Thursday, April 29, 2010

1926 Nize Baby

I'm not usually much of a dumpster diver (it has nothing to do with pride--I'm just really squeamish) but today, I saw workers throwing tons of stuff out of a recently vacated condo. And right on top was this book. In mint condition (which this is not) this edition is worth $200. Seriously; I looked it up.

But here's the kicker. Inside the book is a note:


This was your Dad's dearest & most treasured book. I promised him we'd never get rid of it. It was part of his childhood. Keep it for him.


Mortality is such an unsentimental bitch, huh?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Schoenberg Hall, UCLA

This is the last (I think) panel in the "History of Music" mosaic that adorns Schoenberg Hall at UCLA.

I think it's gorgeous. Hot jazz, cool jazz, Billie Holiday, whatever you want to read into the work, Richard Haines (the artist) nailed it. This was another collaboration between Haines and the Ravenna Company of St. Louis, who executed Haines' designs. Nona Haines, widow of the artist, said that "when he [Haines] did the cartoons, the full-scale cartoons. . . he did these flat colors, and they [the Ravenna craftsmen] would interpret them, put the colors in there to give them a vibration, to give them life."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Many-Storied Wolf's Lair

A 1927 mansion erected by L. Milton Wolf, one of the real estate developers who built up "Hollywoodland" in the Roaring Twenties, was just sold to Moby for $3.925  million. 

Here's some trivia: Architect John Lautner designed the gate house, "in teak and redwood with a green granite fireplace," according to a 1982 Times story. (That story implies that Wolf's ghost haunts the place.)

Even HowStuffWorks has written up the Wolf's Lair! That website claims that Mr. Wolf had a secret passageway to a hidden apartment behind the guesthouse, where he could ensconse pretty starlets and enjoy them at leisure. Well, let's hope the enjoyment was mutual.

HowStuffWorks says further that the castle's turret was designed as a home for Wolf's pet gibbon. I guess pretty starlets get tedious at times, and monkeys liven things up. L. Milton Wolf died in the house, btw--at the dining room table, pitching forward into a bowl of minestrone.

Read more about the place in the Los Angeles Times "Hot Property" column of April 17, 2010. Since a Famous SInger bought the Wolf's Lair, it's in all the papers. Also follow along on LACurbed, because they've got pictures from the new owner. Speaking of pictures, follow this link to a set of eleven black and white images of the Lair in 1958. (The undated picture above, however, is from the Los Angeles Public Library's online photo collection.)

Just One More Mosaic Fountain Picture

Yes, uno mas. Because this picture from Ellen B. is gorgeous, and I heartily recommend that anyone who wants to see great photos of the Getty Villa check out Ellen's Happy Wonderer Blog.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Another Getty Mosaic: A Fountain

Who doesn't have a goofball picture of the mosaic fountain at the Getty Villa? This features my dear friend Pol, mugging it up with one of the two Heracles masks that adorn the fountain.

The fountain--including the masks--is an exact replica of one excavated in Pompeii from the House of the Great Fountain (nice name!) It sits in the East Garden of the Villa, and is one of the few things I actually remember from the Villa in the 1980s.

The picture to the right shows the original fountain in Pompeii, from a site called, which sounds official but really isn't. It's a rental agency, in fact.

In Italian, of course the House of the Great Fountain is actually the Casa Fontana Grande.

My handy-dandy Getty Guidebook is a bit sparse on information about this fountain, so here's a description of the original from  "A niche completely covered with polychrome tesserae...embellished with a bronze statue and theatrical masks. These nymphaea, made of glass paste stones, are rare examples of non-floor mosaics."

Here's a picture showing the East Garden from Flicker, which insists on this attribution:

And finally, also from Flickr, here's a close up of the mosaic of Heracles hisself.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Follow-Up to Early Stairs in LA

Turns out the Second Annual Big Parade on July 12-13 (a 2-day, 35-mile walkathon and campout)aspires to climbing 101 public stairways in Los Angeles! The course is designed to be completely walker-friendly--even to lazy walkers. You can join for an hour or a mile, whatever. The Big Parade Facebook Page is full of information.

In advance of The Big Parade, many warmup walks--from three to twelve miles--are planned over the next couple of months. SOme meet in front of the Music Box stairs or at Angel's Flight. One will hike from Griffith Park to the Hollywood Sign during the full moon! Find a list of these practice walks at the Facebook page or at The BigParadeLA website.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Early Stairs of Los Angeles

Steve Lopez' column of April 13 in the Los Angeles Times tells of a man who healed his seriously aching back by climbing stairs. And while any old stairs might have helped the pain, what makes this column a gem of local history is that the man--Charles Fleming--lived in an area of LA riddled with early public stairs that predated our automobile culture. Most were built in the 1920s and 1930s. And Fleming has written a book about them. That's it at left.

