Sunday, December 28, 2008

Robert Graham gone

Robert Graham, who designed the Great Bronze Doors at the Queen of Angels Cathedral, died yesterday. Graham's obituary is here, along with the Times' collection of photos of both him and his work.

This is my own photo; not too artsy. The Cathedral website says that the Great Bronze Doors took five years to construct. Graham designed them, but 150 other artists took part in their construction. Their symbolism is explained at the site, but Graham started at the bottom with forty pre-Christian symbols from varied lands (20 on each door--that's what those smaller squares are). The bottom left figure here is the Chumash man, and to the right of it is a turtle. Griffin, crane, bee, a hand, and other symbols are all there too.

This is topped by blocks showing the different artistic and spiritual versions of the Blessed Virgin from Europe and America. I think in this picture you can see the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Virgin of the Rosary of Chinchinquira (for which Graham used his mother's rosary), and bottom--the Virgin appearing to the souls in purgatory.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Top Ten Houses in Los Angeles

Frank Lloyd Wright-Designed Home Endangered By Heavy Rains

The Los Angeles Times had made a list and checked it twice. Well, a lot more than twice but that's the way the song goes.

The Ennis House, built in 1924 by Frank Lloyd Wright, is number 3 on the list of top ten houses in Los Angeles--top ten of All Time. "A heavy, elongated mass constructed of 16-by-16-inch concrete blocks . . . sited majestically on a hilltop overlooking Griffith Park, the building appears to be more than a house--an elegant fortification, perhaps, or a temple." That's how the Times puts it today, in "The best houses of all time in L.A."

This picture is from 2005, when Diane Keaton and other preservationists toured the house. A retaining wall was crumbling, and Phase 1 of a project to stabilize and restore the house is now complete.

Want to see pictures of the house now, looking a bit more gorgeous? The Times photo spread of unutterable beauty is here. You can also see it in films--Wikipedia has a list. I did not realize the Ennis House masqueraded as a Hong Kong skyscraper lobby in Rush Hour.

As for numbers 2 and 1 on the Times list (you'll have to go to the paper for the entire top ten), The Kaufmann House in Palm Springs (I quibble with extending the geography that far, but I'm glad Richard Neutra is on the list) is #2, and the Kings Road House of Rudolph Schindler is Number One.

The top ten were picked by a survey of architects, preservationists, and professors, according to the Times--but they're a bit short on details of those surveyed, except for quotable quotes.

Monday, December 22, 2008

$23.95 Million Estate...

...for that last-minute, hard-to-please sweetie, maybe?

11,000 square feet interior on 2.1 acres? Ten baths? We are impressed.

Cecil B. DeMille bought this house in 1916 for $27, 893, and began developing Laughlin Park around it. Charlie Chaplin was his next-door neighbor to the west. DeMille bought Chaplin's smaller house in the 1920s and built an arboretum connecting the two. Back then, the houses were at No. 4 and 5, Laughlin Park. Today, it's at 2000 DeMille Drive.

Here are pictures from 1923, when the house was a mere nine years old, and today: watch the chimney. Is it possible that the negative was reversed? Whatever, the house went on the market last March for $26.25 mil--wonder why they didn't just go for $27.893? Something poetic about that.

Anyway, the estate didn't sell and the price has now been lowered.

According to the Los Feliz Improvement Association, in 1930 (the Depression) the house was worth about $500,000.DeMille lived here until his death in 1959. Also according to them, in 1930 Los Feliz had only one-fourth the number of homes as it does now. The Association lists many of the silent-era movie star homes in Los Feliz, with pictures.

Here's an interesting bit of trivia. DeMille's greatest epic is The Ten Commandments, made in 1923. Lots of stories are told about it--people injured in chariot races, movie sets buried in the dunes, etc. Here's one I'd never heard before: DeMille made that movie based on the results of a contest.

From October 4 through November 1, 1922, the public was invited to submit ideas for DeMille's next big movie. Grand prize: $1000.

On November 19, 1922, the Los Angeles Times announced the winners of the contest. There were eight, and they'd all come up with the same brilliant idea: the Ten Commandments. DeMille awarded a grand to each, finished his current production (Adam's Rib), put the same writer (MacPhearson) to work on the Biblical epic, and started scouting locations.

BTW, about the estate: Sotheby's International is the realtor. Other sites about the home include CurbedLA, the Movieland Directory, The Real Estalker (with great pictures of the house now).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pickford Legacy Denouement


Mary Pickford, known as America's Sweetheart in her heyday as a film actress, won two Oscars in her lifetime. One was for Coquette, her first talkie, in 1930--only the second Oscar ceremony. The other was a Lifetime Achievement Oscar presented three years before she died.

Those Oscars are the crux of a court battle waged by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (of which Pickford was a founding member) and Pickford's heirs--who strangely, have no relation to her at all. Did she ever even meet any of them? These 'heirs' want to auction off the Coquette Oscar, to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a charity.

My hubpages entry has a lot of the background (and some pictures) about this case. But no newspaper story says anything about Mary Pickford's and Buddy Roger's two children, who were adopted in the 1940s when Mary was over fifty years old. The PBS American Experience show and page on Pickford casts aspersions on her as a parent, though a relative claims she was a loving mother (see the comments on the hubpage).

