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Bruin Guide to Secret Sights

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By Michael Stone, Patty Park '91 and Maureen Brogan

Published Apr 1, 2014 8:00 AM


Los Angeles tourist attractions are famous around the world: Universal Studios, the Chinese Theater, the Santa Monica Pier. But there are hidden treasures that offer a view of authentic city life, as well as a window into old L.A. Here are three of these lesser-known gems.

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Mike the PoeT leads a group on a tour of Atwater Village, a neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles, which includes the L.A. River. Photo by Angie Smith.

Beyond Boundaries

“Atwater village is an excellent but underrated community,” says Mike Sonksen ’97, a.k.a. Mike the PoeT, who leads urban hikes in both known and lesser-known parts of Los Angeles. The village, in northeast Los Angeles, borders the Los Angeles River flood plain and is surrounded by Los Feliz, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Glassell Park and Glendale.

Sonksen explains that it was the hip-hop band the Beastie Boys who put Atwater Village on the map in the early ’90s, when they had a studio on Glendale Boulevard. Named for its proximity to the river, Atwater is thriving now, with all the hustle and bustle of a city.

“These days, hipsters move to Atwater from Echo Park and Silver Lake after they have kids,” says Sonksen, a third-generation Angeleno and a journalist, author and spoken-word artist.

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Mike the PoeT. Photo by Angie Smith.

On a recent Saturday morning, Sonksen starts the tour outside Kaldi Coffee & Tea and leads the group down Glendale Boulevard. First stop is Alias Books East, one of the last quality independent booksellers in L.A. Next, he points out a Wells Fargo parking lot where one of the city’s best farmers’ markets pops up every Sunday. Then he provides an outline of the growth and demise of the Pacific Electric Railway’s route down Glendale Boulevard.

At the Atwater Village Farm building, home to the Beastie Boys’ G-Son Studios, Sonksen stops beneath “RIP MCA,” a mural paying homage to the band’s late co-founder Adam Yauch. Sonksen talks about the band’s rise, key lyrics and status as one of the best-known and longest-surviving hip-hop acts worldwide.

As the group loops back toward the river, the environment changes to an ecological retreat, with water flowing gently and wild flora and fauna populating the river’s edge. Hikers note the juxtaposition of traffic on the nearby I-5 freeway. Sonksen speaks about the major revitalization effort under way for the river, seeking to turn 51 contiguous miles into greenway and a bike path by 2020.

Next stop: A large mural of the Big Red Car in one of several pocket parks along the river. Sonksen remarks that the Pacific Electric Red Car ran between Silver Lake and Glendale before operations ceased in the 1950s. Today, all that remains are six support pillars over the river and the mural. At the dead-end of Sunnynook Street is a footbridge across the river to another pocket park, named for Lewis MacAdams, founder of the Friends of the Los Angeles River. Atwater Village is just one of the tours Sonksen conducts for the A+D Museum. “I want to tear down boundaries,” he says. “It’s all L.A.”

To join Sonksen on one of his Urban Hikes, visit http://aplusd.org/urban-hikes.

By: Michael Stone

See why he's called Mike the PoeT:

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