Caltech is part of a team developing a “bionic suit” that will enable paraplegics to walk and feel movement by harnessing their brain waves

Loss of the ability to walk is one of the most devastating consequences of spinal cord injuries, destroying paraplegics’ independence and sense of agency. But all of that is about to change as fantasy becomes fact.
Scientists and physicians from three Southern California universities recently received an $8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to collaboratively develop a mind-controlled “bionic suit,” similar in concept to Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, enabling paralyzed people to walk and feel the movement.
Pasadena-based Caltech, USC’s Keck School of Medicine and UC Irvine share the five-year award, an NSF Cyber-Physical Systems Frontier grant, to fund development of an implantable brain-machine interface device designed to restore ability to walk and sensation in the lower extremities. The brain-machine device will transmit commands to a prosthetic exoskeleton for walking, enabling a paralyzed patient to walk by intention and loop sensory information back to the brain, thereby restoring lower extremity sensation information — or the feeling of walking — to the brain.
Caltech neuroscientist Richard Andersen, director of the new Caltech Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Brain-Machine Interface Center (named for its Singapore-based benefactors), will lead the Caltech team in developing the brain-machine interface for controlling prosthetic legs. Andersen and colleagues first reported successfully implanting a device in the brain of a paralyzed man in 2015, which enabled the
patient to move a robotic arm with his mind. Andersen has devoted years of research to encoding the region of the brain that governs movement, including the posterior parietal cortex, a cognitive area that encodes the intention to move. He was unavailable for an interview, but he explained his team’s role in the revolutionary and innovative collaboration in a prepared statement about the NSF award:
“People with spinal cord injuries do not have sensation in their legs and must look at their feet when using manually controlled prosthetic legs since they do not receive normal sensory feedback,” said Andersen. “The brain-machine interface we are working on will be bidirectional: it allows neurons to control an exoskeleton and also gives neurons the feedback of sensation in the region of the brain’s cortex where the leg is represented. The stimulation-based sensory feedback is the main component of our lab’s involvement in the project.”
The first phase will involve decoding the brain signals that command the legs to walk, an effort that will be overseen by the principal investigator for the USC team, Dr. Charles Lui, professor of clinical neurological surgery and director of the USC Neurorestoration Center. To gather brain recordings of walking, Lui said, the study will recruit epilepsy patients who have undergone a presurgery workup that involves having electrodes implanted in their brain so doctors can locate where in the brain the seizures originate. Patients will be asked to walk for five minutes, Lui said, during which time their brain signals for walking will be recorded and collected for the project.
“This is a great opportunity to use some of these recordings of the brains to help more people,” Lui said in an interview. “It has to be decoded and the electronics have to be refined in a way so that paralyzed people are not walking around with a heavy cumbersome exoskeleton suit. This particular project, this robot exoskeleton, this whole concept is something teams of people have been working on for years.”
The decoded brain signals gathered from epileptic patients will be used to control a wearable robotic exoskeleton designed by the UCI team, led by principal investigator Payam Heydari, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, Zoran Nenadic, professor of biomedical engineering and Dr. An Do, assistant professor of neurology at the UCI School of Medicine. Heydari, an expert in analog circuit design, will be creating an implantable system that will enable people with spinal cord injuries to walk and regain the sensation of feeling in their legs by bypassing the damaged spinal cord.
“I am designing a revolutionary integrative circuit in nanoscale for brain-signal acquisition that can be implanted into the brain and that can send that signal from the brain to the prosthesis,” said Heydari, who added that healthcare for people with spinal cord injuries costs the U.S. $50 billion a year. “The size is important, obviously, but most important is being able to operate in the harsh environment of the brain where you have all these biochemical signals.”
Do, an expert in neurorehabilitation, will work on understanding how the brain governs walking and not walking. “My role is to understand — in those people who are paralyzed whose brain turns off during a period of time — if we can turn that brain back on with biofeedback,” said Do, who added that he will be conducting clinical testing after the brain device is implanted in paralyzed patients.
A proof-of-concept study conducted by the UCI team in 2015 helped the three universities win the $8 million award. The UCI team tested an electroencephalogram-based system on a man who had been paralyzed for seven years and whose brain was able to send messages directly to his legs, commanding them to walk. But the system was cumbersome, with the EEG-based system attached to his head via a cap; the man was suspended five centimeters from the ground to demonstrate walking motion without needing to bear weight.
“The idea is to think walk, and then the robotic exoskeleton does it,” said Lui, adding that the team expects to have a prototype in five years. “It is a really daunting engineering challenge to do this. The collaboration that exists between all of us had been ongoing for years, the walking project between USC and UCI and the artificial sensation with Caltech with the bidirectional brain-computer interface” that not only allows neurons to control the exoskeleton but also generates a signal of sensation in the brain’s cortex, which governs voluntary movement.
Until now, people living with paralysis have been able to relive walking and feeling their limbs only in vivid dreams. The creation of a neurally integrated bionic exoskeleton would be a life-changing assist for the 250,000 Americans currently living with spinal cord injuries. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes reports that 12,000 people suffer these injuries yearly, and 80 percent of those stricken are men.
“This is an exciting emerging concept of neurorestorative medicine and this robot exoskeleton is an entirely new approach,” said Lui. “This exoskeleton is analogous to giving a human wings to fly.”

Pumpkin isn’t the only worthy fruit of fall that starts with P.

Autumn used to be my favorite culinary season. The standard fare of autumnal foods brought back delightful memories of food and family — until they invented Starbucks.
I have mixed feelings about Starbucks. I don’t love their coffee (I prefer Peet’s), but I do appreciate that they introduced good coffee to the American palate. I don’t love that they are on every block, but I do appreciate their presence along highways across America, saving the lives of sleepy drivers one double espresso at a time. But I will curse them to my dying day for making fall flavors a joke.
The seemingly innocuous Pumpkin Spice Latte has spawned an unimaginably stupid array of products tinged with the aroma of fall — goat cheese, Cheerios, butter, Milanos, Pringles, as well as ludicrous nonedibles like toothpaste, deodorant, condoms, dog treats and cat litter. (I am not making any of these up.) There is no aspect of modern life immune from this scourge. Let us hope we have reached peak pumpkin-spice saturation.
This is upsetting to me as a chef, because any attempt to create a pumpkin-spice dessert will henceforth be endlessly mocked. Never mind that I have been rolling out my pumpkin repertoire every fall for the past 30 years. My only choice is to switch up my game.
Enter the persimmon.
Though less popular than pumpkin, the persimmon is a worthy substitute in recipes that welcome autumn, because it pairs nicely with pumpkin spice — that perfect ratio of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove (plus ginger and cardamom at my house). Though relatively unknown to most shoppers, bakers have used this fruit in quick breads, cookies and cakes for decades. It makes lovely tarts, cheesecakes, custards and jams. Adventurous chefs add it to salads, salsas and chutneys, pair it with soft cheese on bruschetta, stir it into couscous with olives and thyme or wrap it in salty cured meats. And those in the know can’t wait to eat a fresh ripe persimmon out of hand.
But persimmon newbies take note — unfamiliarity can lead to an awful persimmon experience. To maximize your persimmon pleasure, memorize the following key persimmon facts:

The persimmon originated in China, and there are dozens of varieties. But in our markets there are two main types available — the short, squat, tomato-shaped Fuyu and the large, acorn-shaped Hachiya.
The Hachiya is the most prolific persimmon in California. It is sometimes called “lantern fruit” because the persimmons hang lantern-like from the tree after the leaves have dropped. They are known as an astringent variety, which means that until they are perfectly ripe, they are inedible. Those with the misfortune of biting into an unripe Hachiya experience an immediate pucker from excessive tannins, an experience akin to licking chalk marinated in make-up remover. You must wait until the Hachiya is dark orange and extremely soft. When the time is right, the mature fruit is juicy and sweet, with a custardy texture and a floral aroma. This is the perfect persimmon to stir into cookie doughs and cake batters.
The Fuyu is not astringent. It is sweet when firm and is the best choice for slicing and dicing. It makes the best salads, tossed with baby greens, Asian pears, pecans, pomegranate seeds and a light vinaigrette. Try it sautéed in garlic with the last of the season’s heirloom tomatoes and Parmesan. Or slice it paper-thin like carpaccio, drizzled with olive oil and dotted with goat cheese.
But my favorite use for persimmons is in a spicy, nutty baked pudding that I was taught in culinary school. It was during this course that I learned firsthand what an unripe Hachiya could do to your mouth — and your GPA. My second attempt was better, and I have been making it every year since. Try this recipe when you have a hankering for pumpkin spice but prefer to avoid the ridicule.

Bo Friberg’s Persimmon Pudding

Bo Friberg was my chef. He was classically trained in Sweden, honed his skills on the world’s great cruise lines and owned his own successful shop before joining the faculty of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, which I attended in the 1980s. He was a master of marzipan modeling (his vanity license plate read “MARZIPAN”), and the author of The Professional Pastry Chef, the industry’s standard, now in its fifth edition. The first edition was my textbook, and it is from there that I have, over the years, adapted this ode to fall.


1 cup golden or muscat raisins
1 cup dark rum (I prefer Myers’s.)
1 cup persimmon purée (I prefer very ripe Hachiyas, but Fuyus work as well. To make purée, scoop fruit out of skin into a blender or food processor. After processing, push through a strainer for the finest consistency.)
1¼ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I prefer Mexican vanilla.)

¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
½ cup milk¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
½ cup milk


1. Cover raisins with rum and set aside to plump overnight (or, if you are in a hurry, microwave until warm, then set aside for 1 hour).
2. Preheat oven to 325°, and coat a bundt pan with pan spray.
3. Combine persimmon purée with sugar, oil and vanilla, then mix well. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt and spices, and fold into mixture. Drain the raisins (reserve the liquid), and stir them in, along with the nuts. Slowly stir the milk in last. Transfer the batter to prepared bundt pan, and bake for 1 hour, or until firm to the touch. When cool, invert onto a serving platter. Serve pudding with whipped cream spiked with the reserved raisin rum, and a quick grate of nutmeg.

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at

Critics warn that Silicon Valley may be undermining democracy and stifling independent thought

Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Larry Page needn’t panic — yet. But alarm bells are ringing across the land, alerting Americans to the fact that almost every aspect of their lives has been captured, catalogued, digitized and monetized by Google, Amazon and Facebook. Not just what we buy and where, but what we think and with whom we share those thoughts. Those very personal predilections have become data the Big Three can use to target and manipulate individuals and industries in order to gain more control and bigger profits. They already control much of our access to knowledge, entertainment and social media, and they’re branching out from there.
No one can dispute the intoxicating ease and speed with which we can now buy things (Amazon), acquire information (Google) and communicate globally (Facebook). But the very titans of tech who’ve made all this wonderful stuff possible now head the globe’s three largest and most powerful monopolies. There are no regulations curbing their bigness or business practices, and some observers liken them to sovereign nations. Known abroad as GAFA (when Apple is included with Google, Amazon and Facebook), they are accused of diminishing democracy and actually messing with our brains by invisibly eroding free will, individuality and the capacity for independent thought.
Critics blame them for narrowing our intellectual options and stifling human creativity in various ways: Facebook is under fire for disseminating fake news (as is becoming clearer with media investigations of Russian ad purchases to sway the 2016 election) and its manipulation of which news and posts users are allowed to see; Google does it by using algorithms to curate what is presented when we search for information of any sort; and Amazon has an overwhelming hold on the retail market for books and much more.
Their concentration of power has overtaken online life, and in the process has deflated entire industries. Since 2001, newspaper and music revenues have fallen 70 percent; film and television profits have also taken dramatic downturns. Jonathan Taplin, an author, film producer and director emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC’s School for Communication and Journalism, writes about the phenomenon in his recent book, Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy (Little, Brown & Co.). He argues that the Big Three have tolerated piracy of books, music and film while at the same time subordinating the privacy of individuals “to create the surveillance marketing monoculture in which we now live.” Intellectual property and the written word have been devalued in this culture, say critics, who point to the decline of principled journalism against the rise of news stories and blogs written not to inform readers but to titillate as clickbait that produces revenue for Facebook and Google. The tale of a Minnesota hunter who killed a lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe, for example, resulted in 3.2 million Google News results while many more important issues were thinly covered.
If all the above sounds like overwrought hyperbole, you’re right. It does sound that way. But just look at where those companies began, and where they are now. And consider several new books on the subject: Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things is described by the publisher as a “stinging polemic that traces the destructive monopolization of the Internet by Google, Facebook and Amazon.” World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech (Penguin Press) by Franklin Foer was reviewed by tech scholar Tim Wu as “nothing less than an examination of the future of humanity and what we like to call free will.” And Scott Galloway’s The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google (Portfolio) discusses how “these four most influential companies on the planet are unlike the altruistic image they project and are gross manipulators of the fundamental emotional needs that have driven humans since our ancestors lived in caves.”
How could such seemingly benevolent companies wreak such havoc? Here’s a short, surface overview: We live in an era of big data and algorithms. Data is the new oil — it’s how the Big Three fuel their businesses. We give information away for free with every click, tweet, post, selfie, “like” and card swipe. Every time we do anything online, on any device, we leave a digital trace that is stored and becomes data about each of us. Even offline, the motion sensors on our phones reveal where, how often and how far we travel. These kajillions of pieces of information form a psycho-demographic profile of our lives — what we believe, what we like, where we go, what we buy, how we are likely to vote. The companies collect the data invisibly and harness it via algorithms they design. The algorithms sort and organize the data automatically, selecting what content should be displayed to a user, what should be hidden and how it should be presented. We don’t always choose what we see online. It’s frequently chosen for us.
Facebook, for example, reportedly bases its algorithms selecting which news stories to feature most prominently in a user’s feed on data harvested about that user — such as the brands he or she follows and the content of posts from his/her friends. Amazon recommends books based on data about you and what you’ve read before, and there are dozens of other examples of algorithms leading toward what has been called a hive mentality. That occurs when people gravitate (or are pushed) to smaller and smaller spheres of opinion and intellect because they only get more of the kind of content they’ve already shown a preference for. Or, as Franklin Foer writes in World Without Mind, “Our era is defined by polarization, warring ideological gangs that yield no ground…Facebook has nurtured two hive minds, each residing in an informational ecosystem that yields head-nodding agreement and penalizes dissenting views…Facebook mines our data to keep giving us the news and information we crave, creating a feedback loop that pushes us deeper and deeper into our own amen corners.”
None of this is totally new. We all seem to have decided to ignore the seemingly small incursions because these three behemoths have brought us so much that is good. But lack of regulation has decimated many rights and privileges we’ve always taken for granted. Facebook has already bragged it can get out the vote by simply urging users to go to the polls, according to The New York Times. Combine that with its ability to misinform via fake news planted by agents hostile to one political side or the other, and the potential for a manipulated outcome becomes clearer. Facebook can invisibly influence its 2 billion users in other ways, as well. In 2014, for example, it announced it had done a psychological experiment on half a million randomly selected users, without their knowledge or consent, to determine if emotions can be spread. The company said it had altered the number of positive and negative posts in the newsfeeds of those selected. Half the users received more positive posts, the other half more negative ones. Results indicated that moods are contagious. Those who saw more positive posts responded by writing positive posts of their own. Those who saw more negative content responded with negative posts. Ponder the implications of that.
Google was also bruised in 2016, when news surfaced that searches using certain words — such as African-Americans, Jews and Hitler — with the company’s autocomplete system brought up racist and anti-Semitic sites; top entries included pages claiming that black people were not as smart as white, the Holocaust never happened and Hitler was a good person. Google blamed it on hate groups that had gamed its algorithms and said it had fixed the problem, according to The Guardian.
U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA.), vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russia’s ties to the 2016 election, has said, “Facebook knows more about each of us than the U.S. government. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.” The same could be said of Google and Amazon, say big-tech observers who claim that the companies probably know more about us than our own parents, siblings and spouses. Maybe even more than we know about ourselves.
Should they have access to all our information, to use as they choose? Should they be regulated as monopolies by the government, as some have suggested? Is it possible that ongoing revelations about how they operate will turn users toward smaller, newer online entities with different operating procedures? Time will tell, experts say. Here’s some brief information about where the big three began and where they are now. (Net worth figures are from Forbes):
Amazon started out selling books and is now the globe’s biggest online store for nearly everything. It also powers a cloud storage system used by Netflix, the CIA, Unilever, Dow Jones, Harvard, NASA, Spotify and dozens of the biggest corporations. Amazon also owns Whole Foods and the influential Washington Post. Its founder, chairman and CEO, Jeff Bezos, 53, is worth $86.3 billion.
Google started out with a goal of organizing and making available all the earth’s knowledge. In 2015, it was restructured as a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., a multinational corporation which is parent to Google and a host of other entities making drones, phones and driverless cars; also in Alphabet’s portfolio is Calico, a biotech company that aims to eliminate aging and conquer death, among other ambitious aspirations. That’s a goal of Google cofounders Larry Page, Alphabet’s CEO, who is 44 years old and worth $45.7 billion, and Sergey Brin, Alphabet’s president, also 44 and worth $45.4 billion.
Facebook was famously started in a Harvard dorm room as a college networking tool. It now owns 50 tech companies that deal with everything from facial recognition to market analytics. Facebook owns Oculus VR (virtual-reality hardware and software), Instagram (a photo-sharing website) and WhatsApp (a messaging app that’s bigger than Facebook in India and other emerging markets; it reportedly has 450 million users, with 1 million new ones signing up daily). Facebook has 2 billion users worldwide; WhatsApp and Messenger each have 1.2 billion users. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is 33 and worth $70.6 billion.

