Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Los Angeles Bookstores

On the heels of Williams Bookstore's Centennial (see previous post), the Los Angeles Times follows up on the trouble of another local legend whose future is in doubt for a different reason: Book Soup.

Here's a picture from Bewitched that shows the place. You can also see the KTLA video of the store here.

The Times article centers around the death of Glenn Goldman, who made Book Soup what it is, and whether the store can continue without him. There's some interesting facts in the article that give hope for the remaining independent bookstores--like that Skylight Books of Los Feliz had a good 2008 (sales up 7.5%) and expanded their store.

A related article in Time Magazine (Feb 2nd) covers the book publishing industry. A one-word synopsis: dysfunctional. That doesn't mean that books or booksellers are going away, but the industry is churning and all the Pepto Bismal in the world is not going to settle it.

Real estate and that dysfunctional publishing model helps explain why we've lost so many treasures (Either/Or, Acres of Books, Dutton's, etc.), and why Barnes and Nobles and Borders are in big trouble, but we can also hold out a ray of hope for the small shops that are agile and quick to respond to their customers' needs. Williams Bookstore does it by stocking the foreign language papers and graphic novels that bring in locals. Book Soup, hopefully, may become owned by its employees, who also know their customer base well.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Williams Bookstore Celebrates 100

How many stores can say that? Maybe the secret to longevity to hide out in small nooks and crannies.

The store, now owned by mother-and-son Anne and Jerry Gusha, stands on 6th Street in San Pedro. The Gushas bought it from the daughter of the founder--Mr. E. T. Williams hisself, in 1980. Williams had run a bookstore in Wales, so when he came to America he started one in San Pedro, on Beacon Street. (The picture at right of Beacon Street in 1908 is from Williams Bookstore's website). The store moved to its present location near the arched brick walkway between 6th and 7th Streets in 1988.

Mrs. Gusha is 89 and says she reads five books a week. Dang, I'm a slacker.

Here's some neat trivia from the Los Angeles Times piece on the store: "English movie star Charles Laughton and his wife, Elsa Lanchester, used to frequent the store and help customers. Charles Bukowski, the eccentric Los Angeles-based poet whose works have long been sold at Williams', would come in, sign his books without telling anyone, and duck out."

Mrs. Gusha learned that last bit from Bukowski's wife, years later. The ABA's Bookselling this Week quotes her tale of the time she'd just had a baby and was a bit overwhelmed in the store, so Charles Laughton helped her out behind the cash register, ringing up customers.

The celebration lasts through Sunday the 25th, with 25% off books and 10% off magazines. Plus sandwiches, cheese & crackers, fruit, coffee--all sorts of good things. Ray Bradbury and Andy Rafkin were signing books today; Sunday other authors are scheduled. (Bradbury was also at the Warner Grand Theater across 6th Street to introduce a couple of movies based on his short stories: The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit and Something Wicked This Way Comes. If I may be allowed one more time-sensitive subcategory, the Wonderful Ice Cream Suit is being performed live at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena through Feb. 15.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First Presidential Visit to Los Angeles

According to the LA Almanac, that took place in 1891, when President Benjamin Harrison visited Pasadena.

Who the heck was he?

Wiki to the rescue. Benjamin Harrison (we must use his first name as there have been TWO President Harrisons in our history, neither very effective) was a one-term wonder from Indiana. A Republican, his administration is best known for passing the Sherman Antitrust Act--the piece of legislation that was supposed to break up monopolies and did, in fact, break the American Tobacco Company into several smaller corporations (one being R. J. smaller is a relative term.) And his budget was the first to reach One Billion Dollars! That probably lost him re-election.

Here is his carriage, with him in it, in front of the Los Angeles House in Pasadena--a photo held by the Los Angeles Library.

So, what about his visit? It was part of a month-long speechifying tour of the Pacific Coast (here's a map, courtesy of the Smithsonian).

At 7:05 pm on April 23, 1891, against a background of ringing church bells, cannon fire, and cheering throngs--as well as bonfires near the tracks--a special train brought the prez, his family, and two cabinet members to Pasadena for a party at the Hotel Green, in apartments "profusely decorated with flowers." Visitors--which could include anyone, apparently--came in through the front of the hotel and exited along Raymond. The president received them under an arch trimmed with evergreen and lilies.

Ladies, however, were directed to the hotel ballroom, where Pasadena matrons had prepared refreshments, and where the Los Angeles Mandolin Club provided music. The evening closed with an 'invitation only' dinner at 10, with a cake iced and shaped like the Capital. "Hail to the chief" was spelled out in flowers on one wall.

The Hotel Green is now the Castle Green, btw. They have a great history album of old photos, one being the pre-1903 picture at the top of this post.

