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Best of L.A.: Places 

Wednesday, Sep 30 2009

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God only knows when it will reopen for business following the devastating Station Fire, but the little Astronomical Museum atop Mount Wilson is not only an unexpected educational stop-off in the San Gabriel Mountains, but a portal into the way the galaxy looked to astronomers in the 1930s and ’40s. Built in 1936, its bare-bones displays mostly consist of photographs of the solar system taken at the time, and as such, it’s kind of like thumbing through a very old astronomy textbook – the kind that would dramatically feature a colorized photo of Saturn on the cover. However, since the free-admission museum’s 1997 renovation, updated captions accompany the exhibits, which also include bits of machinery used in the transportation and construction of the nearby observatory’s 60- and 100-inch telescopes. There’s also a small auditorium for lectures. If this all seems like a rather long way to go look at some obsolete astronomy exhibits or to hear a lecture, blame it on the original land-lease agreement, which required the new Mount Wilson Observatory grounds to be open to the public during daylight hours – apparently to satisfy the tourist-hungry requirements of the observatory’s landlord, the Mount Wilson Hotel and Toll Road Company. The hotel and its restaurant are long gone, so pack a picnic lunch for the afternoon. There are plenty of tables near the parking lot. Take the Angeles Crest Highway north from La Cañada-Flintridge to Red Box Road, then turn off to reach the observatory. (626) 440-9016, Open daily from the first weekend in April to the last weekend in November from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., weather permitting.

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In the bar and lounge area on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s mezzanine level is an exceptional work of art: Hanging a few inches above a row of overstuffed chintz armchairs, next to a tapestry in high relief depicting a medieval village stage set, is a Frank Stella 1966 Irregular Polygon, the kind one usually finds only in a major modern art museum. Here, the viewer can get unusually close to the artwork; in fact, the piece hangs so near the armchairs that before performances and during intermission, lounging guests can lean their heads onto the bottom of the painting as a kind of high-end headrest. (Can anyone do something about that, please?) In this unlikely setting, amidst the kitsch, illusion and splendor of décor and operagoers alike, the painting takes on an understated but powerful resonance, operating on its own radical terms of objecthood — paint as flat and as good as it looks in the can. Just the way Stella liked it. 135 N. Grand Ave., L. A. (213) 972-7211,

—Mara De Luca


Walking down Manchester Avenue near Inglewood, a street lined with car-accessory stores, gas stations and the occasional strip joint, you’ll come upon an out-of-place wedding chapel that invites investigation. Always Forever Yours Wedding Chapel is nothing fancy, to be sure, with its ceremonies advertised for “as low as $49.” But there’s more on offer for that 1970s-era price: It includes the minister, flowers, photos and certificates of marriage. In a metropolis where weddings can easily run $20,000, it’s an intriguing place. The Rev. Don Johnson has been proprietor of Always Forever Yours since 1977, and he’s learned some tricks to keep overhead lean. He picks up his marriage licenses at the county building in Beverly Hills, for instance, a place that requires little waiting time. According to the reverend, who delivers his information without irony, not that many people in Beverly Hills want to get married, but for those who do, the Rev. Johnson will preside over your vows, no matter your religion, location or time of day. He has administered vows in record stores, at motorcycle clubs and at the Greystone Mansion. But his most in-demand service is marrying people in jail. It seems that love does indeed conquer all. 2115 W. Manchester Ave., L.A. (323) 758-8443.

—Juliette Akinyi Ochieng


Apart from Dodger Stadium, Angelus Temple, completed in 1925, is Echo Park’s most formidable structure, a colossal house of worship crowned by a silver-painted dome. Yet nestled up to the great building is the parsonage home of the Foursquare Gospel movement’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson. Until fairly recently, the parsonage was a gutted shell locked behind a wrought-iron fence, but it’s been cheerfully restored and presents, behind its rose bushes, a time warp to a long-vanished Los Angeles of blind faith. Built as a kind of miniature version of the temple, the parsonage has a classical, cylindrical design. Inside, many of its charismatic tenants recovered belongings are arranged as though McPherson had just stepped out. It’s a little top-heavy on framed letters and testimonials, and the silent narrative that emerges from its walls of photographs, along with its vintage clothing and kitchen appliances, conveniently skirts details of her scandalous “kidnapping,” her conservative political views and her death from an apparent drug overdose. (A short documentary loop and videotaped puppet-theater biography steer us toward McPherson’s more heroic work of feeding the hungry and healing the sick.) Nevertheless, the world seems to stand wonderfully quiet once the afternoon sun filters through the curtains on the lake-facing windows, and the terrible stillness of McPherson’s bedroom, with its hardwood floor and purple drapes, makes a poetic counterpoint to the clamor of the gift collection that awaits the visitor in the parlor room downstairs. The receptionists are very friendly and informative. 1801 Park Ave., Echo Park. (213) 989-6969, Mon.-Fri., 1-3 p.m., or by appointment; free.

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