Where do those children--Ronald and Roxanne--stand on this? Don't they have something to say about their Mother's legacy? Did they have children, and do they have an opinion? Enquiring minds want to know! So here's what I learned in the last hour:

According to a story on Fest21, a Film Festival site, Roxanne is deceased and Ronald dropped out of sight after an adulthood spiced with drugs and prison sentences. This article claims that Pickford's will bequeathed each of her children $50,000 "but the actual amounts they received from the estate were significantly smaller." Pickford's grandchildren had their schooling and college paid for too.

So the nieces of Buddy Rogers' second wife are the ones slugging it out with the Academy. Her children and grandchildren are not being heard from--at least, not in the media.

The legacy of America's Sweetheart is that, for all the good words her fans have to say about her (and they are legion), she's another piece of history. All that she earned has been quantified and may be distributed as the courts see fit.

Doesn't sit well.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Marilyn Monroe photo, 1953

This photo on Shorpy comes from a Life Magazine archive, dated 1953.

According to the Marilyn Sites in LA webpage, in 1953 she lived at 882 N. Doheny Drive, Apartment 3--right up to January 1954 when she married Joe DiMaggio. There's even a picture of the place at their site, if you scroll down less than half-way through the page. The apartments are still there. Actually, LALife says condos are there, and #3 is less than 650 sq. ft.

Mark Bellinghaus' blog shows another photo of Monroe against the same planked background, and identifies it as the yard of her Doheny apartment. So I guess that settles it. Alfred Eisenstadt is the photographer and the sweater is black cashmere.

BTW, the Bellinghaus blog really rips at the authenticity of the Marilyn paraphernalia displayed in Long Beach in 2005--including her own hair curlers, that he claims were actually manufactured in the 1970s!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Los Angeles newspapers

Tribune Co. Prepares For Possible Bankruptcy Filing

Los Angeles has had many newspapers over the years, starting with the bilingual Los Angeles Star--first published May 17, 1851. By the time of the Civil War the Star was printed in English only, and its editor, Harry Hamilton, was outspoken in his support of the Confederacy and disdain for President Lincoln. Hamilton was even imprisoned for awhile, but later became a state senator. The liberal media was not so liberal in those days.

The Times came along in 1881, and General Harrison Gray Otis "acquired" it the same year. No idea who the original owner was. The paper was originally printed on a water-powered machine, which had to be stopped whenever fish got caught in the wheel. Seriously. Through the 19th and much of the 20th century it was extraordinarily anti-labor and conservative. In 1937, the DC press corps voted it the "least fair and reliable" paper in the country!

Decades (and many Pulitzer Prizes) later, it's simply a victim of changing times. Like the Star, El Clamor Publico, the Tribune (there were several incarnations), the City News, Mirror, Record, Evening Herald, Herald Examiner, and all the others (here's a list) its day may have passed. Or not--who knows?

Remember All the President's Men? That funky arm-rest that Dustin Hoffman is leaning on is a typewriter. May have been electric, though I can't see the cord. If you made a mistake on a typewritten page, you had to type the entire page over again. Barbarous.

Anyway, All the President's Men came out in 1974. By the late 80s, I remember a friend pointing out how the technology had changed--fax machines, cordless pushbutton phones, and even word processors were available. The "newsroom" that seemed so exciting in the movie (and that no doubt sparked many journalism majors) was a relic of the past. Even then, though, in the late 80s, no one could envision NOT getting a daily newspaper.

I think I'm the only one left in my building still getting the Times each morning, which can't be very cost-efficient. Daily newspapers have been around since, what--the 1830s, 1840s? Like cars with internal combustion engines, just didn't expect to see their market collapse in my lifetime.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Julius Shulman Photos

Shorpy has put up several photos taken midcentury by Julius Shulman--like this one of the Spencer Residence in Santa Monica, 1950. Strapless cocktail dresses were clearly in that year, and yes, that's a TV screen half-open in the table. Those are also cigarettes in those manicured hands.

Besides Shorpy, though, KCET hosts a page on Julius Shulman that has links to his 2005 talk with Huell Howser, an essay on his work by Wim de Wit, a list of the Case Study Houses he photographed between 1946 and 1966 (no links to the photos, but the famous picture bottom right is one of those Case Study Houses--#22, the Stahl House), and this link to the Getty Exhibition on Shulman that ran in 2005-2006.

If you want to see a dozen of his photos on one page, there's a New York Gallery that displays and sells them. (Unfortunately, the photos aren't labeled.)

There's also an online exhibit at USC's site called "L.A. Obscura: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman." From that I learned that Shulman's career took off in 1936 (he was only 26!) when he met Richard Neutra after taking some Kodak pictures of the Kun house that Neutra liked.

Shulman taught himself photography, but later audited classes at UCLA and Berkeley. I bet the other students would have rather he taught them.

He celebrated his 98th birthday in October.

Friday, December 5, 2008

L.A. Live Symbolizes Our Separation

L.A. Live: "Like an airtight cruise ship, turning not a welcoming face but the architectural equivalent of a massive hull to its neighbors," according to Christopher Hawthorne in the Los Angeles Times. This picture is from the L.A. Live website.

First, a digression: in the late 90s, Professor Leonard Pitt (co-author of Los Angeles A-Z) took his students on a Saturday tour of downtown L.A. We started in Olvera Street and rode the subway, the Dash, even Angels' Flight.

One lesson I remember well from that tour is that ever since we put Olvera Street and the Pueblo behind us, Los Angeles has had a problem with public spaces. The skyscrapers of the 80s and 90s, for example, are embellished with art: fountains, pools, sculpture. That is required by city ordinance. The builders are contrarians, however. The art is put into place to be ignored. Pedestrian walkways to other buildings or the parking structures are built into the second or third floor. No one walks on the streets except the street people that no one wants to meet.

