Saturday, April 21, 2018

2018 Festival of Books from the Los Angeles Times

Real quick--so that I can reach one or two people who might attend tomorrow:
The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is going on now on the USC Campus.
The weather is beautiful over downtown Los Angeles, which means that by 2 pm the Festival walkways are thick with attendees. Go early! It's so worth it.
Today I caught a 10:30 am program: The Environment on the Precipice, moderated by UCLA History professor Teofilo Ruiz.
Dr. Lucy Jones was on the panel. You know her if you've ever watched the news after an earthquake in Los Angeles. She was the one who calmed us all down while telling us that, yes, the big one is coming. Dr. Jones has a new book out: The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (And What We Can Do About Them).
Dan Egan was another panelist, and just last night his book The Death and Life of the Great Lakes was awarded an LA Times Book Prize in History.
Lastly, Edward Struzik, author of Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future, rounded out a panel that, as Dr. Teo pointed out, hit fire, water, earth, and air (since Lucy Jones's book deals with tornadoes and all manner of disasters).
Dr. Jones stated that we are all terrified of the random, so we force patterns on natural events and convince ourselves that they can be predicted and avoided. We've been doing that for millennia. But we're deceiving ourselves. This was echoed by other panelists, especially Struzik, who reported that fires of a certain size can't be stopped, and they will become more frequent.
A change in attitude is needed. We cannot keep rebuilding in the same place after every disaster. One audience member lost her home in the Thomas fire and is trying to wade through the complexity of the new building codes she now must conform to.
But should we be rebuilding, especially on fault lines, in flood zones? That's a shift in thinking that we have to get through. Hazards, Lucy Jones said, are inevitable. Disasters are not.
In the afternoon, Steve Lopez hosted a panel on homelessness, discussing the reasons for in (evictions, most recently, but also dumping from prisons, hospitals, rising prices, job loss, and much more), and what can be done.
Two fascinating panels among many, and there's a whole 'nother day of it tomorrow.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Two Churches in Pasadena

I've always been curious about the Throop church building in Pasadena because it reminded me of the Wicked Witch’s hereditary title in Wicked: The Life and Times of the WIckedWitch of the West: The Eminent Thropp.
But of course the Throop Church, double o, has nothing to do with the Wicked Witch’s family title, double p.
I did not realize that the Universalist Church in America went back to the 18th century, but it does.
The Throop Memorial Church has always been a Universalist church. Like most Universalist churches, in the early 1960s it became a Unitarian-Universalist Church.
The Throop Memorial Church we see today at 300 S. Los Robles actually started out a few blocks away, as the First Universalist Church. It was built at Raymond and Chestnut in 1890 so it could serve the small community of Universalists that had been meeting for four years in various locations. 
Even though that first church was lovely (as you can see below left), the congregation decided to build a new church. In 1923 the Throop Memorial Church--the one we see today--was built on the corner of Los Robles and Del Mar.
Why call it Throop?
One of the community, Amos G. Throop, was a businessman from Chicago and he apparently led the efforts to build a church, contributing money for the land and building. Throop also founded Polytechnic University a year later, which became CalTech (in fact, before 1920 the school was called Throop Polytechnic or Throop University). The year after that he became Mayor of Pasadena. He died shortly after that, in 1894.
Below right is the Throop Memorial Church today--the building that opened in 1923.
The original Universalist church at Raymond and Chestnut? Gone. 
But there is a church on one of the corners there: St. Andrews Catholic Church, with its tall, campanile bell tower. The original St. Andrew's was built in 1886, so it was already there when the First Universalist Church went up in 1890 ... but that original church is also gone.
St. Andrews was rebuilt in its original location, though, even though the name isn’t so cute. (Don’t you think Throop is a cute name?) The Catholic church was completely rebuilt in 1927-1928 at a cost of ONE MILLION DOLLARS. In 1927-pre-Depression money.

