Sunday, April 19, 2015

Giannini Place

If you hear "Giannini", you might think of Bank of America--especially if you're into corporate histories, because A. P. Giannini created the Bank of America as we know it.

Did you know that before there was a Bank of America, there was a Bank of Italy, founded by Giannini in 1904 in San Francisco? In fact, the Bank of Italy helped the city recover from the 1906 earthquake by providing loans for rebuilding. In 1923, Giannini placed its corporate headquarters right here in Los Angeles. After just five years, he merged his Bank of Italy with a small, local firm called Bank of America Los Angeles, and then changed the name of his banking chain. From 1930 on it's been Bank of America. The building itself has housed other companies, but of late it's stood abandoned.

Giannini Place, as the former corporate headquarters is now called, is a 12-story building at Olive and 7th Street, and as the Los Angeles Times reports in this story, it's about to be transformed from one of our top eyesores into a "hip hotel,"by Sydell Group.

Sydell Group recently bought the site for $30 million (according to the Times) and is already converting another structure--the Commercial Exchange Building on Olive and 8th, one block away--into the Freehand Hotel.

The Times story has links back to 1923 articles about the opening of the Bank of Italy headquarters, and also describes the plans for both the Freehand and Giannini Place hotel (there's no official name yet). It's an interesting read in itself--here's the link again--but it is also accompanied by a SLIDESHOW! Yay! No separate link--it's embedded right into the beginning of the article.

The pictures show that while columns and marble and ornate ceilings are still in place, there are lots of repairs to be done. And that there's a big ol' vault in the basement.

My black and white photo is from the Los Angeles Library's Herald Examiner collection. It was taken in 1941 and identifies the structure as the TransAmerica Building.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mid April Report

Old and new on Abbott Kinney in Venice

On April 28, go see a lecture and slide show about Pacific Ocean Park--remember that wild place? Did you know that it was built because it's owner was miffed at Walt Disney and Disneyland, so he built his own "Space Age Nautical Pleasure Pier" ? So there.

The speakers will be Marc Wanamaker (who often writes and talks about Venice and early movie history) and Dominic Priore, who has written the book on POP and will have it for sale at the lecture.

7 PM, April 28, at SPARC (the old police station), 686 Venice Blvd. It's presented by the Venice Historical Society. If you're a member of that august group, the event is free; otherwise, it's $10.

Have you seen the Sunset Strip Rock and Roll Billboards exhibit at the Skirball Center? On April 21 (Tuesday) at 8 pm, photographer Robert Landau and billboard artist Enrique Vidal will talk about their careers and the exhibit itself. Free, but rsvp's are recommended. They always say that.

Of course, the big event this weekend will be the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC. There's so much going on there that I can't even begin to list the authors, panels, specialists, celebrities, etc. John Scalzi with Wil Wheaton! Plus there are so many talks aimed at writers of every genre, even those who cross genres (cough). Go to the page, and go to the Festival!

What to read? How about the story of Jymm, one of the 6,300 homeless veterans in Los Angeles. Read it through to the last sentence. This story raises painful issues, like: does a person have to conform to my standard of normal to get the benefit of the doubt when decisions are made about his health, his mental health, his care? Or how about: how many demands can be made on overworked agencies before incarceration is chosen as simply the easiest way to deal with a difficult person?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Church Photos and Picnic Sites

Angelenos, Vickey Kall is here to help you celebrate spring! Easter and picnics express the season so well, and Easter means churches, right?

So from Zocalo Public Square:

A photo collection and essay on Los Angeles' one-room churches by Kevin McKollister.

A dozen photos, mostly exterior, are included with the piece. McKollister says he has been photographing these churches for nine years, relishing their warmth, simplicity, and humility.

"Occasionally I have been invited in. Warmly. And fed. Generously. Fried chicken and iceberg lettuce. Pupusas. No judgment when I told them why I was asking to take a photograph. I’ve been prayed over—not to be saved from damnation, but just to be given something nice."

A bastion of grace in the world.

