Monday, December 19, 2016

Tar Pits Essay by David Ulin

I should have known: good articles always show up in threes or more. Should have held off on yesterday's post a day, because now I have something to add to it: an opinion piece fro David L. Ulin that appeared in the December 19 LA Times: "What Lies Beneath L.A."

It's all about the thin veneer of metropolis we trust so heavily in, and the fractured, tarry landscape beneath.

The Times ran a picture of the LaBrea Tar Pits diorama in front of the Page Museum, but I prefer this picture "borrowed" from another blog that shows tar seeping up through a sidewalk on Wilshire. This may be the very seep that Ulin mentions several times in his essay. I think it's a better illustration of the tar today (mammoths are nice and all but can we really relate to one being stuck in goo?) and the reminder of what's really beneath the solid ground on which we place our trusting feet.

The picture comes from a 2015 blog post by Geoff Manaugh. Actually his BLDGBLOG post is a reprint of a post he'd written for The Daily Beast, and goes into the same topics Ulin addressed, with even more details: the 1989 methane gas explosion that took out a dress store on a strip mall, also the fault of the tar pits beneath. The temporary nature of our structures compared to the forces of nature underlying them. How we've taught ourselves to ignore all this.

Both are fine reading, especially if you need a break from Modern Life.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas Vacation Reading for you

First, here are 25 Los Angeles area restaurants that happen to be over fifty years old. Some old favorites, of course, but also a few--like Cielito Lindo--I had not heard of or visited. You?

Second, seen this iconic photo from 1960? The Case Study House No. 22?

Los Angeles Magazine goes in-depth on its importance, with interviews with the architect (Pierre Koenig) and builders, the models in the photo, the owners of the home, and the photographer, Julius Shulman, who took this shot on May 9, 1960.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Ooohhh ... Watch Los Angeles Grow!

This is for the dazzled kid in us. Los Angeles Magazine has put up a Google Map graphic of the Southland -- and yes, you can move around and zoom in on your part of town -- that lets you see the growth and change since 1984. It's great fun.

No street names, though.

Another recommended read is much more sobering: The Los Angeles Times published a haunting photo essay about visiting Tule Lake, one of the camps where people of Japanese descent were forced to live during most of World War 2. Fact: 62% of the 110,000 + people who lost homes and jobs and were forced into internment camps were American citizens.

The article shows other sites in California that are connected with racism over the years. For more info on the Internment of Japanese Americans, this is one instance where Wikipedia is a good place to start. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Weekend Reading: Cemeteries, Art Deco, Korean Bell, Take Out Pails

A selection of great articles on LA history came up. And while this blog is largely inactive, why not share?

  • The first four cemeteries in Los Angeles, going back to the 18th century: Where were they, what became of them, and what happened to the bodies? From LACurbed.

  • The NEW YORK Times has, over the last year or two, posted a lot of Very Good Stories about Los Angeles. I suspect ulterior motives, but I enjoy the articles anyway. This one is a tour of Los Angeles's Art Deco Buildings.

  • Since today is the 40th anniversary of the dedication of the Korean Friendship Bell in San Pedro, NBC posted a collection of photos of the Bell and park, including one of a couple making out in the foreground. 

  • Not limited to Los Angeles, but did you know that this ubiquitous take out container was invented in the 19th century and had nothing to do with Chinese food? 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Mosaic Monday Links to a Millard Sheets Birthday Tribute

In 2013, KCET celebrated the June 24th birthday of artist Millard Sheets by listing ten of his best-known, best-loved pieces of public art. They weren't all in California.

Which gives me a great excuse to show this picture of Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame in Indiana.

This is on the library at the school, and this article gives a pretty detailed history of how it came to be.

Back to KCET's celebratory piece by Ed Fuentes.

The list includes the Millard Sheets Studio, now an optometrist's office in Claremont, the Beverly Hills branch of Home Savings and Loan, which was not the first collaboration with Howard Ahmenson. But it is the earliest example of Sheets' work for Ahmenson that's still standing.

There are installations in Detroit, in Lubbock, TX, San Francisco, and Washington DC. Home S&L banks in the OC as well as the beautiful Hollywood branch.

