Nobody Drives in LA — Exploring the Gold Line’s Foothill Extension: Phase 2A

It was a warm February morning when I texted my brother if he’d like to walk along the route of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension from Pasadena to Azusa (much as we did the Crenshaw/LAX Corridor). Confused by a dream and cursed with a poor sense of distance, I assured him that at just six stops, it would be a shorter trek. I was wrong.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Metro's Gold Line Foothill Extension Phase 2A
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of Metro’s Gold Line Foothill Extension Phase 2A

The Gold Line as it currently exists runs about 32 kilometers along two spurs. The Eastside Extension spur runs from Downtown‘s Union Station through Little Tokyo, and across the Eastside before terminating near East Los Angeles‘ border with Monterey Park. The older spur (Phase 1) passes from Union Station through Chinatown, across Northeast Los Angeles, and ends in the Hastings Ranch neighborhood of Pasadena.

THE FOOTHILLS

Construction on the Gold Line’s Phase 2 began in the summer of 2011 and is set to begin operation in 2015. It’s also known as “The Foothill Extension” because it passes through the so-called Foothill Cities situated along the southern face of the San Gabriel Mountain range in the San Gabriel Valley.

While the various city centers are all located near Interstate 210 (also known as the Foothill Freeway) and the future train line, one of the most attractive aspects of the communities for both visitors and residents is their close proximity to the wilderness areas of Angeles Forest, which contain mountains, rivers, wildlife and other attractions.

The highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains is the 3068 meter tall Mount San Antonio (aka Mt. Baldy). The San Gabriel River drains a 1,847 square kilometer watershed basin extending from the San Gabriel Mountains, across the San Gabriel Valley, to the Pacific Ocean, and the foothills are carved with numerous tributary waterways.

SIERRA MADRE VILLA

Sierra Madre Villa Station
Sierra Madre Villa Station

The current northeastern terminus of the Gold Line is the Sierra Madre Villa Station, which opened in 2003. It’s situated between the lanes of the 210 Freeway, east of Pasadena’s Downtown, Old Town, Civic Center, and thus most of the city’s commonly visited attractions. Hastings Ranch — Lower Hastings Ranch specifically — is mostly residential, although the vicinity around the station is characterized by the presence of several big box stores, chain restaurants and hotels. After disembarking from the train, we immediately headed east toward the first of the Foothill Extension stations. Since the Gold Line follows the right-of-way of the old Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway down the middle of a freeway, we opted to use Colorado Boulevard instead.

ARCADIA

After passing a cluster of car dealerships we entered Arcadia. Almost as soon as we did, the sidewalk ended. Anyone who’s ever navigated Arcadia on foot has likely been struck by its pedestrian-deterring lack of sidewalks. We therefore headed north to Foothill Boulevard, historically part of Route 66, and another street that runs parallel to the 210 and the train’s route.

Peacock in parking lot
Peacock in parking lot

Arcadia’s motto is “Community of Homes,” although all the way up until 1965 every one of those homes were sold to exclusively to white Protestants. Ironically, the population has changed so much since then that today almost half the city’s residents are Asian-American (mostly Taiwanese and Chinese), resulting in its sometimes being referred to as “Arcasia.” It’s probably most famous as the home of Santa Anita Park, a thoroughbred racetrack. Adjacent to that (and well-known locally) is the sprawling Westfield Santa Anita Mall. It’s also home to the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

Arcadia Chamber of Commerce Mothership (1965)
Arcadia Chamber of Commerce Mothership (1965)

At 51 hectares, the arboretum is roughly the same size as the better-known Huntington Library‘s Botanical Gardens in nearby San Marino. Its grounds are patrolled by some 200 peafowl descended from those brought to Arcadia from India around 1880 by the notorious Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin. Peafowl have long been a symbol of the city, and as we approached the gardens, we spied a peacock wandering the parking lot as if trying to remember where he’d left his car.

Peacock Fountain (2002) and Denny's with a windmill (formerly a Van De Kamp)
Peacock Fountain (2002) and Denny’s with a windmill (formerly a Van de Kamp’s)

After briefly visiting the arboretum, we headed northeast along Huntington Drive, Arcadia’s so-called “Restaurant Row.” Another sidewalk-scarce stretch, it’s also home to a striking Chamber of Commerce building, the Arcadia Historical Museum, and the Santa Anita Golf Course (original site of the Santa Anita Racetrack and site US Army‘s Ross Field Balloon School during World War I). In Arcadia County Park we briefly checked out a fountain with a peacock motif, although equally eye-catching is the adjacent Denny’s with a windmill atop it — a reminder that it was formerly a Van de Kamp’s Restaurant.

Although we weren’t able to see it from our position, before arriving at Arcadia Station the 178 meter I-210 Bridge will carry the train over the eastbound freeway lanes and head southeast. Although it was conceived by British-born Minnesotan artist Andrew Leicester to suggest Tongva basket-making, photos of the biomechanical-looking structure remind me more of the dark, creepy designs of Swiss artist HR Giger.

Future site of Arcadia Station
Future site of Arcadia Station

Arcadia Station will be located near the intersection of First Avenue and Santa Clara Street. There are a few parks nearby: Bonita Park, Eisenhower Park, and Newcastle Park. Also, although long ago (after the passing of Lucky Baldwin) Arcadians voted to ban the sale of alcohol, and despite Arcadia’s upscale character, there are several rather divey bars, including Bar One Hundred to One, First Cabin Bar, Bar Twist, and diviest of all in my estimation, Drinker’s Hall of Fame. Nearby places to dine include Bean Sprouts, Matt Denny’s Ale House, Claro’s Italian Market, The Derby, Domenico’s Italian, Phoenix, Young Dong, and others. One last possible destination for electric Blues-loving train riders is the Arcadia Blues Club.

MONROVIA

Monrovia Station (1926)
Monrovia Station (1926)

Since at this point the train’s route no longer travels between lanes of a freeway, we walked along its course toward Monrovia. There are no signs along the track informing travelers that they’ve left Arcadia, but the relatively modest homes and rustic vibe were obvious indicators. Shortly after crossing the Arcadia Wash (a tributary to Rio Hondo) we approached the site of the Monrovia Station.

