Monday, April 21, 2014

Shrine On's Rather Conservative Bench . . .

. . . by an artist whose work is often on a much grander and more eclectic scale.

With a nod to the Coachella Music Festival, I present today's mosaic.

"Literary Mosaic," a bench, sits in front of the LA City Memorial Branch Library on Olympic, where it was installed in 2008, courtesy of the Friends of the Library. I think students from Los Angeles High School (just across the street) helped with the installation.

The library is set far back from Olympic Blvd. in a 1930 building that looks like a cozy mansion. The bench is in front, closer to the Muirfield side of the park.

These two pictures come from

What does that have to do with Coachella?

Well, the artist who created this bench also makes and installs the towers at Coachella each year. He has two names: Brent Spears and Shrine On.

According to this 2007 article from the Los Angeles Times,  Shrine/ Spears designed the first five House of Blues clubs, including ours in Los Angeles, and he created the murals of the original Wacko Soap Plant knicknack shop now on Hollywood Blvd.

But more fantastically, he is the artist who constructed the Temple at Burning Man and who designed the Lucent Dossier Vaudville Circus, which looks to me like a steampunkish show in the Cirque de Soleil tradition. And for seven or eight years, the Coachella Towers, and other big performance venues.

Last year, Dana Nichols wrote an article about him and his efforts to render concert goers "awestruck when they receive a jaw-dropping experience with art."

If you want to see the towers through their construction in 2013, as well as past events, click on the link to Nichols' piece in Cartwheel Art

Shrine On uses "sacred garbage" in his work; he's also been called a dumpster diver. Tiles, tires, hubcaps, wrenches, dolls, mirrors and picture frames, hood ornaments from cars, plastic toys, catfood cans, bottles and bottlecaps, teapots, and souvenir plates can all be spotted in the photos of his work.

Shrine On's website has pictures of wonderfully whimsical mosaics like the one to the right which I borrow, but no text telling us where--beyond his Pasadena home/studio--they might be. And who knows? Maybe that is where they all are.

Shrine's work is mixed with performance art--or maybe performance art uses his work. Looking at his website and pictures and scanning the related material is almost like opening a new book, with magical adventures waiting to carry you away.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tile Mosaics at the Los Angeles Design Center

The Los Angeles Design Center, standing at 433 S. Spring Street, was once the Title Insurance and Trust Company Building. And over the entrance are three tile pictures that have been there since the building opened in 1928.

This shot gives you some perspective of the building and its art. It comes from the LADT (Los Angeles DownTown) News website.

The 10-story building (some sites say it's 13 stories) was designed by Parkinson and Parkinson (John and Donald, father and son) at a time when public art was de rigueur. In order to put art on the outside that was appropriate to the art deco lines of the building, the Parkinsons asked Hugo Ballin to create the murals. A firm called Gladding McBean fabricated the tiles.

Ballin was the trendiest, hottest artist around in the late 20s. According to the Times of long ago, Ballin also created a mural map of the state for the Director's Room of the Title Insurance and Trust Company Building. That was up on the 10th floor, with the fancy boardrooms and the cafeteria. Wonder if that's still there?

The Title Insurance and Trust Company moved out in the late 1970s. The company still exists; it is now TICOR. The building was bought and revamped as an interior design showcase. That lasted about ten years. Remember the Library Fire of the late 80s? This building housed much of the library's collection from 1989 to 1993.

LADT posted an article about the building in 2012 when the property was bought by Izek Shomof, who intends to convert it to condos.

Here are close-ups of the tile mosaics, courtesy of The photo to the left (and which is also on the left when facing the building) shows "Protection." Although it's not easy to see, that female figure--not the man in the gold shawl, but the woman behind him--stretches her arm out to the left and holds a sword.

The mural below right is "Fidelity." Its layout mirrors "Protection," with a female figure behind and above a above a male, one arm stretched back and the other bent.

In between these figures is "Trust" showing a female figure sitting in the center. Sorry, I could not find a picture showing that--even though its been there, in plain sight, for over 85 years. But the artwork is thoughtfully appropriate for an insurance company.

Hugo Ballin's story is interesting: he started working for Samuel Goldwyn when Goldwyn Pictures was based in New Jersey. A trained artist, he became an art director and production designer for Goldwyn. After following him out west, Ballin started to write and direct silent films and had his own production company.  Early, silent versions of Jane Eyre and Vanity Fair were among his films.

