Mary Jane Girls, Mary’s Danish, MellowHype, The Merry-Go-Round, Midnight Movies, Mike G, The Millennium, Minutemen, The Monkees, Mötley Crüe, Myka 9, N.W.A., The Nerves, No Solution, Oingo Boingo, The Pandoras, Patsy, The Penguins, Penny Dreadfuls, The Pharcyde, The Plimsouls, Poco, Poison, Possum Dixon, The Premiers, Pretty Boy Floyd, Puro Instinct, The Quick, Quiet Riot, Radio Vago, Rain Parade, Ratt, Redd Kross, Ritchie Valens, Rodney-O & DJ Joe Cooley, The Runaways, The Safaris, Sagittarius, 2nd II None, The Seeds, The Sharp Ease, Silver Needle, SISU, Snap-Her, Snoop Dogg, The Sounds of Sunshine, Sparks, Spirit, The Standells, The Stone Poneys, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Sugarplastic, Suicidal Tendencies, The Sunshine Company, The Surfaris, The Sylvers, Sylvester, T.S.O.L., Tex & the Horseheads, Thee Midniters, The Three O’Clock, Tom Russell, Total ChaosThe Turtles, Ty Karim, Tyler, the Creator, Union 13, The United States of America, The UVs, Van Halen, Van Stone, Very Be Careful, W.A.S.P., The Walker Brothers, Wall of Voodoo, 王力宏, War, The Warlocks, The Watts Prophets, Wax, The Weirdos, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, World Class Wreckin’ Cru, X, Zolar X, Zoot Sims, and more if you’ve got suggestions.* (Here’s a Spotify playlist to give you a taste).

*not really

**Sorry, no Eagles

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Click here to offer financial support and thank you!

The Top 10 Shoegaze Bands of All Time, or, The Godlike Genius of Shoegaze

I’m still buzzing from the Ride show at the Warfield. “Cool Your Boots” has been running through my head non-stop for a week (although there was a break, at least in my sleep, when I had a dream which involved listening to Cedric Im Brooks). Since the show I’ve been listening to a lot of shoegaze (and a little chimp rock — anyone remember that?).

Long sleeves, stripes, and androgyny
Long sleeves, stripes, and androgyny — the alternative was San Diego Sizzler Chic

I’ve also met a couple of people since getting back from San Francisco with whom the subject of music arose. Two of them were on their way from Coachella to Brokechella and were talking about “soul” (in the sense that Maroon 5 are soul, I suppose) act, Fitz & the Tantrums. No one had heard of Ride or had the haziest notion of what shoegaze means. When I told them that Ride had played at Coachella they looked incredulous.

I realize that twenty years ago is forever when you’re in your twenties but if you’d mentioned Led Zeppelin,The Doors, or psychedelia to a college kid in the 1980s they would’ve been familiar with them at least as concepts. Maybe even if your favorite pretendie bands are all signed to the world’s largest corporate music label you still might have have at least heard of Creation Records. Seriously, they were fine — but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if after I dropped these kids off in the Arts District if they immediately took to Twitter, stating “OMG idk wat is Ride and wat is shoo gays LOL?”

Paul Lester “investigates” – Whatever happened to Shoegazing? – 12th September 1992

Whether one is a fan of shoegaze or not, I reckon that it was that last moment in rock’s history when something happened that was both significantly different from what had come before but still recognizable rock music. Shoegazers pushed the boundaries of rock with ethereal ambiance and post-psychedelic noise; beyond those boundaries lay Metal Machine Music or Ambient 1: Music for Airports — which whatever you think them have little to do musically with the rock ‘n’ roll of Jackie Brenston, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and the like. 

After the roar of shoegaze subsided, rock music retreated into safe territory and we got regular-guy roofie rock bands like Better Than EzraDishwalla, The Verve Pipe, Sugar Ray, and Oasis. In the 20 years since there have been great rock bands like The Libertines, but they like the rest offered revivalism and pastiche. After shoegaze rock became a genre like ragtime, soul, and hip-hop; comprised of a canon of oldies and to be DJed at bar mitzvahs and performed live for audiences more interested Jamie Chung’s fab festival wear than the music being played… especially when so much corporate pretendie sounds scarily like Ooh Yeah!-era Hall & Oates shilling shoes for Geico.

The Joshua Light Show – Liquid Loops (1969) by Cecily Hoyt

Here’s a listicle that you’ll hopefully enjoy — I’ll wait for you to get the smoke machine…

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10. CATHERINE WHEEL


I liked “Black Metallic” and “I Want to Touch You” so much that I nearly picked up a copy of Ferment fromBMG. When they released Chrome they claimed they’d been unhappy with Ferment… which struck me as troublesome because it was to me the superior record. Chrome had some good songs. The same couldn’t be said for Happy Days, which saw a bro-ham vibe began to take over. Did everyone in the band always have asoul patch? Where’d that puka shell necklace come from? Why are you covering Roger Waters-era Pink Floyd?

9. BOO RADLEYS


The Boo RadleysIchabod and I was not especially memorable or original. Everything’s Alright Forever swapped J. Mascis affectations for Kevin Shields ones, which suggest a lateral move but came with a better record. Giant Steps was exactly what the title suggests… and also a fairly step away from shoegaze. Then they made that song “Wake up Boo!” which put me off so completely that I have never listened to anything from that point on.

8. SWERVEDRIVER

Swervedriver sang songs like “Son of Mustang Ford.” Their singer, Adam Franklin, had dreadlocks. They toured with Soundgarden when Soundgarden were still somewhat interesting. These are things to remember whenever someone characterizes shoegaze as a wimpy, listless, miasma or whines about the “unbearable whiteness of indie.”  After Raise (1991) and Mezcal Head (1993) I lost touch with them but they released Ejector Seat Reservation (1995), 99th Dream (1998), and after reforming, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You came out earlier this year.

