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LA's Million Dollar Theater

Vendor Just Blocks Away From LA's Financial District
The next day I purchased tickets for Universal Studios with the LA Westin Bonaventure concierge. I mentioned that I had crossed Broadway Street and how impressed I had been with the architecture of all the old theaters. The hotel concierge, Lupe Pitone, told me that it was a beautiful area and assured me that there was nothing to fear during the day. In particular, she mentioned the Million Dollar Theater on Broadway and spoke of its sumptuous interior and thick velvet curtains. She said that as a little girl, she used to wait in a line that snaked around the block to see a double feature on the weekends. "I have some wonderful childhood memories of the Million Dollar Theater," said the concierge.

I went back up to our room with our Universal Studios tickets and information that my husband should not take the subway to LAX at night to pick up our rental car, advice that he fortunately heeded. He said that taking the subway through South Central Los Angeles reminded him of riding the RER through the northern and eastern suburbs of Paris where there are endless low-rent highrise apartments and seemingly nothing else. He also said that there were a few unpredictable commuters who exhibited signs of questionable sanity.

Entrance to the Million Dollar Theater
Back in our hotel room, enthusiastic suggestions of outings elicited crossed-arms and shrugs. My bumps on a log didn't even want to step outside for lunch. I sat back and read another of our California guides and learned about the highly rated Grand Central Market, which happened to be next to the Million Dollar Theater the concierge had talked about. I also read online about Bringing Back Broadway, an LA initiative to restore "the largest historic theater district west of the Mississippi." I just had to take another look, so I offered to go out and pick up some lunch for everyone and told them that I would be back in 45 minutes to an hour.

I walked as quickly as I could down Fifth Street to Broadway, but as the people and scenery changed I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach--yes, apprehension. It had been over 12 years since I had traveled anywhere alone, and as I looked north down Broadway, I thought of the many places I had to forego in Latin America because of this very feeling. There were two tall dirty men dancing erratically on the sidewalk about 10 feet away, and even the hipsters in this part of town suddenly appeared grimy and tough. It would be hard to explain to my husband that on a quick trip to buy band aids and tacos, I got roughed up on Broadway, blocks away from our hotel. I decided against walking anywhere further north and headed south where there were fewer people on the sidewalk.

China Café at Grand Central Market
Along the way I was greeted in Spanish by shopkeepers selling gold, t-shirts, magazines and sunglasses. Then I saw the ornate Million Dollar Theater. Its name apparently comes from the fact that it cost a million dollars to build in 1917. Unfortunately, I was only able to take pictures of the outside because it was the site of a film shoot. The Grand Central Market, which has been in operation since 1917, was also a wonderful surprise, something I never would have expected to see in Downtown LA for many reasons. For one, it was colourful, cheery, and devoid of Armani suits. Two, it was extremely cheap. I bought two chicken tacos for $2.50 each, heavenly shrimp ceviche for $4.00, and a small basket of strawberries, a bag of cherries and a red pepper from a vegetable vendor for just $2.50.

When I got back an hour later with lunch, I showed my husband my pictures, and he was instantly jealous. "I wish I had gone too," he said.

Of all the things we would see in California, historic Downtown LA was the biggest surprise. The "birthplace of vaudeville and cinematic entertainment" did not figure in any of our guide books, nor had I ever seen pictures or heard of these nine blocks on Broadway housing 12 historic theaters. When we think of LA, we rarely think of history, and we really should.

I highly recommend this area. Just dress down and go with someone else during the day. If you go a few years from now, these precautions might not be necessary. Something tells me that Broadway might be completely transformed in the near future.

For further reading on historic LA
Pictures and history of the 12 theaters (A must-see)
Million Dollar Theater

Other posts about LA
Disney Theatre W/ the Kids
Unexpected Beauty of Historic Los Angeles

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The Unexpected Beauty of Historic Los Angeles

View Heading Up 4th Street to Flower
As the tour conductor of our family trip, I'd consulted my guide books and Urbanspoon, a great online resource for restaurants, for a spot to eat dinner. Blossom, a family friendly Vietnamese restaurant, had been recommended by both Le guide du routard and Urbanspoon, so I figured it was worth a try.

We had to venture down 5th Street, past Pershing Square, which I'd read was to be avoided at night, and walk two streets below Broadway. At the Square just behind the famous Biltmore Hotel, the scenery and people changed dramatically, from Lexus-driving Armani-clad businessmen to a few urban hipsters, some rubbies, drug addicts and droves of everyday people, walking and socializing on the sidewalks. The language in storefront windows had also  changed to Spanish. The gleaming glass of the skyscrapers had given way to older art deco buildings. Then at the corner of Broadway and 5th Street, I was awestruck. Broadway was lined with old rundown albeit beautiful theatres.

Some of the wonderful embellishment in historic LA
At the corner, I looked at my husband, who seemed wary. Yes, I could smell the urine too, the telltale sign of a densely populated area. As we crossed the street I said, "I wanted to take a picture, but I felt conspicuous." He looked straight ahead and asked, "How much further is it?" Our five-year-old, aka "the Dude," was getting testy. Children had changed how we viewed a city, making us hyper-vigilant about safety.

Our Way Back on Fourth Street

Turning back for a picture was out of the question, but I thought about Broadway through the entire meal, which was pretty good for the price. Unfortunately, with all the Vietnamese restaurants in Montreal, including our favourite on St. Hubert, we have a good reference for comparison. While Blossom had awesome iced green tea and delicious iced coffee served with condensed milk, the chicken curry was too savory for my liking. Yes, I've recently become salt-adverse and have always been, well ah, picky, but my husband loved Blossom's pho.

