Framing the future of L.A. art

November 14, 2014

LACMA's new building will curve over Wilshire Boulevard. Image/Atelier Peter Zumthor and Partner

It’s been dubbed L.A.’s living room, and the coming transformation of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art promises that, artistically speaking, we’ll be living large for generations to come.

LACMA embarked on an ambitious new course recently with the announcement of the largest art gift in its history from entertainment mogul A. Jerrold Perenchio, just a day after the county Board of Supervisors unanimously gave conceptual approval to a plan to help fund a dramatic new Wilshire Boulevard-spanning museum building by acclaimed architect Peter Zumthor.

"Au Café Concert: La Chanson du Chien" by Edgar Degas

Perenchio’s collection includes spectacular but until now rarely-seen works by a range of celebrated European artists, including Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet and René Magritte. The 47 works are to join LACMA’s collection following Perenchio’s death, but the public will have a chance to view some of them at a special exhibition next spring, when the museum celebrates its 50th anniversary.

The infusion of art and architecture comes as LACMA’s attendance is surging and the rest of Los Angeles County’s cultural landscape is enjoying exponential growth.

“What’s happening here at LACMA is really emblematic of what’s happening in arts and culture in Los Angeles County and the region,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said, ticking off a 15-year run that has included two new pavilions at LACMA, the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall, extensive renovations to the county’s Natural History Museum and the Hollywood Bowl, establishment of the Colburn Conservatory of Music and the debut of a new Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge, among other highlights.

“If we had just done one of them, or two of them, we would have called it a good decade and a half. But we’ve had all of them,” Yaroslavsky said.

There’s more in store. The Hollywood Bowl this winter will be finishing a series of inside-the-amphitheatre improvements that already have brought patrons amenities like LED screens, updated picnic furniture and new bench seats. The county’s Ford Amphitheatre has embarked on an ambitious overhaul to replace its stage, shore up and re-landscape its scenic hillside and create a striking new terrace dining-and-concession area. On LACMA’s west campus, a new movie museum is about to rise. And LA Opera has launched a new tradition of bringing free, live outdoor simulcasts to audiences outside the Civic Center.

"Tête (Head of Fernande)" by Pablo Picasso

Nowhere is the excitement more visible than at LACMA. Yaroslavsky has coined the term “L.A.’s living room” to describe the museum campus’ around-the-clock pull on visitors, who make themselves at home with activities ranging from outdoor summer jazz to school field trips to photo ops in front of Urban Light to early morning jogs under Levitated Mass.

“When you come here even at 6 in the morning, as I do from time to time, or at midnight, this place is humming,” Yaroslavsky said.

Since the arrival of director Michael Govan in 2006, the museum has made Chris Burden’s Urban Light a crowd-pleasing beacon along Wilshire, created a communal touchstone across Southern California with the rolling of the massive boulder at the heart of Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, and doubled its attendance to 1.2 million annually.

Now things are about to get really interesting.

The masterpieces in the Perenchio collection will make their permanent home in the new building being designed by Swiss architect Zumthor, winner of the 2009 Pritzker Prize.

If all goes as planned, the sinuously curved new building should be completed by 2023, just as the Purple Line subway extension reaches the museum as part of its westward march.

The trifecta of the new building, the masterworks from the Perenchio collection and the arrival of the subway promises to accelerate LACMA’s momentum well into the future.

“The museum has become a cultural force in the community, and the Zumthor building will carry it into the 21st Century and beyond,” Perenchio, 83, said at the news conference celebrating his gift to the county museum.

Perenchio, the former chairman and CEO of Univision, has made previous donations anonymously. He said he went public this time in hopes of spurring others to contribute artworks and money to LACMA as it prepares to build the new structure.

Under the plan unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors, the county has agreed to provide $125 million for the new building, which would replace four aging structures on the museum’s campus. But under the agreement, LACMA’s board must raise $475 million in private funding to make the building a reality. Perenchio said he hoped his gift would “encourage all types of donations, large and small—hopefully more large than small.”

“We have to make the Peter Zumthor building a reality,” he said. “Failure’s not an option here. We’ve got to do it, for the city and everybody who lives here.”

"Nymphéas," from 1905, is one of Claude Monet's celebrated water lily paintings.

Posted 11/14/14


This film could rock your world

August 13, 2014

A crowd gathers at Western and West Adams to witness the boulder's journey. Photo/Doug Pray

Some movies launch with advertisements screaming from broadcasts, buses and billboards.

“Levitated Mass”— a documentary about the amazing journey of a 340-ton boulder into the hearts, minds and artistic consciousness of Southern California—is not one of those movies.

Although it tells a big, sprawling story about culture, community, bureaucratic challenges and engineering ingenuity, the documentary is going for more of a micro-targeted approach when it comes to publicizing its upcoming theatrical release.

