City of Angels is golden again

LOS ANGELES has never been high on my list of livable cities. In the great urban decay of the 1970s, I would drive to L.A. for live theater, then hightail it home to my place in the suburbs. Downtown after dark seemed dangerous.

But in the words of Mark Twain, the reports of her death were greatly exaggerated. Los Angeles is back, baby. She’s golden again.

In town for a campus tour with my college-bound daughter, we wanted to stay in downtown L.A., near the University of Southern California. Our goal was to never set foot in a rental car, using the bus and the metro and those two things called “feet” at the stumps of our legs. Call me crazy, but driving in one of America’s biggest cities wasn’t on my bucket list.

“It’s an easy walk just one block up Flower Street,” offered our hotel concierge, explaining how to catch L.A.’s bus system — DASH. We were staying at the Biltmore Millennium, a short jaunt — even in heels — to the world-class Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum, Walt Disney Concert Hall, REDCAT and the Ahmanson Theatre.

But flats and flip flops were the footwear of choice on the first leg of our tour. We grabbed a seat on the bus next to an eclectic mix of students, hipsters and tourists and traveled the 20 minutes to Trojan territory and the campus of USC.

In a neighborhood that was once considered risky, the school has done much to gentrify this part of town. Run-down Victorians have been purchased and restored into off-campus housing. Cafes and sandwich shops are sprouting on once-shuttered corners.Complimenting campus is the nearby L.A. LIVE complex, a glittery performance venue including the 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre, host of the Primetime Emmy Awards Sept. 21. Luxury condos, two hotels, movie theaters, a night club and a 40,000-square-foot outdoor plaza are slated to follow. Even historic Exhibition Park is enjoying a renaissance of sorts as a new generation discovers its stately rose gardens, museums and other cultural offerings.

But it’s the theater that really sets the city apart. On the night we were there, we saw the Broadway hit “Sweeney Todd” at the Ahmanson for just $20. It was an amazing offering, available two hours before show time with what the theater calls “hot tix” (discount tickets for same night performances). That, coupled with the $2 appetizers at a hip nearby eatery, made for an affordable evening for my daughter and me.

It also left us money for shopping, which is legendary in this city. With L.A.’s famed Fashion District a short DASH ride away, we were able to pick up some chic back-to-school clothes and have money left over for a bite in one of the neighborhood’s popular ethnic restaurants.

“Look up, and you’ll see something most folks miss,” offered one of the city’s longtime residents. He was talking about one of L.A.’s real treasures — architecture. From Thomas Mayne’s futuristic Caltrans building to Broadway Street’s fabulous old movie palaces, the wealth of this city is still evident in its architecture. I especially enjoyed seeing the soaring Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the third largest cathedral in the world.

But arguably, the most iconic attractions in town are Hollywood celebrities. Almost everywhere you go, crews are shooting shows, films and commercials. Star-gazing, as we used to call it, is one of the perks of staying in L.A. Even the Biltmore boasts row after row of celebrity photos, harking back to the days when the grand hotel hosted the Academy Awards.

That’s Los Angeles, a melting pot of entertainment, culture and history that defines today’s urban environment. The city that seemed so cold in the 70s is a hot property today.


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