Thursday, March 31, 2011

First April Fool's Joke in L.A.

At least, the first reported in the Los Angeles Times as far as my Proquest search is concerned.

The April 2nd, 1885 edition of the paper says that a reporter from the Herald and "the whole reportorial corps of the Express" trotted out to Sonoratown when told (by telephone) of a suicide in a bar called the Monkey Saloon.

Apparently the Monkey Saloon was real, because everyone knew where to find it. A couple of off-duty cops showed up as well, and the deputy coroner got half-way there before learning the call was bogus.

The intrepid journalist from the Times knew better and stayed home...wonder if he had anything to do with the joke?

Anyhow, the corpse turned out to be made of straw. Big laugh. As the Times reported, "The only parties who really suffered from the canard were the unfortunate Express reporters, as it came at the busy time of the day for them, and, fatigued and unhappy, they returned to their unfinished duties."

Just where was Sonoratown in 1885? Believe it or not, googling the place with Los Angeles led me to this 1885 photo at the LA History Galley (sometimes life is so easy!)

This photograph is credited to a bicentennial-era book, A Guide to Historic Places in Los Angeles County, edited by Judson Grenier.

The site says that Sonoratown was located north of Old Sunset, east of Buena Vista, and west of North Main. My good ol' Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County by the Pitts puts Sonoratown along North Main and North Broadway "and on the hilly streets north and west of the Plaza, including Alpine and Buena Vista." The residential neighborhood existed from the 1850s till the early 1900s.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Coronado Bay Mosaic

A weekend away, but mosaics are everywhere. Even Home Savings and Loan mosaics!

This Coronado Bay (in San Diego County) artwork is by Susan Hertel--you can see the SH initials in the lower far left. The mosaic is on a building on Orange, just a few blocks north of the Del Coronado Hotel. The place was a Petco--there's still a sign in the window notifying customers of the move. Apparently, Chase Bank owns the building (Chase acquired WaMu which acquired Home S&L in the 90s), and would not renew Petco's lease. That was in mid-2009.

However, Coronado Currents, an online newsletter, says in 2005 that the mosaic was designed by Millard Sheets. Perhaps they guessed. I know that the first time I saw an SH on a Home S&L mosaic, I assumed that it meant him, but have since learned that Susan Hertel, his protege, took over many of the commissions for Home Savings artwork after Sheets retired. By the 1980s, I think she and Denis O'Connor were doing all the designs.

I'm also including a photo of the back, because I suspect that when this was a Home S&L, another mosaic rested over the door. It's gone now, but a flat, recessed space is still there.

Adam Aronson blogged about this former bank & pet store a few months ago. He dates the mosaic to 1985, and describes how the gulls' wings are cut into the travertine. It's a surprisingly small, neat little picture of a ferry, and suits the building. I hope a new tenent moves in soon--one who will appreciate the art .

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pirates Den

On May 3, 1940, a celebrity-owned restaurant opened up at 335 N. La Brea, right where the Bob Hope Health Center is today. And guess what? Hope was one of the owners of the Pirates Den.

Other owners, according to the book Out With the Stars: Hollywood Nightlife in the Golden Era, were Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurry, Jimmy Fiddler, Johnny Weismuller, Ken Murray, Rudy Vallee, Tony Martin, Errol Flynn, and Vic Erwin. Quite a line up.

This picture is from the Victor Mature website and shows Mature with date Carol Landis. Mature was working on a Hal Roach picture, Captain Caution, in September 1940, and apparently brought the whole gang over to seize control of the Pirates Den. In a fun way.

On any night, though, the waiters dressed as pirates and their manager carried a bullwhip to enforce discipline in his crew.

Mock battles were staged and female patrons abducted & held in the brig until they screamed--at which point, they were released with a scream diploma.

The bar, btw, was called the Skull and Bones Bar.

So it seems that restaurant in Orange County is not quite so original, eh?

In fact, the Victualling Blog credits Don Dickerman, a pirate fanatic, with opening Pirates Dens in NYC, Miami, and Washington DC, and with being the actual operator of the restaurant on La Brea.

Dickerman's home base was Lovell, Maine. After he hired Rudy Vallee in the 1920s as a singer in one of his many NY clubs,  Dickerman introduced Vallee to Kezar Lake in Maine. Because of that, a local newspaper wrote about the "Pirate of Kezar Lake," Dickerman--who married more than 13 times. Read more about him here.

What happened to the Pirates Den? It didn't last long, as this LA Times story describes it. In July of 1941, the Times ran a story about a woman who complained that her son had been ripped off at the Pirates Den--forced to pay $6.50 for three sandwiches and Cokes. Her complaint went to the Police Commission along with another complaint from a judge who had been charged $6 for three beers. That bad publicity made everyone think the place was a clip joint, and business took a dive.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tarzan of Tarzana Mosaic

Today, I again thank Gerry Fecht and his blog of the Museum of the San Fernando Valley for photos and information about mosaics in Tarzana.

These mosaics line the bottom of a shallow fountain at the Whole Foods Market on Ventura Blvd, just installed last year. You can see even more details on the photos at the Nice Work blog. 

That blog also has a photo of the larger mosaic "World of Men" which I think is over the escalator.  It features a silouetted Tarzan in the top left, overlooking scenes of the developing city.

The artist is Jose Antonio Aguirre. I blogged about another of his works in the East Los Angeles Library. He is also one of three artists listed for the mosaics at the East Los Angeles Civic Center.

Here's an autobiography and pictures of some of his other work on a website maintained by Arizona State University (go Sun Devils!)

