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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Gardena, the South Bay's City of Opportunity

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 8, 2010 01:00pm | Post a Comment

A typical street in Gardena with strong Japanese character

This here entry’s about Gardena. To vote for other Los Angeles County communities to be the subject of future entries, click here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

 

Gardena (in Japanese, ガーデナ; in Korean, 가데나 ) is located in the South Bay or South LA region, depending on your definition. It's a bit odd to consider it South Bay, since it's not on the water. However, there's a perception that it's unlike the rest of South LA, which is erroneously thought of as being much more homogenous than it is.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Gardena

surrounded by the slender Harbor Gateway to the east and south, Torrance to the southwest, Hawthorne to the northwest, West Athens to the north, and Alondra Park to the west. In recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (and on account of it being voted for by readers), I took the CARDIS on a trip, joined by first time traveling companions Matt and Cheryl. We got some eats (‘n’ drinks) at Azuma and Furaibo, some groceries and goods at Marukai, and deeply inhaled the strawberry scented (and hot) air in Sanrio Surprises.

  
                                    Rancho San Pedro                                                          William Starke Rosecrans

In 1784, a Spaniard, Juan José Dominguez, was given a portion of land in reward for his military service which was named Rancho San Pedro in what was formerly a Tongva hunting and fishing area. Anyway, it passed into the hands of the Mexicans afterward, and ultimately was taken by the US. The first Anglo settler was mostly a Civil War veteran, Ohioan William Starke Rosecrans, who established Rosecrans Rancho there in 1869. In 1887, he was followed by another veteran, Kentuckian Spencer R. Thorpe. The name "Gardena" is said to have been proposed by Thorpe's daugher, Nettie.

  

That year, a railway line to Gardena was established and over the next couple of years, many more Anglos came to ranch and farm in the area.


Los Angeles and Redondo Railway

In 1904, Englishman John Bodger established Sweet Pea Farm in the town, then home to 1,000 residents. Another large portion of the farmers and gardeners were Japanese who'd mostly arrived from Hawaii.


Due to the acres of berry farms, the city was nicknamed "Berryland" and there used to be an annual Strawberry Day Festival and Parade. Although the Laguna Dominguez slough and channel fed the area and gave it its green character, it was filled in in the 1920s. Nonetheless, Gardena today still boasts several nurseries and parks that reflect its past. Gardena [along with the neighboring communities of Strawberry Park (to the northwest) and Moneta (to the south)] was incorporated into the City of Gardena in 1930.


Japanese-Americans have long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles. J-Towns have sprung up around the Southland in Torrance, Boyle Heights, Monterey ParkPasadena, San Pedro, Terminal Island, Compton, Long Beach and Sawtelle, and Gardena (although, as far as I know, only two have acquired nicknames that reflect their Japanese-ness, Little Tokyo and Little Ōsaka).


Gardena Buddhist Church

In 1911, the Japanese Association founded the Moneta Japanese Institute. After the end of Japanese internment, many J-towns disappeared, but in Gardena, many Japanese-Americans returned to their former home after regaining their freedom. In the 1970s and '80s, Gardena saw a massive influx of even more Japanese. Today, at over 60,000 residents, Gardena still has a strong Japanese and Pacific Islander presence, making up roughly 27% of the population. Gardena is also approximately 25% black, 12% white and 32% Latino. Mexican and Japanese are the main ethnicities.


Tozai Shopping Center

Gardena is widely known for its Japanese food but, as this list of Gardena eateries suggests, there is a variety to be found at joints and there are a lot of Korean eateries, Hawaiian joints and BBQ places. Some of the better known restaurants and other food-related places include Azuma, Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi, Ahsah, Ana's La Gran Fonda, California Fish Grill, Jay-Bee's House of Fine Bar-B-Que, Kanpachi, Rascals Teriyaki Grill, Kau Kau Korner, Sushi Boy, Kiraku Ramen, El Rocoto, California 90, Pho Gardena, Pho So 1, Pho Long, Sakuraya, Meiji Tofu, Chikara Mochi, Giuliano's, Sakae Sushi, Polla a la Brasa, MamMoth Bakery, Jade's Bakery, La Villa, Bruddah's, Spoonhouse Bakery, Otafuku, Sea Empress, California Rice Center, Umemura, Daruma Izakaya, Akane Chaya, Kotohira, Classic Burger, Old Time Noodle House, Furaibo, Burnt Tortilla, Rainbow Donuts, A Taste of Jamaica, Fish City, Big Star Cafe, Tokyo Grill, Tottino's, La Perla and the Murakai Supermarket.


