LASA in Downtown L.A.

LASA kicked off 2018 in downtown Los Angeles at the public library. Hovering at the half-way point in our LASA year, we spent time thinking about the questions LASA students have answers for and those that remain. The list is impressive: How might be address lack of cohesion of LA neighborhoods – what causes the sectionalism/gentrification? What are LA’s plans to address homelessness – what are the successful strategies other cities have utilized? What is the environmental impact infrastructure in LA related to sewage, air pollution, and waste? Students presented their questions and strategies for pathways towards answers. And Bill, Elizabeth, and Taryn are now restructuring LASA’s March session to address two of the questions.

Dr. Belinda Waltman, Medical Director of Whole Person Care Los Angeles, joined LASA to discuss her work with healthcare and LA’s highly vulnerable populations. Her experiences with homeless patients who rotated in and out of the ER and then transitioned to better care via a Community Health Worker touched LASA’s students. Thanks to Dr. Waltman for answering all of the terrific questions the students posed and for sharing lunch with us.

After lunch, Los Angeles Times architectural critic Christopher Hawthorne led LASA on a captivating walking tour of Bunker Hill. LASA student Jeimy shared, “It was pretty cool because I got to see things I’ve never once seen. I’m usually at Downtown LA a lot when I come with my mom and the fact that I’ve never seen any of the things I seen that day was nice to see. Overall, I got to see things that I never even knew existed.” LASA contemplated the personalities of buildings and the waves of imagining the possibilities of this space. LASA departed from the library with new eyes for seeing LA and the city’s people.




LASA goes Under L.A.

In November, LASA considered the subterranean stories under Los Angeles. Seeking answers to questions about the details of these stories and the significance of “under Los Angeles” to their present lives, students met on the USC campus and jumped on the bus to the La Brea Tar Pits.

Greeted by Stephany Potze and Laura Tewksbury, LASA walked to the amphitheater near Project 23. Stephany is the Fossil Lab Manager and Laura is a Preparator (or Excavator). LASA student Renée shares, “It was incredibly fascinating to learn from these women about the process in which they dig up and then clean fossils. I was surprised to find out that the team at the tar pits has been working on the same fossil project (Project 23) for over ten years; it is evident that these archaeologists have a deep passion for and are extremely dedicated to their field of work.” While the larger fossils are dramatic finds, LASA learned that microfossils of plants hold vital clues to understanding climate change in this space over thousands of year.

Ashley Leger, Paleontological Field Director with Cogstone Resource Management, Inc., joined LASA at the tar pits and we walked along Wilshire Boulevard above the future Metro Purple Line. Her job is to spot potential fossil deposits as the construction on the Purple Line progresses. Her enthusiasm for her work was contagious as she shared her path to her career that started as a child with a love for paleontology. She explained the legal requirements that provide for her presence at such a massive site and her day-to-day work. The details about the specific workplace safety rules for those working underground (no batteries – so no phones or watches) and their specially-made explosion-proof tools intrigued us. Upon completion of the Purple Line, LASA graduates will consider Ashley’s work as they buzz past on their way downtown or to UCLA.

Then, LASA returned to USC to join ICW’s conference Under LA: Subterranean Stories. Though LASA missed the morning panels, we made it to the Cold War panel, “The Militarized Underground,” featuring Nathan Masters, ICW’s Director of the Aerospace History Project Peter Westwick, Sherman Mullin, and M.G. Lord. The images and details of bunkers and bomb shelters – and the power of fear – fascinated us. After picking up cookies for the way home, we left campus for the day and LASA for 2017 with a particular new attention to the spaces underneath us.

LASA Considers Justice and Injustice in L.A.

On October 21, LASA considered justice and injustice in Los Angeles. We started at LAPD’s Hollenbeck Station where we received a tour and the generosity of the officers’ time. Cesar noted that the visit allowed him “to experience what a normal day looks like for the police officers” and also gain “some insight on [the] views and objectives” of the LAPD. Julia found that the day helped her to “recognize the passion and morals that guide the police force more” clearly.