Counting down to #1: What do you think? Since KCET is local, they named "Your Local Artwork" as the Number One site, and ran this picture of a mosaic in Riverside. The photo is by Bebe Kropko:

Happy 109th birthday, slightly belated.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sunday Reading: How LA's Boulevards Compare to Other Cities', and What That Means

Studying public spaces fascinates me.

Banking and business districts can be very forbidding, for example. Even the public art is cold and uninviting. I can feel excluded, as if I were being told to move on. There is no place to linger and enjoy the view outside most of those huge buildings.

They and their streets "create an interesting visual panorama, one as aggressively functional as an oil refinery."

That quote is from the article I link to, a few paragraphs down.

Makes you speculate on why. Why do those big banks make their buildings so impersonal, cold, and exclusive?

When you look at a city's public space -- even an ancient city -- you can learn things about the culture you might not have known.

  • Maybe it becomes clear that a lot of everyone's time is spent outdoors - certainly the case in Paris, above.

  • Maybe the division between rich and poor is sharp and drastic. (Let's say the big houses were up a hill. The sewage flowed downhill. Would not want to live there!)

  • Walls surround some areas -- were these ghettos? Enclaves of royalty? University grounds? Religious sanctuaries?

  • Do all classes shop in the same place? Like the Zocalo in Teotihuacan?

  • Did constructing new parks and broader avenues in an old city mean that social barriers were breaking down?

Public spaces can unify or divide people.

Which is why a very long article by Doug Suisman in Boom California has captured my attention, but I've had to read it in bursts, as if it had different chapters.

Suisman is an architect and urban designer. In this piece he examines all the different cities he's lived in, from his Hartford, CT childhood to Europe to NYC to LA, where he lives now. And he examines each as a part of his education, and tells us what he learned from the places and the way they were laid out.

In Los Angeles over 30 years ago, he finds a city made by engineers, and yet as you look down the residential streets you find colonnades of stately trees. Through the 1980s and 90s and into the 21st century, Suisman tracks the changes along our streets as his own architectural firm was involved involved in the transformations. Global climate change, terrorism threats, economic ups and downs, gas prices, and many other factors all play a role in how lively our streets are, and how we enjoy them -- or not.

I'd never heard of such a thing as studying and manipulating public space till 15 years ago. It's possible that in 30 years from now, all this speculation will be old hat.

But for now, Suisman's ideas make a great read for a hot Sunday.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sunday Reading: Jacarandas, POLA, Reagan vs. Berkeley, and Coyotes

Love 'em or hate 'em? Jacaranda Trees are enchanting and messy, and Julia Weck goes into great depth on them in this LAist article.

I knew that one 19th century gardener in San Diego had been responsible for planting hundreds of the trees, but I did not know there were 49 species, that there were 148,530 in 2010 (oh, come on! Someone counted them?) and that no two trees flower on exactly the same schedule.

Weck goes through the entire history of jacarandas in Southern California. Read this and astound your friends the next time someone starts whining about "those damn purple flowers" that stick to your car. You will be a fountain of knowledge about jacarandas. The only thing that Weck fails to mention is the fact that the seed pods make great pretend hand grenades for 10-year-olds. Trust me on that.

The Port of Los Angeles is in the Smithsonian. Yup, my favorite magazine wants to know if we can really meet our goal of having a zero-emission freight service by 2050. Did you know that POLA has decreased particulate emissions by 83% since 2005? The article lists the ways we accomplished that, then goes into future plans. We are pretty impressive.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's rise to power as California's governor, since it was 50 years ago on June 7th that he clinched the Republican nomination for that office. He went on to defeat Pat Brown, the father of Jerry Brown. Those were turbulent times.

The UC Berkeley News published a retrospective back in 2004, on the occasion of Ronald Reagan's death. It is interesting to read, even now, 12 years later. The article looked at Reagan and how he targeted that University and its student protesters to present himself as the defender of law and order. This was the very beginning of student demonstrations against the Viet Nam War, and those actions horrified most folks back then. Demonstrate against our own government? Were those kids crazy?

Those were emotional times, too, with right and left as polarized as they are today--though along different lines. Reading about it with an added 40 years of perspective was enlightening.