Pacific Garden Mall  


...and yes, the Pacific Garden Hotel for the overnight shopper

Today, much of Gardena's character remains, not surprisingly, green and Japanese, as evinced by Sanrio Surprise, Hide's Shiatsu, Pacific Square Shopping Center, Tozai Shopping Center, Masfukai Park and the Gardena Buddhist Church (established in 1926).

Nightlife in evidence takes place mostly at bars like Club Momo, Gaku, Moa, Wild Card, Yes, The Desert Room, Club Diva, The Aloha Room, Celeb, Ray's Place, Marty's and A Sung. Of course, there's karaoke at 501 Music Studio, Suzuran, Donna's, Fantasia, Daruma Izakaya and Sing Sing, for those interested in checking out the local music scene.


The most famous musician born in Gardena is not an aspiring karaoke singer, but rather noted jazz saxophonist Art Pepper. In other Jazz-in-Gardena news, in August the city hosts The Gardena Jazz Festival. The only rock band that I know of from Gardena is The Pretty Kittens, an all-girl rock band in the 1960s.


And although Bookoff is mostly about books (with a huge Manga section), they also had a pretty impressive selection of Japanese Dramas and film, as well as a bafflingly organized music selection. Even Matt, a librarian by trade, could not figure out the system, but we did eventually find the Judy and Mary CD we were looking for. As Cheryl was rung up, the cashier put her money in bowl and said something in Japanese. Cheryl nodded although none of us understood what was going on.






Amoeba Hollywood boasts a pretty impressive collection of Japanese Cinema but nothing compared to the rental store Video Japan. As Cheryl perused the horror films (note to Cheryl: High School Killer), Matt waxed philosophical about Japanese actress Sora Aoi.


Gardena’s been a shooting location for several films. For the years it existed, The Ascot Park Speedway was featured in films quite often, appearing in Roar of the Crowd; the Bowery Boys film, Jalopy; the Elvis film, Spinout; as well as the Jack Hill film, Pit Stop; Gone in 60 Seconds; A Very Brady Christmas; and an episode of CHiPs. Ascot was also the site of the annual USAC Turkey Night Grand Prix midget race on Thanksgiving. It was closed in the 1990s and fewer films have been shot in Gardena ever since.


Gardena Boulevard back in the day

Other film locations include the Marine/Redondo Green Line station, which was seen in Heat, and The Pet Haven Cemetary & Crematory served as The Happier Hunting Grounds in The Loved One. H.B. Halicki was obviously a fan of Gardena. He premiered Gone in 60 Seconds and also filmed portions of The Junkman there. Gardena was also featured in Ed Wood, Mulholland Dr., Run if You Can, Money to Burn, The Abominable..., Fragments (aka Winged Creatures), the Deborah Gibson vehicle Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, The Grind, Flossin and Palmer Chandler's Kitchen Catastrophes. Actor Toby Holguin was born in Gardena. Gardena has been featured on TV a couple of times, once an episode of Hot Rod TV and once on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which featured Jay-Bee's in the episode "Real Deal BBQ." One of the radio station call-ins in CB4 was from a listener in Gardena too.



*****


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Claremont, the City of Trees and PhDs

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 20, 2010 07:13pm | Post a Comment
This blog entry is about the city of Claremont. To vote for coverage of other Los Angeles County communities, click here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


Claremont City Hall

INTRO

Claremont is the poshest of the three cities in the Los Angeles end of th Pomona Valley. It's bordered by La Verne to the west, Pomona to the southwest, Montclair to the southeast, Upland to the east and the Angeles National Forest to the north. My opinion of Claremont's poshness is almost entirely based on knowing someone from nearby Ontario who claimed to be from Claremont.

On Friday, I traveled in the CARDIS to La Verne to pick up Paul Vasquez (aka DJ Stingray – formerly DJ Superstar), who’s also an authority on, among many sci-fi things, the culture of Claremont.

GETTING TO AND AROUND CLAREMONT

If you don't have access to the CARDIS, the most pleasant way  to get to Claremont is via the Metrolink's San Bernardino Line, which has stops in the middle of everything at the Claremont Metrolink Station. Claremont is also served by the very nice Foothill Transit lines 187, 197, 480, 492, 699, and 855. People over 60 and anyone disabled can take Dial-a-Ride.  Pomona Valley Transportation Authority (PVTA), serves Claremont, La Verne, Pomona and San Dimas. Finally, groups of over six Claremontians can take Group Van Service.



Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Claremont


Claremont is situated near the former Tongva village of  Torojoatngna.


