Editor's Blog

Joseph Wakelee-Lynch

Vain and Unfulfilled Hope

December 1, 2017

For most of my adult life, I’ve worked on magazines — three in higher education, a lifestyle magazine focused on diabetes, and a religious social justice monthly. From the very first issue that came off a press with my name in the masthead, I’ve expected that that magazine would change the world. It never does, or doesn’t seem to.

Last week, I confessed my vain and unfulfilled hope to Elias Wondimu, publisher of Tsehai Press and the Marymount Institute Press here at LMU. While putting out books that range from Ethiopia’s troubled history to collections of poetry by Los Angeles poets, Wondimu admitted to me that with each book he expects the same result that I do. And, he said, he rarely sees it.

But what Wondimu did see at a conference not long ago was five fellow Ethiopians, early in their varying careers, who sought him out when they learned he’d be present at the same gathering they were attending. They wanted to tell him how much his work meant to them. Their worlds, they said, were changed in some way, much to Wondimu’s surprise. He didn’t see it happen, but they told him that they did.

Our latest issue of LMU Magazine appeared in campus mailboxes this morning, and it’ll be in homes in just days, perhaps this weekend. LMU alumnus Maximilian Isi ’14 works with the LIGO Laboratory team, based at Caltech, that has detected gravitational waves first emitted a billion year ago. When I spoke to him for an interview in the new issue, he told me that the interferometers used to detect cataclysmic cosmological events, like colliding neutron stars, can also pick up events as mundane as trucks rumbling by. I’m thinking of asking him to keep an eye on his read-outs this weekend. Maybe he’ll spot something — a sign of a slight hitch in the earth’s rotation, say — just for an instant. I think he might.

Patrick Stewart: The Lucky Knight

November 7, 2017

Patrick Stewart, globally famous for his roles in TV’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Marvel’s X-Men movie series, took a seat on the Mayer Theatre stage Nov. 1 and gave SFTV students a career retrospective. He was interviewed by Stephen Galloway, executive features editor for The Hollywood Reporter. In his smart, well-paced conversations with actors, directors, producers and writers, Galloway, who hosts The Hollywood Masters series that takes place on the LMU campus, often guides his guest down a path marked by major milestones, tactically aided by a few clips from past productions. Stewart, too, accompanied him there, but the actor’s most memorable reminiscences had to do with his childhood.

Knighted by the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II in 2010, Stewart described a childhood in which he grew up in a two-room house that had no kitchen, no heating system, and no inside bathroom. The family home, for two parents and two sons, was a “one-up, one-down house,” with just one bedroom and a fireplace. The family members took one bath a week. “The outside lavatory was my library,” he said. He’d go there and read for hours: Dostoyevsky, Dickens and more, along with magazines and comic books.

“I never had big ambitions,” Stewart said, adding, too, that he left school at 15 and his bathroom reading was the closest thing to an education. “The first exam I ever sat was for my California driver’s license.”

Stewart, today, is well known for his work on behalf of abused women. His mother was one, the target of vicious attacks, he said, at the hands of his father, a “dangerous weekend alcoholic,” as Stewart portrayed him. In 2009, the actor described the violence in his childhood home in an article published in The Guardian:

“I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn. Curiously, I never felt fear for myself and he never struck me, an odd moral imposition that would not allow him to strike a child. The situation was barely tolerable: I witnessed terrible things, which I knew were wrong, but there was nowhere to go for help. Worse, there were those who condoned the abuse.”

Those memories he shared with his LMU audience as well. Stewart long had castigated his father for his abuse, he recalled, but one day he learned that the man who beat his mother had almost certainly suffered from a terrible case of post-traumatic stress disorder, acquired in World War II. His father’s behavior could not be justified or dismissed by that disorder, Stewart said. But Stewart came to understand the horrors that war could inflict, and today he acts both on behalf of abused women and veterans suffering as his father did.

With a home filled with chaos, Stewart didn’t experience stage fright. He found the stage to be his place of respite. “I became an actor because the stage was the safest place I had ever been on. I felt physically safe — ‘Nothing bad can happen me here,’” he remembered.