Christopher Hawthorne reviewed L.A. Live in the Los Angeles Times and touched on these same problems that have plagued this city for decades. He says in his introduction that L.A. Live "is relentlessly focused on creating its own wholly separate commercial universe..."

Is that necessarily bad? Well, yes, and it highlights the long-standing urban problems of isolation and division.

Most people (imho) expect a public plaza and paseo--features of L.A. Live--to interact with the surrounding community and invite locals to visit and enjoy the neighborhood. But what L.A. Live presents is an "illusion of public interaction," and "a stage-set version of a public square," according to Hawthorne. The barriers between this "self-contained world...and the streets around keep the rest of our blocks underused and, as pieces of the city, undernourished."

The Times also has a photo spread. Intentional or not, all the photos are devoid of people.

On a slightly related note, a column by Gregory Rodriguez titled "Long live the corner cafe" tells us that the academic worry over our increasing isolation from each other is no longer just academic. "What Americans need is more nonrational, nonpurposeful interaction with people with whom they have no natural common cause." Not your relatives or your book club, iow. Just striking up conversations at a bar--coffee or regular bar--or shouting about the game on the big screen overhead.

Rodriguez mentions the fact that even in Europe, the sidewalk cafe culture is on a downslide. My other blog, A Lot of Gaul, has a post about that with links to articles documenting the decline. Pubs are in trouble too.

So when we design all the self-sufficient, enclave-like entertainment venues, are we doing ourselves a favor or a disservice?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Seventy-five Years of Just Saying No to Prohibition

December 5th marks the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition.

You can start celebrating (in 1920s costumes) on December 4th at Cole's, which hosts a fundraiser for the L.A. Conservancy--but you should reserve seats in advance ($25 each, more here). On the 5th, go to The Edison (but turn your speakers down) to celebrate with Miles Mosley (and turn your speakers up). At midnight, there will be a toast--no doubt a sloppy and inebriated-but-sincere toast--to the Women's Temperance League.

Actually you can celebrate at The Edison on December 4th as well, because on Thursdays they offer certain cocktails at 1910 prices (thirty-five cents between 5 & 7 pm). 108 West 2nd St, #101. (Thank you to Natalie at the Liquid Muse for pointing all this out.)

As for our own Los Angeles Times, the paper carried a warning to revelers on December 5, 1933, straight from Sacramento and the head of the DMV, one Theodore Roche: California automobile drivers were to exercise "their newfound liberties with sanity and wisdom." The LA City Council, expecting a rowdy night of parties when liquor became legal again, raised the fines for DUI, or whatever it was called , from $50 to $500. Police Chief Davis urge his officers to be especially vigilant and quick to arrest drunks before they could endanger life and property.

However, by December 6th the paper reported that while "hundreds of gallons of wines, whisky, brandy and other strong liquors were rushed to more than 10,000 retailers in Southern California," the anticipated celebration never materialized. LA ushered in repeal not with a bang, but with a tepid "rah" and a "lack of zealous appreciation" for the newly-legal spirits. There were 87 drunk arrests (11 involved driving), but that, apparently, was the norm even during Prohibition.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Marionettes in Breadlines

Go now to the Bob Baker Marionette Theater on First Street. They're in serious trouble, but go for the puppets. Go for the Nutcracker Suite!

Where else do the shows start at 10:30 AM?

In case you were unaware of the dire straits being faced by the gettin-up-there Mr. Baker and his 3000+ marionettes, the wolves are at the door. Real wolves, not "Peter and the" (which you can purchase online, btw). Wolves that would like to be paid $30,000 for the mortgage or they'll throw Tess Trueheart on the railroad tracks . Ouch!

Even the New York Times is in on the act--or at least, supporting the act. In a December 1 story, they reported the Theater's financial woes. The NY Times describes its location on the "decidedly scrappy edge of Downtown." Cute. The Los Angeles Times, in its most recent story (Nov. 20), says that Baker is negotiating payment terms and has no intention of letting his theater close.

Baker, according to his website, started puppeteering at age 8. He made and sold marionettes internationally while he went to Hollywood High School, then worked for George Pal Studios and Walt Disney. Bob Baker's Marionettes were performing at local shows, charity functions, and parties from the late 1940s, and the Theater on First Street opened later. By 1964 the Theater was advertising regularly in the Times, with long-running shows that cost all of $1.50 per child (today it's $15--still a bargain.)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

First mention of a gang in Los Angeles?

Well, maybe. On page 3 of the December 17, 1881 Los Angeles Times, a headline reads "A host of Los Angeles hoodlums" (also referred to in the story as "a company of local bloods") played a prank on one Leo Bundy of New York.

Readers of the day were told that the prank was the "old, old snipe joke, played so many thousand times." It consisted of convincing Mr. Bundy that snipe were to be had at the river bottom. After tramping a mile, setting up candles and sacks (presumably to hold the birds, once bagged), the merry pranksters left Mr. Bundy on watch while they went off to guide the birds to him. Poor Mr. Bundy sat waiting, his gun at the ready, till past midnight.

The success of the joke was "complete and glorious" according to the Times.

Guess you had to be there.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Long Beach Architecture--November 20

The Long Beach Historical Society hosts a panel discussing the "Past, Present, and Future of Development and Architecture of Long Beach" on November 20 at 6 pm.

