Monday, March 31, 2014

Woodie Guthrie's Los Angeles

" . . . the lights of Los Angeles jumped up, running from north to south as far as I could see, and hanging around on the hills and mountains just as if it was level ground. Red and green neon flickering for eats, sleeps, sprees, salvation, money made, lent, blowed, spent. There was an electric sign for dirty clothes, clean clothes, honky tonky tonks, no clothes, floor shows, gyp-joints, furniture in and out of homes."

That was Woody Guthrie's first impression of Los Angeles after hitchhiking into town in the late 1930s. He wrote those words in Bound for Glory, his 1943 memoir.

A few pages later in the book, he comes back to LA. By now he's got a guitar and is a bit less penniless than when he first breezed through. His book leaves out a lot and is hard to fit to dates, but it's so wonderful to read you just don't care.

He had a radio show here in Los Angeles, at station KFVD. The picture to the right shows his on-air partner Lefty Lou (Maxine Crissman).

So here's what Guthrie says about Los Angeles in December of 1941, down along "old Fifth and Main:"

"Skid Row, one of the skiddiest of all Skid Rows. God, what a wet and windy night! And the clouds swung low and split up like herds of wild horses in the canyons of the street."

Woody hooked up with another guitar player whom he calls the Cisco Kid in the book--I think that's Cisco Houston. "We moved along the Skid looking in at the bars and taverns, listening to neon signs sputter and crackle, and on the lookout for a gang of live ones. The old splotchy plate-glass windows looked too dirty for the hard rain ever to wash clean. Old doors and dumps and cubbyholes had a sickly pale color about them, and men and women bosses and workhands bumped around inside and talked back and forth to each other. Some soggy-smelling news stands tried to keep their fronts open and sell horse-race tips and sheets to the people ducking head-down in the rain, and pool halls stunk to high heaven with tobacco smoke, spit and piles of dirty men yelling over their bets. Hock-shop windows all piled and hanging full of every article known to man, and hocked there by the men that needed them most; tools, shovels, carpenter kits, paint sets, compasses, brass faucets, plumbers tools, saws, axes, big watches that hadn't run since the last war, and canvas tents and bedrolls taken from the fruit tramps. Coffee joints, slippery stool dives, hash counters with open fronts was lined with men swallowing and chewing and hoping the rain would wash something like a job down along the Skid. The garbage is along the street stones and the curbing, a shale and a slush that washes down the hill from the nicer parts of town, the papers crumpled and rotten, the straw, manure, and silt, that comes down from the high places, like the Cisco Kid and me, and like several thousand other rounders, to land and to clog, and to get caught along the Skid Row."

The picture of Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston on the left came from a memorial website to Houston, who died at age 42.

Here's how Woody described the people on the Skid:

"Movie people, hoss wranglers, dead enders, stew bums; stealers, dealers, sidewalk spielers; con men, sly flies, flat foots, reefer riders; dopers, smokers, boiler stokers; sailors, whalers, bar flies, brass railers; spittoon tuners, fruit-tree pruners; cobbers, spiders, three-way riders; honest people, fakes, vamps and bleeders; saviors, saved, and sidestreet singers; whore-house hunters, door-bell ringers; footloosers, rod riders, caboosers, outsiders; honky tonk and whiskey setters; tight-wads, spendthrifts, race-horse betters; blackmailers, gin soaks, corners, goers; good girls, bad girls, teasers, whores; buskers, corn huskers, dust bowlers, dust panners; waddlers, toddlers, dose packers, syph carriers; money men, honey men, sad men, funny men; ramblers, gamblers, highway anklers; cowards, brave guys, stools and snitches; nice people, bastards, sonsabitches; fair square, and honest folks; low, sneaking greedy people, and somewhere, in amongst all of these Skid Row skidders--Cisco and me sun for our chips."

Over the next few pages, Guthrie tells how he and Cisco sang in a place called The Ace High, next door to the Imperial Saloon. They sing for sailors and soldiers, until one drunk--who tried to enlist but was rejected--decides he wants to beat up all the Japanese in Los Angeles. The owners of the Imperial Saloon are Japanese, so that leads to a street brawl, with Woody, Cisco, and most of the sailors lining up to protect the place. It's colorful and maybe it really happened.

Woody's adventure never made the Los Angeles Times (I checked) but I doubt that reporters were hanging out in that neighborhood on a rainy night.

Bound for Glory is an incredible, heartbreaking read. It's not at all what I expected, which is what most 21st century reviews of it say. The book is a doorway to your parents' or grandparents' world, which was a lot more ugly and bitter than they ever let on.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Charles Phoenix' Mosaic

Today's mosaic is from a Facebook post by Charles Phoenix:

He bought this in the early 80s for $60 in Ontario, CA--close enough to Los Angeles!

