Best of L.A.

Best Of 2010

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Best Of :: People & Places

Best bob, stage and puppeteers (1963)
Bob Baker Marionettes

For nearly half a century, puppet master Bob Baker has been entertaining people of all ages at his marionette theater near downtown. The native Angeleno first became interested in puppetry at age 8, before launching a long and successful career in animation. In 1963, he founded Bob Baker Marionettes with his late partner, Alton Wood, and in 2009, the City of Los Angeles designated it a historic cultural monument. Accolades, awards and letters of effusive praise cover the walls of the foyer, a testament to Baker’s character and reputation within the community. Inside, the theater continues to provide the backdrop for a series of heartwarming stage productions, brought to life by the 86-year-old and his team of young puppeteers. After the shows, audiences are invited to relax in an adjoining ice-cream parlor, where they have the opportunity to purchase one of Baker’s hand-crafted puppets. A local institution, Bob Baker Marionettes is now the oldest operating children’s company in L.A. While the puppets may be the ones drawing the crowds, it’s Baker who still pulls the strings. 1345 W. 1st St., dwntwn. (213) 250-9995, bobbakermarionettes.com. —Tanja M. Laden

1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 90026
MAP
213-250-9995
Best Spot for Graffiti Spotting

L.A. is a city with a skeleton of concrete. For graffiti artists, this corpse can be a canvas. In some urban corners, often left untouched (and unbuffed) by the powers that be, graffiti murals spring up like trees planted by invisible arborists. But these areas, like old-growth forests, are becoming rare. The mouth of the Belmont Tunnel — where the city’s first subway ran — was once the premier guerrilla gallery for urban artists. Today, lofts stand in its place, but one classic, old-school graffiti spot remains: the bridge at the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River. Murals, scrawled in the imaginative typography of the street, span the gray walls, sometimes extending down into the green waters of the basin. And on the undersides of the bridges, markings of the original graffiti artists, early-20th-century hobos, are written in coal swiped from the engine rooms of freight trains. Past meets present, forever etched on the urban walls. Under the Arroyo Seco Parkway, in the L.A. River. —Drew Tewksbury

Best F-U NEW YORK Museum
Hammer Museum

Billionaires covet eponymous museums like starlets pursue bigger breasts, then stock them with established names like rappers flashing their bling. Yet time often transcends such vanities, and a good museum becomes a presenter of breakthrough or unsung work. So beckons the Hammer Museum. Start with architecture that interacts with the street, making its shows Wilshire Boulevard–visible. Add programming that thinks bigger — say, discourses on global politics or surfboard design or a talk with artist-provocateur Paul McCarthy — none of which gets it too far from its primary mission. As well as internationally acclaimed artists, the Hammer consistently reveals new L.A. talent and respects established ones. Mark Bradford showed here five years before he appeared in the Whitney Biennial. Elliot Hundley’s first museum show was here. Meanwhile, retrospectives for the illustrious Richard Hawkins and Llyn Foulkes are in the works, as is an L.A. biennial. And all of it is an easy walk to three bus lines. That’s cosmopolitan. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Wstwd. (310) 443-7000, hammer.ucla.edu. —Tibby Rothman

10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood, 90024
MAP
310-443-7000
Best Japanese Garden
Suiho En

Suiho En, or the Garden of Water and Fragrance, is a stunning, traditional Japanese garden at the center of the San Fernando Valley’s vast watershed that reminds us of the beauty of water and nature, in poetic contrast to the adjacent reclamation plant that removes tons of sludge from our water system daily. Visitors are urged to walk, sit, “emulate Lord Buddha ... in silent contemplation of the human condition” (and to also view the wastewater filtering process up close). The cost of pursuing spiritual enlightenment at the garden is $3; call in advance for docent-led tours. 6100 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys. (818) 756-8166, thejapanesegarden.com. —Suzy Beal

6100 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys, 91406
MAP
818-756-8166
Best Inhospitable Hospital (1904)
Linda Vista Community Hospital

Abandoned places have their own energy — or seem to, at least, if you watch any basic-cable pseudoscience-channel filler programs about hauntings or the paranormal. The abandoned Linda Vista Community Hospital in Boyle Heights is used these days as a shooting location for everything from episodes of ER to music videos to assorted horror movies dripping with that dull post-Saw decay for effect. You can wander through for a fee. Founded in 1904 as the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital, it served railway employees who got sick of working on the railroad all the livelong day. Closed in 1991, it’s been the focus of intrepid urban explorers who are either too principled or too cheap to pay the admission fee charged by the on-site guard. So why would ghosts choose to haunt places with very little life left in them? Psychoacoustic feedback loops, unexplained penance and just plain spectral loneliness have all been offered as guesses at ghostly motivation, but the faithful and the skeptical can agree that the building currently crumbling away slowly in East Los Angeles resembles a ghost because it’s just sad. 610 S. St. Louis St., Boyle Heights. (323) 526-4222. —David Cotner

610 S. St. Louis St., Los Angeles, 90023
MAP
323-526-4222
Best Host to Toast a Ghost

It doesn’t take much more than decent eyesight to see a celebrity in L.A. But a ghost? That might take some doing. Fortunately, Richard Carradine and G.H.O.U.L.A. are here to help. Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles hosts “Spirits With Spirits” gatherings, on the 13th of each month, in a haunted locale. Their slogan: “Let’s put the ‘Boo!’ back into ‘booze.’” G.H.O.U.L.A. gatherings bring together kindred spirits to swap ghost stories and hunt for specters in a congenial atmosphere. In August, on Friday the 13th, the group visited Santa Anita Race Track’s Derby Restaurant, said to be haunted by Seabiscuit’s jockey, George Woolf. In September they moved on to Echo Park’s 1642, in a Deco building that opened in 1914 and has been a neighborhood bar since at least the 1940s; its ghost reportedly is a happy, tippling type of spirit, prone to bumping bartenders and patrons alike. Skeptics welcome. ghoula.blogspot.com. —Lisa Horowitz

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Best bob, stage and puppeteers (1963): Bob Baker Marionettes

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