Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Photo Essay: LA's New Angel-Winged 'Cathedral of Soccer'

LA hadn't had a new open-air stadium built since Dodger Stadium in 1962—and thanks to the sacrificial demolition of the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena in Exposition Park and the formation of the new Major League Soccer team, Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), now we've got the Banc of California Stadium.

I'll admit—the thing is cool to look at, both inside and out, mostly because of the shape of a special, durable plastic canopy (all 190,000 square feet of it) that's supposed to evoke the image of "angel wings" (in, of course, the "City of Angels").

Apparently we've gotten to the point where we don't even try to honor actual people with our monuments—we just leapfrog right into corporate sponsorship.

But maybe big money up front meant the design team at Gensler Sports could go all out.

Making a big splash was important—not only because it was for a new major league team, but also because it was being built specifically for the sport of soccer (a.k.a. fĂștbol).

LA's other soccer club—LA Galaxy—doesn't even play within city limits, but in the South Bay suburb of Carson (at Dignity Health Sports Park, the former StubHub Center, which it one shared with its former rival team, the now defunct Chivas USA).

So maybe LAFC has got something to prove now.

The new Banc of California stadium broke ground in August 2016 and just opened in 2018—and although I haven't been able to catch a game yet, I had the chance to take an architectural tour of it.

Walking into it is interesting, because the client—the football club, I presume—didn't want it to feel like walking into a stadium or sports complex.

So, it feels a bit more like a luxury hotel.

But then you're out on the field—just a breath away from the natural turf (86,000 square feet of Bermuda grass)—and wow. It's stunning.

You can imagine how nice it is to watch a game there, no matter where your seats are—in the supporters' section, the shady nosebleed rows, or the field club level.

It must feel pretty epic for the home team to play there—and maybe a bit intimidating for the visiting teams.

Fans can enter through the North Gate, right in between the angel wings...

...and proceed to whichever one of the 22,000 seats they can afford...

...whether in the East stands, Midfield Box, East Overlook...

...or the south stand, which has the bonus payoff of a framed view of the LA skyline, looking north.

Fans also have their choice of 35 suites in the stadium, which is being called a "Cathedral of Soccer."

To me, the "place to be" is the the after-party spot, the Sunset Deck...

...a Palm Springs-style upper level club with concrete breeze blocks...

...water features...

...tiled surfaces...

...and shady lounge areas.

Plus the loge boxes give a pretty fantastic view, with a little bit of distance from the game mayhem.

But for those who prefer to hang indoors—and don't really care about actually watching the game live on the field—there are plenty of kitchens, bars, and glam party spaces where they can throw down their Black Card and sign the bill without even looking at it.

To be honest, soccer games aren't enough to keep this stadium in business all year. (Especially since soccer games are usually only about an hour an a half!)

So, Banc of California Stadium will also host boxing, lacrosse, rugby, and of course concerts.

It's the shiny new thing we've got right now. But the new NFL stadium in Inglewood (Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park, corporate naming rights TBD) is nipping at its heels, with a projected completion date of 2020.

Stay tuned for photos of the next shiny new thing, once it opens!

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: At the Center of A City of Stadiums
Photo Essay: LA Memorial Sports Arena, Upon Its Demolition
Photo Essay: LA's Art Deco Olympic Stadium (Updated for 2019)

Monday, September 9, 2019

Up Above and Down Below At Great Basin National Park, No Longer Underwater

I'd wanted to visit Great Basin National Park ever since I learned that this part of the country had once been underwater.

It just took me eight years to get there.

I'd planned on making the drive from Ely, Nevada last year, when I was on my traincation...

...but the Universe had other plans for me...

...and saddled me with some kind of viral infection that knocked me down for the count (and that I barely survived long enough to make the drive to Vegas for my flight back home).

This time, I was with friends who were doing the driving—and it's a good thing, because as we drove up to the Wheeler Peak vista point and parked at the Summit Trailhead for an easy hike to Stella Lake, this time altitude sickness set in.

I tried taking my time through the grove of Quaking Aspen trees (Populus tremuloides)—but at nearly 10,000 feet of elevation, it was too much for me.

My arms felt light lead as I held up my camera to try to catch a speckle-winged rangeland grasshopper (Arphia conspersa) showing the green underside of its wings.

There are bristlecone pines up there—and I spotted a few telltale bristled cones on the ground—but we were too far from any official groves to reach and explore them.

I quickly succumbed to the altitude sickness anyway, lying down in the backseat of our van and gasping for air.

Sometimes I am too delicate for the adventures I'd like to do. But a fellow hiker on the trail said my reaction was common among those who live at sea level.

Fortunately, I felt much more comfortable at the 7000-foot elevation at the entrance of Lehman Cave.

As we descended into the "rooms" and passageways once formed by water, starting with the Gothic Palace...

...I could admire the crystallized stalactites without distraction.

I could gaze up from the Music Room's "pipe organ," 125 feet below the surface, with a 51-foot "ceiling," feeling dizzy and short of breath only in response to its beauty.

Unfortunately, to accommodate tourists like myself, much of the rock (including stalactites and stalagmites) was blasted ages ago and reused to build walls, doorways, and benches (including those of the "Panama Canal").

In an event space once called the "Skating Rink"...

...the points of stalactite formations were chopped off so as not to stab anybody in the head (or poke their eye out).

The only other way in was a belly crawl through a passage known as "Fat Man's Misery."

It's now called the "Inscription Room," in honor of the names and initials written on or burned into the ceiling with graphite, charcoal, or soot—not the marks of any First Nations tribe, but of attendees on Absalom Lehman's tours
from 1885 to 1892.