If you are at all interested in mid-century kitsch and food, Boomer trivia, Googie buildings, Tiki restaurants, or anything along that line, you probably know about Charles Phoenix (and if not, pay attention!) His slide shows and talks are the stuff of legend. And he has written books, filled with pictures and funky facts.

So now you have his website and can check him out, or follow him on Facebook where he posts pictures daily that will delight and surprise you.

Afraid I don't know any more about this mosaic other than the fact it was bought and is now in Chez Phoenix.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Storybook Cottages on Gower

Curbed LA link has already announced this, but I'll jump on the bandwagon too. After all, I blogged Monday about new housing on Gower.

"A bungalow court containing four cottages done in Storybook style, which was somewhat the local rage back in 1921 when owner-architect Charles B. Bell designed and built the first bungalow and when contractors Burrell & Hamrick constructed the other three in 1923." That's how Curbed LA describes the cottages at 2494 Gower, in Beachwood Canyon. And that site has a wonderful history of why and how these cottages were built the way they were, and why the Hollywood real estate market back then was so whimsical. Go read, it's fun.

The four cottages were approved for historical-cultural landmark status in December, according to the Los Feliz Ledger, from whence this picture hails. And LA Curbed cites the fact that only 42 bungalow courts out of 100 that stood in 1955 still remain in 2008's Hollywood. "And of those, only 26 were fully intact."

Reading the story, I wondered if the builders ever intended these little homes to withstand eighty or ninety years of occupancy. Probably not. The entire area was so new back then, who could have predicted a crowded metropolis like today's?

But the real story has a happy ending, and the LA Curbed article has several pictures of other storybook-style bungalows in the area.


KPCC--no doubt inspired by the same Curbed LA link that got me going--put up a small feature on Storybook Homes, and it turns out there's a book on them by Arrol Gellner, with photography by one Douglas Keister (yes, I am giggling. I have the mind of an 11-year-old). Here is the link to Amazon:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Villas at Gower Mosaics

Today's mosaics were built by Piece-by-Piece, an organization founded to give the homeless and inner-city poor some supplemental income. It quickly became much more. Professional artists and art teachers come in and lead workshops, training folks young and old in mosaic arts, and many of those students are now selling their own creations.

The art focuses on recyclable projects, and there are plans to expand classes to include other art forms, not just mosaics.

The site of today's mosaic is the Villas at Gower--an apartment building conceived and raised as transitional housing for at-risk youth and families--the kind of place you'd expect to be seriously ugly. But of course it's not.

So when the chance came to create mosaic art to adorn the Villas at Gower in Hollywood, an element of synchroncity was in play. Here was an opportunity for the freshly-trained artists, some of them recently homeless themselves, to work on a big project that benefited at-risk youth and adults--some of whom were also recently homeless.

The picture below left (down a bit) shows the artwork--vines with leaves, bolted to the building. The leaves are actually mosaics of flowers--the photo left shows them being assembled at Piece by Piece.

Most of these pictures came from the Piece by Piece blog and website.

Instructors / artists Luz Mack Durini and Dawn Mendelson laid out the design and others contributed to fine-tune it. It took a year of paperwork before fabrication of the mosaics could even begin, but once the work started the team of mosaicists came in twice a week to assemble the pieces.

The 3-D leaves started with high-density foam shapes, reinforced by a skeleton and covered with layers of concrete and fiberglass mesh.Sculptor Sherri Warner Hunter designed all that, and helped students work with the shapes, and artist Matt Doolin of Topanga Art Tile came in to demonstrate how to make delicate-looking flower petals from clay.

In the end, over 15,000 bits of ceramic were hand cut and used. Piece by Piece then worked with the builders and specialists who bolted the vines and leaves into place.

The building itself as well as the art project was originally funded by the California Hollywood Redevelopment Agency, but that went bye-bye. PATH Ventures and A Community of Friends stepped in as the developers. PATH Ventures is now the lead service provider for the buildings' occupants, which means they are not only the managers but also coordinate outreach, volunteers, medical & dental services, employment and training--the works.

The Villas at Gower opened in 2012 and offers over 70 apartments, from studios to suites, to families and individuals who are either homeless or have special needs, and whose income falls far, far below the median income of the area. The building features lots of areas designed to foster community--brightly lit community rooms, and enclosed patios where the mosaics are visible.