The interior design of the new St. Andrew's was inspired by a Byzantine Church, Santa Sabina’s Basilica in Rome--and that church goes back to the 5th century. The pillars in Pasadena are of scagliola, which I believe is an imitation, colored stone/stucco, and they imitate the real marble columns of Santa Sabina in placement and number. 
If you look up Santa Sabina, you’ll see that the columns there are fluted. Before the 5th century church was built, those columns were part of a temple to Juno, and they were reused for the Basilica.
The Pasadena columns are much more colorful. Imitation, shimitation. You can see them well above. Scagliola is used in Buckingham Palace, so it’s not like it’s a low-cost knockoff or anything.
The exterior of the new church copied another Roman church, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, built in 1123. There are minor differences--the original bell tower has six levels of arches holding bells, for instance--but you'd recognize that tower.
I’m still a nut about mosaics, and  this church has a mosaic floor design repeated on the aisles (left). On the walls are other works of art: murals. Carlo Wostry was the artist, an Italian who seemed to move everywhere in Europe in then to America, creating sacred-themed art.
The murals inside St. Andrew's took eight years to complete. In spite of the Depression, parishioners were willing to keep paying and expanding the artist's commission from just painting murals above the altar to adding saints' portraits and Stations of the Cross to decorate the church. Some of the Stations were completed in the artist's home of Trieste and exhibited there, before being boxed up and shipped to Pasadena and installed in St. Andrew's.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Rooms with 18.5 Million Dollar Views

This doesn't have much to do with history, but I'll put it in anyway. Maybe in a bit this place will become iconic. Maybe it is already, because from the outside, this home is as stunning as the Case Study home of 60+ years ago.
The home on the Sunset Strip (home doesn't seem the right word. Luxury living space?) is for sale at $18.5 million.
Usually I roll my eyes at such properties and move on. Bungalows built in the 1920s or classic homes designed by Paul Williams are more interesting and accessible, and have such personalities and tales attached, often with movie star tie-ins.
But the photo of this place on Blue Jay Way is arresting and stopped me in my internet-strolling tracks. You can see more pictures here.
The interiors? Mostly white in flat or shiny textures, ornamented with large sheets of glass.
Not my cup o' tea and I've spent a few pleasant moments imagining the place with stacks of books and unread mail, a broom in the corner, hand prints all over the glass surfaces, and shopping bags of things not put away yet. Yeah, This is the reason I don't live in a pristine palace. In fact, in all those pictures, the only article of furniture I could relate to was the popcorn maker in the movie room, which probably never gets used because that would result in, you know, mess.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Night herons in San Pedro

Walked all around the Ports O Call Village, which is in the process of going away. That's a Good or a Bad Thing, depending on who you talk to. I hope for the best, because quite honestly it had become a shabby remnant of itself in the last couple of ... decades. The Ports O Call Restaurant is still open and fighting to remain so.
The latest news story about last week's meeting at the Grand Theatre, revealing new drawings, is here.
Packed house. The new drawings don't thrill me, but since developments never turn out looking much like their original renderings, should I worry? Maybe. Those girders are going to look weathered very quickly, I fear.

However, this post is about the night herons that perch near the fishing boats, just south of Ports O Call Village. And here they are: Night herons in the mist, if you will.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Forget eathquakes; we're overdue for a flood