The next morning, the presidential party traveled (by carriage driven by--I quote directly from the Times--"four spanking horses") along Colorado to Marengo, then south to California, east to Moline, and to the Mayor's house. After that the route went: Walnut to Raymond to Colorado to Fair Oaks to Orange Grove to Arroyo to Colorado Court to Orange Grove to California to Pasadena to Bellfontaine to Orange Grove to Columbia to the Raymond Hotel. Not done! Then Columbia to Orange Grove to Colorado ("through Mrs. Carr's grounds") back to Colorado to Raymond.

The route was announced so that a good crowd would turn out and make the city proud. Different times, huh?

From Pasadena the president journeyed to San Diego, staying at the Hotel Coronado.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Vin Scully's first West Coast Dodger Game

Vin Scully

Vin Scully's been in the news these past few days: he's been named the Top Sportscaster of All Time, (as opposed to a previous, now-lesser title of the Top Sportscaster of the Century) and is celebrating his 60th season with the Dodgers. His 1956 self, calling the second half of Don Larsen's perfect game (the only perfect game in a world Series) is heard on the new MLB channel sporadically.

Vin Scully's first mention in the Los Angeles Times was April 26, 1958. Scully had already called 1500 games over eight seasons with the Dodgers, but they were the Brooklyn Dodgers then, so his name never appeared in our paper. He had just called his first game in the Coliseum (Dodger Stadium was still being built) and felt it was his worst ever. "All I could see is 77 rows of people." Everyone--players too--agreed that it was difficult to follow the ball against such a background.

Six weeks later Scully penned a column for the Times in which he credited Sister Virginia Maria, his 8th grade teacher, for making him a sportscaster. How? She knew he was interested in radio, and made him read aloud to the class every day. "She corrected and improved, criticized and encouraged and, above all, paid me the highest compliment--she listened."

Awww...Scully also told a great story about the head of Fordham Preparatory School--a priest--who was troubled that Scully had no black shoes to wear with his suit when he represented Fordham at a speech contest. So, he borrowed black shoes from every priest in the school and called Scully in to try each of the 13 pairs on till he found some that fit.

Double Awww. Scully ended the column by thanking Angelenos for their kindness and patience as he transitioned to the new ballpark, with new products to sell during the games. And he hoped he would be a success for the sake of his family.

Don't think they've got any complaints...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Whither Doo Dah?

The Doo Dah Parade in Pasadena is less than a week away now: January 18, starting at Holly & Raymond Streets at 11:30 am--according to their website.

The parade started in 1978 because January 1 fell on a Sunday that year, and the tradition-bound Tournament of Roses Parade would not strut or float on a Sunday. (For some bizarre reason, Wiki and other sites put that story in 1976. January 1 fell on a Thursday in 1976.)

The first mention I've found of Doo Dah in the Los Angeles Times is from November 17, 1977, announcing the "first (and perhaps last) Doo Dah Parade that does not have a tradition to worry about...or a theme...or entry forms..."

Prognostication has never been one of the Times strong suits.

Even organizer Peter Apanel (organizer being a title open to interpretation, of course) said--when asked directly if there would be another Doo Dah Parade--said "No. This is strictly a one-time event."

Nonsense, even then.

So how did it go? As the Times reported on Jan. 2: "Ten-thousand delighted spectators watched belly dancers, a violinist in a spider costume and other zanies... Other participants included Girl Scout and Brownie troops, a bagpipe band, dogs, miniature horses and antique cars. A water tank truck was awarded the "Doo Dah" sweepstakes prize. Some of the 75 entrants in the procession had so much fun they went down the parade route twice."

By December of 1978, Apanel told the papers that 1000 participants had signed up for the 2nd annual parade, including hobbits and a roller skating drill team of women dressed as beer bottles. It was just too much fun not to do again.

The first picture is from the Parade's website; the second (of the 2005 parade) from the LAist blog.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Los Angeles in 1891

There were 55,000 people living here then, according to the Los Angeles Times of December 4, 1891. Here are some quotes which surprised me:

  • [looking past City Hall from the hills]: "groves of gum trees and stretches of orchards away to the southwest are in Vernon, the beautiful horticultural suburb of Los Angeles." and "Vernon is a beautiful suburb, whose orchards and vineyards were fortunately not cut up into town lots during the boom. Much of the fruit consumed in Los Angeles comes from this section. There are no grand houses, but cosy cottage homes, half buried under great shade trees and surrounded by heavily bearing orchards of oranges, peaches, apricots, pears and other fruits, which, with berry patches and alfalfa fields, make the happy owner of five acres here much more independent than some owners of a fifty foot lot on Figueroa street or Grand avenue who lie awake o'nights wondering where they shall raise the money to pay off their mortgages." The Los Angeles Library has some wonderful pictures, including this one of the Fortier residence, Vernon, 1897.

