The Hidden Highway Happenings of Los Angeles

All I want to do is have some fun until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Bizarre performances occur near the highway.[/pullquote]

After two years in Los Angeles, I have experienced all manner of odd, everyday performances: Downtown Jesus, the singing dog puppet at the Music Center, the porcelain masks worn by everyone covering any hint of real emotion. Angelenos spend an inordinate amount of time in their cars. It follows, then, that the most exciting and bizarre performances occur on the highway (or just off of it).

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At the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard (which is technically a highway – California State Route 2 – despite running right through L.A.) and Vermont Avenue stands a public artwork most people never notice: Vermonica. In a rather standard strip mall’s parking lot, tall gleaming light posts erupt and create a stalwart line. Each represents the style of a particular neighborhood, highlighting the aesthetic vastness of L.A.

Vermonica. Photo by Sheila Klein
“Vermonica.” Sculpture and photo by Sheila Klein.

Artist Sheila Klein created what was meant to be a temporary one-year installation in 1993. With support from the mall owner, the L.A. Bureau of Street Lighting (conveniently located across the street), and the Department of Cultural Affairs, she assembled the sculpture on a shoestring budget of $6,000 and donated time.

Some of the individual pieces date from 1925, and most display an ornateness at odds with the East Hollywood area where they now reside. It provides an illustrative and interesting moment that I have had the pleasure of experiencing every day as I drive to work.

The Devil’s Gate in Pasadena.
Notice the rock formation, top left, like a devil’s face and horns, with the infamous gate below it.

And then there is Devil’s Gate, a rock outcropping on the Arroyo Seco. Described as a “portal to hell,” the gated entrance can be found in Pasadena and has storied mythic connections involving figures such as Aleister Crowley, L. Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons, as well as occult “moon child rituals.” Near Highway 110, which almost goes over it, the site is accessible if you dare to approach.

(Michael Juliano chronicled his own brush with Devil’s Gate for Time Out Los Angeles, which you should read before deciding to explore the formation yourself.)

"Fork in the Road" by Ken Marshall.
Pasadena’s “Fork in the Road” by Ken Marshall.

On a lighter note, Pasadena is also home to a literal fork in the road. Just off Highways 110 and 210, at the intersection of Pasadena and St. Johns Avenues, lies the public park known as Fork Plaza. In October 2009 artist Ken Marshall and his friend dressed in Caltrans uniforms, dug a hole, and illegally situated an oversize sculpture of the eating utensil there (while waving a friendly “hello” to passing police officers).

Citing safety concerns, the city removed the original installation in June 2010. However, after going through the required legal channels, a new and improved version was reinstalled on Oct. 21, 2011. Notable visitors to the site have included a 28-foot, 6-ton potato in 2012. Stop by to satisfy your appetite for the gigantic.

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The views are spectacular on Venice Beach.
The views are spectacular on Venice Beach.

On the other side of Los Angeles, lies Muscle Beach Venice. The Venice Beach Weight Pen features weightlifting equipment and a separate sand-floored area used for gymnastics training.

You don’t consider musclebound humans pumping iron a performance? Well, I heartily disagree.

The Pen is a perfect opportunity to observe human social posturing in a heightened yet natural setting – not to mention that the views are nothing short of spectacular. Constructed with specially built bleachers, this hallowed ground of bodybuilding culture is home to one of the best shows in town. Often frequented by fitness celebrities and actors, it is also ripe for a star sighting.

Photo via You Tube.
A parading preacher on the Third Street Promenade.

Just off the Pacific Coast Highway near the Santa Monica Pier, renowned in its own right for the plethora of street performers that congregate there, is the Third Street Promenade. While the Promenade also has its entertainers, there is an additional, hidden performance here: the Promenade preachers.

Scattered among the toddler musical prodigies and white teenagers singing anime theme songs, preachers of various faiths stand shouting their messages to the masses. I’m sure we’ve all experienced these well-meaning people. However, having to compete with the Promenade performers has forced the preachers to take their proselytizing to a whole new level. Inspired songs, poetry, engaging placards, and a honed audience interaction style so effective that it borders on demonic make these performances truly something to witness.

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Giving you more than your typical GoGo. Photo via The Abbe
Giving you more than your typical go-go. Photo: The Abbey

If parading preachers are too puritanical to placate your peccadillos, The Abbey, just off Santa Monica, has the performance for you. The famed gay bar features nightly go-go dancers jiggling in skimpy attire – as many homosexual watering holes do. The difference? Here the dancers actually, you know, dance.

[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]You almost forget to ogle the dancers.[/pullquote]

These men (and women) display such staggering virtuosity – twirling, spinning, tumbling through the air, and using the bars just above their head to carry out breathtaking acrobatic feats – that you almost forget you stopped by just to ogle them. Almost.