Santa Monica Sniffs Around at Dog Beach Idea

Sand castle
Future dog houses on Santa Monica beach?

Will Santa Monica’s sand castles turn into dog houses? Will dogs kick sand in the faces of 98-pound weaklings on Santa Monica’s beaches? Or will the dogs end up in the pound? Those are some of the questions Santa Monica residents may be asking, after the Santa Monica City Council voted yesterday to come up with a pilot program for designating a dog beach, and to present the program to state officials in Sacramento.

Continue reading “Santa Monica Sniffs Around at Dog Beach Idea”

National Plug-In Day Event in Santa Monica this Sunday

Chevy Volts
Pair of Chevy Volts at 2011 Alt Car Expo in Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a Ground Zero for hybrid, electric, and other alternative fuel vehicles in the U.S. It’s nearly impossible to open your eyes while there and not notice at least a Prius or two. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the flagship event for this Sunday‘s National Plug-In Day will be a gathering and parade of electric and plug-in vehicles in Santa Monica.

Continue reading “National Plug-In Day Event in Santa Monica this Sunday”

L.A. Marathon This Sunday: Get Over It?

2010 L.A. Marathon finish line

The 2011 Los Angeles Marathon takes place this Sunday, largely repeating 2010’s “Stadium to the Sea” route.  Last year’s route successfully highlighted various Los Angeles area landmarks, including Dodgers Stadium, Rodeo Drive, and the Santa Monica Pier near the finish line.  However, I was at the finish line last year, and the popularity of the Marathon made things very tough on spectators there.  For example, it was nearly impossible to walk across Ocean Avenue even at points well beyond the finish line.  Additionally, the sidewalk on the East Side of Ocean Ave. was so jammed that it looked hazardous to be there.  I wondered whether it would be feasible to construct a temporary pedestrian foot bridge over Ocean using the same scaffolding materials that were used for the finish line itself (see photo at top).

The good news is that the Marathon planners apparently have taken a stab at trying to ameliorate some of the crowd congestion and pedestrian street access problems that occurred last year.  Specifically, in addition to better access for runners getting to the starting line, the finish line has been moved several blocks North down Ocean Ave.  Hopefully, this will allow for a real pedestrian crossing zone on Ocean well past the finish line, which would not interfere with the recuperating runners who have just finished the race.

If that’s the case, then I’m looking forward to an even more successful Marathon finish line party this year.

Art Supplied at Santa Monica Airport

Appropriately-named "Spaghetti Western"

Santa Monica Art Studios, housed in a former airplane hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, opened its doors this past weekend for the 6th Annual Open Studios event.  I have been to several of the six yearly events, ostensibly to support one of the artists in residence, my old friend Rachel Grynberg.  But each year I really enjoy the variety of works on display, and the ability to meet the artists and their representatives.  This year’s event did not disappoint.

Artist Rachel Grynberg in her studio

The hangar, including a front space (the “Arena 1 Gallery“), a couple of hallways, and over 30 studios, was lined with artwork that ranged from a giant Clint Eastwood-clad Barilla spaghetti box to paintings, prints, photos, and much more.  The Arena 1 space was occupied with a show entitled F-Utility (with a dot, not a dash), curated by artist Oona Gardner and displaying a number of pieces and images from a variety of artists, including Julie Schustack, Mark Moskovitz, and Matt Monroe.  Moskovitz’ You Are Here series of digital prints was a result of something that would be right at home on blogging.la: the Cleveland-area artist took an east-west run from the Highland Park area to the Santa Monica Pier and back — over 30 miles — and took snapshots of what he saw along the way.

Julie Schustack's "Piano Vise" -- a working music player

Monroe’s Frontier also picked up the travel theme, but in a different way.  His piece — the most noticeable of the entire event — was a full-size covered wagon made from plastic IKEA items, including shower curtains, baseball bats, ice trays, and toy guns.  Imagine how America would have been different if the pioneers had been able to stock up at IKEA before their trek westward, and neatly store their items in large plastic tubs.