He returned to art in the late twenties, and you can see his work at:

He even designed the commemorative medallions for the 1932 Olympics, and he wrote a few novels too--at least one was quite controversial. When he died in 1956, he was said to be working on a 27-foot high panel for a Catholic Church in Redondo Beach. That may have been St. Lawrence Martyr, which was built in 1956. Ballin's work was only 1/3 done, though, so it was probably never installed.

In 1936, Ballin sent 8 sketches to the WPA powers-that-be to be considered for the Post Office in the nation's capital. He deliberately went over the top on one sketch of the Gold Rush era, showing violence and drunkenness, beggars going hungry, and a "fat cat" couple looking over everything while eating their roast turkey. Their butler looks like Felix the Cat, and the candle sticks were obscene. Guess what? That sketch won him the opportunity to create the mural for the Inglewood, California post office, and be paid $680.

Ballin turned down the offer but said he might create the mural for a Hollywood bar. He sounds like a character who liked pranks and pushing buttons, seeing how much he could get away with. He's on my list of people I'd like to have lunch with in heaven.

The site has this picture of the chandelier. The chandelier? I'm sorry, but the light fixture is not what is captivating in this picture! The ceiling is incredible. It--and the entire interior--was designed by Herman Sachs. The ceiling, per the LA Times of 1928, is "paneled in oblong forms, decorated in gold, chrome oxide green, lapis lazuli blue, in rubbed lacquer, making a modern color scheme."

BlogDownTown displayed a photo of the building in 1929 when they wrote about it--well worth looking it. That blog drew on stories from the Los Angeles Times to describe how the building was erected and the opening day ceremonies.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Los Angeles' Bowling History

It's a dirty little secret that my family would like to deny: I bowled for years. I was on a league. Several leagues. Although I don't think I ever played at the Shatto 39 Lanes shown glammed up a bit at right, I did go to Vegas and Reno for bowling extravanzas back in the 90s.

Somewhere, I may still have the bag and pretty white shoes, as well as what we affectionately called "the Pepto-Bismol ball."

Red, pink, and swirly--get it?

So the new BOWLARAMA exhibit at the Architecture and Design Museum is right up my alley.

You saw that coming, right? I won't even bother to apologize; it wouldn't be sincere.

Los Angeles Magazine posted a slide show celebrating the exhibit, which makes sense because it is curated by Chris Nichols, one of their editors and my favorite columnist.

This picture at left is of the Bowlium in Montclair, which is almost LA county. I don't know how old it is but it's almost as cool and Googie as my ultimate favorite, the old Bowl-O-Drove.

And yes, it's very sad that my beloved Bowl-O-Drome in Torrance does not seem to be included in the A & D show, which opened Saturday April 11th and runs through May 11th. The bowling alley is still there, as it has been since at least the 1950s, and it's kept its great name. But the owners got rid of the retro look about twenty years ago.

Why? Even twenty years ago, I think that 50s nostalgia appearance could have paid off if marketed correctly. But, sadly, bowling alleys have never been known for their savvy marketing.

All I could find was this matchbook cover, which sold on eBay for $3.99.

Man, all those decades and no picture of the facade exists? Someone's got to have one!

I once had a tee shirt with this green and gold logo on it, but it's long gone as well.

Anyway, the museum exhibit is focused on the 1950s and the "architecture and technology that created a new kind of space-age recreation center and reinvented the sport of bowling in the 1950s."

Many of those 50s-era lanes are gone, like the Missile Bowl in Gardena and the one on Imperial in El Segundo where all the airline employees used to go at all hours--there was even a 3 am league for those who worked the graveyard shift.

The alley where The Big Lebowski filmed--the Hollywood Star Lanes--was demolished in 2002. This photo is from

Also found this Roadside Peek collection of bowling alley pictures.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ye Olde Los Angeles Restaurant Trivia

First of all, I have a confession and a warning to make: I'm an aging Boomer, and fine print drives me nuts. My new laptop allows me to make things BIGGER! I love it. But I have no idea how that is going to affect my blog pictures and layout. So I apologize in advance if there's a lot of white space on your display . . . but be assured that mine looks greeeeaaaaatt!

Small print is on my mind because I just tortured myself by trying to read the captions on these pictures. Light gray, 8-point font gives me a headache!

But the pictures--of Los Angeles area restaurants of the 1920s and 1930s--are worth the effort.