Included in the book is the staircase where Laurel and Hardy moved a piano in "The Music Box," but that's pretty well-known. Lopez says that Fleming took his on a tour, pointing out bits of history: "the house where Anais Nin died, the house where William Faulkner wrote "To Have and Have Not, the cabin-hotel where Ernest Hemingway once hung his hat, the place where Tom Mix's saloon used to be..." you get the picture. For history buffs, fascinating stuff.

I doubt that any of the stairways are in San Pedro, because Lopez mentions Echo Park and Silverlake, Hollywood, and areas far removed from the port. Oh, well.

Not only a fascinating read, but walks to take your breath away.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Vatican Pays Homage to the Beatles

So I'm sitting in my living room late this morning, trying to pull myself out of the Rick Sanchez Zone and go do some Real Work, when a crawler pops up (are they still called crawlers now that CNN has changed their style and puts up tabs?) and it says, "Vatican Pays Homage to the Beatles."

I think, what if I'd had a time machine back in 1966? Then I could've zoomed forward 44 years, leaving behind all the adults who were screaming about how horribly blasphemous John Lennon was for saying the Beatles were bigger than Jesus (and they were, at least in my very Catholic elementary school) and from my time machine I would've seen that crawler and come back to give all those self-righteous adults a big Nyah-nyah-nyah!

But I really didn't know what the crawler referred to till later. Turns out--yup, the 'bigger than God' comment is part of it. The Osservatore Romano newspaper carried articles saying that since the Beatles' music has stood the test of time, all those old comments and the drug use, etc., are sorta forgiven (I don't think that's official forgiveness--not like the sacramental stuff you get in confession.) Ahhh, gee.

Here's the AP story. SO noice of them to take a break from investigating...well, defending themselves against charges of abetting molesters to clear up this little misunderstanding.

So the tie-in to LA History. In August 1966, Los Angeles Times columnist Jack Smith announced a contest for teenagers, the Beatles' core fans. (He hyphenated the word: teen-agers) Smith wanted to know, in 300 words or less, what the teens thought that John Lennon meant by his "more popular than Jesus" remark. First prize was a life-sized model or mannekin of actress Claudia Cardinale, which seems to have been a running joke. Optional prize was tickets to the Beatles concert at Dodger Stadium, later that month.

Smith and the Times got twelve hundred letters, and printed exerpts in the letters-to-the-edtor column. The winner was Judy Bender of Long Beach, whose letter was way too erudite to convince me she was really a teen-ager.

Judy announced that she would neither "defend Christianity from this supposedly terrible onslaught" nor would she defend Lennon's "right to rebel for the sake of rebelling."

"I merely object to the people who are letting themselves be totally and emotionally carried off balance by a single, frank remark which does not represent the entire younger generation, or reflect a blasphemous atheist tryint to overthrow religion."

Oh, Judy, where are you? I'd love to know your feelings on the tea party movement!

Anyway, here is a You Tube video of the concert that Judy saw. ANd while there are probably many descriptions of the event out there, here's a link to Walter O'Malley's blurb--also the sourc of the ticket picture.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mosaic Floor at the Getty Villa

There are beautiful mosaics at the Getty Villa on Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Pallisades and most of them get walked on all day. And...and...I forgot my effing camera!  So I've resorted to using a beautiful picture from the About GoCalifornia page, which seems to be the same picture as the Getty Guidebook, taken by Richard Ross.

The mosaic floor in the Temple of Herakles in the Getty VIlla is a replica of a floor in another villa: the Villa dei Papiri outside the ancient city of Herculaneum.  The floor plan of that luxurious estate---buried by the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius--was copied by J. Paul Getty's architects and engineers in the 1970s to create the Getty Villa. This particular mosaic floor was found 100 ft underground, and was the first part of the Villa dei Papiri to be discovered, back in 1750.

So. My guidebook says that this floor is comprised of 22 concentric circles, each composed of triangles. Black Lucullan marble alternates with giallo antico marble, leading to the center--which looks like a black circle in this photo, but is actually green porphyry, surrounded by red (rosso) arrows forming a circle against a background of the giallo antico marble.

Four thousand pieces of marble make up the floor--and when the original was unearthed in the eighteenth century, engineer Weber lifted it out piece by piece, making detailed drawing and then reconstructing the floor. The original now ornaments the Naples Museo Archaeologico Nazionale.

And the beautiful replica is here in Los Angeles.

There's a lot to be said for forgetting one's camera and just enjoying what turned out to be a beautiful day without worrying about framing pictures. Especially when the internet provides better pictures than I could've taken anyway.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Village and Bruin Theaters

Variety recently reported that two single-screeen (i.e., old) Westwood movie houses in danger of closing were being rescued by Regency Theatres: the Village Theatre and the Bruin. According to this article, the Village Theater opened in 1931, and the Bruin in 1937 (actually, 1938). And Mann (the former owner) still has bios on these theaters at its website.