There were terrible floods in 1861 and 1862 in Los Angeles.
Dr. Lucy Jones is quoted in the Los Angeles Times: "Just trying to describe the extent of the damage is overwhelming. Yet 150 years later most Californians are unaware that it ever happened."
That's true. I'm a Californian and I was unaware of it.
I did know about the terrible flooding up in Sacramento in those years. The Gold Rush Era, the theater with its wooden benches awash in water. The new governor (Leland Stanford) being rowed to his inauguration. But I did not know that it hit Los Angeles or Southern California.
"In Los Angeles, the water was described as extending from mountain to mountain, with no dry land between the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the San Gabriel Mountains." That's from Dr. Jones. The article, "California's Flooding 'Nightmare'," appeared Sunday, March 25, 2018.
This picture of Aliso Street east of Los Angeles Street is dated c. 1860. I have not found any pictures of the flooding in Los Angeles in 1861-1862, only the graphic below right.
We've had other floods: 1938 was a terrible year, and 1964 also saw bad flooding. NBC has put up pictures of those floods, and they are fascinating. But not apocalyptic. 1861-1862 was apocalyptic. 66 inches of rain in 45 days.
Los Angeles Magazine reports such monster floods can hit every 100 to 200 years. The phrase "not a questions of if, but when" applies.
If you google with city names, you find tidbits about the flood.
For Long Beach, for example: The floods of 1862 raged through a dense area of willow trees bringing many of them down to the area that would become Long Beach. A new growth of willow trees prompted locals to call the area “Willowville.”
I also found this paragraph in an attachment to a 2013 draft report: "the mouth of the Los Angeles River shifted from Venice to Wilmington. The plains of Los Angeles County were extensively flooded and formed a large lake system where the stronger currents cut new channels to the sea. The Los Angeles, San Gabriel, and Santa Ana rivers converged, forming a solid expanse of water from Signal Hill to Huntington Beach. Runoff transformed much of what is now Orange County into an inland sea that was 4 feet deep in places 4 miles from the Santa Ana River."
How do we anticipate these disasters and what can we do about them? The USGS has a report called ARkStorm. (The first three letters stand for Atmospheric River 1,000.)  Among the possible mega-flood scenarios is this: what could happen if the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers filled and spread out, putting areas from West Covina down to Long Beach under water? Or if Orange County got swamped by coastal flooding?
ARkStorm outlines potential scenarios and loss, and is not light reading. I have only glanced at it but do not see much to help me sleep better at night. We are not prepared for such a disaster because, frankly, there probably is no way to be prepared for such a disaster. But as Harvey et al, and before that, Katrina demonstrated, such things do happen.
As for what causes the weather that causes such floods, here's a new vocabulary phrase (to me, anyway): atmospheric rivers. They are what you must be picturing: "narrow bands of water vapor about a mile above the ocean that extend for thousands of kilometers."
Five years ago, Scientific American published an in-depth article describing how atmospheric rivers could produce mega floods, and pointing out that our state is just as susceptible to these as the Midwest. Here's a good summary of it.
The definition of atmospheric rivers is from that summary, by B. Lynn Ingram. It describes the damage done from December 1861 through spring of 1862, not jut in California but throughout the west. Utah, Nevada, Arizona, up to Washington state.
As for Dr. Jones, whose quotes opened this post, she has a new book coming out April 17: The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (And What We Can Do About Them) 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Colorizing History

This is not a Los Angeles-centric post.
Several artists, like Mads Madsen of Denmark, spend hours, days, and weeks colorizing historical photographs so that others can appreciate and feel closer to the subjects.
This picture of Abraham Lincoln, taken when he was elected in 1860 but before he acquired his famous beard, is one example.
(That link at Madsen's name will take you to an Atlas Obscura article about him and other artists, and about their Reddit page.)
Here is a six-minute Vox video about more artists and the incredible amount of time and research that goes into colorizing old photos.
And if this and other things historical interests you, maybe you'd like to subscribe to my newsletter, The Triweekly Report. Three of the most fascinating history stories I find, sent out every three weeks. Fill in your name and email in the form to the right if you want to try it out (you can unsubscribe if you don't like it ... but you'll love it).

Friday, March 16, 2018

New Book: Banking on Beauty

If you ever followed this blog, you must know about Millard Sheets and Home Savings and Loan. 
Sheets was the artist behind the beautiful mosaics and murals on Home Savings Branches, once the largest chain of savings & loan banks in the US. 
The ultimate book has appeared about both: Banking on Beauty, by Professor Adam Arenson. It's a big, heavy, coffee table reference that was just published by the University of Texas Press. 
Inside the book, you'll find everything you could ever hope to know about all the design and art of the Home Savings and Loan branches: original drawings, dates, contractors, artists, concepts, more. It's a great reference, and I'm amazed, with all the artwork, that the price is only $45. Well worth it.
Last Wednesday, the Marciano Art Foundation hosted Profession Arenson and Laura MacDonald in a building designed by Sheets almost 60 years ago: the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple on Wilshire Blvd, in the Windsor Square neighborhood.  Thank you, Flo Selfman, for letting me know about this, and making reservations!