Tracking coyotes through the number of sightings in city neighborhoods. You'd think there would be a database somewhere, right? Depends. I think the city of Claremont was doing that a dozen years ago, but Los Angeles and the South Bay are just now getting on the bandwagon. In this Daily Breeze article, one expert scolds, "This needed to be done five years ago, not now."

According to the Breeze, no one knows how big the coyote population was in 2000, or 2008, or now. There's no data, just dozens of sightings. We didn't even keep records on coyote attacks on humans till 2011.

I live next to a canyon, where the first lone coyote was spotted over a year ago. Predictably (in retrospect), he invited his friends and now we have families of coyotes prowling our parking lots at night. Cats have gone missing. Those of us with dogs thing twice before walking them after dark.

The article is mostly based on information from one expert, Niamh Quinn. Coyote behavior, city responses (or lack thereof) and what we can expect in future are topics covered.

However, LACurbed points to a map from KCET showing that someone HAS been keeping track of coyote reports. KCET's map is from the Urban Wildlands Group, color-coded by year. I clicked on some dots that went back to 2003. There are NO sightings listed in Torrance, only a few in San Pedro, so I have to assume the data is rather randomly collected, or favors certain areas (the north) over others. And, when I went to Urban Wildland's website, the latest news on the home page was dated 2015. (Did not see a date on the KCET story).

KCET also has a 10 minute video about what is being done to track coyote in Los Angeles. And surprise! The first thing we learn is that we don't know very much about urban coyotes.

Friday, June 10, 2016

For Your Weekend Reading: Millard Sheets, Ronald Reagan, Concrete & Ladies' Finery

The New York Times interviewed Professor Adam Arenson, who is writing THE BOOK on Millard Sheets and his artwork, especially the mosaics, stained glass, and murals connected with the Home Savings and Loan buildings. You can read the article that just appeared: The Artist Who Beautified California Banks.

The piece gives a brief overview of Sheets and his accomplishments, and of Arenson and his research. It's been a few years since I was able to meet both Professor Arenson and Tony Sheets (son of Millard, and himself an artist), and since Westways ran my article on the same topic. But I remain fascinated by his work. This picture is from a bank in Claremont, the city most closely associated with Sheets since Claremont is where his studio was. Today it's a US Bank, at the corner of Indian Hill and Foothill.

Another interesting story, this one from LACurbed, tells the history of the Reagan Ranch. Remember that? All the news media wanting to get pictures of the President on a horse, being, well, Western - but no one could call it the Western White House.

The adobe house where the Reagans lived was built in the 1880s, by a homesteader with the same last name as another governor of California: Pico, but there was apparently no real realation. The place was a true cattle ranch from the 1940s through the early 1970s. The Reagans redid the roof, the floors, and more - you can read all about it.

One very poignant line about why the ranch was put up for sale after the former president was beset by Alzheimers; "The wide open spaces that had once so inspired Reagan now frightened him."

If you've been hearing about the new concrete being poured in Hancock Park, you no doubt know by now that it lasts much longer than asphalt. You can learn more about the advantages of concrete in detail here, where civil engineer answer a few questions. I have seen concrete street like Hancock Park's (and concrete alleyways) in several old neighborhoods in the South Bay--and never realized why those streets looked so different from others. Clearly, I'm not a civil engineer.

And if you've missed the news stories and are wondering why neighborhood street repair is a major news story, here's the CBS take.

And if you could care less about streets but go "Ahhh" over historical clothes (like me), I have two treats for you (though they are not Los Angeles related):

  • Godey's Lady's Book, probably the first women's magazine in the USA and a very important resource for ladies throughout the 19th century, is actually online, with all its beautiful color fashion plates - meaning the metal etched plates as opposed to just calling the ladies "fashion plates." You can access the archive here.

  • A ship that sank in 1642 was actually a "baggage ship" for ladies in waiting of the queen consort of King Charles 1 of England. It carried parts of their wardrobe. When the shipwreck was discovered by divers in the North Sea recently, many of the exquisite clothes had survived and are now on display in a Dutch museum. Read more at the National Geographic site.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Of Hobos

Ancient Hobo Graffiti Found in L.A.

