Thursday, June 07, 2018

Japanese Garden and Reclamation Water Plant

 The Japanese Garden

Despite growing up in The Valley and trying to keep up with events "over-the-hill" from us in Culver City, we never knew there's a gorgeous Japanese garden flourishing in the Sepulveda basin. That is until last month, when we took a tour of the grounds with our new friends at Atlas Obscura. Created in the mid-1980s, the garden is an amazing hidden oasis located right next to a water reclamation plant. In fact, the garden was created to demonstrate what can be done with reclaimed water. Plus, the facility, bridging the two areas, looks so futuristic that it's often used as the facade of Star Trek's Starfleet Academy. Highly recommended!

Starfleet Academy!

Lotus blossoms



Canadian geese repatriated from the L.A. Zoo

And just on the other side of the trees: the DC Tillman

Brown sludge being turned into clean water

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Mars Rocket Launch

Local news outlets excited about the launch!
I have wanted to see a live rocket launch since May 5, 1961, when my 2nd-grade teacher brought her black-and-white TV to class so we students could watch the first U.S. astronaut, Alan Shepard, blast into space. Fifty-seven years later, to the day, my husband Tim and I found ourselves standing at the dark end of the Lompoc airport’s runway, waiting to watch the launch of a Mars-bound missile, called InSight, from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Although nearly 300 rockets have launched from Vandenberg since the 1950s, this one was especially historic as it was the west coast’s first interplanetary mission. I had to be there.

All Lompoc hotels were completely booked by the time I heard about the launch. So we ended up in Santa Maria, 25 miles away. Liftoff was scheduled for 4:05AM, Saturday morning. We drove up on Friday, taking a detour through Lompoc so we could scope-out the various sites NASA recommended for optimum viewing. We decided to try our luck at Lompoc's small municipal airport, which promised to open its grounds to the public at 2:30AM. We then drove north to Santa Maria, 45 minutes away.

We set the alarm for 1:15AM before hitting the hay at 8PM. Not surprisingly, I didn’t sleep much and so was wide-awake when the alarm went off five hours later. It was foggy at 1:30AM as we headed back to Lompoc. Would the launch be scrubbed because of the fog?

Once we arrived in Lompoc, we were directed to enter the airport via a street behind Walmart, which we found by following all the other cars headed toward the viewing site. We parked along one of the runways. I thought we would just stay in our car till it got closer to launch time. But no—everyone was walking toward several bright lights at the other end of the runway, so we did, too. We didn’t think to bring beach chairs (like everyone else), but we did have enough foresight to dress warmly. Last minute, I grabbed the dirty old comforter I keep in back of the car, in case of emergency—and thank goodness, because it got pretty chilly by launch time.

 Toasty in my aunt's old comforter

The viewing area was located at the end of the airport runway, facing toward the ocean and Vandenberg, seven miles away. NASA setup a large tent filled with exhibits and selfie opportunities, while military personnel sold patches and other mementoes of the evening. A nice young man took our photo. A news cameraperson, from the local NBC affiliate, then came over and interviewed us about the launch. Leaving the tent, we both got a strong whiff of tamales. And sure enough, a man was waving us over to buy hot tamales from a cart. At 3AM! I resisted, but Tim was in his glory.

 NASA tent

Cool exhibits
At 3:30AM, NASA began broadcasting information about the launch over a couple of speakers setup across from the tent. Hundreds of people had arrived by then and were starting to stakeout their spots at the end of the runway. Many of us worried the fog would kill the launch, but the voice over the speakers assured us the weather wasn’t an issue. We stood and waited and then at 4AM, the lights suddenly went out as we collectively held our breath.

Countdown began right on time at 4:05AM: seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero. Lift-off. We heard the rocket roar and felt the earth rumble. And then . . . NOTHING! We could hear the missile launching, but saw only pitch-black darkness over the ocean. Five hundred people just stood there dumb-founded, desperately searching the skies for the faintest glimmer of light. But there was nothing to see. The fog completely obscured our view. So we turned around and walked back to the car. We drove to Santa Maria in silence.

We arrived at the hotel an hour later. Guessing where we’d been, the desk clerk asked if we were able to see anything. We wagged our heads, “No.” She gave us a sad look as we headed to our room. We climbed into bed and didn’t wake-up till 10AM.

So we didn’t actually see the launch, but at least we got to share the experience with hundreds of people who had come from all over California and beyond. Plus we were on that night’s NBC news! So all was not lost. 

