Posts Tagged ‘ Architecture ’

140 Maiden Lane

On Saturday afternoon, Scott and I wandered into 140 Maiden LaneFrank Lloyd Wright‘s sole contribution to San Francisco architecture.  We were unaware of the building’s cultural significance when we entered it.  We were merely curious if the building’s interior matched its plain yet elegant exterior.  We were surprised to find an architectural marvel inside.

Visiting 140 Maiden Lane was a serendipitous detour.  I had been leading the way to Britex, my favourite fabric store, when beautiful voices beckoned.  We walked along Grant Avenue and turned left onto Maiden Lane, where a tenor and a soprano were performing for passersby.  They stood in the middle of the street.  As they sang, their operatic voices reverberated off the surrounding buildings.  We listened to several arias, and then Scott tipped the buskers as we walked past them towards Britex’s back door.  A century ago, if voices beckoned visitors onto Maiden Lane (which used to be called Morton Street), the voices likely would have belonged to prostitutes, and the visitors likely would have been johns.  The 1906 earthquake destroyed the Morton Street red-light district.  But I digress.

Across the street from Britex, a large “goop MRKT” banner fluttered in the wind above 140 Maiden Lane.  “goop MRKT” is a pop-up curation of Gwyneth Paltrow‘s lifestyle brand.  Scott told me that he had noticed 140 Maiden Lane before but it had always been closed or vacant.  The building’s tall exterior wall of tan brick is relieved by a metal gate hung below a brick arch.

As the gate was open, we walked through the arch into a lovely atrium merchandised with tasteful art, books, and clothing.  The space itself seemed to be the main attraction for many of the visitors I observed.  A large white circular ramp spirals up from the atrium to a mezzanine like a giant nautilus shell.  A drop ceiling features 120 white acrylic domes which conceal the building’s pitched glass roof.  A hanging planter floats over the atrium like a verdant flying saucer.  A small plaque near the door reads “This structure [is] designated by the American Institute of Architects as one of 17 American buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to be retained as an example of his architectural contribution to American Culture – 1960.”  Scott and I peeked behind wooden doors to find hidden offices and a decommissioned dumbwaiter.  We opened drawers full of fancy soaps for sale.  Eventually, we left and went to Britex.

The next day, I returned to 140 Maiden Lane with a prospective client.  We had hit it off while exploring the newly-renovated San Francisco Museum of Modern Art so I was happy to share this discovery with him.  He seemed taken with the black walnut built-in furniture and fixtures, so we sat in silent appreciation of our surroundings.  Before we left, I asked a clerk to tell us about the building’s history.  She told us that gift shop owner V.C. Morris commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to renovate 140 Maiden Lane in the late 1940’s, and that the circular ramp in the atrium served as a physical proof of concept for the architect’s interior design of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.  She advised us that “goop MRKT” is open at 140 Maiden Lane only until May 22, so there are a few days left to enjoy the space before it closes.

 

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Stift Melk

We recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary by cycling along the Donauradweg (Danube Cycle Path) between Passau, Germany and Vienna, Austria.  At the end of our fourth day on the road, we arrived in Melk after getting a late start in Grein where we had replaced the hard narrow saddles on our rental bikes with wide cushy saddles from a small bike shop located on the Kreuznerstrasse.  The new saddles enabled us to cycle comfortably for long stretches of time and helped cushion the blow of us losing our way in the dark while we were en route to Melk.  We realized that we had taken a wrong turn when the well-maintained bike path gave way to gravel and grass.  Our unintentional detour added a couple of kilometers (about a mile) to our journey.   Thanks to my new bike seat, I cycled this extra distance without complaint – it was worth every penny to me and Scott!  Most cyclists hit the Donauradweg at dawn so that they may arrive at their destinations by mid-afternoon.  Thus, getting lost while pedaling along the Danube River during the day is nearly impossible as the route is well-marked.  Getting lost in the dark is still rather difficult, but we managed to do so.