Some of you may remember hearing about hobos when you were children. Before I knew about real homeless folks, I learned that in olden days, wandering men used to tie up all their belongings in a big red handkerchief and loop that over a stick. Then they'd hop onto a railroad car and go wherever it took them. Such was the tale; I have no idea what life was really like for these guys.

While looking for this picture, I learned that hobos were working men, not to be confused with simple vagrants. Important point.

Well, anthropologist Susan Phillips, who studies gang graffiti academically, stumbled upon some marks made with grease pencil and dated from the early part of the 20th century. Right here in Los Angeles. Expert that she was, she realized that these were signatures of well-known hobos.

On this picture, near the top right, you can see  "A NO 1" the hobo name of Leon Ray Livingston, a man who actually wrote and illustrated a couple of books before his death in 1944. A date of 8-13-14 is there too: August 13, 1914.

Those sideways hearts are really arrows, pointing upriver, according to Phillips. Probably, the man who drew them was headed to Griffith Park.

The rare graffiti was scrawled and even carved under a bridge over the Los Angeles River channel. It survived largely because after a major flood in 1938, that channel was dug down deeper and covered in concrete to prevent future flooding. That put the old graffiti far above anyone's reach and sight.

The LAist also reported it.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Mosaic Monday Salutes Chicago Artist Jim Bachor

This Monday is Memorial Day, so I refer you to my post about the World War 2 Monument in Green Hills Memorial Park, which is surrounded by mosaics.

Meanwhile, I will blog today about an artist in Chicago who is filling the city's potholes with art. His name is Jim Bachor, and I read about him at Zรณcalo.

Bachor fell in love with mosaics and traveled to places in Europe like Pompeii to view them. He considers mosaics to be indestructible, which is probably why he's not irate that the city of Chicago has covered up a couple of his mosaics on their streets with more traditional street repairs. Only a couple.

Since he started in 2013, creating the street art has become a game. Bachor spies an appropriate hole, designs a mosaic to fill it, and shows up with wet cement (I imagine at night). He does the deed, posts pictures on Instagram, and his followers are thrilled.

In fact, they've created a Kickstarter page for him, since - as you might guess - filling in potholes in Chicago without jumping through the proper administrative hoops does not pay much. Curbed Chicago reported earlier this year that over $5,000 had been raised through Kickstarter.

Would love to see this attempted over our roads. There's certainly plenty of fertile and pocked ground for it, not just in Los Angeles but in nearly every city in the county.

As you can see (and go to Bachor's own Pothole Installation Page if you need more proof), the man is partial to frozen treats, but flowers and whimsy are also present.

In fact, on his portfolio page I spotted mosaics of Rod Blagojevich, and several of the drawings that we used to see on the back page of comic books, with the caption "Are you an artist?" You'd draw the cartoon and send it to this art school for evaluation, then sign up for their long-distance classes (way before the internet). Also portrayed: Mayor Daley, packaged meat, Twinkies and Hohos, Starbucks and McDonald's, 3-D Caesar, and much more. All for sale!

Bachor is busy and probably won't be shipping any 20 pound mosaics to Los Angeles for midnight installation (not to mention the requisite wet cement). But other artists may be inspired by his accomplishments. Maybe?

We can hope.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pershing Square

Pershing Square: a place in the news, because the contract for the redesign has been awarded.

At right is photo taken in 1857. 1857!

Of course, back then it was called either 6th Street Park or Central Park. Leonard Pitt, in Los Angeles A to Z, says it's also been called La Plaza Abaja (the lower plaza), City Park, and St. Vincent's Park.
On Armistice Day, 1918 (which we now call Veteran's Day, Nov. 11th) the park was named for General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, who'd served as commander of America's Expeditionary Forces during the Great War.

Below is an undated photo  taken from Bunker Hill. All these photos come from the Los Angeles Library's photo collection. PublicArtinLA dates this picture at around 1880.

And here is what the library says:

Former Mayor Cristobal Aguilar signed Pershing Square into being in 1866. . . . The park was first renovated in 1911; in the 1950s a car garage was built beneath it; and in 1994, it was completely redesigned by architect Ricardo Legoretta and landscapist Laurie Olin and was rededicated on February 3, 1994. Pershing Square takes up the entire block and is bounded by 5th Street to the north, 6th Street to the south, Hill Street to the east, and Olive Street to the west.

