As we came down the impassible sidewalks Stan addressed Ana and I thusly, “I’m kind of hungry. How do you feel? It’s almost nine and I haven’t eaten”.
“It’s almost nine?” I said incredulously.
“Yeah, it is. Time goes by real fast on these Art Walks,” Stan explained.
“I could stand a bite,” said Ana with feminine reserve.
“I’m definitely hungry. That’s why I was at the back of the gallery risking swine flu at the table with the crackers and dip,” I said enthusiastically.
“Should we go to the Nickel Diner?” asked Stan. “Have you been to the Nickel Diner?” he continued, looking at us both considerately. “It’s right over here,” gesturing with an open hand outstretched in a diagonal line from the near intersection.
Ana said she hadn’t, as did I, but I added: “I read your review of it though…sounds good.”
We were all in agreement as we reached the corner of Spring and 6th and turned toward Main. This would be the second restaurant I would patronize in one day Stan had recommended in his blogs. Ana engaged the horde charismatically, making pleasant conversation and gently suggesting Downtownster as she disbursed handbills. Meanwhile, our progress was impeded, and our hunger increased, as Stan kept running into people he knew and exchanged catch-up type pleasantries with each. As we reached a crowd-abated area of sidewalk beside a wrought iron-gated parking lot, I noticed the sensational Santa Fe Lofts: the beautifully restored 1916 William G. Kerckhoff Building at the corner of 6th and Main.
This gorgeous, early 20th century structure was erected in honor of the famous German American lumber and electric power magnate credited with building the first oil-fueled seaworthy vessel built in the U.S. (for the purpose of transporting his lumber). He died in 1929 and, in 1933, the Santa Fe Railroad Company, who had been the principle tenant, purchased the building and changed the name. The ten-story building is painted brick red except for the natural, white terra cotta lintels and frames of the windows of the 14-foot, high-ceilinged lofts. The architectural style is known as Beaux Arts, a neoclassical movement heavily influenced by ancient Roman, Renaissance and Rococo design and promulgated by Parisian institutions in the late 19th century. The great French writer Emile Zola referred to it as “the opulent bastard of all styles”. It was popular until 1920 in this country. This building is a beautifully restrained example. On the bottom floor which, like most of the commercial buildings of the historic district is two stories high, there is a modern storefront conversion. The business is called Pussy and Pooch and the signage features illustrations of a cat and a dog to avoid confusion with another category of business. The front door bears the clever motto, under the business’s name, “pethouse • pawbar • bathhouse”, without a picture to cover the secondary double entendre.
We turned onto Main and, as we passed the Santa Fe Lofts, a unique view of the great, late 20th century downtown skyline became visible. Richard Keating’s Southern California Gas Tower (1991) that resembles a giant ship’s hull made of glass placed on top of a rectangular granite monolith stands just in front of the U.S. Bank Tower, the city’s most recognizable building. Constructed in 1987, the Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners design is always used in what is called “ an establishing shot” in movies, those aerial views of city-specific sites that let the audience know where the story is taking place. Too bad about the hideous, 75-foot high U.S. Bank signs that since 2004 have marred the beauty of the crown-shaped roof line. Formerly known as the Library Tower, it is the tallest building west of the Mississippi River in the U.S. Further, it is the tallest building in the world built in a seismically active zone. It is designed to withstand temblors up to 8.3 in magnitude on the Richter Scale. According to seismologists, we are at least 50 years overdue for an 8.0 magnitude earthquake in southern California.
Right about the center of the block, between 6th and 5th, we came to the Nickel Diner, a small, quaint café that largely looked like it had been dressed by a set decorator for a 1930’s period film. The hostess, Destiny, a slender and pretty blond twenty-something with a short hairstyle, told us there was “about a half-hour wait” for the next table. Stan, the ever-savvy denizen, proposed: “We’ll just sit here, if it’s alright”.
“Oh, you’d like to sit here! Absolutely,” Destiny replied.
Although there were people at every table, Stan explained that the two high tables by the entrance are community tables that seat up to five. As there were only two people at the second table, a pair of women in their mid-thirties who dressed as if they had similar sensibilities, Destiny brought another barstool and menus followed immediately. (Dear reader, notice I did not say, “Destiny brought another stool”, although it was tempting, I didn’t want to ruin your appetite.) Ana sat on the left, Stan across from her and I at the end of the table, on Destiny’s stool. Stan took a phone call and excused himself from the table; Ana and I regarded the menu.
“What looks good to you?” asked Ana.
“Well, I really don’t know. Stan said the Ahi tuna sandwich was really good in his review and I think I’m going to go for that,” I replied.
“That looks good to me too.” (Then, there was a cellular ringtone.) “Excuse me…do you mind if I take this call here?” Ana asked thoughtfully.