Also from Zocalo:

Ann article on street vendors. Specifically, a piece by food critic/writers Javier Cabral about food cart vendors on the streets of Los Angeles, and why he won't review them (spoiler: they'd wind up in jail). Cabral gives us a brief history of street food vendors and the ins and outs and ironies of permits that satisfy one county department but not another. He talks about the efforts to legalize them, the number of jobs such vendors create (as they are buying their food, hiring workers) and the taxes they would pay, if legalized.

Segue time: this picture of Kenneth Hahn Park is from, and neither the park nor the site is mentioned in the following. But it makes a great presentation of the topic, which is picnic sites in Los Angles.

Now that the weather's changing, from "in like a lion" to the dry dregs of August, KCET has posted a roundup of SoCal's best sites for picnics, which includes the following:

  • Spring (this is spring, right?): the best places to drive to and picnic while surrounded by poppies, lupin, and other wildflowers, and most of those are NOT in Los Angeles County

  • Summer: Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with it's summertime movie screenings--although there are other events there as well, which you can check out here. The Hollywood Bowl and Leona Valley are other locations

  • ;A hike to Cucamonga Peak was mentioned, but in today's heat, I have trouble thinking of that as fun, especially when carrying cold drinks and food.

KCET did not mention  Griffith Park, oddly enough. But wait! CBS News came up with a list just a couple of weeks ago that includes Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Echo Park  Lake, Grand Park, and the Rose Garden in Exposition Park, as well as Griffith Park and the Bowl. 

And of course, you can just Google, which is where I found HikeSpeak and all its l interesting data and lovely photos, like this one of the Old Zoo ruins in Griffith Park.

Friday, March 20, 2015

From PV to Bell and Facebook

Long time no see!

I don't want to abandon this blog about Los Angeles history, because I still love the topic. I know that others find it interesting too.

But long, well-researched posts  are time-consuming, and I can't commit to them.

Almost daily, I run across fascinating articles that I think would make great blog posts, but if I took the time to pursue them I wouldn't have time to make a living!

Here's an example--Sam Gnerre of the Daily Breeze wrote this blog post last year titled "Marineland's tumultuous final days," He details the skullduggery of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, the last corporate overlords of the late lamented attraction, which makes a fascinating and tragic tale.

The posts on Sam Gnerre's blog, called South Bay History, go into detail about things like the Harbor City Ice Rink (which is still there!), the Tongva village of Suangna, bootlegging during Prohibition--when rum runners landed at Portuguese Bend and other coastal sites, and much more.

Follow his blog; you won't be sorry.

Zocalo is another site where you can find Los Angeles history stories, which is odd because Zocalo is actually a product of Arizona State University.

Their stories are usually accompanied by in-depth analysis--like this one that starts with a summing up of the scandal in the city of Bell. But as author Joe Mathews says, "The sense of triumph we feel after getting past a scandal is part of our problem." 

The small towns in our area have complex financial issues, partly because we've saddled them with so many regulations and laws. But it's still possible to cheat, and officials are often desperate. It's a thought-provoking tale.

Zocalo's featured a first-hand account of Martin Luther King's Freedom Rally at the Sports Arena in the early 1960s, written by then-teenager Ellen Broms, and artist Barbara A. Thomason's story about her 100 paintings exploring the not-so-famous views of Los Angeles. These are unique tales that you probably won't find anywhere else.

Pointing you toward articles like these seems a good reason to blog.

The internet landscape has changed in the eight years since I started the History Los Angeles blog. Social media--most especially Facebook--circulates so many bits of Los Angeles history that a blog can't possibly keep up.

Do you follow the Facebook pages Photos of Los Angeles and SoCal Historic Architecture, which post both old and new photos (and often overlap)? Photos like this one of Tom Breneman's restaurant on Vine. Followers then chime in with bits of information and memories of the place. Breneman hosted a radio show called "Breakfast in Hollywood" from this place in the 40s, and folks all over the US tuned in. Facebook fans responded to this picture with a half dozen black and white photos of the restaurant, including an old ad for the show, and bits of trivia like the fact that the restaurant closed with Breneman's death in the late 40s and was briefly an ABC studio, and that a movie with Zasu Pitts was filmed using the radio show as a plot and setting.

Now you can't beat that. Facebook is interactive, and blogs--though you can leave comments--really aren't.

