Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Jensen's Recreation Center

Anyone who has followed this blog knows by now that I'm a fan of the many rooftop signs perched atop historic buildings all over Los Angeles.  After years of neglect, some of these signs are being restored by the city.  The first to be lighted again when this process began was the bowler on Jensen's Recreation Center.

Jensen's Recreation Center, 1706 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, built in 1924.  Henry Jensen, who supplied bricks for many Los Angeles buildings, built this Italianate structure in Echo Park as a combination entertainment/retail/apartment complex.  The bowling alley and billiards parlor highlighted on the famous rooftop sign were located on the first floor of the building.

Jensen lost his fortune in the Great Depression and the sign went dark.  Over the decades, LA grew, buildings were demolished, new buildings went up, but Jensen's survived.  Though the bowling alley and billiards parlors vanished decades ago, the sign remained, and in the '90's was re-lighted.  Once again, the bowler's arm pulls back, then swings forward, the ball rolls across the sign, and the pins flash and fall. 

Store fronts still line the sidewalk, just as when Jensen built his recreation center in 1924.

The entrance to what was once the recreation center is in the center of the Sunset Boulevard facade.  Jensen included apartments in his original plan, and they're still there, up the stairs on the building's second and third floors.  This was always a mixed-use building.

The building is heavily decorated.

Jensen's Recreation Center is an LA Historic Cultural Monument.

It's a wonderful building, but there's no question the most significant attribute is that electric sign on the roof!

I promise to brush-up on my night-time photo techniques so I can capture the Jensen's sign in action next time!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I hope you have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season.  More historic buildings and neighborhoods are coming up soon! 

This reminds me of the bougainvillea that bloomed in our Miami yard.  As pretty as a Christmas tree!

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Really Good Hamburger

You get hungry when you spend the day traipsing around historic neighborhoods taking pictures of old buildings and houses!  So when it's time for a break, I go in search of the great American hamburger...and there's not better place to do that than Los Angeles.  I decided a long time ago there are more great hamburger joints in LA than in any other city.  Two of my favorites are The Apple Pan on the west side and Top's in Pasadena.  But on this trip, I decided to go back to Oinkster in Eagle Rock.

As the sign notes, the Oinkster is "slow fast food" and not just hamburgers.  They have chicken, pastrami, and pulled pork among other things.  They're also famous for their milkshakes.  But I love the burger at the Oinkster.

We got there and put in our orders.  Our timing was good, because within just a few minutes the place was jammed with people and the line got longer and longer.  That means a bit of a wait.

Finally, our food!  Not just a cheeseburger, but also fries.  They're Belgian fries, which means double fried.  Very crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.  All of the sauces including the ketchup are homemade.  Yum!  That's a big burger.  I wasn't hungry for the rest of the day!

You can eat outside too, but it was a little cool on the day we had lunch there.  We'd been to The Oinkster once before and wondered if it was as good as we remembered it.  It was.

The Oinkster, slow fast food, 2005 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA.  Worth a visit!  Next post, back to historic buildings!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nob Hill Towers

And you thought Nob Hill was only in San Francisco!  So did I, until I was exploring the West Lake/MacArthur Park area near the Bryson (see my December 10th post) one afternoon and came across this building on Ocean View Avenue.

Nob Hill Towers, 2430 Ocean View Avenue, Los Angeles, built in 1929.  This Art Deco-style apartment house is built on a hill at the corner of South Carondelet Street, a setting that is a bit reminiscent of San Francisco.  Maybe that's what inspired the name!  Apparently, you really can see the ocean occasionally on Ocean View Avenue, but that occurs only on a very clear day.  I was here on a beautiful day...but never saw the Pacific.

In route to the front door you pass an interesting little fountain...

Let's go inside.

If not lavish, the lobby is interesting and suggests a well-maintained building.  Note the metal insets in the floor, which are unusual and, I think, very striking.

I had interesting conversations with several tenants, all of whom said they enjoyed living in the building.  One fellow told me the owners had purchased the Nob Hill Towers at the height of the real estate boom, and had not been able to follow through on all of their plans for the apartments.  Still, he and the others said the apartments were nicely renovated and they had no complaints.  He suggested I go up to the 7th floor for a look at the views from the terrace...so let's take the elevator up.

