Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

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USC Libraries has a Twitter Feed!

This photo comes out clear and fine on their site, not so much here--but it's the thought that counts, right?

The writing at the top of the photo says "Ruth Raum, 10-29-52."

The photo reminds me that KPCC yesterday broadcast an interview with Maila Nurmi--VAMPIRA--and R. H. Greene. Here's the link.

Highly entertaining.

Nurmi describes how she fasted on Friday through Saturday, sweated, used papaya powder under a rubber wrap to dissolve away her waist, so that she could fit into the 17-inch-waisted costume for Saturday night. And lots of other nostalgic giggles.

Nurmi passed away in 2008. Her Vampira show went out live in the 1950s, and other than a promotional segment filmed off a TV that was showing it live (in a certain sense of the word), no copies of her show remain. But of course, that just gives us something to look forward to in the afterlife, right? Seeing Vampira in action?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Los Angeles is Off Kilter

A bit of trivia that I would never have figured out, except for D. J. Waldie's essay "L.A.'s Crooked Heart" in the Los Angeles Times of October 24, 2010.

Turns out that downtown area of our city is not strictly aligned to north, south, east, and west. Or rather, it is, but the alignment is deliberately skewed--as you can see in the arial photo from Flickr, taken in 2006 by user KLA4067.

Anyone's who's looke at a good map or aerial view of the downtown area has probably noticed that in that chunk of real estate the streets run crooked, as if they sat on a lazy susan that got wheeled to the right about 36 degrees. Why?

Well, Los Angeles was part of Mexico when it was laid out. Naturally--as Mexico was then part of New Spain--the planners followed the Spanish practice of civic design. As Waldie points out, that's quite different than our usual Jeffersonian grid that follows north, south, etc. In the Spanish world, following laws from the 16th century, streets and homes were laid out at 45 degree angles to the true direction. That way, all homes got sunlight on all sides. It's actually a pretty sweet idea, imho.

However, the Los Angeles River made the 45 degree angle impossible, so in our city center we're 36 degrees off the cardinal directions. We just have to be difficult. Waldie says it wasn't until the 19th century, when LA really boomed, that new streets and neighborhoods were designed to conform to the true compass points--leaving us with the off-kilter downtown.

For those of you who've tossed the Sunday paper, here's the link. With great pictures!

Author D. J. Waldie just contributed the Forward to a book called Los Angeles in Maps by Glen Creason, with essay by others including Dydia DeLyser. Dydia DeLyser, owner of one of the most memorable names in academia, has published work analyzing the layout Bodie (my favorite ghost town), on using Ebay to study historic geography, and--intriguing--Ramona Memories: Tourism and the Shaping of Southern California.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mar Vista Mosaic--a Work In Progress

Today's mosaic decorates the exterior of Grand View Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista. In ten years, it might cover half the wall--who knows?

Any of these photos can be clicked to enlarge. In a weird way, budget cuts are responsible for the mosaic.

Budget cuts have forced the elimination of many arts programs from school schedules, as we all know; this has been going on for years...decades, sadly. Volunteers and financial benefactors have stepped in to try and make up for the cuts.

At Grand View El, a privately-funded group called P.S. Arts visits and involves the 600-ish students in both music and art programs, including this mosaic. The students created the tiles you see here.

P.S. Arts brings its art programs to schools all over Southern California. Some are part of LA Unified, others not--Lawndale, Santa Monica and Malibu all participate. The group is funded by private donations. For example, a huge gift from the Herb Albert Foundation supports the Lawndale school projects and classes. P.S. Arts even has an online store.

There are other programs too, besides music and visual arts. P.S. Arts employs teachers in dance and theater. Schools can choose what would most interest their students. And I suspect that similar organizations exist--Art To Grow On in the L.A. Harbor area comes to mind.

Grand View Avenue Elementary School began working with P.S. Arts sixteen years ago. And though it's not a mosaic, another example of the tile work by students at the bottom of this post sits on a wall in the lunch area. It's a huge display.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Los Angeles Public Library Photos on Facebook

Love this!

