Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Claremont and Pomona Art Notes

Art Ltd features an article rounding up the art scene in Claremont and Pomona, by Avital Binshtock. Some old, some new, many non-profit, most undiscovered. Her article should be read for its breadth if you are at all interested in the Inland Empire art scene, especially the new Claremont Museum of Art in the refurbished 1922 College Heights Packing House.
(these are before-and-after pictures of that structure)

Binshtock gives the art history of the area, from the downtown galleries and museums--including the recently relocated Latino Art Museum--of Pomona. Curators were interviewed and exhibits listed.

The Claremont Colleges are a world of art as well:

  • Claremont Graduate University has the Peggy Phelps Gallery

  • Scripps College has the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery

  • Pomona College Museum has the Gladys K. Montgomery Art Center--which houses not only modern pieces, but Renaissance Italian panel paintings and Pre-Colunbian American art.

  • Not mentioned in the article but worth a trip east all by itself, is the Jose Clemente Orozco Prometheus mural, and the Genesis mural by Rico Lebrun, in Pomona College's Frary Hall. The Lebrun mural, started in 1960, uses Biblical imagery in black and white, while the Orozco work--in 1930, the first mural by a Mexican artist in the US--uses vivid colors.

Friday, October 26, 2007


In 1925, a thousand acres of the Palos Verdes Peninsula was set aside for the Southern Branch of the University of California. (The Northern, original branch, of course, was in Berkeley.)

Until 1922, the PV Peninsula was owned by one man, Frank Vanderlip, who had great plans for the area. He sold part of it--the part that would become Palos Verdes Estates and Miraleste--to real estate developer H. G. Lewis that year. The thousand acres that would have housed UCLA can be seen on the map as the area left open, right in the center. That area is now home to the Peninsula Shopping Center and the high school. (Maureen Megowen's history site has more details.)

Technically, the Southern Branch of the University of California already existed--as a Teachers College on Vermont, in Los Angeles. In September 1919, that school first opened for about 1500 students. But the Southern branch didn't have a permanent campus, and other cities--Palos Verdes, Fullerton, and Burbank--wanted to host the new school. Los Angeles wanted to keep it too, and thought it would fit nicely onto a 200-acre parcel in Westwood. Turns out they were right.

(this is the Vermont campus)

The Southern Branch (on Vermont) handed out 28 Bachelor of Education degrees in 1923--its first graduates. That same year, the first African American sorority was chartered: Delta Sigma Theta. An African American fraternity followed: Kappa Alpha Psi. That location became Los Angeles City College.

According to UCLA History, boosters for a Westwood location--called the Beverly site--exerted a massive effort to pass Proposition 2, a bond measure that would raise 70% of the needed funds to purchase the site. Leading up to voting day, May 5, 1925, students used the radio airwaves to promote their cause (radio had only been around for 5 years, but everybody had one by 1925). They even produced a 10-minute film to be shown in local theaters!

This is Westwood in the 1930s--the campus is surrounded by farmland.

Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway) the proposition/bond passed and the Beverly site reaped the benefit. The campus was dedicated in 1930.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jury Duty

Why doesn't my civic duty come with any perks, like free coffee and doughnuts? Is that asking too much?

Instead it comes with technically-dense demands on my time, allows for no physical exercise, and requires gut-wrenching decision-making.

In view of that, coffee and doughnuts are not enough. We should be served caprese and expressos. What is wrong with our justice system?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bulldozing History in Phoenix

A few weeks ago I said that Las Vegas was the only city more cavalier about their history than Los Angeles. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Phoenix, Arizona is vicious. Their oldest Denny's, classic Googie, converted to a Mexican restaurant in 2004, and for all I can tell may be abandoned now. The onlyr ecent pictures show the large windows boarded up with plywood.

A First Federal Savings with a zig-zag roof, turned into a piano store but was torn down in March 2007. A Chase Bank on Apache with a geodesic dome--gone.

Another Chase Bank on Camelback--a truly unique building designed by Frank Henry--survives, but just barely. And no guarantees--no protected status.

What is it with us?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Jergins Subway

A secret tunnel, built in the 1920s (nothing to do with Prohibition, though), closed off for forty years. . . . gotta be a history buff's private dream.

The Jergins pedestrian subway in Long Beach was built in 1927, after a survey determined that over 2000 people an hour were crossing Ocean Blvd at Pine Avenue--4000 on weekends, since tourists and merrymakers were crossing Ocean to visit the beach and the Pike.