Monrovia Station is being built near the intersection of Duarte Road and Myrtle Avenue. Right now the immediate surroundings are characterized by the presence of warehouses, light industry, box stores, and chain restaurants, but all that is set to change dramatically. Firstly, the construction of a large, mixed use transit-oriented district called Station Square Transit Village, which will incorporate the old Santa Fe Railroad station, used from 1926 until 1972, will surely change the landscape and atmosphere of the area. Secondly, a large maintenance yard is being built just a little to the east.

Live Oak Memorial Park
Live Oak Memorial Park

A few blocks north, Monrovia also has its own “Restaurant Row,” although it’s heavier on chains than the one in Arcadia. A bit further north from that is Monrovia’s quaint Old Town, which for much of the year hosts the well-attended Family Festivals on Fridays. Just east of the future station’s site is Live Oak Memorial Park, a cemetery established in 1887. Across the street from the cemetery the train tracks turn due east, running parallel to Duarte Road, which we walked along.

DUARTE

Sawpit Wash
Sawpit Wash

Not long after we crossed Sawpit Wash we entered Duarte. After briefly stopping at quiet Aloysia Moore Park we continued east until construction prevented us from getting any closer to the site of Duarte Station. So we again detoured north.

Close to Duarte Station
Close to Duarte Station

Duarte Station will be located across from the City of Hope National Medical Center, a facility whose roots stretch back to 1914, when it was established by the Jewish Consumptive Relief Association. Another transit-oriented development is planned for that area, and there are already-extant attractions as well. Parks near the future station (some located within City of Hope) include Beardslee Park, Duarte Sports Park, Heritage Park, and Pioneer Park. There are a couple of restaurants in the vicinity, including Don Reyes and La Paloma, but the main commercial drag is situated some distance north along Huntington Drive.

Duarte Scoot Park
Duarte Scoot Park

Heading east down Central Avenue we passed Duarte Skate Park, where 100% of kids were riding and doing tricks on scooters rather than skateboards (Duarte Scoot Park?). Further east, near the northern terminus of the 605 Freeway, we discovered the world headquarters of Justice Brothers, which houses a small collection of racing vehicles and classic cars referred to as the Justice Brothers Racing Museum. For the most part, the area between Huntington to the north, and the train’s course south of the freeway, is quiet and residential.

Justice Brothers World HQ & Racing Museum
Justice Brothers World HQ & Racing Museum

IRWINDALE

Vulcan Materials Inert Materials Landfill - former gravel quarry
Vulcan Materials Inert Materials Landfill – former gravel quarry

We passed by the wide San Gabriel River flood plain (although we saw no water flowing in the heavily-dammed river) and arrived in Irwindale. Since the 1950s, gravel quarries have been the major revenue source for the city (which is also sometimes called “Jardin de Roca“). Although some of the quarries are now closed or have been turned into landfills, the area has the bleak, scarred appearance of Mordor. The fantasy vibe seems appropriate because the nearby Santa Fe Recreation Area hosts the Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire (which, like all Renaissance festivals, more resembles a Fantasy England like Middle Earth than it does 14th Century Italy).

Irwindale also holds the distinction of being the least diverse city in the San Gabriel Valley (although its population as of 2010 was only 1,422 people). As with the fellow Foothill communities of Monrovia, Duarte, and Azusa, the largest ethnicity is Mexican-American, although interestingly, nearly 20% of Irwindale’s foreign born population is from Costa Rica.

Looking south toward future site of Irwindale Station
Looking south toward future site of Irwindale Station

Irwindale Station will be located near the intersection of Irwindale Avenue and Avenida Padilla. Cater-corner is the Miller Brewing Company‘s 45 hectare Irwindale facility, which opened in 1980. The megabrew annually churns out seven million barrels of mass-produced pale lager.

AZUSA

Azusa Light and Water Fountain
Azusa Light and Water Fountain

According to AL Kroeber‘s California Place Names of Indian Origin, the name “Azusa” derives from a Tongva place name, “Asuksa-nga,” meaning “Skunk Hill.” However, the dominant smell that we inhaled was from a more pleasant source — Bloomfield Bakers plant. Although not apparently among the range of products produced at the large facility, we both thought it smelled strongly of Cinnabons.

Route 66 and Highway 39 - Downtown Azusa
Route 66 and Highway 39 – Downtown Azusa

The westernmost of Azusa’s two planned train stations is Azusa-Alameda Station, which will be located in Downtown Azusa near a handsome station built in 1888 and remodeled in 1946. On the once-hugely popular Jack Benny ProgramMel Blanc, portraying a conductor, referred to the old Azusa station in a running gag where he’d announce, “Train leaving on Track Five for Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga!” even though those towns at no point ever shared a single train line. Trust me, it killed.

Like Old Town Monrovia, Downtown Azusa is quaint, charming, and possesses a small town feel. Most of the city’s civic buildings are in the immediate vicinity, as well as some Mexican (Almazan, Max’s, Taco King, Tapatio) and other (City Café and T Burgers) restaurants.

Azusa Station - built in 1888 then remodeled in 1946
Azusa Station – built in 1888 then remodeled in 1946

The final station planned for Phase 2A is Azusa-Citrus, to be located on the border with the city of Glendora and between the campuses of Azusa Pacific University and Glendora’s Citrus Community College. Near the stop there are several points of interest, including Azusa Pacific‘s Warehouse Theater and Citrus‘s Haugh Performing Arts Center, but we didn’t check any of that out because, due to lack of sidewalks and detours, we’d already walked more than sixteen miles and the sun had set. So instead we headed back across the valley on a surprisingly clean and comfortable Foothill Transit 187 bus.

Sun setting in Azusa
Sun setting in Azusa

THE NEXT PHASE

After Phase 2A is completed, the even longer (20 kilometer) Phase 2B will pass through Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Pomona, Claremont, and Montclair. Montclair Transcenter is already served by Metrolink‘s San Bernardino Line, Omnitrans, Foothill Transit, and Riverside Transit. The final phase will connect to Ontario Airport, making the Gold Line the longest light rail in the country but still connecting Pasadena to the Inland Empire by a ride that’s supposedly going to take just 35 minutes. Having learned my lesson the hard way, if I explore either of those phases, I’m probably going to do it by bicycle, not foot!

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. 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!

One Album Wonders: Billy Satellite

BILLY SATELLITE — BILLY SATELLITE (1984)

Billy Satellite formed in Oakland in 1983.  The members were Danny Chauncey (lead guitar, keyboards and vocals), Ira Walker (bass and vocals), Monty Byrom (lead vocals, guitar, and keyboards), and Tom Falletti (drums). Of the members, Chauncey had the most recording experience, having previously performed in Mistress, a band which had released two albums and a single, “Mistrusted Love” in 1979.