The acclaimed wine district may be one of Northern California’s best-kept secrets

Lodi, in Northern California’s Central Valley, may be the most acclaimed wine appellation you’ve never heard of. Wine Enthusiast magazine declared it the 2015 Wine Region of the Year. In fact, it’s California’s largest appellation (legally defined wine-grape-growing district) with more than 100,000 acres of vines and 750 growers. This small agricultural city 35 miles south of Sacramento grows more than 100 varieties of wine grapes, including fruit from some of the world’s oldest cinsault and aglianico vines. But it is Lodi’s trove of “old vine” zinfandels, many from plants more than a century old, that has separated Lodi from the pack, drawing plaudits from wine writers and other oenophiles, and earning its nickname “the zinfandel capital of the world.” Indeed, 40 percent of California’s premium zin comes from Lodi.
Even so, your closest association with Lodi could easily be the ancient Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Lodi,” with the immortal lyrics “Oh! Lord, I’m stuck in Lodi again,” penned by John Fogerty — who had never been there. Lodi is the birthplace of wine titan Robert Mondavi, who opened a winery in nearby Woodbridge in 1979. But for much of its history, Lodi had a low wine had profile because it mainly supplied grapes to wineries elsewhere in California. Like many California grape-growing districts outside Napa and Sonoma, Lodi is a late bloomer when it comes to wine production. Thanks in part to the coordinated efforts of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, founded in 1991, the city now has more than 85 boutique wineries specializing in small-lot wines. (Lodi was not impacted by the recent deadly wildfires in Northern California, but the commission joined the state’s other regional wine and grape associations in collecting donations for its beleaguered neighbors.)
Lodi’s boutique wineries should be catnip to true oenophiles who like a taste of adventure with their Rhône varietals. Because Lodi has only recently emerged in force from its fine-wine chrysalis, it isn’t even remotely touristy and tacky. Downtown resembles Main Street, U.S.A., with a bit of an edge but few store chains; most shops are charming local businesses like the quirky Double Dip Gallery at 222 W. Pine St., which doubles as an ice-cream shop.
And while there are a number of hotel/motel chains, there’s still only one high-end property — the lovely Wine & Roses (2505 W. Turner Rd., on the site of the old Burton Towne estate, home to a Southern Pacific Railroad engineer at the turn of the 20th century. The estate changed hands until 1999, when it was acquired by current local owners Russ and Kathryn Munson, who worked with the Lodi Winegrape Commission to envision and create a hotel suitable for a premium wine destination. The rustic luxury hotel has since expanded to encompass seven acres with 66 airy rooms and suites, a fitness center, pool, cooking school, spa and salon, lounge with live music, indoor and outdoor event spaces (yes, this is wedding country) and a fine restaurant named for the original occupants — the Towne House Restaurant. The entire property is designed to induce relaxation, from its earthy color scheme and building materials to its cozy spa, where I had an excellent “signature” facial with organic products, and the delightful parrot aviaries dotting the property.
Of course, whither oenophiles go, foodies will follow (okay, they’re usually the same people). Wine & Roses recently brought in celebrity chef Bradley Ogden who had an eponymous James Beard Foundation Award–winning restaurant in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for a decade. These days, the one-star Michelin chef prefers to forego the glitz in favor of overseeing W&R’s cottage-like restaurant offering seasonal ingredients that are sustainably and regionally sourced, 70 Lodi wines and a mind-melding open-face omelet with chicken sausage, pasilla peppers and feta.
Foodies may want to plan their trip to coincide with cooking classes helmed by the hotel’s executive chef, John Hitchcock, who worked for Ogden earlier in his career. Or jot down Feb. 10 and 11, 2018, on your calendar — that’s the weekend of the 21st annual Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend (, which offers sweets and wine tastings at 50 wineries for a thrifty $55 ($65 at the door). Whatever you do, don’t miss Pietro’s (317 E. Kettleman Lane, whose young Italy-trained chef makes the best garlicky pizza bianca I’ve ever had in my life.
Wineries are Lodi’s prime attractions, but downtown offers a number of nonalcoholic diversions. There’s a memorabilia-filled A&W Root Beer (216 E. Lodi Ave.), which started in Lodi in 1919 and still serves a mean root-beer float. You’ll also want to check out the nine Walldog murals depicting Lodi history in the style of vintage ads; they were created in 2006 by a group of sign painters who call themselves the Letterheads in a project organized by Lodi sign artist and Letterhead Tony Segale. Segale owns the Double Dip art-and-ice cream gallery and sometimes gives visitors tours of the murals. (Visit Lodi also produced a Walldog walking tour map.) Other attractions include Micke Grove Park’s lovely Japanese Garden, the San Joaquin County Historical Museum and outdoor activities like biking and kayaking.

