Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Local Historical Societies

A bit of editorializing (like, when does a blog not editorialize?) and a wish for the New Year.

Historical societies all over Los Angeles County suffer from lack of interest and funding. Often, the archives (if archives exist) are cared for by loving volunteers. Are they trained? Do they know how to handle old documents or ephemera? Do they know the best ways to store, file, retrieve, or make sense of the archives?

Not always. These people are hard-working saints, imho. With little or no access to professional training and no funding, they do the best they can.

If they're lucky, they have a home. I took this picture of Redondo Beach's Morrell House, a living history museum. Behind it is another historic Queen Anne House that holds most of the Redondo Beach Historical Society records. But many groups are not so lucky.

So my wish for the New Year is that we all support our local groups and societies that are trying desperately to save our history. They may have old records, donated clothes or furniture, with no safe place to protect such items. They may have turn-of-the-century newspapers that are crumbling--with no money to pay for scanning and preserving them, let alone indexing.

In some cases (Los Angeles itself, and Palos Verdes come to mind) the libraries create space for local history collections. But even here, extra funding is needed. So if you find yourself looking for some end-of-the-year worthies on which to bestow a tithe, look up your local historical society!

They need your help--and who better than you? If you're reading this blog, you do care about preserving and remembering the past.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Mosaic from Burbank

I neglect the north shamefully, mainly because I never get up there. But what does that matter, with pictures all over the internet?

Today's mosaic was installed in Burbank in 1995. The artist is Marie Moseley and the title of the work is "Something BIG, Like Unity."

It's mounted on the SMC Properties Building at 3800 W. Vanowen--very near the airport and across the street from the Bob Hope Metrolink station.

Made of granite, it emulates a roll of film unwinding. The length of the mosaic is forty feet, but the size of the white wall it ornaments dwarfs the work. The wall must stretch over 200 feet in length. The building houses a couple of high tech graphic arts firms...wonder if they are planning to do anything more to frame the mosaic or show it off...?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Grauman's Theaters--Guest Blog

A post from guest Blogger Debra Ann Pawlak

Sidney Patrick Grauman loved nothing better than to put on a show. When ticket-buying patrons came to one of his theaters, they got more than just a night out. They experienced an event. In 1918, he opened his first Los Angeles venue, the Million Dollar Theater, at Third and Broadway—an opulent Spanish Baroque-style building filled with murals, statues and word carvings.  Grauman had no problem filling the 2,345 seats.  His problem concerned the potential movie goers he turned away each night.

As a result of his success, he opened two more lavish theaters in downtown Los Angeles, the New Rialto and the Metropolitan. The latter’s lobby boasted a sphinx with the head of George Washington and an inscription that read: "You cannot speak to us, O George Washington, but you can speak to God   Ask him to make us good citizens.” 
No doubt, Grauman would be asked to have such an atrocity removed from the premises today, but back then people found it amusing.

When Grauman built his fourth theater, he moved outside of the city limits to Hollywood.  On Hollywood Boulevard at McCadden Place he oversaw the construction of the impressive Egyptian Theater.  Unlike his other establishments, this one boasted a forecourt with shops safeguarded by elephant statues in royal garb. Grauman even paid an employee to dress like an ancient Egyptian soldier and march along the roof announcing show times.

To enter the building, patrons passed through oversized columns that stood 20 feet tall by four and half feet wide. Once inside the lobby, they found themselves in another world. Surrounded by Egyptian figures, a Sphinx and sarcophagi, visitors examined the hieroglyphic-like writing on the walls. A large, golden sunburst hovered over the movie screen, which only enhanced the mystical ambiance. Cleopatra would have been proud.

The Egyptian had no balcony and sat just over 1,700 guests when it opened on October 18, 1922 with the first showing of Robin Hood (1922) featuring everyone’s favorite swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks. Thousands of movie fans lined the streets hoping to see their favorite stars. Searchlights lit up the sky and a red carpet was unfurled to welcome the filmmaking elite dressed in their finest. That evening, Sid Grauman flawlessly delivered the razzle dazzle and set the bar for future Hollywood premiers.