Stewart gradually built a career that established him as a theater actor, yet brought him little international fame. When he auditioned for the role of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, Stewart found his reputation was a drawback: Gene Roddenberry, creator the Star Trek franchise, was uninterested in, as Stewart described it, a bald, Shakespearean theater actor as his lead. He even auditioned while wearing a toupee.

Yet, the role drew him, as did the part of Charles Xavier, mentor and leader of the X-Men. He chose parts that presented an opportunity “to learn something,” he told students. He admired both characters, he said, for their morality, kindness, sensitivity, compassion and intellectual capacities.” When Galloway asked if he saw some of himself in those men, he said that the considered those characters both smarter than he is.

Having achieved what some actors dream of, and others dread, by playing characters that have become indelibly imprinted in the mind of millions of viewers, Stewart said of his career, one in which he holds the same honor of knighthood with legendary actors such as Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness and his great friend Ian McKellen, “I was lucky.”

Photo by Jon Rou

The Man Who Gave and Went

September 22, 2017

Last night in Portland, Oregon, a memorial service was held for Brian Doyle, an award-winning writer of essays and fiction who was editor of Portland Magazine, published by the University of Portland. Brian died this past May from a brain tumor.

Although I met Brian only twice and can’t count myself among his close friends, I’ve felt indebted to him for at least the past 10 years. When we redesigned LMU Magazine, the first issue of which appeared in July 2010, we studied Brian’s Portland magazine closely. In fact, we studied it even before then, with admiration. With envy. Brian filled the pages with humor, intelligence, cleverness, beauty, confidence, whimsey and an optimistic Catholic outlook on life that found evidence of God in all places and things. Brian was a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, a product of Holy Cross priests, but I saw a strong Ignatian — that is to say, Jesuit — streak in his writing. I never got to ask him whether he would consider that a compliment or an insult.

Brian gave his magazine a unique voice and personality. Every page made the case for why a Portland education would be like no other for the student who chose to accept it. Every optimistic, insightful page offered alumni and all Portland’s communities a reason to support the university in the form of a welcoming invitation to be part of something important, smart, committed and even fun. Brian understood that people, including donors, would be attracted more by opportunity than obligation.

We learned from many of Brian’s lessons, all while knowing they’d bear no fruit if not applied with a deep understanding of LMU’s unique identity. When LMU Magazine finally debuted, it looked nothing like Portland magazine. Some congratulated us, saying, “LMU Magazine LOOKS like LMU!” Yet, to me Brian’s influence always has been clear, a mark of invisible hands.

Although I wasn’t at Brian’s memorial service last evening, I knew his family and friends in Portland were gathering to honor him. He was on my mind all day. Coincidentally, yesterday afternoon I happened across an essay of his in Notre Dame Magazine that warmed my heart. Generosity of spirit seems all too rare a virtue these days, but Brian had as much as you’d find among the population of a small town. His wealth made the lives of countless others richer. You can see a glimpse of Brian’s gift in his essay, whose title pays tribute to him as much as it serves the story.

Acting and Thinking

August 17, 2017

Life on the LMU campus during the months of June, July and August often matches what I imagine European summers to be: cities that have been vacated by their citizens who have gone off to breezy, pleasanter climes. It’s quiet here, and the pace of life seems slower. But the dog days aren’t always dull.

Last weekend, some 200 Jesuits and lay people working in ministries of the Society of Jesus in the western United States met here for two days to mark the beginning of a new era in the order’s western provinces. What used to exist as two provinces spanning 10 states, the Jesuits’ Oregon and California provinces, became one — Jesuits West — on July 1, 2017.

Easy to imagine for most of us are the challenges that come with change. Old ways provide the comfort of the familiar; new ways, the fear of the unknown. The Jesuits and their institutions — their works, as they call them — are no more immune to that fear than are the rest of us. Scott Santarosa, S.J., formerly the provincial of the Oregon province and now provincial of the new, larger organization, offered hope by way of the ever-useful biblical analogy of new and old wineskins: “… No man pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does so, the wine will burst the skins and both wine and skins will be lost. No, new wine is poured into new skins” (Mark 2:22). The boundaries of the new province are the new wineskins, he explained. “We have to fill them with new wine,” he said. Then came the hard, but exciting, part: “The new wine is the byproduct of our willingness to take risks.” (Some of those risks are outlined in the mission statement of the newly organized province.)