As in: taking to the streets and putting up posters at points along the 105-mile-long “rock route” where large crowds gathered as the boulder slowly made its way to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in March, 2012.

By heading out to those neighborhoods with bright yellow posters reading “Remember when the rock rolled?” director Doug Pray  is hoping to reunite some of the diverse characters who witnessed its epic journey from a Riverside County quarry to LACMA, where it now forms part of a monumental sculpture that has been visited by more than 600,000 people. (When the sculpture first was unveiled, 6,000 visitors flocked to the museum, setting an opening-day attendance record. It also sparked voluminous coverage, including this video on Supervisor Yaroslavsky’s website.)

These posters will be displayed in neighborhoods where flocks of rock-watchers congregated.

Pray’s documentary, which premiered at the L.A. Film Festival last year, begins its theatrical release on Sept. 5 with a one-week run at the Nuart Theatre before moving on to play a number of other cities this fall. The documentary is one part art film focusing on the work of sculptor Michael Heizer, one part road movie, and one part behind-the-scenes docudrama about how the rock rolled (and almost didn’t.)

Some of its best moments come in interviews with people from all walks of life who weigh in on what to make of the new behemoth on the block. (The movie trailer offers a taste of their critiques.)

One woman theorizes that the massive white-wrapped object is not really a boulder at all but rather a suspicious giant artifact left over from a secret military base.

Some of those lining the streets see a colossal waste of money (though the $10 million project was privately financed) while others experience genius at work. Some detect the hand of God, and others glimpse a parable for all of life’s journeys.

Throughout, the film captures the sense of a slo-mo happening-in-progress that people across the Southland felt free to experience—sometimes right in their own front yards.

As one young girl put it: “Nothing really happens on this street, and now something amazing just happened.”

Beyond its chronicle of those who watched the rock roll through three counties and 22 diverse communities over the course of 10 days and nights, the film also offers some unusual inside footage: computer simulations of how the boulder would fare in an earthquake, artist Heizer interacting with workers installing the massive stone atop a concrete trench at LACMA, interviews with art world elites and donors, government officials grappling with seemingly impossible logistics, and some reality TV-style moments showing what happens when a transport truck’s transmission suddenly seizes up mid-voyage. (Spoiler alert: they figure out a way to get to a happy ending.)

Then there’s the boulder itself, which filmmaker Pray is only a little sheepish about dubbing a “rock star.”

“It’s as close as I’ve ever come to making an inanimate object into a character,” Pray said. “Because it kind of grows on you. It does have personality…It definitely became its own pop culture phenomenon. The whole joke of ‘the rock became a star,’ it’s a silly pun but the truth is it literally did.”

And, as big as the rock is, the film makes clear that it also fostered something even larger: a sense of community across our sprawling Southern California landscape.

“From wealthy neighborhoods to poor neighborhoods, from Riverside to Long Beach to downtown L.A.,” Pray said, “it was like the boulder itself kind of made this into a portrait of L.A.”

The day "Levitated Mass" opened, 6,000 people turned out, setting a LACMA record. Photo/Doug Pray

Posted 8/13/14


As LACMA grows, economy lights up

January 23, 2014

"Urban Light" is part of a transformative LACMA campaign that's boosting the county's economy.

There’s art that enriches the soul and there are investments that boost the bottom line. And then there’s the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which has embarked on a “Transformation” campaign that—in addition to creating new galleries and installing epic works of art like “Urban Light” and “Levitated Mass”—generated more than $477 million in economic benefits for L.A. County, a new report finds.

The report by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, commissioned by the museum and being released today, studied visitor patterns and the direct and indirect impacts of building new destinations on the LACMA campus, ranging from the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the Resnick Pavilion to Ray’s and Stark Bar.

Overall, the museum spent $269 million over nine years to complete the first two phases of the three-part initiative, with about $30 million coming from Los Angeles County and the rest from donors.

It was money well spent, the study found. In addition to generating economic output of more than $477 million, it supported 3,650 jobs—1,300 of them ongoing and not directly related to the construction itself—and contributed to an additional estimated $22 million in state and local taxes and $41.7 million in federal taxes.

The benefits don’t stop there, said Christine Cooper, the study’s lead author. “It’s going to keep on coming back,” she said, noting that researchers estimate that $255 million in continuing economic activity flows from the new-and-improved LACMA each year, plus state and local taxes of $11 million.

“LACMA’s Transformation demonstrates how public investment and private philanthropy can together create a larger overall benefit to Los Angeles County,” the report said. It noted that the county investment “will be repaid in tax revenues to the county within just a few years” because of all the resulting economic activity.