Since Ocean was already being dug up to realign the Pacific Electric tracks (the Red Cars), putting in the subway was cheap: $100,000. It could have been cheaper, but the Jergins Trust Company added $20,000 to add a skylight and fancy tile. The skylight is gone, but the tile's in pretty good shape--floor, walls, and ceiling. The subway tunnel was 181 feet long and between 30 and 35 feet wide.

Who was Jergins and why were they so generous? The A. T. Jergins Trust Company had something to do with drilling for oil and gas on 140 acres owned by the city of Long Beach, and selling the resource at a handsome profit. Their building--originally the Markwell Bldg, erected in 1919 and enlarged upward (to 10 stories) in 1929, controled one of the entrances to the tunnel. The picture of it was taken a year or two after completion.

Besides the Jergins Trust, the Jergins building was home to a radio station in the 1920s, and the State Theatre (originally for Vaudeville shows), and until 1960, it housed the Superior and Municipal Courts. In the film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a car chase is filmed going right by it.

In the 1930s when the Depression was in full swing, vendors put up booths along the walls. The pedestrian subway closed in 1967. It was reopened on Oct. 11, 2007 for a few dignitaries and historical society-types.

On October 28, a big to-do will be held to reintroduce the tunnel to the public. Go to Long Beach's University-by-the-sea website to learn more and get tickets. Some websites imply that the tunnel will be open for future use, others that it will be reburied. Pictures showing the tilework--floor, walls, and ceiling--are here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pomona Fox Theatre

Pomona's architecture always surprises me--it's amazing what one city has not razed. OTOH, give 'em some time.

The Fox Theater at 3rd and Garey opened in 1931--that's the opening day picture at left. It cost $350,000 to build and had the first refrigerator air conditioning east of Los Angeles. (Pomona is still in the county, of course--cuz that's where the Fair is.)

The building was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Since 2000, the city of Pomona has been the owner of record, and Pomona Heritage is leading an effort to restore the Fox Theatre to its Depression Era glory. In those days, stars like Shirley Temple and Bob Hope used to appear at preview screenings of their films at the Fox, which was just far enough from Hollywood to reflect middle-American tastes. Besides the special appearances, movie stars and producers would be in the audience as well.

These pictures come from Pomona Heritage'swebsite about the building's history. In 1938, for example, all of Los Angeles and San Bernadino Counties suffered through terrible floods. The Fox Theatre, big enough to hold an audience of 1500 people, served as a shelter for 300 refugees.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

St. Vibiana, Patron of Runway Models

Well, why not? Runway models need a saint to look after them, maybe more than the rest of us. Those spikey heels are treacherous!

According to one legend, Vib--or Bibiana, as she's sometimes known, was one of two daughters of Flavianus, a prefect who was banished by Julian the Apostate. Julian, the last pagan emperor of Rome, reigned only two years--but that was long enough to renew persecution of Christians. The virgin Bibiana was tortured and martyred. Why shouldn't she be safeguarding and guiding runway models?

So nice that the old Cathedral still finds a place in our modern world. Here's a previous blog entry.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bing Crosby and a Barrel of Monkeys

On November 16, 1937, a subtle little ad appeared in the Los Angeles Times' lost & found column:

Monkeys Lost
$2 Reward for return of each monkey escaped from Major Pictures Corp.,
1040 N. Las Palmas.

(the picture shows the address today)

It ran for five days; no idea how many monkeys were actually turned in. The New York Times, on the 19th, ran a story claiming that Belmont High School students were offered $1 a head bounty for running down monkeys that had gotten lose during the filming of a Bing Crosby picture.

A gossip-column in the Los Angeles Times reports that 150 monkeys did indeed escape from General Service Studios, which (according to seeingstars.com) is exactly what that address on Las Palmas was in 1937. Today it's Hollywood Center Studios, and seeingstars has the building's bio, from its founding in 1919, its impressive early pedigree (Howard Hughes shot Hell's Angels at this studio), and its downfall into B-moviedom, which apparently began with the escaped-monkey movie.

The movie was Doctor Rhythm, and imdb says it ostarred Beatrice Lillie, Andy Devine, and Mary Carlisle. No mention of the monkeys, but our 1937 gossip columnist claims that most of the action takes place in a zoo--hence the simians.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Judy Garland's Home

Double-checking the BigTimeListings blog reveals more historic home action:
"An estate in the Lower Sunset Plaza area of Los Angeles’ Hollywood Hills that once was owned by actress Judy Garland and her director husband Vincente Minnelli and that later was owned by actor Sammy Davis Jr. now is on the market"

The home sold for under $2.8 million, a bit below the $3.3 asked in July, and a lot under the $5 mil asked two years ago (the seller paid $.5 for it in 1995). But Judy Garland moved into it in September of 1944! Liza Minelli (b. 1946) learned to walk here! (It is referred to as pink stucco in a bio of Garland, clearly that's been changed.)

