Saturday, October 22, 2016

Irving Gill Tour

Horatio West Court, Santa Monica
I fell in love with architecture in the 1980s when the library where I was working, in San Diego County, asked me to start ordering books in the 700s. For those who don't know, books in the Dewey Decimal 700s consist of art, music, sports, TV, movies, and, of course, architecture. Although adept at all the other subjects, I knew nothing about architecture, so I signed up for a tour of houses designed by Irving Gill. I was hooked.

A contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, Gill started his career in Chicago, but in 1893 moved to San Diego, where he became a noted and prolific architect. A few years later, he began designing homes in Los Angeles and is now considered one of the leading pioneers of the early modern architectural movement. His work is characterized by clean lines, high ceilings, rounded archways, and natural use of light. His medium of choice: concrete.

Unfortunately, very few Gill homes still exist in L.A., so I was thrilled when the Southern California chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians offered an Irving Gill bus tour today. Tim and I bought tickets immediately.

Our first stop was the Horatio West Court, built in Santa Monica in 1919. Located on Hollister just a block from the beach, the courtyard features four small two-story homes, rescued from dilapidation in the 1970s and lovingly restored to their current glory. We weren't allowed to take photos inside, but the exteriors clearly declare Irving Gill's unique style. Tim and I were ready to move in right then and there.

Street view of the court

Plenty of windows and natural light in the second story

Windows detail

 Wonderful old garage doors

Front door detail
We next traveled to Santa Fe Springs, where we toured the Clarke estate, an 8000-square-foot mansion built in 1921 amidst 60 acres of orange groves. The enormous house was eventually deeded to the city of Santa Fe Springs and is now used as an event venue. Though the red balconies and doors are not original to Gill's design, they are nonetheless striking against clean, white concrete walls.

Clarke mansion, entrance view

Balcony, interior courtyard

Courtyard door, looking out

Rearview of the house

Side door and flowers

Front door and carport

Tim checking out Gill's handiwork
Our last stop was the 1800-square-foot, single-story White/Morgan residence, erected near Melrose and Vine in the early 1920s. We had visited the home 10 years ago. But, boy, what a difference a decade makes! The house has been completely restored and is magnificent. The concrete walls not only repel the heat, they also muffle outside noise even though the house is located mere feet from one of Hollywood's busiest intersections. I'm in love with Gill all over again . . .

Unassuming front door, off an enclosed driveway

 The living room



Dining room

Backyard patio

Guest house entrance

Enclosed driveway

Driveway door detail

Bathroom mirror selfie

Friday, October 21, 2016

SteampunkFest in Oxnard

At the SteampunkFest in Oxnard
Like everyone else who watched TV in the 1960s, my earliest exposure to steampunk was the The Wild Wild West, which aired Friday nights on CBS. Of course, the term "steampunk" wasn't invented yet, but the concept was the same: James T. West and his partner Artie (my favorite) used all manner of 20th-century spy gadgets and weapons to foil each week's villain, even though the show was set in the Old West. It was Have-Gun-Will-Travel-meets-James-Bond and we loved it. 

Even though I've taken a distant interest in steampunk ever since Robert Downey, Jr's great reboot of the Sherlock Holmes franchise in 2009, we've never been to any events. That is, until Sunday, when we joined our friends Al and Candi at the SteampunkFest in Oxnard, some 45 miles north of L.A. With a wardrobe that ventures back no further than the 1950s, the only outfit I could cobble together was a denim top and shorts, cinched at the waist by a faux leather belt. Pathetic! Luckily Candi, who is an extremely talented purveyor of all things steampunk, brought along extra hats: a small brown fascinator for me and bowler and goggles for Tim. At least it looked like we were trying, if only a little bit.

The fest was held in Oxnard's Heritage Square, a collection of vintage Victorian buildings relocated to the center of town. There was music and vendors and a costume contest, which Candi entered. She got 2nd place in the "gadgets category," though we all thought she deserved the grand prize for costume. (You be the judge . . .) Still, we had a fun day.

Al and Candi

Al and Tim

Candi and me

Tim casting a dubious eye at a 19th-century cardsharp

Master of ceremonies Dr. Phineas (left) and 
the contest judges, Star Wars steampunkers 

Phineas interviewing Candi 

Phineas with the men's winner

Candi with the men's runner-up

All winners (women's winner is 4th from the left) 

Thursday, October 06, 2016


Jeopardy! website
I am a life-long fan of Jeopardy!, the trivia game show where responses are given in the form of a question. Because Jeopardy! was on during the day when I was a kid, I could hardly wait till summer break so I could watch it. I became a regular viewer in the 1980s, when it began airing in the evening. Today, I no longer have time to watch the show “live,” but do record it every night so I can binge an entire week’s worth of Jeopardy! in one sitting. Tim often joins me. His trivia strengths are sports,  all things mechanical, and 1940s/50s music. I’m best at humanities subjects and fashion. Together we’re the perfect contestant, though we both stink at geography.