Like color postcards? Here are a couple, perhaps taken 20 years apart:

And a photo of the phountain taken during the construction of the Biltmore Hotel in 1922!

Based on the cars, this one is probably from the late 1930s:

One other photo of the park in its heyday, taken by Herman J. Schultheis.  I've mentioned him before and displayed his photos in articles about eucalyptus trees and the Ace Theatre. Interesting fellow and a wonderful photographer.

Dr. Pitt used to take his students from UCLA on a tour of the downtown area landmarks, from Olvera Street to Bunker Hill and more, and he recalled for them when he first came to Los Angeles, after World War II (I don't recall how long after--may have been the 1950s). Pershing Square used to attract all sorts of soapbox orators, who would stand on crates to expound their gripes or political views.

This photo, undated, looks 50s-ish to me.

And then, in 1952, the whole thing was ripped out and a parking garage set underneath it. Here's a photo of that:

Pershing Square went through more updates, in 1964 and 1984 (in preparation for the Olympics), and drastically in 1993. I will stop here, though, because my poor blog will probably hiccup and choke if I try to cram more pictures into one post. Nobody liked those remodels, anyway, as far as I can tell. Every article I read rails about how awful they were!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mosaics at Alhambra's Renaissance Plaza

Mosaic Monday features Alhambra today.

At the northeast corner of Garfield and Main Street sits Renaissance Plaza. It won awards when it was completed in 2002, mainly as a public space that integrated art with storefronts in a thematic way. And it brought people on to the streets, something that a 2002 story in the Los Angeles Times said had been missing for 25 years.

The site of an Edwards Imax Multiplex and lots of eateries, it's being revitalized again, and the two big pictures here came from the company that's handling that revitalization, Transtech.

As you can see, there's not just one mosaic. There are mosaics on pillars, on bench backs, plastered onto planters, ornamenting fountains, and in the background you can see mosaic spheres. A veritable plethora of mosaics. One of the several civic online brochures I looked at says that the history of the city is informally told through these tiles.

In all honesty, I'm not seeing that.

If you go to the Downtown Alhambra Facebook page, you will see hundreds of pictures of street parties with these mosaics in the background. Christmas tree lighting, St. Patrick's Day blowouts with live music and leprechauns and green beer, Halloween costume parades for all ages.

So the Plaza is exactly what a plaza should be -- a great place for street parties and celebrating.

That Los Angeles Times 2002 story says that the Renaissance Plaza, part of the redevelopment of a mile-long stretch of Main Street, took eight years to design and complete, costing the city $1.2 million.

They did not want to go trendy or hip, though there was a martini bar. The  city wanted to retain its image as a nice place to live.

In another paragraph, I learn that, during the decade leading up to 2002, the city gave out $14 million in grants to get businesses on to Main Street.

One of the restaurants, Charlie's Trio, has a mosaic sign as well.

What I don't find anywhere is a note on who designed these mosaics.

And it's late. So I guess we'll just appreciate the mosaics for what they are: part of a huge and very successful downtown redevelopment project that revitalized the city. Yay!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Mosaic in a Paul Williams Home

So I'm looking through a photo essay and story about a beautiful private home in La Canada Flintridge (the article is in Los Angeles Magazine), scrolling through the pictures, and Whan! A mosaic!

The home, backed by an acre of gardens,  is just as astounding. Paul Willimas designed it in 1927.

I am shy of putting up any other pictures from the magazine's online spread, so I urge you to go there and read about the place.

The address pops up several places: 5200 Alta Canyada Road.

You can learn more about Paul Williams, the brilliant architect who happened to be African American at the Paul Williams Project.  There, I learned he designed thousands of homes and buildings, including the homes of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Bert Lehr, Luise Rainer, Zasu Pitts, Johnny Weissmuller, Lon Chaney Sr., and Frank Sinatra. Unfortunately, I don't see this house listed there.

LACurbed, reporting on another Paul Williams home being sold last year, says this:

A very young Paul Williams got to be friendly with the future senator and real estate developer Frank Putman Flint from selling him newspapers on the corner of First and Spring downtown. Per the PRWP site: "After he became a licensed architect in 1921, Williams designed scores of the homes either directly commissioned by Flint or as a result of Flint's referrals. Eventually the Flintridge area would have one of the largest concentrations of Williams' designed residences in Southern California.At least ten of his designs were either model homes or spec projects commissioned by Flint."

