Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What is this Bird?

Any birders out there?

Last year I had hummingbirds in this tree, right where I could see 'em. This year, different birds have made their home in the tree, but on the far side, where I can't see.

Until today, when this tweetie pie posed for about ten minutes right in front of my window. He or she displayed profile views, the whole bit, while downing a couple of the berries of this laurel tree--until I got my camera.

I'm pretty sure this is a juvenile, but what kind?

The tail is short and a beautiful, deep medium ruddy brown, a very solid color just like the back. The bird has an eye ring that doesn't show well in these pictures, and its belly is gray. The beak seems to be black, but close to the face it's pale.

I think it might be a thrush, but I'm not sure.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Al Jolson Monument Mosaic

Today's mosaic is at Hillside Memorial Park, right off the 405 in Culver City.

If I had a dime for every driver since 1951 who nodded to the rotunda and waterfall and said, "That's where Al Jolson is buried," I'd probably have close to the $84,000 released from the estate to build the memorial itself.

Al Jolson died unexpectedly. Although he was in his 60s, he'd recently married a pretty young wife. They'd adopted a little boy, Asa, and were in the process of adopting baby Alecia when he passed. His career was on the upswing again--of that, he said, “This was no come-back, I just couldn’t get a job.”

Jolson left a million-dollar trust fund to his widow, half a mil to each of the babies, and the rest of his estate went to charities.

He actually did not provide for the memorial himself. His widow hired an attorney to petition the courts to release the money to build the pillared rotunda with its mosaic (which you can only see while standing underneath and looking up), the sarcophagus, and the statue. That was $75,000, and the land--purchased from the cemetery, was another $9000.

Hillside agreed to build the 120-ft cascade of water and the pool at their own expense. Apparently the plans were all made between the time Jolson died, in October 1950, and the court approval, February 1951. The memorial was dedicated that September, and Jack Benny read a eulogy.

Do not know who the mosaic artist was, but the cracks in the mosaic are real. They show up in my photos, and in others around the internet.

This last picture is from Hillside's own website, and I guess I could include the waterfall as a mosaic as well. The entire memorial was designed by Paul R. Williams.
You can see more photos of the monument here, at the Al Jolson Memorial Shrine Page of the Paul Williams Project.

Williams designed many famous LA buildings: The Beverly Hills Hotel, the Beverly Wilshire, First AME Church, Golden State Mutual Life Insurance, buildings at UCLA, and hundreds of homes. He was known as "the architect to the stars."

Paul Williams was brought into the Jolson project because Hillside was already in discussions with him about their proposed mausoleum--which Williams designed the same year. Harry Groman, one of the owners of Hillside, felt that Williams not only had the experience, but shared his aesthetic sense of what the mausoleum should be: a place full of natural light and gentle curves, where contemplation was encouraged.

It really is a beautiful place, and everyone should go see it. It strikes me that most of us never take advantage of the fact that cemeteries offer free parking and access to some of the most beautiful and serene landscapes around. Walking around the mausoleum to look for celebrity graves is fun, but just sitting there and enjoying the peaceful solitude is reason enough to visit.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sequoia Tribe Wigwam

A friend wished me Happy IPDP Day on Thursday (meaning Indigenous People Discover Pilgrims). And in the convoluted way we all think, that made me remember this picture I took a couple of years ago.

This is the San Pedro Lodge of the Improved Order of Red Men, a group that claims descent from the Sons of Liberty of pre-Revolutionary War days. (Remember the Sons of Liberty from history class? They're the guys that brought you the Boston Tea Party.)

Like all fraternal lodges, they do good work--in this case, raising funds for Alzheimer research. This local branch--the Sequoia Tribe--also hosts drives to collect canned food and toys for food banks and other groups. Their social events revolve around holidays like St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo, and those are open to the public.

Like all good lodges, they were once men-only but now have a group for ladies: the Degree of Pocahontas.

And of course, they create a place for people to come and socialize. I happen to think that's a noble achievement in the 21st century.

The Improved Order of Red Men is a very patriotic organization--most of their beliefs (on their website) center around love of country, freedom, and democracy. Their motto is "Freedom, Friendship, and Charity." Drawing on the connection to the Sons of Liberty, the Improved Order of Red Men claim that George Washington, Paul Revere, and Samuel Adams (the patriot, not the brewmeister) were some of the group's first Sachems.

So why that name? They claim their customs, rituals, and terminology (their leaders are called Sachems, for instance, and as the picture indicates, their meeting halls are Wigwam Lodges) are patterned after early Native Americans. And they hint at regalia for certain ceremonies.

I intended to look up this intriguing group from the time I took this picture, and never quite got around to it. San Pedro's free monthly magazine, San Pedro Today, did the research for me in their November issue. Thank you! (They've taken their website down for reconstruction for a few days, but after December 1, 2011, you should be able to find them here.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

More Green Hills Mosaics

Today's mosaics are found at Green Hills Cemetery in Rancho Palos Verdes.

I blogged about the World War II Monument and mosaics here a few weeks ago. These flower mosaics run along the south side of the cemetery, closer to where the old chapel of St. Peter's is being reassembled.
These crypts--at least the top ones--are little mini-crypts that hold ashes and cremated remains. They're too high up to be decorated with flowers, so the idea was to install the flower mosaic as a permanent tribute.
There are actually four sets of these flower mosaics, each a little different. Here's a close-up of one tiny section, so the mosaic work can be seen. Like at the World War II monument, no grout shows, and the tiles are all small rectangles with a more matte finish--as opposed to being glassy and shiny.

