joshua tree national park straddles both the colorado desert & the mojave desert in eastern california. the park was originally declared a national monument in 1936 & re-designated a national park in 1994 after congress passed the ‘california desert protection act’. taking up nearly 800,000 acres, the park itself is slightly larger than the state of rhode island. joshua tree is named for its trademark vegetation, the yucca brevifolia, which is native to the mojave desert.
I spent the morning a few days ago wandering the California Poppy Reserve, despite almost 35 mile per hour winds! The superbloom happening in Southern California right now, however, was more than worth the chapped lips & wind-whipped hair.
Put together a short video (of very wobbly windy footage) of my explorations. Look for more photos & videos from this gorgeous adventure on my instagram in the coming weeks.
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Lancaster, California is home to the most consistent blooming of the state's flower, the California poppy. The department of California State Parks does not water or stimulate the flowers in any way, instead leaving the blooms in their strictly natural state. It is against state law to remove flowers from the site & veering off the established paths can result in a hefty ticket. The traditional blooming season for California Poppies is mid-February through mid-May.
The so-called "superbloom" of 2019 was caused by an increase in rainfall during the winter months in Southern California. Parking on-site at the reserve, which is currently open 7:00am-7:00pm, is $10 per passenger vehicle, or you can opt to park on the shoulder of the road for free, provided you are at least 100 feet away from the park's entrance.
One afternoon out of sheer curiosity I decided to google the origin story of Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. At first it was unremarkable, a large tract of land donated to the city by a wealthy resident. But it didn’t take much digging to discover the strange & violent history of LA’s most famous public space. I took that curiosity & created this little short documentary exploring the weird early life of this landmark & the man who made it possible.
You can read the full narration text plus additional information (there was too much weird stuff to fit into just one 3 min video!) in my earlier blog post. & remember: the history of your local haunts is often weirder than you can even imagine.
I’ve spent the last few weeks learning the strange & sometimes sordid history of Griffith Park & it’s namesake, Griffith J. Griffith, for a short documentary I’ve been working on. As is usually the case, much of my research for the film didn’t make it into the final cut, so I thought I’d share it here along with a couple of photographs I’ve been having a fun time “vintage-ing” up. It’s fun to think of LA in a bygone era. The history of this place is especially interesting to me because LA so frequently stands in for somewhere else. Sometimes I think that means we forget it has its own quirks.
Griffith Park’s initial 3015 acres were donated to the city of Los Angeles on December 16th 1896 by the wealthy industrialist Griffith J. Griffith. He had originally purchased the land to host an ostrich farm which he intended to use to lure Los Angeles area residents to his nearby housing development.
Born in Wales in 1850 Griffith immigrated to the united states at age 15. By 1873 he was living in San Francisco & managing a local publishing company. In 1878 he became a mining correspondent for a local newspaper. He would eventually use his knowledge of mining to amass a large fortune, estimated to be upwards of 1.5 million dollars at the time of his death.
Married to Mary Agnes Christina Mesmer in 1887, he had one child, a son born in 1888.
Well known for his philanthropy, he donated the land for his eponymous park as what he called a “Christmas present” to the city. Stipulating that it must be “made a place of rest & relaxation for the masses,” Griffith told the City Council “I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happy, cleaner, & finer city.”
On September 3rd 1903 his pristine reputation was tarnished when, while vacationing in Santa Monica, he shot his wife Mary in the head. The shot did not kill her, but she was permanently disfigured & lost her right eye. Griffith was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. During his trial Mary revealed in her testimony that Griffith, who was generally thought to be a teetotaler, was actually a secret alcoholic who had frequent paranoid delusions.
He was found guilty of the lesser charge of assault & spent just two years in prison for the crime. During his incarceration, Mary was granted a divorce on the grounds of cruelty & full custody of their son. As part of the settlement, the court required Griffith to pay for the boy to attend Standford University. Mary Griffith’s divorce decree was awarded after a record breaking 4 minutes of deliberation.
In 1912, Griffith donated a large sum of money to the city of Los Angeles earmarked for the construction of an observatory, theatre, & children’s camp in the park. Because his conviction, the park council refused the donation on moral grounds. The money, however, remained in a trust until it was eventually used for the construction of the Greek Theatre in 1930 & Griffith Observatory in 1935. The theatre was initially underused & spent some time as a barracks during World War II. Griffith Observatory is perhaps one of the most well known projects of the Works Progress Administration—the New Deal project begun by FDR in the wake of the Great Depression. The observatory’s famous Astronmer’s Monument was built in connection with the Public Works of Art Project, a division of the WPA which specifically sought to employ artists for the “embellishment” of public buildings. One of the five sculptors on the project, George Stanley, was also the creator of the now infamous Oscar statuette.
Throughout his life Griffith frequently used the title “Colonel”, though there are no official military records of his having achieved this rank. His only record of service was with the California National Guard.
Griffith J. Griffith died of alcohol related liver disease in 1919, leaving the bulk of his fortune to the city of Los Angeles. He is buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Griffith Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States.
el matador beach, malibu
the ocean is angsty today. churning & brown like dirt & dried blood.
the wind blows me about like a strip of burnt fabric.
the sea birds eye me warily.
I’m wary too. raw like the charred branches left behind as skeletons in the most recent fire. I let the salt waves slip over my feet—healing I think.
I have three crystals for my heart. I let the ocean cleanse them.
may the salt purify our wound.
I walk back to my car barefoot, picking around the broken glass & sharp edged rocks. I am sharp. I’ve broken off a long forgotten bottle. the soles of my feet anticipate the prick of sudden pain. I keep walking.
