Monday, March 26, 2018

Forget eathquakes; we're overdue for a flood

There were terrible floods in 1861 and 1862 in Los Angeles.
Dr. Lucy Jones is quoted in the Los Angeles Times: "Just trying to describe the extent of the damage is overwhelming. Yet 150 years later most Californians are unaware that it ever happened."
That's true. I'm a Californian and I was unaware of it.
I did know about the terrible flooding up in Sacramento in those years. The Gold Rush Era, the theater with its wooden benches awash in water. The new governor (Leland Stanford) being rowed to his inauguration. But I did not know that it hit Los Angeles or Southern California.
"In Los Angeles, the water was described as extending from mountain to mountain, with no dry land between the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the San Gabriel Mountains." That's from Dr. Jones. The article, "California's Flooding 'Nightmare'," appeared Sunday, March 25, 2018.
This picture of Aliso Street east of Los Angeles Street is dated c. 1860. I have not found any pictures of the flooding in Los Angeles in 1861-1862, only the graphic below right.
We've had other floods: 1938 was a terrible year, and 1964 also saw bad flooding. NBC has put up pictures of those floods, and they are fascinating. But not apocalyptic. 1861-1862 was apocalyptic. 66 inches of rain in 45 days.
Los Angeles Magazine reports such monster floods can hit every 100 to 200 years. The phrase "not a questions of if, but when" applies.
If you google with city names, you find tidbits about the flood.
For Long Beach, for example: The floods of 1862 raged through a dense area of willow trees bringing many of them down to the area that would become Long Beach. A new growth of willow trees prompted locals to call the area “Willowville.”
I also found this paragraph in an attachment to a 2013 draft report: "the mouth of the Los Angeles River shifted from Venice to Wilmington. The plains of Los Angeles County were extensively flooded and formed a large lake system where the stronger currents cut new channels to the sea. The Los Angeles, San Gabriel, and Santa Ana rivers converged, forming a solid expanse of water from Signal Hill to Huntington Beach. Runoff transformed much of what is now Orange County into an inland sea that was 4 feet deep in places 4 miles from the Santa Ana River."
How do we anticipate these disasters and what can we do about them? The USGS has a report called ARkStorm. (The first three letters stand for Atmospheric River 1,000.)  Among the possible mega-flood scenarios is this: what could happen if the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers filled and spread out, putting areas from West Covina down to Long Beach under water? Or if Orange County got swamped by coastal flooding?
ARkStorm outlines potential scenarios and loss, and is not light reading. I have only glanced at it but do not see much to help me sleep better at night. We are not prepared for such a disaster because, frankly, there probably is no way to be prepared for such a disaster. But as Harvey et al, and before that, Katrina demonstrated, such things do happen.
As for what causes the weather that causes such floods, here's a new vocabulary phrase (to me, anyway): atmospheric rivers. They are what you must be picturing: "narrow bands of water vapor about a mile above the ocean that extend for thousands of kilometers."
Five years ago, Scientific American published an in-depth article describing how atmospheric rivers could produce mega floods, and pointing out that our state is just as susceptible to these as the Midwest. Here's a good summary of it.
The definition of atmospheric rivers is from that summary, by B. Lynn Ingram. It describes the damage done from December 1861 through spring of 1862, not jut in California but throughout the west. Utah, Nevada, Arizona, up to Washington state.
As for Dr. Jones, whose quotes opened this post, she has a new book coming out April 17: The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (And What We Can Do About Them) 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Colorizing History

This is not a Los Angeles-centric post.
Several artists, like Mads Madsen of Denmark, spend hours, days, and weeks colorizing historical photographs so that others can appreciate and feel closer to the subjects.
This picture of Abraham Lincoln, taken when he was elected in 1860 but before he acquired his famous beard, is one example.
(That link at Madsen's name will take you to an Atlas Obscura article about him and other artists, and about their Reddit page.)
Here is a six-minute Vox video about more artists and the incredible amount of time and research that goes into colorizing old photos.
And if this and other things historical interests you, maybe you'd like to subscribe to my newsletter, The Triweekly Report. Three of the most fascinating history stories I find, sent out every three weeks. Fill in your name and email in the form to the right if you want to try it out (you can unsubscribe if you don't like it ... but you'll love it).

Friday, March 16, 2018

New Book: Banking on Beauty

If you ever followed this blog, you must know about Millard Sheets and Home Savings and Loan. 
Sheets was the artist behind the beautiful mosaics and murals on Home Savings Branches, once the largest chain of savings & loan banks in the US. 
The ultimate book has appeared about both: Banking on Beauty, by Professor Adam Arenson. It's a big, heavy, coffee table reference that was just published by the University of Texas Press. 
Inside the book, you'll find everything you could ever hope to know about all the design and art of the Home Savings and Loan branches: original drawings, dates, contractors, artists, concepts, more. It's a great reference, and I'm amazed, with all the artwork, that the price is only $45. Well worth it.
Last Wednesday, the Marciano Art Foundation hosted Profession Arenson and Laura MacDonald in a building designed by Sheets almost 60 years ago: the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple on Wilshire Blvd, in the Windsor Square neighborhood.  Thank you, Flo Selfman, for letting me know about this, and making reservations!