Green Hills spokesman Ray Frew told me that they went through the International Cemetery Association to find their mosaic artist: Cheryl Neuberger of Florida. Now it never occurred to me that (a) institutions would look for artists through such an association, and (b) that picking an artist 3000 miles away would make good business sense. But that's what happened.
I don't know if the artist advertised with the Association or was recommended by another member. But I love the idea of artists advertising in membership newsletters, maybe sandwiched in between coffin suppliers and stonemasons.
Sadly, Cheryl Neuberger died unexpectedly after these mosaics were completed, and I could not find more references to her work.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Millard Sheets Tour This Spring

The Los Angeles Conservancy has announced a date and put up a page for its "Millard Sheets: A Legacy of Art and Architecture" tour: March 18, 2012.

The tour will focus on Claremont and Pomona sites. Wonder if Mr. Sheets' old office will be open?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mosaics at Holy Cross

I've been looking forward to seeing this famous artwork at Holy Cross Cemetery, which is on display at the Holy Cross link and at right. The pictures, this and two smaller pieces, were created by famed artist Isabel Piczek.

I've blogged about her work before. She and her sister Edith are well-known in both Catholic and artistic circles for the pictures they've created on three continents.

So I get to the cemetery in Culver City (remember when it used to be so visible from the 405?), drive to the mausoleum on the hill, park, and finally I can view the stylized, 1300-square-foot artwork first from afar, then up close. Because the way the mausoleum is designed, you can walk right up to it and lay your hand on its flat, painted acrylic resin surface...

...Holy chimera, Batman! Those aren't mosaics!

They're murals...by a famous mosaicist. Stunning murals, but not mosaics.

The mural above contains (according to Holy Cross's brochure) the Complete Theology of the Resurrection--the RISEN CHRIST, the Descent to Sheol and the Ascent.

The descent to Sheol (the gates of hell) is on the left, and his ascent into heaven is on the right, so actually there are three Christ figures in the painting. Also represented are Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, and more.

Well, I looked around, and found some mosaics--in a more primitive style--which I think complement the ultra modern (by 20th century standards) mural quite well. These small mosaics represent the stations of the cross. They look to be about 14-16 inches square, but they're way up high so I can't be sure.

The one at top must be "Jesus meets the woman of Jerusalem." Below that, as he carries his cross, I can't be sure of the station. Sorry!

I'm just really glad the pictures came out. My little Kodak Easy Share really performed like a champion.

Holy Cross produces five pages of text about the symbolism and history of these murals, but not one word about the mosaics. No idea who the artist was (I did ask).

I include the station number (Nine) on the picture on the right to show that I did not rotate the picture. This mosaic shows Jesus falling for the third time.

To Catholic school veterans like myself, these pictures and their titles will bring back memories of the once-a-week trek to church to perform the Stations of the Cross during Lent. The idea, of course, is to learn to appreciate the pain and suffering endured as Christ carried his cross up the hill to be crucified, but I think most school kids are too busy passing notes (or texting, today) and giggling about how funny the priest sounds when he sings (yes, there is musical accompaniment to the Stations of the Cross) to fully absorb the deeper lessons.

Friday, November 11, 2011


So what was going on the last 11-11-11: November 11, 1911? It was NOT Veteran's Day, or even Armistice Day as my Grandma used to call it. That date memorialized the end of WWI, still several years in the future.

Good ol' Proquest tells me that a land and building boom was going on in 1911. During the first ten days of the month, 434 building permits were issued--aincluding a permit for the Times Building.

On November 11, the last piece of undeveloped shoreline in Santa Monica, starting at Idaho Ave and going north--about 4500 feet, was sold at about $225,000.

The Valdemar Hotel at 6th and Hope was leased for ten years to a lady named Lillie K. Simpers for $60,000--that included furniture. Thirty-six rooms had just been added to the property (don't know how big it was before the addition.)

A huge storm paralyzed the rest of the country. "Train service is demoralized and both telegraphic and telephonic communications are seriously interfered with." So much for the old rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition.

And Altadena put forward a plan to become the first and only U.S. city to elect only women to office. Could not find any follow up to this article, so perhaps it was joke.

Much more stuff happened, but quite honestly some parts of the ancient newspaper are just impossible to read, so they'll have to go unreported.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Witches House Mosaics

It's a little late for Halloween, but the Witches House in Beverly Hills is full of mosaics!
Mostly cracked tile mosaics, from the pool outside to the bathrooms and even the wall behind the owner, who is featured in this Channel 7 ABC video:

Between the Seeing Stars site and Wikipedia, I've learned this: The house was built in Culver City in 1921 by a studio art director, Harry Oliver, and in fact was used for several silent films before being moved to Beverly Hills in 1934. (Oliver designed the Tam O'Shanter in LA.)

The house served as a funky office building and dressing rooms for Irving Willat's film company--the black and white picture is from that period, 1921. I think the "Face of the World" must be a movie title, though I sure don't see it on imdb.

The Spadena family bought the house and moved it Beverly Hills, so the house is often called The Spadena House. You can see it in the background of the movie Clueless.

The current owner of the Witch House, Michael Libow (he's in the video) bought it in 1998 and has lovingly restored and revamped it. Wiki says that Libow was the selling agent in 1997 and bought it himself when every other potential buyer made clear their desire to tear it down. Libow has worked with a movie art director, Nelson Coates, to create a fantasy home, and mosaics are part of that.

A wonderfully quirky blog--Midnight in the Garden of Evil-- has tons of exterior pictures, because Libow hosted a political fundraiser there once. But no shots of the interior, sadly. One of Midnight's shots hints at the mosaics, though, and I played with the contrast to bring them out a bit. The result is to the right.

But to see the whimsical tree-like mosaics in the bathroom, you'll have to watch the video above.