Billy Satellite

In 1984 Billy Satellite released their only record, Billy Satellite. It was mixed and engineered by Greg Edward and Don Gehman at Rumbo Recorders and Gehman also produced. It’s pretty typical hard rock of the era, equally at home in county fairs and roller rinks. “Standing With the Kings” would’ve been not at all out of place during a montage showing someone training, overcoming obstacles, and ultimately triumphing in an ’80s sports drama.


There’s quite a bit of ’80s gender confusion. The “ladies” addressed in the songs are never told what the protaganist is going to do to them; rather he begs them to treat him like a sex object. The opening line of first song, “Satisfy Me,” sets the tone, “Baby, when you gonna satisfy me?” In case the woman needs inspiration, the lyrics of “Rockin’ Down the Highway” offer a titillating possibility, “Back seat limousine, moving kind of slow. I know you want to love me, I know that’s your thrill. So meet me at the hotel ‘cause you pay the bill.” Bryom might seem comfortable being objectified and discarded once he’s fulfilled his purpose but in “Do Ya” he he reveals that he has feelings too. “Do ya still think I’m ever comin’ back to ya? …I dream about you, I touch you inside. Now I don’t know if I should laugh or cry — I cry! I never wanna cry!”

Billy Satellite photo
Photo of the band courtesy their MySpace page

The lyrics might suggest hair metal but it’s not — although I imagine that Falletti wasn’t opposed to the occasional twirl of the drumsticks. Billy Satellite were pomp rock in Billy Squier, Foreigner, Glenn Frey,Huey Lewis And The News, Kenny Loggins, Russ Ballard, and Survivor. You can imagine the musical bombast filling an arena but the only single, “I Wanna Go Back” only reached No. 78 and it’s commercial disappointment apparently sent Billy Satellite out of orbit with the members fragmenting as they re-entered the Earth‘s atmosphere.

Chauncey went on to play guitar and sing backing vocals in 38 Special, which by the ’80s was making music similar arena rock. Byrom went on to play in the bands New Frontier and Big House. In 1990, Walker produced the debut of Biscuit, who had a minor hit with “Biscuit’s in the House.” Based on the New Jack Swing artist’s nom de disque, the genius AI behind advertising algorithms first treated me to an advertisement for some fast food chain’s unappetizing breakfast items.

Two years after the rise and fall of Billy Satellite, Eddie Money covered their sole single and was rewared with a No. 14 hit. Much more recently, the three non-Chauncey members have reunited as Zen Road Pilots, a band which plays primarily in the Bakersfield area.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. 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!

New Release: Lulu Jam’s Temporada Alta

Lulu Jam - Verano de amor
Still of Lulú Jam!’s video for “Amor de verano” Directed by Roberto Doveris, filmed by Valentina Sáez for Niña Niño Producciones

After a seven year recording hiatus, Chilean electro-pop group Lulú Jam! have a new album out called Temporada AltaThe path of my discovery of Lulú Jam! is, I think, kind of amusing in that reveals something about the changing landscape at the intersection of technology and recording. I moved to Los Angeles in 1999 and one of the first bands I heard on the now-defunct Spanish indie station that I liked was “Tren al Sur” by the by-then-disbanded Chilean group, Los Prisioneros. More than any other band, Los Prisoneros opened me up to South American pop — not sweaty, clenched fist, sing along with the jukebox, pirate-shirted “Rock en Español,” but pop.

A Venezuelan contacted me via LiveJournal and sent me a jpeg (this was before YouTube) of a video by Argentine band Miranda! and I caught a video for another of their songs, “Romix,” on LATV. When Myspace launched, it’s only obvious improvement over Friendster was that there bands could have profiles and Miranda!’s “Myspace friends” included several bands, the most interesting of whom were Lulú Jam!, a Chilean band with which they’d more than once shared a stage.

Lulu Jam - Alta TemporadaI ordered a copy of Lulú Jam’s second compact disc in 2008, just as the sun was setting on the Album Era and aluminum discs ceased to be the preferred format for recorded musical expression. No music followed for a couple of years and I periodically checked their Facebook page to keep up with their adventures — hoping for more music or performances in the US. They released a new song on Soundcloud in 2010 and I’d almost given up hope until yesterday, when I was expanding my Pop En Español playlist and found that lo and behold a new album had dropped in March. I’m only just listening to it now. As far as I can tell, it thus far exists only in digital form. If that changes, I’ll update this piece and let your know. 

*****

The members of Lulú Jam!, Sofía Oportot, Pía Cichero, and Takaomi “Taka” Saito, met one another at a party in the spring of 2002. Cichero was a dancer on the children’s show, Mekano. Oportot was a dancer with the group, Cuerpo de Baile Maniquí. Saito was a Japanese immigrant who at the time spoke littleSpanish but learned it as a member of the group, which formed a few months later in Santiago


Lulú Jam! released their debut, Corazón Corazon CalienteCaliente in 2003. It was produced by Claudio Valenzuela, frontman of the rock band Lucybell. For anyone familiar with Lucybell’s collective penchant for reflective shades, designer denim, and goatees, Valenzuela might seem like an unlikely choice to produce an album of dance-pop and house but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was suggested by someone from Warner Music, who released the album. The first single off the album was “Bombombéame.” It was followed in 2004 by “Chocolate bom” and in 2005 by “Si quiero te lo doy.”


Lulu Jam - Suban el VolumeIn 2006 Cichero left the band to return to Mekano, this time as the series’ co-host. Her replacement was Korean-Chilean Nara Back, who’d previously embarked upon a solo career as Anish (often stylized “aNISH”). The new line up released the single, “24 horas,” shortly after which Saito left the band, reportedly to spend more time with his family. Saito was replaced by Jaime Zapata and the new line-up recorded Suban el volumen in late 2007. It was released by 
Feria Music in 2008 and benefit from increased heft and melancholic meldocism. Two singles were released, “De amor no quiero hablar” and “Superhéroe.” In 2009 Lulú Jam performed in Seoul, to date (as far as I know) their only performance outside South America.