Many LASA students raised questions and concerns directly with the officers, from gun control to policing undocumented communities, to concerns over the militarization of the LAPD. Amira shared, “I’ve never been able to talk to a police officer about issues, concerns, and questions and see their working facility and day to day job experience. It was really unique to hear their point of view and then come back to LASA headquarters and have facts about the unromanticized version of the truth behind incarceration and policing.”

After our visit, we returned to the Huntington for lunch and to welcome UCLA Prof. Kelly Lytle Hernández to talk to us about her recent book City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965. In addition to her book she discussed her current work, Million Dollar Hoods, a digital mapping project that uses law enforcement data to show, as framed by Amira, the “inside scoop” on policing in the county. Cesar noted that the talk helped him better understand the “outcomes that can result from races residing in different geographic regions of the Los Angeles county.”

As the students left for the day with copies of City of Inmates, many shared that this was the most valuable LASA day of the year. For Cesar, considering justice and injustice in L.A. “made me realize that there are many things that do and don’t work together to power the city that I live in.”

LASA Learns about Tech in L.A.


LASA ventured into the worlds of technology and pine forests in September to consider the history and future of high tech Los Angeles.

Departing from the Huntington, LASA traveled up to Mt. Wilson Observatory. As the bus weaved its way up the mountain and the temperature dropped, we considered how close the Observatory is and yet how many of us had not ventured up to visit it before. At the top, guides Robert Anderson and Tim Thompson greeted us and we walked through the trees to the first structure.

Jillian shared, “It is strange that I have never heard of [Mt. Wilson] before, since during our visit I. . .learned so many famous people not only were there, but also studied and made some of science’s most important discoveries. What I enjoyed most about our visit to the Mt. Wilson Observatory is the fact that our guide would tell us stories of these scientists, especially those that demonstrated the arrogance of Edwin Hubble and the unusual circumstances of a German scientist who was able to make a profound discovery because of historical context- because of possible Japanese threat, Los Angeles went dark for much of the time, allowing for the scientist to observe the universe clearer.” As we boarded the bus and headed back to the Huntington, we took in Los Angeles from above.

At the Huntington, Tracy Fullerton – Director of the USC Game Innovation Lab – joined us and presented her award-winning game Walden. Based on Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, the digital game allows players to take walks in the pine forest around Walden Pond, plant and tend food, visit the local post office, and listen to portions of the text as well as portions of Thoreau’s letters. Tracy shared how Thoreau’s Walden has meant different things to her over the years. And Jose reflected, “We learned about why she made the game to [immerse] the player more into the story than the book would do. We talk[ed] about how it isn’t always fun and games when it comes to video games. It takes a lot of time to develop these types of games.”

As we closed the day, we realized we had considered high tech Los Angeles both historically and through present-day work and we had spent the day in the pine trees – both physically and digitally.


Photos courtesy of Victoria Bernal.

LASA Welcomes our Class of 2017-18

Wednesday, August 9

LASA Class of 2017-18

LASA welcomed its 2017-2018 class on Wednesday. This first day LASA considered the underlying natural environment of Los Angeles, starting a discussion on water and thinking about the plates underneath us.

LASA worked together in teams to map LA in creative and innovative ways. Check out some of the maps we created.

After introductions and mapping, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) Jeffrey Kightlinger spoke to LASA about the vast water infrastructure and history in Southern California.

LASA Student Mia reflected, “Listening to Jeffrey Kightlinger, I was reminded how vital water is to our existence along with the colossal amount of water and energy we go through each year. This reawakened my desire to enlighten more people about wastefulness and the preciousness of nature around us. Which will inspire more to be environmentally conscious in their everyday lives.”