So I'm going to blog periodically, but mostly I'll be rounding up other sites and linking to them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Surfridge, Torrance, Eagle Rock & More

Here are a few stories on Los Angeles history to entertain you while the turkey is roasting:

  • A collection of how LA neighborhoods got their names. I know the LA Times has printed lists like this recently, but this one is from Mental Floss and has a great picture of Eagle Rock (right). Why does that appeal? Because in the 1920s my uncle used to ditch school and eat his lunch while hanging his legs over the rock edge. 

  • From MessyNessyChic, the history of Surfridge, an area of Playa del Rey (or as it was known, in the 20s and 30s, Palisades del Rey). Lots of pictures, but the area is nothing but cracked sidewalks now--a victim of our air traffic.

  • A story about the Uncertain Future of the Lummis House, from the LA Times

  • Like Pictures? Indulge yourself here, with tons o' pictures of the Warner Huntington Park Theater, courtesy of LA Curbed. 

  • Also from LA Curbed, a story of Ye Olde Torrance, close to my heart since I was born and raised there. This tale goes back to 1912 and the planning of the city as a workers' or company paradise, sorta. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Collection of Articles on LA History

My poor, neglected blog . . .

I'm afraid things aren't going to get much more active here, at least until 2015--unless guest bloggers wish to volunteer.

Prospective guest bloggers: I will absolutely upload Los Angeles history-related posts and pictures that are appropriate. If you'd like to contribute, start the ball rolling with a comment, or go to my website,, and use the contact form there.

Otherwise, I am gainfully busy, promoting The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories, available as an ebook and soon--any day now--in print at a new price of $25, an incredible savings! (That's how fast technology moves now--last year, my price as author was $28--now, with a new color printing method, the list price is only $25!)

It makes a great Christmas gift, and my website lists the places where I'll be talking about it. I'm also working on a new book for the new year, so this blog is sitting fallow.

But please allow me to list some of the wonderful stories about Los Angeles History that people have sent me lately. Just because I don't have time to write about them doesn't mean you can't enjoy reading these articles:

  • From CurbedLA, a long, detailed, picture-laden story about Batchelder tiles and The Chocolate Factory on 6th Street between Broadway and Spring. This piece was posted last sumner and is written by Liz Arnold.

  • From LA Observed, an article  by Karen Wada (also with pictures) about a Millard Sheets mural that has been moved from a private home in the Hollywood Hills to the Huntington. Taken down and put on big rollers, because the mural was done on a woven fabric called Sanitas. In future, it will ornament a new boardroom at the Huntington's Visitors Center.

  • Also on LA Observed: Cute pictures and video of a model of the legendary Garden of Allah apartments. This and the Batchelder tile article were sent by Flo Selfman--Thanks!

  • Missing Mosaic Monday? (Me too). Here's a link to the Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum in Malibu, thanks to Lee Gale Gruen who has posted here before. 

  • Do you listen to You Can't Eat the Sunshine, the podcast of Esotouric Tours? Just glance at the list of subjects on the left--Felix the Cat in Hollywood? How could you not want to listen to that?

That's it for now, boys and girls. Let me know if you'd like to do a guest stint here, and I'll try to post more interesting things to read every once in a while!

Monday, September 29, 2014

St Sophia's Mosaics Circle Dome

St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral is unbelievably ornate, so today I am confining the post to the dome. Artist William Chavalas created the 27-foot wide/long picture of Christ--whose head alone is ten feet tall. Chavalas also designed the stained glass windows.

This particular photo is posted on Flickr by Michael Fletcher, who retains all rights to it.

The amazing thing to realize as you look up is this: See those tiny figures of saints, in between the stained glass windows? See them? Those are actually life-sized mosaic figures. If you were to get up there, you would stand about as high.

Now, the dome is a painting. But those 24 saints that look so tiny are mosaics, They were completed in 1989 by artist Sirio Tonelli, who has since installed Byzantine style mosaics in over 100 churches in the US, including St. Paul's Cathedral in Orange County and St. Sava in San Gabriel, which I blogged about. He also created the double eagle mosaic in St. Sophia's plaza courtyard. I believe he still has his studio in Chicago.