"Frontier" by Matt Monroe

I also had an interesting conversation with Andrea Lithgow, artist and proprietor of the Dandy Jewelry mini-shop arranged on a couple of tables at the back of the hangar.  Andrea makes and sells beautiful glazed ceramic jewelry, including bracelets, necklaces, and more. Her pieces are hand-made yet “mass produced”: even though many pieces were similar looking, no two were identical.

Andrea Lithgow of Dandy Jewelry

Whether you want to contemplate art vs. commerce, are in the mood to buy some fascinating pieces (reasonably priced, compared to what I have seen at other art events), or just gaze at the glaze, Santa Monica Art Studios should be on your list.  The Arena 1 F-Utility show in particular will continue at the Studios through November 20.

Santa Monica Place Perfects the Shopping Mall as Public Space

This may be one of the few times in history where people say “good riddance!” to the gutting and rebuilding of a Frank Gehry building, and the architect himself agrees.  As Gehry explains in the fascinating documentary “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” the Santa Monica Place shopping mall was one of Gehry’s first commercial projects, and he hated it.  However, Gehry, who needed the gig, delivered what the client wanted.  When Gehry later complained to a colleague about the mall, his friend suggested that Gehry strike out on his own and design the kind of buildings that were true to his own vision.  And that’s exactly what Gehry did.

View to Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Mountains

I don’t know what Frank Gehry thinks about the newly redesigned Santa Monica Place, but, after two visits there with out-of-town visitors during the past week, I’m thoroughly impressed.   Whereas the old mall was an unattractive appendage at the foot of the Third Street Promenade, the new mall is a natural extension.  Feminine in feel, it invites with rounded shapes and a dizzying yet tasteful array of sleek surfaces, such as wood, glass, and steel, that somehow fit together perfectly.  It draws visitors down a long straight corridor, then opens up into a beautiful curved open atrium.  Let’s face it — the new Place is sexy.

Gazebo-like dining booths are almost too nice for a mall

When I first starting walking around and photographing the new Santa Monica Place, I was struck by the high-quality materials and the variety of eateries on the top level.  These eateries include the prettiest glass-walled food court I have seen, the Sonoma Wine Garden (we ate there twice last week, sitting outside on sofas overlooking their herb garden — delicious), Pizza Antica, Ozumo Japanese cuisine, and more. Then I was drawn to the view of the Ocean and the Ferris wheel at the Pier that can be seen from the west end.  But within minutes, I became captivated by the amount of seating spaces and how well they were being used.

Inside the food court

The Place is now a a fabulous public space.  Its circular design draws people inside and lets them look at and relate to each other.  Interesting, organically shaped seating fosters both interaction and individual contemplation.  One chap told me that he was receiving a clear free WiFi signal, and, indeed, a number of people on laptops were peppered among the three levels.

View from west (2nd Street) side. Top of Pier Ferris wheel visible between the flowers.

Suddenly, everything else feels old.  When my visitors and I went to the similarly open-air Century City shopping mall a couple of days later, I was struck by how outdated and claustrophobic its winding walkways felt in comparison.  Likewise, the straight shot of the Promenade suddenly seems utterly conventional.

I’m not a shopper, but I can report that Santa Monica Place is anchored by Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, as well as a huge Nike store.  I was told by reliable authorities (i.e., a couple of women I know who are black belt shoppers) that the selections in these anchor stores are aimed at a younger, hipper crowd than those at some of their other locations.  In addition, posh boutiques such as Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany and Co. are present.  The stores and their display windows are beautiful.

What do they say in the real estate biz about location? It’s difficult to imagine a better one for Santa Monica Place.  In the new topless version, the sunlight abounds, the sea breeze keeps customers cool, and the area is of course a magnet for both tourists and locals.  Parking also seems to be adequate, both at the Place and at the nearby municipal parking decks on 2nd and 4th streets, at least one of which is just a few steps across Broadway.  There are nearby bus stops, and, if things go as planned, the terminus of the new Expo rail line will be just across Colorado Avenue.  I wonder whether the Place will draw tourist dollars away from the Promenade,  or even from other upscale shopping destinations, such as Beverly Hills.  My guess is that the Place’s eateries will teem with both tourists and local businesspeople, but that, until the economy turns around substantially, most of those upscale stores won’t ring up too many sales.