(All of the black and white pictures are from the Los Angeles Public Library's online photo collection. The one above left is from 1922, reproduced for the library by Marc Wanamaker. The crowd is waiting for the arrival of Pickford and Fairbanks--Vix)

Just five years later another Hollywood landmark opened next door—The Pig ‘N Whistle. The tidy little restaurant featured a dining area, soda fountain, candy counter and decorative wall tiles that depicted a quirky flute-playing pig. Taking advantage of its location, the place even had a side door that opened directly into the Egyptian Theater’s forecourt. Customers found it convenient to have dinner and then see a movie right after or stop by for a snack after the show. During its heyday, the popular Pig ‘N Whistle hosted many Hollywood greats from Spencer Tracy to Shirley Temple.

Unfortunately, both burgeoning businesses fell victim to hard times and eventually closed. The buildings themselves fell to ruin. During the last fifteen years, however, multi-million dollar renovations occurred and both the Egyptian and The Pig ‘N Whistle are once again open to the public. So if you are in the area visiting Grauman’s most famous of theaters, The Chinese, take a stroll down the block and have a bite at The Pig ‘N Whistle before you drop in to see the Egyptian.

* * * *

(Photo at left is from 1989, when the Pig 'N Whistle was a Numero Uno pizza place. Color photo shows the restoration of the sunburst over the movie screen, from the Eqyptian Theater's website.)

Thanks so much, Deb!  Debra Ann Pawlak's new book, Bringing Up Oscar: The Story of the Men and Women Who Founded the Academy, will be out next month, and can be pre-ordered on Amazon by following the link on the title. You can also follow her Hollywood: Tales from Tinseltown  Facebook page and read updates on early Hollywood trivia and gossip.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Miraleste Intermediate School Mosaic

Today's mosaic is at another Palos Verdes school: Miraleste Intermediate in Rancho Palos Verdes. And it's probably the last PV school mosaic that I'll do, because I've been to most of the schools in the district and I think I've found them all (famous last words. Please correct me.)

The mosaic's design was laid out on Photoshop a year ago by art teacher Geoff Guerrero. He & his students worked on it for one trimester, and a few 8th graders completed the work before the end of the school. Guerrero calls the 8th graders his crew: he would give them instructions every morning about breaking tile, setting tile, and all the other tasks they had to do, then send them off.

The benches in the picture give some perspective; this is a big mosaic.

And although its not a mosaic, I'm posting a picture of another art project that Guerrero designed. They were initially plain old gray columns that Guerrero walked by each day, thinking, "Gosh, these would be great if they were painted." So he put together a proposal, got funding, and voila.

Miraleste Intermediate was once Miraleste High School, so it's got a "very expansive, beautiful campus," as Guerrero describes it. "The columns are really one of my favorites...they're like big, minimalist sculpture pieces."

Guerrero was named an Educator of the Year last month for his own positive energy and contributions.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Culver Hotel

The six-story Culver Hotel opened in early September of  1924. A celebratory crowd of 8000 attended the grand opening, according to the Los Angeles Times. The mayor of Culver City proclaimed a half-day holiday for city workers so that they could partake of free refreshments and dancing.

A combination of hotel and office building, the first two floors of the building were originally occupied by the Henry H. Culver Company, although a lobby was set aside for the use of the Hunt Hotel, which took up the other four floors. The hotel had 150 rooms and 50 single apartment units. AND EACH ROOM HAD A RADIO! Wowwee!

There is a rumor that the Culver Hotel was once a trysting place. Up to the late 1950s, supposedly a six-foot-high secret tunnel ran under Main Street from the old RKO Studio lot directly to the hotel, for the use of prostitutes and their partners.

