Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What a Week: Historic Events

This is the week before my own birthday, so maybe that's why I am so struck by the number of historic anniversaries that occur this week and into mid May. These are events of national import, not just for Angelenos. Consider:

130 Years Ago:

May 1, 1884: Moses Fleetwood Walker plays baseball, becoming the first African American to enter the game professionally five years before the National and American Leagues began banning players of color. He was catcher for the Toledo Blue Stockings. His brother played professionally too.

Pro sports, race, and athletes must be on my mind; can't imagine why.

60 Years Ago:

Brown v. Topeka Board of Education

This was actually one of five cases brought to the U.S. Supreme Court over legal segregation in education. For decades, the doctrine of "separate but equal" schools for different racial groups had been the accepted, legal norm.

After new Chief Justice Earl Warren read the unanimous decision on May 17, 1954 (and Warren worked hard to make it unanimous), everything changed. Even in California, which strictly speaking was not a segregated state, the decision turned school districts upside down.

The picture at right, from the LA Library's collection, was taken at a protest in 1963. Yup, here in Los Angeles, we did not jump up and de-segregate with all due dispatch. Surprise!

Like most places, separation of the races was entrenched. The city decided that our schools were integrated enough that busing students to different schools was not needed; many folks disagreed. According to this timeline from UC San Diego, another lawsuit filed in 1963, Crawford v. Los Angeles, pointed to our failure to integrate. That lawsuit made it to court in five years, and a busing plan was ordered in 1970, put in place in the late 70s, but the issue wasn't really settled until 1982.

It's very complicated, involved a voted referendum and more, and you can read the entire decision here.

And you can read a very thoughtful analysis of Los Angeles school desegregation history prepared after the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education here.  It puts school desegregation efforts in context with other civil rights, hot-button issues of the time, as well as discussing the changes and politicalization of the LAUSD Board.

50 Years Ago:

The New York World's Fair opened on April 22, 1964. I remember reading all about the Unisphere, the 12-story high globe, in My Weekly Reader and wishing I could somehow see that.

Did you know that fair introduced Americans to Belgian waffles? Oh, the things you can learn on Wikipedia!

Picture Phones were on display, as well as a big mainframe computer, courtesy of IBM.  The Ford Mustang was debuted there, too.

Disney created four separate attractions for four separate companies at the fair that Angelenos remember well--not because we were at the fair, but because the displays turned out to be prototypes for Disneyland installations in their theme parks:

Also in early May we saw the first protests against the VietNam War, in New York an San Francisco, an the first burning of draft cards.

40 Years Ago;

On May 9, 1974, impeachment hearings began in Congress. The target? Richard M. Nixon. Only a few days before, April 30, the transcripts of the infamous tapes that chronicled the Watergate break-in and subsequent conversations about cover-ups, had been released. Those introduce the lovely phrase "expletive deleted" to the public.

Congress would vote to impeach in the summer, leading to Nixon's resignation in office--the first time a president had ever resigned.

Here's a pretty thorough timeline of the whole Watergate miasma, with lots of pictures and links.

30 Years Ago:

On May 8, the Soviet Union announce it would boycott the Summer Olympic Games, held in Los Angeles. Guess what? We had a great time anyway.

20 Years Ago:

Riverdance debuted. Yes, a 7 minute long performance first took place at the Euorvision Song Contest on April 30, 1994. Michael Flatley was the main dancer, and the performance was not an entrant in the contest, but an interval act. An audio recording was released on May 5, just a few days later. Both went viral--or whatever we called viralness in 1994.

In 1996, the full show included Los Angeles in its world tour. . . and then of course, there were the PBS specials. Forget "Hips Don't Lie." Riverdance proved that hips don't even have to move.

Oh, and South Africa held its first multiracial elections on April 27,  elected Nelson Mandela as president, and inaugurated him on May 10.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Mosaic Monday--Aquarium of the Pacific

A post from three years ago gives the history of the mosaic fountain outside the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, but today's post is on two other sorta mosaics inside the gates.

Still, here's the picture from the old post. The artists are from San Pedro: Theodora Kurkchiev and Dimitri Lazaroff.