I think I spot the house on this Flickr site belonging to Michael Locke, called the Degnan House. Great pictures of the outside, but you'll have to follow the link to see them.

This closeup of the mosaic at the "Guerra Estate" (those are the current owners) ornamented an article by Diane Keaton in C-Home.

In an NPR story I learned that Paul Williams was a good friend of Danny Thomas, and designed St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis without charge, as long as Thomas agreed to keep his involvement a secret.

And in this LA Times story I learn that the house, built for one James Degnan, was the site of a 2002 "Gatsby Picnic"

However, I haven't seen anything indicating who created the mosaic. I don't think Williams dabbled in that art form; he either commissioned it or bought a mosaic somewhere and had it installed.

The Times apparently reported on the restoration of the house, and a letter from a  gentleman who has the original drawings of the home refers to the mosaic--but no artist.

So we have a minor mystery, and some lovely pictures.

Residence A in Barnsdall Park

This item was all over local TV news: The Residence A Guesthouse at Barnsdall Park is about to get a $3.2 million restoration. Here's one story, in case you missed the news.

This is Barnsdall Park's Hollyhock House, at left. It was just restored and reopened last year. Looks beautiful, doesn't it? The first time I saw it, in the 90s, there was significant earthquake and water damage, and stains streaked the facade from leaking water.

The address for the entire Barnsdall Arts complex is 4800 Hollywood Blvd.

When Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built Hollyhock House around 1920, he also created two guesthouses, Residences A & B. Aline Barnsdall, who hired Wright, actually lived in Residence B for years, and it was torn down to create space for an apartment building after she died, almost 70 years ago. Residence A is still around.

The picture at right shows Residence A in 1965, when the city declared it a cultural landmark.

You can read all about Aline Barnsdall,, about her family and her independence, and a little about Wright himself at the Barnsdall website. Turns out that Wright's neglect of the Hollyhock House project (he was in Japan building the Imperial Hotel) was a big factor in bringing both Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra to Los Angeles--Aline Barnsdall figured she needed new architects!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Mosaics at the Getty Villa till September 12

Happy Mosaic Monday!

Since March, and through September 12, the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades is showing off Roman mosaics from the 2nd through the 6th centuries A.D. The mosaics come from all over what was then the Roman Empire, from North Africa through Italy and into France (Gaul), and east to Turkey and Syria.

I'm astonished by how much information is online: maps, histories, citations, and descriptions of each find. For instance, here is a photo of one mosaic, uncovered in Syria in 1938.

Just to be compliant, here is the caption with the photo: Excavation photo showing Mosaic Floor with Animals from the Bath of Apolausis, Antioch, Syria, 1938. Antioch Expedition Archives, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, no. 4092.

This  was a Roman bath discovered near Antioch. It was a public building surrounded by villas, so we can imagine the clientele was wealthy and pampered. Think of the appointments of Bullocks Wilshire, and glance back at the picture I posted a couple of days ago -- of that store's sportswear department in the 1930s. Rich people like luxurious surroundings.

So they had mosaics on the floors, and frescoes on the walls, The frescoes did not fare so well.

That's just a tease of the information you can find on this single page published by the Getty Villa. The layout of the entire bath and all its rooms is there. Descriptions of what was found in the 1930s. Explanations of the heating system that ran under the floors. An overview of other sites in the area.

The Getty purchased this floor from another museum in 1970. Which is why I think I have a refrigerator magnet with the bunny on it somewhere, from a visit to the Getty Villa way back when.

If bunnies and peacocks are too tame for you, there is a graphic mosaics of a lion ripping into an onager (an ass) for dinner, or one of wrestlers facing off, one of hunters going after wild beasts, and more. There is even one featuring naked men climbing the rigging of ships and doing other nautical things. I don't know the story behind that particular mosaic.

To commence your own adventure through the catalogue of mosaics, start here. Or anywhere. Or go to the Getty Villa yourself and see these amazing mosaics.