After sharing lunch with Mr. Kightlinger, we welcomed Dr. Robert de Groot of USGS. Through maps, cookies, and pasta, LASA considered the shifting plates below us and scouted the fault that runs near the Huntington’s rose garden. Mia noted, “It is hard to believe that the ground we stand and live on is mobile; a thin layer of skin that can be easily broken and molded. . .I learned a lot and was reminded of the value of earth’s resources as well as the impermanent nature of earth’s surface.”

Thursday, August 10

After coffee and snacks, LASA boarded the bus for the first site visit of the year – to MWD’s Weymouth Water Treatment and water testing facility in La Verne.

Grateful for this unique opportunity, LASA watched a slide presentation that reinforced the history LASA learned from Mr. Kightlinger. And then, LASA toured the facility and looked down at all the plant accomplishes from the roof – including the new ozone treatment spaces.

LASA Student Lenny shared, “After that we went to the lab. . .to observe parts of the processes that filter water and make it usable. An interesting note from that lesson was that human tasters of the water were far more accurate and useful than machines. Also, regular coal is a far better filtration device than metal which supposedly is supposed to be more efficient.”

After sharing lunch, LASA welcomed the Huntington’s Head Gardener, Jim Folsom. Lenny wrote about how Mr. Folsom taught LASA “about climate and its relation to the people of LA. As he put it, we have the same day as everyone on the 34 degree north latitude line around the globe.” With quite a lot to think about, LASA adjourned for the day.

Friday, August 11

LASA conveyed at the downtown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library on Friday and set off to consider water and politics in and around downtown. Hiking down to the Metro Station, LASA traveled through Union Station to Chinatown and then walked to Metabolic Studio, home of the work of Lauren Bon and her team.

LASA Student Amanda wrote, “When we first arrived at the Metabolic Studio. . ., I was a bit surprised to learn that an art studio had undertaken an urban project concerning the water of the L.A. River. I thought ‘What experience do these artists have creating public works?’, ‘What is their goal?’, and ‘Why are they doing this?’ After learning from our gracious guide, Lou Pesce, and thoroughly researching the studio, I soon came to understand the purpose of the project. Not only does the team of Bending the River Back Into the City wish to clean the water to potable standards, but they also strive to revisit the 19th century L.A. River water wheels.”

Amanda continued, “What most impressed me about this project was the combining of a public work and the usage of art. Prior to the visit to Metabolic Studio, I hadn’t thought much about the aesthetics of dams, reservoirs, or water wheels. In addition to serving the community, the structure represents a historical monument, a macrocosm of a 19th century water wheel one could easily find along the Los Angeles River mid-1800s. To see such creativity, dedication, and collaboration among the team at Metabolic Studio was most inspiring to me. I can only imagine what a project like this requires: patience (the team had to obtain nearly 90 permits to merely start the project), teamwork, and perseverance.”

LASA returned to the library and greeted Prof. Raphael Sonenshein of California State University, Los Angeles. Prof. Sonenshein shared his experience with LA politics and LASA students walked away with some strategies they will use to solve issues they identify in their neighborhoods.

Before leaving for the day, Principal Librarian of the Central Library Joyce Cooper shared with LASA the goals and work of the downtown branch of the library to serve the surrounding community in new ways. She invited LASA back to consider the forthcoming mural and LASA plans to take her up on that offer.

Saturday, August 12

Bright and early Saturday morning, LASA met to kayak and learn more about the LA River with Paddle the LA River.

LASA Student Francis observed, “Of all the days of our LASA intensive week, it was Saturday that we were allowed the chance to appreciate the water of LA in its most natural, raw form. [G]etting the chance to kayak the LA River has shown me the potential that the City of Angels has to renew its character. The millions of us that call LA our home are all bound by our need for a natural element as simple as water.”

He continued, “The whole day, I felt as if LA was on the cusp of something amazing, and our LASA class should be very grateful for being able to peer over the edge of that cusp. The river transported us over that edge and we felt as if we were in a beautiful, foreign oasis. I am glad that the future of the city is in our young hands and that, through the river, we can transport the millions of other Angelinos to that beautiful paradise that our LASA class experienced.”