Fingers crossed we’ll be able to go again some other 
time . . .

On the news that night

The liftoff we didn't see 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The State Theatre

State Theatre marquee
Opened in 1921, the State Theatre is the latest of L.A.'s many fabulous movie palaces to offer tours and public events after serving as a church for many years. Although not the largest venue on downtown's Broadway Theatre District, the State does boast the greatest number of seats (over 2300), possibly because of its steep and tall balcony. According to legend, Judy Garland regularly performed here with her siblings, the Gumm Sisters, before heading to Culver City in the mid-1930s to star in movies.

The Los Angeles Historic Theater Foundation offered the State's first public tour today and we were there. Still under renovation, the space is nonetheless magnificent as preservationists begin to remove the religious trappings that once obscured its grandeur. For those anxious to see it for themselves, the L.A. Conservancy will be showing Mr. Smith Goes to Washington at the State, on June 2, as part of its annual Last Remaining Seats series.

Looking up from the lobby

Second-story ceiling

Stairway tile work

Former water fountain

Balcony ceiling—chandelier added in 1929

Ceiling vents (detail)

View from the top of the balcony—stained glass on sides of stage
are not original and will be removed

Air vents above first-floor seating—light fixtures not original

Ornamentation detail

And more

Behind the marquee

 As LAHTF members, we were invited to visit an enormous space that housed an ornate restaurant during the 1920s/30s. It's located under the theater, below street-level. Dirty and in desperate need of renovation, the area is still quite breath-taking.

Beautifully painted molding

Ornamental columns

Moorish-inspired murals

More columns

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Camp Battleship

After serving six years (1968-1974) in the Navy, Tim was none too enthused when I suggested we do adult “battleship camp” with Atlas Obscura, a travel group that specializes in unusual tours. He changed his mind when I explained that I wanted to get a flavor of what it was like when he was a sailor, and so we spent last night on the USS Iowa, the decommissioned WWII battleship that’s now a museum in San Pedro harbor.

 USS Iowa

We got to the dock before 5PM. A couple from Nashville and a gal from Great Britain were already there. Once everyone else arrived, the ship historian introduced himself and his volunteer crew and shared the rules of the evening: no smoking and no wandering off on our own. Also, women were to sleep on one of the ship while men slept on the other—a big surprise to us and the other handful of married couples! We then boarded the ship and picked our bunks. I was expecting two beds per bunk, but, no, there were three, leaving very little room for doing anything but sleep.

 We were hoping for officers' quarters, but got enlisted
personnel beds instead. We were told in advance to
bring our own bedding: pillows and sleeping bags.

After the flag-lowering ceremony, we went below deck and ate dinner in the mess hall: lasagna, salad and a roll, plus (for some reason) potato chips, followed by dessert (ice cream sandwiches and popsicles). Tim told me later that the Navy food was much better, but I enjoyed our meal anyway.

 Dinner in the mess hall

There were 30 of us, so we split into two groups for what ended up being an exhaustive tour of the ship. During its heyday, the Iowa was the lead ship of its class and one of the U.S.’s largest battleships. Needless to say, it was also heavily armed and so we talked about and looked at a lot of turrets and munitions. But the ship’s greatest claim to fame was carrying president Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) to Tehran to meet with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin during World War II. The Iowa was also stationed at Japan during the war-ending surrender and ultimately served during the Korean War. It opened as a museum in December 2011.

 Captain's quarters where FDR stayed

Captain's bed
Our tour guides showed us everything from the onboard dentist office to the helm to the captain’s quarters, where FDR slept and held court. It was fascinating, but truly exhausting as we finally limped off to our bunks after 10PM. Despite the cramped quarters, I had no trouble falling asleep as soon as the lights went out and slept all the way till 5AM, when I squeezed out my bunk. Reveille was at 6:30AM. No showers, but breakfast (pancakes and bacon) was served in the mess hall before the flag-raising ceremony and group photos. We then all went our separate ways. Truly an unforgettable experience.

Turrets (forward deck)

 Another view

Dramatic silhouette at sunset

The helm

Hatches galore—so easy to get lost!

Sailor art created during "down time" at sea

More sailor art on passageway walls and doors

Machinery to load munitions into the turrets

Inside tomahawk missile turrets 

"Broadway," the ship-long passageway leading to and from

Starting to look like The Poseidon Adventure

"The Morning After"