7. REVOLVER

Probably encouraged by the rivalry-stoking British music press, Revolver made the ballsy claim to be better than Ride. They weren’t, which probably made people take them less seriously than they would’ve if they merely claimed to be better than, say, porridge merchants like Slowdive. Revolver released the 45 andCrimson EPs in 1991 but didn’t get around to releasing a debut LP until 1993’s Cold Water Flat, which is not a bad record just probably not shoegaze enough to please their by-then dwindling fanbase nor in line with where British rock was going at the time (which was backwards). They recorded demos for a follow-up but split in 1994.

6. PALE SAINTS

When understandably people wonder why American shoegazers often display goth tendencies I point to4AD shoegazers like the Pale Saints. They were on 4AD and although they started out poppy, the quickly developed a rather “black candles and dead roses” vibe with songs like “Hair Shoes” which endeared them to the more ethereal end of gothdom. Of course, they also gave us “Throwing Back the Apple,” which was one of the best shoegaze singles.

5. LUSH

Lush too were on 4AD and sometimes a bit goth with a lowercase ‘g.’ Their original singer quit the band to sing with Pale Saints, in fact. Without her, Lush released the impressive six-track Scar in 1989. The Mad Love EP followed, as did five singles, before they got around to releasing and LP — which as silly as it sounds (and was), was something on which a lot of importance used to be placed. Spooky finally arrived in 1992 and received some criticism for Robin Guthrie‘s (Cocteau Twins) muddy production although I think it works great. It was followed by Split, which didn’t do as well, and then their final album, which wasn’t at all shoegaze but instead offered slightly retro guitar pop (Britpop demanded as much that produced the minor classic “Ciao!,” a duet between Miki Berenyi and Jarvis Cocker.

4. CHAPTERHOUSE

When they began in 1987, Chapterhouse were lumped in (and performed with) latter day space rockerslike Loop, Spacemen 3, and The Telescopes. By 1990, when they released their first EP, Freefall, they were clearly deeply influenced by the then prevailing Baggy scene. The Sunburst EP suggested that they’d discovered dream-pop pioneers A.R. Kane. Songs from both EPs were included on their debut,Whirlpoolwhich was followed by the more cohesive Blood Music. Led off by the track “Mesmerise,” it was a step forward for the band but in a year dominated by Ace of Base, Nirvana, Suede, and the Wu-Tang Clan, out of step with the times.

3. MY BLOODY VALENTINE

My Bloody Valentine were the creators. The Irish band began in 1983 owing more to The Birthday Partyand The Cramps but by 1987 they were making slightly shambolic twee-pop like that year’s “Sunny Sundae Smile.” After original singer Dave Conway bowed out, “Strawberry Wine” suggested that changes were afoot but “You Made Me Realise” was revelatory. Isn’t Anything topped that and according to the jvox populi, 1991’s Loveless was the pinnacle of shoegaze. 22 years later they released its follow-up, mbv which I know some people bought and were charitable toward but I don’t exactly hear them going on about it in the same way.

2. MOOSE

My Bloody Valentine may’ve been the band who created what came to be known as shoegaze but Moosewere the first to be slapped with that tag. In 1991 they released “Jack,” the Cool Breeze EP and theReprise EP. Their debut full-length, XYZ, was like the music that had come before, dense, atmospheric, and adventurous — if only remotely shoegaze. Honey Bee, Live A Little, Love A Lot, and after a five year wait,High Ball Me! followed — all of which are pretty sterling stuff but bafflingly ignored by record buyers and music streaming services. In the 21st Century that’s like not existing.

1. RIDE

Ride were not the originators, nor the first shoegazers — but they were they best. What they did with melodies, harmonies, and feedback is so wonderful and complete on its own that they opened my eyes to the fact that a band could have crap lyrics but still be utterly amazing. Their debut, Nowhere, came out in 1990 and was better than any shoegaze statement before it. Its follow-up, Going Blank Again, was even better by some measure. Carnival of Light was unfairly savaged as even though it was a major shift in sound, is still a masterpiece. Tarantula, on the other hand, was quite rightly savaged and deleted after a week. EvenTarantula has its fans, actually (their names are Fred and Matt). After that they broke up but following the example of My Bloody Valentine (in 2007), Swervedriver (in 2007), Chapterhouse (in 2008), and Slowdive (in 2014), they decided to give it another go and so far so good. Now if only Moose would come back!

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing,Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Click here to offer financial support and thank you!

No Enclave — Exploring Taiwanese Los Angeles

Diversity has long been part of the fabric of Los Angeles and Southern California. Humans first arrived here at least 13,000 years ago and more than twenty Native American nations made their home here before the Spanish Conquest. The Spanish pueblo of Los Angeles was itself founded by people of Native, African, European, and mixed ancestries and in its early years as an American city it attracted substantial numbers of  Armenians, Basques, CanadiansChinese, Dutch, French, Germans, Irish, Italians, Japanese, Jews, Mexicans, Russians, Serbians, Sicilians, and others. For some, ethnic enclaves came into existence (and often vanished). Other people have tended to spread out across the region rather than cluster together — which makes exploring their presence in Southern California more difficult but no less rewarding.

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Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Taiwan
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of Taiwan

As of the 2010 census there were 196,691 Americans who identified themselves as being of Taiwanese origin. Although suburbs like Monterey Park and Rowland Heights have been nicknamed “Little Taipei,” there’s never been an official Taiwanese enclave in Los Angeles or, as far as I know, in any other American city. Actual numbers of Taiwanese-Americans are probably larger too than the census reflects, since self identifying as Taiwanese requires first checkin “other Asian” and then writing in Taiwanese.  Despite this, Taiwanese-Americans are highly visible in California, where about 49% live, and in particular in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

CHINATOWN

Chinese dragon parades through town
Chinese dragon parades through town (1890)

Los Angeles’s original Chinatown arose around 1880 and was centered around the intersection of Alameda and Macy (now Cesar Chavez Avenue). Most of the Chinese living there had come from Guangdong in southeast China to work on the construction of railroads.