The mosaic doesn't look like that now because the fountain has been turned off due to the drought. It's dry and unshiny--not nearly as pretty. Hopefully things will improve for all of us soon and the waters will flow . . .

Inside, near the children's playground, is the metal and glass piece of statuary on a mosaic base, titled "Not Seen, Not Heard, But Felt."

My picture on the left (below) leaves off a canopy top, also of glass, that represents the top of the ocean. I hadn't read about it in advance so I didn't realize that by focusing on the mosaic--which was added later--I was leaving off part of the artwork.

I am sorry. I am a Philistine.

Below right is a photo that accompanied the press release, showing the entire piece but on a different base.

James Stone of San Diego, an environmental artist, created the work and it was installed here in 2008. It's 14 feet tall, and this is how the Aquarium's 2008 press release describes it:

The sculpture depicts sea life under the thin veil of the ocean surface struggling to survive among pollution and debris. Stone shows his interpretation of fish trapped in ghost nets – nets cut lose by fisherman, left floating in the oceans, trapping fish never to be released. The sculpture was inspired by a recent scuba diving venture off Grand Cayman Island. Stone was aghast to find a lack of fish amid destruction of the ecosystem by pollutants, contamination and the environmental changes barren of marine diversity.

“I just want people to think,” Stone said. “I don’t want to tell them what to do. I just want them to make better decisions. Every person on the planet can make a difference with just a few good choices.”

Stone is a diver and has seen dramatic changes in the ocean over the years.

This piece was not designed for our aquarium. Originally it was an entry into the San Diego Port District's annual Urban Tree contest for artists, and it stood on the North Embarcadero of San Diego Bay for a year. Stone and his crew restored it (weather & graffiti had damaged the sculpture) before it was brought to Long Beach.

Here is what a larger article/press release has to say about some of the features of the artwork, the ghost nets and oil drum:

Ghost nets are fishing nets made of synthetic fibers that can last for hundreds of years and which are lost by fishermen but continue to catch fish. These eventually die and are eaten by other fish who also get caught in the nets, starting to weight them down until they sink to the ocean floor, where other critters feast on them. When the nets are emptied, they become buoyant once again and float back up to the top, where they catch more fish, and the cycle repeats itself. 

The glass fish have dichroic glass on once side, and thus will look ghostlike in the net as the sun shines on them and the dichroic glass becomes a multi-colored prism of sorts. They represent the dead fish caught in the ghost nets. 

Also included in the sculpture is a representation of a leaking, corroded metal oil drum and a depiction of the Canadian Destroyer Escort, the Yukon, which was successfully sunk about one mile off the San Diego coast in “Wreck Alley,” an area of artificial reefs that includes at least seven other scuttled ships; before being sunk, all the ships were made safe for divers to enjoy as they explore the diver-friendly area.

This second mosaic (very loosely defined) is a hanging sculpture of two Hump Backed Whales and their names--no joking--are George and Gracie.

They are made of ocean trash, and were created by special effects artist Greag Aronowitz and the Roddenberry Dive Team. Here's the PR on what fills the whale's exoskeletons:

The Roddenberry Dive Team participated in coastal clean-ups at the Los Angeles River and Avalon Harbor at Catalina Island to collect the marine debris for the sculpture. This includes plastic water bottles, bags, pill bottles, balls, food wrappers, cigarette butts, and pieces of Styrofoam. The frames of the whales were made from shower curtain rods, fishing poles, baby carriages, and pipes.

You can read a bit more about George and Gracie, see more photos, and continue on to learn about the work Rod Roddenberry (Gene's son) is doing to make the world a better place here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Shrine On's Rather Conservative Bench . . .

. . . by an artist whose work is often on a much grander and more eclectic scale.

With a nod to the Coachella Music Festival, I present today's mosaic.

"Literary Mosaic," a bench, sits in front of the LA City Memorial Branch Library on Olympic, where it was installed in 2008, courtesy of the Friends of the Library. I think students from Los Angeles High School (just across the street) helped with the installation.

