Sunday, January 14, 2018

Griffith Park Zoo

 
Griffith Park Zoo, circa 1940s
 
I am not a fan of zoos, but I am a big fan of Los Angeles history. So we jumped at the chance to tour the Griffith Park Zoo, which predates the current L.A. Zoo, just two miles from its former location. Amazingly, neither of us had ever been to the old L.A. Zoo.

Opened in 1912, the original zoo was built alongside one of Griffith Park's many hillsides, within walking distance of the area's historic merry-go-round. Many of the animals were donated by the movie studios and local moguls, who either died or grew tired of their private zoos. As was typical in those days, the animals were kept in cages. More realistic "pit" habitats were eventually created in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. 

Despite the apparent popularity of the Griffith Park Zoo, the animals were not well treated and so a modern, more humane zoo was opened in 1966. The old zoo now serves as a free picnic and hiking spot and is mostly covered in colorful graffiti.

The first thing one sees: 1930s habitats, built by WPA workers

 
Larger animals would have been housed here

 
Picnic tables now occupy one of the "pits"

 
Another pit

 
Stairs the zookeepers would descend to feed the animals

 
Cages for smaller animals

 
Horrible . . .

 
Inside a graffiti-covered cage

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Modernica Props

 
With Charles Phoenix and his latest book,
Addicted to Americana
 
It's no secret that we love pop historian Charles Phoenix and so were thrilled to go to his most recent book launch at Modernica Props, a veritable museum of mid-century furnishings. I loved seeing Charles, but loved seeing all these wonderful artifacts even more!

Plastic tables—flower power, baby!

 
Walls of old tube TVs 

 
And colorful radios

 
Guitars

 
Matchy-matchy

 
What every office needs

 
Ottomans

 
My kind of kitchen

 
70s glasses

 
Formica tabletop design—can I please have a dress
in this pattern?

 
So many wonderful kitchen clocks, so little room

 
Just one of many showrooms

 
Wicker furniture

 
Spinning vinyl

 
Glorious lamps galore

Monday, December 18, 2017

El Pueblo de Los Angeles

As native Angelenos, we've been to Olvera Street and the surrounding El Pueblo many times. But we had never taken a formal tour and so were thrilled when the L.A. Historical Society offered a free member tour on a Thursday morning, two weeks ago. Oh, the joys of retirement!

Although officially developed by European settlers in 1781, the city of Los Angeles didn't truly take root until the the first decades of the 19th century. The oldest building in El Pueblo—and the oldest church in the city—is the Plaza Church. Constructed in 1818, it remains one of the most active Catholic parish churches in the western U.S.

 
Plaza Church

Other important buildings in El Pueblo include: the 1869 Pico House, the first modern hotel built in Southern California; the Old Plaza Firehouse, now a museum; the 1883 Plaza House; and the five-story Brunswig Building, which was the tallest retail/residential space in L.A. when it was built in 1888.

 
Pico House

 
Old Plaza Firehouse

 
Brunswig Building (left) and Plaza House (right)

Perhaps the most notable—and certainly most well-used—part of El Pueblo is the Plaza itself, which served for many years as the center of Los Angeles. Quite lively, especially on weekends, residents as well as tourists gather there for events year-round.

 
Plaza bandstand

 
One of four Morton fig trees that ring the Plaza

The Plaza is located a few blocks north of City Hall and directly south of Olvera Street, a block-long Mexican marketplace that was created in the 1920s as a tourist attraction. Olvera Street is also home to L.A.'s oldest residence, the Avila Adobe, built in 1818 for one of the area's first mayors. 

 
City Hall looming a few blocks away

  
A beautiful mural by children's book illustrator Leo Politi,
who lived close to El Pueblo

 
 Colorful wares on Olvera Street

 
Avila Adobe: dining room

 
Avila Adobe: the study

We had taken the train from Culver City and so ended our day back at the glorious Union Station, one of our favorite buildings in downtown L.A. Built in 1939, it is still the hub of all local transportation and a true architectural icon of Los Angeles.