The second gateway to China City, from North Main Street, in 1938. (Harry Quillen)
The second gateway to China City, from North Main Street, in 1938. (Harry Quillen)

In 1931, Old Chinatown was chosen as the site for Union Station and a new Chinatown arose nearby around  New Chinatown and the walled China City (built partially from set pieces of 1937’s The Good Earth), which opened in 1938. In the decades that followed, Chinatown additionally attracted populations of overseas ethnic Chinese, especially from Vietnam, but less often from Taiwan. Most American Chinatowns are still dominated by Cantonese whereas Mandarin and Taiwanese, the main languages spoken and understood by Taiwanese, are less common.

“Savages in Taiwan”

Archaeological evidence suggests that the island of Taiwan was first settled between 20,000 to 30,000 years ago by a people who left little evidence of themselves but may’ve been the ancestors of modern Melanesians and indigenous Australians. Some 8,000 years ago the people known to us as Austronesians settled the island.

“Savage youths resting, Formosa”

The Austronesians, ancestors of Taiwan’s so-called aborigines, colonized a vast network of islands across the Indian and Pacific oceans, from Madagascar to Rapa Nui and including Hawai’i, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. Efforts by the Han to settle the island were finally successful in the 16th century. They were soon joined in Taiwan in the 17th century by the Dutch and Spanish. The Portuguese called it “Ilha Formosa,” meaning “beautiful island” but no, The Formosa Café in West Hollywood is not a Taiwanese joint.

TAIWAN UNDER JAPANESE RULE

Ruins of the Japanese logging town of Morisaka
Ruins of the Japanese logging town of Morisaka
Inside an abandoned Japanese building in Morisaka
Inside an abandoned Japanese building in Morisaka

The Democratic State of Taiwan formally ceded from China in May of 1898. However, the new republic was conquered by Japan in October and Taiwan remained under Japanese rule from 1898 until 1945. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the US handed temporary administrative control of Taiwan to the Kuomintang (KMT)-administered Republic of China. The KMT were unpopular and corrupt. In 1947, a dispute between a cigarette vendor and a KMT official erupted into anti-government demonstrations which were brutally crushed and left 10,000 to 30,000 dead. It came to be known as the 228 Incident, after the date on which it began. After the uprising was crushed, martial law was instituted and a long period known as the White Terror began. In 1949, after the KMT were defeated in China’s Civil War, two million mainland Chinese fled to Taiwan in refuge and the KMT continued to rule Taiwan as a brutal dictatorship.

IMMIGRATION AND NATIONALITY ACT

It was only in 1968, after the enacting of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that the first substantial numbers of Taiwanese began to arrive in the US. The act abolished the National Origins Formula which had been in place since 1921 and had excluded most African and Asian immigrants from immigrating to the US. Most of the new non-European immigrants were graduate students or professionals and most of the Taiwanese forsook Chinatowns for suburbs like Flushing in New York and in California, the suburbs of San Jose, Monterey Park and others. 

THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY

Asian politics : Mas Fukai, Arthur Song, and Lily Chen (Paul Chinn)
Asian politics : Mas Fukai, Arthur Song, and Lily Chen (Paul Chinn)

Realtor Frederic Hsieh began promoting Monterey Park, located in the wester San Gabriel Valley, as the “Chinese Beverly Hills” in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In 1970, when Hsieh bought his first property,  Monterey Park was 15% Asian but almost entirely Japanese. In 1983, Lily Lee Chen became the first Asian female mayor of an American city but Taiwanese immigrants found that they weren’t always welcomed. In 1985, efforts were made to require English signage in Monterey Park and many Taiwanese moved to nearby Alhambra, Arcadia, North El MonteSan Marino, and Temple City. Additionally, with conditions significantly improved in Taiwan, there was less incentive to leave that country and immigration from Taiwan decreased although the slack was largely picked up by Hoa, Hongkongers, and Mainlanders.

Garden
Hsi Lai Temple
InsideTemple
Hsi Lai Temple

At the other end of the valley, Taiwanese settled in Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights, RamonaRowland Heights, and Walnut. When plans were announced in 1981 to build Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple (佛光山西來寺) in Hacienda Heights, some residents expressed concern over the possibility of pre-dawn gongs, loud chanting, conversion of Christian children, and most amusingly, animal sacrifices. Despite hostility, the temple was completed in 1988 and, not surprisingly to anyone moderately educated about major religions, there was vegetarian food, not blood sports.

OPENING OF TAIWAN

Taiwanese rally and march (Michael Haering)
Taiwanese rally and march (Michael Haering, 1978)

The KMT’s leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, died in 1975. His son, Chiang Ching-kuo, assumed power in 1978 (after his father’s vice premier had served the rest of the elder Chiang’s term).  In December of that year, the US normalized relations with the People’s Republic of China, a move which was welcomed by some Taiwanese-Americans even as many rejected the PROC’s claims that Taiwan is part of China. Chiang Ching-kuo relaxed some of the KMT’s harsh authoritarian rules but, although he assumed the title of Chairman rather than Director General, the junior dictator remained in power until his death in 1988. Martial Law ended the following year and Taiwan opened finally opened its doors to the world.

NEW TAIWAN CINEMA

Taiwan’s cinema had first gained international attention with Beijing-born Hu Jinquan (胡金銓) — better known as King Hu, who pioneered the wuxia subgenre of martial arts films first at Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers studio before moving to Taiwan in the late 1960s where he made classics like Dragon Gate Inn (龍門客棧) and A Touch of Zen (俠女).

Taiwan’s cinemas suffered from as VHS became more popular and Hong Kong films flooded theaters. Taiwan’s Central Motion Picture Corporation responded by promoting Taiwanese directors like Chen Kun Hao, Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Ko I-Chen, Sylvia Chang, Tao Te-Chen, and Ang Lee.

After making Pushing Hands (1992) and The Wedding Banquet (1993) in the US, Ang Lee returned to Taiwan to make 1994’s Eat Drink Man Woman and again for 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. On television, the modern era of Taiwanese drama kicked off with Big Hospital, Little Doctor (2000). Although nowhere near as well-known internationally as Korean dramas, since 2006 Taiwan has produced about a dozen or so of the series a year.

