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L.A. Backstory




Los Angeles has influenced the growth and development of American culture and technology for over 160 years. Tour guests will go behind the scenes to view seldom-seen History Department artifacts from the evolution of the automotive, aviation and aerospace industries to sports, early oil exploration, SoCal architecture, and local design studios that have affected global lives. The History Department’s Seaver Center will remain open after the conclusion of the tours. Drop-in Hours are 6:30pm to 8:00pm.




“From LA, to Infinity – and Beyond!”


The nation’s first air show went up, up and away in LA before World War I, and here, the space shuttle made its last trip—on the ground. LA broke the sound barrier, sent men to the moon and a spacecraft to Saturn. This is Space City, from the rudimentary missiles in the arroyos of JPL to the aircraft factories and technology that whacked the Nazis. Now the past is prologue, as the same SoCal ingenuity launches Space X satellites, and missions to Mars. It’s out of this world!






Benjamin Dickow—President and Executive Director of the Columbia Memorial Space Center

Benjamin Dickow is the President and Executive Director of the Columbia Memorial Space Center, a space museum and science learning center located in Downey, California, that also serves as NASA’s official tribute to the astronauts lost during the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. Mr. Dickow’s work is informed by nearly 25 years of diverse experience in informal science education. Ben holds a degree from the University of Chicago and has a passion for science communication. He has been fortunate to be able to use a number of different media to engage the public with science including exhibits, print media, the web and as an on-air correspondent for the PBS television program “Wired Science.” Also, in Summer 2017, Ben was named as the City Library Director of the City of Downey, a post in addition to his duties as President of the Space Center. He takes the lead of one of the Greater Los Angeles’ most-used public libraries outside of the county system. With this added post, he hopes to lead the teams of both institutions in creating a vibrant learning ecosystem for the communities of Southeast Los Angeles.


Peter Westwick—Director of the Aerospace History Project at the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West

Peter Westwick is Director of the Aerospace History Project at the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. He received his BA in physics and PhD in history from Berkeley. He is the author of Into the Black: JPL and the American Space Program, 1976–2004, and The National Labs: Science in an American System, 1947–1974, and editor of Blue Sky Metropolis: The Aerospace Century in Southern California, which was selected to Best Non-Fiction of 2012 by the LA Public Library. Most recently he co-authored, with Peter Neushul, The World in the Curl: An Unconventional History of Surfing, an LA Times bestseller.


Diana Trujillo—Deputy Project Systems Engineer for the Mars Mission

Diana Trujillo was born and raised in Cali, Colombia. At the age of seventeen, Diana immigrated to the US to pursue her dream of one day working for NASA. Since 2008, she has worked at NASA contributing to both human and robotic space missions. Currently, she is Deputy Project Systems Engineer for Curiosity, NASA’s largest and most advanced Mars rover. She is responsible for ensuring that Curiosity’s day-to-day plan meets the team’s science objectives. Diana is a passionate advocate for STEM education, particularly for women and the Hispanic community. She currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Columbia Memorial Space Center, a hands-on learning center located in Downey, California.


Moderator: Patt Morrison

Patt Morrison is a Los Angeles writer and newspaper columnist who has a share of two Pulitzer Prizes. She has won six Emmys and eleven Golden Mike awards for her work hosting public television and radio programs. She also hosted the nationally syndicated television program “The Book Show with Patt Morrison,” and her seminal nonfiction book “Rio LA, Tales from the Los Angeles River” was a best-seller. Her writing appears in both fiction and nonfiction anthologies. And Pink’s, the legendary Hollywood hot dog stand, named its vegetarian hot dog “The Patt Morrison Baja Veggie Dog” in her honor.

DJ Lounge

5 – 10pm



KCRW Anthony Valadez—Resident DJ

5 – 6pm & 8:30 – 10pm

Anthony Valadez has been on the FM dial for over 20 years dating back to his college mix show days on KCSN to currently hosting his weekly show on KCRW and online on Tune In. His shows have been hailed by Ty Dolla Sign, Childish Gambino and Julian Casablanca (the Strokes) for his keen ear for new and emerging artists. He is also a contributor to Boston’s WBUR’s "Here and Now" segments chiming in what’s new on the musical landscape. He hosted 3 seasons of "Crate Diggers" on which sent him across the country digging in record bins from city to city with celebrated and legendary DJ’s. As a club DJ, Valadez has rocked crowds in Tokyo, Shanghai, London and Latin America in addition to holding residencies at The Natural History Museum’s "First Fridays", the SLS in Las Vegas and has opened for the likes of Bruno Mars, Sly Stone, Ben Harper, Little Dragon, Capital Cities, Prince. In 2014, he was handpicked by Jennifer Lopez and her team for her homecoming concert in the Bronx and performed for over 16,000 people. He was voted Best DJ in the LA Weekly Readers Pool for 2016.


DJ Reflex—Guest DJ

6pm - 8:30pm

Reflex is regarded as a key music craftsmen in the Los Angeles music scene. As a tastemaker DJ, Producer, and Entrepreneur, he has been influential in the success of many musical acts which includes such notables as Kanye West, John Legend, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Big Sean, Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino amongst others. When he is not touring or DJing exclusive engagements for celebrities such as Rihanna, Jay Z, Beyonce & more, Reflex is working behind the scenes consulting, producing, and remixing for an array of artists including J Cole, Foster The People, Maroon 5 and others. Reflex's first music contributions arrived under Kanye West for his contributions to albums "Late Registration", "Graduation", and Common's "BE" album. Reflex also toured as Wests' DJ for his first world tour. Heard Monday through Thursday at midnight on Los Angeles' station KPWR Power 106FM, Reflex has garnished the industry's respect with his honest feedback and respected ear, earning himself a reputation for shaping the commercial airwaves with his gift of music discovery. Reflex also serves as "Head of Music" at TuneIn, a global audio app boasting 75 million monthly users, where he continues to break artists and music to the masses. Reflex is managed by JAY Z's Roc Nation management company.