During the course of the campaign, museum attendance has more than doubled, reaching over 1.2 million visitors last year. And the museum’s visibility on the local, national and international scene has grown as well, with the arrival of LACMA director and CEO Michael Govan in 2006. Chris Burden’s much-photographed “Urban Light,” one of the artistic hallmarks of LACMA’s growth initiative, has become an instantly recognizable icon to passersby and museum-goers alike. And the slo-mo, 105-mile journey of the 340-ton boulder that plays the starring role in Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” created a populist, communal sensation across the Southland and beyond.

The two phases of the initiative completed so far have “elevated the museum’s cultural standing to gain national and global recognition as a center of arts and entertainment,” the report said.

LACMA continues to draw the majority of its visitors from California, mostly from the Los Angeles region. However, the number of international visitors and those from other states grew from 11.5% in fiscal 2007 to 16% in fiscal 2013, the report said. “This shift in the origin of museum attendees is evidence of the growing international reputation of the museum and of the Los Angeles region and its global draw,” it found.

That’s economically significant, the report said, because visitors from outside the region tend to spend more when they visit—on gift shop purchases, food and drink, and other items. The benefit also goes beyond the museum itself; LACMA’s out-of-town visitors paid for accommodations, transportation, entertainment and meals around the area to the tune of $29.1 million in fiscal 2013—nearly three times as much as they spent in fiscal 2007.

The third phase of the “Transformation” initiative focuses on the east side of the LACMA campus. A proposed new signature building by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor is in the planning phases.

The changes so far have had a remarkable impact, one that promises to endure, said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

“Over the past seven years, LACMA has evolved into a thriving center of cultural activity,” Yaroslavsky said in a statement. “LACMA’s success is an example of a private/public partnership that will offer economic and educational benefits for years to come.”

Posted 1/23/14

After turkey, taste L.A.’s latest

November 19, 2012

Two L.A. icons passed in the night, as the space shuttle Endeavor made its way to the California Science Center.

Once Thanksgiving dinner has been eaten, the leftovers packaged and all the tryptophan-induced post-dinner naps taken, you’ll realize there are still three days of holiday weekend left on your plate. Whether you’re hosting out-of-towners or just looking to explore, it’s the perfect time to see what’s new around town. Some pretty big things have been happening in Los Angeles County this year. Let’s start with a space shuttle:

Endeavour to the California Science Center

This one’s so huge it had to be flown in piggyback-style on a specially designed NASA aircraft. The decommissioned space shuttle Endeavour reached to its final resting place at California Science Center on October 14, where it is now on display. If you go to see it, you should also catch Cleopatra: The Exhibit, which features the largest collection of Cleopatra-era Egyptian artifacts ever displayed in the United States. It wraps up its 7-month stint at the center on December 31.

All aboard Expo

You can get to the Science Center by taking advantage of another L.A. newcomer—Metro’s Expo Line, the first modern passenger rail line to connect downtown and the Westside. (The line currently extends to Culver City. Phase 2 of the line, slated for completion in 2016, will extend all the way to Santa Monica.)

In addition to the Science Center, the line serves major landmarks like the Staples Center, the L.A. Coliseum, ExpositionPark and Natural History Museum. There are plenty of homegrown culinary destinations, too, if you want to add some variety to the regimen of Thanksgiving leftovers. See Metro’s handy list for other destinations and attractions.

“The Rock” and more at LACMA

Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” art installation was the talk of the town this past summer before it was even installed. Its centerpiece 340-ton boulder drew crowds of onlookers as it inched its way through the streets towards the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It took a herculean effort to get it there—it’s not going anywhere fast. While you’re there, you can check out two exhibits that won’t be around forever—one on Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography and another featuring the art of director Stanley Kubrick.

A day in the park

It’s been a good year for parks, so there’s more reason than ever this year to get out and exercise the gravy out of your system. Grand Park made its debut in October, giving Angelenos a new place to relax and play outside. Go for a stroll, experience the diverse programing presented there or kick back and watch the remodeled fountain from one of the park’s striking, movable hot pink seats.

Elsewhere, the Santa Monica Mountains wilderness area got a new visitors center at King Gillette Ranch, while El Cariso Park in Sylmar just opened a community center and gymnasium.

Blazing new paths

Parks aren’t the only places to burn calories. When Metro’s Orange Line Extension to Chatsworth opened in June, four miles of bike path opened with it, giving a big boost to local bike infrastructure and drawing cheers from L.A.’s fast-growing cycle culture. More bikeway was added along the L.A. River this year, too, and passage of the county Bicycle Master Plan means the region will be getting more bike-friendly in the future. For walkers, there’s a new section of greenway to explore in the San Fernando Valley.

The Science Center, LACMA and the Natural History Museum are all closed on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, but will be open during normal hours for the rest of the weekend.

By getting out and staying active this Thanksgiving weekend, you can help make sure the next “big thing” in L.A. isn’t you.

The Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain was restored, lit and enhanced as part of downtown's new Grand Park.