Follow "Photo Collection--Los Angeles Public Library" on Facebook (here) to get a daily blast from the past. This lovely shot is their Profile Picture--if I learn more about it I'll post that in a comment.

The site started up last month (September 2010), so the archives are still very scrollable. Lots of early pictures of branch libraries, families frolicking at celebraty pools, the beach, and 1958 Disneyland, etc.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Where Are the Mosaics Hiding?

I've been working in Westchester--Playa Vista--for a week, and I hear there is a quartet of mosaic benches and urns by Marlo Bartels in the area. But I can't find them!

This picture is from a blog on Mr. Bartels website of public art. Hope he doesn't mind. Bartels lives and works in Laguna Beach and has installed colorful mosaic tile benches, wall art, totems and obelisks, steps, pictures, screens, you name it, all over Southern California.

These in Playa Vista are titled "Seachange" and were installed in 2006--but where?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Alexandria Hotel...104 and Still Solid

...though she's had some work.

This is in no way an ad for the micro-loft development that now occupies the Alexandria, though as it resulted from $14 million in renovations, I'm glad of that usage. And the loft website does hint at the hotel's history, with black-and-whites of famous movie stars.

Nope, this post stems from the fact that I found a great book--Out With the Stars: Hollywood Nightlife in the Golden Era,by Jim Heimann--that tracks movie-star hangouts over the years. And from 1909, when the Alexandria was three years young, this was where the film producers and moguls met in the afternoon. According to Charlie Chaplin, who once lived there, the lobby's thick carpet was nicknamed the "million dollar carpet" because of the astronomical amounts of money discussed on it.

The carpet wasn't the only fancy appointment. I found a 1910 Los Angeles Times article titled  "The Looting of Europe"--a report on the return of the hotel's assistant manager after four months abroad. He brought back cases of valuable wine, vases owned by Napoleon, and antique pottery, silver, Persian and Turkish rugs, glassware, and display baskets.

These two photos at left are from the Los Angeles Public Library's online photo collection, and show the hotel site in 1905--with a big ol' pepper tree being removed in advance of construction at Spring and Fifth Street. Big Orange Landmarks, (in an article which celebrates the Hotel's Palm Court) id's this photo as turning the first shovelful of dirt over. That was done by the child, Albert Constant Bilicky. His Papa was one of the partners building the hotel, the firm of Bilicke and Rowan Fireproof Hotel Building Company. Nice, clear name.

Later that same year, the hotel is shown under construction with scaffolding. The library even has pictures of Al Levy's Oyster House, which stood on that corner before 1905.

The Hotel's bar offered free sandwiches with cocktails, and actors were as hungry in 1909 as they are now--another reason the place became a watering hole for the movie business.

According to my Hollywood night-life book and an article on the hotel by Bryant Arnett, in this hotel:

  • Rudolf Valentino hung out in 1918, making contacts that led to his first few roles,

  • Gloria Swanson was introduced to Herbert Somborn,who would open the Brown Derby Restaurant. He would also marry Ms. Swanson--in a private suite at the Alexandria.

  • United Artists was concieved in 1919 (between Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith)

In addition to Chaplin, Jack Warner lived at the Alexandria for years. Presidents (Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson) were guests, along with dignitaries such as Winston Churchill. Movies like Se7en, Spiderman 3, Dreamgirls, and more were filmed here--even some from the silent era (thank you, IMDB).  Lenny Kravitz, Christina Aquilera, Adam Lambert and others have shot music videos at the Alexandria Hotel. And now it features low-income micro-lofts, proving that one can be low-income in real style.