Where? Good question. Their announcement doesn't say and their website is seriously out of date (appropriate for a historical society, I guess). The website does have some cool pictures, though, like the one at right.

Their phone number is 562-424-2220. It sounds like a fascinating panel, with people from the LBHS, city representatives (including the Historic Preservation Officer), and local architect Jon Glasgow.

But jeez, guys. Who-what-when-where-how!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Break Month (NaNoWriMo)

I apologize in advance for not posting much this month, but I've signed up for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and am committed to turning out a 50,000 word first draft of a novel set during the Gold Rush. It's a blast but leaves little time for skimming ProQuest files, googling old buildings, or stuff like that.

If anyone would like to fill in for me or contribute a piece, please comment to this blog entry!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Los Angeles: Smogtown USA

Smogtown, a new book by Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly describes smog in LA. Love the subtitle: Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles

You think we got it bad now? Nah, we don't got it bad now! In the 1950s and 60s smog was much worse than it is today. Remember brown-outs?

Although LA was known centuries ago as the Valley of Little Smokes, Smog-the-Inscrutable settled in on July 26, 1943. People suspected war-time factory sabotage or industrial leaks, but in short order they realized that Los Angeles' car-crazy commuters had created the problem themselves.

And we solved it ourselves, too...sorta. Well, it's a work in progress.

Here are reviews from the LA Times, Publishers Weekly (scroll down over a third of the way for October reviews), and--just for good measure--an NPR interview with Patt Morrison (in this case, scroll to about 2/3 down the page). Kirkus calls it "zany and provocative cultural history," which of course is what cultural history is all about. More stuff at the book's website.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ghostbusters Fire House

Steve Harvey did the "L.A. Then and Now" column this Sunday and wrote about our old fire stations. One--Station 23 on 5th Street--was the station in Ghostbusters. How cool. I always assumed that place was in New York, and since I don't hang around Skid Row I never took a good look at it.

Shoulda known. The Biltmore Hotel was used in Ghostbusters, as well as the Doheny Library at USC, the downtown library, Greystone Mansion, and . . . here we are, at filming locations for the entry at Fire Station 23, 225 E. 5th St.

#23 has also been in The Mask, Big Trouble in Little China, Flatliners, and a few other movie and TV shows--even an A Team episode.

As a real fire station, #23 operated from Oct. 2, 1910 till Nov. 23, 1960. Ten stalls for horses were built into it originally. Quite ornate for a fire station--polished oak floors, French beveled glass mirror hanging over a Vermont marble mantelpiece, leaded glass bookcases, and Peruvian mahogany panelling. Not to mention a marble shower, and double tub in the chief's quarters.

These pictures are from the site. This last one is dated May 15, 1915, and shows men on some of the six brass poles, the horses (the hay was kept on the 3rd floor, which was not a problem since the building included an elevator). The site includes many other wonderful shots, names of the firemen, and a history of the horses.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pershing Square Torn Up Again

Gee, has it been 15 years since we ripped apart Pershing Square? How time flies. The photo at right, from the Los Angeles Public Library, was taken by Cary Moore and shows the last re-do, in 1993.

According to the Los Angeles' Times front-page story, which includes some lovely photos and a short history of the park since 1866: yes, the place is about to be redesigned--this time, as an area more friendly to the many residents of the area. Changes will be funded in part by the Park Fifth project, providing, per David Houk, Director, "As much grass and trees as possible."

Sounds great. This photo, also from LAPL, is undated, but I would guess from the cars that it was taken in the 1940s.

The park was renamed in 1918 for General Pershing of WWI fame. The Times photo essay has a picture of the pre-Pershing, 1885 "Central Park". A steepled church stands in the Biltmore location.

When the park's name was changed by order of the City Council, LA's Mayor Woodman objected. Seems the council had previously passed civic rules to keep crowds from congregating in the square, and he fussed that the new name, along with a planned memorial honoring the soldiers and leaders of the Great War, would violate all those rules. Well, they were probably silly rules to begin with.

In April 1919, the Square was the scene of a huge welcome-home victory celebration for the soldiers. A band played "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here," and "Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," then the "Star Spangled Banner." The regiments broke, and all the soldiers began mixing with their loved ones. Meal tickets were handed out so that all the men of the 160th Regiment could eat at the downtown restaurants (thanks to the Red Cross). Several companies were served lunch in the banquet hall of the Trinity Hotel.

That was long before this picture was taken, since the Biltmore opened in 1923.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hacienda Hotel and Sam Cooke

"Tales of the macabre at L.A. Hotels"--an Oct. 22 story in the Los Angeles Times Travel section--tells of three hotels where big names checked out the hard way:

  1. Janis Joplin died at the Landmark Motor Hotel (now the Highland Gardens) in Hollywood
  2. NightStalker Richard Ramirez hung out at the Cecil Hotel near Staples Center
  3. Sam Cooke was shot and died at the Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo.

You know Sam Cooke's music: Chain Gang, You Send Me, Cupid, Shake, Bring it on Home, Wonderful World, etc. In the 50s, he was a gospel singer who switched to fact, he pretty much designed soul. On December 11, 1964, he checked into the Hacienda Hotel. Late that night, one woman called police claiming she'd been kidnapped and escaped. Minutes later, a friend of the manager of the Hacienda called police l, stating that she'd heard gunfire. The manager claimed she'd shot a near-naked Cooke in self-defense.