Posted 11/19/12

How to see Endeavour ride into sunset

October 11, 2012

Endeavour is placed aboard its "over land transporter" at LAX before its final voyage. Photo/NASA

So it won’t be The Rock. The access will be tighter and the pageantry slighter than when LACMA’s 340-ton boulder rolled through town.

Early reports had raised hopes that the move of the Space Shuttle Endeavour from LAX to the California Science Center would become a rolling parade like the one that accompanied the immense granite stone in Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” at LACMA.  But as logistical realities set in, it became clear that the Endeavour, which has a 78-foot wingspan, is about four times as wide, six times as long and twice as high as the “Levitated Mass” boulder.

Moreover, the spacecraft requires a 10-foot clearance on each side because it is covered in a special lightweight, silica-based, thermal insulation so fragile that raindrops can dent it. Its wings can’t be removed and replaced like an airplane’s. And to the chagrin of many, hundreds of trees had to be cut down to accommodate Endeavour’s massive silhouette.

“It’s so big that the street is barely wide enough in some places to accommodate the shuttle itself, let alone the crowd control on the sidewalk,” says LAPD Sgt. Rudy Lopez.

“It’s a safety issue,” agrees project director Marty Fabrick of the California Science Center Foundation, noting that the crews operating the shuttle’s special transporter will have their hands full just maneuvering it under power lines and around corners with scant clearance between the wheels and the curb. “They have to have 100% focus on what they’re doing. We don’t want them distracted by the worry that someone will fall off a curb and get hurt.”

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of chances to glimpse the cross-town progress of “Mission 26”,  as it’s been dubbed. From organized events to wide spots on the 12-mile route, thousands are expected to witness the spacecraft’s road trip, which begins at about 12:01 a.m. Friday, October 12, when it pulls out of its United Airlines hangar en route to the Science Center, where it’s expected to touch down Saturday night. (Click here for a schedule and here for a route map.)

Updated 10/12/12: Endeavour’s last ride is underway. Check out this video posted at Curbed L.A. to see the craft crossing Sepulveda Boulevard.

Despite the disappointment that has arisen since the Los Angeles Police Department announced that sidewalks on much of the route would be closed for safety reasons, Fabrick promises that “people will have ample opportunity to see this historic move.”

Two planned celebrations are scheduled for Saturday, and at least two pit stops will offer a decent view of the shuttle, as will some parts of Crenshaw Boulevard for those lucky enough to live nearby. Locals along the route also will get a good look as the Endeavour passes homes, malls and markets, as well as landmarks such as Inglewood City Hall.

Some 700 LAPD cadets and volunteers will be doing crowd control and event security, and police have urged spectators to expect large crowds, heavy traffic and delays.  And lots of street closures: Access to the south side of Los Angeles International Airport will be restricted during the move for security reasons, for example, and the shuttle’s planned 2:30 a.m. exit from LAX via Northside Parkway will be open to credentialed media only.

Despite the little Endeavour in the donut hole, Randy's will be closed to the shuttle-viewing public Friday afternoon.

Also, the Friday night crossing of the 405 Freeway at the Manchester Bridge will be a tougher ticket than some might expect, given the location. The California Highway patrol will be closing ramps and running traffic stops to discourage gawking, and the crossing itself isn’t scheduled to take place until sometime between 10 p.m. and midnight.

And just as a side note: Though it might be tempting to try to catch the crossing at, say, Randy’s Donuts, the iconic shop with the giant doughnut just off the freeway, don’t bother. Larry Weintraub, the owner, had initially been expecting a large crowd of shuttle enthusiasts and had even added a mini-Endeavour to the hole of his famous doughnut.

But because of the many sidewalk closures, he ended up instead renting his lot to Toyota, which expects to bring in about 150 people to film the crossing.

The company —a longtime corporate supporter of the science center—agreed to tow the Endeavour across the overpass with a Toyota Tundra pickup truck and a specialized dolly.  The maneuver is needed because Caltrans’ weight distribution requirements for the bridge called for a different tow mechanism than the Endeavour’s transportation system.

Even though Randy’s will be closed to everyone but Toyota guests on Friday after 2 p.m., the shuttle should be easily visible from several formal and informal venues. Among the better opportunities:

La Tijera Boulevard and Sepulveda Eastway in Westchester

A commercial lot, this will be the shuttle’s first layover, on Friday from about 4:15 a.m. until about 1:30 p.m. Donation of the space—look for the Citibank and the Quizno’s—was arranged by Westchester management company Drollinger Properties, which agreed to let the shuttle park there while crews move some power lines and make some adjustments to its customized carrier.

Inglewood Forum at 3900 W. Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood

Though the shuttle is scheduled to pass by Inglewood City Hall at about 8 a.m. on Saturday, space is limited and officials are encouraging the public to go straight to the party at the Forum, where the shuttle is expected to be parked briefly from about 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. “That will be the real public kickoff,” says Fabrick, noting that the city is anticipating a crowd of some 10,000 people and that Hollywood Park will be offering free parking starting at 4 a.m. (no overnight camping.) “There will be a formal program and astronauts and a band and color guard. And the shuttle is so big and high that you won’t need to be on the curb to have a great view of it.”

