Friday, May 30, 2008

Democratic Convention, 1960

A May 29, 1960 article in the Los Angeles Times talks about how many dollars will be pumped into LA's economy due to the upcoming Democratic Convention. The manager of the Biltmore Hotel estimated that at least 1200 jobs were dependent upon convention business. Wow.

But the piece starts with references to the "little woman" who will insist on coming to Los Angeles with her delegate husband. And you know how those little women loved to spend hubbie's money.

The president of the LA Convention Bureau, Allen K. Pollock, noted that "for the last 12 or 14 years more and more husbands have been taking their wives to conventions." One can almost imagine him winking when he adds, "you know, it's a woman's world."

Right. Here's a Library of Congress Picture of the July 1960 convention. The venue? The Biltmore Hotel.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fine Arts Building

The Los Angeles Times story on the acquisition of the Fine Arts Building by CNN commentator/attorney Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck is full of history and a beautiful photo.

In brief, the building opened in 1926 at 811 W. 7th street. According to the Times: "The Fine Arts Building was designed by Los Angeles architects Albert R. Walker and Percy A. Eisen, who also created such well-known structures as the Oviatt Building downtown, the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills and the El Cortez Hotel in San Diego."

The article highlights some of the artistic addendum of the building, like the tiles by Pasadena master Ernest A. Bachelder.

This picture and the one above are shamelessly copied from the Public Art in LA website. (Please visit their site--it's far more interesting than mine.) You can see the statue in context, way back in the good old days. Also visible is the sign for the Pig & Whistle restaurant on the ground floor. Over the course of 80 years, it became a McDonald's--but Geragos and Kabateck plan on putting a high-end restaurant there once again.

Most interesting are the sculptors by Claremont artist Burt Johnson ("Architecture," that solid hunk with attitude--above--is his work). That site draws on 1926 reviews of the building for a little more detail, not to mention tons o' pix and the history of the building's name (which was restored to Fine Arts Building only in 1982).

Turns out that sculptor Burt Johnson had a heart attack while working in the building. He came back in a wheelchair to direct his assistants, and died while modeling the sculpture of the girls kneeling in the lobby pool. He was 37 years old.

Fine Arts Building is also described at the Los Angeles Conservancy website, where I stole this last picture. They point out that the building was originally intended to house artists at work, and provided showrooms and galleries.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Pasadena boosters, 1946

"[City] Manager William Dunkerley, Secretary Jessie L. Ogston, and [Edwin C.] Heath of the Chamber of Commerce are all frank about wanting to attract the 'nonsmog' type of industry to Pasadena. . ." according to a May 26, 1946 story in the Los Angeles Times.

"The community is determined not only to retain its long-famous position as an artistic leader, as represented by the Civic Auditorium, Community Playhouse, and other project, but also to unite with this its recently acquired reputation as a center for the making of scientific and precision instruments..."

That's the Playhouse to the right, a year later in April 1947, advertising a play by Ben Hecht. The photo is from the LAPL collection.

The article mentions these facts:

  • Pasadena boasted the largest collection of artists per capita outside of Taos, NM

  • With '10 or so' transmission stations going in on Mount Wilson, Pasadena had become Television City in the west

  • Pasadena was home to 'the largest optical goods concern west of Chicago'--a company making $28,000 mass spectrometers for the petroleum industry

  • In 1940 (pre-WWII) Pasadena had 122 manufacturers with 1,050 workers. In 1945, the number jumped to 221 plants and 12,856 workers

During the war, the article points out, CalTech had become a supplier of rockets, weapons, and instruments made in its three factories. By 1946, those factories were turned over to companies like General Tire and were churning out peacetime supplies.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Johnie's Broiler and Bob's Big Boy

How did I miss this last month? Johnie's Broiler in Downey is to become a Bob's Big Boy (Googie restaurants take care of their own, I guess).

Oh, yeah, I know how I missed it. I moved on April 10. This article appeared in the Press Telegram on April 8. I was crazed and not capable of reading a newspaper.
This picture is from the LATimeMachines website.

Cue the bugle fanfare, even if it's late. Johnie's Broiler in Downey was partially demolished in January 2007--illegally. The restaurant had been in several movies and TV shows because of it's very distinctive, 1950s look--you can see pictures of it from its heyday to demolition at Roadside Peek. (Johnie's also has a website of its own, with a lot of "I remember" eulogies from the community.)