The 1924 Airplane Cafe had wings--don't know for sure how long it was in business, but it shows up in the 1976 movie version of Bound for Glory. It's the place where Guthrie cleans a wall in exchange for a bowl of chili. The Kewpie Cafe, the Palomar Ballroom for Dining and Dancing on Vermont (which burned down in 1939), Ernie's 5 Cents Cafe on 5th Street--long gone, but tres atmospheric. Take a trip back in time on this KCET blog post.

Ernie wasn't kidding, by the way. If you blow this picture up (well, I had to blow it up) you can see that a nickel would buy you a hamburger, beef stew, any kind of sandwich, or three cookies. Think about what those items would cost now. Odd that three cookies and a bowl of beef stew cost the same, huh?

One restaurant you won't see there is Chez Jay, which I happened to pass today. The Los Angeles Conservancy site says it opened in 1959 and catered to celebrities by banning cameras and autograph seekers. Owner Jay Fiondella kept his stars cozy and happy.

The city of Santa Monica awarded Chez Jay landmark status in 2012. Even more interesting, the Santa Monica Redevlopement Agency bought Chez Jay back in 1999. The restaurant operates under a lease agreement.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

OK, Mosaic Tuesday

So, OK, I admit I've been slipping on the mosaics. Here is one I stumbled across (almost literally) while visiting in El Segundo.

This relatively new shopping center (Plaza El Segundo) is on the east side of Sepulveda, just north of Rosecrans. And the mosaic fountain with animal sculptures is right next to the Anthropologie store and Pinkberry. It's a tribute to the blue butterfly (below), which is also found in Palos Verdes now, and--while still on the endangered species list--seems to be making a comeback.

Here are more mosaics--the curved benches around the fountain are covered in ceramic tiles. My guess is that this was a fundraiser of some sort as many of the tiles are from families, but I haven't found any information on that.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Recommended Los Angeles History Events

The LA Conservancy is offering a special tour of the restored Wilshire Boulevard Temple--a restoration that cost $47.5 million, which should make you feel better about the quotes you're getting for your roof.

That includes a docent-led tour of the original 1929 buildings; a performance by William Beck on the temple's pipe organ (I don't know how these things are measured but the organ has 4,000 pipes so I'm guessing the sound is spectacular); and talks by temple leaders and preservation architect Brenda A. Levin, FAIA, who oversaw the restoration.

The four-hour tour takes place on April 27.

But . . .

If tales of true crime are more your thing, Esotouric presents a Black Dahlia Bus Tour, departing at noon on April 5 from the Millennium Biltmore. You should return to the Biltmore in time for high tea, which strikes me as an odd thing for Esoutouric to point out because I wouldn't imagine that crime voyeurs are into high tea. I could be wrong (I often am).

I've mentioned the Da Camera Society before--that's the chamber music group that performs at historic homes and venues around Los Angeles. They'll be at the Doheny Mansion under the TIffany Dome on April 12 (Shoenberg & Tchaikovsky, followed by a catered reception) and on April 26 (jazz piano, followed by champagne & dessert). On May 3, several soloists will perform music by Corelli, Bruch, Debussey, Beethovan, and Dvorak. Is that varied enough? Is it even legal?

Chamber music--classical concerts in general--can be pricey, but Da Camera's Dance and Design events on April 5 & 6 are only $25 per ticket. Enjoy live dance and discussion about dance--specifically, Fred Astaire's dancing. (But not at the Doheny locale.)

Here are some other dates from their schedule:

  • April 27 at Artemesia in the Hollywood Hills

  • May 9th at the Farmers & Merchants Bank downtown with very modern music

  • May 18 at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

This last item is not an event but just a fun read: pictures of the Dresden Room highlight a blog post on "Friend Visiting from Out of Town Wants to Go to the Bar from Swingers" It appeared in LA Weekly and reminds me that we in Los Angeles (and environs) get to hang out at some pretty cool places.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Woodie Guthrie's Los Angeles

" . . . the lights of Los Angeles jumped up, running from north to south as far as I could see, and hanging around on the hills and mountains just as if it was level ground. Red and green neon flickering for eats, sleeps, sprees, salvation, money made, lent, blowed, spent. There was an electric sign for dirty clothes, clean clothes, honky tonky tonks, no clothes, floor shows, gyp-joints, furniture in and out of homes."

That was Woody Guthrie's first impression of Los Angeles after hitchhiking into town in the late 1930s. He wrote those words in Bound for Glory, his 1943 memoir.