The library is set far back from Olympic Blvd. in a 1930 building that looks like a cozy mansion. The bench is in front, closer to the Muirfield side of the park.

These two pictures come from

What does that have to do with Coachella?

Well, the artist who created this bench also makes and installs the towers at Coachella each year. He has two names: Brent Spears and Shrine On.

According to this 2007 article from the Los Angeles Times,  Shrine/ Spears designed the first five House of Blues clubs, including ours in Los Angeles, and he created the murals of the original Wacko Soap Plant knicknack shop now on Hollywood Blvd.

But more fantastically, he is the artist who constructed the Temple at Burning Man and who designed the Lucent Dossier Vaudville Circus, which looks to me like a steampunkish show in the Cirque de Soleil tradition. And for seven or eight years, the Coachella Towers, and other big performance venues.

Last year, Dana Nichols wrote an article about him and his efforts to render concert goers "awestruck when they receive a jaw-dropping experience with art."

If you want to see the towers through their construction in 2013, as well as past events, click on the link to Nichols' piece in Cartwheel Art

Shrine On uses "sacred garbage" in his work; he's also been called a dumpster diver. Tiles, tires, hubcaps, wrenches, dolls, mirrors and picture frames, hood ornaments from cars, plastic toys, catfood cans, bottles and bottlecaps, teapots, and souvenir plates can all be spotted in the photos of his work.

Shrine On's website has pictures of wonderfully whimsical mosaics like the one to the right which I borrow, but no text telling us where--beyond his Pasadena home/studio--they might be. And who knows? Maybe that is where they all are.

Shrine's work is mixed with performance art--or maybe performance art uses his work. Looking at his website and pictures and scanning the related material is almost like opening a new book, with magical adventures waiting to carry you away.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tile Mosaics at the Los Angeles Design Center

The Los Angeles Design Center, standing at 433 S. Spring Street, was once the Title Insurance and Trust Company Building. And over the entrance are three tile pictures that have been there since the building opened in 1928.

This shot gives you some perspective of the building and its art. It comes from the LADT (Los Angeles DownTown) News website.

The 10-story building (some sites say it's 13 stories) was designed by Parkinson and Parkinson (John and Donald, father and son) at a time when public art was de rigueur. In order to put art on the outside that was appropriate to the art deco lines of the building, the Parkinsons asked Hugo Ballin to create the murals. A firm called Gladding McBean fabricated the tiles.

Ballin was the trendiest, hottest artist around in the late 20s. According to the Times of long ago, Ballin also created a mural map of the state for the Director's Room of the Title Insurance and Trust Company Building. That was up on the 10th floor, with the fancy boardrooms and the cafeteria. Wonder if that's still there?

The Title Insurance and Trust Company moved out in the late 1970s. The company still exists; it is now TICOR. The building was bought and revamped as an interior design showcase. That lasted about ten years. Remember the Library Fire of the late 80s? This building housed much of the library's collection from 1989 to 1993.

LADT posted an article about the building in 2012 when the property was bought by Izek Shomof, who intends to convert it to condos.

Here are close-ups of the tile mosaics, courtesy of The photo to the left (and which is also on the left when facing the building) shows "Protection." Although it's not easy to see, that female figure--not the man in the gold shawl, but the woman behind him--stretches her arm out to the left and holds a sword.

The mural below right is "Fidelity." Its layout mirrors "Protection," with a female figure behind and above a above a male, one arm stretched back and the other bent.

In between these figures is "Trust" showing a female figure sitting in the center. Sorry, I could not find a picture showing that--even though its been there, in plain sight, for over 85 years. But the artwork is thoughtfully appropriate for an insurance company.

Hugo Ballin's story is interesting: he started working for Samuel Goldwyn when Goldwyn Pictures was based in New Jersey. A trained artist, he became an art director and production designer for Goldwyn. After following him out west, Ballin started to write and direct silent films and had his own production company.  Early, silent versions of Jane Eyre and Vanity Fair were among his films.