The city of Downey put a moratorium on development that expired in January, 2008. Thanks to Adriene Biondo and her organization, the Broiler site will be cleaned up and the restaurant rebuilt by Jim Louder, the owner of Bob's Big Boy in Torrance.

About the same time as that announcement, Biondo & friends received a California Preservation President's Award, according to Roadside Peek.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Beautiful Actors are Forever Young

. . . as long as no one passes around a new photo. This thumbnail is from Barbarella, of course; on imdb.

The Los Angeles Times has a photo tribute to John Phillip Law--he of the sculpted jaw and taut skin. Thankfully, all the pictures are from his heyday as a babe. Shallow as I am, I do not want to know what he looked like at 70. That's for his family and friends who mourn him. The rest of us will wriggle in our tweenie fantasies of Pygar, unencumbered by reality.

In its obituary, the Times mentioned that Law once lived in a 1924 Los Feliz mansion with his brother, once a road manager for Peter, Paul, and Mary. They rented rooms of their "castle" to the up and coming, and that period of time is chronicled in a book by his sister-in-law Lisa Law called Flashing on the Sixties.

The book is still available--it holds Lisa Law's pictures of folks like Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Tiny Tim, and Wavy Gravy at the Castle in the mid-sixties, as well as shots of the Beatles, Janis Joplin, the Lovin' Spoonful, Ravi Shankar, Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, and others at venues in northern CA--even a photo of Harrison Ford fixing the electrical wiring.

The Los Angeles Library has several copies, and Amazon sells it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mickey Mouse Checks

On May 17, 1955, Disney Studios had to warn the public and all the banks : Someone was passing bogus checks drawn on the Disneyland Inc account. Several banks in Burbank had been snookered.

Banks were told to ask to see Disneyland ID cards before cashing any checks. The eight fraudulent checks passed were for either $66.23 or $100.32, apparently a quite believable salary in those days.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Santa Monica Pier Centennial

This month marks 100 years since work began on the Santa Monica Pier, according to a story in the Daily Breeze (and its co-papers): "What people know as the Santa Monica Pier is actually a pairing of the Looff and Municipal piers. . . The Municipal Pier opened first, on Sept. 9, 1909, after 16 months of construction. It was erected as part of a sanitation system for the new city of Santa Monica," per the story by Josh Grossberg.

Officially, the 1600-foot pier was built to house pipes that carried raw sewage out beyond the breakers, so that said sewage could be dumped into the ocean.


The Looff Pier came along years later, when Charles Looff, who built Coney Island's first roller coaster, moved to Long Beach, and began eyeing Santa Monica as a location for his next project. That's from the SM Pier's official website and the Pacific Park site. Looff Pier is where the Hippodrome building is. Another history is at the SM Landmarks site.

This picture of the Looff Pier in 1918 is from the SM Landmarks site.

So the real festivities will kick off in September 2009, and the Pier website is soliciting memories and anecdotes at its site. The city has a $100,000 "Preserve America" grant to cover the celebrations.

The Santa Monica Conservancy has published a walking guide to the pier and its history which you can get free for the asking--just email

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


A huge regret: I've never taken pictures of jacarandas in bloom, arching over a street like giant puffs of cotton candy (and just as sticky). This picture, in fact, is of a place in South Africa called Jacaranda Alley, from the stock.exchng photo site.

The May 12 Los Angeles Times story on the sticky flowers got me wondering--who brought the trees here, where they turn whole streets into fairyland?

Wikipedia tells me they are native to South and Central America and the Caribbean, but now they're everywhere--popular in Australia, India, and (clearly) South Africa.

According to the San Diego Historical Society, a horticulturalist and landscape artist named Kate Sessions opened a plant nursery in San Diego's City Park (now Balboa Park) in 1892. In return for 30 acres from the city, she promised to plant 100 trees a year in the park, and more throughout the city. She did, and many of them were jacarandas. Thank her next time you pick the sticky blossoms off your windshield.

She's also credited with bringing Brazilian pepper trees to the area, according to If you want to see gorgeous photos of jacarandas at places like the Library tower, the Bonaventure, the Grove, and Disney Concert Hall, go to Jacaranda-palooza.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Direct Dial? Hello, Central?

