The Natural History Museum and Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of South LA’s Westside
In one week I found myself heading to the Exposition Park neighborhood in South LA’s Westside to visit the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County – a stately structure built in 1913 with Romanesque and Beaux Arts elements that film and TV-viewers might recognize it from such films as A Lot Like Love, Bonfire of the Vanities, Buddy, Clean Slate, Continental Divide, Escape From the Planet of the Apes, Madhouse, Mame, No Place to Hide, Pretty Woman, The Monster Squad, Spencer’s Mountain, Spider-Man, The Three Trials and Two Minute Warning. It’s also appeared in episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and How I Met Your Mother. On TV’s Bones it’s the fictional Jeffersonian Institute.
But my visits had nothing to do with screens large or small. On Monday, I went to a class at the about mushrooms taught by mycologist, teacher and fellow Master Gardener, Florence Nishida. I was thoroughly fascinated by the lesson. The deal was also sweetened by a delicious lemon poppy seed cake that one of the attendees made. Three days later I was back to check out the newly-completed North Campus.
On the 14,000 square meters of land now graced with the garden there was formerly a paved parking lot. Now parking is done in a multi-story structure they refer to as the “Car Park” – not because they’re Anglophiles (although they may be) but rather because they’ve attempted and succeeded in extending the feel of the park to the sidewalks, fences and yes, parking lot, rather nicely.
Next year, when the museum celebrates its centennial, the plantings will have matured some. It already feels firmly established, howeer. They’ve built and installed ten bat boxes with the hope of attracting them and other mammals rather than actively reintroducing them. As far as fauna which have moved in, I spied a Bushtit, Carpenter Bees, European Honey Bees, some type of hummingbird, a Common Raven, House Sparrows, and noisy flock of Yellow-Chevroned Parakeets. Did you know that with approximately 560 bird species, Los Angeles County is the “birdiest” county in the country? Strolling through the garden with one’s ears attuned to the cacophony of chirps, caws and songs, that fact has less trouble sinking in.
I should also mention that there’s a female Western Pond Turtle named Poppy, a member of a threatened native species rather than the familiar red-eared slider so commonly stocked in most area ponds and is an invasive species whose presence threatens the existence of the native species.
The museum is conveniently served by the brand new Expo Line – the first train line connecting Downtown, South Los Angeles’s Westside and The Westside to one another in since 1953. While I was there an accident occurred between a car and the new train. A fleet of cops, an ambulance, firefighters, public safety officials and even a helicopter were all quick to respond. Luckily no one was injured.
Although the city of Los Angeles boasts several large parks including Griffith, O’Melveny and Elysian, certain areas are home to far less green space. The addition of this small but vital park to the cityscape is a boon to all Angelenos and residents of South LA in particular. One of my favorite parts about living in LA right now is that the city seems to be waking from a long dream in which it thought it was somehow both tropical and temperate and accepting the reality of the chaparral. Hand-in-hand with this is an increasing focus on performative landscape features and the North Campus exemplifies this. The paths are made of permeable, decomposed granite.
The so-called “living wall” is un-grouted and succulents and rosemary pop out from its seams. The chain-link fence around the property is covered with butterfly-attracting foliage.
The last garden area I visited was the “Home Garden” where children from the Ambassador School of Global Education (in Midtown‘s Wilshire Center/Koreatown neighborhood) were getting their hands dirty with an impressive edible garden… soon to be joined (and completed) by a compost.
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 Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing 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 Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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