Tarzana was named for Tarzan. I didn't know that but should have--Tarzana was the home of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Finally, here's a link to the Tarzana Whole Foods Facebook page. But don't waste your time unless you have questions about the gourmet olive bar.  Tons of information on the groceries, but nothing on the mosaics. Boo.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Entertainment in Historic Venues

The L.A. Conservancy has me on its mailing list--which is not a complaint at all. Here are some of the concerts and movies that will take place in historic venues throughout the city:

  • The Tallis Scholars will be at Vibiana's (pictured at right) on Friday, March 26, presenting a "Greatest Hits" concert of Renaissance composer Tom├ís Luis de Victoria. Tickets start at $35, and you can order them here.

  • The Last Remaining Seats--for the 25th year--will show classic movies in classic theaters from May 25 through June 29. The first movie is Rear Window with Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart at the Orpheum Theater. Leonard Maltin will host the evening, and there'll be a preshow performance on the original Mighty Wurlitzer organ by Robert York. The movie starts at 8 pm; get more information here.

  • Other movies/theaters in June include Captain Blood, the original King Kong (whatever happened to Fay Wray?) and Sunset Boulevard.  Oh, and a Harold Lloyd silent comedy, Safety Last. Tickets are $16 if pre-ordered.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St Patrick's Day trivia

Remember St Patrick's Day of 1985? Probably not. But that was the day that Night Stalker Richard Ramirez killed his second known victim, Dayle Okazaki, in Rosemead. He also shot Okazaki's roommate, Maria Hernandez, but she lived to identify Ramirez in a line-up and at the trial. He killed again the next night.

On the 19th, the report of the murder was grouped in news of "The Region," under a headline about a Writers Guild contract. In July the wrong man was arrested for the murder, but by August 8th the police knew (I think because of the gun) that a serial killer was at large.

I must be in a morbid mood to even notice that.

Trivia: On Sunday,March 17, 1985, there were 1,060 pages to the Los Angeles Times. The pictures on the front page were of a Lebanese family mourning after an Israeli attack, and a Tehran neighborhood hit by an Iraqi missile. News stories pointed out friction between the Reagan administration and Western Europe over US policies in Central America.

The Metro section ('member that?) featured a day in the life of Mayor Bradley, and an evaluation of how the year-old smog check program was/wasn't working. And ads....dang, there were a lot of ads! Ads for clothes and mattresses and half-off film developing (ask your parents what that was)

The Night Stalker continued to kill frequently through the spring and summer, and we all started locking our windows at night. By the time he was caught in late August of 1985, he'd murdered at least 14 and raped and beaten many more.

I was going to run a picture of him, but he's just too evil-looking.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mission Hills Mosaics

Joseph Young--whom I've blogged about before (here and here)--designed and made twelve separate mosaics representing the "Twelve Tribes of Ancient Israel," which is the name of the artwork as a whole. The mosaics sit in Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills on the exterior of the Court Mausoleum--one of three mausoleums in the park.

Lenny Bruce, Sam Jaffe, and Groucho Marx are buried at Eden, according to FindAGrave. (Wasn't Groucho married and divorced from a woman named Eden? Ironic.)

Levi is at top. Dan is the lion, and Judah the scales.

Gerald Fecht, president of the Museum of the San Fernando Valley, took the pictures in 2008. I use them with his permission.

As far as I could find, these are the only photos on the web, showing three of the twelve mosaics. Check out his blog at for other listing and information on the history of the San Fernando Valley.

According to Jerry, the mosaics are badly in need of repair.
Eden Memorial Park acknowledges that tiles are missing, but they are trying maintain the mosaics in best possible condition. 
Since Joseph Young is a well-known artist, I wonder if his heirs or co-workers or suppliers have replacement tiles?

Just a thought. I know in the case of Millard Sheets and Home Savings, many of those who worked with him--as well as his son Tony Sheets--do have tiles and actively participate in keeping his artwork in good condition.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Missing Pulpit

May I take a bye week on Mosaic Monday?

Instead I want to present this picture, which Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes is letting me use. This is an old photo of the redwood pulpit of St. Peters Episcopal Church, built in 1884. I believe the pulpit dates from that year as well.

It's MISSING! Someone (or some group) took it out of the church in the last fifty years. The church sat at Harbor View Cemetery in San Pedro; actually, it's still there. For a bit.

As I wrote about in this piece on Patch, the 127-year-old church is going to be moved in the coming months to a quieter home at Green Hills Memorial Park.
There, it will be restored, enjoyed, and kept relatively safe from vandals or souvenir-pickers.

In its present position at the corner of San Pedro's oldest cemetery, St Peters shares space with regular crew of homeless folks who sleep behind it. They're not the problem, though.

It seems since 1956 when the church was first moved to this location (it's third home), it was used for weddings and even regular musical theater events.

That's a picture of St. Peters at right. The stained glass windows have been removed and are being restored; metal grill screens are in their place.

Eventually, the church fell into disuse. Now, the church is padlocked but otherwise unprotected.

Somewhere in that timeline, 1956 to 2011, items went missing--most notably this lectern/pulpit, carved by an old shipbuilding hand in the 19th century.

If anyone's seen it in a backyard, thrift store, home, on Antiques Roadshow or even in another church...we'd really like to have it back. Please?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Jane Russell, 1942

In tribute to Jane Russell, the Los Angeles Library Facebook page posted this picture taken in 1942 at Terminal Island, where ships were being built.

Don't see any Rosie the Riveters there, but this was still very early in the war effort--not even two months past the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Here's the caption that went with it: "Continuing their all-out campaign to discourage careless talk about shipping and military operations in the Los Angeles-Long Beach harbor area, Naval authorities today began distributing thousands of posters driving home the vital message, 'Serve with Silence.' At the Terminal Island yard of the California Shipbuilding Company, Miss Jane Russell, motion picture actress, tacked up the first poster in January 1942. (Los Angeles Herald-Examiner Collection, order#00083250)"