This last picture from the Library shows the dining room of the Hotel Alexandria, back in the day. It isn't dated, and it is not the famous Palm Court. (you'll have to go to the Big Orange site to learn about that.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Halloween's A-Comin'

35363, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - Saturday October 31, 2009. Rick Fox and Eliza Dushku arrive to Heidi Klum's Halloween party, dressed up as zombie gangsters, at Voyeur in Hollywood. Photograph: Hellmuth Dominguez,

Here are some spooky goings-on this month. Of course, you can sit home, watch slasher movies, and eat up all the Halloween candy until you fall into a food coma, but in case you'd like to actually move and not pretend you're a piano during the holiday, and if--like me--you didn't get your invite to an A-list party:

  • "Haunts of Angelino Heights" Tour and Scavenger Hunt on October 23 and 24 at 4pm.  This is presented by the LA Conservancy--it's the only HAUNTED Scavenger Hunt in LA, I think. BYOF (bring your own flashlight). ($30 and under)

  • Long Beach's Annual Cemetery Tour on October 30, 8:30am (huh?) till 2:30pm, at both the Morningside and Municipal Cemeteries. Check out the Facebook Event Page. (under $20, hosted by the Long Beach Historical Society)

  • The Cemetery Tour at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with the likes of Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolf Valentino, Iron Eyes Cody, Bugsy Seigel and fact there are three seperate tours, each with their own theme: Hidden Hollywood, Jewish Heritage, and Cemetery of the Stars. Ongoing now through Halloween! ($12 each)

  • Grier Museum Haunted House Tour on Bonnie Brae in Los Angeles on Halloween Day, 1-4pm. ($12--includes refreshments)

  • Not enough? Check out the Ultimate Halloween Event Schedule at the Alley Cat Scratch site.

And after Halloween is over, you might want to check out another LA Conservancy tour on November 7--Strolling on Seventh Street. Visit the cool places of yesteryear--there could be ghosts hanging out (after all, once Halloween is over, what else have they got to do?)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Vroman's Mosaic

Today's mosaic ornaments the back entrance of Vromans Bookstore in Pasadena. The store--a veritable institution--has been around since 1894, according to their history site. They started out at a different address and are still family-owned today, and the largest independent bookstore in SoCal.

Vroman's recently bought Book Soup, I hear. The story is on LA Observed and other places--the LA Observed piece has a thoughtful comparison of the two bookstores.

Clicking on the pictures should bring up a larger image, so please do so. There are exquisite butterflies and other wonders to be seen here.

On Flicker, I found a stream of detailed photos of this same mosiac here. There really is a ton of loveliness to be seen when you look close.

Took me awhile to find the artist, and sad to report, what I found was an obituary. Bill Crite passed two years ago, but you can see a picture of him and read about his work at the Mosaic Art and Glass Art blog, here, or by scrolling to page 13 in this pdf version of The Pasadena San Gabriel Valley Journal News. My impression from reading that is that most of his work is in private homes or locations (the High-Roller Suite at the Alladin in Las Vegas is mentioned). So the Vroman's mosaic may be the only acquaintance most of us can have with Bill Crite.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Best Cup of Joe in L.A.--in 1976

Starbucks was a local Seattle coffee bar, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf a West LA site, and Diedrich's only outlet was a roastery in Orange County.  Still, an intrepid and amped Los Angeles Times reporter--named, serendipitously, Jessica Maxwell--went in search of the best coffee in L.A. As she pointed out, people were now buying  filter coffee makers (as opposed to percolators, I guess) and they were traveling more, getting acquainted with truly fine coffees in other lands.

What establishments were recognized in Maxwell's quest, and what trivia can we glean?

Maxwell's top picks among old California landmarks were Vickman's on 8th Street, and the Original Pantry Cafe--which, even then, had been around for over fifty years. The Pantry served Farmer Brothers Coffee then as now. Coffee with free refills cost a quarter. Other recognizable names, in order, were The Brown Derby, which charged fifty cents a cup, Schwab's on Sunset (30 cents), the Apple Pan--which gave you real cream with the coffee rather than half-and-half. Many other restaurants--the Windsor, Dales, Mannings--are unfamiliaar names to me.