We were standing on a bridge when I took this photo of the Stift Melk (Melk Abbey).  It was raining, and I was tired after a long day of cycling.  Nearby, a campground full of teenagers partied on despite the rain.  As Scott consulted Google Maps to confirm the route that we would take to our hotel, I did my best to keep my camera dry as I took photos of the abbey.  The Stift Melk was founded in 1089, when Leopold II, Margrave of Austria donated a castle (which was later destroyed by fire) to Benedictine monks.  The abbey’s architecture “went for Baroque” between 1701 and 1736.

We toured the abbey before we cycled from Melk to Traismauer the next day.  The abbey’s Marble Hall, Library, and Church are wonderfully ornate.

Mentors

In bookstores, I pick up books at random and flip them open to see what phrases move me.  A copy of Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!):  How To Unleash Your Creative Potential by George Lois recently caught my eye.  Lois bills himself as “America’s Master Communicator”.  I was curious yet skeptical.  However, he had me at bon mot 113.  “Extoll your Mentors.”  This post is dedicated to three of my mentors:  Bob Lank, Sandy Thornton-Trump, and Ron Vermette.

In the past four months, I have:  quit a job; traveled with Scott to Italy, Germany, and France; renewed many friendships; visited Mama Chow in Canada; started a new job; and helped Scott move to Berkeley, where he will be working for the coming year.  A major catalyst for this frenetic cycle of good fortune is my mentor, Bob Lank.  When I lacked the confidence to leave my job for the unknown, Bob advised me to take a leap of faith.  He declared, “Helsa, this year is going to be about betting on yourself.”  I heeded his counsel and traveled to Venice, where Scott was attending a conference; I took this photo of the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco as Scott and I walked to Harry’s Bar for dinner one evening.  Bob was assigned to be my mentor during my second year of business school.  Over the years, Bob has coached me through several professional and personal transitions.  He has become my confidante and my friend.  He and his wife were guests at our Chinese wedding banquet; Scott and I have been guests at their Sunday dinners.  Now that we live 2,200 miles (3,500 km) apart, it’s difficult for us to meet for dinner but Bob always has a few words of wisdom for me each time I contemplate a job offer or move to a new city.

Sandy Thornton-Trump was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at my alma mater.  I don’t remember how we met.  I do remember the hours we spent talking in his office as I transcribed his lectures on Automotive Design, typed his correspondence, and tidied his desk.  He was visually impaired, so he needed an extra set of eyes to stay organized at work.  Even though he was blind, he could see that I felt a bit lost at the time.  He was generous with his sympathy.  Before and after I graduated from engineering school, we would meet for lunch at the Faculty Club to gossip and puzzle over the small intrigues of our lives.  We shared sorrow and joy:  he and his wife helped me to cope with my father’s death; I had the pleasure of meeting their little grandson; they vetted and approved of Scott.  The final time I saw Sandy was soon after my honeymoon.  Scott’s parents had hosted a reception on their farm to celebrate our marriage but Sandy and his wife had declined to attend.  I paid Sandy a visit and sadly found him in ill-health.  He passed away three months after our visit.

Ron Vermette was my teacher in Grade 3.  Mr. V made learning fun for me.  More importantly, he proved that it’s possible to do great work and remain true to oneself:  his long hair, Chuck Taylors, Winnipeg Jets jersey, convertible, and proficiency at air guitar were incidental to his talent for opening minds to new ideas.  He shook up my eight-year-old reverence for orthodoxy and for that I remain grateful.  He taught me how to tie-dye fabric, tool copper, and mold plaster of Paris.  I still enjoy getting my hands dirty to learn something new.  He used to print math exercises on top of cartoon characters, so that his students could colour in the cartoons as they learned to add and subtract.  I still have a collection of booklets that I wrote and illustrated in his class – he had taught me how to sew the pages together.  A couple of years ago, I wrote Mr. V and asked him if he had continued to play floor hockey, build reading caves, and make art with his students.  He responded to my note and I was happy to learn that after 33 years of teaching, he was still having fun.  He still plays floor hockey once a week and he still has a reading cave in his classroom.  He still has long hair but has “traded in the hot car for a Jeep“.  Mr. V plans to retire next year.  Before he retires, I will send him another note.