Lulu Jam - Temporada Alta
In 2009 they released a third single, “Tu luz,” which was followed in February 2010 by a non-album single, “Amor de verano” — which sounded promisingly like post-commercial OMD crossed with Ace of Base. Promises were made online that a third album was to follow in 2011 but five years would ultimately pass before the release of Alta Temporada, which included the single, “Bonsái.” In addition to Facebook and Myspace (it’s still a thing), you can keep up with
 Lulú Jam! via their website and Twitter.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. 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!

One Album Wonders: The Merry-Go-Round

THE MERRY-GO-ROUND — YOU’RE A VERY LOVELY WOMAN • LIVE (1967)

This week’s One Album Wonder is the 1960s baroque pop band The Merry-Go-Round, who released their only album in October 1967. Although several members played in the band, few would challenge the claim that the ringleader of the band was a prodigious then-teenager named Emitt Rhodes.

The Merry-Go-Round band photo

Emitt Lynn Rhodes was born 25 February 1950 in Decatur, Illinois. In 1955 the Rhodes family moved to Hawthorne, California, drawn by a job in the aerospace industry. When he was fourteen, Rhodes played drums in a high school dance band, The Emerals, with Bill Leeder, Dennis Troll, and three brothers from Montreal: Don, Dave, and John Beaudine, The Emerals split but Rhodes soon rejoined the brothers Beaudine alongside Chuck McLung, Mike Conley, and Don Grady (Don Agrati) in the decidedly Anglophiliac band, The Palace Guard.

The Palace Guard performed on KRLA DJ Casey Kasem’s program, Shebang and in 1965 made their recording debut backing actor Don Grady of the show My Three Sons on a song titled “Summertime Game” b/w “Little People.” On their own they released two singles on Orange-Empire, “All Night Long” b/w “Playgirl” and “Falling Sugar” b/w “Oh Blue (The Way I Feel Tonight)” in 1965 and ’66. The band were briefly the houseband at The Hullabaloo (a long-ago-demolished Hollywood club where Hollywood Car Wash and Discount Tire Centers now stand). One final single, “Calliope” b/w “Greed” followed on Parkway before the band split.

The Merry-Go-Round play Fenders

In 1966, Rhodes (on rhythm guitar) formed The Merry-Go-Round with fellow high schoolers Mike Rice and Doug Harwood. At the suggestion of their manager, Russ Shaw, Rhodes’s bandmates were soon replaced by more experienced musicians Gary Kato (lead guitar), Joel Larson (former drummer for The Grass Roots and The Gene Clark Group), and Bill Rinehart (former bassist The Leaves and The Gene Clark Group).

The Merry-Go-Round signed a recording contract with A&M Records. Their demo of “Live” was only slightly tweaked and released as a single b/w the fully produced “Time Will Show the Wiser.” ” It was hugely popular in Southern California and reached #63 on the Billboard pop charts. In on 10 and 11 June 1967 The Merry-Go-Round performed at the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival alongside Blues Magoos, The Byrds, Canned Heat, Captain Beefheart, Country Joe & the Fish, Dionne Warwick, The Doors, Every Mother’s Son, The 5th Dimension, The Grass Roots, Jefferson Airplane, The Loading Zone, The Mojo Men, The Seeds, The Sparrow, and Tim Hardin.

The Merry-Go-Round You're a Very Lovely Woman-Live

The follow-up single, “You’re a Very Lovely Woman,” was again popular in Los Angeles but only reached #94 nationally. Sensing that their window of opportunity was already closing, A&M rush released an album titled, You’re A Very Lovely Woman • Live (but often listed merely as The Merry-Go-Round) in October and it just cracked the charts, reaching #190.

Rinehart and Rhodes rarely saw eye-to-eye and the guitarist quit the band and was replaced by Rick Dey (formerly of The Vejtables). Two more singles followed in 1968, “Listen, Listen” b/w “Missing You” and “Highway” b/w “Till’ the Day After,” neither of which charted. In 1969, for all practical purposes, The Merry-Go-Round ground to a halt.

Nonetheless, confronted with unfulfilled contractual obligations, Rhodes assembled a group of studio musicians who recorded a batch of songs which A&M elected to shelve. As a solo artist, Rhodes constructed a studio in a shed behind his parents’ garage and began recording material with himself playing every part. He signed a contract with ABC/Dunhill Records.

Rhodes next recorded three solo albums, Emitt Rhodes (1970), Mirror (1971), and Farewell to Paradise (1973) — three albums in four years for which he wrote every song and played all instruments. That wasn’t enough, however, to satisfy his employers whose contract required one album every six months for three years. To express their dissatisfaction, they sued Rhodes for $250,000 and withheld his royalties.

Not that the royalties amounted to much. Despite its quality, Emitt Rhodes only reached #29 and the single, “Fresh as a Daisy,” reached #54. Still, it was successful enough for his old label, A&M, to dust off Rhodes shelved album which they released as The American Dream (1971). It reached #194. The proper follow-up, Mirror, did slightly better, reaching #182. Farewell to Paradise somehow didn’t chart at all and a jaded, scarred, 24-year-old Rhodes retired from performing entirely and from 1976-1980 worked as an engineer and producer at Elektra.

As for The Merry-Go-Round’s other members, Gary Kato joined Ronnie Skurow’s Las Vegas act, Skurow, who were active in the early 1970s and released a single, “Keep Your Funky Side Out” on London. Larson went on to play drums with The Turtles, and Lee Michaels, who had a hit with “Do You Know What I Mean” and then re-joined The Grass Roots. Bill Rinehart later worked as a producer and composer.

Rhodes was always recognized by a dedicated group of followers. Fairport Convention covered “Time Will Show the Wiser” in 1968, on their debut. In 1980 Rhodes began work on a new solo album that was cut-short when the label executive behind the effort left the label. The Bangles covered “Live” on 1985’s All Over the Place. “You’re a Very Lovely Woman” was included on the third volume of  the Nuggets compilation in 1984 and “Live” was the lead track on volume four. Rhino Records released the vinyl The Best Of The Merry-Go-Round in 1985. Another Rhodes solo effort was begun and scrapped in 2000.

In 1992, a similarly inclined baroque pop band, The Left Banke, got a posthumous career boost with the release of the compact disc compilation, There’s Gonna Be A Storm – The Complete Recordings 1966-1969 in 1992. Other baroque pop bands like The Millennium and Sagittarius also benefit from re-issues in the 1990s but for many years The Merry-Go-Round’s material remained frustratingly hard to obtain, confined as it was exclusively to rare, long out-of-print vinyl records and audio cassettes.