A few pages later in the book, he comes back to LA. By now he's got a guitar and is a bit less penniless than when he first breezed through. His book leaves out a lot and is hard to fit to dates, but it's so wonderful to read you just don't care.

He had a radio show here in Los Angeles, at station KFVD. The picture to the right shows his on-air partner Lefty Lou (Maxine Crissman).

So here's what Guthrie says about Los Angeles in December of 1941, down along "old Fifth and Main:"

"Skid Row, one of the skiddiest of all Skid Rows. God, what a wet and windy night! And the clouds swung low and split up like herds of wild horses in the canyons of the street."

Woody hooked up with another guitar player whom he calls the Cisco Kid in the book--I think that's Cisco Houston. "We moved along the Skid looking in at the bars and taverns, listening to neon signs sputter and crackle, and on the lookout for a gang of live ones. The old splotchy plate-glass windows looked too dirty for the hard rain ever to wash clean. Old doors and dumps and cubbyholes had a sickly pale color about them, and men and women bosses and workhands bumped around inside and talked back and forth to each other. Some soggy-smelling news stands tried to keep their fronts open and sell horse-race tips and sheets to the people ducking head-down in the rain, and pool halls stunk to high heaven with tobacco smoke, spit and piles of dirty men yelling over their bets. Hock-shop windows all piled and hanging full of every article known to man, and hocked there by the men that needed them most; tools, shovels, carpenter kits, paint sets, compasses, brass faucets, plumbers tools, saws, axes, big watches that hadn't run since the last war, and canvas tents and bedrolls taken from the fruit tramps. Coffee joints, slippery stool dives, hash counters with open fronts was lined with men swallowing and chewing and hoping the rain would wash something like a job down along the Skid. The garbage is along the street stones and the curbing, a shale and a slush that washes down the hill from the nicer parts of town, the papers crumpled and rotten, the straw, manure, and silt, that comes down from the high places, like the Cisco Kid and me, and like several thousand other rounders, to land and to clog, and to get caught along the Skid Row."

The picture of Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston on the left came from a memorial website to Houston, who died at age 42.

Here's how Woody described the people on the Skid:

"Movie people, hoss wranglers, dead enders, stew bums; stealers, dealers, sidewalk spielers; con men, sly flies, flat foots, reefer riders; dopers, smokers, boiler stokers; sailors, whalers, bar flies, brass railers; spittoon tuners, fruit-tree pruners; cobbers, spiders, three-way riders; honest people, fakes, vamps and bleeders; saviors, saved, and sidestreet singers; whore-house hunters, door-bell ringers; footloosers, rod riders, caboosers, outsiders; honky tonk and whiskey setters; tight-wads, spendthrifts, race-horse betters; blackmailers, gin soaks, corners, goers; good girls, bad girls, teasers, whores; buskers, corn huskers, dust bowlers, dust panners; waddlers, toddlers, dose packers, syph carriers; money men, honey men, sad men, funny men; ramblers, gamblers, highway anklers; cowards, brave guys, stools and snitches; nice people, bastards, sonsabitches; fair square, and honest folks; low, sneaking greedy people, and somewhere, in amongst all of these Skid Row skidders--Cisco and me sun for our chips."

Over the next few pages, Guthrie tells how he and Cisco sang in a place called The Ace High, next door to the Imperial Saloon. They sing for sailors and soldiers, until one drunk--who tried to enlist but was rejected--decides he wants to beat up all the Japanese in Los Angeles. The owners of the Imperial Saloon are Japanese, so that leads to a street brawl, with Woody, Cisco, and most of the sailors lining up to protect the place. It's colorful and maybe it really happened.

Woody's adventure never made the Los Angeles Times (I checked) but I doubt that reporters were hanging out in that neighborhood on a rainy night.

Bound for Glory is an incredible, heartbreaking read. It's not at all what I expected, which is what most 21st century reviews of it say. The book is a doorway to your parents' or grandparents' world, which was a lot more ugly and bitter than they ever let on.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Charles Phoenix' Mosaic

Today's mosaic is from a Facebook post by Charles Phoenix:

He bought this in the early 80s for $60 in Ontario, CA--close enough to Los Angeles!

If you are at all interested in mid-century kitsch and food, Boomer trivia, Googie buildings, Tiki restaurants, or anything along that line, you probably know about Charles Phoenix (and if not, pay attention!) His slide shows and talks are the stuff of legend. And he has written books, filled with pictures and funky facts.