I thought of Santarosa’s advice today while reading the latest edition of Touchpoints, occasional commentaries by James Heft, S.M., president of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC and former provost and chancellor of the University of Dayton. Heft explored the complex relationship between thinking and believing, two abilities frequently seen as opposites. I’ve often considered one of the strongest challenges to my own faith is reconciling the size of the universe, containing perhaps billions of galaxies, with a belief in God — how can the two be possible? How do I reconcile what I know with what I believe but do not see? Heft quoted Isaiah (7:9) and Augustine, and he referred to William James’ advice in “Varieties of Religious Experience” — rather Ignatian advice, it seems to me — for testing religious doctrine: “First, does the teaching help us understand our lives? Second, is it consistent with the way we know things are? And third, what are the fruits or benefits for those who believe?”

Yet Heft shifted ground, finally, with another quote from Augustine: “‘We move towards God not by walking but by loving (non ambulando, sed amando).’ Loving is a special way of thinking. Loving is not blind, but bound.” Perhaps you have to allow the ground to shift when it comes to believing.

Santarosa spoke to that as well when he offered advice about dealing with redrawn geography of Jesuits West. “Don’t think your way into new ways of acting; rather, act yourself into new ways of thinking.”

That struck me as good advice in many predicaments.

Photo of Homeboy Industries mural by Jon Rou

The Lauridsen Celebration

June 29, 2017

Lux Aeterna

KUSC classical music DJ Alan Chapman, Morten Lauridsen and Los Angeles Master Chorale Artistic Director and Conductor Grant Gershon discuss Lauridsen’s landmark choral piece “Lux Aeterna,” as well as Paul Salamunovich’s role in the development of the composition, at the 20th anniversary celebration of the work at Walt Disney Concert Hall June 17, 2017.

Twenty years ago, Morten Lauridsen premiered his “Lux Aeterna,” a choral piece that was performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale under the direction of Paul Salamunovich, who was also professor and director of choral activities at LMU. The event is looked upon as a landmark in choral music, as is the composition. The piece is performed all over the world, and Lauridsen himself is known around the globe for this and other works.

About 10 days ago, Lauridsen joined the chorale at the Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of a weeklong celebration of his masterwork. The chorale’s recording of “Lux Aeterna” further cemented the group’s stature on the global map of choral music, and it’s safe to say that in the singers’ eyes and those of many others, the L.A. Master Chorale “owns” that piece of music. So the excitement of the day was almost palpable: Together in one place were the piece, the composer, and the chorale. The last link in this momentous chain was the audience, who were gathered not because they had nothing to do on that Saturday afternoon or showed up simply to fill the seats they’d purchased in their season ticket package; no, they had come to Disney Hall because they knew the work and were present to hear exactly that.

The atmosphere also was charged because on the program were two world premieres — “In Gratitude,” by Los Angles jazz and classical composer Billy Childs and “Time in Our Voices,” by Moira Smiley — as well as a West Coast premiere of Eric Whitacre’s “I Fall.” Work by Childs, Whitacre and Smiley was especially appropriate because they had befriended or studied with Lauridsen. It seemed to me that this day, too, would go down in the history book of L.A.’s choral music tradition.

One of the “extras” of the day was a pre-concert conversation that took place with Grant Gershon, artistic director of the chorale, Alan Chapman, a DJ with KUSC, and the composer himself. Lauridsen spoke at length about his close collaboration with Salamunovich. In his 2015 article for LMU Magazine, Lauridsen described his weekly meetings with Salamunovich to go over compositions. They worked on several pieces together including Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium.” Paul was expert in sacred Latin liturgy, and Lauridsen composed “Lux Aeterna” inspired by the idea of light—illumination. His mother was dying at the time, he told the Disney Hall audience, and he wanted to compose a piece that would be a source of consolation to himself and others. Consisting of five movements, the piece is, in part, a collection of prayers. Some years later, Lauridsen told the Disney Hall audience, he visited Salamunovich when the conductor was on his deathbed. He softly sang the melody to his friend, who, although mostly motionless, moved his hand in time with the music, perhaps conducting “Lux Aeterna” for the final time.