In 1989, the "Procession of Saints" mosaics cost $300,000, and were created in Italy then transported to the US. There's actually only 21 saints, two archangels, and one representation of the "spirit" of Christ. They replaced the paintings of angels that had been there since 1952.

There are incredibly detailed and beautiful pictures of the dome and one of the figures in this photostream by photographer John Gaylord.--this to the right is a partial image. It's all I can find of the mosaics!

Seeing-Stars has a write up on this church, as it was the setting for a wedding on NYPD Blue. In real life (what's that?) it hosted the wedding of the same NYPD Blue star, Sharon Lawrence, as well as the funeral of actor Telly Savalas.

Charles Skouras helped lay the cornerstone to St. Sophia's in 1948  after making it very big in Hollywood--as the head of Fox West Coast and National Theaters. His two brothers (all three were poor immigrants at one time) also found success, Spyros as president of 20th Century Fox for twenty years ending in 1962, and George as head of United Artists Theaters.

No expense was spared on this Byzantine-inspired cathedral. Here's a few sentences from a 2003 article on St. Sophia:

With leaded glass from Belgium, England and Germany; marble from Greece and Italy; 17 over-the-top chandeliers from Czechoslovakia, three of which each weigh a ton; 25,000 pounds of copper on the roof; religious depictions everywhere; a dome rising 90 feet into the air and lots of 24-carat gold leaf; St. Sophia is a very visible symbol of Orthodox faith and a translation of Skouras’ belief in service. Built for approximately $2 million between 1948 and 1952, if built today, costs would exceed $50 million.

When it opened in 1952, the church was situated in LA's Greek neighborhood at Pico and Normandie. Not true now, but the big Greek Festival is still held there every year, and in fact just wrapped  up.

Here is a picture of artist Sirio Tonelli, a fairly recent one. The mosaic he's completing is definitely not from St. Sophia Cathedral, though it could be from St. Paul's out in Irvine. But I don't know--the picture wasn't captioned.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Downtown Building Projects and the Hall of Justice

I was going to blog aboaut a mosaic on Monday but my fingertips melted and got stuck to the keys. I managed to knock over a glass of ice to cool and unstick them, but then the ice and water got into the keyboard and you know how that goes.

Making up a more credible story, or making up anything at all, takes too much effort when it's this hot.

However--I did find a splendid list from LA Downtown  News that updates every downtown project you could think of, and then some. Did you know, for example, that the Hall of Justice, so often pictured in Perry Mason, is about to be reopened, twenty years after red-tagging due to the Northridge earthquake? The ribbon-cutting is in three weeks.

Updates on no less than 93 other projects--from Amp Lofts to the Wilshire Grand replacement--are included in the LA Downtown News list.

Did you know further that the Hall of Justice was made of the same stone, from the same quarry, as our City Hall? It is and the stone is Sierra Granite. That tidbit is from D. J. Waldie, who writes at KCET's website that the "inspiration for the hall's tall base and upper stories of columned walls seems to have been the tomb of King Mausoleus at Halicarnassus."

That tomb was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World--it's the one I never remember. Helicarnassus stood in what is now Turkey, but the tomb was destroyed at least 800 years ago. It's middle third (in terms of height) had 36 columns with statues between them--reportedly--and that's the part that may have inspired the design of our Hall of Justice.

No one really knows what it looked like because it's in ruins now. That's one model at left, but there are many more elaborate portrayals.

To me, the building evokes the 1950s, which is silly since it went up in 1926. Blame Raymond Burr.

The KCET article is a fun read, with pictures and a brief history of the building and its famous, though transitory, residents--like Charles Manson, whose holding cell may be a historical attraction when the Hall reopens. Ghosts are mentioned, as are a local whorehouse, and mice that got high from marijuana held in the evidence room of the Sheriff's offices. If that doesn't pique your curiosity nothing will.

County offices--including the Sheriff and the District Attorney will be moving back into the Hall of Justice around the end of the year.