Criticisms? The only one I can muster is that the middle level, blocked from above, suffers from too little sunlight.  But when you reap so many of Mother Nature’s benefits, you have to take the bad with the good.  Perhaps a few skylights would solve the problem.

Now, I know that, as successful public spaces go, Santa Monica Place is just a shopping mall.  It’s not a park.  It’s not the Piazza Navona.  But check back with with me and Frank Gehry in two or three hundred years, and we’ll see.

Sweet Summer Nights at the Santa Monica Pier

Yup.  Every Thursday this summer (and lots of summers past!) the Twilight Dance Series is rockin’ at the Santa Monica Pier.  Grab your honey, your friends or both, bring a blanket and some deliciousness to imbibe and it’s a guaranteed good time on the sand.

I’ve made it a point to hit it at least a couple of times every summer and it has never disappointed!  You can dance, you can just lay back and listen, you can ride the Ferris wheel under the stars, you can lay out on the sand with hundreds of other revelers…. it’s all good.  Starts at seven every Thursday.  Tonight features Jovanotti, an Italian Superstar crooner.  August 5th, Ricki Lee Jones is playing!  More info here.

There’s also bike valet parking for free if you want to wheel down without gas.  Thank you Santa Monica!

Santa Monica Nixes Food Truck Confab – but you can help

Yet another example of (borrowing from the estimable Mr Jalopy) Going Out Of Business In LA:   The Santa Monica Food Truck Debacle of 2010.

It was only a matter of time before someone came up with the idea of “hosting” a few of the popular gourmet food trucks (PLEASE don’t call them Roach Coaches!), creating a rotating hub of deliciousness.

The corner of Santa Monica and 14th was just such a hub, and the magic lasted all of about one day before the City showed up wanting their piece of the pie (or bite of a grilled cheese, or taco, or brisket, or whatever).   The location had its soft open on Monday (Yay, Pete, getting in there!) with India jones, Barbie Q’s, Fishlips, and the Grilled Cheese Truck, and was closed down on Tuesday.

Barely one whole day of operations.

Tuesday’s lineup was supposed to be FrySmith, Barbies Q, India Jones and Dainty Cakes.   The City claims the property owner doesn’t have the right food service paperwork on file. Nevermind all the individual trucks have it – Hey the whole state’s broke – Let’s tax the hell out of small businesses trying to get new ideas off the ground, even if it puts them out of business in the process.

I get it – local brick-and-mortar restaurants are feeling the threat from these trucks. To which I respond, “Free Market, Baby!”  Let the market be free already.

Pissed off? Hungry?

Email the Santa Monica City Council at [email protected] and [email protected]. Don’t forget to CC the food truck lot guy at [email protected].

Follow the food truck lot guy via Twitter, all you Twitterers —

See you at Santa Monica and 14th — I hope!

Super cute “no smoking” posters set to nauseate entire city

cutenosmokeAt first, I thought I was looking at a sale flyer for Pavillions.

Not being a smoker, I usually find second-hand smoke annoying in outdoor dining areas at restaurants, on beaches and at other public spaces. But do I need a cutesy ad campaign with precious graphics and copy to announce that smoking is a big fat no-no?

How about a simple, official-looking “No smoking allowed under penalty of law” sign instead of this silly poster campaign that the city of Santa Monica is spending $150,000 to execute? (There are four other versions.)

Instead of stating forthrightly that smoking in an area is illegal, why make it seem like it’s an option if you’re really not in the mood for yucky asparagus?

In 2007, Santa Monica banned smoking in most popular public spaces, like the Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park. The ban also applies to outdoor common areas such as bus stops, ATM lines, local beaches and 20 feet from the entrances of any public building.

In 2008, the law was extended to include restaurants’ outdoor dining and waiting areas.

In today’s NY Times, Adam Radinsky, Santa Monica’s deputy city attorney, says he thinks the cuteness  factor is “playful, a fun type of campaign, not too much the government telling you what to do, not too Big Brother-ish.”