He returned to art in the late twenties, and you can see his work at:

He even designed the commemorative medallions for the 1932 Olympics, and he wrote a few novels too--at least one was quite controversial. When he died in 1956, he was said to be working on a 27-foot high panel for a Catholic Church in Redondo Beach. That may have been St. Lawrence Martyr, which was built in 1956. Ballin's work was only 1/3 done, though, so it was probably never installed.

In 1936, Ballin sent 8 sketches to the WPA powers-that-be to be considered for the Post Office in the nation's capital. He deliberately went over the top on one sketch of the Gold Rush era, showing violence and drunkenness, beggars going hungry, and a "fat cat" couple looking over everything while eating their roast turkey. Their butler looks like Felix the Cat, and the candle sticks were obscene. Guess what? That sketch won him the opportunity to create the mural for the Inglewood, California post office, and be paid $680.

Ballin turned down the offer but said he might create the mural for a Hollywood bar. He sounds like a character who liked pranks and pushing buttons, seeing how much he could get away with. He's on my list of people I'd like to have lunch with in heaven.

The site has this picture of the chandelier. The chandelier? I'm sorry, but the light fixture is not what is captivating in this picture! The ceiling is incredible. It--and the entire interior--was designed by Herman Sachs. The ceiling, per the LA Times of 1928, is "paneled in oblong forms, decorated in gold, chrome oxide green, lapis lazuli blue, in rubbed lacquer, making a modern color scheme."

BlogDownTown displayed a photo of the building in 1929 when they wrote about it--well worth looking it. That blog drew on stories from the Los Angeles Times to describe how the building was erected and the opening day ceremonies.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Los Angeles' Bowling History

It's a dirty little secret that my family would like to deny: I bowled for years. I was on a league. Several leagues. Although I don't think I ever played at the Shatto 39 Lanes shown glammed up a bit at right, I did go to Vegas and Reno for bowling extravanzas back in the 90s.

Somewhere, I may still have the bag and pretty white shoes, as well as what we affectionately called "the Pepto-Bismol ball."

Red, pink, and swirly--get it?

So the new BOWLARAMA exhibit at the Architecture and Design Museum is right up my alley.

You saw that coming, right? I won't even bother to apologize; it wouldn't be sincere.

Los Angeles Magazine posted a slide show celebrating the exhibit, which makes sense because it is curated by Chris Nichols, one of their editors and my favorite columnist.

This picture at left is of the Bowlium in Montclair, which is almost LA county. I don't know how old it is but it's almost as cool and Googie as my ultimate favorite, the old Bowl-O-Drove.

And yes, it's very sad that my beloved Bowl-O-Drome in Torrance does not seem to be included in the A & D show, which opened Saturday April 11th and runs through May 11th. The bowling alley is still there, as it has been since at least the 1950s, and it's kept its great name. But the owners got rid of the retro look about twenty years ago.

Why? Even twenty years ago, I think that 50s nostalgia appearance could have paid off if marketed correctly. But, sadly, bowling alleys have never been known for their savvy marketing.

All I could find was this matchbook cover, which sold on eBay for $3.99.

Man, all those decades and no picture of the facade exists? Someone's got to have one!

I once had a tee shirt with this green and gold logo on it, but it's long gone as well.

Anyway, the museum exhibit is focused on the 1950s and the "architecture and technology that created a new kind of space-age recreation center and reinvented the sport of bowling in the 1950s."

Many of those 50s-era lanes are gone, like the Missile Bowl in Gardena and the one on Imperial in El Segundo where all the airline employees used to go at all hours--there was even a 3 am league for those who worked the graveyard shift.

The alley where The Big Lebowski filmed--the Hollywood Star Lanes--was demolished in 2002. This photo is from

Also found this Roadside Peek collection of bowling alley pictures.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ye Olde Los Angeles Restaurant Trivia

First of all, I have a confession and a warning to make: I'm an aging Boomer, and fine print drives me nuts. My new laptop allows me to make things BIGGER! I love it. But I have no idea how that is going to affect my blog pictures and layout. So I apologize in advance if there's a lot of white space on your display . . . but be assured that mine looks greeeeaaaaatt!