She was trying to give directions to her friend, Anna, who was en route to meet us. Stan returned and Ana confirmed with him his appreciation of the Ahi sandwich. Our waitress, a diminutive and energetic young woman who did not disclose her name, took our order. We all ordered the Ahi sandwich with onion rings (Stan’s recommended accompaniment). Ana and I opted for whole wheat, Stan went à la maison (on a hamburger bun). Another call for our tour guide ensued immediately thereafter. It was Brianna, making her third attempt to locate and meet up with us. We would find out later that Stan had mistakenly told her we were on Broadway, rather than Spring, in their earlier conversations. This convergence of women with the “anna” sound in their names seemed strangely portentous. If all went according to plan, Ana, Anna and Brieanna would soon be in our company.
The sandwiches arrived, all medium rare slabs of premium tuna. Because of the resemblance of the fish on the diagonally cut bread, I was reminded of the scene in The Contender where the President cajoles the freshman Representative into sharing a shark sandwich with him while walking through the White House. He says, “What, you’re not going to break bread with your President?” Then he goes on to say one of the great perks of his job is that he can phone his chef at any hour and have him prepare anything he wants. For the duration of this Art Walk tour, Stan had something of a presidential air.
The sandwiches, served with a spiced aioli, were especially delicious given our heightened appetites.
As Stan held forth on various topics at the Nickel Diner he hit upon the subject of men from the West Side of a certain age. While he shared stunning, writerly observations on these aging metrosexuals, I was reminded of what makes good writers good. We had observed a man with a Robert Evans-like appearance (The Kid Stays in the Picture) while wending our way through the crowded sidewalks. That is to say a white man, unnaturally tanned, bespectacled and attired in young man’s clothes. Stan and I put him at early to mid-fifties; Ana thought he was in his mid-sixties. Stan went on to delineate all that is necessary to achieve this effect. He talked about the daily workout regimen, the tanning booth time, the type of jeans the man wore and even the brand of hip eyeglasses he likely sported. Then he explained the part-time job-like hours that were taken up weekly in this pursuit. It was the reversal of the plot from The Portrait of Dorian Grey. I told him that his take on this subject merited a feature length magazine article in a publication such as Vanity Fair.
This led into a round of remorseful confessions in which we all admitted our respective weights had fluctuated in the less desirable direction in the not-too-distant past. I hit on that silly conversation about carb consumption even as I was enjoying the toasted oat-encrusted bread and onion rings. Stan said he had gained 30 pounds from his best shape, Ana said she had also gained 30 pounds since she was in an accident that made her usual exertions impossible, until recently. I could not imagine how someone who looked as good as she could be 30 pounds lighter. She must have been thinner than Destiny. Since last November, I have gained 15 pounds and I had been just six pounds north of my goal weight. “Your weight and your fate, right here!” as Delroy Lindo’s character said in Heist.
Finally, I got to query Stan on the experience of being a gallery owner. He had said a couple of times during our stroll that he really missed having a gallery and that he’d like to do it again. He told us he had operated his own gallery in Beverly Hills. I asked if he had ever shown an artist who went on to become famous and successful. He said he had. A Chinese calligraphy artist named Tang, whose work he exhibited, became one of the leading proponents of that medium at a time when its popularity in this country was at its zenith. Coincidentally, a few days later, on an episode of Yan Can Cook on KCET, Yan featured a Chinese calligrapher in an effort to show the relationship between visual art and the culinary arts. Chinese is a pictographic language, like hieroglyphics, if you will, and the cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” applies. In three symbols, which would require a paragraph in English, the writer/artist conveyed the look, the feel and the mood of a seascape at a specific moment.
Stan also disclosed that he knew Miles Davis through showing his artwork in his gallery. This practically sent me reeling because, to me and many others, Miles has the most god-like stature of any composer/musician of the postwar era.
As we were finishing our repast Brieanna Radford, Downtownster’s art writer, whom I had been looking forward to meeting, arrived. Brieanna is a vivacious, feminine sprite with flawless skin and silky, beige hair just below her shoulders. Her eyes had a pleasant, twinkling intensity as she mildly scolded Stan for his inaccurate directions. Newly married and just returned from her honeymoon, she had recently suffered a car theft with the added bonus of having her laptop stolen. She hadn’t backed up her hard drive with an external storage device. To a writer that’s devastating. It made me think of Malcolm Lowry who had the only manuscript of his novel Under the Volcano destroyed when his house burned down. This book was his masterpiece and is considered to be one of the best English language novels of the 20th century. That is, of course, after he wrote it for the second time, from memory. The car was recovered basically unharmed but none of its cash-convertible contents, including the loose change.
During the time the bill was being settled Anna arrived. Another woman with a beautiful complexion, she had an Italianate Renaissance look a little like the Mona Lisa but with dark blond hair. The five of us assembled outside by the A-frame, 5¢Diner-logoed sidewalk-sign, fed, refreshed and ready to press on. We continued on Main heading for 5th. At the corner we saw the sardine-tight Pharmaka gallery and agreed that it was impenetrable. Too bad, because it is a wonderful art gallery. Just beyond the Main Street Grill we came to our destination, a parking lot appropriated for Art Walk street vendors and artists.