Crenshaw Boulevard between 54th Street and Leimert Boulevard

The shuttle is expected to pass by here between about 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Though outsiders are being discouraged due to a lack of parking, the area is expected to have one of the better vantage points for locals who can walk or bike there. “The shuttle is going to be completely on the north side of the center median, so the sidewalk on the south side will be open,” says Fabrick, “and locals should have a fantastic view.”

Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard

Saturday’s second big celebration is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. This one will have a special show produced and directed by choreographer Debbie Allen; seating will be limited, with seats distributed by mall officials. Police anticipate a standing room only crowd of several thousand and have urged spectators to arrive early. The program is expected to last about an hour, but after the shuttle’s 2 p.m. scheduled arrival, crews will be spending another hour or so at the site adjusting the shuttle carrier for the next leg of the trip.

Bill Robertson Lane at Exposition Park

This will be where the shuttle turns toward the California Science Center on Saturday at approximately 8:30 p.m., and probably the last, best place to see Endeavour before it is installed at the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Display Pavilion. Viewers will be encouraged to gather at four parking lots north of MLK between Bill Robertson Lane and Vermont Avenue. Public transportation is available by bus and via the Expo Line light rail.

Endeavour’s grand opening will be October 30, with early access for science center members. Admission to the science center and the shuttle is free, but viewers are encouraged to obtain time tickets to reserve a space. (Click here for membership information and here for time ticketing.)

It will be housed in a museum hangar pending completion of its permanent home at the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, which is aiming for completion by 2018.

Endeavour's thrilling flyover introduced L.A. to its newest star. Photo/Reuters

Posted 10/11/12

Street fighting man

October 4, 2012

The annual Oscar challenge: getting the limos to the Academy Awards safely and on time. Photo/Hebig via Flicrk

In this, the land of cars, all roads lead to Aram Sahakian.

With one false move, one slight miscalculation, he could bring L.A.’s traffic to a hellish halt. There are plenty of powerful jobs in Los Angeles government, but even the mayor takes a back seat to this street-smart guy when it comes to keeping the city moving.

Sahakian oversees special traffic operations for the city’s Department of Transportation and is thus responsible for mapping and implementing street closures for every big event in Los Angeles. Perhaps you know his work: Carmageddon (and next week’s sequel), the Academy Awards, championship parades for the Lakers and Kings, CicLAvia, presidential visits, the L.A marathon and, of course, The Rock’s journey to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“I have an extremely understanding wife,” Sahakian says of the relentless hours and maddening deadlines of his job. “When you work for me, you better expect not to have much of a personal life.”

Sahakian and his Los Angeles Marathon street closure manual.

Now Sahakian and his small staff are preparing for one of their biggest logistical challenges—getting the retired space shuttle Endeavour from LAX to its new home at the California Science Center in Exposition Park. The shuttle is scheduled to arrive at the airport on Friday. On October 12, it will start a two-day journey to the Science Center, passing through Inglewood and into Sahakian’s turf.

Already, hundreds of trees are being felled to accommodate Endeavour’s 78-foot wing span. But that’s just the beginning. Sahakian says that once Endeavour actually gets rolling on its low-slung, remote-controlled transport, nearly 50 traffic signals along the route will have to be rapidly taken down as the shuttle approaches and then immediately restored after it passes—all in a single day.

“There’s no room for error,” says Sahakian, a 23-year veteran of the department. “If we get a picture in the Los Angeles Times showing the shuttle stuck because of a signal standard, this would not be good.”

In recent days, another complication has surfaced: Sophisticated tests of the streets along the route through South Los Angeles and downtown have revealed vulnerabilities beneath the surface, where sewer and water lines are located. These 14 areas, Sahakian says, could become sink holes under Endeavour’s 78 tons. This would not be good, either.

To fix the problem, Sahakian says that at least 150 plates of thick steel will be placed under the transport’s wheels to distribute its weight along the worrisome stretches. “And I’m not talking about a couple spots here and there,” Sahakian says. Details of the effort are still being worked out, but he expects the entire intersection of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King boulevards to be covered with steel.

Although the logistics of all this may seem dizzying, Sahakian says he has a bigger concern. “This is a cakewalk,” he says of the tightly choreographed traffic plan. “We can do this in our sleep. The big unknown is the crowd.”

Sahakian, who also oversees emergency response for his department, worries that thousands of people could turn out for the once-in-a-lifetime spectacle of the shuttle’s 12-mile urban journey. But this is not like artist Michael Heizer’s granite rock, which drew huge crowds during its slow-motion trip to LACMA, where it became the 340-ton centerpiece of “Levitated Mass.” In the shuttle’s case—because of its width and NASA’s desire to keep the public at a safe distance—there’ll be few places to stand, except at the end of streets that intersect the route or in designated viewing areas.

