Friday, March 24, 2017

Reading LA History: LAX, Cat & Fiddle, Van Upp

I've written about the mosaic walls at LAX before, but tonight I'll point you to an article in DesignObserver about Janet Bennett, who claims to have designed those mosaics. I hope enough people will pay attention to make it official.

As far as I know, Janet's boss in 1960 (when she worked for Periera and Luckman, the architects of the Los Angeles International Airport) never claimed credit for the mosaic walls. After he died, however, they became part of his legacy as the designer of the airport's interior - rightly or wrongly. Janet Bennett, who left Los Angeles for other projects before the mosaics were installed, says she designed them, and the fact that a fresh-out-of-school young female artist didn't get proper credit in 1960 probably surprises no one.

The Cat & Fiddle in Hollywood is gone, and the new tenants want to return it to its former days. Before it was a British-style pub, the restaurant with the huge patio was the Mary Helen Tea Room with an enchanted garden. In fact, that's how it started life in 1927, during Prohibition. A bit of its history is here, in posts from the Hollywood Gastronomical Haunts blog.

Eater (the source of this photo) has posts about the new folks moving in, chef April Bloomfield and restaurateurs Ken Friedman, and about the history of the place.

Ever hear of Virginia Van Upp? She was a screenwriter and became Hollywood's first female executive producer in 1944. Great success, and then a big, slow, fall from the heights. This piece in Hazlit.net by Christina Newland goes as in depth as possible into Van Upp's career, but leaves a lot of questions.

Finally, here's a link to Zocalo Public Square's short article on a newly donated group of photographs of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The collection of over 4,000 pictures came from Ernest Marquez, and was donated to the Huntington Library. This one shows the Arcadia Hotel in the background, while Victorian daredevils ride a roller coaster not far from the shore in Santa Monica in the 1880s.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Los Angeles' past and future ... and theatres

Two wonderful essays about Los Angeles that must be shared:

The first appeared in the March 3 Los Angeles Times. Under the guise of talking about the upcoming local election, Thomas Curwen gives us a summation of how Los Angeles has grown over decades and what that growth means to those who live here, and those who want to live here.

I love this line:

Chicago was lucky. San Francisco was lucky. One had a fire, the other an earthquake, each triggering a makeover, allowing each city to rethink its layout and identity.

Dang. We haven't been blessed enough to be destroyed and given the opportunity to rebuild.

Ed Ruscha remembers moving to LA in 1956 and having a neighbor tell him that around 1942, the place was paradise. Paradise!

Find an old man today, and you'll probably hear that in 1980 this place was paradise, says Ruscha. He's so right.

Curwen goes into the tunnel of the Hall of Administration to find records going back a century, showing how neighborhoods were laid out and prized properties designed back then. Los Angeles, where everyone had cars, could afford space for homes with yards, hundreds of them. Thousands of them.

But ... hundreds of thousands of them? Eventually, we hit a limit.


The second story is called "Inside LA STAGE History: Edwin Booth and Child's Grand Opera House," and takes us all the way back to Gold Rush Days and a teenaged Edwin Booth. Who becomes an adult Edwin Booth and saves Robert Lincoln, the son of the president that Booth's brother will assassinate a year later, from falling off a train platform.

Yes, this story is full of exactly the sort of digressions that I love.

But it's mostly about Los Angeles' opera house. This picture was taken shortly before the structure on Main Street was demolished in 1936.


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.