Wikipedia has a summary of all this. Was the first caller, who ran from Cooke's room, really a near-rape victim who grabbed both their clothes in confusion as she ran away? That's what she claimed, but she was arrested for prostitution a few weeks later. The initial report in the LA Times of 12-12-1964 called this woman a "Eurasian vocalist" that Cooke met at a party. Hmmm. His family has a different version of events in a book that you can get online. Another bio is Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick.

Cooke's life and death were controversial. Five thousand people tried to attend the services for him a few days later at Mt Sinai Baptist Church on Adams (now Apostolic Faith Home Assembly). Lou Rawls and Ray Charles sang hymns. Cooke's widow married Bobby Womack about two months later.

As for the Hacienda, if it's the hotel on Sepulveda in El Segundo (as the 2008 Times reported), obviously it's come up in the world. Some websites refer to the Hacienda as a 'two-bit joint' in south central LA. The Times of 2008 says it's in El Segundo, but the Times of the times (always wanted to write that!) claims the Hacienda was on S. Figueroa. 9137 S. Figueroa, to be exact--no where near El Segundo.

9137 S. Fig is now the Star Motel, according to Looking at Google, it looks like an apartment building.

Hmmm again. I've not caught the Times in this sort of error before. I really intended to blog on the Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo, but that's not where Sam Cooke died. The papers from the 1960s are very clear on the address, and the place was called the Motel Hacienda.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Los Angeles Noir Tour

If you're burned out on cemetery tours and haunted houses--but still fascinated by the dark side--there's a hard-boiled tour of Los Angeles' Film Noir sites on November 9th. This is a self-guided event; you buy your ticket and show up between 10 am and 4 pm at the different sites, and a docent tells you all about it.

What sites? Places dark and sleazy, reeking of cheap booze, cheaper women, and Humphrey Bogart's aftershave. Places like:

  • The Formosa Cafe, where (in LA Confidential) Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato hung out
  • Philip Marlowe's office--or at least the Security Trust and Savings Building, where Raymond Chandler put Marlowe. A noir photo exhibit will be set up here, too.
  • The Warner Brothers lot where The Maltese Falcon was filmed in 1941
  • Scenes from Double Indemnity, like the Mulholland Dam at the Hollywood Reservoir and the Glendale RR Depot

LA-NOIR-chitecture is a one-time event and runs from 10 am to 4 pm on Sunday, November 9th. Tickets must be purchased by the previous Friday, the 7th.

The tour is $30 (discounted if you're a member of LA Conservancy) and Reservations are Required! (There's actually a good reason for that--Warner Bros won't let anyone onto the lot if they're not on The List.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cemetery Celebrations

Los Angeles has a Halloween blog! It's called Creepy, and it's a veritable gusher of information. From it I learn that:
  1. Hollywood Forever Cemetery conducts tours on Saturdays and Sundays, for $12. Go see the graves of stars like Jayne Mansfield and Peter Lorre and Valentino with lots of history tidbits. The tours are at 3:30 on Oct 18 and 19, noon on Oct. 25, Nov. 2, and most Saturdays through mid-December. Creepy reviews the tour here.
  2. Hollywood Forever also hosts Dia de los Muertes on November 1, from 4 pm to midnight. $5 gets you in.
  3. Regional rehearsals (in the South Bay, West Hollywood, UCLA, SM--see the schedule) to recreate Michael Jackson's Thriller dance are ongoing. The dance itself will be performed at Hollywood and Highland on Oct. 25.
  4. October 18 all night horror movies at the New Beverly Cinema.

Here's an item not from Creepy: the 13th Annual Long Beach Cemetery Tour takes place Oct. 25th. Show up between 9 and noon at Sunnyside Cemetery on Willow with $18 of disposable income (unless you're a student or a member of the LB Historical Society--you get special rates.)

Rosie the Riveter in Inglewood

I love Shorpy. This shot was taken in October 1942, at the North American Aviation Co. in Inglewood. "Parts are marked with this pneumatic numbering machine in North American Aviation's sheet metal department." per Alfred Palmer, Office of War Information.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reasons to Preserve Buildings

Diane Keaton wrote an editorial for the Los Angeles Times, looking back on the unsuccessful fight to save the Ambassador Hotel. She listed reasons--green, economical reasons--why preservation makes more sense than new construction. Here's one I was surprise to learn: "construction of new structures alone consumes 40% of the raw materials that enter our economy every year. "

So pierce my ears and call me drafty...I didn't know that! But here's a breakdown. Per the U.S. Green Building Council and LEED Certification--

In the United States alone, buildings account for:

  • 70% of electricity consumption,
  • 39% of energy use,
  • 39% of all carbon dioxide emissions,
  • 40% of raw materials use,
  • 30% of waste output
  • 12% of potable water consumption.

Admittedly, this list--from an Alcoa newsletter--doesn't differentiate between new building or additions, repairs, etc. when giving that raw materials figure. Here's another quote, from Lafarge's Sustainable Development page:

  • The environmental challenge: when a building's total lifecycle is considered, the construction industry:
  • is responsible for 40% of CO2 emissions and waste in developed countries,
  • accounts for 40 % of the energy demand in these countries.

Can you tell my google included 40%?

Be that as it may, I would love to see a side-by-side comparison of (column a) the cost of erecting a new building, including clearing the real estate of previous buildings, and the entire construction costs, and (column b) the cost of remediating/renovating/remodelling an older structure into something equally usable. And maybe a note about maintenance costs for each.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Phillipe's: A good time was had by all

I missed Philippe's Anniversary, but I can still buy this cool pin at their website,

Looks like Huell Howser was there as emcee, along with the USC marching band and about a million other people. The Los Angeles Times covered the party--actually, they covered the lines waiting to get into the party. People came from everywhere to celebrate and buy French dips for ten cents--their price 100 years ago. Remember when keyboards used to have cents-signs on them? That was about fifty years ago.