I remember walking barefoot & sandy alongside the rocky road between the beach & my grandparents cabin as a child. tired & parched from the cold sun. my skin pinked from the chill of pacific. the solitary cold didn’t bother me then.
Founded in the 90’s in Berkeley, California, Amoeba Music is the world’s largest independent music chain. The San Francisco location, in the infamous Haight-Ashbury district, occupies over 24,000 square feet inside a former bowling alley. Opened in 2001, the Hollywood location on Cahuenga & Sunset Blvds instantly became a landmark, with its distinctive architecture & entire second floor dedicated to DVDs.
In 2018 Amoeba Hollywood faced eviction, as land owners decided to tear down the store to make way for a slate of luxury high rises after its lease ends in early 2019. The record giant plans to move to a new, albeit smaller, location nearby in Hollywood sometime this year.
Begun as a WPA project in 1933, Griffith Observatory opened to the public in the spring of 1935. in accordance with the will of its benefactor, Griffith J. Griffith—who donated the surrounding 3000 acres of land to the city of Los Angeles in 1896—admission to the observatory is, & always has been free. Upon its completion, Griffith Observatory was only the third planetarium in the United States. Closed for major renovations from 2002 to 2006 the observatory is one of the most recognized landmarks in Los Angeles.
Mr. Griffith donated the funds for both the observatory & Griffith Park’s Greek Theatre. His donation, however, was blocked by the park council after his image as a philanthropist was tarnished when he attempted to murder his wife in 1903. He would eventually spend only 2 years in prison for the crime. A secret alcoholic for much of his life, Griffith died of liver disease in 1919 leaving the bulk of his fortune to the city of Los Angeles.
Salvation Mountain, deep in the California desert, is what’s known as a “visionary environment” or an extensive art installation intended to express the intense personal experience of its creator. This monument, built & maintained by Leonard Knight until his death in 2014, is built of adobe, straw, & literally thousands of gallons of lead-free paint.
The philosophy of the site hinges on the Sinner’s Prayer, an evangelical Christian term referring to a prayer of repentance. In creating the mountain, Knight felt he had been called by God to share His love.
The site is now maintained by a rag-tag collection of volunteers, most of whom live in the surrounding desert area known as “Slab City”.
A census-delegated place in California’s Riverside county, Whitewater began as a watering stop for travelers on the Bradshaw Trail between San Bernadino & the Arizona Territory in 1862. Still home to a small population, Whitewater is now known for its trout farm in the Whitewater river canyon.
Due to the effects of recent wildfires, the popular swimming hole in Whitewater river along interstate 10 is closed to the public. But the signs warning of imminent flash flood danger & high penalty fines don’t stop intrepid visitors from jumping in for a refreshing dip.
the arts district is a once gritty neighbourhood on the eastern edge of LA’s downtown. formerly an industrial area with buildings that date to the early 20th century, the arts district is now home to art spaces & cafes, as well as repurposed factory & warehouse buildings.
the transformation of the area began in the mid 70’s when a group of california based artists saw potential in the empty industrial buildings & began converting them into studios & commercial spaces. by the 1980’s the city of LA created a special “artist in residence” zoning variation to regulate the often unsafe conditions of the repurposed buildings.
because much of the area was originally abandoned its rise doesn’t qualify as traditional “gentrification”, though the area’s popularity is increasing right alongside the rents on the live/work spaces it is known for. by 2014 the average annual income of arts district residents was $120,000.
sitting on the manicured sand of balboa beach in orange country, watching the fat red sun sink behind palm trees & multi-million dollar homes. a lone lifeguard stand sits empty, dusk crawling in around it.
The long stretch of I-5 south from Oregon to Los Angeles is mostly mundane. Cities & towns of varying sizes. Truck stops. Gas stations. Fast food restaurants. Here the interstate is just a means of getting from point A to point B.
But for a chunk of time you'll criss-cross a branch of the California Aqueduct. In late summer the rolling hills are golden brown from drought. The aqueduct flows over 400 miles from the Sierra Nevada Mountains all the way down to Southern California & it is the primary feature of the California State Water Project, one of the largest public water & power utilities in the world. Construction on the aqueduct began in 1963.
Somewhere along the way I came across this vista point just before sunset. I decided to stop to see if I could capture the fat weight of the sun & its rays sinking over the California hills. This is the result.
dawn + fog + boats + bridge.
after spending the night by the ocean I woke up at 4 am to make my way to the presidio to catch the early morning light on the golden gate. the fog was so thick I had to drive at a snails pace. the sky turned deep blue just before the sun came up & bleached everything white.
just after dawn I get lost in the presidio & eventually find my way out into the haight-ashbury. the streets are largely empty, with only the odd groggy commuter clutching their coffee as they wait for the walk signal. I find a parking spot half a block from the intersection of haight & ashbury, which I'm certain wouldn't be there any later in the day. the morning is cool & the fog hangs in low & heavy. my los angeles blood can't bear to be out too long. I walk a half block in each direction, taking in the multi-coloured buildings & old victorian houses. the streets are quiet. none of the shops are open. I think about the east village in new york. I think about what these places used to mean, before you had to be a millionaire to afford their wood floor apartments & local coffee shops. I think about where all the art has gone, when profit becomes more important.
spent a couple of days last week driving up the california coast. briefly stopped in san francisco to explore. between the rolling fog, the pre-sunrise wakeup call, & the getting lost in sloped narrow streets I found some interesting plant life.
Wandering the south bay under the july sun.
walking around hollywood in the afternoon summer sun.
El Matador State Beach, February 2018