FOUR ASIAN DRAGONS

Chiang Ching-kuo’s successor, Lee Teng-hui, was unlike the Chiangs, born in Taiwan. During his rule he introduced more democratic reforms and was ultimately expelled by the KMT for his support of Taiwanese independence from China (the KMT view the Republic of China as the legitimate ruler of mainland China and Taiwan). Taiwan’s economy developed rapidly in the 1990s and, along with Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore, it came to be known as one of Asia’s Four Little Dragons (or sometimes the Four Asian Tigers). When I was a child, a sticker stating “Made in Taiwan” or “Made in R.O.C.” was usually affixed to a cheap toy or low-tech appliance such as an alarm clock. When I visited my sister in Taipei in 2010, many of my friends still thought of Taiwan in that light; most of the rest got it confused with Thailand

Hualien in 2010
Hualien in 2010

Nowadays Taiwan as a highly developed country which and that label, when seen, is more likely to be found on a bicycle or piece of sophisticated electronic equipment. Today (not counting very small sovereignties like Monaco, Singapore, and Vatican City), only Bangladesh is more densely populated than Taiwan. Taiwan implemented a modern health care system, the National Health Insurance (NHI) in 1995. Taipei 101, built in 2004, was the world’s tallest building until 2010. Taiwan High Speed Rail opened 2007.

Taipei Panorama Night View 丹霞射影四山靜 (Sharleen Chao)
Taipei Panorama Night View 丹霞射影四山靜 (Sharleen Chao)
Zuoying Station-Taiwan High Speed Rail 高鐵左營站
Zuoying Station-Taiwan High Speed Rail 高鐵左營站

SECOND NEW WAVE

A second new wave of Taiwanese Cinema introduced Chen Kuo-fu, Huang Ming-chuan, Jay Chou, Leste Chen, Stan Lai, Tsai Ming-liang, Tsui Siu Ming, Tom Lin, Yi Chih-yen, Yonfan Manshih, and Wu Nien-jen. In the US, there is a surprisingly long history of Chinese-American film, mainly produced in San Francisco’s Chinatown (birthplace of Bruce Lee) but it likely wasn’t until Peter Wang’s A Great Wall (1986) that a Taiwanese-American directed a feature film.

Taiwanese-American filmmakers whose careers followed include Arvin ChenJohn M. ChuBuena Park-raised Justin Lin (Shopping for Fangs, Better Luck Tomorrow, The Fast and the Furious 3–6), Melissa Yu,  Ted Fu (of Wong Fu), and Tiffany Frances.

Well known Taiwanese-American actors include Jimmy Tsai, Lucy Liu, Michelle Krusciec, and Roger Fan. Newscaster Connie Chung, restaurateur/writer Eddie Huang (upon whose life the television series Fresh Off the Boat is based), basketball player Jeremy Lin, dancer Sandra Chiu, and my occasional California Fool’s Gold companion Bruce Chan are also all Taiwanese-American.

*****

Although there is no official Little Taipei, most Taiwanese-Americans in Southern California live in the San Gabriel Valley. Eight of the US’s ten most ethnic Chinese-dominated cities are in that valley and many if not most of them have roots in Taiwan. The San Gabriel Valley is also home to substantial numbers of Burmese, Filipino, Hmong, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese and its uniquely Pan-Asian-American culture is to me one of the most interesting aspects of Los Angeles’s diversity.

After Monterey Park, the city with the second largest percentage of Asian inhabitants is Cerritos, located not in the San Gabriel Valley but Southeast Los Angeles, a region with it’s own largely Asian suburbs like Artesia and La Mirada — although their populations more often come from the Philippines and Korea, respectively. More than 58% of Cerritos’s residents are Asian and ethnic Chinese comprise more than 11% of the population (Koreans comprise the largest ethnic group, at more than 17%). In Orange County, which is home to about 9,500 Taiwanese, Irvine has emerged as the undisputed epicenter of Taiwanese culture. The city’s Irvine Chinese School was founded in the late 1970s and it’s home to the county’s largest concentration of Taiwanese residents and restaurants.

TAIWANESE FOOD

There are several culinary contributions associated with Taiwan.  Mongolian Barbecue is neither Mongolian nor barbecue. First appearing in the 1950s in Taipei, it’s actually derived from Japanese teppanyaki, but the Japanese being unpopular for their decades of occupation were replaced with the suitably exotic Mongolians. Not surprisingly, nomadic Mongolians traditionally rely on their herd animals for their nutritional needs and have no tradition of lugging around gargantuan iron griddles across the steppes.

Rilakkuma shares bubble tea with a friend ()
Rilakkuma shares bubble tea with a friend (autumnmist)

Bubble tea (aka boba) — invented in Taichung in the 1980s and now Instagram fodder for millions of teenage girls and other fans of tapioca balls in their drinks. Much older popular Taiwanese dishes include snow ice (aka baobing), and stinky tofu. There are also all kinds of vegetables consumed in Taiwan uncommon elsewhere and probably in some cases unique: Fiddlehead fern and water asparagus are just a couple that come to mind, but that’s partly because I don’t know the names of many. Monika Treut‘s documentary The Raw and the Cooked is an entertaining place to start (or revisit).

Not us. No Din Tai Fung for us. (jslander)
Not us. No Din Tai Fung for us. (jslander)

Taiwanese chains represented in the Southland include A & J Restaurant, Boiling Point, Din Tai Fung, 85C Bakery CaféFour Sea RestaurantMeet Fresh101 Noodle Express, QuicklyTen Ren Tea, and Tapioca Express. Taiwanese grocery chain 99 Ranch Market was founded in Little Saigon in 1984 by Taiwanese-American Roger H. Chen. In 2013, the Overseas Community Affairs Council instituted the Overseas Quality Restaurant  program which awards outstanding Taiwanese restaurants with a OQR emblem, several of which can be found in Southern California.