John R. Rodman Arboretum

PARKS

Due to its fairly green nature and the existence of seven colleges and universities, Claremont has the nickname "City of Trees and PhDs." As a matter of fact, the National Arbor Day Association has honored Claremont as a Tree City USA for the past nineteen years. We tried to visit the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden but a rather snippy harpy squawked at usaggressively. We merely asked if she’d mind us checking out the park (since it was still open according to the posted hours) and she shrieked nastily, “As a matter of fact I do!”

Luckily, there are fifteen other parks in the city where the staff have to be less unpleasant. We decided to check out some of the others. There proved to be no beasts guarding the smaller but welcoming John R. Rodman Arboretum.

Claremont Hills Wilderness Park

The Towers (with teens in the grass)   


                       The things they carried

Paul piloted his Saturn to the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park. The area known as “The Towers,” Paul informed me, is a popular place for teens to drink beer. Indeed, we did find evidence of both teens and several empty cans of a beverage billed as "high gravity lager." Memorial Park plays host in the spring to the Claremont Folk Music Festival and, in the summer, the Claremont Monday Night Concert Series. Also worth a mention -- but held in a park, is April's Kohoutek Music and Arts Festival.


The Village

CHARACTER

Claremont's population today is roughly 64% white, 16% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 12% Asian (mostly Taiwanese), and 5% black. German-Americans and English-Americans are the largest ethnicities.

During our visit Claremont proved to be very quiet, as green as its reputation promises and full of spring blooms. Claremont is mostly residential and centered around a shopping area known as “the Village.” In the last few years, the formerly industrial area to the west of the village has been rezoned for commercial use and branded “Village West” (aka the “Village Expansion”). There are also many shops in the Claremont Inn Complex, attached to the Old School House.


The Press

EATS

Some of the noted Claremont eateries include Some Crust Bakery, BC Cafe Kick Back Jack's, Inka Trails, Pollos Kikiryki, Patty's Mexican Foods, Viva Madrid, The Back Abbey, La Parolaccia Osteria Italiana, Saca's Mediterranean Cuisine, Bua Thai Cuisine and Walter's Restaurant. A chance encounter with KSPC’s fetching DeeJay Dia (host of Songs for the Whippersnapper Show ) resulted in her giving us a heads up about a relatively new joint, Ali Baba… but we returned from whence we started (for symmetry’s sake) to the Press to conclude our exploration as we’d begun, over some drinks at a venue known for its live music, often featuring local acts like AzBuka and the Baldy Mountain Jazz Band.

MUSIC


Ben Harper is a widely recognized native and his grandparents founded the Folk Music Center in 1958.


Before Rhino became a re-issue label, it was a record store and it was at the Claremont location that I bought the best of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds on VHS about a decade ago.


                                Outside KSPC                                                                  Happy Hollows setting up

There’s also the radio station KSPC (88.7), which I can sometimes hear thirty or so miles away. Frank Zappa and the Dust Brothers both had a shows there at one time, as did DJ Superstar. When Paul and I popped in, we ran into Steven Hertz, host of the Videogame Music Show. We crashed the studio to find Happy Hollows setting up for a live performance to precede their gig at No-Chella.


Whilst there, Paul showed me Bridges Auditorium (aka Big Bridges) … and Little Bridges, where he once walked out of a Cat Power show -- something that I can relate to.


THEATER, FILM & TV

Nestled in the the foothills is the Padua Hills Theatre, which was built back in the 1920s. Several films have been shot either in part or in whole in Claremont, including Teenwolf Too, Son of Flubber, Real Genius, Over the Top, The Fear, Dave, Beaches, The Absent Minded Professor, Gilmore Girls and the first shot in the opening credits of The Facts of Life.


Claremont is currently home to just one movie theater, Laemmle's Claremont 5. Though a multiplex, the Laemmle's chain show a good selection of first-run, independent and foreign films. The Claremont 5 opened on the location of an abandoned citrus packing plant.

Claremont was formerly home the 540-seat, single screen Village Theatre. It was by Sumner Spaulding, who also designed Harold Lloyd's Green Acres and the Avalon Theatre in Avalon. It opened in 1939 but I have no information as to when it closed.


CLAREMONT ORGANIZATIONS

For the history and preservation-minded, Claremont Heritage is an excellent organization. There almost have to be more bookstores in Claremont that I'm not aware of. All that I know of are Huntley Bookstore and The Claremont Forum. The latter is a non-profit organization and not just a bookstore although it seems to be one of the most well-reviewed bookshops in the city.

FURTHER READING AND VIEWING

If you'd like to read more about Claremont, there is Wayne L. McElreavy's Claremont (2012) -- part of the Images of America series. For viewing, Visiting...With Huell Howser episode #1511, "Citrus Packing House," delved more deeply into the culture and history of Claremont than the title might suggest.