I found this space difficult as it was nearly at maximum occupancy, though I have to recommend it to downtownsters on account of the pretty good reggae band with a credible vocalist, an electric guitarist, a keyboardist and a percussionist who played the unusual combination of congas and a hi-hat. They were very laid back and played with a lot of feel. Unfortunately they were at ground level in the midst of a milling crowd. I think any band that plays here in the future is deserving of an elevated platform. If there was any good visual art, it was too hard to see (especially since it was now after dark). This area was mostly a craft fair: a series of tables with jewelry, crystals, posters, reproductions, objets d’art and other collectibles, etc. Also, there were several food vendors, including a specialty cookie bakery that had provocative names for their products. I thought the cookie guys needed to proffer samples (or work in concert with pot dealers) to promote sales. There was a vast array of papier-mâché and ceramic Dia de Los Muertos-themed pieces from Mexican artisans I thought were worth buying at their reasonable prices. I later met Claude Rallins, an artist and website designer, who was there selling limited edition (300 examples) wine glasses etched with a downtown skyline taken from an image he created. Mr.Rallins, an African-American, is a Chicago native who was raised in an orphanage and has interesting philosophical views. I was glad to learn he shares a profound regard for the music of Miles Davis. Very shortly after arriving at the “art lot” I got disconnected from my intoxicating estrogen fix, (the “Anna’s”), and my downtown guru. Anticipating this possibility, Stan had given me my ticket for the after-Art Walk party and, after waiting on the sidewalk for 15 minutes in front of the parking lot, I surmised my companions had departed before me. (It turned out I was wrong.)
I lit out down Main Street in the direction of higher-numbered streets. Between 6th and 7th, I came upon a wonderful small gallery called Arty beside the Cecil Hotel. It had an excellent two-woman show with remarkable variety as each artist worked in many media including paint, watercolor, photography and film. They are only open on Art Walk Thursday and by appointment. Their upcoming show will also be a two-woman affair (no pun intended) featuring the work of the Owner/Curator Catherine Coan. The pieces she is presenting are assemblage sculptures, plus one installation, under the title Canary Suicides. She told me, in all seriousness, these birds are prone to depression in captivity. The Arty gallery has a gargoyle that seems to be peering down directly at it from the ninth floor of Board of Trade building. It is a modified griffin, one of three identical ones on the street-facing cornices of this incredible neo-classical 1929 building at the corner of 7th and Main.
I walked back up to Spring and turned left to look for the after-party at The Globe theater, aka Club 740, named for its address on Spring Street. I explored this remarkable vintage theater-cum-nightclub for a half an hour before Brieanna arrived with her husband and, ten minutes later, Stan with Ana and Anna. Club 740 has a great ambience with two semi-circular galleries overlooking a round dance floor and a massive picture-frame stage. There are a lot of theatrical plaster decorations painted gold to mimic classic architectural flourishes and two semi-circular boxes close to the stage. It was these boxes that gave Stan and I the same idea, in different contexts for a work of fiction. I saw it as a detective yarn and Stan as a screenplay. The theater boxes were a perfect place for a fictional murder. This idea was enhanced by the narrow staircases, dimly lit, exclusive to their access. The ceiling on the main floor must be close to 50 feet high. There is a labyrinth of hallways and stairs leading to idiosyncratic spaces all over the building. There are three bars on the main floor, a bar on first gallery level and a bar in the vast basement. By ten o’clock, many other of Stan’s friends and associates arrived including the estimable writer Shannon Logan. Shannon has the athletic look and very clear whites-of-the-eyes of someone in peak condition. Her shiny, slightly wavy, dark brunette locks frame her porcelain face and she wears retro, eyeglasses in black Lucite shaped like cat’s-eyes. There were seven bands scheduled to play for the MusicUnion gig but it was ten-thirty and time for me to head back to the barn. Too bad I didn’t get the chance to socialize more with the DTster staff. This was the second time I’ve seen Shannon and we haven’t exchanged more than a few brief sentences. Further pity I could not stay and hear the bands.
My first Downtown LA Art Walk was over. To write about it however, I knew I’d have to come back. The Art Walk, to me, was a time to find out where the galleries are, and to socialize in and among crowds, it wasn’t a great time to view the art itself. When I did return, I discovered more than I had hoped. Of special note is a poetry reading series at one of the other galleries, Pharmaka. My next article is dedicated to the experience of wandering into Pharmaka and discovering the Third Area poetry series, where four highly accomplished literary artists were reading their work.
To anyone who is going on the June Art Walk I recommend the three galleries on Spring mentioned in this article (Parts One and Two): the Hive, g727 and Infusion Gallery. Also, just as strongly the two above mentioned galleries on Main: Pharmaka (but get there before 5 pm) and Arty.