After sharing lunch in the park and reflecting on the summer session, LASA concluded for August and we look forward to thinking about HighTech LA in September.

Images courtesy John Lee, Victoria Bernal, Taryn Haydostian, and Bill Deverell

LASA thanks Metabolic Studio

LASA celebrates and offers a heartfelt thank-you to Metabolic Studio for its support for the 2017-2018 program. LASA looks forward to starting the new session in August and is grateful for Metabolic’s assistance to serve such a terrific class of incoming high school juniors.

LASA digs into the Port of Los Angeles

LASA ventured farther in April than usual with a day at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach.

Juan – our terrific bus driver for the day – ushered us from the Huntington to pick up Geraldine Knatz and the rest of our group at Ports O’Call in San Pedro. Geraldine is the port expert – having started as a student working in marine biology and working her way to serve as the Executive Director. She is now a professor at USC but spent the morning sharing ghost stories of Warehouse No. 1 and the plans for the original pier and cargo buildings. From the water’s edge, we looked at SpaceX holdings and Robert Ballard’s vessel that located the remains of the Titanic. Geraldine pointed out the tremendous volume of cargo that comes in and out of the Port of Los Angeles and the various ways that cargo works its way inland.

We then crossed through the Port of Long Beach to meet with Ken Blake, a civil engineer working on the new Gerald Desmond Bridge. The new bridge will sit significantly higher to allow double stacked container vessels easy access. Thanks to his navigational skills, we ended up at work site underneath the new sections of bridge. The plans and execution of the towers and innovative construction methods captured our imaginations!

The day ended at the Japanese Fisherman Village and Memorial on Terminal Island with Naomi Hirahara, fiction and non-fiction author, who shared with us a map and her knowledge of the lost community of Japanese and Japanese American fisherman. Amidst the commercial port, she guided us to a few remaining buildings from the village and shared her thoughts about dwelling in this space. We are all looking forward to reading the book she and Geraldine wrote on Terminal Island.

We left the port to return to the Huntington. The port we encountered on our journey today though seemed more like three ports – the historical port, the current port, and the visions (and construction) of the port of the future.

Urban Nature: From Frogtown to the Future

March left like a lamb.  We had perfect weather for our LASA gathering at the end of the month.  We began at The Huntington, where Bill Deverell gave us a “mini college lecture” on the history of the Los Angeles River.  Temperamental, tiny, and sometimes ferocious, the little river ran dry most summers but could flood in winter rains and rage.  We learned about the gargantuan project to pave it, and we learned to think of the river as “an environmental canary in the coal mine of Los Angeles.”  In other words, we learned to look to the river to see the very nature of the metropolis’s relationship with, well, nature.

From the classroom, we then gathered at the river itself.  Over in Frogtown, we saw the river and a lot of what was going up and going around near it.  Speculative capital is finding — has found — the river and its banks, and things look to be changing every day. Over at Elysian, David Thorne told us about the Clockshop/Elysian partnership made of arts, politics, community, and food, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely at this special place.  Sean Woods of California State Parks met us there, and he told us about the ways in which State Parks partners across the community, drawing ties between urban nature and creative expression and access to open space.  Sean took us to the Cornfield, soon to be Los Angeles State Historic Park, and guided us on a fabulous walking tour of this amazing open space at the north end of Chinatown.  Fabian Wagmister joined us, and he shared stories of the neighborhood with us (and how rapidly it is changing).

It was a great day — a mix of nature, arts expression and arts organization, public and park entities, and time spent with generous and creative people.  Thank you to all from all.

LASA Goes Behind the Screen

LASA celebrated the television and motion picture arts on Oscar-weekend by exploring and wondering about LA’s stories and storytellers of the future.

Gathering at the Huntington, we set off to KCET studios to explore the long local tradition of public television. Filled with cameras, desks upon desks of people dedicated to sharing LA stories to the broadest audience, editing equipment, and a massive green screen, we considered the critical role of public television historically and moving forward to our city and region. Thanks to Matt Crotty and his team for the tour and for guiding us through KCET’s multi-platform programing. We all went home and either watched some of the materials they provided or checked out the newest content via our platform of choice!