“What I worry about,” Sahakian says, “is a Rose Parade situation where we’ll have thousands of people out there with no place for them to park or see the shuttle.”

CicLAvia has made Sahakian's job even bigger.

These are the kinds of scenarios that can haunt a planner’s waking—and sleeping—hours. Sahakian says that whether it’s the Endeavour project or the many others he’s constantly juggling, he may get an idea in the middle of the night. “Sometimes, I’ll send emails at 3 a.m. so I don’t forget,” he says.

Sounding more like an inspirational speaker (a la John Wooden) than a traffic engineer, Sahakian says his motto is: “Not planning is planning for disaster.”

Consider the Oscars. It is Sahakian’s job, among other things, to make sure that the fleets of limousines ferrying nominees and other VIPs don’t get tangled up outside the Dolby Theatre, formerly the Kodak, on Hollywood Boulevard. To that end, he has created a “serpentine” of concrete K-rail, through which each limo must slowly (but not too slowly) pass in an orderly fashion—a technique he’ll also be employing for this weekend’s Emmy Awards at Staples Center.

But the planning begins long before the stars emerge from their luxurious rides. “One of the most important elements of traffic planning,” he says, “is to know where people are coming from so you can facilitate the route.” That’s why his crew jotted down limo license plate numbers a few years back and studied their points of origin. Not surprisingly, most were arriving from the Westside.

Sahakian is not necessarily expecting any awards from the motoring public for his efforts. “If it’s a Lakers parade, they’re happy,” he says. “If it’s a 5K fundraiser, they’re not so happy.”

More often than not, he hears, “You guys are messing up the whole city.” Or maybe, “Whose bright idea was this?”

Still, he knows—even if the public doesn’t—that things could be a lot worse.

Last week, in his cramped office on the edge of downtown, Sahakian told a visitor that he’d recently worked with organizers of the hugely popular CicLAvia to change the date of its latest event, which was scheduled for the same October weekend as Endeavour’s journey. “Thank God CicLAvia agreed to move up its date” to October 7, Sahakian said with obvious relief.

A few hours later, however, his visitor got an email that spoke volumes about the man and his work. “Just to make it more interesting,” he wrote, “now I have Obama visiting on 10/7. Yes, Ciclavia :)”

Endeavour on its way to L.A., where Sahakian will help orchestrate its final journey. Photo/Los Angeles Times

Posted 9/19/12

Have they got a deal for you

September 27, 2012

Carmageddon could turn into Bargaingeddon this weekend.

Sure, you could sit around and mope all weekend, fretting about the 53-hour closure of the 405 Freeway.

Or you could come out of Carmageddon II with a free bagel, a discounted letterman jacket and some newfound pole dancing skills.

Already feeling separation anxiety from your car? A complimentary 15-minute chair massage from Physical Therapy Solutions could help you cope. Fear of driving in a post-Carmageddon world? Hypnosis might work, and the price of the first session is 50% off at Scripting Your LifePlay.

As Los Angeles prepares to confront a second Carmageddon weekend on Sept. 29-30, the discounts, freebies and special offers are flying. Many neighborhood businesses are hoping for a boost from local customers sticking close to home for the weekend, as well as from those ditching their cars in favor of public transportation to get to attractions and services throughout the region.

Metro, which along with Caltrans is responsible for the massive 405 improvements project that includes Carmageddon II, has been working feverishly to turn the lemon of a lengthy freeway closure into some sweet, bargain-hunting lemonade.

An unprecedented expansion of the agency’s 10-year-old Destination Discounts program has brought hundreds of businesses into a special Carmageddon-themed initiative, complete with interactive map.

“To just say to people ‘eat/shop/play locally’ is not enough. It needed to have legs, it needed to have incentives attached to make it real, to make it viable,” said Fran Curbello, the Metro communications manager heading up the initiative. “We gave our business community a chance to be part of the solution.”

While some of the deals require presentation of a Metro TAP card, other businesses are extending their discounts and freebies to all comers this weekend—no questions asked.

At Select Beer Store in Redondo Beach, for instance, customers can just say “Carmageddon” to claim a free bag of chips as they order a brew (while supplies last!)

A bargain massage is just one possibility.

Although Metro’s primary objective is to get people riding public transit, it also has an interest in helping folks find diversions close to home this weekend. Curbello suspects that most merchants won’t particularly care whether their customers arrive by bus, bike or (gasp) automobile, as long they’re staying in the neighborhood—and away from the 405 construction zone.

“It’s good business,” she said.