You want photos? We got photos. Here's a link to LAWeekly's 15-pic display (it's slooooow). The Times also has two online photo spread (and here) of the festivities, as well as a story about how the French dip was invented straight from Philippe Mathieu's grandson. And here's a piece from last April about Philippe's, but you can also find historic photos and tidbits on

So now the standard has been set. Do we have any other 100-year-old restaurants in this area? Any coming close? Musso and Franks--how old are they? 89. Well, the next party has been given a template. This is how you celebrate.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Hollywood Palladium Then

Halloween 1940 saw the grand opening of the Hollywood Palladium. Here's what the Los Angeles Times says today:

"Dorothy Lamour was there to snip the ribbon, spangled with orchids, and as Jack Benny, Judy Garland and Lana Turner looked on, hundreds of couples danced the jitterbug on a 11,200-square-foot dance floor made of maple wood.With its coral and chromium interior, Streamlined Moderne swoops and shimmering chandeliers, the Palladium that night must have seemed like a dreamy refuge in a world that was growing darker by the day."

For the last half of October, workers were toiling 24 hours a day on the club. Here's what the Times said on October 30, 1940:

"Polish and was were being put on the dance floor...

"Tommy Dorsey and his band were rehearsing...[no mention of their unknown vocalist, Frank Sinatra!]

"Waiters were assembling glassware, linen, silverware...

"Throughout the $1,000,000 building...Workmen were hanging Halloween decorations, electricians were finishing installation of indirect lighting equipment, air-conditioning machinery was checked for operating efficiency. "Arrangements to handle an opening crowd of 7500 persons, with dining space for 1000 more around the dance floor were nearly ready...Equipment alone for the building has cost nearly $500,000...Sunset Blvd. from Gower to Vine Sts. will be a blaze of light, spotlighted by 50 giant arc lights."

Another article reported that "by means of an illumination device, there appears to be a misty group of damsels dancing in a cloud of stars. Another effect is 'Color Symphonies' , a sparkling spectrum of 16 hues played on a color keyboard in harmony with the music."

There was also that 200-ft bar in back of the balcony, the dance floor of spiraled maple that cost $10,000, and the dome-topped main cocktail lounge.

The photo above is from the Los Angeles Public Library's Herald Examiner photo collection, and was taken by Gil Harris on December 4, 1940. Tommy Dorsey and his band once again had the crowd on the dance floor.

The Sunday Times of 10/5/2008 ran a photo montage of the Palladium, covering the 1940 opening to the 2008 re-opening.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Broadway Hollywood Condos

How many fancy-pants lofts can claim to have been in a Charlie Chaplin movie? The Broadway Hollywood at Hollywood and Vine can--here's the blog entry on that. (That tidbit is also mentioned on the Broadway Lofts of Hollywood's history page.)

Saturday's Los Angeles Times details some of the perks of living in this historic building (Charlize Theron or Ivana Milicevic as a neighbor may entice some buyers, even in this market.)

The Times thoughtfully included a photo spread online, of three custom-designed lofts. The picture at right, btw, is from the National Archives Main Streets of America series and was taken in 1945.

A related story describes the loft of Dave Navarro (of Jane's Addiction), also in the building. The snakeskin dining room table is stunning.

Loft living is not for everyone, clearly, but seeing the old trappings of the Broadway itself must be a bonus. Maybe the Times will do a piece on that sometime.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Graveyard Tour at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery

In the same week that Spike Lee's movie about WWII Buffalo Soldiers is released (Miracle of St. Anna), a local history tour of a graveyard will feature the life of a real Buffalo Soldier.

Capt. Edward Lee Baker, Jr. fought in the Spanish American War with such heroism, rescuing another soldier by running through heavy fire, that he won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Capt. Baker died in 1913 and was almost forgotten until one Don Morfe, who has tracked down the graves of 2,800 Medal of Honor winners, found this grave and had a new marker placed over it. Read more about Capt. Baker's life in the Los Angeles Times article of Sept. 26.

Should you want to know about Morfe and his obsession, read this.

Since the West Adams Heritage Association holds their annual graveyard tour of Angelus Rosedale Cemetery this Saturday (every 25 minutes between 9 am and noon), Capt. Baker will be brought to life once more by re-enactor Albert Edmund Lord III. Other resurrected spirits include a radio actress, a beauty queen, a silent film actor, a mid-19th century photographer, and a founder of USC. A donation of $30 is requested. The cemetery is at Washington and Normandie. Ooops--the website says advance registration required, so go there.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Real Estate for Eternity

Timing is everything in humor--and likewise, I think, is placement.

The Los Angeles Times put this in its Sunday Real Estate "From Our Blogs" section, in between a piece on foreclosure law and one on new home sales statistics:

"For $750,000, it's yours for eternity."

The story? A real estate agent, bless his shameless little heart, is offering a mausoleum (sleeps six forever) at Forest Lawn in Glendale for three-quarters of a million dollars.

A selling point: your neighbors are Hollywood's biggest stars...though, they're dead so it's not like you'll be invited over for a party.

BTW, the 1932 entrance gates to Forest Lawn Glendale, according to their website, are "the largest wrought iron gates in the world. " That should make you feel better about spending $750,000, right?