I attended the event, you could say, because in 2008 I wrote a story about Donald Nores ’52, a businessman and entrepreneur in the Los Angeles area who passed away in June 2016. Nores was a great lover of choral music. Near the end of our phone conversation, I asked, “I’m interested in choral music, but I know nothing about it. Where should I start?” He replied, “Go get the L.A. Master Chorale’s recording of Morten Lauridsen’s ‘Lux Aeterna’ conducted by LMU’s own Paul Salamunovich.” I did so, and I continue to dive down into choral music.

Nores was a member of the Board of Directors of the master chorale, and he supported several LMU programs, including the College of Communication and Fine Arts choral music program. He also was a donor to the Paul Salamunovich and Nanette Salamunovich Goodman Choral Music Scholarship, which continues to benefit students in LMU’s choral music program. Salamunovich’s legacy, then, lives on at LMU. In an odd and wonderful way, I can say that I’m a beneficiary, too.

LMU Magazine Online — The Next Step

December 6, 2016

Nothing gets better that stays the same. For several months, we’ve been working to improve and relaunch the LMU Magazine website that first appeared in July 2010. Our original release was touted for its simplicity, clear lines and easy navigation. While accurate, those qualities didn’t relieve us from the occasional experience of that our hands were tied when it came to presenting some of the most engaging and interesting content. And the old site had a feature or two that never quite took off.

The site you see now is our improved version of LMU Magazine as it exists online. As before, you’ll find not only the stories, photography and illustrations published in the award-winning print version of LMU Magazine but also videos, slideshows and interactive games, along with original content that enables LMU Magazine to address timely subjects that can’t wait on the print publishing schedule. In fact, our new site will render us better able to do justice to the photography for which LMU Magazine has become known.

Since LMU Magazine was unveiled in July 2010, the print publication has earned 40 awards in writing, design, photography and illustration from Graphis, SPD (Society of Publication Designers, UCDA (University and College Designers Association), CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) and JAA (Jesuit Advancement Administrators). The magazine has been featured several times in Communication Arts. In the Graphis and SPD competitions, the magazine has competed against the top marketplace publications in the United States, from the Sunday New York Times Magazine to National Geographic and ESPN The Magazine. In annual CASE Circle of Excellence competitions, LMU Magazine has taken top honors in a category that includes magazines from Dartmouth, Middlebury, Oberlin, Denison and the College of Charleston, as well as institutions in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. We promise to continue to bring to online readers the same quality content that has earned LMU’s flagship publication a reputation as one of the best magazines being produced by a university today.

Please take a moment to browse our new site, take in a video, or mull some current political analysis. Let us know what you think, and thanks for stopping by.

A Ballade in a Minor Key

December 2, 2016

One of the highlights of the academic year for me is a piano recital by Wojciech Kocyan. To hear some of the world’s great music performed live by a virtuoso is a rare opportunity and gift.

Kocyan gave another of his annual concerts this past Saturday evening, on Nov. 19. Murphy Recital Hall was full, and members of the Los Angeles Polish community and his LMU students, who greeted him like a rock star, made up a significant part of the audience.

Born in Poland, Kocyan is clinical assistant professor of music in LMU’s College of Communication and Fine Arts. His is an unassuming title, though it fits Kocyan’s gentle, reflective demeanor. Pass him while walking on campus — wearing an open-collared shirt, corduroys, a satchel slung over his shoulder — and you’d likely guess he’s a grad student. I often think he looks lost in thought, but I imagine he’s lost in sheets and sheets of music. He makes me think that if I had the power to hear people’s thoughts, I’d spend my days at a music conservatory — to eavesdrop on the inspiring scores and compositions coming together in the minds of composers and performers.

Kocyan has performed around the world and conducted master classes in Hungary, Austria, Poland and France. He has recorded several cds, and his DUX cd titled “Skriabin Prokofiew Rachmaninow,” which features his renditions of pieces by Prokofiev, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, was named one of the 50 best classical recording ever made by Gramophone in 2007. He has won awards in competitions for his performances of the work of Frederick Chopin and Ignacy Jan Paderewski, both fellow Poles. LMU’s clinical assistant professor of music is — it hardly needs to be said — quite accomplished.