The participants range from mom-and-pop eateries to big hotels and major museums. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, for example, is offering ½ price admission to everyone who comes “via an alternate mode of transportation.” At another point on the artistic spectrum, Madame Tussauds Hollywood is having some fun with numbers and offering a 40.5% discount (get it?) on adult and children’s tickets. (Enter promo code 4050 if ordering online.)

Even for armchair bargain-hunters, Metro’s interactive Eat/Shop/Play map is worth a few clicks, just to marvel at the idiosyncratic glories of Los Angeles itself as it goes on sale for the weekend.

There are traveling notaries (J Lawson Mobile Notary of North Hollywood) and educators who make house calls (Tutor Doctor of Van Nuys.) There are horses to ride at the Sunset Ranch near the Hollywood sign and Segways for hire in the South Bay. Xtreme Martial Arts is offering discounts in North Hollywood and Rise-The Studio in Santa Monica is pushing 25% off all its “meditative and playful pole dancing classes” on Sept. 29 and 30.

Then there’s the food. Lots of it.

Most of the participating restaurants are offering discounts, but many are throwing in freebies.

“I’m ready to give away some hot links, that’s what I’m gonna do,” said Kevin Huling, owner of Les Sisters Southern Kitchen in Chatsworth, who’s hoping the new Orange Line extension will help bring customers his way. “I am hoping more people come down here. It’s a bit of a walk, but we’re walking distance from the Chatsworth Station.”

The moveable feast also includes free naan bread at Saffron in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, an on-the-house bagel for transit riders at the Onegeneration booth at the Encino Farmers Market, and a free side dish or beverage at Mel’s Fish Shack on West Jefferson, near the Expo Line’s Farmdale Station.

Those seeking a more lasting souvenir of Carmageddon II might consider making an automotive style statement with tire rims from EZ Rims 4 Rent on Crenshaw Boulevard. For this weekend, they’re offering $50 off purchase and rent-to-own transactions.

“Hopefully it does pretty well,” manager Fidel Ozuna said. “We are anticipating a pretty decent weekend.”

Have you seen The Rock yet? LACMA's half price this weekend if you get there via alternate transportation.

Posted 9/27/12

Quite an Endeavour

August 8, 2012

To get to Los Angeles, the space shuttle will hitch a ride on a 747, as it did here on an earlier mission.

Get ready, L.A., the space shuttle Endeavour will soon be rolling like a rock star.

On October 12, weather permitting, the decommissioned shuttle will begin a three-day, 12-mile journey from Los Angeles International Airport  to the California Science Center in Exposition Park, the orbiter’s new retirement home.

Officials predict that the 2-m.p.h. urban journey will draw thousands of onlookers, reminiscent of the raucous crowds that turned out for The Rock’s four-county crawl to the Los Angeles Museum of Art, where it became the centerpiece of artist Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass.” The shuttle’s passage will mostly take place along Manchester Avenue, Crenshaw Boulevard and Martin Luther King Boulevard. (See map below.)

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who joined Science Center and NASA officials to announce Endeavour’s itinerary, called the upcoming transport a “once-in-a-lifetime event” for the Los Angeles region, which he noted shares a long and storied history with aeronautics and space exploration. Just this week, scientists at JPL in Pasadena made history with the high-risk touch-down of the rover Curiosity on Mars.

In all, Endeavour completed 25 flights, totaling 4,671 Earth orbits. It was built to replace the Challenger, which exploded shortly after takeoff in 1986, claiming the lives of all 7 astronauts. Endeavour flew its final mission to the International Space Station in May of last year. Among the orbiter’s final crew was Commander Mike Kelly, whose wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded by a gunman last year.

With the 30-year shuttle program now over, Endeavour is one of three shuttles that will go on display around the country, and the first to travel along city streets. The others—Discovery at the Smithsonian outside Washington, D.C. and Atlantis in Florida—have already been delivered.

Endeavor is scheduled to arrive at LAX from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on September 20, riding piggyback on a Boeing 747. That date, however, is dependent on weather conditions, said Stephanie Stilson of NASA, a key player in the transport. “Water drops can become like BB’s” on the fragile surface of the 170,000-pound craft, she said.

After the shuttle is removed from its carrier with a series of cranes and slings, it will be placed on the “Overland Transporter,” a frame built by NASA for “state of the art maneuverability and stability,” according to the agency.

And it’ll need it.

Some stretches of the passage to the Science Center are so narrow that some trees may need to be removed to accommodate the craft’s 78-foot wingspan. In those cases, two trees will be planted for each one that must be uprooted. Villaraigosa said that, like the shuttle itself, its earth-bound journey will be “a marvel of ingenuity and engineering.”

Along the way, on October 13, there’ll be an official ceremony at Inglewood City Hall in the morning and a curbside celebration that evening produced by dancer/choreographer Debbie Allen at the intersection of MLK and Crenshaw boulevards.

