Saturday, March 17, 2018

Photo Essay: At the Center of A City of Stadiums

Los Angeles is becoming a city of stadiums.

Or, maybe it just always has been—but it's particularly noticeable now that construction of the LA Stadium at Hollywood Park (the $2.6-billion future home of the Rams and the Chargers) is well underway and now that the Banc of California Stadium at Exposition Park will be ready for the Los Angeles Football Club to start playing this year.

Of course, we've also got our stalwart athletic facilities (the LA Coliseum, the Rose Bowl, Dodger Stadium) and our former arenas-turned-concert-venues (the Fabulous Forum).

But there's also this middle class of sports complexes that don't get much attention—at least, not anymore.

For one, there's the StubHub (formerly Home Depot) Center, erected just 15 years ago and still the second-largest soccer-specific stadium in Major League Soccer. Of course, once the Chargers appropriated it as the team's temporary home (until their shiny new Inglewood stadium is move-in ready), it also became the NFL's smallest stadium.

::Sad trombone::

And then there's Staples Center.

It hasn't hosted any Olympic competitions—yet, though it's slated to host the men's and women's basketball competitions in the 2028 Games.

Its architect, Dan Meis, hasn't really earned international, legendary repute for his structures, as functional for civic purposes as they may be. Then again, living architects are usually under-appreciated, as are buildings that are just 20 or 30 years old. (Staples Center was built in 1999.)

But what Staples Center has going for it is a history that transcends its walls, as the ice where the LA Kings won their first Stanley Cup in 2012...

...home court for the Lakers, whose Hall of Famer and 14-time All-Star player Jerry West is familiar to anyone who's seen his dribbling form in silhouette on the NBA logo)...

...and the hoops where Shaq made his legendary and game-changing alley-oops...

...which earned the now-retired player a nine-foot tribute in bronze that forever immortalizes his inimitable dunk.

This is also where Kobe Bryant scored his career high—81 points in one game, putting him right behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962.

Having moved to LA after 14 years in NYC, I couldn't believe there was a sports and concert arena that was so centrally located—plopped down, in fact, right in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles.

In fact, Staples Center—and its Master Plan sibling, LA Live—is credited with initiating the revitalization of DTLA and the South Park neighborhood. And it has become one of the most successful facilities of its kind.

There's something incredibly accessible about Staples Center—and not just its geographic location or the fact that you can actually find parking nearby.

Although it has all the VIP amenities that any contemporary sports complex needs to offer to its big spenders and season ticket holders (just like the latest incarnation of Yankee Stadium)... can pretty easily get single-ticket premium seating at a discounted price (if not for the Lakers, then at least for the Clippers)...

...and, at around 20,000 seats (depending on the configuration for the sporting event or concert) and with a 94'x200' floor... actually feels kind of small and intimate.

And while it's hosted everything else from the Grammy Awards to the Democratic National Convention, this arena is still centered on its sports... a place where Southern Californian hockey players are anachronistic kings and their fans can be treated like royalty (at least, for the right price).

Even if it is in the middle class of LA's stadium explosion.

For preservationists and naturalists—and I identify as both of those things—the word "development" usually carries a bad connotation. But I'm also an urbanist, so I can appreciate having a place that's safe and well-lit at night where I can have some dinner, see a show, get a drink, and make it back to my car alive.

We're allowed to have nice things sometimes. It's OK.

In fact, it's pretty nice.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: LA Memorial Sports Arena, Upon Its Demolition
Photo Essay: LA's Art Deco Olympic Stadium

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Photo Essay: Crossing Over Into Yuma

There was a time when people only went to Yuma for one of three reasons.

They were carrying cargo on the Colorado River, bringing someone to jail, or going to jail themselves.

Steamboats ruled the river—and Yuma Crossing—for a while, thanks to the efforts of the Colorado Steam Navigation Company and side-wheeler paddle steamers like the Uncle Sam, which appeared on the Colorado River in 1852.

Navigating the Colorado by steam ferry became routine by 1859, taking trips upriver from the Gulf of California after picking up various goods from ocean vessels. In fact, they downright monopolized the river—that is, until 1864.

In 1867, the Army took over this strategic river crossing, stationing a commanding officer in charge on a one- to two-year assignment at what became known as Yuma Depot.

This is where all the Army forts in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas got their supplies from (with six months' worth of them being stored in Yuma).

And then the railroad came in 1877, more or less putting the steamboats out of business. The depot was subsequently used as a Customs House to control the import of foreign goods and prevent smuggling—though even that was closed 1955.

The Army abandoned Yuma Depot in 1883—the same year that Southern Pacific Railroad's Sunset Route began stopping in Yuma on its way from San Francisco to New Orleans. What once was wild frontier—a desolate wilderness—had now become within reach, simply by riding a wooden passenger coach.

And with bridges, people no longer had to wait for a ferry to cross the Colorado (which was far wider back then than the shrunken, receded version you see there now.) So, the focus at Yuma Crossing shifted from cargo to passengers.

Today, Amtrak's Sunset Limited service still runs along the old SPRR lines, which are located adjacent to the former Yuma Territory prison. In fact, the construction of the present-day bridge precipitated the demolition of at least a third to as much as a half of the original prison, including the Superintendent's house, to make way for it.

Which brings us back to the main reason why anyone would come to Yuma, once upon a time. Yuma Territorial Prison first opened in 1876, its first convict being William Hall and its first female convict (of many to follow) being Lizzie Gallagher in 1878 (though women didn't actually have gender-separated cells until 1891).