  • [of Boyle Heights]: "the airy and health eastern residence section of Los Angeles. Ten years ago you would have seen a couple of farmhouses there on the treeless plain. Today it is dotted over with hundreds of beautiful residences and . . . graceful shade trees while a double track cable railroad traverses it. . . " This is the view from Boyle Heights, looking toward Los Angeles, in 1877.

  • "The Cahuenga range of mountains frames the picture to the northwest. Along the slopes of its foothills are dotted here and there a few houses, the precursors of thousands that will be built in this beautiful semi-tropic valley as soon as better means of communication are furnished and the large ranches are divided up."

  • "Pico House . . . ten years ago the leading hotel of the city. Perhaps you see . . . Don Pio Pico himself, the venerable nonagenarian ex-Governor, seated in front of the building."

  • "Adams street, for a couple of blocks west of Figueroa, is undoubtedly the most beautiful street in Los Angles . . . the lots are all large, as they should be in this city, running into acres instead of front feet. Large drooping pepper trees hang over the cement sidewalks. . . Large date and fan palms, grevillas, magnolias, orange and other graceful trees cast their shade upon park-like lawns of brilliant green; roses, jasmine, and heliotrope cover porches, trellises and carriage-houses; flaming geraniums and snow-white calla lillies form big hedges, and morning-glories wantonly climb to the very top of tall evergreen trees, hanging from the branches in graceful festoons, while lovely flowers of every hue grow in such lavish profusion . . . on a winter day." This is Figueroa and Adams in 1896.

  • Figueroa Street . . . and its northern extension, Pearl street, extend for nearly five miles . . . The street is shortly to be paved for its whole length with asphaltum, which will still further increase its attractiveness."

  • "The assessed value of all the city property is 845,958,704, there are 8744 public school children enrolled, the banks of the city and county hold $12,000,000 in deposits, and there are over fifty miles of cable railroad track . . . over 200 electric lights illuminate the city at night . . . there are over 1000 manufacturing establishments of all descriptions and over 100 carloads of produce are frequently shipped away in one day. . . "

Anyone got a time machine I could rent?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Old Movie Theater Archive

Can you dig down into your childhood memories to a favorite movie theater? Remember the carpet, as you crawled around for the popcorn you spilled? Remember the faded ceiling paintings or the chips on the molding? Remember the stories older kids told about the rats that raced over their toes when they sat way in the back? Was it old, did it get torn down, has it been preserved?

Whatever the case, you can propably find the place at, drilling down to country and state. California (with 1875 entries) is here.

Danged if they don't have every place I could think of, including the 1938 Strand Theater at Torrance and Catalina in Redondo Beach. And it became history in the 1960s!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Give Time, Not Money

It's New Year's Day and we're all making resolutions. We're all worried about money too, right? In fact, the only people I know not noticeably more concerned over their income now are those who were worried in flush times. They're just always worried.

So here's my plug for a way to give without going hungry. Give time.

My favorite way to do that is by reading books for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. That link is to the Los Angeles studio; their national headquarters is in NJ. RFB&D records books for students who are in grammar school, high school, and college--even those doing post-graduate work.

Volunteers in L.A.'s Hollywood studio stand (well, sit) in good company. Stan Lee recorded there, brought in by the first winner of his Sci-Fi channel show Who Wants to be a Superhero? --Feedback. Another well-known TV star is Quark from Deep Space 9, Armin Shimerman (Principal Snyder for the non-Trekkies). Huell Howser even did a show on RFB&D's Hollywood location!

Local newscasters and celebrities always show up in April, during RFB&D's big annual fundraiser, the week long Record-a-Thon. So if you volunteer now you'll be a regular by then.

Anne MacDonald started Recording for the Blind in 1948, mainly to help World War II veterans who wanted to take advantage of the GI Bill and get an education, but who had been blinded in the war. The Los Angeles Unit started in 1951, through the sponsorship of the Junior League Braille Committee. It was located in the First Congregational Church on Commonwealth and 6th, and moved to Hollywood in 1963.

Other branches in Los Angeles opened: South Bay in 1988. That studio specializes more in technical books: math, engineering, and science--largely because it's located near all the big aerospace companies. In fact, TRW and the National Science Foundation funded the South Bay Studio. There's now a San Fernando facility, and an Inland Empire Studio (not quite LA County any longer, but the Inland Empire Studio's original location was Claremont.)

The technology's changed (books are recorded onto cds now) and the newish name (Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) acknowledges the fact that 70% of the borrowers are NOT blind, just visually impaired. But the studios still run on volunteer power to record textbooks for students of all ages who otherwise could not read those books.

Commit to one two-hour session a week (weekends and evenings are available) and you can do good without spending a brass farthing, whatever that is.