Hayden Tract : Exploring LA

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Years ago I worked in Culver City.

The area was dodgy and rundown.
Driving home, often at midnight, I’d head out through the warehouses to La Cienaga, making sure the windows were locked, hyper mindful of the drug dealing, violence and potential bad stuff that could happen. During daylight the area was dull and forlorn: beige warehouses, dusty trees and trash.

So what fun to return and park on one of the same back streets and find myself in an LA architectural happening.

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Unknown to most Los Angelenos, this 8 block area (wedged between Ballona Creek, National Boulevard and the rail line) is one cool place to walk around. And I dare you not to go crazy photojournalist!

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This visually arresting experiment/real estate development is the result of 2 developers (husband & wife, Frederick and Laurie Samitaur Smith) who bought up a lot of those old warehouses and architect Eric Owen Moss, director of Southern California Institute of Architecture, generally regarded as the most avant garde of US schools.

To quote the developers, “The ambition was to go into a very destitute neighborhood—which it was—to improve the economics (via job creation) and to introduce art and culture. We wanted to make no place, someplace.”

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To that end they handed the warehouses to Moss who created contemporary, reworked and repurposed buildings.

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The architecture is jarring, industrial and angular.
And a walk down Hayden St is an adventure…..

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Concrete, glass, metal… twisty facades and towers, hanging cactus gardens, famous tenants (HQ for Beats by Dre just up the road) and art installations.

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Moss, whose office is on the street, is still creating unique and singular buildings for the Samitaur Smiths, like the amazing art piece, Samitaur Tower and the Waffle, a bendy, egg crate-structured conference center. The buildings name’s sum up the atypical looks: the Stealth, the Beehive, and The Box.

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The area is now morphing into a neighborhood with the Expo Line station close by, wiggly treelined bike paths in between the buildings, fellow starchitect Thom Mayne’s Morphosis office across the way and SF hipster bakers, Craftsman and Wolves about to open their LA outpost.

Another quirky pocket of LA to explore 🙂

Mission Inn

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How many times did I fly by on the 91, intent only on Palm Springs grooviness?

Impatient for warm breezes, misting margarita nights and mid century fabulousness?

It took a visiting friend, and the chance to show off a piece of Ron and Nancy Reagan trivia that finally turned me off the freeway and into historic downtown Riverside. Home of the amazing Mission Inn.

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The Inn occupies an entire city block. A fantastical melange of arcades and gardens and turrets and towers, it started life as a 12 room boarding house in 1876 and was “completed” in 1931.

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Over the years guest wings were added, along with cloistered walkways and gardens, music rooms and galleries, chapels, spanish patios, towers and restaurants and it became a major tourist destination for wealthy east coasters and europeans.

During the 30 plus year construction the eccentric & visionary owner, Frank Miller traveled the world, collecting treasures and now the artifacts have been valued at over $5 million.

Days Inn it is not!

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The St. Francis Chapel has 4 four huge Tiffany stained-glass windows and two original mosaics. The “Rayas Altar” is 25′ by 16′ across, carved from cedar and completely covered in gold leaf. And in the  “Garden of Bells,” Miller collected 800 bells, including one from the year 1247 described as the “oldest bell in Christendom.”

There are so many artisan touches it’s an instagram blowout: spanish tiles, iron gates, chandeliers, windows, art and antiques.

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To drop in is to experience a truly unique historic hotel.

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Ignore the valet parking and park just down the street.This re energized downtown is full of historic Californian architecture and it’s shaded streets and businesses are the cultural, urban hub of the Inland Empire.

With temperatures well above a hundred in summer, the cool, dark lobby and umbrellared courtyards are a perfect respite ….. the cafes are lovely.

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It’s worth bypassing the outlets or leaving just a little earlier to allocate a gracious hour on your way home from the desert especially if you can’t bring yourself to pull over enroute to Palm Springs!

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ps: Richard and Pat Nixon married at the Mission Inn and Nancy and Ronnie honeymooned there.

Manitoga

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My first encounter with the industrial designer , Russell Wright came in the form of American Modern dinner ware …covered in dust and grime at an estate sale.

Stylish and organic in shape, the design was inspired by the colors and forms of nature.
Mass produced and affordable , they outsold every other dinnerware and when new colors or shipments arrived the Macy’s stores were mobbed!
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With best selling dinnerware, home goods and textiles, Russell Wright became the first american, celebrity industrial designer.

