Shave ice with red bean

Tea House Los Angeles

The invitation was cryptic. A small piece of wood with a laser-burned message that read, "June 30, 2015. Please join us for tea and wishes overlooking the city. Sunrise, Griffith Park."

The only other instructions directed recipients to meet at the Griffith Observatory parking lot at dawn and "follow the lights."

So at 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, a time when the freeways are largely empty and the sky is still the color of ink, I find myself at the Observatory parking lot with nearly three dozen other people, all responding to the same invitation.

On the north end of the parking lot, we find an arrangement of ceramic teacups each bearing an LED candle. Each guest is given a cup, along with a small map on vellum emblazoned with the profile of a griffin. A red line marks a path that zigs then zags up the flanks of Mt. Hollywood, past Dante's view, before coming to rest on Mt. Bell, to the northeast.

Our destination is the Griffith Park Teahouse, a diminutive wood structure, loosely inspired by Japanese architecture, which did not exist until Monday night when it was surreptitiously installed by a loose collective of artists.

Tuesday morning's mission was to inaugurate the pavilion — which offers breathtaking views of the Verdugos and the San Gabriels, not to mention the 5 Freeway — with an informal tea ceremony and a performance by an opera singer. Invited to the event were friends and acquaintances of the artists (who rarely get permission from official channels to do their work and prefer to remain anonymous).

Around 5:15 a.m., as the blackness of the sky gave way to steely grays streaked with bits of orange, the group ascended the mountain, past the Hollywood sign and the blinking lights of Los Angeles, up a narrow horse trail, to the teahouse, an 80-square-foot structure made from singed pieces of wood reclaimed from trees burned in the devastating 2007 Griffith Park fire.

Three at a time, people entered the teahouse, where they were served green tea and almond cookies, and where an attached bell was occasionally rung. In the distance, just out of sight, the opera singer arpeggioed.

"It's just lovely, " says Ghassan Sarkis, a math professor at Pomona College who attended the ceremony draped in a web of LED lights. "It jolts you out of the grooves of daily life."

The ceremony is over, but the Griffith Park Teahouse remains ... for now. Perched on a ridge, within view of several mountain ranges, the artists have left it behind as "a gift" to Los Angeles — one they hope the city will accept.

"Part of the experiment is seeing how the park and the public reacts, " says one of the core artists who masterminded the plan — a young woman who has worked on installation design at various Southern California museums. "There's something interesting about observing what will happen."

Certainly, this is no flimsy structure. The teahouse was made with the help of professional wood craftsmen who helped develop the building's design and engineering. The entire thing was slipped into the park in pre-fabricated pieces and bolted to an old foundation that at one point likely belonged to a utility shack, but had since been reduced to an exposed wedge of concrete and rebar.

"I saw it about six years ago, " explains the collective's ringleader, whose day job is in the film industry. "I come to the park to run a lot — and I would just see it and I kept thinking we could do something with it."

This isn't the first time the group has staged a guerrilla act in a public space. They once held a tea party for friends on a traffic island in downtown L.A. and installed a vending machine full of scented chip bags on a street in Silver Lake.

"The idea of a teahouse rose to the fore early on, " he adds. "I'm a big fan of tea ... and I'd looked at teahouse design books and I happened to visit Japan during this time, where I spent a lot of time looking at temples."

The pair roped in a friend, a woodworking apprentice who had, quite coincidentally, helped design a wooden teahouse in Washington state. He helped connect them to a professional woodworker in the Glendale area who helped refine the group's initial design concept.

Six months ago, they got to work. The idea was to build their teahouse entirely out of reclaimed wood: trees that were killed in the 2007 blaze (many of which the group harvested from the area around the Greek Theatre), as well as felled redwoods that were destined to be mulched at the park's composting facility. (The park has removed redwoods in recent years since they are not native to the area and require a lot of water.)

"The entire design came from the amount of wood we had, " says the woodworking apprentice. "Decisions were entirely based on the availability of the materials."

Adds the ringleader: "We didn't cut anything down. We only took what was already dead and on the ground."

Source: www.latimes.com
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