When I got out on the 7th floor, I followed the young man's advice to go up one more flight of stairs on the downtown side of the building for a peek out over the rooftop which is reached through the door at the top.  As you can see, you're within walking distance of downtown LA, so the view is spectacular.

Now, back down the stairs to the 7th floor and the terrace on the opposite side of the building.  The views are equally grand.  This is looking toward Wishire Boulevard and the Bryson and Royale Wilshire just down the street.

Here's downtown Hollywood...

...and in the hills, the iconic sign that once read "Hollywoodland."

Here's the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park.

And this is the view looking up Wilshire Blvd.  The slender building that's second from the left is the top of the famous Bullock's Wilshire department store, now the home of Southwestern Law School.

But let's get back to Nob Hill Tower.  If you've read this blog for a while, you've probably figured out I have an affection for metal casement windows.  I love their look, and the broad expanse of glass that lets in so much light.  It's a good look for an Art Deco building like this one, and the Nob Hill Tower is home to ribbons of casements.

I've borrowed some photos from Rent.com to give you a look inside one of the apartments.  It's a top floor apartment with a terrace and arched windows.  As you can see, other features are hardwood floors and a fireplace. 

The apartments with those arched windows and terraces are on the top floor in this part of the building.

A tenant told me the man who built the Nob Hill Towers lived in this house across the street...

He doesn't live there anymore, and the neighborhood went into steep decline in the decades after he built his apartment tower.  Today, it's a diverse neighborhood, teeming with people, and, if a little rough around the edges in some places, very much alive.

There's an interesting mix of homes in this neighborhood: small apartment buildings, older homes which have been subdivided into rooming houses, single-family homes, and grand old apartment houses like the Nob Hill Towers.  Traipsing around it made me hungry.  Next time, I'll share one of my favorite burger joints in LA.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Hollywood Tower

Here's a building that may look familiar.  There's a reason for that.

Hollywood Tower, 6138 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles, built in 1929, architects Cramer and Wise.  The building, which was originally known as La Belle Tour, is often cited as the inspiration for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney World and Disneyland.  But this building isn't haunted...at least, I don't think it is!

The Hollywood Tower is a faux French-Normandy apartment house and was popular for many years in the entertainment industry.  By the 1980's, it had lost its sophisticated lustre and most residents were senior citizens.  Yet its location up against the 101 Freeway made it a familiar part of the Hollywood scene, notable among other things for its large neon sign.  You can only get a peek at the sign from the Franklin Avenue side...

...but will see it head-on when driving north on the Hollywood Freeway.  Disney's Tower of Terror is emblazoned with a similar sign.

The entrance to the now modernized and renovated apartment house is pure Hollywood, reached after a long walk under a canopy.

Inside, you come to a lobby that is over-the-top Hollywood.  If purple and gilt add up to glamour in your eyes, then this is a lobby made for you.  There are not a lot of the original features to see here, but at least there are comfortable places to sit and look for the ones that remain.

A resident told me the apartments are nice but, like the lobby, do not retain any vintage features.  Let's jump on the elevator and take a ride upstairs...

The hallways are as over the top as the lobby...it's best that you enjoy purple if you're going to live here.

The good thing is, if you get off at the right floor, there are rooftop terraces with views that make the trip worthwhile.

Here's the view looking south.  That's the Hollywood Freeway with downtown LA in the distance.  Not bad...

To the west is downtown Hollywood.  You can see the new W Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard,  which is across the street from the Pantages Theatre and near the corner of Vine.

And just a little further north, the Capitol Records building.  The Knickerbocker Apartments (formerly hotel) is to the right.  William Frawley (Fred Mertz) died there.  RIP, Fred.

And just in case you've lost track of where you are...

It's a memorable view whichever way you look.  Hmmmm.  I wonder who lives over there?

Back on Franklin Avenue, they've built a new building next door to the Hollywood Tower, so you can choose old or new in the same location.  In either case, you get something of the old, because the name of the addition is La Belle, the original name of the tower.

It's always worth a drive-by at night when the signs are illuminated.

I like the Hollywood Tower very much, but in a sense it's only an old building on the outside these days.  Inside, the vibe is strictly contemporary, hip and cutting edge, all of which are terrific if that's what you're looking for.  As for me....well, next time, I'll show you an LA building that I found that's less known, less polished, and a lot more fun.