October 30, 2016

Photo Essay: A Vacant Hospital's Frightening Admissions

Yet another hospital is being converted into housing. (It's no longer abandoned—just vacant.)

This latest one is the former Metropolitan Medical Center in the West Adams neighborhood of LA—the city's first black-owned hospital, which opened in 1971.

But when it was later taken over and corporatized (becoming part of a hospital chain), everything went downhill.

Its emergency room was the first to close in 2013, with the rest of the wards to follow suit.

"Metro," as it was known, had been bringing in hundreds of homeless to give them tests and treatments—both unnecessary and probably dangerous—so that they could fill their psych ward's empty beds, in exchange for insurance kickbacks. Psych ward admissions reportedly pay better than regular hospital admissions.

After admitting to criminal mismanagement and conspiring to defraud the government's healthcare system, the hospital couldn't afford to run without the Skid Row recruitment scam—and it especially couldn't after having paid all those legal fees, fines, and restitution.

If the staff got paid at all, many of their paychecks were bouncing. A whistleblower reported that a similar scheme had been set up to bring in defenseless elderly patients from nursing homes, falsifying their consent. In the wake of financial ruin, the hospital was shuttered abruptly in 2013, along with two other hospitals under the same ownership.

The pharmacy is still full of warnings (but no drugs)...

...and doors are unlocked.

All of the beds are empty now...

...and the hospital is so very vacant.

During its most recent run of operation, the first floor consisted primarily of offices for administration... management...

...admitting, and human resources.

There was also the cafeteria kitchen (now painted "prison pink" for an art installation)...

...a grease-stained, industrial-scale relic of the hospital's attempt to feed the masses...

...which included not only the sick patients but also their visitors—and their doctors (who had their own dining room).

The division between staff areas and patient areas is resoundingly clear.

All the contraptions make you wonder whether they were keeping the patients safe...

...or keeping themselves safe from the patients.

In total, Metropolitan Medical Center once had 212 beds between all of its various units.

Babies came into the world in these maternity wards...

...people got x-ray screenings in this radiology department...

...and others got put on oxygen.

On the second floor, there were five surgical bays...

...and at least two scrub rooms... well as a suture room...

...and a recovery room.

I wonder what kind of antigens or pathogens remain on the surfaces and in the air there.

There's certainly enough paperwork left over—from schedules and physician rosters to patient medical records and pain assessment charts.

Maybe they didn't think anybody would see these parts of the hospital, like the psychiatric ward on the fourth floor.

Maybe they didn't think any of the patients would tell the outside world what was going on inside.

Maybe they made sure that none of the patients could...

...or that if they did, no one would believe them.

Now, the hospital that so desperately needed more patients has no patients at all.

Related Posts:
Dancers Descend Upon the Semi-Vacant Crenshaw Hospital
Photo Essay: Last Chance Look at Linda Vista Hospital (Roof, Boiler Room, Kitchen & More)

A Dormant Chinatown Theatre Wakes Up to Dance

At one point, pretty much every neighborhood in LA had at least one movie theater. And, unlike now, every neighborhood wouldn't be showing the same movies.

If you wanted to see the latest releases in Hong Kong cinema—the kind of stuff that inspired Quentin Tarantino to make his Kill Bill series and shoot them in China—you had to go to Chinatown.

In the 1960s and 70s, there was the Cinemaland Theatre and the Kim Sing Theatre. The former is now used for garment manufacturing, and the latter now used as an event space.

But in the early 1960s, there was also the Sing Hing Theater, which hosted both Chinese-language films and Chinese Opera performances.

It's been dormant for 20 years. And that's almost as long as it operated.

In the early 2000s—around the time that Kill Bill was slashing its way through English-language cineplexes—there was talk of Tarantino buying the Sing Hing, which had come to be known as the "King Hing Theater."

It didn't happen. Tarantino bought the Beverly Cinema (which operates as the New Beverly Cinema) in 2007. So far, that's his only movie house (after his supposed interest in the Rialto in South Pasadena waned).

And so those 125,000 square feet of the King Hing Theater have remained dormant behind the marquee and blade sign, which have been hanging out front this whole time. That is—it's been dormant till now, now that it's been awakened with Heidi Duckler's production of "When I am King."

It's a dance performance designed entirely around the cinema's spaces, which include the terrazzo-floored outer lobby and tiled box office...

...and concession area...

...all the way up to the ceiling.

Like many of the Heidi Duckler productions, it's a roving dance performance—so you get to see many of the areas of the venue that you wouldn't normally encounter as an audience member of a film screening.

In the case of the King Hing Theater, you also get to see a more multimedia perspective of the public areas... an art installation that connects the projection booth to the stage like two ends of a loom.

The choreography of the ensemble-oriented finale takes place under the connecting strings (which appear almost like beams of light) and on top of mounds of dismantled theater seats.