8 pm - 10 pm


Phoebe Bridgers


Los Angeles based singer songwriter, Phoebe Bridgers, has been described as Elliott Smith meets Gillian Welch. Her unique voice has been featured on ABC Family’s "Switched At Birth", "Sons of Anarchy" and an IPhone commercial. Pasadena Weekly says, “Bridgers has made a name for herself in that scene in relatively short time thanks largely to the quicksilver beauty of her voice; sweetly vulnerable, it also has a tensile strength that beguiles listeners.” Bridgers has played her own brand of alternative folk all over Los Angeles, including the Troubadour, the El Rey, the Roxy, Genghis Cohen, Hotel Café, The Coffee Gallery Backstage, the Claremont Folk Festival and the Grand Ole Echo.  According to LA-Underground, “Phoebe Bridgers’ “Waiting Room” was the heartbreaker tune of the year. It’s brilliant. She’s something special.” Music blog American Pancake says, “Phoebe’s tender performance mildly freaks you out and breaks your heart at the same time…utterly beautiful.” Since graduating from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts in 2013, Phoebe has performed and recorded both in Los Angeles and Nashville. She has collaborated with friends and mentors including Terra Naomi, Rob Waller, Noah Gunderson and Chad Gilbert. Her latest project is a 7” limited release of three songs, produced by Ryan Adams, released on April 28 and available on PaxAm.


John Doe & Exene


JOHN DOE: John Doe was born in 1977 when he arrived in Los Angeles. His previous life in Tennessee, Wisconsin & Baltimore was a great & fertile time but new music and social changes led him to events that created a life in art. He graduated from Antioch College in Baltimore in 1975, worked as a roofer, aluminum siding mechanic, and ran a poetry reading series. Ms. Meyers was his landlord in the rural black community of Simpsonville , MD. John met Exene Cervenka at the Venice poetry workshop Nov 1976 and he started working with Billy Zoom around the same time. When DJ Bonebrake joined X in mid-1977 the line up was complete. They released six studio records, five or six singles and one live record from 1978-1993. Five of X’s records have been re-issued along with two compilations. The "Unheard Music" documents their lives and progress as a band from 1980-83. In 2009 the film was included in the Sundance UCLA Archive of greatest films of all time. They appeared several times on American Bandstand, Solid Gold and David Letterman. As one of the last original punk rock bands standing, they continue to tour. The day that X played a free noontime concert in Fullerton, CA, they caused Orange County’s greatest high school truancy rate to date. In 1988 John started a family and lived in the Tehachapi Mountains, near the “Grapevine” of Highway 5, which separates southern and central California. He has recorded several solo records w/ numerous renowned singers and players, more recently including Patty Griffin, Dan Auerbach, Aimee Mann, Don Was, Kathleen Edwards and Greg Liesz. He has appeared in over 50 films and television productions, with some of his most notable roles in "Road House", "Georgia", "Roadside Prophets", "Great Balls of Fire", "Pure Country" and "Roswell". He continues to act these days but more sporadically as his touring schedule has become more demanding. Other musical side projects include work with the Knitters, Jill Sobule and The Sadies. He continues to write poetry and has even taught workshops from time to time. EXENE CERVENKA: A true renaissance woman, Exene is a singer, artist and poet whose work traverses virtually every aspect of those disciplines. She is known for her work as singer for the legendary punk band X as well as The Knitters and The Original Sinners. Best known as the singer for X, one of the leaders of the late-’70s/early-’80s California punk explosion, Exene Cervenka has also issued solo albums, launched several side bands, and penned books. Although Cervenka has been closely associated with California for a long time, she is not originally from the West Coast. Born on February 1, 1956, in Chicago, Christine Cervenka grew up primarily in Tallahassee, FL, before relocating to Santa Monica, CA, during the summer of 1976. Through a local poetry workshop, Cervenka met John Doe, and the seeds of what would eventually become X were planted. With Cervenka changing the spelling of her first name to Exene, the group led the Hollywood punk movement, but there was much more to their sound than the average punk band — as country, rockabilly, and Exene‘s poetic lyrics set them apart from the pack. A string of classic (yet criminally overlooked) releases followed — 1980’s "Los Angeles", 1981’s "Wild Gift", 1982’s "Under the Big Black Sun", and 1983’s "More Fun in the New World" — during which time Cervenka and Doe were married. In addition to her X duties, Cervenka appeared as part of the country spin off the Knitters (1985’s "Poor Little Critter on the Road"), and issued (also in 1985) a poetry collaboration with Wanda Coleman entitled "Twin Sisters". But as the ’80s wore on, Cervenka and Doe’s marriage would collapse, as did X after Zoom’s exit and a few spotty albums. With X winding down, Cervenka launched a solo career, resulting in 1989’s "Old Wives’ Tales" and 1990’s "Running Sacred". Cervenka has issued several books, including the titles - "Virtual Unreality" (through Henry Rollins’ 2.13.61 publishing company), "A Beer on Every Page", and "Just Another War", the latter of which was a collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-nominated photojournalist Kenneth Jarecke, in which Exene supplied commentary to Jarecke’s photos of the Gulf War. The Knitters resurfaced in 2005 with "The Modern Sounds" of the Knitters, and the following year Cervenka released the solo album "Sev7en".

Hear all of the First Fridays discussions on iTunes or  SoundCloud