These days, my response reflexes are fairly pathetic, especially if I’m tired or stressed out. (Thank goodness for the DVR’s pause button!) But as a young librarian, I really burned up the TV screen. I was so good, in fact, that I decided to apply to get on the show in the late 1980s. We were living in San Diego at the time, so I took the day off and drove up to L.A. There I joined hundreds of other fans standing on a long line outside the Sony Studio. Once inside, we were briefed on the logistics of the show and then directed to a room where we were handed pencils and the famous Jeopardy! test that everyone must pass to become a contestant. The test was impossibly hard. After just five questions, I laughed and gave up. A true lesson in humility.

Well, the new season of Jeopardy! started a couple of weeks ago and, as he does every year, show host Alex Trebek announced that the next round of testing would begin this week. Although we're now pretty much addicted to the DVR pause button when formulating our answers, we decided to register to take the now-computerized test—“just for fun,” we told ourselves. We were invited to take the exam either Tuesday at 5PM, Wednesday at 6PM, or Thursday at 8PM. Tim opted for Tuesday; but since I teach till 5PM that day, I went with Wednesday. We then took the Jeopardy! practice test, side-by-side, to bone-up. I scored 80%, but Tim cheated, whispering, “Who wrote Les Miserables?,” as if Alex was actually in the room with us.

By the time I got home Tuesday night, Tim had already finished the test. Hanging his head, he said he was sure he failed, citing several questions he missed because of what he called “brain cramp”—where you know you know the answer, but just can’t remember it. He then asked me who wrote The Road, a book we both read. Me: “Cormac McCarthy.” Tim: “UGHHHHH!!”

 The test site

My turn came last night. We ate an early dinner. At 5:45PM I logged onto the Jeopardy! website, where I was welcomed and told there would be 50 questions in 50 categories. I would have 15 seconds to answer each question. Answers did not have to be in the form of a question. The website then assured me that partial answers and misspelled words “will receive consideration.” But I was also reminded that Jeopardy! was “not responsible for individual technical or internet connection related issues.” (Tough luck if your computer craps out at a critical moment!) A digital clock appeared in the corner, counting down the minutes and seconds. Who knew a minute could be so long?

At 30 seconds, the Jeopardy! jingle started to play. And then, at 6:02PM, the questions appeared along with their categories. I typed my answers in a small response box at the bottom of the screen, before hitting “submit.” Question #1 was fine. But then my brain cramped on question #2: “She played Mystique in X-Men: First Class” (category: MOVIE ROLES).

“I know this one!” I yelled at the computer screen. “Jennifer . . .” Fifteen seconds passed quickly. The answer, of course, was Jennifer Lawrence, one of our favorite actresses. UGHHHHH!!

I answered most of the other questions, except geography, and got crampy brain at least twice more: George H. W. Bush’s VP (Dan Quayle, for pete’s sake!) and could not remember William Faulkner’s name (mortifying). I’m debating whether I should return my B.A. in literature. (Not really). The entire test took 11 minutes.

Within the hour, I received a nice email from Jeopardy!, congratulating me on completing the test. They don’t release scores, but I figure I probably answered 75-80% of the questions correctly—which, of course, is a passing grade in most undergraduate college classes. But not so much at Jeopardy!, especially when thousands of fans across the country took, and probably passed, the exact same test I did. And even if, by some miracle, I did score high enough to be considered, audition candidates are selected randomly.

So, really, the odds of my being asked onto the show are infinitesimal. Instead, I’ll just have to settle for being champion in my own living room, where I can always hit the DVR pause button until my brain cramp passes . . .

Me and a cardboard cut-out of Alex Trebek
at Sony Studio in 2013 

Monday, September 19, 2016

CowParade Launch in SLO

At the CowParade in San Luis Obispo
I was reading the L.A. Times travel section, a couple of weeks ago, when my eye caught a small ad for the launch of the CowParade in San Luis Obispo (SLO), where painted fiberglass cows are being displayed until May. The eight-month-long event will eventually end in an auction, benefiting local charities. Similar "parades," held around the country—and even the worldhave raised over $30 million.

On Saturday, the renowned Madonna Inn resort hosted a free preview of all 101 cows before they move on to various locations around town. I immediately contacted our friends, who live a few miles north of SLO, to see if they wanted to go. I'm sure everyone thought I was crazy for wanting to see a bunch of painted plastic cows. But I remember how wonderful it was—and still is!—to unexpectedly run into one of the hundreds of painted fiberglass angels placed around Los Angeles, 15 years ago, as part of a massive public art display and auction. I knew the cows would be just as amazing. And I was right!

Approaching the Madonna Inn from the north, we could already see the cows—and the crowds looking at them—from the freeway. A few of the sculptures stood on hind legs, catching a frisbee or posing like Marilyn Monroe, but most looked like normal ol' cows. Except, of course, they were gloriously covered in beautiful, and sometimes extremely clever, art. Here are just a few of my favorites (click on image to enlarge):

Mommy and baby cows

"In-cow-dible Hulk"

Celebrating local wineries

One of several "Día de los Moo-ertos" designs

Famous graffiti artist Man One painting a cow 

Whimsical look at local breweries

Celebrating the central coast's mid-state fair

 There were cows covered in foliage

And there were patriotic cows

Cow-boy on one side

And cow-girl on the other

Skeletal cows

And athletic cows

Blue cows

Madonna Inn pink cows

And yellow cows

"Milk and Honey"


Monarch butterflies

Steampunk cow


Van Gogh's "Steery Night"

And finally, the "Cowch Potato"