Sunday, December 03, 2006

Larchmont Village in Los Angeles: Designed for Walking

Los Angeles is a series of villages. My apartment is between the Western Avenue, part of immigrant Koreatown village, and Larchmont Boulevard village, the shopping area for the Windsor Square/Hancock Park village. This area was built from 1900-1930s between Wilshire and Beverly Boulevard as wealthy suburbs with mansions for the downtown Anglo business and political elite. With integration starting in the late 1960s, Asian, Hollywood, Jewish, Latins and Blacks bought some of the two-story huge houses. Neighbors from the mansions south of Boulevard or the 1-story houses and apartment north of Beverly go to Larchmont Village's shops or cafes. Larchmont Village has two wonderful characteristics: it is a street (not a mall) built for walkers and it has great looking apartment houses. People actually do stroll here.

Today's walk begins and ends at the same place: at the north end of Larchmont where it deadends into Melrose Avenue. A few doors west of Larchmont at 5720 Melrose is a shop with a sign saying The Bindery with books and a hand press in the window at 5720 Melrose. The shop owner, Charlene Matthews, is a hand book binder who does excellent work in book restoration.

Back at the corner of Melrose and Larchmont Avenues I start south through three blocks of antique stores, dentist and realty offices in wooden 1-story former homes. The 1st block has Hans Weisshaar's Rare Violins at 617 Larchmont with a lovely wrought-iron sign over the street that says "violins"; the four-story brick Thai Consulate a few doors down. In the 2nd blook on the eastside is a small building housing the Larchmont Chronicle, the village newspaper. On the westside is Dawson's Bookshop/Michael Dawson Gallery at 535 No. Larchmont (W-Sat 10:00-5:00, 323-469-2186; Dawson's is always a wonderful place to stop and browse books.

The third block on Larchmont on the westside has both practical shops and the not-so-practical: a minimall with a cleaners, shoe repair, and alteration shop; Kasimoff Pianos, which sells German pianos; and Le Petit Retreat, a day spa where one can drop $500 in a afternoon on three different kind of body scrubs! One the eastside is Healing Hands at 414, which has massage (only $60/hour), chiropractor, and accupunture; Barking Lot, for pet supplies; and Chan Dara restaurant, a Thai restaurant with a lovely indoor patio. At Beverly and Larchmont is Koo Koo Roo, a healthy fast food eatery, which features "original skinless flame broiled chicken." The chicken is good as well as healthy--a good choice for lunch.

Once I cross Beverly Boulevard I get to the one main block of Larchmont Village, one of the few blocks in Los Angeles actually designed for pedesterians. Each side of the street is shaded with huge trees, has large stone planters with flowers in them, and even has wooden benches. Now the block is decorated for Christmas with a red ribbon on each tree and red-and-white stripes around each parking meter. This block seems like Italy: most of the shops are small clothing boutiques and cafes with outdoor tables spilling onto the sidewalk. One sees many other walkers here: yoga students carrying their yoga mats going to the Center of Yoga; teenagers from the neighborhood hanging out in the cafes; young mothers with a child going shopping; middle aged and seniors running erands.

While Larchmont's main block has its share of pricey boutiques, there are many practical shops. The westside of the street has a farmer's market selling fruits and vegetables every Sunday 10:00-2:00 pm; the Village Pizzeria with people crammed into the outdoor tables; and a Wells Fargo bank with ATMS. The eastside of Larchmont has a Rite-aid, a chain drugstore -pharmacy with a large newstand in front; a small dry cleaning/shoe repair; Larchmont Village Hardware, where I've gotten vacuum cleaner bags as well as enamel paint to repair my tile kitchen counter; a plumbing store; and Sam's Bagel's, which has huge bagels baked on the premises. Landis General Store is one of my favorite shops: it has everything from pajamas to odd gifts like a folded up travel hat to elegant stationary with lines my mother likes to write letters on.

