July 31, 2013

Photo Essay: This Fraternity Life

When I was in college, I never joined a sorority, but there's a special place in my heart for the Greek system. While most upperclassmen had moved on to their campus apartment complexes or downtown bars, I spent a lot of time at fraternity houses all four of my college years. Walking up and down the Row prepared me well for bar-hopping in New York City, and forced me out of my shell. Approaching a dimly-lit, bass-thumping frat party by myself trained me how to fly solo, something I've continued to do well into my adult, legal drinking years.

Last weekend, I returned to Fraternity Row - this time not at Colgate, but at USC.

The Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity had been kicked off campus ten years ago (for undisclosed reasons) and leased their building - which they own - to another fraternity while they waited to regain their charter, which they did in 2012. In the meantime, their house had been reduced to a state of squalor by hard-partying frat brothers who hid their bongs in holes punched in the walls and slept on bunk beds broken by too many occupants, or too much activity.

Phi Sigma Kappa alumni oversaw a massive overhaul of the building which clocked in at over $900,000 in just two months' time, readying the building for its new residents by August of last year.

Almost a year later, the building has held up remarkably well, by design.

The front facade, which had once received a bad stucco job, has been returned to its original wood siding condition, though the wood itself is new, and now positioned horizontally instead of vertically.

Inside, cedar lines the stairwell and mezzanine of the upstairs level...

photo courtesy of MASS Architecture and Design

...bordering a Phi Sigma Kappa mural which has been pained directly onto the now-exposed brick walls (once covered in drywall).

The building's original mailboxes were also once drywalled over, and now have been exposed as a marker of the building's past, though they are no longer in use. (Not even to store bongs.)

The common areas of the ground floor were once dark and less-than-inviting...

...and now have been brightened...

...except for the game room in the rear of the building, with its wood-stained walls, mood lighting, and deep red billiard table.

In fact, nearly everything seems awash in red, the painted basketball court(yard) reflecting against the single-level annex...

...and into all the rooms.

Whenever possible, signage was painted on - like the room numbers - to prevent theft by souvenir-collecting graduates and vandalism by rival fraternities.

The rooms are set up motor lodge-style, each facing the outside...

...rather than long, dormitory hallways or Animal House-style common areas.

Upstairs, the vertical wood siding has been restored, using the original wood...

...allowing it to retain its mid-century feel...

...but also giving it a contemporary update.

There are many renovations that got cut from the budget (a garden! a pool!), and some plans are still pending (rooftop solar panels!)...

...while construction continues on the upper level... build more rooms...

...that will be more durable...

...and hopefully stand the test of time (and finals).

We woke one summer-dwelling frat brother up so we could look inside his room, evicting the poor kid from the new steel-and-wood lofted bed that rises to just under a foot below the ceiling and requires him to climb like a monkey up into and down from it. The former closet door in his room (which had a habit of being torn off its hinges, which all closet doors did) has been replaced with a heavy-duty denim curtain. Worn carpets have given way to the underlying concrete floors. And the sinks are from IKEA, making it easily (and relatively cheaply) replaceable when they inevitably get torn out of the wall. We'll see how long those newly-installed windows last before shattering.

This building had to adapt to its residents, whose faces may change from year to year but behaviors remain the same. Fraternities are no different now they were 20 years ago when I first went to college, a shy first-year who'd never been to one high school party, who sought refuge and camaraderie in Greek Life.

July 29, 2013

Photo Essay: Dodger Stadium, A Brooklyn Team's LA Home

When you go to a baseball game, you actually get to see very little of the stadium you're in. You get ushered directly to your section, and even if you wander about looking for variety in the concessions, you probably never leave your own level.

And it's usually so crowded, you can't make much of the stadium out from the sea of people occupying it.

So it's nice to go take a tour on a sunny, game-free day.

Dodger Stadium in particular is interesting because it's the country's third oldest major league baseball stadium (behind Fenway Park and Wrigley Field), and, in its 52nd season, is the oldest baseball stadium in the West. By seating capacity, it's also the largest extant ballpark in the world.

Of course, its groundbreaking in 1959 was not without controversy, the residents of Chavez Ravine having been evicted in favor of the new sports complex. Given the uprooting that its construction caused, it's nice to see the mid-century marvel of civil engineering preserved and restored when necessary, rather then being demolished like Yankee Stadium.

