Watts Towers and Other Places of Beauty

My friend Essie from Nashville isn't your typical L.A. tourist. No, she doesn't want to do Hollywood or the Getty. She wants to see the Watts Towers and the Virgen de Guadalupe murals outside liquor stores in Boyle Heights (East Los Angeles). Good thing my husband is from Boyle Heights; he's the perfect tour guide.

I like Essie because she makes me see things in a new way. She really believes long salt-and-pepper hair on an aging woman is beautiful. She adores the fact that the virgin is painted next to images of Coca-cola and chips outside of a wall. She tells me that the famous Mexican muralist Orozco had been commissioned to paint a mural in a building on Pomona College in 1930, so of course we sneak into the student dining room two hours before mealtime and there it is, Prometheus.

I like visitors with idiosyncratic interests, because they make me appreciate my hometown, Los Angeles, in a new way. That men and women from foreign lands had come here and left artistic markers--whether it be strange concrete towers outside their house or commissioned murals at an academic institution--is indeed inspiring for this writer.

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Comment by Eric Stone on October 18, 2007 at 2:43pm
If it was art they were after I'd spend a lot of time driving around East L.A. looking at murals, there must be hundreds of them. There's a large housing project along Olympic Blvd. that is particularly good. I'm also quite partial to the pig murals on the Farmer John slaughterhouse, and the long, history of California on the side of the L.A. river, which I always have a tough time finding, but I think it's near Studio City.
I love walking the staircases around Echo Park and Silverlake, there are some really astounding, hidden little walking streets.
I like taking people to different neighborhoods, eating and looking around in the markets: San Gabriel for the Hawaii and big Ranch 99 and the really gigantic Vietnamese market down on Rosemead Blvd. The Alameda Swap Meet and Mexico Plaza. The big Marukai in Gardena. Koreatown Plaza.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology is little known and a lot of fun. I'm also very fond of the new Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.
Hard to think of too much at the moment - I'm in Denver on the book tour and fairly beat from the road.
Comment by Naomi Hirahara on October 18, 2007 at 1:04am
Getting to the Orozco mural is kind of tricky. First of all, there's practically no visitor parking on the campus of Pomona College! And since the mural is in the Frary building, a student dining hall, you have to maneuver a good way to get in. (But you're a mystery writer; you can do it!) I would recommend that you go when the campus art museum is open (not Mondays). They can probably assist with parking and you also can see some preliminary drawings there of the mural.

What are some other L.A. sites that people are unaware of? Bradbury Building, for sure, and I'm partial to the Gamble House in Pasadena. The Citrus Museum in Riverside is pretty cool. The Ennis-Brown house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in Silverlake. Another favorite is the Lummis House in Highland Park. What adventurers and pioneers these people were!

Where would you take visitors who like the taste of the unconventional?
Comment by Eric Stone on October 17, 2007 at 5:01pm
I wasn't aware of the Orozco mural, I'll have to go out there to see it. Thanks for the tip. It is sad that so many tourists to L.A. miss some of the truly astounding, cultural, diverse art that is to be found in the city's far flung neighborhoods. So many people are afraid to go to Watts or East L.A. and that fear makes them miss a lot of the best that L.A. has to offer. Hooray for your pal Essie.

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