Ah, for a 30-cent cup of coffee. Actually, most folks drinking coffee in 1976 remembered well the days of nickel-a-cup coffee--it wasn't too long gone. They thought fifty cents was outrageous!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mosaic Monday in Cerritos

Today's mosaic is one you can walk through--literally. It has doorways.

"Illumination" was installed in 2006 to celebrate the city of Cerritos' 50th anniversary. The artist is Terry Braunstein, who has also done a lot of work in her hometown of Long Beach--most visible are the Blue Line Station signs.

The mosaic has the form of an open book, with ten-foot-tall pages framed in stainless steel. I could probably blog on a panel a week and stretch this out, but that would be cheating.

A couple of themes are immediately striking. First, a tree is in most panels. It's the tree of learning and of life. It grows and reaches upward and produces wonderful, nourishing fruit.

The city of Cerritos is proud of being named a Tree City USA by several groups, and it also presents itself as a community that's constantly growing. Cerritos has a diverse population, and the tree of life motif also represents harmony--the kind that Cerritos enjoys.

Another theme woven through is the history of Cerritos--the mosaic wraps around several old black and white photographs, and even incorporates tile mosaic pictures, like this of the Performing Arts Center.

Here are two other panels. Again, trees--though different styles--and black and white pictures.

The words at the top of these two panels are "Heritage" and "Diversity." (The first picture had headings of "Prosperity" and "Culture.") Under Heritage, we have cows, recalling Cerritos' days as Dairy Valley, the original 1956 name when the city incorporated. The name Cerritos was adopted in 1967.

The Diversity tree is taken from a 13th century illuminated manuscript--Spanish and Christian, and the children surrounding it represent all the different ethnic origins of Cerritos' residents. And hanging from the tree--I think--is an astrolabe.

The image at left shows the cover of the book, the spine (with the work's title) and the back cover. Aerial shots of the city in 1956 and 2006 are over the door in front.

Since the artwork sits in front of the Cerritos Public Library--a building redone ten years ago to become the first titanium-clad structure in the USA--the book theme is especially appropriate.

I love the idea of walking into the book through its cover--isn't that how a good book makes you feel, like you've just walked through a doorway to another world?

On the cover is another tree, more black and white photos-and Kabalah symbols. Click on the pictures to make them bigger, because the detail is truly beautiful.

Besides Kabalah, there are Biblical figures, Mayan symbols, Asian tapestries, Islamic motifs, African woodcarvings, Mexican ceramics, and Buddhist and Christian murals depicted throughout the artwork.

You can see "Illumination" near the northwest corner of Bloomfield and 183rd Street, just outside the Cerritos Public Library. Those into public art can glut themselves here: beside this multi-panel mosaic, there's a sculture garden, a couple of fountains, one featuring bronze dolphins and the other shooting water around and through exotic metal flowers, and a white bench that looks like an open book. And more. Inside the library, there are paintings and ceramic sculpture.

The piece was commissioned for $350,000, and the fabricators were Carlson and Co., CA and Franz Mayer of Munich, Germany.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Diamond Bar 1963

A picture from to remind us boomers how old we are becoming much our Southern California has changed.  Ha!

Who didn't have a neighbor with that car--or maybe your Dad had one? Who didn't live in a house with that exact exterior panelling, and visit friends from school in the same style home? It all looked new and modern then...and much bigger.

Judging from the comments on Shorpy, there werecoastal oaks, roadrunners and occasionally, cougars in the hills.

One Shorpy reader speculated that we are looking northeast toward the hill where the 60 freeway would be built.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wayne Long, Artist

The animals on the exterior wall of the Millard Sheets Center for Fine Arts were done by artist Wayne Long. If I'd blown up my own pictures and examined them verrrry carefully, I would have found a "W. Long" signature on the top right corner of the branch that the monkey is holding.

My thanks to Christy, a former curator of the Center, for the information. She pointed out the signature on the tile, and sent me this page from the 1956-57 Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Art Institute (now the Otis Art Institute), which has been the only place we've found that actually credits Mr. Long for his work.