Friday, June 28, 2013

Consider the Sparrows . . .

... which I never did as a kid.

These pictures were taken at the house that once belonged to my grandmother, back in the 60s. I don't remember black-throated sparrows back then, just anonymous little gray-brown birds that we ignored.

But look at the rich colors of these birds! They are gorgeous. I don't know how I could've ignored them.

Of course, the black-throated sparrows might be a far more recent colony, not descendants of the birds that flitted around when I was grammar-school age.

These sparrows live in a veritable bird-condo: two rather short but full cedar (or cedar-like; I know even less about identifying flora than I do about fauna) bushes in a neighbors' yard, right next to the cinder block fence. As at left.

There are dozens hidden in those dense branches. They usually come out and go in one or two at a time, but sometimes ten at once will burst out and zoom across the yard like little bullets, to land on an eave and chitter.

This guy cooled off in a wading pool--quite sensibly, if you ask me. So he's nice and wet.

This has very little to do with the history of Los Angeles, I suppose, because sparrows rarely figure in the history of big cities and counties. But it's the best I can do on a hot day, and I write that without apology.

Go sparrows!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Beverly Hills Mosaic Re-Installed

"This month, for the first time in thirty years, a Millard Sheets mosaic is being installed."


So begins a KCET Departures editorial by guest author Adam Arenson--a name familiar to anyone interested in mosaics in Los Angeles, as he's the expert on Millard Sheets.

"This month" referred to April, so the installation is old news--but who cares?

Originally installed along a motor court (is that a fancy word for parking lot?) at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in 1971, it honors both the old Camino Real and the spirit of hospitality inherent in the phrase "Mi casa es su casa," which Sheets said was his theme.

The mosaic was carefully removed in 1987 and donated to the city of Beverly Hills, according to Arenson's article. And after 25 years in storage, it now ornaments the parking structure of the Beverly Hills Civic Center, so visitors to the library or Kelly's Coffee can enjoy it.

I am indebted to Flo Selfman for the pictures. Flo is president of IWOSC--the Independent Writers of Southern California, and knows of my interest in LA History, so she sent these to me.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

State of the Art Recording--1940

Courtesy of, here is a 1940 photo of Artie Shaw and Lana Turner in their Beverly Hills home. The caption reads: "Lana Turner and Artie Shaw with audio recording system in their Beverly Hills Home." Possibly rehearsing a movie script. Photo by Earl Theisen for the Look magazine article "Lana Turner and Artie Shaw at Home."

Shorpy has been running a lot of Look photos lately, and I think it's because the Library of Congress has received or at least revealed a huge cache of them on its website. Lots of shots from the 40s and 50s of celebs at home and on the set.

My mom had a suit very much like this; I've got a picture of her in it when she visited my dad at a Colorado Army base in 1942.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Gentleman and a Mosaicist: Hanns Scharff's Eagle at USC

How is it Monday again? I'm not ready!

But I do have this fabulous mosaic I learned of last week, at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The mosaic is thirty feet in diameter, and was installed in the lobby by Hanns Joachim Scharff, I think in the early 1980s--just after a new wing was built to house the new Annenberg Center.

Mr. Scharff has a fascinating background: during World War II he served as an interrogator for the Luftwaffe, interviewing Americans who had been imprisoned or shot down in Germany. But he is remembered as a civilized gentleman, not one who made threats or indulged in scare tactics.

After the war, he worked with the US Air Force on survival techniques for pilots who were shot down. There's even a book on him by Raymond Tolliver: The Interrogator: The Story of Hanns Joachim Scharff, Master Interrogator of the Luftwaffe (Schiffer Military History). Now how many mosaicists can you report that of?

Scharff was held as a POW at the end of the war--by the Soviets. Since he faced being shipped off to Siberia and hard labor, American officers helped his escape from Soviet section of Germany and he became an interpreter, working for the US. The family's ancestral home, where Scharff was raised in the 1930s, wound up in East Germany and the Scharffs lost their estate.

His first big commission in Los Angeles came in 1955, when Nieman Marcus showed his mosaics in their store. Sharff moved here the next year.

Today, his studio is called Scharff and Scharff, and his partner is his daughter-in-law, Monika Scharff.