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The Miracles of Miracle Mile

December 17, 2006|Jessica Gelt

In the 1920s, a classy shopping corridor sprouted in an improbable landscape of bean fields and oil derricks on the outskirts of Los Angeles. A.W. Ross, the developer of what he called Wilshire Boulevard Center--a mile-long stretch between La Brea and Fairfax--renamed it Miracle Mile at the suggestion of an impressed investor. By the '30s, the intersection of La Brea and Wilshire was L.A.'s busiest. Migration to the suburbs and the rise of their crowning achievement, the mall, put an end to the boulevard's reign by the '80s, though the Los Angeles County Museum of Art continued to attract visitors. Recently, the Mile has been perking up. LACMA is in the midst of an expansion, and a number of loft and condo projects are in the works. Miracles can happen twice.

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EAT, DRINK

Milk Tea and African Flavor

Back Door Boba serves healthy sandwiches, including blackened catfish with horseradish dill, and brews up a mean milk tea with boba balls. It also hosts a gallery called Concrete Walls, which is exhibiting the work of more than 90 local artists through Jan. 27. 5484 Wilshire Blvd. (in the rear), (323) 933-4020 . . . At Ngoma, the menu represents East and West Africa. Try a sambusa stuffed with chicken or the East African staple ugali na sukuma wiki, white cornmeal dough that you mop through a tangy tomato and beef sauce. 5358 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 934-1595.

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20: Estimated number of Art Deco buildings in various states of repair or disrepair

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ART & ARCHITECTURE

An Art Deco Wonderland

Much of the spectacular Art Deco architecture along the Miracle Mile that helped draw shoppers from far and wide still exists. Our favorite is the 1929 exotic, black-and-gold Zigzag Moderne building at 5209 Wilshire Blvd., built by famed Southern California architect Stiles Clements. It opened as the Security-First National Bank of Los Angeles and now shelters Southland Publishing. Other Art Deco gems: the 1936 Zigzag and Streamline Moderne El Rey Theatre at 5515 Wilshire Blvd.; the dashing 1939 May Co. building, now part of LACMA, at Wilshire and Fairfax; and the elegant Wilshire Tower, once home to Desmond's haberdashery, at Burnside.

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ONE THING TO DO

The Craft of Artful Protest

Get Radical. Check out "Street Signs and Solar Ovens: Socialcraft in Los Angeles" at the Craft and Folk Art Museum through Dec. 31. Curated by the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, the exhibit illuminates the possibilities of a socially conscious lifestyle. Consider the eco-kitchen, featuring a bicycle-powered blender and a hand-cranked clothes washer. Also on display: a map charting where to pick up fallen fruit in Silver Lake and the protest fashion of local clothing label Matrushka ( "Who Would Buddha Bomb?"). "This is an exhibit about ideas, about crafting a better society," says exhibitions coordinator Sonja Cendak. 5814 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 937-4230.

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Filmed on Location: The Googie-style coffee shop Johnie's was a setting for 1988's apocalyptic "Miracle Mile." The story sizzles when Anthony Edwards (of "ER" fame) picks up a ringing pay phone and learns from a distraught missile-silo worker that a nuclear bomb will hit L.A. in 75 minutes. He attempts an escape from the heliport atop the People's Bank but meets an unhappy end in the bubbling goo of the La Brea Tar Pits.

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