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.)