CTRL Collective puts a fresh spin on the trend of coworking spaces.

Some say it was the 2008 recession and the rise of unemployment that followed. Others say it’s the portable technology that allows work to be done from anywhere. Still others point to the thriving entrepreneurial spirit among millennials and their passion for innovation and collaboration. Whatever the reason, the rise of the “gig” economy, a labor market defined by short-term contract or freelance work rather than permanent positions, has led to a different way of working for many people, particularly those between 18 and 45, in the fields of technology, media, design and the arts. It has also led to the proliferation of what are called coworking spaces — where a couch, desk, office or conference room can be rented, according to one’s needs, by the day, week or month.
What’s different about these recent players in the field — Regus, a more traditional temporary office model with facilities around the world, has catered to traveling executives since 1989 — is their emphasis on creativity and collaboration among tenants, who may start off sharing a workspace as strangers but end up as business partners. The look of these so-called creative campus environments, which typically feature large, artsy, relaxed communal spaces alongside more private offices, is intended to foster such collaborations. So are the mixers, workshops and other relevant events that are routinely offered.
In October, CTRL Collective (CTRL, an acronym for curation, thrive, relationship and leadership, is pronounced “control”) opened in Pasadena with a focus on the tech community, although it also welcomes people in a wide variety of other fields. It’s the latest coworking space vying for the attention of entrepreneurs, innovators and independent contractors in the greater Pasadena area. (Others, with varying degrees of attention to décor, include WeWork, CrossCampus, Blankspaces, SpaceCraft and Office & Company; though it’s not furnished to the nines, Prism Church offers simple, free space on Tuesdays and Fridays.) The business was born from CEO David Bren’s own past experiences at other creative campus environments and his desire to take the concept a step further.
A few years ago, Bren worked full-time in real-estate finance. He also had a couple of passion projects on the side, building high-end luxury homes in Bel Air and Beverly Hills, and creating L.A. Track Days, a series of events allowing participants to spend six to eight hours learning to drive high-horsepower cars. As he worked on his side gigs, he found himself frequenting six Los Angeles coworking spaces in the span of six months. In the process, he began contemplating another business opportunity. “All of them fell short of my expectations,” Bren, 26, says of the workspaces he visited. “I was drawn to the proposition that the execution of the concept could be so much better. I didn’t like that just about anyone who walked in with a credit card could have access to the spaces.”
CTRL Collective, in contrast, curates its membership, interviewing potential tenants to find people whose talents and skill sets mesh well with those of other members, thus fostering the potential for real collaborations and innovation among the people working there, many of whom are fledgling entrepreneurs. And once those relationships are established, CTRL Collective’s in-house venture capitalist is available to help make the dream a reality. “It’s not that we’re looking to see who is going to be the next Uber,” Bren says. “It’s rather that we’re looking for people who are excited and willing to engage with each other and the community and lift each other up. One of our business mantras is to build relationships first and business second — not just in the corporate aspect of our company but through our member base as well.”
The first CTRL Collective opened in Playa Vista in 2015. Something else that sets them apart from the competition — there’s another location in downtown L.A. and one opening soon in Denver’s RiNo Arts District — is each venue’s distinct personality, attuned to its surrounding community. In the downtown L.A. location, for example, there’s a distinct Fashion District vibe. Playa Vista caters to tech and film-industry types. The Pasadena site, which can accommodate up to 550 members, is meant to appeal to the city’s science, technology, entrepreneur and design populations. Bren stresses, however, that “you can find any type of industry in each of our spaces.” (Bren also has plans to open additional locations in Manhattan Beach and Culver City.)
Located at 45 S. Arroyo Parkway, on the edge of Old Pasadena, CTRL Collective has found its Arroyoland home in a vintage brick building, dormant since Bally Total Fitness moved out five years ago. It boasts 4,500 square feet of midcentury modern–meets–geometric motif, as envisioned by Bren and CTRL Collective COO Taleia Mueller. “We thought, ‘How can we make this a really comfortable extension of home?’” Mueller says, describing the aesthetic as “Old Town charm with a level of sophistication that will appeal to scientific minds.”
“We’ve designed different types of work environments throughout the building to accommodate the way millennials work,” Bren adds. “They’ll typically spend two hours working on their laptop on the couch, then two hours at a standing desk, then two hours at a quiet heads-down space, then another two hours at another desk in a noisier area. Our design allows for that flow throughout a given workday.”
At press time, CTRL Collective counted folks working in biotech, design, tech media and fashion design among its growing roster of Pasadena members. Available amenities include private phone booths, 3D printers, laser cutters, a creation lab that houses photo and lighting equipment and a computer lab with installed Adobe Suite and CAD software, eliminating the need for a fledgling startup to make costly purchases early in the game.
There are also workshops and classes; community events, both private and public, such as Innovate Pasadena’s recent 10-day Connect ’17 festival, which took place throughout the city in more than 80 venues, including CTRL Collective; yoga classes; a coffee bar and snacks; valet parking; videoconference rooms; and free printing. It’s even dog-friendly.
Another important element of the CTRL Collective ethos is a strong commitment to giving back. The company’s 80/20 rule urges members to spend 80 percent of their time working and the other 20 percent helping others. “That could quite literally be as simple as helping someone [else at the Collective] work on their project,” Mueller says. She’s proud of Operation Give Back, a recent member drive at the Playa Vista property. Funds were raised to give backpacks, filled with enough supplies for the entire school year, to local children in need, and she looks forward to similar endeavors in Pasadena. “Our members were so happy and thankful that they could be a part of impacting the lives of this younger generation.
“We want people to know that we are leading by example,” she continues. “We want our members to set a really strong example in our community. In exchange, we will help you with anything and everything possible to help make your dream a reality.”

CTRL Collective memberships begin at $79 per month for nights and weekends; $199 part-time (10 days per month); $349 full-time; $599 for a dedicated desk; $1,350 for private offices. Custom corporate plans are also available. Visit

Arts philanthropists Kiki and David Gindler donated $1 million toward the new Glendale theater that bears their name.

Los Angeles has the Getty and the Geffen, both on the Westside. And now, the newest G-space for the arts is here in Arroyoland: it’s the Gindler in Glendale. Technically, the building is named the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center. It was created as the home of the Antaeus Theatre Company, which had outgrown its old North Hollywood digs and was lucky enough to have a pair of generous benefactors; the Gindlers donated $1 million to help build a space for this acting ensemble whose work they’ve ardently admired and long supported.

Most who attend the new theater will not know much about the couple for whom it was christened. Gindler is not (yet) a household name, like Geffen and Getty. But in philanthropy circles, they’re being hailed as emerging “top supporters of the arts in Los Angeles,” according to Inside Philanthropy magazine. And in Glendale, they’ve been praised by civic leaders for weaving a vibrant new arts space into the fabric of Glendale’s urban life and for enhancing the city’s role as an arts and entertainment destination.

The new arts center sits across the street from the Americana at Brand, not far from the iconic Alex Theatre and the remodeled public library. Its interior is a flexible, multi- use space that includes an 80-seat theater, a reconfigurable performance/classroom space, a theater-classics library and a large lobby that doubles as an art gallery. It’s a gift that will keep on giving, civic leaders say, because Antaeus offers community involvement programs as well as great performances of plays with enduring themes that will resonate for generations to come.