Christmas in Beverly Hills

To celebrate the first day of Mama Chow’s Christmas visit, we had lunch in Beverly Hills and did some browsing on Rodeo Drive.  Like all good tourists, we took a photo of ourselves at the fountain in front of Two Rodeo Drive.  Later in the afternoon, Santa Claus sat behind a velvet rope beside the fountain.  Parents tried to pose their frightened children on the jolly old man’s lap.  I can still hear their screams.

I took this snapshot as we walked out of Missoni at the corner of Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard.  The sun cast interesting shadows along the shop’s woven aluminum facade.

Merry Christmas!  Joyeux Noël!  Feliz Navidad!

Angels Flight

On the final night of Mama Chow’s Christmas visit, we walked to dinner at L.A. Prime atop The Westin Bonaventure where we admired the Los Angeles skyline, had a nice meal, and then fought over the bill as good Asian families do (Mama Chow won).  On our way to the restaurant I took this photo of the Angels Flight railway, which we rode up Bunker Hill from Hill Street to California Plaza.  

This photo was a happy accident.  I had set the shutter speed at 15 seconds as it was dark outside, but then I forgot to turn off the camera’s flash.  The camera captured the train in motion.  The illuminated tower that hovers over the train is Los Angeles City Hall.  City Hall, which was completed in 1928, wasn’t even around when Angels Flight was built.  A plaque mounted onto a boulder next to the train station reads: 

Built in 1901 by Colonel J.W. Eddy, lawyer, engineer, and friend of President Abraham Lincoln, Angels Flight is said to be the world’s shortest incorporated railway.  The counterbalanced cars, controlled by cables, travel a 33 percent grade for 315 feet [96 meters].  It is estimated that Angels Flight has carried more passengers per mile [1.6 km] than any other railway in the world, over a hundred million in its first fifty years.  This incline railway is a public utility operating under a franchise granted by the City of Los Angeles.

Between 1901 and 1969, the railway ran along tracks which connected Hill Street and Olive Street at Third Street.  The railway was dismantled in 1969 to make way for redevelopment and was finally re-constructed in 1996 to operate at its current location until 2001, when its gear train failed.  The railcar at the top of the hill, Sinai, hurtled down the hill and crashed into the other railcar, Olivet.  One man died and seven people were injured in this accident.  Angels Flight re-opened in March 2010 and a one-way ticket to ride now costs 25 cents.   

In the film “500 Days of Summer” (2009), the main character Tom takes his girlfriend Summer to Angels Knoll Park.  The park is his favorite spot in Los Angeles as he can look out over a number of buildings he likes, although the view is spoiled by parking lots.  Seven dots of white light shine from these parking lots in my photo.  The Angels Flight railway runs through Angels Knoll Park.

“Where The Streets Have No Name”

Bono wrote the lyrics to “Where The Streets Have No Name” after hearing a story about how a person’s address in Belfast is indicative of his or her religion and income.  In 1987, U2 filmed their guerilla video for “Where The Streets Have No Name” on the roof of the Republic Liquor Store at 7th and Main, a block from where we now live in downtown L.A.  The intersection marks the southwestern border of Skid Row, an urban wasteland where the streets have names but not much else going for them.  In 1999, the Los Angeles City Council passed an Adaptive Reuse Ordinance which enables developers to convert vacant office and commercial buildings into renovated live-work spaces.  This shift in urban policy spurred gentrification in the city’s Historic Core.  These days, transient hotels and loft conversions share the same zip codes in our neighbourhood.  A graph of gentrification vs. time for downtown L.A. would show an inflection point at x = 2010.  For the time being, the area supports the demographic diversity which Belfast lacked in Bono’s mind.