I met Kocyan a few years ago, when I interviewed him for LMU Magazine. We met in a student lounge, not his office, and I found that relaxing. I also felt some apprehension: My piano instruction was limited. I studied for six years in elementary school from a retired Catholic nun, then for one more in college in Delaware with an accomplished piano major who was a senior, Chris Williams. In recital, Kocyan is likely to perform a Chopin ballade, one Beethoven’s major sonatas, or a portion of Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant Jesus.” These are big, exhausting pieces. My piano career peaked with Beethoven’s Op. 49, No. 2 sonata. I think of it as a piece that child prodigies perfect and leave behind at the age of 4.

Kocyan in his interview was thoughtful and precise. He said the artistry of a piece appeals to him more than its technical difficulty, though he takes satisfaction in performing highly challenging compositions. But I’ll never forget his answer to a question I intentionally closed with: “Is there one composer for whom you have such high regard that you believe your life would be different if he had never lived?” His answer was immediate: Mozart. I wasn’t as much struck by his regard for Mozart as by the fact that Kocyan answered immediately. He didn’t say, “Hmmm, a great question. I’ve never thought about that.” In other words — I’ve decided so, at any rate — for Kocyan the work of his musical predecessors shape his life at its core, and that he is quite aware of it. His present is peopled by figures from the past.

For his recital last week, Kocyan included three large works: Mozart’s Sonata in A minor, Chopin’s Ballade in G minor, and Beethoven’s “Waldstein” sonata. Chopin is my favorite — that he can convey both intense pain and sublime joy within just one or two measures is exquisite. I’m tempted to fantasize that Kocyan enjoys a subconscious connection to the composer because they are both Poles. But I don’t think so. When I began to learn Beethoven’s straightforward Op. 49, my teacher counseled me to not be discouraged that other students were deep into Beethoven’s “Pathétique” or “Appassionata.” “This is the sonata you are learning now, so learn it to fullest,” she said. “Play it to the best you can.” Kocyan seems always to take a moment of preparation before starting a Chopin ballade; I try to never miss it. Just before he places his fingers on the keyboard, he first looks down at his hands in his lap. It’s only a moment, not even two. Rather than calling on Chopin’s spirit, Kocyan, I imagine, instead is calling on his own: It’s a sign of his determination, his promise, to perform the composer’s work as best he can. It strikes me as a sign of his sense of responsibility to the piece, and perhaps to Chopin himself. It’s a moment of commitment. I should ask Kocyan; he would enjoy the question.

Pride and Humility

June 18, 2016
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“Humility,” said T.S. Eliot, “is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of self.”

I think of humility as medication for pride, which is one of the seven deadly sins and maybe the biggest. Pride is a treatable affliction — it can be controlled reasonably well much of the time with humility’s topical ointment. But though humility may be therapeutic when applied to pride, it isn’t an antidote or cure. For most of us, vainglory, as pride is sometimes called, is a chronic, spiritually debilitating condition. What to do? “Exercise your humility regularly and avoid occasions, and near occasions, of tribute (sin)” — it’s easy to imagine a few Sisters of St. Joseph, who taught me in elementary school, admonishing me today with those words.

Despite having said that — Sister St. Dominic, patron saint of my writing career, forgive me for this — let me tell you that LMU Magazine received a bronze award for general excellence earlier this month in a national competition of university magazines. The Circle of Excellence Awards competition is hosted by CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education), a professional association of college and university administrators. Magazines are first sorted by circulation, and our publication competes in the mid-range group — those with a circulation of 30,000–74,999. Judges consider each magazine’s objectives, content, writing, editing, layout and design, print quality, editorial content, photography, illustration, creative story ideas and effectiveness in serving its audience.

We submitted the summer 2014 (“Net Gain”) and winter 2014 (“Intertwined”) issues, and we shared the bronze award with Middlebury Magazine, published by Middlebury College. In their final report, the judges, who are anonymous, said they admired LMU Magazine’s layout, organization and wrap-around covers. Other winners in all three circulation groups included magazines from Johns Hopkins University, Oberlin College, Kenyon College, the University of Richmond, the Rhode Island School of Design and the University of California, Berkeley.