Start planning your trip here. There are other things to see besides the mosaics of course, but it is Mosaic Monday.

Special lectures accompany the exhibit. There are once-a-month tours, and the next one is April 28th.. If you're at the Getty on Thursdays or Fridays, you can drop in  to the Getty Reading Room from 11 a.m. till noon and see how mosaics were constructed in Roman times. Touch the materials and the tools, that sort of thing.  Details on all of these programs are at the Getty website.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Baseball Knickers, Oil Stills, High Fashion Stores and Modern Architecture

My last post listed articles about Los Angeles' first photo (probably), our black widow spiders, fighting smog in the 70s, a photo spread of a 1968 home in Palm Springs, and links to a PBS show and article that featured the Gamble House in Pasadena, and a Charles and Ray Eames home in Pacific Palisades.

Well, it was no sooner posted than Facebook delivered links to more articles about Los Angeles. So here are a few more items for this rainy weekend: links about Los Angeles baseball 135 years ago, the first oil refinery, elegant department stores of yeasteryear, and our 21st century cutting-edge architecture.

Baseball first. More to the point: baseball uniforms. Nathan Masters of KCET posts another great article about a photograph, and this time, I really have to repost it, at least in miniature:

If I had to name it, I think I'd go for "Knickers and Jug Ears." (Low-hanging fruit, as a certain friend would say.) The source is the USC Libraries, the California Historical Society Collection.

These guys are adorable, and they may be your great-great-great grandpas.

Second, the oil industry. By strict chronological reckoning, this should be first (1874 trumps 1884) but I like baseball better.

The Newhall Pioneer Oil Refinery was "the first productive oil refinery in California," according to Leon Worden, but sometime before 1961 the original stills from 1874 and 1875 went missing. They were teensy by today's standards, holding just 15 and 20 barrels of oil as it cooked. The old refinery closed down within 15 years, and Standard Oil (Chevron, now) owns the property.

Worden tells how he relocated the stills in "Missing First Pieces of First Oil Refinery Located," from the SCVHistory site. And there are tons of great "then and now" pictures.

"Decadent Department Stores of Southern California" is the name of a Pinterest Page that contains dozens of pictures of Downtown L.A.'s shops through the 20th century.

You'll find black and white photos like one of Judy Garland in front of the May Company in 1940, or models vamping in their finery during the Roaring 20s at Bullocks Wilshire, photos of entries and street traffic outside.

There are both b&w or dazzling color shots of the art deco effects and the murals of Bullocks Wilshire, as well as the beautiful furnishings, restaurants, chandeliers, and seating areas of other shops. These stores catered to women with money to spend, and they are about as far away from today's department stores, with their racks and stacks of sale items, as you can get.

Just for good measure, there are posters and dramatic ads from papers and magazines through the decades.

It's possible to get lost here.

But the funnest part of this page is that many of the photos link back to sites that are wonderful in their own right. This photo of the  sportswear department of Bullocks Wilshire takes you to Martin Turnbull's photo-laden post on that famed department store. Turnbull is an author that sets his books in old Hollywood, so his blog is well worth skimming and reading.

"A Guide to Los Angeles's Wildly Inventive Architecture" comes from New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer. It's a flattering look at many new developments in L.A., such as West Hollywood's Courtyard at La Brea, with its metal ribbons like giant tape protecting the corner. I think the author finds it amusing that we in Los Angeles are finally having to design housing complexes rather than estates to deal with our population.

Workplaces (the Hayden Tract and the Pterodactyl in Culver City, for instance) and public spaces and museums (the Broad, the Petersen Automotive Museum, and Tongva Park) are also listed. There's even a nod to Googie -- a picture of Johnie's Coffee Shop is included.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Talk and Articles About Los Angeles

Here are some wonderful articles about our city, most worthy of your attention.

But first, an upcoming event: Were the '90s L.A.'s Golden Age?  On April 26, 7 p.m., at the Museum of Contemporary Art at 250 S.Grand. Parking is $9 but it looks like that's all you'll have to pay.

