Urban Rambles — Exploring the area along Hoover and Virgil with Marvin

Urban RamblesLos Angeles is often characterized as a city in which one simply cannot exist without a car. And yet, as the millions of Angelenos who bicycle, take public transit, or walk will tell you, driving a car is no way to get to know the city. Since Los Angeles County is even larger than the island of Jamaica, walking everywhere would be a time consuming endeavor but there are highly walkable areas located throughout the nation’s most populous — and most densely-populated — metropolitan area and in the series Urban Rambles, I will explore them.

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Not far from Sunset Boulevard is an appealingly walkable area around the edge of Silver Lake and East Hollywood. Its low-key vibe and under-the-radar attractions make it ideal for an urban ramble, which is precisely what I decided to do, accompanied in this case by my neighbor, young Master Banphaburut. The entire adventure took us, two averagely healthy people, a little under an hour to undertake.

Oil Paint map of the area of our ramble
My oil paint map of the area of our ramble (Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography)

The first street we walked along was Hoover Street, a road which stretches south from the Los Feliz neighborhood over to the campus of USC in University Park to the south, essentially following the original western border of Los Angeles, as established in 1781, and thus the western edge of the Mideast (aka the Old Westside) region. To the east of Hoover, in Silver Lake, the streets were laid out in 1781 by the Spanish and are thus oriented according to the rules prescribed by the leyes de Indias. On the Hollywood side of Hoover, the streets were laid out in the late 19th Century by Americans and therefore follow Thomas Jefferson‘s prescription that they be oriented along the cardinal directions.

Hepburn Manor
Hepburn Manor
Technically Trapezoidal
“Isn’t it technically a trapezoid?”

The intersection of the American and Spanish layouts results in triangular lots and the presence of a couple of 1920s flatiron buildings upon them including Hepburn Manor (built in 1923, and which has its own Twitter account) and a smaller one to the south, also built in 1923, that was not long ago home to the underground music venue, Beauty is Pain (BIP)… and which my companion pointed out is technically trapezoidal.

Shady streetscape of Hoover
Shady Hoover streetscape

Small storefronts along Hoover
Small storefronts along Hoover 

Little Shops of Hoover
Little Shops of Hoover

The Silver Lake section of Hoover is characterized by shady sidewalks, small homes, and small shops – many with wooden storefronts and most of which are frequenlty scarred by the placas of La Mirada Locos and then splotchily re-painted.

La Mirada Locos placas
La Mirada Locos placas

We briefly popped into a vintage guitar shop but the guy behind the counter was such an insufferable asshole that we just as quickly abandoned it and crossed the street where we discovered a collection of lawn ornaments which though lifeless possessed exponentially more charm and personality.

Practically Pee-Wee's Playhouse
“Good morning, Pee-Wee!”

Although nearby Edendale was the pre-Hollywood hub of West Coast film production, the area around our excursion is home to several former film studios, including Monogram Studios (the oldest building was constructed in 1912 for the Lubin Manufacturing Company), Occidental Studios (built in 1913), Vitagraph Studio/Prospect Studios (built in 1915), and the Mabel Normand Studios (built in 1916). We didn’t visit any of them but you certainly can if that’s the sort of thing in which you’re interested.

By the 1940s, the area around Sunset Junction, the intersection of Sanborn Avenue and Sunset Boulevard has been known as an epicenter of Los Angeles’s gay scene. On the last night of 1966, the assembled patrons of the Black Cat Tavern and New Faces bars shared customary New Years kisses and the then-homosexualtiy-obsessed LAPD responded with arrests and beatings. This time, however, some of the patrons fought back. Increased tolerance from straights and applications like Grindr have contributed to the closure of many of the area’s old gay bars although in the vicinity of our ramble there are still a couple of leather bars, Eagle LA and The Faultline, and a few bathhouse including Slammer and Flex (which seems to have closed since our ramble). Some of the formerly gay bars, including Akbar, Black Cat, and 4100, now cater to a mostly mixed and mainstream clientele.

Smog Cutter and a posh Louis Vuitton car
Smog Cutter and a posh Louis Vuitton car

On Virgil Avenue, on the other hand, bars range from the bourgie (The Virgil) to the decidedly not-bourgie (The Smog Cutter). Smog Cutter opens at 1:00 but my companion was in junior high so, after stopping to gawking at an old, Louis Vuitton car, we walked on.

Cafecito Organico
Marvin mean mugging
Cafecito Organico

The area of our ramble also included passing several restaurants and one popular coffee house. The latter, Cafecito Organico, beckons coffee drinkers with its strange, lighthouse/windmill-like structure and great coffee. I’ve stopped in there several times and never had to wait. I’ve also never had to wait at Intelligentsia or LAMILL but that’s only because I’ve never bothered to patronize them because they both seem always to have ridiculously long lines and look a bit like knave scenes.

Cha Cha Cha
The Cha Cha Cha

Cha Cha Cha is an established Caribbean restaurant popular as much for its great ambiance as its food, which long ago made it a popular birthday location amongst my friends. I can’t remember whose it was — it may have been my own — but pitchers of sangria have a way of erasing such unimportant details. Two neighboring Thai restaurants, Bulan and Sompun, offer two very different takes on the world’s tastiest cuisine. Bulan is all vegetarian and Sompun, sadly, appears to be changing owners although my fingers are crossed that it will re-open soon.