But that would be considered "traditional" compared to the solo and duo performances in the rest of the theater...

...which is still a little rough around the edges...

...even though it's being promoted as having "reopened" as a private event and production space.

The film projectors are gone, which leaves ample room for a dancer to pop-and-lock his way through the booth.

And elsewhere upstairs, a video is projected on a white wall as the girl in the video climbs through a real-life window to interact with her screen-time self.

I find myself yearning for the experience of some of the past Heidi Duckler performances in other sites around LA—the Emser Tile building, the Dunbar Hotel, the now-demolished Ambassador Hotel (and Cocoanut Grove) and Perino's Restaurant—to which they surely won't return.

But these performances are always about the next thing, the next place, the next experience. And so I can't dwell on what I've missed out on (having not even been aware of the dance troupe before they took over the notoriously-haunted Linda Vista Hospital). I just have to look forward to whichever places lie ahead.

Related Posts:
A Matter of Place: Dancing Through Chinatown's Changes
Dancers Descend Upon the Semi-Vacant Crenshaw Hospital
Photo Essay: Linda Vista Hospital Comes Alive With "The Groundskeepers"
Last Night, At Church

October 26, 2016

Photo Essay: Saving Sculptures from the Scrapyard

One of the first things I remember about my first trip to the Joshua Tree area back in February 2009 is the metal sculptures off the side of the road.

Circa 2009

There were roadside dinosaurs, sure—but there were other, more abstract, rusted metal works of art that looked like glyphs, or some other sort of communication from great civilizations past or great civilizations from another galaxy.

It didn't occur to me that they'd actually been made by a local artist. I took them as some unreadable sign from the Universe.

But they are, in fact, the metal work of artist Simi Dabah, whose studio and outdoor sculpture garden is hiding right there in plain sight on Sunfair Road in Joshua Tree.

Of course, Joshua Tree and 29 Palms aren't the only places you can find Simi Dabah sculptures. He gifted two of his sculptures to the CSUSB Palm Desert Campus in 2002 and 2005. His work is installed in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs, Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, Santa Clarita, Hesperia, at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills, Pasadena Community College,

Earlier this year, the Cathedral City Library (just south of Palm Springs) acquired a piece called "X Marks the Place," and the City of Desert Hot Springs (just north of Palm Springs) received eight donated steel sculptures, which are now scattered around town.

In fact, he donates most of his works of art to public and non-profit institutions as public art.

In Joshua Tree, you can find over 700 of his sculptures that are up for grabs—either for sale, or to be donated in the future. Some area relatively small-scale, while others are more monumental, even architectural.

It's impressive, considering the fact that Dabah not only is in his 80s, but is also a self-taught welder. An immigrant from Manchester, England with a Middle Eastern-inspired name, he's been working with steel as his primary medium for over 40 years.

The resulting pieces, rusted by the desert, appear almost kinetic—though they're most certainly fixed in place.

It seems that it would almost be a shame to remove one of the pieces from its position in the garden, which has been so carefully curated.

Or has it? Perhaps the sculptures have managed to settle into their current, seemingly organized positions, despite the entropy of the desert.

It's important to note that the steel material Dabah uses is actually scrap metal... it might appear that his eight-acre outdoor sculpture studio is something of a junkyard.

But even if it's junk art, it's a beautiful vision, disrupting the sandy terrain and the clear, blue skies of the Mojave Desert.

After all, everything can be used for something... in the desert.

They almost blend into the landscape. They seem to fit in with the drought.

Maybe that's the patina they get from being exposed to the harsh desert elements.

Dabah is incredibly prolific, even at his advanced age, welding dozens of new creations every year.

And he's been displaying them at his Joshua Tree studio since 1972.

Most of his works don't have names...

...which leaves the interpretation up to the beholder.

Not bad for a high school dropout and former attorney whose main endeavor has been as a real estate investor.

That means he doesn't depend on being a commercial artist. In fact, he's created a non-profit foundation and actively encourages donation requests from worthy organizations.

2008 (12'h x 12'w x 3"d, 870 lbs)

But he works on his scrap sculptures every day in some way or another...

2013 (9'h x 12'10"w x 3"d x 30"x30" base, 520 lbs)

...sometimes completing one in just a week...

2013 (20'h x 20'w x 30"d x 36"b, 600 lbs)

...and other times mulling one over for months on end.

Apparently, they've been getting bigger and bigger over time—some now weighing over a ton.

It's enough to necessitate having his own forklift.

So why does he do it, if he doesn't make any money out of it? Is it just because he can?

Well, if you were to ask him, he would say it's because he must.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Noah's Art
Is It Art, Or Is It the Desert?
Photo Essay: The High Desert's Crystal Cave
Photo Essay: The Design of Living at A-Z West