So here are articles about different aspects of Los Angeles through the ages:

  • A discussion of the First Photo Ever Taken of Los Angeles!  Nathan Masters writes the most interesting pieces about L.A.'s history, and this one is about a photo taken in the early 1860s. What does it tells us and who might have taken it? It shows the Plaza, but Masters points out how spread out Los Angeles was, even then. I mentioned this article last Monday, but if you haven't read it yet, go treat yourself.

  • PBS just debuted a show: "10 Homes that Changed America," and it features two houses in Los Angeles County: the Gamble House in Pasadena, and a Charles and Ray Eames home in Pacific Palisades. LA Curbed has the backstory and everything you need to know about these two structures and their environment, in a piece titled "Watch How Two LA Homes Changed America." Then you'll be ready for the PBS show--online at

  • It's not quite L.A., but close: a pictorial display of a Palm Springs house that was beautifully decorated when it was built in 1969 and has not changed since. LAist presented this a few weeks ago when the house was on sale for $850k. There's probably a house near you for that amount of money, or a condo . . . but nothing can touch this one for style.

    • How about a story of cleaning up the Valley of Little Smokes smog in the early 70s? A Zocalo feature, "How Angelenos Beat Back Smog" by Mary D. Nichols, describes a serious change in our air quality that Boomers remember well. I don't think kids today have many smog alerts, but they were a part of life in the Southland for many years. This 1968 photo of an October day in Downtown is from the LA Library's photo collection.

    • Finally, here is a headline I might have dreamed of seeing: "Tracking the Decline of L.A.'s Black Widows," except for one thing . . . they're being replaced by brown widows. No less creepy to me, though actually less aggressive, this is a 21st century phenomenon and the data comes from those Natural History Museum programs that ask folks to bring spiders from home in to the museum to be identified. My daughter did that. She was a grown-up at the time. I modeled one behavior toward spiders for her during her formative years: scream and run. She didn't listen.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Annunciation Mosaic at the Plaza Church in Los Angeles

The Annunciation sits over the facade of Our Lady Queen of Angels Plaza Church on Main Street in old Los Angeles. It was created by Isabel Piczek, according to the Public Art in L.A. website, and is 7 feet, 4 inches tall and 11 feet wide. This lovely picture showing all its detail comes from the YouAreHere website.

The mosaic was put together out of Byzantine tesserae from Pietra Santa, Italy in 1980.

I've blogged about Piczek's work before, at St. Catherine Laboure Church in Torrance, and at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. She is exclusively an ecclesiastical artist who used to work with her sister Edith, and she looks very fragile, like porcelain, in the picture that comes up when I google her name.

The mosaic replaced a plastered-over fresco dating from 1861 that showed Mary with the infant Jesus, along with two angels. The artist of that fresco was Henri Joseph Penelon, who came to Los Angeles from France in 1850 when he was in his early 20s. 

Penelon was our first local artist, painting portraits of Los Angeles area luminaries like Don Jose Sepulveda and the man at right, Don Vicente Lugo.  He was also a photographer and he may -- may -- have taken the first picture ever of Los Angeles. You can read about that (and see the picture, which actually shows the Plaza Church) in this KCET article by Nathan Masters.

Penelon lived until 1885, dying in Prescott, Arizona.

His fresco at the Plaza Church was plastered over in 1950; I haven't learned why -- was it deteriorating? fading? -- nor do I know what may have filled the space, if anything, before this mosaic.

And this mosaic was dedicated on September 4, 1981 (L.A.'s Bicentennial) by Cardinal Timothy Manning. Here it is as you can see it today, over the doors. This picture is on the Public Art in L.A. website (again), as is the text on the bronze plaque next to the doors:

La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles, oldest church in the city of Los Angeles. Dedicated December 8, 1822. Plaque placed by Californiana Parlor Native Daughters of the Golden West, March 20, 1983.

This mosaic at the Plaza Church is actually a replica of a painting in Italy created in 1393 by Ilario da Viterbo. "The Annunciation," or "L'Annunciazione," was part of a six panel mural that da Viterbo created for the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi. That Basilica is built around the 9th century chapel called the Porziuncola, which is where St. Francis of Assisi renounced wealth, dedicated himself to God, and founded the Franciscan order in 1208.

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I think our mosaic is far lovelier than the original mural. This picture of the original is from a collection of images called Bunavestire, dedicated to classic paintings of the Annunciation.