Another rumor--this one on Wikipedia--says that Charlie Chaplin partnered with Mr. Culver in building the hotel. Not only that, but supposedly Chaplin lost his share of the building to John Wayne in a poker game. Now really.

Of course, the really wild stories revolve around the Culver Hotel's role as home to the 124 actors who played Munchkins during the filming of the Wizard of Oz in the late 1930s.

This picture shows a small display right outside the hotel's entrance. Here's a link to photos of "The Munchkins Return" on the Beyond the Rainbow site. In 1997, then-owner Rudy Hu hosted a get-together of the remaining Munchkins at the hotel.

Snopes debunks a recent rumor of a munchkin suicide on the set during the filming, and says that the stories of wild partying are exaggerated. Dunno. Apparently, during the reunion in 1997, the munchkins recorded their reminiscences for the local historical society. Bet that's an interesting tale!

The decades between the filming and the return were largely seedy ones for the hotel. It was allowed to deteriorate--along with the surrounding neighborhood--until a movement in the 1970s eventually led to urban renewal and rennovation. It's lovely now, though there never seems to be enough room in restaurants or lounge for the parties hosted there.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Lovely View in the Far South of LA County

Except for the giant corrugated pipe, you'd never know you were in LA, would you? Or even in the 21st century? A path to this viewing spot and a fairly steep, rough path leading down for an even better view, runs unannounced and unsigned, right next to a multi-million dollar estate in Palos Verdes, on Paseo del Mar. This is what the big bucks buy--views like this. I think that's a good investment, myself.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Seasonal Decorations at the Biltmore

First, the exit from the old lobby. In ye olden days--1923 and on up to the late 1980s--guests entered the Biltmore from 5th Street, and after registering they crossed the lobby and went up a short flight of stairs. See all the ribbons and lights and greenery? The stairway is just beyond, coming up from either side.

At the top--through this doorway--is a long hallway with doorways leading into fabled places like the Crystal Ballroom or the Emerald Room. Also along the hallway are wonderful blown-up black-and-white pictures of the past 50 years, including one of the opening night party in 1923.

BTW, the ceiling is not wood (I didn't know that; maybe every other Angeleno does). The ceilings are plaster, painted to look like wood. Much easier to maintain, and no worries about termites!

This lovely room is the current lobby. It used to be the Music Room. It was also the room featured in Ghostbusters, where our heroes cornered their first (I think) weiner-eating ghost. Not New York, but right here at the Biltmore.

The counter for guests is just to the right, out of this picture (which isn't such a great picture, I admit. The hotel website has pictures, but I'm not too crazy about them either.)

Anyway, I've been so busy that I haven't posted to this website as I should, but I did get to go to the Biltmore a few days ago, it's gorgeous (duh!) and if the pictures don't do it justice...well, heck, go there in person and get an eyeful! The LA Conservancy does tours of the building every Sunday!

Monday, December 6, 2010

School Mosaic: Lunada Bay Elementary

This five-by-nine foot mosaic represents about 360 hours of work by Girl Scout Troop 603, during the 2005-2006 school year. The girls worked in two-hour shifts on weekends and evenings to piece together the tile mosaic. The completed artwork got the troop a Bronze Award, the highest honor that Girl Scouts of that age (juniors) can earn.

Why China? Lunada Bay Elementary is one of several Palos Verdes Peninsula schools that teaches Chinese language and culture to kids. The panda in the center represents China, of course, and the dolphin is the mascot of Lunada Bay Elementary--in fact, the second photo shows a sculpture of dolphins outside the school.

Parents say the fifth-grade girls designed the mosaic themselves. The Chinese character for "Friendship" is in there, between the two animals that share the earth. Each student made a tile with their own names in both English and Chinese.

As for the other tiles--the girls cracked them with their own hammers, cut and fitted and glued them in place. And to me--bearing in mind that I am not an artist--it looks fantastic.