All in all, over 3000 hardened criminals were brought through the front gate (a.k.a. the "Sallyport") for any number of reasons—from minor offenses like "selling liquor to Indians" to theft (forgery, fraud, burglary, and robbery), crimes of passion (seduction, adultery, and polygamy/plural marriage, as with the Mormons), and violent crimes (mayhem, riot, assault, rape, manslaughter, and murder).

In 1882, four years after the prison's first successful escape and five years before the prison's most infamous attempted (and failed) escape—the Gates Riot, named after Superintendent Gates, taken hostage—a guard tower was built above a water reservoir.

By 1900, the prison had become so overcrowded (with more trustworthy prisoners sleeping in the hallways instead of inside locked cells) that a "New Yard" was built.

In 1904, an additional block of maximum security cells was built—the so-called "Incorrigible Ward." In fact, Yuma Territorial Prison became notorious for being the only such facility that was fortified enough to keep the Wild West's feistiest criminals (like those from Tombstone) locked up.

While serving their sentences at Yuma, those tough guys and gals—bandits, train robbers, and gunslingers—had to suffer through the "intolerable nuisance" of bedbugs in their wooden bunks, at least until the superintendent, in a stroke of mercy, switched the beds to iron frames (as those pictured above, which are from October 1901).

And although nobody died of a bedbug bite, plenty of Yuma prisoners died of other causes before being released—whether it was from TB, snakebite, suicide, murder, or escape attempts. In all, there are over 100 buried in the prison cemetery.

In 1909, after just three decades of use as a penal institution, the prison closed. And then, believe it or not, Yuma High School moved onto the prison grounds and operated there from 1910 to 1914—with classes being held in the cellblocks and the sports team being named, appropriately, the "Criminals." (And, in fact, they still go by the "Crims.")

After that, some of the grounds were used for the county hospital—but by 1915, the entire prison was being threatened with demolition and development as new rail lines and bridges continued to be built.

Although parts of it had been used for housing and the VFW throughout the 1930s, squatters had also found their way into the prison and set up shop in the cells (which were made of strap iron and granite rock, plastered and whitewashed)—only to be evicted in 1939. By that time, scavengers had stripped the buildings of any useful materials.

Over time, a series of fires destroyed much of the prison. But even early on, there was a movement to preserve the historic facility—and it actually ran as a museum from 1941 to 1960 (with Civil Defense lookouts using the guard tower during WWII) and became an Arizona State Park in 1961.

Today, much of what you see at the prison site has been recreated, though some items that were once lost (like some original cell block doors) have been returned and put back into place.

And still today, there are some people who only find themselves in Yuma so they can visit the prison made so notorious by stories and Hollywood depictions of the Wild West.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Glimpses of Yuma Territory
Photo Essay: Glimpses of Arizona
Photo Essay: The Death Toll of Tombstone
Photo Essay: The Fortification of Havana

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mexican Wrestling In a Mayan Porno Palace

I've remarked before that the older I get, the more burnt I like my toast. I just prefer stronger flavors as the years wane on.

But it didn't occur to me until recently that the same is true when it comes to my tastes in architectural design. I'm gravitating more and more towards Frank Gehry, Art Deco ziggurats, and Brutalism than, say, the clean lines of International Style or even Arts and Crafts.

I'm even coming around to appreciating the new fa├žade of the Petersen Museum. There's something about how horrible it is that makes me really respect it. At least it's a bold statement.

So when it comes to most of the historic movie palaces of Los Angeles, I'm in seventh heaven. Whether it's the Million Dollar or the United Artists, give me cornices and reliefs and plaster molds and mosaics and murals and chandeliers and all the other stuff—the more, the better!

That's one of the reasons why the Mayan Theatre—not on Broadway in LA's Downtown, but close enough—has been calling my name.

With an ornamental "stone" sculpture consisting of seven concrete bas-relief busts of warriors wearing Mayan headdresses by Baja-born painter and archaeologist Francisco Cornejo...

...the exterior gives visitors the feeling of entering a pre-Columbian temple...

...a theme that continues throughout the interior as well, whether in The Hall of Feathered Serpents (downstairs lobby) or The Hall of Emperors (balcony lobby).

There's no shortage of stuff to look at inside the Mayan Theatre.

And although much of it is awash in contemporary colors like pink and hot purple thanks to a modern LED lighting system...

...there's also a great amount of authenticity to the architectural designs by Morgan, Walls, and Clements (also responsible for The Deco BuildingAdamson House, and the El CapitanLeimert, and Wiltern theatres).

Building this theatre—as well as its neighbor, the Belasco, also designed by the same architecture firm—was part of an effort to establish a new theatre district west of Broadway.

That effort was spearheaded by oil magnate Edward L. Doheny, who owned both theatres.

But the new "fashionable" district never really took hold.

The Mayan originally opened in 1927 not as a movie palace but as a legit theatre—one that specialized in musical comedies (some even produced by movie palace impresario Sid Grauman).

It didn't start programming "talkies" until two years later—and even then, it continued to host I've theatrical performances through the 1940s before eventually switching to Spanish-language films and, later, adult films.

Like Downtown's other legit theatre, The Morosco (now The Globe), the way that the Mayan has managed to survive this long is by having transformed into a nightclub and concert venue.

The seats have been removed (though you can still sit on the floor of the risers in the balcony)...

...and twice a year, a ring is brought in for Mexican wrestling (at least, an Americanized version of lucha libre) and burlesque.

Appropriately, the event is known as "Lucha VaVoom," and it's as outrageous as the structure that surrounds it.

I mean, if you're going to try to revive an ancient style, you might as well go as far as you can with it.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Aztec Hotel's Mayan Legacy
Photo Essay: Frank Lloyd Wright Ennis House, Exterior
Photo Essay: Frank Lloyd Wright Ennis House, Interior
Upon the Disappointing Lack of a Mayan Apocalypse