*****


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Glendale, the City of Perpetual Harvest

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 20, 2010 10:14am | Post a Comment


This entry is about the Los Angeles County community of Glendale. To vote for other Los Angeles County communities to be covered here on the blog, click here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

A few days ago, accompanied by frequent traveling companion "Steve Shimbles..." the CARDIS transported us to The City of Perpetual Harvest.

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring the City of Industry

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 25, 2010 11:31am | Post a Comment

This Los Angeles County community blog is about City of Industry. To vote for more LA County Communites, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles Neighborhoods, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

 
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of City of Industry

Industry, as with Commerce (which is often referred to as "City of Commerce"), is often referred to as "City of Industry" to distinguish if from the common noun, "industry." Perhaps too it has the subtle effect of arguing for Industry's legitimacy as a municipality (and thus to hopefully disassociate it from "phantom cities" like Bradbury, Hidden Hills, Rolling Hills, Vernon, and the City of Commerce.) 

Industry is a strangely shaped "city" in the south end of the San Gabriel Valley surrounded by the communities of Whittier Narrows, South El Monte, El Monte, Baldwin Park, West Puente Valley, La Puente, Valinda, South San Jose Hills, Walnut, Diamond Bar, Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights and North Whittier. It almost completely surrounds Avocado Heights.


As with most all of the San Gabriel Valley, Industry was inhabited by the Tongva, who were then displaced by the Spaniards, which was followed by the region becoming part of Mexico. One of the few vestiges from that era is the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, an historical landmark and the burial sight of Pío Pico, the last Mexican governor of Alta California. Industry was incorporated in 1957 in a move in part designed to prevent surrounding cities from annexing the land for tax revenue and as a shelter for those wishing to operate without the strict zoning laws of a typical city. It also allows a very small group of people -- in many cases related to one another -- to operate a municipality more like a corporation than a typical city. 


Most recently, Industry has been designated the sight of the future Los Angeles Stadium, which if built would mean return American football to the Los Angeles County. Above is an artist's conception. Apparently the artist also conceives of the surrounding warehouses being obliterated and replaced with large, well maintained lawns.

Befitting its name, Industry is almost entirely industrial (92%) and just a little commercial (8%). The last census found that only 219 people even call Industry home -- it's not called "The City of Residents," after all. Most are members of city council or their friends living in city-owned properties and rented below market rate (but off-limits to outsiders). Elections for city council are almost never held. The tiny population of Industrians are roughly 62% Latino (mostly Mexican), 24% white (mostly Danish) and 9% Asian. On paper Industry's political situation might resemble that of North Korea but it is an open city, welcoming visitors and explorers, so explore it I did.

*****

Interestingly, Industry produces about 35,000 to 50,000 tons of pre-consumer food waste daily, mostly cheese by-products and imperfect tortillas. In a novel solution, the city's garbage trucks run on cheese by-products. They could call it, therefore, "City of Cheese Waste," but there's more to Industry than curds and whey. 

For starters, there's an exposed area of rock that locals call Fossil Hill, located behind the Colima Road McDonald's in Stoner Creek. I have no pictures of it, unfortunately, as I haven't yet visited it.

There are quite a few bars and gentleman's clubs in Industry. In one tiny shopping center one can find a tavern, a gentlemen's club, a "bar * lounge," and a pijiu wu (Taiwanese pub). Popular drinking holes include Opium Pub ($25 all you can drink), Dream Lounge and Vip Lounge.


For those who venture to Industry and need to spend the night (perhaps having drunk all one can drink), there's The Pacific Palms ResortThe golf course at the resort was featured in a memorable scene in the cult classic Joel "sexual outlaw" Schumacher film, Falling Down.


Popular restaurants in the area tend to reflect the surrounding areas more than the local population but with over fifty in the city, there's considerable variety. Some of the more popular places to eat are Roda Viva, King's Palace, Curry House, Frisco's Carhop, Jurassic, Iguanas Ranas, La Kaffa, Little Tokyo, Shabu Shabu, Sakura, and Smile Express.

The headquarters for Newegg.com, Emtek Products, and Engineering Model Associates/Plastruct are all located in Industry. The most Amoeba-relevant business (since it has something to do with music culture) is Hot Topic
 

The aging Puente Hills Mall, built in 1974, appeared as Twin Pines Mall (and later Lone Pine Mall) in the film, Back to the Future.