So now you have his website and can check him out, or follow him on Facebook where he posts pictures daily that will delight and surprise you.

Afraid I don't know any more about this mosaic other than the fact it was bought and is now in Chez Phoenix.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Storybook Cottages on Gower

Curbed LA link has already announced this, but I'll jump on the bandwagon too. After all, I blogged Monday about new housing on Gower.

"A bungalow court containing four cottages done in Storybook style, which was somewhat the local rage back in 1921 when owner-architect Charles B. Bell designed and built the first bungalow and when contractors Burrell & Hamrick constructed the other three in 1923." That's how Curbed LA describes the cottages at 2494 Gower, in Beachwood Canyon. And that site has a wonderful history of why and how these cottages were built the way they were, and why the Hollywood real estate market back then was so whimsical. Go read, it's fun.

The four cottages were approved for historical-cultural landmark status in December, according to the Los Feliz Ledger, from whence this picture hails. And LA Curbed cites the fact that only 42 bungalow courts out of 100 that stood in 1955 still remain in 2008's Hollywood. "And of those, only 26 were fully intact."

Reading the story, I wondered if the builders ever intended these little homes to withstand eighty or ninety years of occupancy. Probably not. The entire area was so new back then, who could have predicted a crowded metropolis like today's?

But the real story has a happy ending, and the LA Curbed article has several pictures of other storybook-style bungalows in the area.


KPCC--no doubt inspired by the same Curbed LA link that got me going--put up a small feature on Storybook Homes, and it turns out there's a book on them by Arrol Gellner, with photography by one Douglas Keister (yes, I am giggling. I have the mind of an 11-year-old). Here is the link to Amazon:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Villas at Gower Mosaics

Today's mosaics were built by Piece-by-Piece, an organization founded to give the homeless and inner-city poor some supplemental income. It quickly became much more. Professional artists and art teachers come in and lead workshops, training folks young and old in mosaic arts, and many of those students are now selling their own creations.

The art focuses on recyclable projects, and there are plans to expand classes to include other art forms, not just mosaics.

The site of today's mosaic is the Villas at Gower--an apartment building conceived and raised as transitional housing for at-risk youth and families--the kind of place you'd expect to be seriously ugly. But of course it's not.

So when the chance came to create mosaic art to adorn the Villas at Gower in Hollywood, an element of synchroncity was in play. Here was an opportunity for the freshly-trained artists, some of them recently homeless themselves, to work on a big project that benefited at-risk youth and adults--some of whom were also recently homeless.

The picture below left (down a bit) shows the artwork--vines with leaves, bolted to the building. The leaves are actually mosaics of flowers--the photo left shows them being assembled at Piece by Piece.

Most of these pictures came from the Piece by Piece blog and website.

Instructors / artists Luz Mack Durini and Dawn Mendelson laid out the design and others contributed to fine-tune it. It took a year of paperwork before fabrication of the mosaics could even begin, but once the work started the team of mosaicists came in twice a week to assemble the pieces.

The 3-D leaves started with high-density foam shapes, reinforced by a skeleton and covered with layers of concrete and fiberglass mesh.Sculptor Sherri Warner Hunter designed all that, and helped students work with the shapes, and artist Matt Doolin of Topanga Art Tile came in to demonstrate how to make delicate-looking flower petals from clay.

In the end, over 15,000 bits of ceramic were hand cut and used. Piece by Piece then worked with the builders and specialists who bolted the vines and leaves into place.

The building itself as well as the art project was originally funded by the California Hollywood Redevelopment Agency, but that went bye-bye. PATH Ventures and A Community of Friends stepped in as the developers. PATH Ventures is now the lead service provider for the buildings' occupants, which means they are not only the managers but also coordinate outreach, volunteers, medical & dental services, employment and training--the works.

The Villas at Gower opened in 2012 and offers over 70 apartments, from studios to suites, to families and individuals who are either homeless or have special needs, and whose income falls far, far below the median income of the area. The building features lots of areas designed to foster community--brightly lit community rooms, and enclosed patios where the mosaics are visible.

The LEED-platinum certified building was built by KFA (Killefer Flammang Architects) a firm specializing in public buildings, and the picture  below came from their website. The cost of this project was $20 million.

By an odd coincidence, they also built apartments in Los Angeles with the name of "Mosaic," but those do not have mosaics on them.