His 1950’s book ” Guide to Easier Living”, co written with his wife Mary, espoused a simpler, more casual approach to living well: Design as a humanizing and democratic element.

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Decades later Terrence Conran quipped that “everyone can have a great salad bowl”, echoing Wright’s belief that anyone can create an aesthetically pleasing home and life.

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In 1942, Mary and Russell purchased 75 acres of damaged and logged land high above the Hudson River to use as a summer retreat.
For the next decade, they lived in the existing bungalow, studied the seasons and vegetation, and embarked on a 30 year transformation of the site.

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Wright thinned old trees to create views, planted meadows and new forests, created miles of paths, dammed a small creek to create a large pool and waterfall and built a modernist home and studio.

Mary and Russell named it Manitoga, Algonquin for “place of great spirit.”

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The house is modern and geometric, a 2 story of glass and rock. It sits snug into the slope, above the pond with roofs covered in greenery, a tree trunk in the living room and boulders as steps and walls.
It’s harmonious relationship with the ecology and landscape ahead of it’s time.

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Russell Wright died in 1976, and sadly the buildings and landscapes have deteriorated.
It’s now owned by The Russell Wright Design Center, but restoration is slow with most effort focused on the home and studio.
Thankfully now on the World Monument Fund Watchlist, the landscape needs detailed restoration and the visitor experience can be unsettling.
Given the rock star status of Wright, the re-issue of his famous dinnerware and the esteem in which he is held one can only hope that the Design Center can mobilize funding and energy to restore this magical place.

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Just an hour north from New York City in the sublime Hudson River Valley , add it to your must see list.

Road Trips Rule

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There is nothing so awful that can’t be improved by a road trip..( and not to trivialize truly tragic, awful things).

Give me that moment, the heightened sense of expectation as the car is loaded and the house is locked.

Time for an adventure!

The best place for a road trip is my adopted home, the US of A.

Along with great good roads, cheap gas ( and my baby Prius) , you can’t help but stumble upon mythic otherworldly landscapes, folk art extravaganza and weirdly quaint, niche businesses, cultural icons of every sort: the place where the movie was filmed, the star was born, the songwriter died, the poet or the president lived, the novel described.

Uber Americana as far as the eye can see!!

road 1 Note: The best trips start here in the West. (Sorry, but explorations of the green East are never as epic.)

From LA there’s a first long day of driving to get anywhere. Brutal moonscapes, big dry mountains, stretches of interstate, desolate and dissolute…life slows and one becomes introspective. Alone, I talk to myself- animated arguments or rants, poetic and witty observation or sing at the top of my lungs, favorite songs over and over. ..and over and over again.

Bliss.

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With a friend or husband, it’s hours of chat, sometimes a nap, but definitely a stop at the In & Out in Barstow, or at the bottom of the Grapevine. Opens at 11am, perfect timing to get that fast food monkey off your back AND in a social justice, sorta healthy way. From now on, it’s picnics,fruit and nuts and margarita dinners.

roadiburger Depending on the direction, the first night can be Grand Canyon or Chinle, Winslow or St George, Utah , maybe San Francisco or Tuscon. The West rules!!

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When it comes to beds on the road the trick is to alternate .Cheap as chips ( but clean, not scary) OR ultra splurgy .  The more remote and less traveled, the more meaningful the historic hotel/motel becomes.

Often the mainstay of what’s left in main street, they hold the stories, the economy, the history and the community within their walls. Think La Posada, Winslow or Hotel Capitan, Van Horn Texas, Price Tower, Bartlesville OK, Hotel Paisano , Marfa …cool architecture and public spaces .

They are the historic beating hearts of their town.   hotel2The other useful rule of thumb:the further you are from a city, the better the Motel 6 ! Chatting to the chic woman in black at the concrete Motel 6 pool in Utah as we watched  kids swimming (yes,an editor of German VOGUE) I was reminded of how the Euros travel in the Southwest: clean cheap beds, bespoke tours and helicopters at sunrise.

road666 My necessities. A cooler on the back set with picnic stuff (fruit, salad and water), tea kettle and caffeine supplies ( hot, black tea w non fat milk & sugar for when I open my eyes), wine (not always available ), lots of paper maps to spread out and see the possibilities, story books to read and whatever device to photograph.

Sunglasses, swimmers, hat and sneakers. A phone.

An excuse to get in the car ( destination, baby) and at least a week or more… mmmmmmmm