The first, crazy 626 Night Market in 2012
The first, crazy 626 Night Market in 2012

Although night markets exist in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, they are perhaps popular nowhere more than in Taiwan, where they flourish within every reasonably large city. In 2012, Taiwanese-American couple Janet and Jonny Hwang launched the 626 Night Market, which after beginning in Pasadena moved to Arcadia. It’s now joined by the KTown Night Market in Koreatown, the Little Saigon Night Market in Little Saigon, the MPK Night Market in Monterey Park, and the OC Night Market in Costa Mesa.

Jurassic Restaurant
Jurassic Restaurant

Popular Taiwanese restaurants (or at least restaurants serving Taiwanese dishes) in Los Angeles County include A Plus Tea House, Au79 Tea Express, Bean Sprouts, Blockheads Shavery, Bull Demon King Cafe, Canaan Restaurant, Class 302, Copycat Café, Dolphin Bay Café, Earthen Restaurant, Good Shine Kitchen, Hot Spot, Huge Tree Pastry, Jazz Cat Restaurant, Ju Ju Shine, Kang Kang Food Court, Lee’s Garden, Mama Lu’s Dumpling House, Mandarin Noodle House, Mighty Boba Truck, MJ Café Express, Monja TaikerNice Time CaféNoodle King, Old Country Café, Pine & Crane, Pingtung, Remy’s Noodle Palace, ROC Kitchen, SinBala Restaurant, Taipei Bistro, Tasty Noodle House, Tbay, Tofu King, Vege Paradise, Volcano Tea House, Why Thirsty, Wonderful Restaurant (likely the oldest Taiwanese restaurant in Los Angeles County), and Yi Mei.

Uncle Yu's Indian Theme Restaurant (626 Night Market Blog)
Uncle Yu’s Indian Theme Restaurant (626 Night Market Blog)

At pijiu wu, beer is the main attraction and its consumption is encouraged by hot, salty, and often fried snack. Local pijiu wu include B20 Bar & Grill, Jurassic Restaurant, Uncle Yu’s Indian Theme Restaurant, and Wala Wala Restaurant. The piuju wu are often themed, something I first encountered at the Bavarian themed Der Löwe in Taipei. Sadly, the lavatory-themed Magic Restroom Café closed before I had a chance to experience it.

Taiwanese restaurants and those serving Taiwanese dishes in Orange County include Ah-Lien Hot PotThe Balcony Grill & BarCapital Express Drink, Cha for Tea, Champion Food, Chef Chen, Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle, Class 302 Café, Diho BakeryFirst Sandwich, Formosa Chinese Restaurant, Four Sea Restaurant, Guppy House, Han Taiwanese Restaurant, Home Town Deli, I-Tea Café, J.J. Bakery, Kingchops, Little Sheep Mongolian Hot PotMJ Cafe Express, Nice Food Restaurant, O’Shine Taiwanese KitchenPopcorn Chicken, 17 Cafe Ramen, Tasty Noodle House, Tea Station, Tofu King, and Yu’s Garden.

TAIWANESE CULTURE

AM 1300 KAZN launched in 1993. Originally broadcasting programs in sixteen different languages, today it is in Mandarin. For people with broadcast televisions, 18.8, 31.7, 31.8, 44.3, 44.6, 44.7, 44.8, 44.9, 57.9, 62.2, and 62.6 all broadcast in Chinese — although I’m not sure which are in Cantonese, which are in Mandarin, and which are in Taiwanese or some other language. Let me know if any show glove puppetry program Pili.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, as part of their mission to promote Taiwanese culture overseas, oversees the Taiwan Academy which operates branches in numerous countries. The Los Angeles branch, Taiwan Academy in Los Angeles, opened in Westwood (at 1137 Westwood Blvd.) in 2014 and is open from 9 am to 6 pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Their programing includes free music, dance, lectures, food in Westwood and occasionally, the Diamond Bar Public Library. I was told, too, that there are free Taiwanese films every Thursday and that if one shows up early enough, usually free pizza! (The Korean Cultural Center, Los Angeles has Korean movie nights on the same night which have been known to offer pastries and coffee beforehand — you decide). On 1 May 2015 the Taiwan Academy in Los Angeles is organizing the Taiwan Films in Retrospect. The academy is served by Big Blue Bus‘s 1, 2, 3M, 8, 12, and Rapid 12 lines; Culver City Bus‘s Route 6 and Rapid Route 6; Metro‘s 2/302, 305, 734, and Valley/Westside Express lines; and LA DOT‘s 431, 534, and 573 Commuter Express lines. For the incredibly patient, 2035 is the unlikely date that the Purple Line Subway to the Sea (or at least toward the sea) is scheduled to arrive.

The 16th annual Taiwanese American Heritage Week celebration will take place at the Cal State L.A. Student Union in University Hills on 17 and 18 May, from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm. It is scheduled to include seminars, art exhibits, glove puppetry, karaoke, live entertainment, and food. Entry is free. Cal State LA Station is served by Metrolink’s San Bernardino Line, Alhambra Community Transit, East LA Sol, Foothill Transit, Monterey Park Spirit Bus, and Metro‘s 71, 76, 256, and 487/489 lines.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing,Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Click here to offer financial support and thank you!