As we worry about new area codes splitting communities and overlays, here's a bit of history to prove that nothing ever stays the same.
In April 1956, Angelenos were informed that Pacific Telephone--Ma Bell--was implementing a newfangled service called Direct Distance Dialing.

Soon, 22 million phones across the US could be called direct--without dialing an operator first! San Diego and Escondido would get the service that month, but Los Angeles would be added within the next three years.

The downside was that all phone numbers had to be seven digits long. What a pain!

I remember that my Dad wrote our phone number--which began with "FAirfax"--right onto the dining room wallpaper. He underlined the last digit, because that had just been added and it was important for us all to remember that last "8" when we recited our phone number.

So in a 1956 Los Angeles Times story, a Pacific Telephone Co. VP named James S. Cantlen patiently explained that the whole country was broken up into dialing areas, each with its own special "area code". Most states only had one dialing area, but California had 5 "area codes" making things very complicated. Nevertheless, we were assured, a long distance call would take no more than 20 seconds to complete. And if the change was too complex for your fingers, operators would still be available to put through the call for you.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Robert Nudelman's Legacy

With all the focus on Hollywood, how sad to read of Robert Nudelman's untimely death (untimely in the sense that he was younger than me. In his prime, iow.) He led efforts to preserve sites in Hollywood, many successful (Disney's restoration of the El Capitan Theatre, or saving the Cinerama Dome, f'rinstance) and a few unsuccessful (preserving the Hollywood Bowl's older acoustic shell).

The most interesting bit in the Los Angeles Times obituary (to me, at least) is this:

"He would uncover historical details about buildings and arm himself with
historical photographs, and then deliver the trove of information to property

"Many of Hollywood Boulevard's theater proprietors listened, including Graumann's Chinese, the Egyptian, the Pantages, and the Music Box."

It sounds so simple. But the implication is that many of those property owners were moved to take action, benefiting us all.

The LA Weekly blog "LA Daily" is less upbeat, wondering if--without Nudelman around to keep them honest--developers and the big money interests will just do what they want, with no appreciation of history or how to hold onto it.

An impressive list of his accomplishments is at Cinema Treasures.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Hollywood and Vine and The Kress

Revitalizing Hollywood--especially the area around Hollywood & Vine--was covered in a Business/RE story in the Los Angeles Times May 6. What's really great about the on-line version of the story is a video showing bits of the newly worked Kress Building, formerly Frederick's of Hollywood. (It was the Kress dime store before that.)

The Kress is actually 5 blocks from Vine, at Holllywood and Whitley. In the video--and in one beautiful photo (top right) out of a collection of construction shots--the focus is on the $12.5 million renovation of the 1934 building. Owner Michael Viscuso tore out plywood and lowered ceilings to uncover painted Art Deco ceilings and marble.

The Kress' multi floor restaurants/clubs will open in May. A quick Google search turned up these links for more information:

  • Eater LA blog: a Feb-08 preview of the building, discussing the soon-to-open restaurant with great pictures.

  • BizBash blog: a late-March preview, with more photos

  • Executive Chef Troy Thompson's website (same lush photos) featuring The Kress

  • Visco Entertainment's site

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hollywood and Vine Buildings

Being sick has given me time to curl up and pour over John Bengston’s Silent Traces-- a wonderful book on Los Angeles locations used in Charlie Chaplin movies. He points out that Modern Times (1936) used the Broadway Hollywood building—or at least a picture of it. When Charlie and Paulette Goddard are loaded into a paddy wagon, the background looking out the back door shows the the big vertical "Broadway Hollywood" sign of the building at Hollywood and Vine.

Coincidentally, The Los Angeles Times Sunday feature ”L.A.Then and Now” on May 4 focused on that intersection, mentioning the Taft Building, built in 1923. The Taft is across Vine from the Broadway Hollywood, which was put up in 1928 as the Dyas Company Department Store (Broadway took over the lease shortly thereafter). Read a history of it at NavigateLA, , which is where I found this picture that shows the big sign as it was in Modern Times.

Both buildings are being converted to lofts, right? The plan for the Taft was always to keep it intact, with the W Hotel wrapping around it. For the Broadway Hollywood you can check out the floor plans and rendering of the exterior here.