I'm signing off with my name. I've just learned that when this blog goes out to subscribers, the entire post appears in an email. That's great, but since the email does not include the side column showing me or my book (The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories) or picture, or any of the other features there, I was advised that I should at least sign my name so that people associate the post with me. So until next Monday--Adieu from Vickey Kall.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mosaics of Pompeii in L.A.

It rhymes!

Finally made it to the Pompeii exhibit at the California Science Center. And the artifacts from Pompeii--including the ash shells of victims of the volcano--will be in L.A. through the end of the year (until January 4, 2015, to be exact), so there's plenty of time for you to go, too.

And if you go, I strongly urge you to watch this hour-long BBC documentary first. Really, I wish I had--I would have gotten more out of the exhibit. The link goes to the Science Center Pompeii History page--scroll down a bit to the video, titled "Pompeii--A Mystery of People Frozen in Time."

Made only last year, it tells of the latest discoveries about Pompeii, including how those people died in such a way as to leave a shell of their body. I had picked up a lot of misinformation over the years and found this program fascinating.

At the exhibit, you are allowed to take pictures! Seriously, so many places do not allow photos, even with the flash off, and I've never figured out why. The folks at the California Science Center are more enlightened than most, I guess.

And they're all incredibly nice.

This first mosaic is a floor from the villa of Publius Fonnius Synistor, Boscoreale--near Pompeii. It's dated 1st century B.C., and since the eruption that buried everything was  in 79 A.D., it was well over 100 years old then. No dimensions were listed, but it was not large--five or six feet square, I think.

The Pompeii exhibit--except for the very end, after the bordello room--focuses on the everyday found objects that reflect life in a wealthy Roman town of 25,000 people during the first century A.D. Most of the objects are in display cases with little signs identifying what they are; a few have codes for the audio program description so that you get a lot more detail and context.

And the audio program is COMPLIMENTARY. 
Another laudable innovation!

Smallish rooms house the exhibit, and in the corner of each room is a wide-screen TV, mounted and playing in a continual loop some informative trivia that helps us understand the objects in the room. One told us all about the layout of a typical Roman home, for example, with video showing the atrium and impluvium. Another room, loaded with amphora and cooking equipment, used a mural and the video to give us a feel for the commercial food vendors of Pompeii, as well as the enslaved kitchen staff.

The next mosaic is the sign of a fish sauce maker--a very successful fish sauce maker.

Fish sauce was called garum, and I learned that it was pretty much the french fry of the Roman world. Everyone made their own version and sold it (I also learned there were over 300 garum-snack-selling vendors throughout Pompeii, selling from small booths to folks who stood to eat or took their food with them).

The sign next to this mosaic--which is about 12 or 14 inches wide--says that this was one of four mosaics that "decorated the corners of the impluvium in the atrium of the house of Aulus Umbricius Scaurus, Pompeii's leading producer of garum, Scaurus acquired great wealth through making and trading the famous fish sauce.

"The inscription reads: "The flower of Scaurus' mackerel garum from the factory of Scaurus.""

An impluvium was a sunken section of the home's atrium--set in the floor, it sat directly under a roof opening that allowed rainwater to fall and drain in, right into the impluvium-pool. The impluviam could be marble, but it was paved in a way to let the water run out of it, into gravel and eventually into an underground cistern, where the fresh rainwater could then be used for the household.

Since it was raining here in San Pedro an hour ago--the most welcome, beautiful sound in the world--I can't help but wish that I had such an impluvium in my condo.

So if I read this right, these four mosaics were in his house, not his factory or his shop. They weren't advertising, really--the mosaics were more like trophies.

The mosaic is made of white limestone and black slate.

Next up is a table.

I learned that there were no dining rooms in Roman homes--no rooms designated for dining, I mean.

Instead, tables were brought in and positioned next to couches or benches whenever the rich person wanted to eat. Food was laid out on the tables.

There are actually two in this photo--the mosaic table in front, which most have been incredibly heavy, and the wood-topped table behind it. A mural which didn't make it into my photo shows the Roman gentry reclining and eating.

Presumably, there was never any shortage of slaves to move the heaviest tables around.

I just found it fascinating that in Roman homes, rooms really weren't designated for specific purposes (except kitchens, of course). A room was just a big square place whose purpose was determined by the furnishings in it, and those could be moved easily. Sleeping chambers were simply wherever you put the bed, and dressing rooms were where you put the chest of clothes.

