Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lotus-less Festival

Photo from the L.A. Public library

Echo Park is just northwest of downtown LA. It's just below Elysian Park and, since 1958 has been the gateway to Dodger Stadium.

In the late 19th century, a reservoir was built, and the City soon surrounded it with a park. The area around the park became prime real estate. When the film industry came to L.A., filmmakers like Mack Sennett built their studios in the neighborhood. Echo Park was a popular location for films, including those of Tom Mix, Laurel & Hardy, and Fatty Arbuckle.

Echo Park has always been a home for creative and interesting people. Over the years its residents have included Gloria Swanson, political activist Jerry Rubin, opera singer Marilyn Horne, Frank Zappa, Jackson Pollock, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson built her 5000-seat Angelus Temple here in 1923 - a fore-runner of today's mega-churches.

It's also been a home for people of many ethnicities. In the 1970's, the first Lotus Festival was held in the park, to celebrate the vibrancy of the local Asian-American communities. The Festival took as its symbol the Asian sacred lotus, nelumbo nucifera, which grew in the lake.

It's not certain when the first lotuses were planted in Echo Park Lake. These aren't American lotuses, they were brought from Asia. They are mentioned in a Los Angeles Times article in 1889, and again in 1891. One story said that they were brought back from the Far East by Aimee Semple McPherson's missionaries. By the 1920s, the lotuses of Echo Park Lake were famous, and shown in postcards and newspaper photos of families, lovers, and tourists plying canoes among the huge leaves and blossoms.

This 1989 photo shows the lotus leaves in the foreground. Photo from the L.A. Public Library

But for the 31st Annual Lotus Festival this year, the lotus blossoms were a no show. They started to disappear a couple of years ago. This year, even the few leaves that showed in the spring died. It's thought that pollution, pests, and 20 years of deferred maintenance are to blame. My photo below was taken from almost the same angle. No lotuses in sight.

The City of Los Angeles had planned to refurbish the Lotus Beds in 2010. Let's hope, after this year's disappointment they move up that plan.

In the meanwhile, though, the festival, while lotus-less, was still a lot of fun.

There were booths for community service groups, and booths with all kinds of merchandise. There were vendors selling plants for water-wise gardening, and tropical flowers. People clustered around one area where a pet-shop displayed birds in cages, and a flock of very tame birds that would perch on your finger.

This bridge with its red arches led to an island in the middle of the lake. It was a great place to relax on the grass and watch the teams of dragon racers practice their rowing. At the boathouse, you could rent a pedal-powered paddle boat, and go out on the water yourself.

This glittery dragon surrounded by a garden drifted about the lake on its own barge.

There were two main stages for music, plus lots of smaller ones for more casual acts. On one stage, a traditional Hawaiian dance troupe performed. On another, a garage band led by hip punk Asian kids was jamming. There was a climbing wall, and a big inflatable thing with a shark. The sun was hot, and the vendors selling colorful sun-shades and parasols were doing great business!

Here's mine.

You could buy both traditional crafts and modern clothing. There were booths for travel agencies, community organizations, and Asian bookstores. You could buy jewelry, toys, wooden carvings. There was a booth with Himalyan statuettes and textiles

Look at these gorgeous fabric bags!

And these, with their funky Dia de los Muertos fabric!

There was a whole food booth section, featuring all kinds of Asian food. And also not-so-Asian food - We grabbed a couple of Vietnamese spring rolls, but we also saw people eating good old American carnival funnel cakes, with syrupy strawberries and whipped cream.

The residential streets adjoining the park climb and crest the rolling hills. Most of the homes are 1920s-era bungalows, in various states of repair. Echo Park has not always been a prosperous neighborhood, but you can see some really wonderful old houses, and huge date palm trees. We parked on a nearby street next to this turn-of-the-century cottage, with its fences swathed in bougainvillea.

Another small gem of this wonderful neighborhood.


SeaWorthy said...

That looks like an awesome day, wouldnt be cool if they replanted the lotus? I also adored that home with the bougainvillea. They wont grow here, too cold.
thanks for stopping by the ol Coastal Nest.
YES, its very affordable, we are only a stones throw from the waves and adore it out there, but we have spent waaay too much money fixing it up to be able to keep it. That wasnt the plan, anyway..Investment..only before the economy took this drastic turn for the total worse.
Talk to you soon!!!
coastal nest

Liz Harrell said...

How fascinating, I had no idea. Looks like fun to me (of course I was raised in a town that celebrated Bean Fest, so anything else looks exotic and fun).