Built in 1941, the five-bedroom, 4,999-square-foot house at 8850 Evanview Drive has seven bedrooms, according to public records. However, listing information shows that it only has five bedrooms. Other features . . . 7-1/2 baths, public rooms with city views, maple floors, French doors, a large family room, a formal dining room, a library and a media room. Outside are a guest house, a pool, gardens and patios.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Historic Homes in Los Angeles

We all know they're endangered, right? Arrogance tops the list of predators, but there's also earthquakes, mudslides, floods, fires, and plain old time, all threatening L.A.'s older gems.

According to the Times, Danny Bonaduce is selling a "classic, Spanish Andalusian manion, built in 1926 by architect Harry Hayden Whiteley." RE Blog Your Mama has pictures--just in case you missed the house on reality TV. (Actually, skip the Times piece--the blog has more info, pix, and salacious gossip.)

More celebrity home-buying-selling is at Big Time Listings blog (just in case we have nothing else to do but drool), but all this is really a lead-in to a new, 2-volume book on the area's old homes by Sam Watters.

The books are written up in the Times. Watters spent six years researching Houses of Los Angeles, 1885-1919

and Houses of Los Angeles, 1920-1935. Why did it take so long? "We don't just tear down our treasures. We toss out all written records about them as well," he says.

About half the homes he features in the books are gone.

Las Vegas, Nevada, is about the only place I can think of more cavalier about its history.

Palladium, Pt. 2

Cecilia Rasmussen of the L.A. Times heard my whine about no stories on the Hollywood Palladium, apparently. Sunday's paper had a half-page history, with the news that Esther Rydell is making a documentary about the venue. Five pictures appear with the story, including this one of the Palladium under construction in 1940.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Torrance High School, TV Star

You've seen Torrance High, even if you've never been to the South Bay. Season after season, it appeared as the high school used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Beverly Hills 90210. It was also in the movies The Hot Chick and She's All That, according to imdb. Fast Times at Ridgmont High is not listed there, but I'm pretty sure that was Torrance High too.

Read more about the school's history at the THS website.

The school turned 90 on September 11, 2007, and is holding a fundraising antique car show on October 13, from 10-2. Donation is $5, or $3 for under-18. Cars from all decades, back to 1914, will be on display, and all the money goes to the Alumni Association. Raffles & Fud too. The school is at 2200 W. Carson St., between Crenshaw and Cabrillo--which is really Van Ness but changes its name.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Lebowski Fest

The Annual (5th? 6th? whatever) Lebowski Fest kicks off on Friday, October 12, at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. Bowling will commence on Saturday evening at the Cat Bowl in Lakewood. A souvenir book will be available for purchase.

A Sunday tour of Lebowski sites is fully booked, alas. But you can visit Dinah's (off the 405 in Culver City) on your own, whenever you like--what do you need a tour group for?

Ceremonially swathe your toe in bandages and sit in a booth, order pigs-in-a-blanket (or fried chicken), and secretly enjoy the thrill. Or have an acid flashback; the choice is yours.

Hollywood Palladium

The Hollywood Palladium opened in 1940, with vocalist Frank Sinatra playing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. A few weeks later, they recorded an album at the Palladium.

The building was designed by Gordon B. Kaufman (who also designed Santa Anita Racetrack and the Greystone Estate), and it supposedly cost a cool million to build. It sits, according to the LA Times, on a lot formerly occupied by Paramount Studios.

On Saturday nights, from 1961 to 1976, Lawrence Welk and his orchestra played the Palladium. The Emmys and Grammys have been handed out on its stage.

Even though the acoustics are. . . poorly regarded, lots of groups followed Tommy Dorsey's lead and recorded live albums at the Palladium. Gene Krupa and his orchestra did so in 1945. Also: Keith Richards in 1988, Bill Elliot's Swing Band in 2000. Recordings of a 1971 Grateful Dead concert can be heard here.

Movies? The Palladium was the site of the Sci-Fi convention in Galaxy Quest. The Blues Brothers first concert (in the movie) was filmed here. The Bodyguard, F.I.S.T, Mr. Saturday Night and a bunch of other movies all list the site on imdb.

Besides two blog entries, though, precious little is written on the Palladium online or in books. It's got to be the most overlooked and under documented historic venue in Hollywood.

In April, LiveNation announced it would lease the Palladium (capacity 4000 guests) for twenty years. LiveNation will refurbish the huge theater, closing it after a Morrissey concert on October 13, and reopening (hopefully) in one year.