Friday, September 19, 2008

It's Fair Time!

The Los Angeles County Fair and deep-fried pop tarts go away in a week. Do not miss it. Since this blog stresses history, here is the history site of the fair, at

The show stared as a merchant's expo--with a tent and a carnival--near the Southern Pacific RR Station in Pomona in 1921. For the following year, Pomona bought a 43-acre beet and barley field from Ricardo Vejar, incorporated the Los Angeles County Fair Association, and began building. They put up the racetrack and grandstand, two cattle barns, a livestock barn, two livestock buildings, and an admin building.

The first official Los Angeles County Fair ran from October 17th through the 21st, 1922, and it drew 49,461 visitors. "Harness racing, chariot races and an airplane wing walking exhibit were major highlights that year," according to the site.

The first fair cost $63,000 to present.

It was such a success that a bond issue doubling the size of the fairgrounds and then some, passed in 1923. In 1925, the event moved to September.

The Depression hit the fair, but didn't stop it. 1932 was the year the new grandstand went up, seating over 12,000 people (it was renovated in 1986). On the day of the grandstand's dedication, California Governor James Rolph Jr. raced--or at least outran--a team of six horses on the track. Maybe Gov. Arnold should consider that, should he get a budget passed by the time the fair closes.

Other feature events on that 1932 day included concerts from high school groups and a boys' harmonica band, a "milking and farmerette contest" (something tells me that Daisy Dukes were not involved)and a drill by aHighway Pratrol team.

Betting at the track was legalized in 1933, which is when the picture above (part of the Herald Examiner collection at the Los Angeles Public Library) was taken.

As you might guess, the Works Project Administration--the WPA--had a hand in raising several new exhibition buildings in the thirties. During World War II, the fairgrounds became a desert training field for the U.S. Army. Fairplex became Pomona Ordnance Motor Base.

In 1942, for a couple of summer months, over 5,400 Americans of Japanese descent were forced to live there.

The fairgrounds served as a POW camp in 1945 through March, 1946, for Italian and German soldiers. After the war, millions were pumped into new buildings and land was bought for the parking lots.

They didn't have soccer-playing dogs (above right) as the current fair does. 1952 saw the Clock Tower and present Flower and Garden Center go up, but the big news in the 1950s is that Frisbees debuted here. Yup, in 1955, and the flying discs, called Pluto Platters, were seen by a couple of guys who owned a manufacturing company called Wham-O. The name Frisbee came along in 1957, but the birthplace was Pomona in 1955.

This last picture of one of the quilts on exhibit at the fair, which are worth the price of admission all by themselves.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Joe Jost's

Peanuts and sausage and beer, oh my!

Joe Jost's of Long Beach, featured in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times (ok, it was their peanut roaster that was the star of the article) has redone their own website and it's too cool for me to describe. They even have a keg cam, so you can see that your beer is chilling properly. Go see, but turn down your speaker volume if you're at work.

I read somewhere that this was the place that Kevin Costner took Whitney Houston to in The Bodyguard. It was definitely in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, Gone in 60 Seconds (the Nicholas Cage version), and a few beer commercials.

There really was a Joe Jost, too. Read about him on the website; his grandson still runs the place. I've got a sudden craving for liverwurst . . .

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Video of Roundhouse and Railroad Tracks

Here is a video posted at the Los Angeles Times website that ran on KTLA, about the redwood beams and other artifacts found at the site of the 1875 rail roundhouse:

The Times of September 10, 2008 ran some pictures, including the old black and white photo of the 19th cenuty trains, but I haven't been able to to locate that online. You get a glimpse of it in the video though.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Los Angeles' 19th Century Railroad

Redwood beams from Los Angeles' Old River Station--our pre-1939 train station--have been unearthed, per this Daily Breeze article. The location is Spring Street, near Dodger Stadium. River Station was built in 1875 and the first steam engines to use the station arrived in Los Angeles via ship. (Phineas Banning had already built a short rail line from the harbor to downtown, about 22 miles long, so there were tracks for the new engines to ride)

Archaeologists have stumbled upon the remains of a roundhouse. For those non-parents who don't know their Thomas the Train icons as well as they should, a roundhouse is a building that faces a giant turntable. The roundhouse has multiple ports, or service bays, for train engines, and the turntable points those engines to the right service bay. This wonderful picture from Shorpy is of a roundhouse in Chicago in 1942. The service bays are filled with engines delivered by the turntable.

The redwood beams found in Los Angeles were actually part of the massive turntable. The Times has more information; they say that sonar imaging led archaeologists to the finds, which include artifacts from the roundhouse itself, and that finds were made in three locations.

The Times also points out that tracks existed at this spot as recently as the 1990s. The site used to be called the Cornfield but now known as Los Angeles State Historic Park, thanks to a 2001 purchase of the property by the state.

Incidentally, ERHA--The Electric Railway Historic Association of Southern California--hosts a fabu site of Los Angeles' 19th century railroad history. Anything you want to know--more than you want to know--they've got it covered. ERHA even sells coffee cups, mouse pads, bags, etc. with LARy (Los Angeles Railway) logos, here.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Transit Proposals, Part Doo

Want more transit history? Wouldn't it be nice to see, I dunno, Staples or the Convention Center behind that monorail?

My Los Angeles Times article from May 1982 points out that our downtown would have developed differently if we'd had a mass-transit system directing traffic since 1925, when a real system was first proposed. Voters nixed the idea, though--no doubt influenced by the Times, who stood against it. Read more about that proposal here.