Back then, it was known as “Lehman’s Wonderful Cave.” And although well-meaning stewards have tried to scrub some of the signatures off, they're now considered a protected cultural resource.

That being said, we were not welcome to add our own inscriptions, and instead were shuffled off through the Cypress Swamp and on to the Grand Palace...

...where we spent a lot of time admiring a marbled formation known as "cave bacon."

Since its discovery by white settlers, Lehman Caves has fascinated people so much that they've thrown parties—and even weddings—down there.

In the mid-1960s, the Army Corps of Engineers designated a room specifically for civil defense shelter use, stockpiling two weeks' worth of rations that included tinned crackers, water cans, medical supplies, and radiation monitoring equipment.

But the cave-dwelling packrats had a field day with the supplies.

And by 1979, the rations hadn't been needed—so they were removed, unused, as efforts shifted to conserving the caves rather than using them for government purposes.

At a constant 50 degrees F, it's certainly comfortable enough down there for hiding out.

And as the longest known cave in Nevada, there'd be plenty of room.

It's no wonder they don't let you down there on your own. You'd get lost. And maybe consumed by bats or pseudoscorpions.

It's worth making the advance reservation for the 90-minute tour—or, in our case, showing up at 7 a.m. to try to get same-day standby tickets.

Related Posts:
The Impersistence of Memory: A Return to the Reopened Mitchell Caverns
Alone in A Crowd, Naturally.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

From Cattle Drives to the Silver Screen: The Mythology of The Singing Cowboy (via PBS SoCal)

Excerpted from my article for PBS SoCal, 

For lots of people, the nickname “The Singing Cowboy” conjures memories of and nostalgia for Gene Autry.

But while Autry left an indelible mark on SoCal with his film career (and patronage of L.A.’s Autry Museum of the American West), this second-generation Texan wasn’t the only celluloid cowboy of song.

Nor was he the first....

....And Hollywood screenwriters and composers didn’t invent the singing cowboy archetype out of nowhere, either.

Unknown to many, real-life cowboys on cattle drives from Texas into western states actually sang from the 1870s to the 1890s.

Not only that — but they had to sing.

According to pioneering musicologist and folklorist John A. Lomax, if a cowboy couldn’t sing back then, he wouldn’t get hired in the first place. Those who led the drives wanted melodies that would be ideal to ride by (and would lull the cattle to sleep at night)....

....These cowboys rode along the Utah, Navajo and Santa Fe Trails of the Great Western Cattle Trail “with a song on their lips,” and they gave voice to “the freedom and the wildness of the plains.”

To read the rest of the article, visit the PBS SoCal website here

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Photo Essay: Mount Wilson Observatory Engineering Tour

Located at 5,715 feet above sea level, Mt. Wilson Observatory is one of the oldest and most historic gateways to space that’s been treasured by professional and amateur stargazers alike.

With a long history as a research facility, it also houses two of the world's largest telescopes that have been made exclusively available to the public.

Built by George Ellery Hale and John D. Hooker respectively, these telescopes provided a way for man to try to understand the starry blanket that tucked them in every night.

They also facilitated amazing discoveries in the sky above and in the Universe as a whole.

On a few select weekends, stargazers are in for a special treat—because the Mount Wilson Institute conducts special behind-the-scenes tours of the 60-inch and 100-inch telescopes, machine shop, and historic powerhouse.

Inside the 60-inch dome...

...volunteer engineer Bill Leflang led a tiny group of us through all the mechanical, optical, and electrical details of this historic instrument.

We admired outdated control panels... array of tools...

...original levers...

...and the huge gears that help move the telescope above... well as its oil reservoir.

We even passed by Hubble’s personal locker where he once stored his lunch!

And in the 100-inch "Hooker" telescope dome...

...I once again stood beneath the chair where Hubble sat to measure the expansion of the universe... I had done during a nighttime stargazing session there years ago...

...when I was more interested in seeing double stars and dwarf planets than in learning how we could see such objects in the sky.

From the control console, our docent engineer rotated the dome (an optical illusion that makes it seem like the platform is moving)...

...and demonstrated different speeds of “slewing” the telescope...

...generally ranging from slow to slower and slowest.

Leflang and his fellow volunteers have spent years helping to maintain the telescopes—but they're experts in mechanics and electrical engineering, not astronomy.

So, we didn't see any stars in the sky...

...but it was daytime anyway.

We did, however, have stars in our eyes... we marveled at the machinery...

...and all the inner workings (like railroad tracks for the dome rotation!).

We encountered grease galore... we crammed into the smaller mechanical area beneath the telescope...

...and learned how the electrical control systems have been modernized over the last 102 years.

Our docent even unlocked the original electrical panel of the 100-inch...

...some of which is still in use...

...(and still “hot”).

Obviously, no touching is allowed. (But gosh, those levers are tempting!)

After lunch...

...we visited the Observatory’s original powerhouse...

...for a demonstration of its 50 HP Fairbanks-Morse Type RE engine/generator (circa 1911) by brothers Ken and Larry Evans.

This twin-cylinder gas-fueled engine—once nicknamed “Big Ben” by early engineers—once helped generate 40 kW of power at 125 volts DC. The Evans brothers refurbished it in 1999 and, in 2000, got it running for the first time in 30 years.

It was mind-blowing to see the rotating crankshaft, moving piston, pumping gasoline, and operating cylinders—all helping this magnificent machinery operate at 300 RPM.

Thanks to Mount Wilson Institute for offering the engineering tour!

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Mt. Wilson and Observatory
Counting Stars at Mount Wilson Observatory
Intergalactic Reflections at Mount Wilson's 100-Inch Telescope (Updated for 2017, Upon Its Centennial)