This year’s bronze, combined with last year’s gold in the same competition, marks the second year in a row LMU Magazine has finished in what I’d call a winners’ circle — those given a gold, silver or bronze award. To be so honored has occurred to only a handful of university magazines. That’s recognition our staff is proud of from professional and personal points of view. But I also hope — as a way of moderating my own vainglory — that the LMU community will take appropriate pride in knowing that in any conversation about universities with the best magazine, LMU will be discussed.

The Farm Round-Up

January 25, 2016
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Yesterday, Jan. 24, Brenda (Kirsch) Frketich ’06 was included in a front-page Washington Post story about women farmers. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at LMU and now runs Kirsch Family Farms, which has been in her family for four generations, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Written by Elizabeth Zach, the piece explores a handful of women-operated farms in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, California, Montana, and Oregon.

We did a feature story on Brenda in our winter 2014 issue, written by Marc Covert, a writer who lives in Portland, who visited the property and gave readers an excellent piece full of the day-to-day details of life on a farm. (In fact, it was Marc who gave Elizabeth Zach the tip about Brenda and the Kirsch Family Farms.) We asked Marc to tell Brenda’s story, share the family history, describe well the monumental job that is family farming, touch on Brenda’s role as a leader in the family farming industry, make the readers feel they walked in the furrows, and do it all in only 1,400 words. It’s a masterful piece of writing.

I’ve often told friends of the magazine that some of our best pieces may take many months to go from idea to the press. This one was more than a year in the making, because we knew that the strongest article would have to include on-location, harvest-time photography by LMU Magazine photographer Jon Rou. In fact, we sent Jon to the wheat fields twice.

Take a look at the story, and don’t miss the link in the sidebar to a narrated slideshow featuring Brenda’s commentary and Jon’s amazing photos.

The Skyline and the Man

February 13, 2015
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Today marked the passing of one of the most gracious public figures I have ever met: Stan Chambers. Over the course of six decades, Chambers become a symbol of the news business at its best as well as one of its most admired reporters.

Chambers attended Loyola University for three years and was part of the Air Force ROTC detachment before being instructed to transfer to USC for special courses. In 2008, after his book, “KTLA’s News at 10,” was published, I interviewed Chambers for the summer 2008 issue of the university’s magazine, then known as Vistas. I don’t think I have ever interviewed a more gracious and welcoming person. I met him in the KTLA studios, and he made me feel like I was an honored guest that day. Few people had Stan’s generosity of spirit.

When Maureen Pacino ’93, Glenn Cratty, then the university photographer, and I sat down to conceptualize a photo, we knew we wanted to avoid the predictable environs of a TV studio. Glenn said, “I know just the place: Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. There’s a great view of the skyline from there.” We asked, “How do you know?” Glenn, who now shoots in Colorado, used to scout L.A. in his free time, to build up in his brain a collection of visual backdrops for occasions like this. So we asked Stan to meet us there.

On a blustery afternoon, Stan drove up with his wife, Gege. We asked him to pose in the grass, near the edge of a hillside. The winds were strong enough that all four of us grew colder as the shoot wore on. As you may expect, Stan never complained, though I believe he felt the coldest of all. The shot we came away with is here. What you cannot see is that just to Stan’s left is Maureen on a small ladder directing a portable light on Stan. I’m a foot or two from her, chatting with Stan and trying my best to make the afternoon somewhat pleasurable for him. And Glenn is sprawled on his belly in the grass, some 70 feet away, with a telephoto lens, yelling his instructions to all in a voice loud enough to be heard above the wind. Gege wisely and warmly stayed in the car.

Stan later said that he liked the interview and especially loved the photo. He particularly appreciated that Glenn positioned him so that the tower of City Hall appears just by his right elbow. One of his strongest memories of the L.A. skyline is of how it looked before skyscrapers defined it. City Hall had always been an iconic symbol of Los Angeles to Stan Chambers.

(Photo by Glenn Cratty)