So who are the Gindlers, and what makes them tick? And why did they choose Glendale for the new arts center when they live in Hancock Park, except when they’re at their homes in Montecito or New York? They’ve been married for 31 years; both are attorneys, both actively work to advance the music and theater arts on both coasts and together they have an eclectic flair for finding and funding unheralded small arts groups along with large, well-established ones. Philanthropy trackers say the couple — she’s 55, he’s 57 — have given hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpublicized donations over the past few years, as well as $1 million grants to the L.A. Master Chorale, the L.A. Philharmonic and Center Theatre Group. Each sits on multiple boards related to the arts.

In 2015, Kiki Ramos Gindler became the first Latina president of the Board of Directors of Center Theatre Group, one of the country’s largest nonprofit regional theater organizations. She also serves on the boards of the Music Center and L.A. Opera (CTG’s parent and sister organizations, respectively) as well as Pomona College. Her memberships also include the advisory committee to the L.A. County Arts Commission Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative and the National Council for the American Theatre, an advisory committee for the country’s regional theaters, which meets in New York. After earning degrees from Pomona College and Harvard Law School, she practiced corporate and entertainment law until she left to focus on philanthropy.

David Gindler is a senior partner at the law firm of Irell & Manella, where he’s carved out a reputation as one of the country’s leading experts in intellectual property litigation and licensing, with emphasis on complex patent disputes in life sciences, biotechnology, medical devices, computer architecture and microprocessor design. When not at work, he serves as chairman of the boards of Antaeus and the L.A. Master Chorale and a member of the boards of the Music Center and Beth Morrison Projects, a top producer of indie opera and new music. For seven years until this past February, he was a board member of the L.A. Phil.

The Gindlers recently spoke to Arroyo Monthly about where they came from, how they met and why they’re so passionate about the arts:

Before we get personal, a question about the new theater that bears your names. David, you and Kiki gave $1 million to spearhead the theater’s building fund. And you are chairman of the Antaeus board. You live in Hancock Park, nowhere near Glendale, and you had all of Los Angeles to choose from. What made you choose Glendale as the theater location?

David: Antaeus operated out of North Hollywood for a number of years, and produced [shows] on an ad hoc basis. We started our first regular season of programming in 2010, and it became apparent within the first two years that we needed a bigger space. In 2012 we began looking for a space, and the process of identifying a location was challenging. We didn’t want to actually build a building. We wanted to take an existing space and then create and model it as our own performing arts center. So that required a combination of the right building with the right ceiling heights with the right zoning, with the right parking, with the right restaurants. And then on top of that you need a landlord who’d be willing to basically make a tremendous deal so we could pay below market rent. Finding a space like that took over two years.

We have a number of company members, actors in the ensemble, who live in Glendale. We reached out to the Glendale City Council and government to see if they could help us identify a space. They were incredibly helpful. They said, ‘There’s this space that’s been empty for the longest time and you should talk to the owner.’ We did, and at first he said, ‘Thank you, but I’m not interested.’ We just sort of kept going back, and ultimately he decided to talk. As it turned out, we’d found somebody with an extraordinarily generous heart, who agreed to lease the space to us at incredibly reasonable terms. That allowed us to raise the money to build our theater. Glendale was incredibly supportive, gave us a great location in this sort of arts corridor in downtown Glendale. It’s easy to get to, it’s got great parking, great restaurants, and we built this extraordinary theater and I know the [Antaeus] company could not be happier.

David, you sound like a proud father when you talk about Antaeus.

D: Well, we have a phenomenal company of extraordinarily talented actors.

Kiki: Glendale is an example of government commitment to the arts. They’re kind of bucking the trend and leading that vision of actually understanding that the arts are integral and important to the community.

You each seem to have come from different backgrounds. Kiki, where did you grow up, and can you talk about your Latina roots?

K: My mother was Canadian, here on a green card. My father was a naturalized Mexican citizen. My parents met in L.A., so I’m first-generation American, and Angeleno. I was born at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, spent my childhood on the Westside. Two of my uncles had shops on Olvera Street. My dad was a tax accountant and worked for

McDonnell Douglas in Culver City. My parents then moved to Ventura County and I went to Simi Valley High School, then to Pomona College, which is where David and I met.

David, where did you grow up?

D: Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley. I went to Taft High School, then to Pomona College and UCLA Law School. I met Kiki at Pomona, and we had our first date about a week after I graduated in 1981. We got married in August of 1986.

You’re both so devoted to the arts. Did that happen during your marriage or was that a shared interest from the start?

K: My father was incredibly artistic. He played piano, guitar, accordion. He knew how to paint and sculpt and he taught me all those things. My cousins with whom I grew up were always focused on the arts; we were always doing little plays, with one of my cousins directing. He’s now head of the theater department at the University of Vermont. Another cousin is now a visual artist. My connection with the arts is ingrained in my DNA.

And you, David?

D: I was lucky enough to go to public school at a time when arts education still mattered, when it was still an important part of the curriculum. For example, from junior high school through high school I played in the school orchestra, because that was an elective you could have. I learned to play the bass and developed a love of classical music. At the age of 16 I got a really cheap student subscription to the L.A. Philharmonic. I sat high in the balcony at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and it was fantastic.

I was also lucky enough to be part of large educational programs where students at public schools were brought downtown to see plays. I remember as a kid being taken downtown to see Oliver! at the Chandler Pavilion. And one of the most meaningful, almost life-changing experiences I had in high school was when my English class went downtown to see two plays performed at the Mark Taper Forum. One was The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. The other was Tom Stoppard’s Travesties. Seeing those performances was extraordinarily powerful for me, gave me a real understanding of what a force drama and storytelling could be in helping to elevate and educate. In fact, one of the most wonderful gifts I’ve ever gotten was [years later] when the folks at the Center Theatre Group found [and gave to me] what’s called the one-sheet from that performance of The Importance of Being Earnest in the 1976–77 season. A one-sheet is the [poster] that appears in the glass cases outside the theater, advertising the performance.

So the arts were important to each of you when you met. And together, you’ve built a career of giving time and money to promote the arts, both to large organizations and small, emerging ones. David, you’ve quoted Gustavo Dudamel’s reported statement that “music is a fundamental human right.” And you’ve quoted an article that said, “If as much money was spent on the arts as on the military, we wouldn’t need the military.” Kiki, you’ve said that “the arts save lives.” So I wonder what each of you think it will take to reintegrate the arts into public education? Or is it destined to all be STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) from here on out?

K: I understand that this whole emphasis on STEM started because we were falling behind in the international marketplace, and we needed to catch up to be competitive. But with the shift toward STEM, we dropped the arts education aspect, which had been so ingrained in public education for so long. One reason I just joined the Pomona College Board of Trustees is because they’re acknowledging the importance of arts education even though a good portion of their students is focused on becoming doctors, engineers or tech people. They’re understanding how important the arts is and the relationship between the parts of the brain that are used, for example, in mathematics and music. I think it’s not enough to rely on philanthropists to support the arts in children’s lives. There has to be a shift of consciousness in society and in our leaders who make decisions about curricula in schools. Brain researchers are all over this issue about how the arts are fundamental and can enhance human experience. The government is lagging behind in that realization.