The Republic Liquor Store has given way to a 24-hour Mexican greasy spoon called Margarita’s Place.  By staging their video on a rooftop, U2 paid homage to The Beatles.  In 1969, the Beatles played atop the Savile Row roof of Apple Records.  No. 3 Savile Row in London is much more posh than 103 E. 7th St. in L.A.  At the entrance to Margarita’s Place, a sign states “No Drugs, No Drug Dealers, No Loitering, No Weapons, The Los Angeles Police Department Makes Regular and Frecuent [sic] Patrols of These Premises”.  Consider yourself warned.

During U2’s video shoot, fans lined the street in front of Dearden’s.  Dearden’s is a furniture store which recently celebrated its centenary.

The Beaux Arts-style Board of Trade Building which Bono serenaded in the video is now SB Main, a loft conversion.

Two blocks away, developers have converted the old Rosslyn Hotel into Rosslyn Lofts.  A refurbished rooftop neon sign glows with pride over the building’s original “1100 – NEW MILLION DOLLAR – HOTEL ROSSLYN – FIRE PROOF ROOMS – POPULAR PRICES”.  Bono’s fascination with the “Million Dollar Hotel” likely inspired the large replica sign that served as a backdrop for the video.  The replica was mispelled; it read “1100 – NEW MILLION DOLLAR – HOTEL ROSLYN”.

In the video, a big blue sign advertised The Cecil Hotel’s “LOW – MONTHLY – WEEKLY – RATES – 700 ROOMS” as Bono sang “I want to reach out / And touch the flame / Where the streets have no name”.  The sign is now red, and it’s been modified to promote the hotel’s “LOW – DAILY – WEEKLY – RATES – 700 ROOMS”.  Several floors of this flop house have been renovated and re-branded as Stay, a cheap and chic hotel which shares an elevator with its gritty parent Cecil.  We stayed at Stay while we were loft-hunting in downtown L.A. less than two years ago.  It was an eye-opener to ride the lift with guests who had checked out long before they checked into the Cecil.

Theme Building @ LAX

A couple of weeks ago, Scott met my flight at LAX after I flew “home” from Canada. “Home” has become an abstraction for us and many of our friends. “Home” is not necessarily a house, it’s not where we keep our stuff, and it’s somewhat exclusive of where we pay tax. In the kitchen of our loft in downtown L.A., I’ve hung two photos of the little house we own in Canada. When we first moved to America, I worried about our tenants painting our old bedroom pink. Now, I’m satisfied when our tenants send us a cheque each month. My Canadian brothers-in-law are saints: their basement in Toronto is filled with our belongings. Back in the day, American colonists cried, “No taxation without representation!” to express their resentment over being taxed by the British parliament. We happen to pay tax both in Canada and in America. Although it’s frustrating to pay tax to the Canada Revenue Agency, at least we can vote in Canadian elections. We pay state and federal tax in the U.S., but we don’t have a say in how this money is spent as we aren’t able to vote in American elections. But I digress…

We go “home” to visit family and old friends in the country that issues our passports. And then we go “home” to our spouses or partners in the country where we work and live. If we’re lucky, our spouse will meet our flight and, broken elevator be damned, carry our heavy suitcase up six flights of stairs to the car. I set up my tripod and camera on the roof of the LAX parkade to take this photo of the Theme Building.

The flying saucer-shaped Theme Building at LAX was designed by architects James Langenheim of Pereira & Luckman, Paul R. Williams, Welton Becket, and Robert Herrick Carter. Construction of this mid-century design icon in 1961 cost $2.2 million. The spidery legs of the 135 ft (41 m) high parabolic arches are made out of steel-reinforced concrete, and the crossed arches are a hollow stucco-covered steel truss. The building is now home to the Encounter Restaurant and its observation deck now offers free admission to the public on weekends.

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