In 2001, filmmaker Wes Anderson featured the solo Rhodes’s “Lullaby” in The Royal Tenenbaums which probably played a significant role in reawakening interest in the songwriter. Finally, in 2005, the 29-track compact disc compilation, Listen, Listen: The Definitive Collection, was released on Joe Foster’s Creation Records sublabel, Rev-Ola. Sundazed Music re-released the band’s only album on vinyl in 2010.

In 2009, Cosimo Messeri made a documentary about Rhodes titled The One Man Beatles. That year Rhodes rejoined Merry-Go-Round drummer Joel Larson, Matt Malley (ex-Counting Crows), and guitarists Dan Mayer and Jim Rolf and performed Merry-Go-Round tunes for the first time in decades.  In 2010, an Emitt Rhodes tribute album Long Time, No See was released by Groover Recordings. In 2011, Rhodes released three new songs on the internet, “Just Me and You,” “What’s a Man to Do,” and “This Wall Between Us” and in 2014 he began working on new material with Chris Price and Fernando Perdomo.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. 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!

Where Fools Fear to Tread — A Montreal Snapshot

Note: I visited Montreal for the first time last summer (2014) and immediately started writing a Where Fools Fear to Tread piece but put it on the shelf for various reasons. Now that I’m back from visiting England and Scotland, I thought that perhaps it was high time to finish it, so here it is.

*****

Montreal
Montreal

Last year, after Una and I made plans to visit Montreal, my sister informed me that she was finally graduating. The fact that it was from Princeton was commendable in its own right but it seemed especially worth celebrating as it followed something like 23 years of university education. The trip to Montreal was thus transformed into something of a Grand Tour of the northeast.

Epcot's Canada Pavilion (Disney Dose)
Epcot’s Canada Pavilion (Disney Dose)

The first time that I remember consciously contemplating Montreal was as a child on a scuba trip in Florida. Our group group went to Disney World‘s Epcot Center where I was sort of surprised to see Canada represented alongside pavilions meant to evoke China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, and the United States. Not that Canada doesn’t have just as much as any of the other cultures represented but like most American children, Canada for me was a place where people went on fishing vacations and where Bob and Doug McKenzie came from. It seemed no less a part of the US as Alaska, Hawaii, or TexasI must’ve been eleven or twelve at the time so I cut myself some slack. As an adult I tried drive the main route of the Trans-Canada Highway but never got past Vancouver. This time I decided to take Amtrak’s Adirondack train from New York.

Looking behind Adirondack Line's no. 69 (train erotique)
Looking behind Adirondack Line’s no. 69 (train erotique)

In 2011 Montreal’s population was 1,649,519 people. It occupies an area of about 432 square kilometers, making it roughly the same size as Los Angeles’s Harbor District. It’s the eighth largest city in North America and the second largest in Canada, after Toronto. It was founded in 1642 as Ville-Marie in New France (although indigenous people had lived in the area for at least 4,000 years before that). The French colony was conquered by the British Empire in 1760. Montreal was incorporated in 1832 and was the capital of the Province of Canada from 1844 until 1849, when the capital was moved to Ottowa.

Relations between the Franco-Canadians and Anglo-Canadians have not always been smooth. During World War II, Montreal’s mayor, Camillien Houde, protested against conscription and was imprisoned as a result until 1944. The 1970s were a period of turmoil as the French-speaking majority fought to preserve their culture and language in the face of an increasingly Anglo-dominated business sector. Two government officials were kidnapped by members of the Front de libération du Québec in 1970 which culminated in the only peacetime use of the War Measures Act in Canada’s history. In 1976, Parti Québécois’s leader, René Lévesque, became the premier of Quebec.

Rue Saint-Paul
Rue Saint-Paul

One of the first things that struck me about Montreal was how few Montrealers seem to drive. It’s not the only city that I’ve been in with bustling sidewalks but in my experience, even in cities with large public transit networks like Chicago, New York, Paris, and Los Angeles, there are still enough people unwilling to travel by any means other than automobile that the streets are always filled with cars. Underscoring this observation was the fact that many of the parking spots were open, or had been surrendered without obvious protest to café seating and parklets. At one point I walked two blocks without seeing a single parking spot occupied by a car. At another, I (a walking Angleno) overheard to Canadians talking about what wimps and babies Angelenos are for being unwilling to walk anywhere.

Mont Royal Station
Mont Royal Station – Métro

When visiting a new place, walking is always my preferred means of getting around. Bicycles require to much attention to traffic and public transit separates the passenger from the streets. I did take Métro de Montréal a few times, sometimes finding it to be popular to the point of insufferability. It’s the third busiest Metro system in North America, in fact, following Mexico City and New York. Comprised of just four lines, though, it was nearly always uncomfortably packed with people making me want to walk instead.

La Ville Souterraine
La ville souterraine
La ville souterraine
La ville souterraine

Walking, on the other hand, is not as pleasant when its freezing cold out. However, despite Americans’ perceptions of Canada as a frozen tundra, Montreal’s record low was -37.8 °, the average January low is -8.9 ºC and the average July high is 22.3º. An alternative is La Ville Souterraine (officially renamed RÉSO in 2004) an interconnected, largely subterranean series of complexes built in 1962 comprised of over 32 kilometers of tunnels with more than 120 access points.

La ville souterraine
La ville souterraine

I quite liked the underground network — especially as most of it felt like a very tidy space station which had just been evacuated. Above ground most Montrealers seemed to relish the cancer-causing sun. Parks were filled with cherry-red white folks sunbathing and playing volleyball. Even in the Quartier chinois I never saw a single parasol in use and when I complained to a woman about the sun, blizzard of pappus, heat (28º), and humidity (40%), she claimed that she was enjoying it and was, in fact, surprised that I an Angeleno didn’t.

Even though it seemed like no one in Montreal drove, many of the people on the Metro and sidewalks turned out to be there for the Grand Prix Montreal, which we knew nothing about. Because of that there were almost no available hotel rooms available and those that were were considerably marked up in price. Without reliable wifi it was hard to search once we were there and we ended up, much to Una’s chagrin, staying in a hostel. That it was a seedy area (OK, the Quartier du Red Light) didn’t seem to bother her as much as the fact that as is the case with many lodgings outside the US, the bathroom was a shared one. I tried to console her with poutine and a tallboy of Labatt to no avail and the next morning we set out for somewhere else to stay — which ultimately turned out to have a shared bathroom but was in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal.