 
Union Station, dressed up for the holidays

 
The grand waiting room

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Last Disneyland 5K

 
In front of King Arthur's Carousel
 
Once again, we braved the pre-dawn darkness to participate in the Disneyland 5K earlier this month. And, lucky, too, because we learned afterward that this was the final race weekend being held at the resort. Citing complications related to the new Star Wars land construction, Disney decided to end the Disneyland walk/run and focus just on Walt Disney World instead. We are not happy about this, but at least we got one last behind-the-scenes walk in. So long, Disney 5K!

 
Waiting for the race to begin

 
Still dark when we walked through Cars Land

 
Happy, happy!

 
The Moonliner at dawn—always my favorite 5K sight

 
Finishing in daylight

Sunday, November 19, 2017

War of the Worlds Opera


 
War of the Worlds opera logo
 
I am freakishly obsessed with the 1940s air raid sirens that still dot L.A.’s urban landscape. Erected during WWII and active through most of the Cold War, they were a major part of my childhood, when we had to practice ducking-and-covering under our school desks every time the sirens were tested (at 10AM the last Friday of the month). 

Although decommissioned many decades ago, a majority of the sirens continue to quietly stand guard today. Most people don’t even notice them, but I think they’re marvelous: rusting artifacts of a time when America knew exactly who its enemies were. 

No wonder, then, that I was thrilled to hear that three air raid sirens were being reactivated as part of a new public performance based on War of the Worlds, Orson Welles’ infamous radio play. Staged as an opera at Disney Hall, in downtown Los Angeles, the concert was interrupted by live radio interviews, detailing a Martian invasion around the city. The interviews were being remotely broadcasted from sirens located within one mile of Disney Hall. I immediately reserved tickets for one of the sites.

 

 Site 1: Olive and 1st


Site 2: Main St. between 3rd and 4th

 
Site 3: Hill St. between 7th and 8th
 
Anxious to see how the sirens had been retrofitted for the performance, we scoped-out the three remote sites last weekend. Sure enough, the sirens got a fresh coat of paint and new up-to-date black speakers. We also got to see puppeteers rehearsing with one of the Martian aliens—very exciting! This looked to be a fun event and indeed it was.

 

 Puppeteers rehearsing with mechanical Martian


Tim, Karen and I were greeted by three soldiers when we arrived at our assigned site yesterday afternoon. They told us to remain calm, even though they themselves were visibly nervous about something. The “stage” was setup in an empty parking lot on Hill St. About 200 white folding chairs faced the small platform as well as, of course, the air raid siren, which ended up being the centerpiece of the production.

 

 Soldiers, General Lansing (one of the opera singers),
and air raid siren in the background
After a short while, we heard an orchestra warming up through speakers placed behind us. The narrator, actress Sigourney Weaver, was introduced and the opera began. The music was suitably eerie as we listened and waited.

 

 Soldier taking aim at the menacing air raid siren (no!)
About five minutes into the concert, Sigourney politely interrupted with news that “incandescent gas” from Mars was hurtling toward L.A. at “an enormous velocity.” She advised that there was nothing to worry about, but reminded the audience to take note of the nearest exit in case we had to suddenly flee. Soon there were reports of “cylindrical objects on poles in the sidewalk” doing strange things as our siren started emitting high-pitched noises. Turns out L.A.’s innocent-looking air raid sirens had been hiding dormant Martians for 70 years and now they were coming to life! Sure enough, we were soon joined by a large mechanical creature, crawling along the sidewalk and threatening our space.

 

 Under attack!
Not only was it fun hearing our siren “speak” again after all these years, but the actors’ dialog was very L.A.-centric. Lines like “a loud, metallic bang was heard as far north as Tarzana” and “enemy tripod machines over the Cahuenga Pass” had us howling with laughter. In the end, music—and the controversial “titanium” skin covering Disney Hall—saved the day. But we were warned that “our world [is] being watched closely/With envious eyes/By a great intelligence.”

 

 Disney Hall and its titanium skin


So. Much. Fun.