A beloved (by some) LA tradition in which the city shuts down some of its major streets and turns them over to cyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, and other non-motorized-vehicle users for their enjoyment. Often accompanied by vendors, activities, live music, and food trucks, Ciclavia really is just a giant street festival… with bikes.
And I have wanted to go since I started on my own adventures in cycling oh-so-many moons ago.
This past Sunday, I finally made it. J and I helmeted up, grabbed 2 giant bottles of water each (since it was supposed to be 105 that day), and headed right into the heart of downtown LA for this once-every-three-or-four-months event.
Now, one of the many fantastic things about Ciclavia is the community involvement. The festival moves to different parts of the city over the course of a year, so it offers a chance for Angelenos to get out and explore different neighborhoods. Especially since many of the businesses and attractions on the Ciclavia route participate in the event, and which, in some cases, can be one of the few times during the year you get to see these attractions.
Like the Tower Theater and the Los Angeles Theater.
We headed for the Theater District right after we jumped onto the Ciclavia route in Chinatown. We had seen that one of the offerings on that side of downtown was tours of these two historic buildings. Sounded interesting, but neither J nor I had any clue what we were actually going to see.
Beautiful. Elaborate. Ornate. These theaters are glamorous Hollywood at their most ostentatious. The Tower Theater, built in 1927, was designed in French Renaissance with a little Spanish, Romanesque, and Moorish influence thrown in there too. Coming upon the theater from the outside, the first feature to catch my eye is the clock tower. Beautifully slender and tall with ornate columns and embellishes, and a grayish-blue clock face, it easily reminded me of historic clock towers all across continental Europe (hence the different European influences seen in the overall architecture). Walking in through the front door brings you into a small lobby – which I later learned is loosely influenced by the famous Paris Opera House – and then into the main seating area.
All around is elaborately carved woodwork, gracing arched panels and columns, and slabs of black and white granite. Although the seats had been removed some years before, you could still feel the presence of being in a classic theater with curtain calls and ushers in full tuxedo tails. Not that the Tower was ever anything but a movie theater. We learned from our 10-minute tour the house was built exclusively for movie screenings, and was the first theater in LA wired for sound films. Although the Tower opened with a showing of a silent film, it was the theater selected for the sneak peek of the first “talkie,” The Jazz Singer, also released in 1927.
The architect behind the magic of the Tower, S. Charles Lee, was also called upon to design and build its neighbor, the Los Angeles Theater, in 1931. Even more elaborate and ostentatious then the Tower, the Los Angeles Theater has a six-story lobby graced with giant crystal chandeliers, carved woodwork, plaster embellishments, and pastel canvases.
The main seating area still features the original curtain, with its intricate portrayal of a caravan of horses and carriages parading through an elaborate arch, and retains its 3-dimensional façade – the ladies’ costumes and horses’ manes and tails are real fabric and hair. Looking up reveals a ceiling blanketed with darkened mirrors, made so by years and years of cigarette smoke swirling upwards from the packed seats below, and yet more recessed canvases.
I can’t imagine watching a movie in either of these theaters. I would be too busy studying all the architectural wonder.
After we departed the Los Angeles Theater, me with a souvenir photo book in hand, we next biked down to The Last Bookstore, a downtown LA institution, and a name not entirely far from the truth. Started in 2005, The Last Bookstore is one of the few remaining independent bookstores in California, and definitely the largest used book retailer in the state. It is a huge enterprise, encompassing two floors, with one section – the $1 Book Bin – alone containing somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 books! You could spend days in here! Days! J and I easily spent close to 2 hours, wandering the aisles and endless shelves. I made it upstairs to the Labyrinth, where I did not visit the art galleries, but I did wander through the $1 Book Bin (where some books are, believe it or not, organized by cover color!), and I took a walk through the tower of books.
Yes, the Tower of Books.
And to top off my first experience in this amazing bookstore, I walked away with 2 new books for only $18. I think I’m in love.
Lastly, J and I hopped on our trusty “steeds” and headed over to Echo Park, where we stopped by and visited the recently-refurbished Echo Park Lake before heading up to Sunset Blvd for lunch.
It was a glorious day. The kind of day I have grown to love more and more in my old age – exploring secret treasures right here in my own backyard. Ones I know I can stop and visit anytime I want, and ones that remind me that magic really is all around… even in a smog-infested, concrete jungle like LA.
Next Ciclavia is on December 7. Will I be there? Ha! Is the Pope Catholic?