Less then a decade later, during the Depression, a very trimmed-down version was floated, with the hopes that the city and county could get federal funding to build it. That flopped too. The 1933 plan predicted ridership into the 1980s, when 1.7 million people (per the proposal) would take the rails downtown each day. Without any such system, the actual number of people coming to downtown Los Angeles in 1980 was 692,338--most in their own cars.

Expensive transit studies were also done in 1939, in 1945, and in 1954. That last study recommended subways and monorails connecting LA and Long Beach. It would have cost $165 million, but such figures aren't really helpful. The system wasn't built so it never overran its estimates, and we can't measure the efficiency of what wasn't there. Dang.

The same company--Cloverdale and Colpitts--conducted further transit surveys for Los Angeles in 1959 and 1962. I suspect they saw LA as more of a mark than a customer by then, don't you?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Transit Proposals ad nauseum

A 1982 Los Angeles Times article listed all the transit proposals the city had entertained since 1911, when civic leader Thomas E. Gibbon (left) said that for years he'd been urging the city to build a rail line from the harbor to downtown. (Gibbons put his money where his mouth was, btw. By profession a lawyer, he did build and operate several rail lines in 19th-century Los Angeles County, including one from San Pedro to LA.)

In the 71 years spanned by the article, a dozen major feasibility studies were completed on Los Angeles transit. The proposed routes, even from the earliest days, often mimic the current freeway system. But because these routes were for rail, no traffic jams were anticipated.

The article says the Big Red Cars were never very efficient because they took up so much street space, but by the 1920s they were causing more traffic that they eliminated. So in 1925 the city and county paid $40,000 for a survey about its transportation needs. That study proposed a subway and elevated rail system that would cost the city up to $215 million to start. It would cover four main lines:

  • A north-south line through downtown, from Manchester to Ave. 64
  • An east-west from Broadway downtown through Hollywood to the Westside, mostly using subways
  • A Valley route running from downtown to Topanga Canyon Blvd., sharing Union Pacific lines part of the way.
  • Another east-west branch connecting Whittier Blvd. with Beverly Hills

Like the ideas? Never got built, obviously, and we've revisited those same routes so many times (look up "Westside Subway" in this week's paper) that transit in LA has indeed become a broken record.

These pictures, btw, are from the Los Angeles Public Library online collection. The second is dated 1946, and shows the "yellow cars" on Broadway.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Los Angeles as Star

"The top 25 of the last 25" is what the Los Angeles Times calls its list of movies made since 1983 (25 years ago) that best reflect the city's complexity and depth--or lack thereof.

The list is full of trivia tidbits, like the fact that the director of L.A. Confidential (#1 on the list), Curtis Hanson, is active with the L.A. Conservancy and got them on board to prevent the demolition of the Formosa Cafe.

Another nugget is that the neon signs and door from the Hollywood Star Lanes Bowling Alley--used in The Big Lebowski (#10) were salvaged when the building was torn down. They now adorn Lucky Strikes Lanes at the Hollywood and Highland Center.

The piece is fun and informal, and I may find my way to forgiving the Times for excluding my personal favorite LA 80s movie, Miracle Mile. Maybe. Let me sulk a bit on that.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Republicans Must Hate Los Angeles

I've posted about the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. So, in the interest of fair play, I prepared to blog about past Republican National Conventions in Los Angeles.

Guess what? There weren't any!

The closest they've come to us is the 1996 GOP brouhaha in San Diego, when Robert Dole was nominated.

They've been in San Francisco twice (1956 and 1964). They've been in Chicago fourteen times. But never in Los Angeles.

OK, fine. I wasn't going to vote for them anyway.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Acceptance Speech at the Coliseum

A few last bits of 1960 convention trivia before the window of opportunity slams shut:

JFK gave his acceptance speech On July 15, 1960 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, before a crowd of around 50,000. Most of those seats were given away free to Angelenos--distributed through PTA groups and labor unions. However, the ticketing/seating foul-ups were colossal and people ended up sitting wherever space was available.

Local high school bands performed throughout the afternoon, Edward G. Robinson read a poem by Walt Whitman, and over 100 people fell victim to heat stroke and had to be taken to the Coliseum's hospital. The temperature was near 90 for most of the afternoon.

It started around 4 and was all over at 8:32 pm, and the band played "Happy Days are Here Again."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CNN Grill? 48 Years of Tech Progress and we get CNN Grill?

Elect JFK

TV coverage of the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles was anchored by Brinkley and Huntley, of course. Here's the state-of-the-art on-the-spot technology that enhanced the experience for viewers, according to a Los Angeles Times piece of July 7, 1960 (all are direct quotes):

  • 32 cameras which will feed pictures to four split-screen monitors
  • Four creepy-peepy cameras slung over roving cameramen's shoulders
  • An automobile equipped as a portable TV station
  • Another [car equipped] as a complete taping facility
  • An internal wire service for the use of various NBC headquarters
  • Chet Huntley & David Brinkley
  • A central control room..virtually a complete network control center
  • More gadgets than you can list...and a VIP train to carry network brass through the corridors of the convention venues (which were the Sports Arena, the Coliseum for the acceptance speech, and some events at the Biltmore Hotel)(thank you, KF)

And that's just one network--CBS and ABC had their tech goodies too. BTW, doncha love that industry term, "creepy-peepy"? Is that still used?

According to NBC director Jack Sughrue, every 4 years at convention time the networks debuted new equipment and toys. "TV moves in four-year jumps."