D: I agree with Kiki, but I’m a bit more cynical. There was a huge retrenchment in taxation in the 1980s, when tax rates were cut dramatically at the state and federal level. The first thing that got cut was the arts. It just got decimated in California and throughout the country. It had really tragic implications for our country. We’ve basically had an entire generation who were raised without any meaningful arts education in the public schools. And now those people who never had any exposure to the arts when growing up, they are now the people who are the decision-makers. So the climb right now is a very steep one, and Kiki and I are trying our best to rail against what we think is an attitude that can really negatively impact people’s growth. The arts do matter. And I agree with Kiki that arts education saves lives. It just does.

You’ve given four gifts of $1 million and many smaller gifts. How do you choose?

D: Kiki and I think very hard about how we donate our dollars. We give to organizations that are truly committed to making an impact on Los Angeles as a community and at all levels. They’re devoted to expanding the arts and access to the arts. Some are organizations that have been impactful to Kiki and me when we grew up in Los Angeles and we want to try to help sustain that for the next generations who live here.

Antaeus Theatre Company presents Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Christopher Hampton’s award-winning adaptation of the scandalous novel by Choderlos de Laclos, at Glendale’s Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center from Oct. 26 through Dec. 10. It’s a story of seduction and intrigue, complete with sex, revenge and betrayal, set in the decadence of prerevolutionary France. Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 10. Tickets cost $30 to $34. The Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center is located at 110 E. Broadway, Glendale. Call (818) 506-1983 or visit

Arroyo Cocktail of the Month

Camping at the Ridge

Built over 100 years ago, Magnolia House on South Lake Avenue was originally a private residence, then became a post-Prohibition liquor store, an antique coin shop and a number of other businesses. Today this restaurant and bar keeps things lively with an quickly rotating cocktail menu. “We have to keep up with Los Angeles,” says lead bartender Jorge Figueroa, referencing the trendy cocktail scene in downtown L.A. To keep Arroyolanders happy closer to home, Figueroa and his team are constantly crafting stimulating new cocktails. With indoor and outdoor seating areas, the bar itself sits behind the restaurant, a long red-brick wall guiding you straight to it.



1½ ounces Thai chili and gingerinfused Scotch (see below)

½ ounce lemon juice

¾ ounce pure maple syrup

½ ounce cinnamon Green Chartreuse cream (see below)

Dash of chocolate chili bitters

Dash of aquafaba (liquid in can of beans)


Mix ingredients in shaker, add ice, shake again, strain and pour into glass. Top with sparkling apple cider floater, grated nutmeg and cinnamon graham crackers

Thai Chili and Ginger-Infused Scotch


1 Thai chili

20 grams of finely diced fresh ginger

750 ml of Scotch


Infuse chili and ginger in Scotch for 30 minutes. Strain and serve

Cinnamon Green Chartreuse Cream


10 ounces heavy cream

1 ounce cinnamon syrup (see below)

½ ounce Green Chartreuse


Mix ingredients by stirring and serve.

Cinnamon Syrup


1 cup sugar

1 cup hot water

40 cinnamon sticks


Add sugar and cinnamon sticks to water and steep for 30 minutes. Strain and serve.

Figueroa created this cocktail as an homage to the fall season here. He calls it a riff on the Ramos Fizz. “Fall in Pasadena is still warm, but these traditional fall flavors are mitigated by summer notes of apple.” This is a refreshing and light cocktail, heavier on the palate, but nonetheless a balance between spice and heat, viscosity and comfortable, familiar flavors. Try it with their fried chicken sandwich or the mushroom and roasted garlic flatbread. 

A new Huntington exhibition spotlights rare artworks depicting Latin American nature, from the time of Columbus to Darwin’s era.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed west in search of a new route to India and its spices. During his five-month exploration of the Americas, he paid close attention to to the flora and fauna. When he returned he wrote a long letter to his patrons, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, and word of his remarkable voyage quickly spread. That was aided by an invention launched just a few decades before his voyage the printing press with movable metal type developed in the mid-1450s by Johannes Gutenberg. Columbus wrote of “many sierras and very lofty mountains…All are most beautiful, of a thousand shapes,” and “trees of a thousand kinds and tall, so that they seem to touch the sky.” There were colorful birds, and plants that were a “wonder to behold.”

Many explorers and soldiers of fortune followed Columbus, and they brought along draftsmen and cartographers. In the new exhibition Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin (through Jan. 8, 2018) at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, co-curators Catherine Hess and Daniela Bleichmar outline the early European views of the New World, using a deft combination of maps and artifacts, art and illustrations, manuscripts and books, three-quarters borrowed from other institutions. Some of the period accounts were by actual visitors, but many were by fabulists who freely adapted known accounts and drew imagined scenarios, both plugging into and creating myths and stereotypes about indigenous culture.

Of course the arrival of the Europeans in the Americas is now a morally contentious subject. Europeans claimed the land and resources for their own, subjugated the local population and introduced devastating diseases. Visual Voyages, part of this year’s Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative focusing in Latin American and Latino art, deliberately offers some indigenous views. For example, in the late 1500s the Spanish Council of the Indies ordered administrators to draw maps of their townships and resources, and many were done by indigenous artists.

The two in the exhibition are delightful maps that present surrounding features such as mountains and rivers in multiple perspectives. “It is not the trained, vanishing-point perspective of European depiction,” says Hess, leading a preview tour of the exhibition. “It is a more creative way of depicting one’s surroundings.” A couple of centuries later, the Royal Botanical Expedition to the New Kingdom of Granada (in what is now Colombia and Venezuela) of 1783–1816 recruited some 60 local artists, many of whom must have been of mixed heritage. Hess has chosen 20 of these beautiful illustrations, borrowed from the Archivo del Real Jardin Botanico in Madrid, and they are gems of elegantly arranged leaves, tendrils and flowers on paper.

“PST: LA/LA gave us the opportunity to look at our three collecting areas  — research library, art and botanical  — and see what topic might be relevant to the initiative,” says Hess, the Huntington’s chief curator of European Art and interim director of the Art Collections. “Partnering with Daniela allowed us to celebrate, and put to use, the amazingly rare and rich Latin American material on nature and natural history that’s in the library’s collections and doesn’t often come to public light.” Bleichmar is an associate professor of Art History and History at USC, specializing in the history of science with a particular interest in how intercultural contacts have transformed what we know. Deeply familiar with the Huntington collections since she came to Los Angeles 13 years ago, she proposed the exhibition idea to the Huntington when the PST: LA/LA initiative was announced.

The lobby of the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery en route to the main exhibition displays several taxidermied animals from the new World, borrowed from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and other sources. They include a colorful macaw, a brown sloth hanging upside down and a beautiful black-and-white anteater with a long, elegant snout  — examples of wildlife European visitors would have found so astounding. So bizarre and astonishing as to inspire His Majesty’s Giant Anteater, a large painting from 1776 now hanging in the middle of the exhibition. The anteater had been shipped from Argentina to King Charles III of Spain, who was so proud of his unusual pet he had his court painter do her portrait. The perspective is at the animal’s eye level, and her long, skinny tongue protrudes. One can almost hear the oohs and aahs of visitors to the Spanish court as they admired this oddity of nature.

Perhaps the exhibition’s most striking object is on view in the center of the first gallery  — a long red cape composed of thousands of feathers, dating from the 17th century and displayed in its own showcase. The cape is not only gorgeous, it is rare  — only one of 12 existing feather capes made by the Tupinambá people of Brazil. “They are really important prestige objects,” Bleichmar says in a phone interview. “Very important men wore them in ceremony. It’s an object that helps us to begin to understand a different world view, one in which humans and the natural world are not separate, but completely fluid. The person who put this on was becoming a bird, transforming from human to animal-like.”

