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Los Angeles - A day Downtown

Los AngelesDowntown Los Angeles, a city that rivals New York in cultural tourism.

Some people who don't know Los Angeles think there is no "center of town". However, downtown Los Angeles is a vital and genuine metropolitan area, charged with lively mercantile activity, colorful cultural events, and fine architectural preservation reflecting the unique history of the city. Much of Downtown conveys the atmosphere of Mexico City, while its other neighbourhoods, such as Chinatown and Little Tokyo, allow glimpses of other global influences present throughout Los Angeles, the world's most ethnically diverse city.

A visit to Los Angeles should include a stay Downtown. Depending on the time of year, one might be able to find affordable rooms at one of the landmark hotels in the area, such as the Bonaventure, The Biltmore, or the Figueroa. There are also the usual Hiltons, Holiday Inns and Marriotts. The Biltmore and the Figueroa are the oldest and most architecturally fascinating.

The Biltmore (now called the Millenium Biltmore) has the advantage of being just two blocks from Broadway's jewelry district, where one can also see the facades of the old burlesque theatres, later converted to the opulent movie palaces of the Twenties and Thirties. A stroll up Broadway from Sixth to First Street is a marvellous way to spend the day. If you are not staying at a hotel downtown, you can easily ride the Metro from Hollywood or Universal City, and get off at Seventh and Flower, which is just four blocks from Broadway.

Despite what you might have heard, Downtown Los Angeles is a very safe place, if you know where you are going. Skid Row (Fifth Street, called "The Nickel") is a place where homeless people panhandle (ask for money). You may even see "tent cities" and people living in boxes. Be prepared to hand out a dollar bill or two. This situation is the legacy of Ronald Reagan, our President in the Eighties, who closed down federally supported mental institutions and other government facilities for poor people. Back in the Eighties, a sign began to appear on the bus benches of West Hollywood. It read: "Another Ronald Reagan affordable housing project." The eight-term of Bill Clinton did little to relieve our homeless population. Although a Democrat, Clinton was too much of a Republican compromiser, and his Welfare Reform Act has made matters worse. Needless to say, the current Administration in Washington has not addressed the national problem of homelessness.

Homeless people are nothing to be afraid of. They are poor, helpless, and harmless. Give them a few coins or a buck, smile, and be on your way. The receiver of you gift will say "God bless you, brother (or sister)," leaving you to fell actively involved in the life of the city. You will find the homeless in all parts of the greater Los Angeles area. They come from all over the country, because the mild climate makes it easier to survive here without shelter.

During the summer, you might run into a heat wave, where the temperature goes into the nineties. For the most part, the temperatures stay in the eighties. From autumn to spring, the climate is lovely, in the sixties and seventies, with the exception of a few rainy days, especially in late winter (January through March), when the night time temperature can dip into the forties. (Fahrenheit)

Get yourself to Broadway and Sixth or Seventh. Put on your walking shoes. You might think you're in Mexico City, not Los Angeles. Storekeepers flood the sidewalks in front of their shops with displays and racks of goods. Music blares from every entrance. This is the Jewelry District. You'll also pass several of the movie palaces built during the burlesque and silent film era. The aren't usually open for public viewing, and their future is in question at present, due to the cost of maintaining these cavernous, rococo theatres.

Arrive at Third Street, 317 S. Broadway at lunchtime, and you'll find yourself at the entrance to the Grand Central Public Market, which is open from 9-6 Monday to Saturday. This is a huge bustling market, which contains delicatessens, fruit and vegetable stands, lunch counters, bakeries, fish and meat stalls, international foods, health bars and specialty shops. You'll have fun here, and you should get a bite to eat. After lunch go across the street to the Bradbury Building, at 304 S. Broadway. It is open from 9-5 Monday through Friday. Built in 1893, you will recognize the interior as the setting for many movie and t.v. shows.

Walk through the Central Market to Hill Street and ride the Angel's Flight cable car to Olive Street and the California Plaza. Walk up to Olive and Second Street and head west one block to Grand. You will find yourself standing at the back of the fabulous new Walt Disney Concert Hall. Designed by the architect Frank O. Gehry, it resembles an abstract metallic schooner in full sail. It is a remarkable, startlingly unique edifice. The front entrance is on First Street, and if the box office is open, you might want to inquire about tickets. This is the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. The Director has said that since it began playing inside the hall, which has been called an acoustic marvel, the orchestra sounds as if it has gained a full octave to its tone. Across from the Disney Hall you will see the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, where the Los Angeles Opera, under the direction of Plácido Domingo, is in full season from October to June. It is usually possible to buy tickets at the box office, as the performances do not always sell out. Also at the Music Center, you will find the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theater, where first-run theatrical productions are performed year-round.

If you keep walking north, past the Music Center to Temple Street, at Temple and Grand you will find the massive new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The grounds are lovely, and the Cathedral is impressive from the inside. The stark exterior has been the subject of much controversy. There is a nice café where outdoor lunch is served. Occasionally, there are concerts or programs going on inside.

If you have returned to the Biltmore Hotel, either by taxi or shuttle, be sure to enjoy high tea in the sumptuous lobby at 4 p.m., where you can savor pastires, tea, cocktails, and the impressive decor of a beautifully recreated sixteenth century Italian palazzo. The Biltmore also has three restaurants, and a taxi or shuttle will take you back to the Disney Hall or the Music Center after supper.

olvera streetOn another day, take the Metro to Union Station, the lovely old train station which sits directly across from Olvera Street, a feastive and delightful place to spend the afternoon and evening. This is the oldest part of Los Angeles, founded by Spanish settlers, and officially named, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Angeles (The City of Our Lady the Queen of Angels). You will find a wealth of Mexican curios and artisan crafts here, as well as clothing to buy, and restaurants where you can sit and enjoy cervezas and margaritas while Mexican musicians stroll among the tables. After you have spent two days in Downtown Los Angeles, you will agree, it is the "Queen of Angeles."

--Leslie Monsour



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