Ride rolls into the Warfield — and their thirteen most massive tunes

I’m currently down in San Francisco (well, Richmond actually) to see Ride play. Ride, for those keeping score, were the best of a crop of bands known way back in the early 1990s as shoegazers. Like most British bands that survived into those dark years of the mid-1990s, when a collective craze for slow motion guitar solos and untucked shirts overcome white Britannia, Ride too went horribly wrong (i.e. Britpop) in the end before calling it a day in 1996. They only released one bad album (and it was awful) but then Andy Bell formed Hurricane #1, a truly horrendous (way) sub-Seahorses audition for Oasis. Bell went on to play in Oasis and then that other Liam Gallagher band who can’t have been all bad as they covered World of Twist‘s “Sons of the Stage.”
Ride band
This is all a roundabout way of saying that the prospect of a Ride reunion made me, understandably I think, rather nervous. They released a clutch of fantastic EPs, three great albums, and only one steaming, stinker — but it was their final album, and a direction Bell pursued with his following bands so would he insist that Tarantula haters like myself got it wrong and try to prove his point by subjecting audiences to “The Dawn Patrol” and “Starlight Motel” or worse, “Just Another Illusion”? All of my fears were put to rest when I listened to them play a short set on KCRW‘s “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” which included five songs from their brilliant debut, Nowhere, and its equally classic follow-up, Going Blank Again. They sounded great. I meant to dust off my old Ride T-shirt with the mud stains and holes but perhaps wisely forgot (it’s really holey).
Ride band
Shoegazers were sometimes criticized for hiding their lack of songs behind walls of feedback… but listening to “Morning Becomes Eclectic” for the first time in fifteen years as I waited for Ride to play I was treated to a barrage of forgettable, tuneless, garblers in Native American headdresses singing whoa-oh-oh-y car insurance jingles (or at least that’s what it sounded like to me). You know, Coachellacore or the stuff that plays during Spotify ads when sensible users remove their earbuds. Ride, on the other hand, wrote some of the tightest (I’ll never use that word again to describe music, I promise) melodies, sang the pretties harmonies, channeled The Byrds, Love, and Buffalo Springfield, and then added a healthy squall of guitar noise that make me wonder why all the “nu-gazers” are so bland and limp (…oh yeah, Slowdive).
Ride played at Coachella the other night, apparently. They’re playing at the Warfield tonight. They’re playing in Pomona at the Fox Theater tomorrow.
*****
Now allow me to get all listicle and give you the Top 13 Ride Songs:
“Vapour Trail” from Nowhere (1990)
I first heard this on WMNF in 1990 when a DJ played the entire record. I later taped the video onto a VHS cassette when it was played on City Limits (Much Music) and it inspired my brother to go into graphic design.
“Taste”  — form the Fall EP (1990)
Sounds like a poppier My Bloody Valentine, right? A pretty terrible video, though, although Mark’s hair inspired me to grow out my bowl. Also, I did a sketch of him four our high school literary journal — ha!
“All I Can See” — from the Ride EP (1989)
When the Smile compilation came out I played that record so much that it immediately conjures up the harsh winter of my freshman year in the dorm.
“Cool Your Boots” — from Going Blank Again (1992)
Going Blank Again was the first record I bought without having heard anything off of it. I was on a ski trip in Colorado and I didn’t even know Ride had a new album out so I had to grab it before I returned to rural Iowa, where I’d be screwed. I was not disappointed. Bonus points for Withnail & I samples.
“Crown of Creation” — from Carnival of Light (1994)
I’d suspected from the beginning that Ride were Byrds fans. Carnival of Light would seem to be pretty strong evidence for that suspicion. This song title comes from a Jefferson Airplane album, the album also included a Creation cover, and a photo of Andy Bell showed him wearing a Buffalo Springfield shirt. Still, 1968 was a much more forward looking year than 1995 would turn out to be.
“Twisterella” — from Going Blank Again
 
“Only Now” — from Carnival of Light
“1000 Miles” — from Carnival of Light
“Close My Eyes” — from the Ride EP
Bonus points for mentioning the band’s name in the song.
“Dreams Burn Down” — from the Fall EP
“Leave Them All Behind” — from Going Blank Again
“Like a Daydream” — from the Play EP (1990)
Long-sleeve T-shirts and early hints at Byrds love
“Sennen” — from Today Forever EP (1991)
It sounds completely like Robert Plant‘s “I’m in the Mood,” which is kind of amazing.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing,Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Click here to offer financial support and thank you!

Mini-Mallism — Visiting Atlantic Place Shopping Center

IMG_8672

Strip malls (also called mini-malls, pod malls, power centers, retail parks, shopping centers, and shopping plazas) are symbols of suburbia that although overabundant are rarely paid much attention. I find them interesting, however, mainly because I’m amused by their often pretentious names and ornamentation which I guess is designed to elevate their meager sense of place. More importantly, they’re also often home to the best restaurants in town. However, as poorly-designed vestiges of a vanishing car-dependent era, even the best strip malls are increasingly faced with either demolition or better yet, adaptation. As the great Ted “Theodore” Logan once said, “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.” I will investigate these strange things in the series, Mini-Mallism.

IMG_8680

*****

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Monterey Park
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of Monterey Park

Atlantic Place Shopping Center is a shopping center in Monterey Park situated at the intersection of Atlantic and Garvey, mini-mall and maxi-mall, and apparently, life and death. Along with neighboring Mar Center and Landmark Shopping Center, Atlantic Place used to feel like a corner stone of Monterey Park’s primary retail district but now, the three story shopping center lis mostly empty which is bad for business but fun to explore.

My shoes and the plaque on 新年快樂 2010
My shoes and the plaque on 新年快樂 2010

There is no part of Monterey Park which can really be said to bustle. The town’s main street, Garvey, was largely developed between the 1940s and ‘70s and is still lined with vestiges of the mid-20th Century like gas stations, motels, and churches. East of the campus of East Los Angeles Area Community College (ELAC) there is a sprawling sea of parking lots which host shopping centers. The first shopping centers at Atlantic and Garvey appeared in 1964, although it not then anchored by a 99 Ranch Market. Back in 1926, Laura Scudder’s Food Products was here established, a fact commemorated by a sidewalk plaque. Scudder invented the sealed potato chip bag — a cultural milestone certainly worth honoring — but I have to wonder whether or not anyone in Monterey Park doesn’t want to honor any of its more recent milestones.

By the time Atlantic Place Shopping Center opened, in 1986, the population of Monterey Park was largely and increasingly Taiwanese. Three years earlier, Lily Lee Chen had been elected mayor. Four years later, the census revealed that Monterey Park had become the first mainland American city with a majority Asian population. In the decades since, many of Monterey Parks’s Taiwanese immigrants have resettled elsewhere in the San Gabriel Valley but the void they left has largely been filed by Hongkongers, Hoa, and Mainlanders and in Los Angeles County today, only Chinatown has a larger percentage of Asian-American inhabitants.