Before leaving, I asked the owner if there was a route back to our hotel to avoid Pershing Square just before nightfall. He laughed and told us to take 4th Street as an alternate route. On our way back, we passed by a few hipster bars, restaurants and art galleries. In other words, gentrification has begun in historic downtown LA, apparently a beef of the city's Occupy movement. There were plenty of "film ready" signs in the windows of old art deco buildings. Fourth Street indeed had fewer people, but it also included a very steep incline, and the Dude complained bitterly. He was so put off that the next day, he even refused to go to the beautiful Los Angeles County Library, just across the street. "The hotel pool or nothing," he said with his arms crossed and his foot tapping.

It appeared that I had missed my window of opportunity to see Historic Downtown LA and explore this wonderful old neighbourhood I'd never heard anything about. I'd already played my "Mommy insists" card for the LACMA. Would I be able to return...


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Downtown Los Angeles with the Kids

Princess in front of the Disney Concert Hall
Although I've been looking forward to our trip to California, the byproduct of a conference my husband is attending, the planning of our leg in downtown Los Angeles has not been without some trepidation. We've all heard about urban violence and the absolute need for a car in LA. But the downtown was nothing like I had imagined. Yes, there are a lot of cars, skyscrapers and cement, but there are still some amazing sites to see within walking distance, even with two kids in tow. (I'll be talking about a few other discoveries tomorrow.)

My kids on the footbridge on a quiet Sunday
Our first day out was a bright Sunday morning, my kids and I walked the deserted streets of the financial district to the stunning Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry and home to the LA Philharmonic. The mention of Disney elicited some initial excitement from my kids, and the coincidence of seeing a young princess coming down the steps helped maintain enthusiasm for another quarter hour. But the pleasure was all mine when I learned that we could take a self-guided audio-tour of the Concert Hall and gardens free of charge. Despite all the steel outside, the interior was bright and airy. My five-year-old had a lot of fun running around loudly singing a few notes to hear his own echo, but for many, this sounded like squealing. Although not entirely successful, I did my best to contain his excitement, much to the chagrin of the more serious music fans touring the site. But a more trying problem lurked ahead: we had to walk up the steep hill to get back to our hotel. Yes, downtown LA is hilly in places, another unexpected surprise.

Bison Skeleton
On the Monday, instead of visiting the hotel concierge about kid friendly attractions, I consulted my guide book and Google maps for transportation. I discovered that LA does indeed have public transportation, and it's cheap ($1.50 a ticket, and my five-year-old rode for free). We took a 40-minute bus drive down Wilshire Boulevard past some beautiful art deco buildings to the La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum. My five-year-old found the bus trip long, but both the mammoth statue and the pungent odour of the tar pond quickly revived his interest. The Los Angeles area was apparently teeming with wildlife 11,000 years ago, and the tar pits, a naturally occurring phenomenon, were used by early settlers to waterproof their homes. Paleontologists have found over 3.5 million fossils of both large and small animals, in addition to plant life in these tar pits, located in the middle of Los Angeles. At the Page Museum, you can see some of the larger reconstituted mammals on display and a paleontologist at work. This museum was a big hit with my kids, but the best part was visiting the excavation sites on the grounds.

As we walked around the excavation pits, I eyed the imposing Los Angeles County Museum of Art next door, but I knew that my kids were nearly at their "best before" time, and I still had to get them home. The LACMA would have to wait for another day.


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Park Ex: Punjab Palace Reopens

Photo by Harmit
The Punjab Palace at 920 Jean-Talon West was one of our favourite restaurants when my daughter was a toddler. You know, the glory days when children will try anything their parents are eating. At about age 3, she decided that she didn't like anything spicy, and that was the end of our days at the Punjab Palace.

After moving to Villeray last year, we learned that the restaurant had closed because of a fire. The sign outside indicated that it would be opening shortly. But shortly seemed terribly long. Then about six weeks ago, we noticed that the restaurant had reopened, but it looked quite a bit more upscale now....We wondered if it would still serve the same exquisite food for a song. Was it the same owner, and more importantly, was it the same chef?

I received an email from the Punjab Palace after I'd mentioned it in a post last year. The manager invited us back, and we had that chance last night and were not disappointed. The décor was more subdued, gleaming white drywall with some paintings of scenes in India, but the prices had changed very little. Another important point--the chef has not changed. Inderjeet Sandhu is still in the kitchen!

Check out some of these prices, and bear in mind that lunch is served until 8:00 pm but that prices change modestly after 3:30 pm.

Lunch: Vegetarian Thali - $5.00, and Non Vegetarian Thali - $6.00.

If you're overwhelmed by the choices available, just turn to the page in the menu entitled Pasad Apni Apni. This gives a list of customer favourites.

From this selection, I chose Saag, shrimp cooked in a creamed spinach curry sauce, while my husband selected Lamb Pasanda, lamb cooked in a curried yoghurt, paneer and coriander sauce. Our dishes were served with Punjab pulao, a rice dish, and naan bread. We started with six vegetable pakoras, vegetables coated in a spicy batter and deep-fried, to kick start our taste buds.

The combination of spices had our mouths watering and tongues tingling in seconds. The food was delicious, making for a memorable evening, and it only cost $34.00, indeed an inexpensive night.

Don't let the new look fool you, the Punjab Palace is the same wonderful family-run restaurant as when it started in 1991, and it has regained its crown as our favourite Indian eatery.

You can also bring your own wine...

Punjab Palace on Urbanspoon

Other hood-related posts:
Circus: Sequence 8 at TOHU
Pots and Pans Protests of Bill 78
Felines: Friend or Foe?
Villeray's Subtle Rawesomeness
Indian Sweets
A Royal: Jackie Robinson
Discovering Park X

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