Amalia's
Amalia’s

Other establishments in the area include Amalia’s, Capillas del Rosario, Don FelixManila Sunset, Point-Point Joint, Las Ranas Café, Roman’s Pizza, Romero’s Rotisserie Chicken n Donuts, SqirlTaqueria el CharritoEl Unico Pollo Taquero, Valerio V Family Bake Shop, and Wah’s Golden Hen. In addition to the restaurants there are several small markets, carnicerias, taco trucks, a 3D sugar printer (Sugar Lab), and food carts — many of which offer pupusas in front of several storefront churches. “And lead us not into temptation [pupsas], but deliver us from the evil one.”

Not all of the churches along our walk are as nondescript — although none of the more architecturally interesting ones apparently offered delicious Salvadoran street food as enticement or even seemed to be open to casual would-be churchgoers. There’s Guardian Angel Parish National Catholic Church which was formerly the Hollywood Church of the Nazarene, and was built in 1924. The Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral is the second oldest Orthodox Church in Southern California.

Saint Vladimir Orthodox Church
Saint Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church

The most attractive neighborhood church we visited was Saint Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is itself located a few blocks east of the Ukrainian Culture Center.

The Church on Melrose
The Church on Melrose

Most curious, perhaps, is The Church on Melrose, a strange, hexagonal building which looks to date from the 1920s but whose fashionably inane “the ____ on ____” name is a dead giveaway that the current congregation is either a new inhabitant or at least recently re-branded.

Cahuenga Branch

Cahuenga Branch Library

Installation by Rik Martino
Installation (?) by Rik Martino

Another sort of historic, spiritual institution along the course of our walk is the Los Angeles Public Library – Cahuenga Branch – the third oldest library in the city. I’ve never been inside that particular location but in 2009 I helped plant a guerrilla garden there — my first such effort. All signs of that garden seem to have vanished now but upon the library’s lawn was a cryptic message/street art installation from famed “Birdman of Silver Lake,Rik Martino.

Public Storage

The tallest building in the area and the most eye-catching is a highrise, Art Deco, self storage structure designed by Arthur E. Harvey and built in 1928. It was formerly topped by a couple of Prohibition era speakeasiesThe Roof Garden and Thirteenth Heaven. Even more scandalous are the eye-searing purple and orange detailing added by current owners, Glendale-based Public Storage.

Uni Discounts
Deformed but recognizable cartoon characters

Most of the art in the area of our ramble consists of graffiti and commercial murals – both found in abundance along (and in the alleys off of) Santa Monica Boulevard.

Marvin checking out graffiti
More graffitiEven more alleyway graffiti

The parking lot at Santa Monica and Vermont Avenue is also home to an interesting bit of public art, a luminous installation called Vermonica. It’s made from 25 street lamps from different eras of Los Angeles history, the oldest dating from 1925, when the Bureau of Street Lighting was established.

Vermonica
Vermonica (better viewed lit)

Although Chris Burden‘s not dissimilar Urban Light (2008) piece at LACMA has inspired a million Instagram posts and Facebook profile profile pictures, Sheila Klein‘s older piece, from 1993, is more popular with chess-playing elderly Pinoys than manic pixie dream girls — apparently drawn to the strip mall’s turo turo joint and bakery rather than photo ops.

Bellevue Recreation Center
Bellevue Recreation Center

There were at least three parks in the vicinity of our ramble — four if you count Laurel and Hardy Park (aka Del Monte Triangle), a small pocket park at the foot of the Music Box Steps public stairway. The largest park in the area is Bellevue Recreation Center, which rivals the Silver Lake Recreation Center in size, functionality, and hostility to association football with its community room, gymnasium, playground, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, and a playground.

Hoover and Temple Soccer Field
Hoover and Temple Soccer Field

On the edge of Filipinotown is the artificial-turf Hoover and Temple Soccer Field. Small, sun-baked Madison West Park is located in the Dayton Heights neighborhood and has just a small playground and a few picnic tables.

Other sites of potential interest to the urban explorer or neighborhood resident include a former residence of writer Charles Bukowski, located at 323 1/2 N. Westmoreland Avenue. The famous author and substance-abuser lived there from 1952 until 1955. Interestingly, the fictional substance-pusher Saul Silver (from the film Pineapple Express) later lived (fictionally) at 118 N. Westmoreland Avenue. Silver was played by James Franco, who (probably coincidentally) wrote and directed the not-yet-released film, Bukowski.

If you’d like to explore the area of this ramble yourself, you could always ride your bike to it, as we did, and ideally walk once there (or bike slowly, as my neighbor did). The area is also flat and easily walkable and there are dedicated bike lanes along parts of both Virgil and Santa Monica. The area is served by Metro‘s 2/302, 4, 10/48, 14/37, 175, 201, 204, 754, as well as LADOT‘s DASH Hollywood buses as well as Metro‘s Red Line subway which stops nearby at both the Vermont/Beverly and Vermont/Santa Monica stations.

Big Lizard on Temple
Big Lizard on Temple that you wouldn’t likely notice from behind the wheel
Urban rooster on Santa Monica Boulevard
Urban rooster on Santa Monica Boulevard parked in front of a fire hydrant

*****

Alan judging Eric Brightwell is a writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. Job offers must pay more than slave wages and involve neither listicles nor television personalities. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogKCET Departures, his art has been featured by the American Institute of Architectsthe Craft & Folk Art Museum, and 1650 Gallery. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. Brightwell has been featured as subject in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington Postand Notebook on Cities and Culture and been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and on Twitter

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