Thursday, December 11, 2008

What's with the USC Area?

Why no college district? The campus is unfriendly, and gated, so one can actually only access it from certain points. And it's surrounded by ugly ass cell block apartment buildings. What fair neighborhoods fell below the axe of tasteless development here? It's odd because USC's website tries to play up this "oldest university on the west coast" thing, but there's no sense of history there.
To be fair, there is an extensive complex of museums across the street at Exposition Park, but that has also suffered from the short-sightedness of the 1980s. (Really, Frank Gehry's work looks as dated as Michael Graves' at this point.) Having spent the previous weekend at Balboa Park in San Diego, which is a municipal complex that would do any city proud, I was a little disappointed by the lack of a "feel" to Exposition Park. The smattering of old buildings with their variously hideous or charming additions do not seem coherent. Maybe it's because there's some kind of construction going on in front of the Natural History Museum, maybe it'll look more like a park and less like a jumble sometime. I mean, there should be a park-like feel to it, since it centers around a big rose garden, but somehow that is not achieved.
The Natural History Museum is quite nice inside. I tabled at a Sustainable Sundays event in their main entrance hall, and got to enjoy marble walls and dinosaurs all day. Their halls of mammals are really neat. We'd recently visited the new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, and they have kept only one original hall of dioramas with preserved creatures. The NHM has like four. And so well framed!
Later I experienced "Dinosaur Encounters," which centered on a puppeteer manipulating a rubber triceratops costume. The puppet dino was frisky and kept rushing the children seated in the front row, much to their alternate joy and horror. It even slapped a couple little faces with its big tail.
After leaving the NHM, we browsed around the park, inspecting the school designed by Morphosis and stopping into the California African American Museum. There was a Kwanzaa festival going on, so admission was free, and we got to see an exhibit of photos of the Black Panther Party in 1968. Stirring!
Kathleen Neal Cleaver especially caught my eye. She mocks the camera with her straightforward, powerful gaze. And what boots.