A nearby vitrine showcases two illustrations about the cultural contact Bleichmar studies. They are two versions of the same image, circa 1600,  one an original ink drawing borrowed from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the other an engraving in the Huntington’s own collection. The Discovery of America: Vespucci Landing in America depicts the imagined meeting between Amerigo Vespucci, the “discoverer” of America, and a female figure representing America. Standing on shore, Vespucci is fully clothed, wearing a suit of armor beneath his tunic and holding a staff topped with a cross in one hand and an astrolabe in the other — symbolizing Christianity and civilization, respectively. Meanwhile, “America” is nude, about to step down from a hammock where she has been resting. The nudity indicates her “savage” state. In the background, members of her tribe are roasting a human leg, since cannibalism was thought part of the uncivilized culture she represents. The image seems almost comical, except that this played into prejudices of the time and encouraged Europeans to look at indigenous peoples as less than human.

What a contrast this image is to the two large paintings at the end of the show, which exalt the grandeur of the Latin American landscape and suggest the civilization there. One is by the famous American Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church, who traveled to South America twice, in search of vistas. His 1864 painting, Chimborazo, shows a highly picturesque view of a jungle and mountains beyond.  In the foreground is a cute hut on a river with a couple on the dock and their child nearby. Through an opening in the trees, we see a town beyond. Mount Chimborazo, a volcano, hovers like a ghost even farther in the distance.

On the other hand, Jose Velasco’s Valle de Mexico (1877) has details only a native could offer. Standing on a hill, one looks down a valley with Lake Texcoco on the left and two landmark volcanoes beyond. A long aqueduct leads down the center of the painting to a small town at the base of a small mountain, and from there two roads lead to Mexico City. One can barely make out spires and rotundas of a burgeoning metropolis. In the foreground is a prickly pear and an eagle in flight: two symbols of Mexican nationalism, which was no accident.  The artist wrote after his signature on the painting, “mexicano.” 

Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin runs through Jan. 8, 2018 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesday). Adult admission costs $25 on weekdays ($29 on weekends and holidays), $21 ($24) for students 12 to18 and seniors 65+ and $13 ($13) for kids 4 to 11; children under 4 and members are admitted free.

Spirited and tragic newspaper images of the Chicano rights movement in L.A. are on view in La Raza at the Autry Museum.

Every important political movement has its signature publication, and the Chicano rights movement had La Raza. The bilingual publication began as a newspaper in 1967 and morphed into a magazine by the time it folded in 1977. Started in the basement of an Episcopalian church in Lincoln Heights by labor activists Eliezer Risco and Ruth Robinson, La Raza would become an influential voice and advocate for the movement, or El Movimiento.

La Raza published satire, poetry, art and political commentary, but key to its impact were the photographs— shot by a team of volunteer photographers who dutifully went out to record what was happening in El Movimiento and the lives of Chicanos. In recent years, those photographs — some 25,000 of them in prints, negatives and contact sheets — were gifted to the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA. With the announcement of Pacific Standard Time LA/LA, the Getty-sponsored initiative exploring art and culture in and between Los Angeles and Latin America, the time was ripe to make them public. The Center decided to partner with the Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park to present the exhibition La Raza (through Feb. 10, 2019), a selection of some 200 of those photographs.

As visitors enter the gallery, they will see a changing series of photographs projected onto the wall, giving a quick snapshot of exhibition. On the left will be a series of portraits — the two founders of La Raza on the upper left and then a dozen of the photographers with their cameras. One of them is Luis C. Garza, the show’s co-curator along with the Autry’s chief curator Amy Scott, and he recently previewed the exhibition during installation. Garza worked with La Raza from 1968 to 1972. “There were 48 or 49 issues over a 10-year period,” he says, pointing at the adjoining wall where actual issues of the publication would be displayed. “It was hard to find a complete set,” adds Scott, who has also joined us.

The term “la raza” literally means “race,” but is usually interpreted as “the people.” How did Garza come to join the publication? “It was karma, it was fate, it was God guiding my search for employment as a young man,” says Garza, a tall and courtly man who was a student at UCLA when he started working at La Raza. “I was introduced to Joe Razo and Raul Ruiz, who were becoming the co-editors of La Raza. I had a camera, a Pentax, with a 135mm lens and a 50mm lens. Because I was a cameraman, I became involved with La Raza, which forever changed the course of my life.”

They covered demonstrations, marches and speeches, they captured scenes of police surveillance and brutality, they portrayed communities and individuals. They were not only recording what was happening, they were part of the movement.

The photographs in the exhibition have been divided thematically into five sections and include a couple dozen by Garza. His 1972 photograph in the “Portraits of a Community” section, Homeboys, is a casual closeup of two pals hanging out at the local playground of a Boyle Heights housing project. One wears a tall and dapper fedora, while his buddy sports a flower-patterned shirt. Both look calmly into the camera, certainly at ease since they knew the man on the other end of the lens was one of their own. In a photo in “The Body” section, Garza has captured an actor in a calavera (or skull) costume, dancing with a tambourine during a performance by the Teatro Campesino on a college campus.

“This is one of my favorite sections,” says Scott, as we move to the “Portraits” section. “They’re beautiful portraits in and of themselves, but they also speak to the complex and nuanced nature of the Chicano community, one that defies stereotypes. It speaks to the way multiple generations, from elders all the way to the smallest, were really participants and had experiences of bias and discrimination firsthand.” There is an enlargement of a boy happily carrying a “Viva La Revolución” sign as he walks in a march, and another of a young girl in pigtails with a bundle of La Raza papers clutched in her arms — the headline, “La Raza Raided.”

The exhibition shows how El Movimiento was part of a larger national movement for civil rights, with images of Chicanos demonstrating for farmworkers’ rights and against the Vietnam War, and in solidarity with Native Americans and African Americans. Something earth-shattering occurred at one of those demonstrations in 1970, leading to the death of noted Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar of KMEX-TV and the LA Times. One corner is devoted to the tragedy:

It was the day of the National Chicano Moratorium March, a protest against the Vietnam War, which seemed to draft a disproportionate number of Chicano recruits. After the march La Raza photographer Raul Ruiz was resting on a curb on Whittier Boulevard, when he noticed L. A. County Sheriff’s deputies arriving. Something was up, so he raised his camera to take pictures, until the deputies asked him to leave. At one point the police fired a tear-gas canister into the crowded Silver Dollar Bar and Café where Salazar had been sitting, enjoying a beer. It killed him instantly. To this day many question whether his death was accidental or political, since he was known to be supportive of the Chicano movement. Ruiz’s photographs of the incident are included in the show.

Luis Garza went on to become a television writer, producer and director, making documentaries for several television stations, including KABC-TV Channel 7. Surveying the Autry exhibition this afternoon, he says wistfully, “This project here has brought me full circuit, I’ve returned back to my roots.”

La Raza runs through Feb. 10, 2019, at the Autry Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Griffith Park. Museum and Autry store hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 7); closed Monday. Admission costs $14, $10 for students and seniors 60 and over and $6 for children 3 to 12; free for members and children under 3. Call (323) 667-2000 or visit

In a divisive part of the world, a shared culinary background is not enough.

For the past six months, you loyal readers (both of you) have indulged me in my quest for a better understanding of countries singled out in Trump’s travel ban through an investigation of their culinary traditions. My journey began at LAX, shouting and waving signs, and has ended with me being literally afraid to turn on the news. Every day is worse than the last. But in that time I have gained a vast appreciation for these countries. They are all suffering so much more than I can even imagine. Being on Trump’s stupid list is literally the least of their worries.