These pictures show a couple of the mosaics over the side entrance of the building. Masonic symbols, all. Laura MacDonald talked about the history of Freemasonry as it relates to architecture, and how the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple reflected the principles of the order. 
After that, Professor Arenson talked specifically about Millard Sheets, about some of the myths and the complicated history of his design studio. All in brief, of course, because time was limited. The building was closing only 15 minutes after the talk, giving folks barely enough time to buy their books and get them signed.
Oh, and Tony Sheets, son of Millard, was also on hand to give support.
Adam Arenson has been working on this project for ten years now. I am so glad to see it published!
Was not able to take any notes during the talk, which was accompanied by lots of slides and photographs, but one thing that I remember is this: The Home Savings and Loan buildings where big, square, solid edifices with artwork, always. Like the Beverly Hills branch, (links go to my blog posts and pictures). The BH branch opened in 1956, and is the oldest surviving Home Savings and Loan Building. Big, square, solid.
After Howard Ahmanson died, though, his sons took over the business, and they were willing to vary the design a little. That's why some of the later branches, like Santa Monica's - which is now a New Balance Shoes store.  This branch is not square--it has "wings" spreading out from the front entrance.

There are amazing mosaics at The Marciano Art Foundation, as well, done by Sheets and by Susan Hertel. I've written about Susan Hertel before too, especially about the lovely birds in the mosaics at the Redondo Beach Wells Fargo (which started life as a temporary, prefabricated Home Savings and Loan).
I learned the other night that Hertel kept a bunch of pets at Millard Sheets Designs in Claremont, and those pets were the models for her very graceful artwork. 

A mosaic on the third floor of the building, sadly hidden by interior walls and impossible to photograph, has some of Susan Hertel's animals, including this fellow. I could not photograph the whole mosaic, because of that stupid wall. LA Weekly, where I found the photo below, also questioned the wisdom of hiding the mosaic behind a wall the room used to be a dining hall, with the mosaic in full view. 

Finally, here is a photo of the outside mosaic by Sheets, shamelessly copied from a Curbed LA post. The photo was taken by Elizabeth Daniels. The mosaic is on the east side of the building and shows the history of temple-building.

Friday, March 9, 2018

West Wing's Tornado Disaster

I just learned that the town hit by a tornado in the 5th season of The West Wing (episode "Disaster Relief") was actually represented by my home town, San Pedro. 7th Street and Centre Street, to be exact. 

Of course, lots of special CGI effects were added, but yup, that's us. The "Glenn R. Th" that you see to the right is actually the old Liberty Auditorium, which is now being refurbed and opening as the Port Town Brewery. 

The Brewery is not open yet; their Facebook page shows pictures of the construction and progress being made. Below is a picture of the building when it's not been ravaged by a TV-land tornado. 

The Liberty Auditorium was a dance hall built in 1918. Apparently it was a garage for a few decades too, but at the time the TV episode was filmed, it had been vacant for several years.

Right next door, with the Wiley Feeds sign, is All O Fit, a gym, and next to that a law office. It had a torn up awning in the show.

I understand the street scene, with upended trees and cars and debris strewn everywhere, stayed unpassable for close to three weeks while the show filmed. 

Below on the left, you see the back of what is now the Crowne Plaza that faces 5th Street.  Beyond that is the 7-story Municipal Building that had a jail on the top for many years. 

Across the street from this devastation was a vacant lot. It's vacant no more. The San Pedro Bank Lofts went up there about ten years ago. But the vacant lot made it easy to film, I'm sure. 

Go, President Bartlet, go. Lead us!

Behind the president and crew, above and to the right, are two more old, three-story buildings that are also gentrified lofts now, the LaSalle Lofts. These are all lovely, interesting, historic places to live in an area full of artists, but residents must deal with homeless folks on the street - something they probably didn't plan on a few years ago when they bought their lofts. 