The LEED-platinum certified building was built by KFA (Killefer Flammang Architects) a firm specializing in public buildings, and the picture  below came from their website. The cost of this project was $20 million.

By an odd coincidence, they also built apartments in Los Angeles with the name of "Mosaic," but those do not have mosaics on them.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Mixed Bag of Announcements

Here are a few things worth noting:

First, one of the books featured here has just won another award--actually, two awards. Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West by Craig Harwood received Honorable Mention in the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Festival Awards and came FIRST in the Great Southwest Best Festival, Regional Lit cateogory.

Not too shabby!

Second, LAVA--the Los Angeles Visionaries Association--will have another FREE Sunday Salon with featured speakers, followed by a downtown walking tour, on March 30.

  • The first speaker, Tom Sitton, takes the stage at noon to talk about LA County government from 1850 on, and some of the problems that still plague the county today.

  • Next speaker (at around 1) will be Kim Cooper, co-founder of LAVA and author of The Kept Girl, a novel based on a 1929 cult killing spree with links to Raymond Chandler. Artist Paul Rogers will be on hand to discuss the cover art, too.

The Sunday Salons are fascinating and take place on the Mezzanine of the Les Noces de Figaro on Broadway downtown, so you can enjoy macarons and cafe au lait or a full-on meal while you listen. You don't have to feel guilty because you will walk afterwards, learning a segment of downtown history. But you DO have to rsvp for the walk. LAVA is very strict about that.

Thirdly, the DaCamera Society presents all sorts of concerts at historic LA venues, like the April 2nd Glass Harmonica concert. Come on--you've always wanted to see a glass harmonica in action, haven't you? The instrument was invented by Benjamin Franklin, and yes, I did know that, even though it's printed on the Press Release. The location is an 80-year-old private club downtown which must remain a secret until you buy your tickets!

Also upcoming from the Society is the April 26th concert at the Doheny Mansion, featuring Brazilian artiste Heloisa Fernandez on jazz piano. The concert will take place in the Pompeian Room, under the golden glass Tiffany dome.

Monday, March 10, 2014

More Mosaics in Lomita

The Summer Studios Art Academy in Lomita has a new mosaic. Two new mosaics, actually. This photo, taken at an angle,highlights the textures and found objects (a beer bottle, for example) that were part of the design.

The mosaic was started late last summer, when the Academy learned the "old" mosaic that was mounted on the front of the building on Lomita Blvd had been bought. (Details at the end of this post.)

Like the first one, these mosaics were constructed as a community project led by the talented Betty Rosen Ziff of Mosaic Alchemy and David Parsons of the Summer Studios.

Also like the first one, the longer you look at the artwork, the more you see. Anemones, jelly fish, sea urchins, toothy fishes, sand dollars, starfish, minnows, and more.

Betty Rosen Ziff writes, "This mural is dedicated to the late Bob Meistrell who founded BODY GLOVE. And, there is a fused glass diver by Lyn Chin in the mural to pay him homage."

I found the diver--on the left! And of course, lower right there is an amber beer bottle, ubiquitous in our waters.

The Summer Studios offers art classes in everything from pottery and mosaic to jewelry making and creative writing. They sell art supplies as well, and rent out performance space.

The Studio also hosts free once-a-month Art Jams on the 4th Friday of every month for the community--and by community, they mean the entire South Bay, not just Lomita. Music, poetry, and art are all on display. The next one is March 28, and since the theme is Water, I suspect that this mosaic will be prominently featured (it hangs outside the building now, facing Lomita Blvd.)

By the way, there's also a mosaic on the east side of the building. You can't see it unless you're driving west on Lomita. This one represents the Mojave Desert.

*The "old" mosaic, which had a train engine in the center--featured in its own 2010 post has moved to UCLA Harbor General Hospital. David Parsons--a professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills--and Betty Rosen Ziff of Mosaic Alchemy, lead a team of community volunteers to create that lovely piece, titled "South Bay Shines a Light." An anonymous donor purchased it for the new entrance of the hospital's emergency room.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

White Point and Royal Palms

There are three versions of how White Point got its name:

  • First, a sailor named White jumped ship and swam to shore here.

  • Second, the cliffs are pretty pale, and from the sea they looked white to sailors aboard ships.

  • Third, the name honors State Senator Stephen White, (1853-1901, who fought to get the deep water harbor in San Pedro.

Who knows the truth? No one I've met. Here's what we do know:

The entire area was once part of the Rancho Los Palos Verdes, owned by the Sepulvedas. Basically, it was a cattle ranch.