Small print is on my mind because I just tortured myself by trying to read the captions on these pictures. Light gray, 8-point font gives me a headache!

But the pictures--of Los Angeles area restaurants of the 1920s and 1930s--are worth the effort.

The 1924 Airplane Cafe had wings--don't know for sure how long it was in business, but it shows up in the 1976 movie version of Bound for Glory. It's the place where Guthrie cleans a wall in exchange for a bowl of chili. The Kewpie Cafe, the Palomar Ballroom for Dining and Dancing on Vermont (which burned down in 1939), Ernie's 5 Cents Cafe on 5th Street--long gone, but tres atmospheric. Take a trip back in time on this KCET blog post.

Ernie wasn't kidding, by the way. If you blow this picture up (well, I had to blow it up) you can see that a nickel would buy you a hamburger, beef stew, any kind of sandwich, or three cookies. Think about what those items would cost now. Odd that three cookies and a bowl of beef stew cost the same, huh?

One restaurant you won't see there is Chez Jay, which I happened to pass today. The Los Angeles Conservancy site says it opened in 1959 and catered to celebrities by banning cameras and autograph seekers. Owner Jay Fiondella kept his stars cozy and happy.

The city of Santa Monica awarded Chez Jay landmark status in 2012. Even more interesting, the Santa Monica Redevlopement Agency bought Chez Jay back in 1999. The restaurant operates under a lease agreement.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

OK, Mosaic Tuesday

So, OK, I admit I've been slipping on the mosaics. Here is one I stumbled across (almost literally) while visiting in El Segundo.

This relatively new shopping center (Plaza El Segundo) is on the east side of Sepulveda, just north of Rosecrans. And the mosaic fountain with animal sculptures is right next to the Anthropologie store and Pinkberry. It's a tribute to the blue butterfly (below), which is also found in Palos Verdes now, and--while still on the endangered species list--seems to be making a comeback.

Here are more mosaics--the curved benches around the fountain are covered in ceramic tiles. My guess is that this was a fundraiser of some sort as many of the tiles are from families, but I haven't found any information on that.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Recommended Los Angeles History Events

The LA Conservancy is offering a special tour of the restored Wilshire Boulevard Temple--a restoration that cost $47.5 million, which should make you feel better about the quotes you're getting for your roof.

That includes a docent-led tour of the original 1929 buildings; a performance by William Beck on the temple's pipe organ (I don't know how these things are measured but the organ has 4,000 pipes so I'm guessing the sound is spectacular); and talks by temple leaders and preservation architect Brenda A. Levin, FAIA, who oversaw the restoration.

The four-hour tour takes place on April 27.

But . . .

If tales of true crime are more your thing, Esotouric presents a Black Dahlia Bus Tour, departing at noon on April 5 from the Millennium Biltmore. You should return to the Biltmore in time for high tea, which strikes me as an odd thing for Esoutouric to point out because I wouldn't imagine that crime voyeurs are into high tea. I could be wrong (I often am).

I've mentioned the Da Camera Society before--that's the chamber music group that performs at historic homes and venues around Los Angeles. They'll be at the Doheny Mansion under the TIffany Dome on April 12 (Shoenberg & Tchaikovsky, followed by a catered reception) and on April 26 (jazz piano, followed by champagne & dessert). On May 3, several soloists will perform music by Corelli, Bruch, Debussey, Beethovan, and Dvorak. Is that varied enough? Is it even legal?

Chamber music--classical concerts in general--can be pricey, but Da Camera's Dance and Design events on April 5 & 6 are only $25 per ticket. Enjoy live dance and discussion about dance--specifically, Fred Astaire's dancing. (But not at the Doheny locale.)

Here are some other dates from their schedule:

  • April 27 at Artemesia in the Hollywood Hills

  • May 9th at the Farmers & Merchants Bank downtown with very modern music

  • May 18 at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

This last item is not an event but just a fun read: pictures of the Dresden Room highlight a blog post on "Friend Visiting from Out of Town Wants to Go to the Bar from Swingers" It appeared in LA Weekly and reminds me that we in Los Angeles (and environs) get to hang out at some pretty cool places.