I'll ramble a question here. What has worked to help the homeless? I hear lots of debate about why this or that plan will work or won't work, but surely there must be something that has worked well in other cities. Let's do that! 

Why am I just learning about this filming now? I never watched The West Wing when it was on. It's a long tradition with me, never watching popular and great shows when they are fist broadcast. I don't even watch Star Trek series until they've been seasoned for a few years. The advantage is that I can watch them all without waiting for next week and the new episode.

People have been telling me to watch The West Wing for years. I finally started, and now I'm hooked. I want this alternate history. With the real news that's on TV today, The West Wing has become my happy place.

Sadly, I have only one more season to go. But my plan is to start on Mad Men next.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Reading LA History: LAX, Cat & Fiddle, Van Upp

I've written about the mosaic walls at LAX before, but tonight I'll point you to an article in DesignObserver about Janet Bennett, who claims to have designed those mosaics. I hope enough people will pay attention to make it official.

As far as I know, Janet's boss in 1960 (when she worked for Periera and Luckman, the architects of the Los Angeles International Airport) never claimed credit for the mosaic walls. After he died, however, they became part of his legacy as the designer of the airport's interior - rightly or wrongly. Janet Bennett, who left Los Angeles for other projects before the mosaics were installed, says she designed them, and the fact that a fresh-out-of-school young female artist didn't get proper credit in 1960 probably surprises no one.

The Cat & Fiddle in Hollywood is gone, and the new tenants want to return it to its former days. Before it was a British-style pub, the restaurant with the huge patio was the Mary Helen Tea Room with an enchanted garden. In fact, that's how it started life in 1927, during Prohibition. A bit of its history is here, in posts from the Hollywood Gastronomical Haunts blog.

Eater (the source of this photo) has posts about the new folks moving in, chef April Bloomfield and restaurateurs Ken Friedman, and about the history of the place.

Ever hear of Virginia Van Upp? She was a screenwriter and became Hollywood's first female executive producer in 1944. Great success, and then a big, slow, fall from the heights. This piece in by Christina Newland goes as in depth as possible into Van Upp's career, but leaves a lot of questions.

Finally, here's a link to Zocalo Public Square's short article on a newly donated group of photographs of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The collection of over 4,000 pictures came from Ernest Marquez, and was donated to the Huntington Library. This one shows the Arcadia Hotel in the background, while Victorian daredevils ride a roller coaster not far from the shore in Santa Monica in the 1880s.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Los Angeles' past and future ... and theatres

Two wonderful essays about Los Angeles that must be shared:

The first appeared in the March 3 Los Angeles Times. Under the guise of talking about the upcoming local election, Thomas Curwen gives us a summation of how Los Angeles has grown over decades and what that growth means to those who live here, and those who want to live here.

I love this line:

Chicago was lucky. San Francisco was lucky. One had a fire, the other an earthquake, each triggering a makeover, allowing each city to rethink its layout and identity.

Dang. We haven't been blessed enough to be destroyed and given the opportunity to rebuild.

Ed Ruscha remembers moving to LA in 1956 and having a neighbor tell him that around 1942, the place was paradise. Paradise!

Find an old man today, and you'll probably hear that in 1980 this place was paradise, says Ruscha. He's so right.

Curwen goes into the tunnel of the Hall of Administration to find records going back a century, showing how neighborhoods were laid out and prized properties designed back then. Los Angeles, where everyone had cars, could afford space for homes with yards, hundreds of them. Thousands of them.

But ... hundreds of thousands of them? Eventually, we hit a limit.

The second story is called "Inside LA STAGE History: Edwin Booth and Child's Grand Opera House," and takes us all the way back to Gold Rush Days and a teenaged Edwin Booth. Who becomes an adult Edwin Booth and saves Robert Lincoln, the son of the president that Booth's brother will assassinate a year later, from falling off a train platform.

Yes, this story is full of exactly the sort of digressions that I love.

But it's mostly about Los Angeles' opera house. This picture was taken shortly before the structure on Main Street was demolished in 1936.