But everyone--the Native Americans, the Spanish, the Sepulvedas, and local farmers and fishermen, knew the entire coast, including White Point, as a great place to dive for abalone. That's one on the right. I did not know that the wholes in the iridescent shell (well, the underside is iridescent) were for the tentacles to poke through.

By 1895, a dozen Japanese fishermen had established a home base for their abalone harvesting and canning business at White Point. They harvested abalone all the way north to Santa Cruz and out to Catalina island, but their processing plant (actually, a shed) was at White Point, on what is today the White Point Nature Preserve. The men rented it and their homes from RĂ¡mon Sepulveda, son of the original Rancho owner. Some sites and books refer to him as Roman Sepulveda.

Right about the time the abalone business venture petered out--partly due to over-harvesting--a natural sulfur spring was discovered at White Point. Sepulveda collaborated with two of the Japanese entrepreneurs, Tamiji and Tojuro Tagami, and built a two-story hotel and recreation center at White Point, down on the beach.

So about 100 years ago, the hot springs was developed and roads were dug out and graded. Another man, Mitsuo Endo, anchored a fishing barge over the kelp beds offshore. He built a pier and ferried fishermen out to sea on power boats. And Sepulveda put in the fireplaces and benches made of local stone, and had a grove of palm trees planted to border his terrazzo dance floor. Have no doubt; this was a fancy place.

This photo of the palms in udated and comes from the Water and Power Associates site--you can spend hours there looking at old photos of the harbor area. I did.

All of the facilities, including the concrete fountain that still stands today, were down at the beach. And the fountain was surrounded by a beautiful, lush garden.

Today, the upper level of Royal Palms Park offers terrific views, with a picnic area, playground, benches, and a path along the cliff. On a clear day you can see Catalina; I've seen whales heading south as well. Gulls and pelicans soar by. Below you are the cliffs, rocks, and tide pools of the lower level. The fountain from the beach sits above now, hauled up a few decades ago.

At the lower level, you can walk along the beach. Time your visit for when the tide is out and you'll be able to examine tide pools without getting wet. On the other hand, maybe you want to get wet. Divers come here, but because of the rocks the most popular time for diving is high tide.

In winter, this place is great. Summer can be a bit crowded.

At the lower level, you can walk along the beach. Time your visit for when the tide is out and you'll be able to examine tide pools without getting wet. On the other hand, maybe you want to get wet. Divers come here, but because of the rocks the most popular time for diving is high tide.

In winter, this place is great. Summer can be a bit crowded.

The area in front of you and on your left as you come down the driveway is considered White Point Beach. That's pretty much the first picture in this post. To the right is the Royal Palms area (the picture to the left) where the remains of the 20th century resort exist: stone benches, fireplaces, and some foundations.

By 1925, judging by pictures, the Royal Palms complex included a restaurant (but Prohibition was in force so no bar!), bath house, private salt water swimming pools cased in concrete, and an enclosed boating area along with the hotel. The Taguros managed the place, but by law--since they were Asian--they could not become citizens or own land.

You can learn much more about the Japanese entrepreneurs at White Point at Five Views: An Ethnic Heritage, which is where I found the picture below right, showing the original fountain in relation to the hotel.

You can see more old pictures at this Daily Breeze blog post.

Nature interfered with the resort. In 1928, a huge storm damaged the concrete under the swimming pools, and the 1933 Long Beach earthquake shifted the ground and blocked off the hot spring. The resort foundered during the Depression, then closed down in the late 1930s.

And in February 1942, just a couple of months after the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the US into the war, all of the ethnic Japanese who farmed and worked in the area were rounded up and taken to internment camps, losing everything.  White Point itself was absorbed into Fort MacArthur and fortified.

After the war, my history is a bit sketchy. I've read that the Hedley family leased the property and used it for beachcombing. I welcome corrections and/or affirmations.

The State of California took the area over in 1960 and made it a State Beach with management provided by the Los Angeles City and County. In 1982, the fountain from the Royal Palms Recreation Center was moved to the upper level were it stands today.

In 1995, the state gave the Royal Palms land to the county. Some sites still refer to it as a State Beach, but Los Angeles County is the actual owner. 

Parking can be a bear on the lower level. The powers that be charge whatever they feel like charging. Boo! 

You can park at the Nature Preserve or on Paseo Del Mar for free if you're willing to walk down, and then back up, the access road.

A point of interest: since 2011 Paseo Del Mar ends just a few feet beyond White Point because of the land slide that took a chunk of road away. Here is the most recent news I could find about that--from December of last year. Ironically, it's from a Northern California newspaper.

Let's hope this latest soaking doesn't weaken hillsides or roads further.