I like to think I’m as liberal as the next Whole Foods shopper, but is a touchy-feely, Sesame Street approach to enforcing laws supposed to inspire confidence in government?

Annenberg Foundation Gives Santa Monica Just What it Needs: A Beach House

img_1462Like the sand castles being built in the competition on the beach a few yards away, Santa Monica‘s new Annenberg Community Beach House, which held its grand opening last Saturday, is spectacular-looking and largely useless.  To take the analogy further, the grand opening also featured free flavored ice cooler snacks that tasted sweet but had little nutritional value, and Cirque du Soleil performers walking on stilts and wearing wispy costumes. 

The Beach House facility cost almost $35 million, of which $27.5 million came from the Annenberg Foundation.  The remaining money, according to the Foundation, is from an “innovative public/private partnership between the Annenberg Foundation, California State Parks and the City of Santa Monica, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Preserve America Program.”  The “Preserve America” portion apparently pertains to the former Marion Davies house that is part of the facility, and which was open for tours on Saturday.  The Beach House is made with first-rate materials, such as wood, steel, glass, and concrete.  It’s clean, modern-looking, and beautiful.  I just can’t figure out what it does.

Annenberg lays the Foundation, after the jump

Annenberg Community Beach House Opens

Annenberg Community Beach House
Annenberg Community Beach House

After 10 years of planning and development the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica will finally open its doors to the public on Sunday, April 26. No membership required! The pool will be open starting weekends in May.

To celebrate the grand opening, the Annenberg Community Beach House is hosting a grand opening celebration on Saturday, April 25 featuring a performance by Ofrom Cirque du Soleil and tons of other activities including the unveiling of the 36 x 27 Stories of Santa Monica Beach photo exhibit. Continue reading “Annenberg Community Beach House Opens”

Find Love Of The Four-Legged Variety This Weekend

Looking for something to do this Valentine’s Weekend as an alternative to buying overpriced, unnecessary gifts, candies, flowers, and meals? Not that there is anything wrong with all of that, if that’s what you’re into. However, if you’re looking to spend your pennies on something that’s possibly more meaningful and will also bring some love into your life, you might want to check out The Bill Foundation’s “Have a Heart” dog adoption on Sunday.

The Bill Foundation is responsible for saving the lives of thousands of dogs in L.A. since its inception in 1998. It is a non-profit organization that is solely run by the tireless work of volunteers. This weekend’s event will highlight some of their “harder-to-place and special needs dogs,” who so very desperately need the care and safety of a forever home. Through my own personal experience with a troubled former street turned shelter dog, I can tell you that there is something really special and unique about rescuing this type of pet. The unconditional love and gratitude are both palpable and oh so worth it.

Read on for more event information

Santa Monica City Council Member and Former Mayor Herb Katz Dead

Sad news is rippling through Santa Monica today, as residents hear that City Council member, former Mayor, architect, and popular local figure Herb Katz has died after a long illness.   Herb was involved in public service in Santa Monica for decades, serving twice as Mayor Pro Tempore, once as Mayor, and twice as a member of the Santa Monica City Council, a post he held until his death.  He was also the president of RTK Architects, which was responsible for numerous projects around the Los Angeles area, including Playa Vista Studios, Granada Hills Elementary School, and various office buildings, car dealerships, and retail establishments.  He never let illness slow him down.

Herb could just as likely be seen at Santa Monica’s Joslyn Park with his dogs as at a public event.  I have fond memories of spending the day with him in June 2007 at the Eames Case Study House in Pacific Palisades, to celebrate the 100th birthday of Charles Eames.

I don’t know any details yet about a memorial service, but I know the outpouring will be huge for this beloved man.  Condolences to his wife Brenda and to his family.

Santa Monica Yuppie Scum Death Battle Overflows onto New York Times Front Page

Today’s New York Times has an article, apparently on the front page, about a heated battle taking place in Santa Monica.  It’s gotten so bad that the police now have to maintain a constant presence.  The issue?  Whether or not Santa Monica’s yuppie fitness maniacs may use the grassy median at the north end of 4th Street to practice their Pilates, do their yoga stretches, and work with their personal trainers.

Hop to the next step