Montreal is a multicultural metropolis comprised of varied neighborhoods and people. 73% of Montrealers are white (23% French, 10% Italian, 6% Arab, 5% Irish, 4% English, 3% Scottish, and 2% Spanish), 9% black (mostly Haitians), 6% Asian (3% Chinese, 3% South Asian), and 4% Latino of any race. In the Greater Montreal area, 66% speak French, 13% English, 4% Italian, 3% Arabic, 3% Spanish, 1% Creole, 1% Chinese, 1% Greek, and just under 1% Portuguese, Romanian, Vietnamese, and Russian.

Boroughs, neighbourhoods and suburbs on Montréal Island (map by Emdx)
Boroughs, neighbourhoods and suburbs on Montréal Island (map by Emdx)

Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in world, surpassed only by Paris. I tried to speak French as often as possible but found the experience rather different than in Paris. In Montreal, whenever I appeared to struggle to find a word in French, everyone would immediately switch over into perfect English, a bit like in Junior High French class. I’ve never experienced anything comparable in Los Angeles, where 38% of the population speak Spanish as a first language but few Anglos could comfortably speak anything but English.

In our walk from the first hostel to the next we passed through Le village gai. Una’s gaydar isn’t the mostly finely tuned but I think she got the signal loud and fabulous when a very camp stranger laden with shopping bags sashayed up to us and (as if we were old friends) asked me, “Honey, did you just arrive?” There were also rainbows everywhere and no suggestion that they’d been installed by members of America’s National Rainbow Coalition. Alas we were just passing through on our way to another hostel in Le Plateau after a lunch break for mediocre Thai.

Later we visited the rather small Quartier chinois, where more people spoke Cantonese than either French or English. That area, especially Saint Laurent Boulevard, was apparently once the center of Jewish Montreal but long ago a population of mostly Hongkongers arrived with the construction of the railroad.

I wanted to check out La Petite-Italie. Italian-Canadians comprise roughly 10% of Montreal’s population and are the city’s second largest ethnic group. The Italian presence in Quebec dates back to the 17th century when Italians served in the Carignan-Salières Regiment but large-scale immigration began in the 19th century, many of whom also worked on the railways, in mines, and lumber camps. The peak of Italian immigration came between 1946 and 1960 and many settled near Jean Talon Market and the Church of Madonna della Difesa, which proved to be the origin of La Petite-Italie. A second Italian population is centered in the Montreal borough of Saint-Léonard, nicknamed Città Italiana. We weren’t able to visit either area.

Petit Portugal
Petit Portugal
Petit Portugal
Petit Portugal

Montreal also has a small Greektown, known as Parkaveneika, centered along Park Avenue between Mount Royal and Van Horne avenues. We did pass through Le Petit Portugal, centered along Saint Laurent Boulevard between Pine and Marie-Anne streets.

The famous stairs of Montreal
The famous stairs of Montreal

We did pass through several other neighborhoods although I’m not sure if we ever “arrived’ in Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Anjou, Cité Multimédia, Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, DeLorimier, Griffintown and Goose Village, Jeanne-Mance, L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, La Petite-Patrie, Lachine, LaSalle, Le Sud-Ouest, Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Mile End, Montréal-Nord, Outremont, Park Extension, Pierrefonds-Roxboro, Pointe-Saint-Charles, Quartier international de Montréal, Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, Rosemont, Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie, Saint-Henri, Saint-Laurent, Saint-Léonard, Saint-Michel, Sainte-Marie, Shaughnessy Village, Verdun, Ville-Émard, Ville-Saint-Paul, Villeray, or West Island.

Vieux-Montreal
Vieux-Montreal

Montreal’s collection of architectural styles is commendably incoherent and characterized by a dramatic juxtaposition of old and new. The legacy of successive colonization by the French, the British, Canada and (at least culturally) the US. The results aren’t always pretty. Many of the main streets are lined with three or four story boxes whose only aesthetic charm comes from their brutal ugliness and the staircases which seem to be stabbed into their entrances. Other homes are more charming — but still almost always feature similar iron staircases. Homes along side streets tend to be more charming and the fact that everyone seems to live in an apartment rather than a detached home filled me with warmth.

THE Mont Royal that Montréal is named after... Located in the huge, Frederick Olmstead-designed Parc du Mont-Royal ...and
The huge, Frederick Olmstead-designed Parc du Mont-Royal …and “the castle” (lower left)

There are beautiful buildings too. Sitting on a lawn in Milton Parc (aka Ghetto McGill), Una pointed to what looked to her like a castle on a hill (a hill which doesn’t look especially tall from a distance and after which the city is named). I assured her that the journey to it would be and easy one and lead us up Mont Royal.

Chalet du mont Royal
Chalet du mont Royal

When we got to beautiful-but-not-castle-like Chalet du Mont-Royal I realized that the “castle” was actually two pavilions of the Royal Victoria Hospital and that we’d climbed 150 meters more than Una had wanted to. The climb was scenic and the view stunning but even a visit to the snack shop made Una question whether or not I’d ever been right about anything. After descending again I pointed to the charming and numerous castle-like buildings on the campus of McGill University which seemed to do little to improve her mood.

MacGill faculté de droit
Castle-like MacGill faculté de droit
Castle-like Lady Meredith House
Castle-like Lady Meredith House
Castle-like McGill Newman Centre Catholique
Castle-like McGill Newman Centre Catholique

There are fairly anonymous, glassy, Corporate Internationalist skyscrapers, the sort which could be swapped between cities and go unnoticed except by (maybe) those who work within them. Perhaps interchangeable high rises were so popular in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s because they allowed one city to pass for another in cinema.

There have been films shot in Montreal which take place in Montreal and those in which Montreal plays another city. Likewise there have been foreign (including American) films shot there and domestic one.

Foreign films shot at least partly in Montreal include Wait Until Dark (1967); L’ultima chance (1973); The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974); The Jackal (1997); The Whole Nine Yards (2000); The Score (2001); Taking Lives (2004); Blades of Glory (2006); Away We Go and Mr. Nobody (both 2009); and Life of Pi (2012).