So far, I have covered the history and culinary traditions of Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Iran. I am finishing with Syria, for a few reasons. I’m guessing that, if you are not fully aware of the intricacies of the conflict, you at the very least are aware that the Syrian situation sucks. It has certainly gotten more media coverage than the other travel-ban countries, in no small part because of the staggering flood of nearly 5 million Syrian refugees. The death toll has surpassed 400,000; 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance; 6.3 million are displaced internally.    

But in reality, I saved Syria for last because I have a special connection to that country.  My brother-in-law is Syrian, which makes my sweet niece and nephew Syrian, and it means I have shared all of our family’s milestones with an extended Syrian family and have been a lucky guest at their tables. But to be honest, we have never really discussed the political situation in Syria. It is an understandably upsetting topic. Something I imagine akin to a bad break-up. 

Really? Do we need to talk about it? Can we just move on? 

Lucky for me, my brother-in-law has never shied away from sharing his cuisine with us. I have had my fill of (and learned the intricacies of) hummus, baba ghanouj, tabouleh. I have become a devotee of kanafeh, a superior variation of baklava made with shredded phyllo (kataifi), filled with cheese and soaked in a rosy sugar syrup. But my favorite, by far, is kibbeh. Oh, how I love the kibbeh. 

Imagine the best, most succulent meatball you’ve ever had. Now add bulgur, nuts and exotic spices. I like it best grilled, but you also find kibbeh baked, stuffed and even raw (a Lebanese specialty), like a heavenly exotic tartare, served with mint, onion, olive oil, peppers and flatbread. Kibbeh is found across the Middle East, with dozens of regional variations. The meat is typically lamb or beef, but poultry and fish kibbeh are not unheard of. The meat can be mixed with fruit (such as quince, lemon, pomegranate or cherry) and sometimes yogurt. They are served plain, or swimming in thick sauces or floating in soup like a dumpling. Kibbeh means “to form into a sphere,” but it can take a number of forms apart from the standard meatball — oblong, football-shaped, patted into small or large discs, molded into long sausage shapes and teardrops or packed into an outer shell of bulgur or rice. There are also unique variations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, where there are a substantial number of Middle Eastern immigrants.

When I asked my brother-in-law about Syrian foods, he sent me his favorite recipes from a Lebanese cookbook. Granted, much of the region’s cuisine is similar, because of the long shared history. “But why not a Syrian cookbook?” I asked. 

“Because Syria has been living under strong government control since 1963,” he replied. “No room for creativity.” I was aware of the repression, but I had no idea it extended to the kitchen. 

A quick Amazon search proved him wrong. There were several Syrian cookbooks — except, wait — they were all published in the West. Suddenly I am feeling lucky that I have someone who passed these traditions down.

After Ottoman rule, French control under a League of Nations mandate, attacks on Christian and Assyrian populations, occupation by Vichy France during World War II, Syria experienced a short, tumultuous independence, suffering through 20 different cabinets and four constitutions. A brief union with Egypt from 1958 to 1961 ended in a transition to secular presidential government, putting power in the hands of the Ba’ath Syrian Regional Branch (socialist in its initial creation, but fascist in its final practice), making Syria the second Ba’athist state after Iraq.

In 1970, Hafez al-Assad declared himself president and created a government based on loyalty to the leader, whose wisdom was portrayed as “beyond the comprehension of the average citizen.” Government, military and intelligence organizations were soon dominated by Alawites (a minority branch of Shia Islam), and nepotism was rampant. His leadership dominated Syrian politics, and a new constitution in 1973 removed the mandate that the president be Muslim, which led to armed revolts by the Muslim Brotherhood. Regardless of opposition, Assad’s rule of this one-party state survived until his death in 2000. The nation’s first multiparty elections in 2001 placed his oldest surviving son, Bashar al-Assad, in power, and there was, for a brief moment, hope for democratic reform. 

But in 2011, the Arab Spring emboldened the opposition, and those who called for reform and Assad’s removal were violently suppressed. The protests quickly devolved into an armed conflict, with the Assad government and its allies fighting against a loose alliance of Sunni Arab rebels (the Free Syrian Army) and ultra-conservative Sunni fundamentalist Salafi jihadist groups, including the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). 

Over time, moderate forces split off from their original groups and joined Islamist militant forces. In 2015 the mostly Kurdish militia called People’s Protection Units (YPG) led a multiethnic Syrian Democratic Force, hoping to create a democratic, secular Syria. But outside forces continue to support the war, directly and indirectly, with Russia and Hezbollah supporting Assad and NATO forces fighting ISIL. Also on Assad’s side are Iran, which provides financial, technological and training support, and Shia militias from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also in the mix are the pro-Assad Syrian Armed Forces, National Defense Force, Shabiha (an Alawite and Shi’ite militia created in the 1980s as the regime’s enforcers — considered semi-criminal gangs by critics) and anti-ISIL Christian militia. There is even a Female Protection Force, all-female Christian soldiers fighting ISIL. 

Really, the conflict is so convoluted, so deeply ingrained, that there is no way I can shed much light on it here in my little food column. I haven’t even touched on the Damascus Spring, the intellectual salons, the socialists, communists, fascists, anti-Semites or anti-Persian factions. Nor have I discussed the mindboggling list of massacres, imprisonments, torture and rampant human rights violations. To summarize, this region — in the heart of the Fertile Crescent, inhabited since the Paleolithic era, ruled by ancient Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Persians, Macedonians and Romans, and home to the great ancient cities of Palmyra and Dura Europos — is a goddamn catastrophe. 

I urge you to familiarize yourself with Syrian history and to support the population in any way that you can. There are local resettlement agencies that could use your help, including the Episcopal Diocese of L.A.’s Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service (IRIS), Catholic Charities of L.A. in Glendale, the International Institute of L.A. and the International Rescue Committee, also in Glendale.

In addition, find a Syrian family and make friends. I will always be thankful for my husband’s sister’s exotic taste in men, which brought these people into my life. And I am thankful that my brother-in-law and his extended family and friends are here rather than there. I am grateful to have been given the chance to be a part of their family, and I am supergrateful for kibbeh. 


There are at least 50 variations of kibbeh. This is the one I like best so far, but that’s only because it’s the one I have the most. I’m totally open to more kibbeh suggestions.


1 pound bulgur

1 pound ground lamb or beef

½ onion, minced

½ cup pine nuts

½ cup fresh mint, chopped

1 teaspoon bharat (see below)

½ teaspoon sea salt


1. Wash and drain bulgur, cover with an inch of cold water and let stand for 10 minutes. Rinse and drain again, pressing out excess liquid. It should be soft but not mushy.

2. Add the remaining ingredients to the bulgur and mix well. At this point, some cooks run the mixture though a meat grinder or food processor to create a finer meat paste. I do not, because I like a thicker texture. Also, I am lazy. Form the mixture into balls and skewer for the grill (cook at medium heat until marked and firm), or place in a baking dish (350° for about 30 minutes, or until firm to the touch). You can also press it into a baking dish and score it into 2-to-3-inch square or triangular portions before baking at 350° for about 40 minutes, until firm. Serve it with a minty yogurt sauce, a spicy tomato sauce, a heaping helping of hummus and baba ghanouj and flatbread, or just eat it, reheated in the microwave at 2 in the morning in your PJs, standing over the sink, which I have been known to do.


Combine ingredients below

1 tablespoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon crushed black pepper

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at