After returning to the Huntington to share lunch, we welcomed Caitlin Mavromates and Maribel Moses. Friends since their early teens, the two shared their individual and collective journeys through college to filmmaking. Currently working on a project with high school students in the San Fernando Valley, they led us through an exercise in constructing narratives. Further confirming that LASA students are the best, the creative and thoughtful narratives they performed formed a perfect ending to the day.

See you next month as we consider the LA River anew!

LASA Volunteers at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank

Our day on January 7th started early.  Though not as early as our bus driver’s!  Mistakenly informed by her company that she needed to meet us at 6:30 in downtown Los Angeles, our driver had been curbside already for more than an hour before anyone showed up.  She took it all in stride, though, and, by 8:00 or so, the LASA contingent had arrived, braving the rain and the early hour, fortified by the coffee and donuts Elizabeth provided.

Our destination was not far away: the Los Angeles County Food Bank is, as the crow flies, not far from downtown.  But we were also traveling a world away from the skyscrapers of Los Angeles, a world away from the banking and legal centers of downtown.   We drove to the Food Bank, housed in a gargantuan warehouse in warehouse-rich Vernon, and joined a large group of a couple hundred volunteers already assembled and receiving registration and work instructions.  The Food Bank is a calorie-processing machine: its employees skillfully guide hundreds of volunteer workers through their tasks, all with the objective of organizing tons of food into manageable and “gleaned” parcels which, within days, find their way to distribution centers and to the county’s hungry and homeless.  One out of seven residents of L.A. County experience food shortages – that’s more than a million people rendered hungry every single day.

We did our part, or at least helped a little, in our morning at the Food Bank.  Our group was brought into the “gleaning room.”  Brrr.  The food, which included a lot of perishables (and a lot had already perished), had to be kept cold, which it, and all of us, were.  Somewhat hurried instructions about what we were supposed to do did not really register with any of us, but we clearly had the job of separating out food that could not continue on the journey to the hungry.  It all became clear pretty quickly, as we split up into labor lines and, helped by Food Bank staffers (all of whom work hard, quickly, and with humor), we began “to glean.”  Glean we did.  Rotten vegetables?  Toss them (weigh them first).  Expiration date well past?  Toss it (weigh it first).  Unfrozen turkey?  Ick.  Toss it (weigh it).  Lots of syrup containers.  We got the idea that some wholesalers of food may use the food bank as a charitable way to divest themselves of foodstuffs and products that even they knew would not make it to the hungry.  But, to be fair, the vast amount of food we encountered – fruit, vegetable, meat, eggs, boxed and dry food, candy, cakes, soft drinks, cheeses, snacks, and on and on – did pass muster, did get boxed by our assembly line efforts, and did move through the system to the next steps in other parts of the warehouse, to be further separated and re-boxed again for shipment out to the needy.


We worked nearly three hours.  We processed the entire mountain of boxes that sat before us as we walked into the gleaning room, and we were not cold any longer.  It was tiring and inspiring, both (it always is).  And we worked as a LASA team, all of us, and we were proud of ourselves.

The Food Bank says it can feed someone a meal for a quarter.  A family of four for a dollar.  That stunned us, as did the sheer number of those among us who are hungry every day.  As we moved off to lunch in downtown’s Central Market, we were all reminded of the disparities across greater L.A.  We each had a budget of about $15 for lunch in the Market.  Not extravagant in the least, given the rise in prices (and options) in recent months.  We ate well, and we had the chance to sample some of the great array of ethnic food that continues to be a keystone attraction of a revitalized downtown.  But, we thought, our $15 for, let’s say, a bowl of rice, chicken curry, a spring roll, and a Coke, could become a meal for 60 people if it were run through the amazing operation of the LA Food Bank.


Food for thought.

See you next month!