It's also nice to watch a ballgame in a stadium named after the team that plays in it, and not a corporate sponsor (something it shares with Yankee Stadium).

Dodger Stadium's aging architecture is, of course, old enough to need a facelift every now and then, and some upgrades to deal with high attendance, like expanding the plaza inside one of the entry gates.

It's also nice to see that the Dodgers remember their Brooklyn roots as the "Trolley Dodgers" who played Ebbets Field, making them the only (?) team named after the fans themselves.

The stadium has great sight-lines, which means most of the seating is sun-exposed, offering very little shade for afternoon games, especially at the Top Level.

Dodger Stadium prides itself in retaining many of the architectural elements that make it unique, even when they renovate or build an addition. When the seats were replaced after the 2005 season, they removed the "space age" 1970s seats and replaced them with new ones in the more muted color palette of the early 1960s.

The yellow seats, farther down towards the infield, are cushioned.

When you take a stadium tour, you not only get to warm the visiting team's bench...

...and look out onto the field from the visitor's dugout...

...but also go right down onto the field...

...catching a glimpse of the home team dugout, which was getting some improvements on an off day.

Upstairs in the Vin Scully Press Box... get a particularly good (and shady) view...

...but if you go one level up... can have your own private party in one of the United Club Suites...

...if you've got the cash (and the friends).

All the internal hallways - those not lined with Dodger Dogs - are decorated with memorabilia... retired jerseys...

...lit-up logos...

...MVP awards...

...and trophies.

On the tour, we also visited the top-secret Visitor Clubhouse, the only area we weren't allowed to photograph.

Though I'm usually reticent to split my loyalties between coasts - either I'm here, out West, now, or not! - but there's something nice and comfortable about becoming a fan of the Dodgers, my home team now, fellow transplants from New York.

And it's a fun stadium to catch a ballgame in, even if I have to go by myself...

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Elysian Park, Beyond Dodger Stadium
Flashback: Yankee Stadium, In Progress (Circa 2009)
Photo Essay: Rose Bowl Stadium, Renovated Again, and Open for Tours!
Photo Essay: Barlow Sanitorium, Neglected

July 28, 2013

What Goes Up, Must Come Down - Part 2

On a recent cool afternoon, I decided to do some hike-exploring in Encino, near San Vicente Mountain Peak. Most of my new hikes now are intersecting hikes I've already done, helping me map out LA metro mentally, and understand how one place relates to another.

Most times, I kind of know what to expect.

Usually, in the Santa Monica Mountains, the trailhead is at a fire gate, sometimes yellow.

Signage confirms your location at the entrances and exits.

Watch for rattlesnakes... a wide, dirt fire road winds around the mountain, overlooking a canyon, with a view of the city beyond.

In this case, it's Sullivan Canyon.

Day use trails lead wanderers up dusty knolls...

...while the fire road leads to a gate that marks the boundary of something long-gone...

...and the official end of the park, though the trail continues...

...until it abruptly ends at another fence, marking the start of a residential neighborhood.

And then a surprise: bright white blooming flowers inside the fence, a rarity in the middle of summer, though perhaps because of our record-wet July.

On the way back came the real surprise, which shouldn't have been a surprise at all: it was really uphill.

I didn't remember walking downhill so much on the way out, the path seeming unremarkably undulating with the usual amount of ups and downs that you get in these mountains.

But on the way back, the uphill climb seemed relentless.

Maybe I was just tired. Maybe the sun exposure of the shadeless trail finally got to me, the late afternoon rays beating down on my sweating forehead and tanktopped skin. Maybe I haven't been hiking enough, my calves still sore from climbing only partway up Mt. Washington (in non-athletic shoes).

I think we never really notice when things are easy, when the slope of our journey angles downward, just slightly enough to be comfortable (and not the extreme incline that sends me slipping and has me reaching for my hiking poles). Instead, we notice when things go wrong, when the elevation cuts our breath short, and the pangs of muscle fatigue set in.

We bemoan insomnia, but do not celebrate a good night's sleep.

I am guilty of this in particular. I am not satisfied when things are just "fine." I don't even really acknowledge those moments. Only that which is spectacular - or, spectacularly difficult, traumatic, challenging, heartbreaking - grabs my attention.

I need to learn how to appreciate the easy walks, embrace the expected, and relish in the reality of life's ups and downs, and everything in between.

Related Post:
What Goes Up, Must Come Down