These demographic patters have helped make Monterey Park a popular suburban destination for Chinese shoppers and non-Chinese in search of Chinese and Taiwanese food or goods. However, little has been done to capitalize on the city’s historic status and it’s unlikely to be mentioned alongside East Los Angeles or Harlem as a specific cultural capital and perhaps because of that it’s always been easy for rival cities to lure away shoppers and diners. Downtown Alhambra actually does bustle, as does San Gabriel Square in San Gabriel. At the other end of the valley, in Rowland Heights, Diamond Plaza attracts the car dependent boba set. In contrast, Monterey Park’s response to a growing Asian population was to pass an ordinance requiring signs to be written in English and a moratorium on construction in 1988 (that was defeated the following year).

Efforts to attract visitors to Monterey Park often seem half-hearted at best. The first night market in Southern California was launched there in 2004 and then quietly allowed to die. Although Jonny Hwang was raised in Monterey Park, he first launched the successful 626 Night Market in Pasadena before relocating it to Arcadia. More night markets proved their appeal in Koreatown, Costa Mesa, Little Saigon, and Downtown Los Angeles before Hwang returned the night market to what would seem to be an ideal location with the MPK Night Market.

Other suburbs of the Far Eastside have lounges, nightclubs, and bars — but Monterey Park has only a two or three. One, the Venice Room, came with the package when the city annexed the land around ELAC in the 1976. A few years ago I went to Monterey Park on Lunar New Year, stupidly confident that if observances were occurring anywhere it would be in Monterey Park. All I found was a few astronomy enthusiasts at Garvey Observatory. I went to another bar, the since-closed Silk Lounge, formerly located in the Lincoln Plaza Hotel. I had the place to myself until one other person showed up and after chatting suggested that if it was nightlife I wanted, I’d be better off relocating to Uncle Yu’s Indian Theme Restaurant, a popular Native American-themed pijiu wu in neighboring San Gabriel.

Atlantic Times Square opened in 2010 and, although located in Monterey Park, was all the incentive needed for shops and shoppers to abandon Atlantic Place en masse. One of my friends, a Monterey Park native, told me that she was jokingly referring to it as the “Asian-Americana,” a reference to Rik Caruso’s Glendale shopping center that more closely resembles the Village from The Prisoner than a standard mall. The Asian-Americana has a fountain, but unlike the one at Caruso’s simulacrum, it doesn’t dance to duets sung by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. Atlantic Place’s fountains are all dry.

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There are no retro trolleys at any Monterey Park malls. In fact, the main thing Atlantic Times Square seems to have going for it are its tenants — both residential and business — including Happy Family 3, which relocated there from Atlantic Place… although there are still signs for it at the old location.

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Now Atlantic Place Shopping Center seems to hold on thanks to life support provided by a row of shops on the north side of the second floor, Daikokuya, Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori & Shabu-Shabu, and Empress Harbor Seafood Restaurant, which as the site of a wedding reception was my reason for returning for the first time since Happy Family left.

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Unlike Atlantic Times Square’s, Atlantic Places subterranean parking lot is never congested with endless flow of cars.

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It’s also accessible via public transit, courtesy Metro’s 70, 260, Rapid 762, and Rapid 770 line. However, aside from the few tenants there, it’s main appeal lies in its forlorn and forsaken atmosphere — which is good enough reason as any to visit. Look on my malls, ye Mighty, and despair!

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FURTHER READING:

California Fool’s Gold’s Exploring Monterey Park (蒙特利公园)
Clarissa Wei’s many pieces on Monterey Park
Mike Sonksen’s Garvey Avenue from Alhambra to El Monte

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing,Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Click here to offer financial support and thank you!

High Rising — Architecture, Urbanism, and the Cinema

April is National Landscape Architecture Month. This got me thinking about an idea for a piece but, as often happens, I found myself tumbling down a rabbit hole of research tangents and decided I’d start with a post about architecture of the non-landscape variety. Apparently there is no “National Architecture Month” and Los Angles proclaimed October “Architecture Month” but, well, whatever.

I’m sure that lots of kids played with blocks, in sandboxes, had Erector sets, &c but I don’t recall every hearing anyone speak of architects with the same reverence they did pop stars, actors, and professional athletes. My siblings and I enjoyed construction toys like CapselaLincoln Logs, Legos, and I had some sort of castle building brick set too. I also used to also draw blue prints for imaginary dream homes.  I dug a moat for Castle Greyskull near the gully because it seemed like a better setting than the floor of the family room. My sister and I built a plantation out of dresser drawers for two Easter bunny decorations to live within. We even built a crude hut in the woods out of sticks that my brother destroyed. For his part he built a “fort” out of chairs, sheets and cushions. When I asked him what it was called it he replied, “Mitch.”

I started started paying more attention to architecture when I started going to Jefferson Junior High. It was in town and we lived in the rural outskirts. Going to town meant that I could admire the tall-ish Oak TowersPaquin Tower, and especially the Tiger Hotel; the gothic Memorial Student Union; Morris Frederick Bell‘s grand Jesse Hall; the stately Maplewood House; and the domes of both the Islamic Center of Central Missouri and my school at the end of the bus ride. My mom had a coffee mug that depicted the silhouettes of many of them and looking at it used to fill me a sense of pride and hope that one day our fairly small town would grow into a proper city.

At university, architecture was touched upon in my Art & Art History class, seemingly as little more than an afterthought. I’m sure that I knew of Antoni Gaudí and Frank Lloyd Wright by then and I remember learning about Christopher Wren, I.M. Pei, Le Corbusier, Louis Sullivan, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius. Although all are towering figures of the discipline, I sadly doubt that most would recognize their names — even if they’re reading this from within one of their structures.

When I first visited Los Angeles I wasn’t expecting it to be such a wonderful collection of architecture. Great architects who shaped the city and fueled my growing interest in architecture include A. Quincy JonesAlbert C. MartinClaud BeelmanEric Owen MossGreene and Greene, Gregory Ain, John B. Parkinson, John PortmanJohn Lautner, Lloyd Wright, Paul Revere Williams, Pierre Koenig, Raphael SorianoRichard Meier, Richard Neutra, Rudolph SchindlerS. Charle Lee, Walker & Eisen, andWilliam Pereira. Being exhibited by the American Institute of Architects | Los Angeles and referenced in an installation at the Architecture and Design Museum were both great honors and thrills.