This picture (from the Herald-Examiner collection of the Los Angeles Library) shows the Village--then the Fox Westwood Village--in 1951, during a premier. There's still a lot of premieres held here, like for Julie & Julia or Planet 51.

Here's an oddity--a report on the condition of the the Village and Bruin filed in 1978, when the Times, "assisted by writer Paul Levine," decided to investigate top movie houses in Hollywood and Westwood, to see what state they were in.

The article gave a favorable report of the Village Theatre, where the 1500 seats went for $4 and $2. Today, the seat count is 1341, and the prices are $8.50 up to $11.50. (CinemaTreasures explains that a 1998-99 remodel widened the seats, which cut down the number of chairs.) The Times said: "The granddaddy of Westwood theaters, no only in size but also in what remains of old movie-house charm...well-maintained and attractive." The acoustics produced and echo and the sound was too loud, but those were minor complaints. Parking cost ONE DOLLAR at "the big UCLA lot across Le Conte." Wow.

As for the Bruin, which also charged $4 and $2 for seats in 1978: "this theater projects an architectural combination of Art Deco and modern noncommitment."

Hmph. But the 800+ seats were comfortable (today, it's down to 696). Although "the men's room smelled bad" the theater was "generally clean."

The library dates this picture as 1938, which may mean this is the grand opening.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mosaics at the Federal Building (Los Angeles Street)

Once upon a time (from the 1920s to 1988, to be exact) a company named Ravenna Mosaics in St. Louis, MO, executed the work of artists all over the United States. In the 1960s Ravenna Mosaics employed an artist named Richard Haines, who created the "Celebration of our Homeland" and "Recognition of All Foreign Lands" mosaic panels that ornament the eterior of the Federal Building at 300 N. Los Angeles Street.

This picture is of the "Celebration of our Homeland" portion, but you can see more pictures of both mosaics at the PublicArt in LA website.

The mosaics stand over 26 feet tall, and here's what Public Art in LA says about the symbolism in this panel (attributing Michael Several for the info):

  • The taller figures symbolize Americans--a farmer, family, worker/planner, scientist/researcher, and teacher.
  • The smaller figures (racially diverse) represent future generations.
  • The five arches in the upper right represent five federal departments: Interior, Agriculture, Health, Labor, and Commerce--all part of the government's domestic programs and protections.
  • Beneath the departments is the tree of life, representing our expanding society.

While the building's architect designated the space, Haines chose the theme, wanting to reflect the building's purpose. I dunno--such a literal, point-by-point interpretation takes all the fun out of looking at the art. I'd rather just ooh and ahh over the pretty leaves and costumes.

Anyway--and this is way more interesting--Haines drew the full size pictures as cartoons on wrapping paper (lots of wrapping paper--they were 26 feet tall after all!) and sent them off to Ravenna Mosaics to be fabricated. Ravenna traced them in reverse and matched the colors on the cartoons, gluing the pieces on with barley paste. The reverse-traced sheets of paper were not removed until the actual installation of the mosaic months later.

Ravenna Mosaic Company began as a partnership between a St. Louis glass studio and a German mosaic company to help construct the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, and I guess it just kept going until 1991, when  the owner died.

Richard Haines, the artist, passed away in 1984 after a long career. He studied in Europe then worked for the WPA, painting murals in post offices (a lot like Millard Sheets' protege, Milfor Zormes).  He even worked for Douglas AIrcraft duringWWII, according to this biography (which is followed by a list of his work),  and taught at the Otis Art Institute from the 1950s on.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools of Yesteryear

In 1950, the Hollywood Stars (our local baseball team) took to the field at Gilmore Stadium (7700 Beverly Blvd.) Well, of course they did--they had a game to play against the Portland Beavers. Yes, the Portland Beavers. That's not a joke, that was the team name. 

The joke was that the players were dressed in Tshirts and flannel pinstriped shorts with turned-down hose.

Manager, Fred Haney (shudda been Hanes, huh?)  insisted this was no prank, but that the baseballers expected to have more speed and energy while playing unencumbered by heavy uniforms. "These scanties provide much greater freedom of movement in fielding and throwing."

In 1940, the Los Angeles Times included a list of standard April Fools pranks: "soapy sandwches, wax apples for the teacher, and the stand-bys of 'your shoestring's untied,' and 'There's a bug on your neck.'" How quaint. Apparently the LAFD and LAPD were called out for bogus fires and murders, too.

In 1980, the Times ran a retrospective pranks pulled at Caltech, "the thinking man's Animal House." Such as: the 1975 McDonald's sweepstake stunt, wherein 26 students used a computer (this is '75, remember) to enter themselves in a McDonald's contest 1.2 million times, and won nearly $10,000 in prizes--including a car. Burger King contributed $3000 to a scholarship named for the prank mastermind, John Denker.

But was that on April Fools Day?