It was a mobile slumber party for kids, sponsored by the predictably unpredictable Los Angeles Children's Museum. Just the sort of thing the city has come to expect from an outfit that holds fund-raisers in bowling alleys, stars kids in Kabuki-style presentations of Grimm fairy tales and last year imported singer Carole King to break in the museum's mini-recording studio.
"The City at Night," one in a series of behind-the-scenes field trips the museum has put on this summer through its Inside L.A. 86 program, took 24 children to places known for all-night activity. Included on the Tuesday night/Wednesday morning itinerary were the Frisco Baking Co., the Los Angeles Times, California Plaza office building, the flower and produce markets and, finally, Vickman's Restaurant for breakfast and a tour of the kitchen.
Best Attraction of All
But the place that seemed to generate the most enthusiasm was the museum itself, which the children had to themselves for about four hours (midnight to 4 a.m.) . . . without their parents to slow them down or hush them up.
At the museum, they were supposed to be sleeping. But given this gang of 10- to 14-year-olds' energy level (imagine a whole platoon of miniature Pee-Wee Hermans and you've got the picture), museum staffers bravely gave in to the group's demands to explore the museum rather than rest.
So the kids hurled themselves against phosphorescent vinyl walls that held the imprints of their forms long after they moved away. They played paramedic in an actual Los Angeles City Fire Department ambulance and raced a wheelchair up and down the museum's intricate indoor ramp system.
They created their own 3:30 a.m. field-trip-within-a-field-trip to the office of Mary Worthington, exhibits director. And they constructed houses and forts and alleged "sleeping towers" in Sticky City, where giant foam building blocks are edged with Velcro so they can be hitched together to create virtually anything.
Not that the children didn't have fun at the other places.
It's just that at those locations they were expected to behave in a civilized manner. At the museum, known for its "hands on" philosophy and "where kids touch the world" motto, the staff is more accustomed to unrestrained activity, although even they admitted this group may have set some records.
The tour, which began with orientation at the museum about 8 p.m., moved first to The Times (on a bus donated by Crocker Center). During a tour of the newspaper's editorial offices, composing room, pressroom and distribution facilities, the children seemed most concerned with finding out "where the horoscope editor sits."
(Though the children were disappointed to learn that The Times' astrology column is a syndicated feature not written on the paper's premises, they appeared grateful for the opportunity to check out the next day's top stories and read their astrological forecasts ahead of time.)
The next stop was the Frisco Baking Co., where sourdough and French bread are the specialties. Here the children watched fresh-baked sourdough rolls tumble down chutes and flop onto conveyor belts, where they were put in plastic bags that were closed by a machine.
"What makes your bakery run is your oven," manager Ron Perata told the group. "Everything has to be timed to your oven. We have to keep these ovens moving all the time."
Perata also invited the kids to pick up hunks of dough and do anything they wanted with it. They juggled it. They threw it like Frisbees. They wore it on their heads. And some of them ate it--until it was exchanged for bags of sourdough rolls, compliments of the bakery.
At the new California Plaza office building on Grand Avenue, the children got perhaps their first experience with a modern urban ritual. Each child, plus each museum staffer or volunteer, had to individually sign in with the security guards before the group could get beyond the lobby to the 40th floor for a panoramic view of L.A.
When the kids got to the unfinished interior of the 40th floor, many rushed to the windows, looked down, got scared and immediately moved to the inner spaces. Which they turned into an impromptu playground, doing cartwheels, handsprings and assorted gymnastic tricks on the concrete floor.
Kuni Hasegawa, one of the building's designers, showed up to answer questions. Among other things, the children wanted to know why he didn't get to keep what he designed.
Hasegawa explained that the building's designers are paid for their design work in cash, not buildings. But the kids still didn't understand what they perceived as an injustice.
"Couldn't they give you a discount?" one of them asked.
"A discount doesn't help," Hasegawa replied. "This is very expensive."
After their "sleep" period at the museum, the bus and the group set out for the Los Angeles flower and produce markets.
There were no cartwheels and flips to be seen at these spots, however.