Overall, the Pompeii exhibit was well worth seeing. It takes only an hour to go through--and you are right if you read into that time frame that it is not a comprehensive presentation. I could definitely wish for more context--film of the actual excavated city, for example. But the BBC documentary provides that; another reason to watch it before visiting the California Science Center.

The last little mosaic picture was of the California Science Center itself.

I wish I could tell you who designed it and what the reflective tile is made of, but so far I haven't found any information on that. Sorry--maybe this post will be amended later.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ace Hotel and United Artists Theatre--and Schultheis

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times described new tax benefits to owners who restore buildings that are on either the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historic Places. The benefits are mostly for businesses, but some residential buildings could earn their owners tax breaks as well.

It's all very interesting but what really drew me to the piece was this incredibly lovely picture of the 1927  United Artists Theatre, which ran with the editorial. This refurbishment shows how well the new law will work (though it's not in effect yet) because the 1600-seat theater is part of the Ace Hotel complex in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Ace Hotel IS the United Artists Building and Tower. It opened earlier this year (Valentine's Day) at 929 S. Broadway, (or is it 933? I think that's the original address) and preserved all the outward beauty of the building while creating minimalist, functional hotel rooms of varying sizes on the inside, as well as a few meeting venues.

Here's the Ace's theatre website with pictures, info, and a calendar.

Percy Walker and Albert Eisen were the architects of the 1927 building, and they got around some local height restriction ordinances by creating the 50-foot "dummy" tower that still sits atop it.

At the end of this post are some "then and now" photos, the oldest from the Los Angeles Public Library's online photo collection.

From the beginning, most of the offices in the building were leased out to oil companies. First it was California Petroleum Co., then later the building became known as  the Texaco Building. In the 1990s, it was the home of Dr. Gene Scott's University Cathedral.

But this post is focused on the movie theater, not the entire building. Isn't it gorgeous? Divine decadence is the phrase that comes to mind.

The vaulted ceiling--to me, it looks like a dome but the site refers to it as a vaulted ceiling--has thousands of tiny mirrors, and the palace includes a huge (2300 sq ft), ornate lobby.

The new lighting and sound systems are state-of-the-art so that concerts and private presentations can be staged here.

When the interior of the theater was designed by C. Howard Crane, the decor deliberately imitated the 16th century Catholic Cathedral of Segovia, Spain.  You can really see that in the image below left, which accompanied LAWeekly's review of the grand re-opening.

As for the original opening in 1927--the theater's first feature was My Best Girl starring--of course--Mary Pickford, one of the founders of United Artists (along with her husband Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin).

The picture above, btw, came from a 2012 article in the Nomad Lab. There I learned that the 12-story UA building was the city's tallest privately-owned property until 1956.

The 1937 picture below left, with the car in the foreground was taken by Herman J. Schultheis, a gentleman who immigrated to the US from Aachen, German. He came to LA in 1936 after marrying (he was 36--the same age as the century, which makes it easy).  His collection of photographs of his new hometown made in 1937 is now held by our library.

And he lived quite a life.

Schultheis was a PhD'd engineer, but he worked for Walt Disney, in films, He's best know for Snow White, BambiPinocchio, Dumbo, and Fantasia.

About Fantasia: There's a short documentary about the special effects in that film based on Schultheis' detailed notebooks, and that short is one of the extras on some Fantasia DVDs. The notebook itself is at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, and you can read about it here.

Before Disney, he's worked for all sorts of companies back east as an engineer. After Disney, he went to 20th Century Fox for awhile, the Cal Tech, then to a firm called Librascope (which was eventually folded into Lockheed Martin). At every place, he worked on something different--tweaked some old idea to make it better, or introduced new design concepts. Photography, sound engineering, miniature models, cameras, electronics, printing--he had a broad range of interests.

As an amateur photographer, he went all over the world--and he disappeared in Guatemala on his fourth trip thwew in 1955. He had a plane take him to the ruins at Tikal, but didn't show up at the designated spot for his return trip just a few hours away. His remains were found 18 months later.