At the Science Center, the spacecraft initially will be housed in a cavernous temporary hangar, which is scheduled to be open to the public starting October 30 for the exhibition “Mission 26: The Big Endeavor.” Eventually, the shuttle will be the centerpiece of the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. The $200 million price for the new center and Endeavour’s transport is being underwritten by private donors. 

View Mission 26: The Big Endeavour in a larger map

Posted 8/8/12 

Summertime, and the audience is busy

July 3, 2012

L.A. audiences know they can dance, and they prove it on the Music Center Plaza at "Dance Downtown."

Going to a concert or show may be a spectator sport most of the year, but when the temperatures start climbing, Los Angeles audiences like to get in on the act.

From sing-alongs to outdoor dancing, accordion playing to impromptu Shakespeare, this summer’s arts calendar is heavy on audience participation.

“The idea behind it is that audiences are trying to be artists themselves, rather than just sitting in a seat,” said Heather Rigby, General Manager of Productions at the John Anson Ford Theatre. “It’s also a really good community builder that helps people be able to express themselves.”

The Ford’s audience participation events, called “J.A.M. Sessions,” began in 2008. The sessions allow people to dance and try out new instruments while connecting with artists from diverse cultures. Already this year, crowds have tried their hands (and feet) at Afro-Cuban dance and Japanese Taiko drumming. This Monday, June 25, Otoño Luján and Gee Rabe will share their mastery of the accordion before leading a giant, novice accordion symphony. (Instruments will be provided.)

The J.A.M. Sessions have proven so successful that this year the Ford is taking its show on the road, courtesy of a grant from Metabolic Studios. Starting July 6, road sessions will be held in East L.A., Newhall, San Fernando, Whittier and Willowbrook.

Also at the Ford, the Big!World!Fun! series offers youngsters a chance to try dance and musical styles from cultures worldwide. The events take place Saturday mornings at 10 a.m., beginning July 7.

At the Hollywood Bowl, summer night sing-alongs turn the legendary amphitheatre into something of a karaoke-on-steroids experience, with some of the best-loved musicals of all time projected onto a huge screen with captioned lyrics.

“There is something very unique about a venue that seats 18,000 people and everyone is singing—it’s really loud,” said Arvind Manocha, the Bowl’s chief operating officer. “It is just primordially powerful to hear that many people singing the same thing in one space.”

The events, which began in 2001, bring out the dramatic attire as well as the wannabe Broadway divas. Thousands show up decked out in movie-specific costumes, and hundreds take part in the pre-show parade dressed as characters, objects or even ideas from the movies. A package of interactive props is handed out to enhance the fun, à la Rocky Horror Picture Show. And, because it’s Hollywood, said Minocha, special guests associated with the movie often show up, like the actors that portrayed the von Trapp children and Didi Conn, who played “Frenchy” in Grease. (This year, Grease will be performed July 14 and The Sound of Music on September 22.)

In downtown L.A., the Walt Disney Concert Hall hosts its own Friday Night Sing-Alongs, which are free to the public. They begin this Friday, June 22, with “Disney Favorites,” and continue later this summer with Motown hits and Broadway tunes.

Across the street at the Music Center, the courageous can trade their two left feet for new dance styles at Dance Downtown. Live bands and DJs provide rhythms for the outdoor dance lessons, which are held in the Music Center Plaza. Next Friday, June 29, Dance Downtown features Bollywood dancing. If that’s not your speed, the rest of the season has plenty of other options like disco, samba and “60s Night,” to name a few.

Over at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica, the “Beach=Culture” series engages the community with its own participatory events. On Tuesday, June 26, enjoy some guerilla Shakespeare with the facility’s new resident artists from the Salty Shakespeare Company, who pride themselves on “Erupting, Interrupting, Disturbing the Peace.” Guests can try their hand at street theatre and learn the secrets of the group, which employs rap, Parkour (extreme freestyle, um, walking) and attention/diversion tactics to engage the public with their performances.

Aspiring non-performance art amateurs also have a few options, from LACMA’s free family art workshops to the UCLA Fowler Museum’s upcoming Afghan fighter kite-making workshop to the Getty Center’s Family Art Lab.

This Saturday, June 23, aspiring artists can practice and pitch in on a collaborative effort at Dockweiler State Beach that will use UV paint to create a mural that glows under black lights. The event, called “Nite-Write,” is presented by MobileMuralLab in cooperation with the L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbors and the L.A. County Arts Commission.

With options like playing with glowing paint and belting out show tunes, there’s something for just about everyone. Don’t worry if you’re a newbie; you’ll be glad you left your armchair behind.

“The first time you go,” said the Hollywood Bowl’s Manocha, “you kind of need to figure it out, and then every other time you will be more involved in the fun.”

Put your hands in the air if you're a Taiko drummer at the Ford Theatre.

Posted 6/21/12


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