Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Wright Nice Saturday Ride

Given that my last post was somewhat about my childhood, it stands to reason that today I rode with the principal of the first elementary school I attended. While Ms. Born, of course, wasn't the principal when I was a student at Overland Avenue Elementary School in the early 1950s (in the 1950s!?!). Ms. Born is the current principal. And I'm guessing the principal at my old school, when I was a student, did not ride a bike.

Five of us met and rode from Dale's home, which sits on a leafy-green avenue not far from the base of the Santa Monica Mountains. Four of us were adults; one, Ellery, was five years old; he is Dale's stoker and son. While they were a little slow on the uphills, they were no slouchers on the downhills and flats.

Admittedly riding a bike in traffic in Los Angeles can be intimidating. Yet to ride up into the Santa Monica Mountains is to leave the traffic behind. This morning, this was true as we turned onto a quiet portion of Hollywood Blvd. that is unknown to most Angelenos. Here, Hollywood Blvd. is narrow and it climbs up into the mountains, to end a few miles away at Sunset Plaza Drive.

Many of the homes in the Santa Monica Mountains, or "Hollywood Hills" as the local geography is also known, are immense. Some of them are tucked out of view of the street. One of the more famous homes we passed is neither particularly large, nor hidden from the public. That's the Storrer House, built in out of concrete blocks 1924 by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright for a Los Angeles doctor (of homeopathic medicine).

There are two other such houses in Los Angeles built by Wright. They all use a "textile-block" motif, with the textured decorations looking as if they were woven into the concrete. Wright apparently was annoyed that he was most known for his "prairie" architecture, and decided to think out of the box. Ultimately, the style – some people think the houses look like Mayan fortresses – didn't catch on, and in private correspondence, Wright admitted the concrete blocks were "ugly." Frankly, Mr. Wright, I could live in such ugliness.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Eventually we reached a flat stretch of road along Sunset Plaza Drive that offered a stupendous view over the city. The Wilshire Corridor, with its tall buildings, is visible in the photo below, between Marty and Anna. While we rode under blue skies, below us we could see the city still sat beneath a layer of thin, grayish haze of coastal clouds that had blown in the night before.

I had a pleasant conversation with Ms. Born, about methods to put young students at ease, and elementary school architecture. My conversations with Ellery were a little on the lighter side, and I particularly liked the way he freely offered up one of his Kid's Clif Bars to me while we looked out over the city. During the course of our ride, there were a lot of double takes of Ellery from pedestrians we passed, as they realized the stoker on the tandem was a small child.

Riding again, we turned off onto a hidden series of streets leading past more magnificent homes, like the one below.

Most people I've met who have never been to Los Angeles imagine the city is one vast, flat plane. The streets we pedaled up this morning show otherwise.

Eventually, we reached the eastern end of Mulholland Drive, and dropped down into Cahuenga Pass, before riding uphill again on the steepest pavement of the day. Then we dropped down to reach the Hollywood Reservoir, built by William Mulholland, who headed the Los Angeles water department in the 1920s. Mulholland envisioned and then built the system of canals and reservoirs that supply the city with much of its drinking water. The movie, "China Town," made by Roman Polanski, deals – in the fictionalized way that Hollywood films do – in part with the story of Muholland's efforts.

William Mulholland

Above: Yes, this is Los Angeles, just a few minutes from its busy boulevards, viewed from the top of the dam at the Hollywood Reservoir. A road that runs around about half the reservoir is open to the public, and closed to cars.

While we might have ridden farther, Ellery vetoed that notion. We made a wonderful descent through narrow, and mostly car-free streets to reach Cahuenga Blvd., in the heart of Hollywood, and we were back in traffic. From there, our homes and the end of the ride were a few minutes away.

Note: For larger-sized images, click on the pictures.

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