These pictures show a couple of the mosaics over the side entrance of the building. Masonic symbols, all. Laura MacDonald talked about the history of Freemasonry as it relates to architecture, and how the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple reflected the principles of the order. 
After that, Professor Arenson talked specifically about Millard Sheets, about some of the myths and the complicated history of his design studio. All in brief, of course, because time was limited. The building was closing only 15 minutes after the talk, giving folks barely enough time to buy their books and get them signed.
Oh, and Tony Sheets, son of Millard, was also on hand to give support.
Adam Arenson has been working on this project for ten years now. I am so glad to see it published!
Was not able to take any notes during the talk, which was accompanied by lots of slides and photographs, but one thing that I remember is this: The Home Savings and Loan buildings where big, square, solid edifices with artwork, always. Like the Beverly Hills branch, (links go to my blog posts and pictures). The BH branch opened in 1956, and is the oldest surviving Home Savings and Loan Building. Big, square, solid.
After Howard Ahmanson died, though, his sons took over the business, and they were willing to vary the design a little. That's why some of the later branches, like Santa Monica's - which is now a New Balance Shoes store.  This branch is not square--it has "wings" spreading out from the front entrance.

There are amazing mosaics at The Marciano Art Foundation, as well, done by Sheets and by Susan Hertel. I've written about Susan Hertel before too, especially about the lovely birds in the mosaics at the Redondo Beach Wells Fargo (which started life as a temporary, prefabricated Home Savings and Loan).
I learned the other night that Hertel kept a bunch of pets at Millard Sheets Designs in Claremont, and those pets were the models for her very graceful artwork. 

A mosaic on the third floor of the building, sadly hidden by interior walls and impossible to photograph, has some of Susan Hertel's animals, including this fellow. I could not photograph the whole mosaic, because of that stupid wall. LA Weekly, where I found the photo below, also questioned the wisdom of hiding the mosaic behind a wall the room used to be a dining hall, with the mosaic in full view. 

Finally, here is a photo of the outside mosaic by Sheets, shamelessly copied from a Curbed LA post. The photo was taken by Elizabeth Daniels. The mosaic is on the east side of the building and shows the history of temple-building.

Friday, March 9, 2018

West Wing's Tornado Disaster

I just learned that the town hit by a tornado in the 5th season of The West Wing (episode "Disaster Relief") was actually represented by my home town, San Pedro. 7th Street and Centre Street, to be exact. 

Of course, lots of special CGI effects were added, but yup, that's us. The "Glenn R. Th" that you see to the right is actually the old Liberty Auditorium, which is now being refurbed and opening as the Port Town Brewery. 

The Brewery is not open yet; their Facebook page shows pictures of the construction and progress being made. Below is a picture of the building when it's not been ravaged by a TV-land tornado. 

The Liberty Auditorium was a dance hall built in 1918. Apparently it was a garage for a few decades too, but at the time the TV episode was filmed, it had been vacant for several years.

Right next door, with the Wiley Feeds sign, is All O Fit, a gym, and next to that a law office. It had a torn up awning in the show.

I understand the street scene, with upended trees and cars and debris strewn everywhere, stayed unpassable for close to three weeks while the show filmed. 

Below on the left, you see the back of what is now the Crowne Plaza that faces 5th Street.  Beyond that is the 7-story Municipal Building that had a jail on the top for many years. 

Across the street from this devastation was a vacant lot. It's vacant no more. The San Pedro Bank Lofts went up there about ten years ago. But the vacant lot made it easy to film, I'm sure. 

Go, President Bartlet, go. Lead us!

Behind the president and crew, above and to the right, are two more old, three-story buildings that are also gentrified lofts now, the LaSalle Lofts. These are all lovely, interesting, historic places to live in an area full of artists, but residents must deal with homeless folks on the street - something they probably didn't plan on a few years ago when they bought their lofts. 

I'll ramble a question here. What has worked to help the homeless? I hear lots of debate about why this or that plan will work or won't work, but surely there must be something that has worked well in other cities. Let's do that! 

Why am I just learning about this filming now? I never watched The West Wing when it was on. It's a long tradition with me, never watching popular and great shows when they are fist broadcast. I don't even watch Star Trek series until they've been seasoned for a few years. The advantage is that I can watch them all without waiting for next week and the new episode.

People have been telling me to watch The West Wing for years. I finally started, and now I'm hooked. I want this alternate history. With the real news that's on TV today, The West Wing has become my happy place.

Sadly, I have only one more season to go. But my plan is to start on Mad Men next.