Canadian films shot in Montreal included Shivers (1975); City on Fire (1979); Le Déclin de l’empire américain (1986); Jésus de Montréal (1989); Léolo (1992); The Red Violin and Un 32 août sur terre (both 1998); Maelström (2000); A Problem with Fear, Les Invasions Barbares, and  Mambo Italiano (all 2003); Eternal (2004); C.R.A.Z.Y. and Maurice Richard (both 2005); Barrera de Amor, Bon Cop, Bad Cop, and October 1970 (all 2006); End of the Line (2007); J’ai tué ma mère, Polytechnique, and The Trotsky (all 2009); Barney’s Version, Les amours imaginaires, Good Neighbours, and Incendies (all 2010); and Starbuck (2011).

I generally think that music is an even more accessible entry into a culture than film and there are several Montrealais music festivals including Acoustic Nights Montreal, Black and Blue Festival, Carifiesta, Les FrancoFolies de Montréal, Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE de MontréalFrancouvertes, Heavy MONTRÉAL, Mondial Choral, Montreal International Jazz Festival, Montreal International Reggae Festival, MUTEK, Osheaga Festival, Piknic Électronik, Pop Montréal, and UnPop Montreal.

There are far too many musicians from Montreal to name individually although some of the bigger names (or ones with which I’m at least familiar) include Arcade Fire, Bootsauce, Bran Van 3000, Céline Dion, Chromeo, Corey Hart, The Dears, France Joli, Gino Soccio, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Grimes, Leonard Cohen, Lime, Men Without Hats, Oscar Peterson, Rational Youth, Sam Roberts, The Stills, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, and Trans-X.

Perhaps more even than music or film, food is the most revealing glimpse into the soul of a culture, the cumulative expression of a population and its history rather than the expression of a single artist. Although the most obvious influences on Montreal’s cuisine are French, there are also obvious Native American and Irish influences.

Some of Quebec’s best known and most popular dishes and items are bacon, baked beans, cretons, grand-pères (and other maple desserts), ham-based dishes, Le Riopelle de l’Isle, oreilles de crisse, pâté chinois, pea soup, pizza-ghetti, pommes persillade, poutine, spruce beer, tire Ste-Catherine (and other molasses treats), tire sur la neige, and tourtières, whippet cookies.

There’s a strong Jewish presence in Montreal, which at least partly accounts for the popularity of bagels and Montreal-style smoked meat. Una picked up a smoked-meat sandwich from Schwartz’s and proclaimed it more to her liking than any pastrami she’s had before or since. Other prominent influences on Montrealais cuisine include German, Portuguese, and Missourian (primarily Kansas City Barbecue). As the vegetarian half of our duo, I was pleased with how often the poutine gravy was vegetarian but otherwise found the city reasonably accommodating for those who abstain from eating flesh.

Maple skies
Maple skies

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. 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!

One Album Wonders: Opal’s Happy Nightmare Baby

OPAL – HAPPY NIGHTMARE BABY (1987)

Opal - Happy Nightmare Baby

Opal was an American band associated with the Paisley Underground and whose guiding force was David Roback, a guitarist and songwriter from Pacific Palisades. Roback graduated from high school in 1975 and in 1981 formed The Sidewalks who, renamed Rain Parade, were seminal within the Paisley Underground scene.

Opal band photo
Roback quit Rain Parade in 1983 after the release of their debut and formed Clay Allison with Kendra Smith from The Dream Syndicate on bass and Keith Mitchell (drums). As Clay Allison the band released “Fell from the Sun” b/w “All Souls.” After they changed their name to Opal, they released two EPs, Fell from the Sun (1984) and Northern Line (1985), which were later combined and released as Early Recordings. Opal’s sole full-length, the mostly T.Rex-indebted (albeit almost narcoleptically laid back) Happy Nightmare Baby, followed in 1987.

Whilst performing in Hammersmith, Smith abruptly quit the band mid-performance. She was replaced by Hope Sandoval, whose duo Going Home had recorded a still unreleased album produced by Roback the previous year. With Sandoval on lead vocals, Opal began work on a planned follow-up to be titled Ghost Highway but by 1989, the new line-up was reborn as Mazzy Star — which also included Opal performers Suki Ewers and William Cooper.
Opal with Hope Sandoval

Smith formed a new band, The Guild of Temporal Adventurers, with Jonah Corey and A. Philip Uberman, who released an eponymous mini-LP in 1992. In 1995 she released a solo album, Five Ways of Disappearing, on 4AD. In the years since Opal’s dissolution, Roback has mostly worked (albeit with long hiatuses) with Mazzy Star although he wrote and produced songs for Maggie Cheung in the 2004 Olivier Assayas film, Clean.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. 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!

There It Is, Revitalize It — Visiting the Silver Lake Reservoir

View of the Silver Lake Reservoir from the south dam
View of the Silver Lake Reservoir from the south dam

The other night (24 June), the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and outgoing (in both senses of the word) city council member Tom LaBonge arranged to have the gates of the Silver Lake Reservoir unlocked for a few hours and thus the South Dam was briefly opened to the public. Despite the complete absence of yarn-bombing, live music, or food trucks, the turnout was large and seemed to suggest that more than a few Silver Lakers have interest in claiming this now decommissioned reservoir as a future public space.

*****

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Silver Lake
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography’s map of Silver Lake

The Silver Lake Reservoirs are comprised two concrete-lined basins separated by a spillway, the small Ivanhoe Reservoir and the much larger Silver Lake Reservoir. The Silver Lake Reservoir has a roughly 3 million liter capacity and was used to store drinking water until it was replaced by the Headworks Reservoir in Griffith Park. Since its construction in the 1900s it has provided the surrounding community with its name and served as its focal point. Despite the hardscape and chainlink fence, it’s nonetheless a surprisingly lovely feature of the neighborhood.

*****

Though artificial, the location of the Silver Lake Reservoir was once a marsh fed by the Los Angeles River, which after descending from the San Fernando Valley was historically prone to major shifts in its course. In 1825 its mouth moved all the way from the Ballona Wetlands along the Santa Monica Bay all the way over to its current terminus in the San Pedro Bay. This nomadism wouldn’t do what with people trying to build a city here and considerable effort went into committing it to its present course, including most famously its channelization in 1938. 

Development of the Ivanhoe Tract began in 1877, when most of the area that’s now Silver Lake was located just north of Los Angeles’s border which corresponded to Fountain Avenue. The community’s developer was a Scottish-Mexican immigrant, Hugo Reid. The claim is often repeated that the arid Chaparral scrubland reminded Reid of the wet, verdant highlands of Scotland although having seen both landscapes I have my doubts. Whatever his inspiration, Reid named the tract and several of its streets (including Kenilworth, Locksley, Rowena, Scott, and Waverly) after Glaswegian author Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe.