On the eastside of the street is Chevalier's bookstore with a children's annex with little chairs and tables and huge stuffed dolls include raggedy Anne and Andy perched on top of the high book shelves; the main annex has a good selection of books about Los Angeles, new fiction and non-fiction, cookbooks, mystery novels, and an occasional booksigning. After shopping one can stop at Peet's Coffee &Tea, the only corporate coffee chain worthing going to. Peet's staff take classes in coffee and teas so they're very knowledgeable. I always like the free taste of coffee or tea in a pot of tea or coffee near the cash register; one day I'd like to stop by for the tasting sessions on the weekends.

Now at the corner of Larchmont and First Avenue I turn right, walk one block to Arden, turn right again walking through this one residential block of well-kept one-story homes of Hancock Park neighborhood. At Beverly Boulevard I cross the street, turn left, walk one block to Rossmore and then turn right. At the corner I notice on a post a small sign poster saying "War is over if you want it" while across the street is the Wilshire Country Club which covers blocks going east with its golf course. On July 4th the country club has a huge display of fireworks which can be seen from my house 1/2 a mile away, but many neighbors gather at this cover of Rossmore to get an even better and closer view of the fireworks.

Rossmore Avenue is a shaded, tree-lined street with two blocks of elegant apartments, a rarity for Los Angeles. During the 20th century the L.A. ideal was the detached single-story house, so I love to see these rare but beautiful soaring apartments. Most of the apartment buildings on these two blocks are huge and beautiful, but three have particularly gorgeous architecture. The El Royale at 450 North Rossmore has nine stories, a penthouse, and huge carved stone doorways. Built in 1920 by William Douglas Lee in a French and Spanish colonial revival, the El Royale is an historical-cultural monument as are some of the other apartment buildings nearby. Many famous actors from George Raft to Nicholas Cage have lived at the El Royale, while John F. Kennedy once stayed at the Mauretania Apartments at 520-522 Rossmore, which looks like a modern ship sailing off into the street. Built in 1934 by Milton Black after a British ship, the Mauretania does look like a cruise ship with its Art Deco Streamline Moderne style.

After the Mauretania, I like the Ravenswood Apartments at 570 No. Rossmore. Actress Mae West lived here for 48 years in the building owned by Paramount Studios a few blocks away on Melrose (she liked to walk to work). The Ravenswood, with its huge bronze doors, eight stories, and an Art Deco Style, was built in 1930. Continuing up the block I pass the Church of Christ with its Korean signs out front and then the Christ the King Chatholic Church parish house and then the church itself. We pass a little minmall with Mario's Peruvian seafood restaurant and a Radio Shack. Now we're back at the corner of Rossmore and Melrose Avenues with a large Pavilions supermarket with pharmacy across the street.

If one turns right to continue walking east on Melrose Avenue past a minimall with Korner Cafe coffeehouse I hope to soon try. In Larchmont Avenue like Western Avenue I can walk to get the necessities: a supermarket; a Sunday morning farmer's market for fruits and vegetables; a couple pharmecies; a hardware store; dry cleaners and shoe repair shops; many banks with ATMs. But Larchmont has many speicalty shops including two wonderful independent bookstores, a hand book binder, a rare violin shop and a piano shop.

At Lucerene and Melrose is the Greek Seafood Village open M-F 12-9 and Saturday and Sunday 12-10. It's half off before 7:00. My friend Erica who spent a year in Greece says the decor this restaurant has the most authentic decor since most of the restaurants in Greece look exactly like this one; the seafood is pretty good too. One more block and we're back at the corner of Larchmont and Melrose Avenue where our walk began. Larchmont Village shows that if streets are made comfortable for strollers, they will come. If elegant apartment houses are erected, people will live in them for 48 years like Mae West did. If only many more blocks in Los Angeles were like Larchmont Village's designed for strolling with leafy shade trees, wooden benches, and planters filled with flowers.


Alex said...

I used to live on Rossmore at the Hermoyne and also at the Ravenswood. I suspect--like everyone who lived at the Ravenswood--I saw the ghost of Mae West, but not the ghastly or likeness type. I enjoyed Larchmont Village very much, before it's now more commercial days. I dated an artist that lived at the El Royale. I feel as though I lived in the 20's.

California Writer said...

I wish I'd seen the ghost of Mae West, but, alas, I never did

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