Architecture, of course, isn’t limited to the urban environment but urban settings are by definition concentrations of architecture. Although I’m acrophobic, I’ve always been enthralled by tall buildings. Perhaps it’s because of my fear because the effect I get from them, even (and sometimes especially) the most generic, is sublime. The first buildings to be referred to as skyscrapers were erected in the 1880s and ‘90s in Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, New York City, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Tacoma. Back then the sky was located only about 40 meters above the Earth’s surface, apparently, and the tallest buildings in the world were mostly European cathedrals until 1908, when the 47 story, 187-meter-tallSinger Building was completed in Manhattan. American skyscrapers remained the tallest structures in the world until 1998, when Malaysia‘s Petronas Towers rocketed above Sears Tower. In 2010 I had a chance to see Taipei 101 in the flesh (well, glass and aluminum), which had been the tallest building in the world until Burj Khalifa had been earlier that year in the United Arab Emirates.
The 1920s were a key decade in the development of cities. The preservation movement kicked off, built around the notion that architecture and history were sometimes as worth preserving as wilderness and nature and an explosion of automobile ownership meant the freedom to go anywhere on land — but usually from parking lot to gas station to garage. The 1920 the census revealed that for the first time more Americans lived in cities than the country. Le Corbusier began writing his series, “1925 Expo: Arts Déco,” and Art Deco soon became one of the architectural styles most closely associated with high-rises.

The 1920s also gave rise to the city symphony, exemplified by films like Manhatta (1921), Rien que les heures/Nothing But Tim (1926), Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt/Berlin: Symphony of a Great City(1927), Études sur Paris/Studies of Paris (1928), Человек с киноаппаратом/Man With a Movie Camera(1929), São Paulo, Sinfonia da Metrópole/Sao Paulo, Symphony of the Metropolis (1929), and Bezúčelná procházka/Aimless Walk (1930). Architecture figured in them heavily, as it did in fiction films like Cabiria(1914), Intolerance (1916), Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari/The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Safety Last!(1923), Аэлита/Aelita (1924), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), and Metropolis (1927). It was also the era of the Picture Palace, when developers of movie theaters paid almost as much attention to the buildings in which their screens were set as to what films were projected upon them. One of my favorites is The Vista, in Los Feliz. When design of it began Spanish Colonial Revival was all the rage, thus its exterior in that style. The discovery of Tutankhamun‘s tomb in 1922 ignited a craze for Egyptian design and explains the theater’s interior.

Public interest in architects seems to have lagged considerably behind their designs. Even in the last quarter of the 20th century documentaries about architects (and architecture) were rare. I know of The World of Buckminster Fuller (1974), Antonio Gaudí (1985), Kowloon Walled City (1989), The Spirit in Architecture: John Lautner (1990), First Person Singular: I.M. Pei (1997), Frank Lloyd Wright (1998),Philip Johnson: Diary of an Eccentric Architect (1997), and The Edge of the Possible (1998). As with the 1920s, there were fiction films in which architecture played a key role — although in that period widely characterized as one of urban decline, often a negative or at the very least ambiguous one. ConsiderEarthquake (1974), The Towering Inferno (1974), Blade Runner (1982), Q (1982), The Black Tower(1987), and Die Hard (1988).

The 21st century has seen an exodus from the suburbs back to urban centers. Adaptive reuse, converted lofts, gentrification, have all gone hand in hand with a generation’s “discovery” of the joys of urban living (or at least the dull horror of life in the suburbs). For them, proximity to cultural institutions and access to public transit have overtaken “good schools” as their primary concerns when choosing where to live. Maybe that has something to do with the explosion in documentaries concerning architecture. Maybe it has something to do with the increased ease with which anyone can make a decent looking documentary too. Whatever the reasons, the fast fifteen years have seen the release of Architectures (AKA Baukunst) (2001-2005); My Father, the Genius (2002); Kochuu: Japanese Architecture, Los Angeles Plays Itself, and My Architect(all 2003); Regular or Super: Views on Mies van der Rohe (2004); Building Africa: The Architecture of a Continent, Lagos Wide and Close, and The Socialist, The Architect and The Twisted Tower, (all 2005);Sketches of Frank Gehry (2006); Great Expectations (2007); Architecture School, Bird’s Nest – Herzog & de Meuron in China, Dan Cruickshank’s Adventures in Architecture, Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner, Loos Ornamental, Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect, and Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman (all 2008); Architects Herzog and de Meuron: The Alchemy of Building & The Tate Modern, El Loco de la Catedral – The Madman and the Cathedral,Five Master Houses of the World, A Girl is a Fellow Here – 100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, and The Poor Man’s Follies (all 2009); Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio, How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster?, Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture, Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City (all 2010); Eames: The Architect and the Painter, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, Unfinished Spaces, Urbanized, andVertical Expectations – The Shard (all 2011); Agoraphobia, Álvaro Siza: Transforming Reality, The City Dark, Coast Modern, Mendelsohn’s Incessant Visions, Ordos 100, The School as City, and A Short History of Abandoned Sets (all 2012); Architecture Filmmedley, Design in Film: The Modern House,Gehry’s Vertigo, Inside Piano, Koolhaas Houselife, Reaching For The Sky, The Venice Syndrome, and Xmas Meier (all 2013); Cathedrals of Culture, Christiania, 40 Years of Occupation, Concrete LoveDouble Happiness, Megafactories: LEGO, María Elena, Los Angeles, the City in CinemaMumbai: Maximum City Under Pressure, Precise Poetry: Lina Bo Bardi’s Architecture, andRotterdam 2040 (all 2014); and The Infinite Happiness and Urban Poetry (both 2015).

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Next week I’ll try to post about cinema and landscape architecture. Leave comments if you’ve got any suggestions!

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing,Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.