Construction of the reservoir in 1906
Construction of the reservoir in 1906

Silverlake_Reservoir

The Ivanhoe Reservoir is the older of the two reservoirs, built in Ivanhoe Canyon and put into service in May 1906. It was originally topped with a wooden cover.

Ivanhoe Reservoir in the 1930s (Department of Water and Power Photo Archive)
Ivanhoe Reservoir in the 1930s (Department of Water and Power Photo Archive)

To its south, the Silver Lake Reservoir began in 1907 and it went into service in May 1908. It was named after former Water Board Commissioner Herman Silver and soon after the communities of Ivanhoe and part of Edendale to its east were more commonly referred to as Silver Lake, which was annexed by Los Angeles as part of the East Hollywood Addition in February 1910. Silver died in 1913.

Aerial view Silver Lake Reservoir, vicinity - 1924 (LAPL - Security Pacific National Bank Collection)
Aerial view Silver Lake Reservoir, vicinity – 1924 (LAPL – Security Pacific National Bank Collection)
The Silver Lake Reservoir in 1927.
The Silver Lake Reservoir in 1927.

The reservoir was never just a source of drinking water. It was originally stocked with black bass, primarily to control potentially works-gumming minnow population but also provided enjoyment for fishermen.

Laetiporus (aka Chicken of the Woods) growing at the base of a eucalyptus
Laetiporus (aka Chicken of the Woods) growing at the base of a eucalyptus

In 1912, over 2,000 trees, including a grove of stately Australian eucalyptus along the western shore, were planted by the Los Angeles Parks Commission.

Silver Lake Reservoir - 1932 (LAPL - Security Pacific National Bank Collection)
Silver Lake Reservoir – 1932 (LAPL – Security Pacific National Bank Collection)
The Silver Lake Reservoir c. 1935 (Image Source: LAPL)
The Silver Lake Reservoir c. 1935 (LAPL – Security Pacific National Bank Collection)

The reservoir was expanded and retrofitted in 1932. Cypress trees were planted along the south dam but unfortunately, a  chainlink fence was erected. Later, barbed wire was added, which really marked the beginning of the reservoir’s uglification and isolation from human contact. Chlorination came in 1947 which gave joggers around the reservoir an unpleasant lungful. The reservoir was drained and re-sloped in the 1950s and the edges were hardscaped to keep back vegetation.

“Don’t tell me I did something wrong, officer.” Ahna Capri arrested in Silver Lake

Although aesthetically diminished, the reservoir still had charm enough to feature prominently as a backdrop in the 1969 episode of Adam-12 titled, “Log 172: Boy, the Things You Do for the Job.” In it, officers Pete Malloy and Jim Reed serve a woman with a traffic ticket but then proceed for most of the show’s duration to drive in and endless loop around the edge reservoir. If you watch long enough you might also catch site of Sylvie, the Silver Lake Sea Serpent (likely some sort of immortal, freshwater plesiosaurs like Nessie).

Sylvie breaking the surface
Sylvie breaking the surface at twilight (perhaps plesiosaurs are crepuscular)

In 1988 the LADWP proposed that all of the city’s small reservoirs be covered. In most cases, people living near them strongly resisted on aesthetic grounds. With most reservoirs, the drinking water is piped to a distant community (in the case of the Silver Lake Reservoir, South Los Angeles), so if it became contaminated that was someone else’s problem, right? In 1989, the Silver Lake Reservoirs were designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 422.

For decades, concrete barriers and fences protected the reservoir from people but all that separated people from careening cars was a line of white paint. In 1995, Diane Manahan and her husband Michael were walking around the reservoir when Jorge Rodriguez hit both of them, injuring Michael and killing Diane. When the driver sobered up and realized what he’d done, he commit suicide. The death motivated the city to approve the construction of a protected, 3.5 kilometer jogging path in 1996 and a mere sixteen years later (during which time many veladoras were were lit along Silver Lake Boulevard), the path was finally completed.

The Ivanhoe Reservoir filled with balls (Mast Egg)
The Ivanhoe Reservoir filled with balls (Mast Egg)

In 2007 the LADWP announced that the uncovered reservoirs were contaminated with high levels of cancer-causing bromate, formed by a combination of natural bromides, chlorine, and sunlight. Both reservoirs were drained and 400,000 black, shade balls (also known as “bird balls”) were added to the Ivanhoe Reservoir to prevent sunlight (rather than birds) from interacting with the water. The Silver Lake Reservoir, perhaps too large for such balls, was taken off-line completely.

In 2011, the City of Los Angeles opened a 1.2 hectare park called the Silver Lake Meadow. The area had originally been a shallow cove of the reservoir but had stagnated and was filled in in the 1950s. After that it was a large, fenced off meadow primarily enjoyed by young coyotes. Their domain was diminished by opening of the park but the sight of them frolicking on the other side of the fence is not uncommon, especially near the Silver Lake Meadow Native Garden and the solitary hill. The meadow is off limits to dogs and active sports (and baseball) are prohibited but on its best days the meadow is blessed by the presence of the Silver Lake Croquet League.

The South Dam being enjoyed by the public
The South Dam being enjoyed by the public

Now the reservoir’s future is uncertain.Maybe it will be refilled and left alone so that in the case of fire, helicopters can suck water from it as they did during the 2007 Griffith Park fire. One camp have suggested turning it into a swimming hole called the Silver Lake Plunge, drawing the predictable complaints about gang members, taggers, and other “undesirables” enjoying it as well as the inevitable lack of parking spaces (to which I say sell your car and get a bike, walk, or take Metro‘s 201 or 92 line).

The Silver Lake South Outlet Chlorination Station
The Silver Lake South Outlet Chlorination Station
Silver Lake South Outlet Chlorination Station at night -- future Airbnb rental?
Silver Lake South Outlet Chlorination Station at night — future Airbnb rental?

In the interest of preventing a complete bourgie takeover of the neighborhood I propose building a floating, 24 hour KTV/noraebang and jet ski rental. Barring that, how about transforming into a wetland that can be used to recharge the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek watersheds. Whatever happens it should continue to serve as a sanctuary for migratory birds traveling the Pacific Flyway

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. 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!