Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Where's Bruce? Giant martial arts hero disappears from Highland Park restaurant

John Rabe

Bruce Lee, Chinese martial arts hero, adorning now defunct Japanese restaurant.

Many months ago, I posted an Instagram and Facebook photo of Bruce Lee that got a lot of attention.

Eight feet high, Bruce was poised as you see him here, impossibly abbed and nun-chucking on top of a new Japanese restaurant at 4017 North Figueroa Street in LA's Highland Park neighborhood.

You see the problem already: Bruce Lee was of Chinese descent. Born in San Francisco in 1940, raised in Hong Kong, taught by the famous Yip Man. He's iconic, he's beautiful, but passers-by could probably sense that something wasn't quite right.

That restaurant is now gone - replaced by Pasta Fresca Italian Grill - and so is Bruce. Anna Urvina, who was behind the counter this morning, says she doesn't know where Bruce went, and she also smiled at the incongruity.

Pasta Fresca has the usual pasta and sandwich fare, but Anna promises a pizza oven is coming soon. Anna, just a hint: it wouldn't take much to raise the bar for pizza delivered to this part of town. Make a solid pizza and get it to us in 45 minutes and it won't matter if you have a statue of Karl Marx or Sam Yorty on the roof.

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What it's like to be on a Metro Train when an accident happens

Gold Line Accident

Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

The crash site at sunset after a Metro Gold Line train hit and dragged a pedestrian.

I was on the Gold Line train that killed a man Saturday; it was a strange and awful experience. 

I was riding the Gold Line to Pasadena with my wife and couple friends from out of town. They'd never been on the train in LA before.

A couple miles past the Highland Park station, where the train crosses Monterey and Pasadena Avenue, the train stopped suddenly. That's never a good sign. We heard the driver apply the emergency brake and braced for a hard stop. Instead, the train stopped smoothly. Nobody fell over. The bikes stayed upright. 

We didn't know what had happened — on the train, you can only see out the side windows. But then passengers started relating the reactions of people outside. One shouted that she'd seen a witness outside cross herself. Somebody else saw a woman crying in her car. Something terrible had happened.

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Book Review: 'Chatting with Matisse' gives new insights into the artist's most crucial year

The King's Sadness, by Henri Matisse, 1952

Henri Matisse said if you want to be a painter, the first thing you should do is cut out your tongue. Luckily, he failed to follow his own advice, and so we have this record, interviews made in occupied France in 1941. They show one of the greatest painters of the last century, inside out.

It's “Chatting With Henri Matisse,” a fresh new look at the great painter that gives us new insights into the most crucial year of his life.

Matisse wasn’t a child prodigy. He didn’t get his hands on a box of paints until he was 20. “The moment I had that paint box in my hand," he said, "I thought that this was my life. Like a cow given a sight of grass.”  He’d entered “a kind of paradise.”  He taught himself out of a book called “How to Paint.”  He paid for some drawing lessons.

And that was all it took. His father realized his son would never make it as a law clerk and sent him to Paris, where his teachers included the ultra-formalist Bouguereau and fantasist Gustave Moreau.  In contemporary terms, it was like being taught by Norman Rockwell and Mark Rothko.

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Disney Hall organ spectacular a lesson for the arts: Engage!

John Rabe

Soprano Lisa Christine Thelen, organist David Higgs, and organ builder Manuel Rosales inside the Disney Hall organ. Those think strips of wood behind them are part of the mechanism that plays the 6,000 plus pipes of the organ, which is nearing its 10th birthday.

John Rabe

Organist David Higgs surveys all the signatures on the walls of the Disney Hall organ before adding his, again. You can see at least two of his previous signatures.

John Rabe

Soprano Lisa Christine Thelen signs the great wall of the Disney Hall organ.

John Rabe

LA Phil principal trumpeter Thomas Hooten leaves a left-handed compliment on the wall of the Disney Hall organ.

John Rabe

The final product; evidence of a great show.


Here's another in my long series of screeds on the importance of engaging with your customers -- no matter what field you're in.

(The Disney Hall Organ. Scott Youngren Post Production)

Last night, we went to Walt Disney Disney Hall for the annual Holiday Organ Spectacular, which featured David Higgs on the Disney Hall organ, with soprano Lisa Christine Thelen and Thomas Hooten, the L.A. Philharmonic's principal trumpeter.

They played a range of music, from a Bach sinfonia to the lovely "In the Bleak Midwinter," to the finale of a Widor organ symphony. They also led the big crowd in singing a few Christmas carols, assigning parts to the various sections of the audience.

Higgs' playing was "immaculate," in the words of one onlooker, while Thelen's voice soared, and Hooten trumpeted like an archangel. But that goes without saying at Disney Hall. What mattered last night was the way all three — notably Higgs, as the leader — interacted with the audience. Higgs was our host for the evening, and he made sure it was a party.

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Mike Sheehan Sketchbook: Santa's Village now a ghost town

Mike Sheehan

Santa's Village, a Christmas ghost town in the San Bernardino Mountains

Mike Sheehan

At Santa's Village, a Christmas ghost town in the San Bernardino Mountains

Mike Sheehan

At Santa's Village, a Christmas ghost town in the San Bernardino Mountains

Mike Sheehan

At Santa's Village, a Christmas ghost town in the San Bernardino Mountains


I spent some time last weekend traipsing around the old Santa's Village theme park up in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Here's how the Los Angeles Times described it at its peak and what happened to it:

In its heyday, Santa's Village was one of Southern California's biggest tourist attractions — a place to catch the holiday spirit even in July. It opened on Memorial Day weekend 1955, more than a month before Disneyland. But after 43 years of delighting young and old in the San Bernardino Mountains, the 15-acre elfin theme park — with fanciful, life-size gingerbread and doll houses, a candy kitchen and a toy shop — fell on hard times and closed in 1998. Over the last nine years, the log cabins of Santa's Village have deteriorated, becoming a veritable ghost town. Its parking lot was used for a jazz festival and by locals for sledding and snow play until it became a way station for bark-beetle-infested trees on their way to a sawmill. But Santa's Village isn't forgotten. (Cecilia Rasmussen, L.A. Times, Dec. 24, 2006)

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