Nowadays, the mall is pretty empty except for the AMC theater, so the mall's owners ensure people have to pass by the remaining stores by not allowing entrance directly into the theater. Nearby, Speed Zone was featured in Kevin Smith's Clerks II, Summer School, and 1979's Van Nuys Blvd. The final fight scene was filmed there, in a now demolished Ikea.


One of the most interesting businesses in Industry is the McDonald's that's only used for commercials and films, such as Mac & Me.


Industry is also home of Vineland Drive-In, one of two remaining drive-in theaters in the Southland.


A phone booth (no longer there) at Brea Canyon and Old Ranch Road was featured in the film, Halloween.


Kern's of California

The factory showdown in the film Terminator was shot at Kern's Of California. It was there that Linda Hamilton's character uttered one of the most squirm inducing, corny one-liners in film history...


Industry has  also been a filming location for NWA and AWS matches, Raspberry & Lavender, Street Fury: Inferno, Suicide Kings, Bye Bye Love, Fun with Dick and Jane and American Pie. On a final note, As far as mom & pop video stores, there's John's Video Place.

 

*****


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring the City of Walnut

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 20, 2009 04:40pm | Post a Comment

This Los Angeles County community blog is about the City of Walnut, a wealthy, woodsy Los Angeles suburb located in the southeastern portion of the San Gabriel Valley.

 

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Maps of the San Gabriel Valley and Walnut

To vote for other LA County communities, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


William R. Rowland Adobe Redwood Ranch House
Before it took on its current Asian persuasion, Walnut was mostly Caucasian. Before that, of course, it was inhabited by the Tongva people, whose village in the area was called Pemookangna. After the Spaniards arrived it was mostly used as a ranch which grew walnuts, wheat, grapes, fruit trees and as pasture for cattle. By the 1840s, the Spaniards called the area Rancho de Nogales, which means Walnut Ranch. Many of those walnuts were pickled. In 1868, John Rowland and William Workman divided the land into La Puente to the west and Walnut to the east. The city was incorporated in 1959. In 1975, the William R. Rowland Adobe Redwood Ranch House was designated an Historical Landmark. 



A few years back, a number of well-heeled Taiwanese business people moved to Walnut. Ten years ago, Asians, non-Latino whites and Latinos still made up roughly equal populations of the city and CNN hailed Walnut as a model of diversity. Since then, large numbers of Cantonese, mainland Chinese and especially Filipinos have moved to the area and numbers of white and Latino residents have diminished. The city’s changing character is reflected in the variety of popular restaurants including Heartland's Market and Kitchen, Apo Apo Deli Café, UCC Cafe, Colima Burgers, Coffee Break, Sate House, El Taco Nazo, Ninja Sushi, Mikasa, Kalahi Bakery, the New York Pizzeria, Osuna's, Bangkok BBQ, Charlie's Sandwhich Shoppe, Upper House Boba Tea Shop and Donut Tree. Donut Tree, open 24 hours a day, serves as a sort of de facto community center. When my roommate Tim and I went there, it was packed with retirees speculating about Oprah's reasons for announcing her retirement. The retirees came and went during our visit, all seeming to know one another, and almost invariably arriving and departing in nice cars.
Hockneyesque collage panorama of Walnut's downtown
Walnut is a decidedly tranquil, some would say, sleepy suburb. Money named it the 70th best place to live in 2009, thus placing it above all other California cities, although there doesn't seem to be a lot to do. Its "downtown" is a cluster of shopping centers known as "The Village" and is dominated by chains like Applebee's, Panda Express, Kohl's, Staple's, Starbucks and Millie's, albeit quaintly rendered in a craftsman style. As with many suburbs, most of the businesses are spread out along the main thoroughfares, clustered in shopping centers with names like Flag Automotive Center, Lemon Creek Village and Walnut Tech Business Center. As we know from films like Poltergeist, Blue Velvet and Paranormal Activity, sleepy towns usually have their share of ghosts, and Walnut is no exception according to this website.

Wildin' out at the Walnut Family Festival

In the autumn, Walnut hosts a parade and fair held in Suzanne Park which is known as the Walnut Family Festival


                                      Wolfgang Delgado                                                                Darius McCrary

There aren't that many famous Walnut natives. Former Amoebite Wolfgang Delgado used to live there, as did Darius McCrary (Family Matters' Eddie Winslow). The self-described Latin Elvis and Latin Frank Sinatra, Gerardo "la Pelota" Meija, moved there from Ecuador and became the world's first Latino Rap Superstar with his megahit, "Rico Suave." It’s also the birthplace of drummer Ricky Lawson.
A few films have been shot in Walnut, in part or in whole, including Awaken the Dead, Background(ed), Freudian Eyebrow, Hangman, The Call, Zodiac and Lakeview Terrace

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