Sunday, February 07, 2016

Museum of Neon Art (MONA)


We love neon. It’s colorful, technologically fascinating and, of course, magnificently retro. In recent years, L.A. has undergone something of a neon renaissance, with local businesses reactivating many of the area’s most iconic—and spectacular—signs, including Culver City’s fabulous Helms Bakery neon.

One of the first things we did, when we moved back to L.A. in the mid-90s, was join the Museum of Neon Art (MONA), which in those days was located downtown. It housed well-known, but discarded, signs of yore and was a wonderful slice of yesterday.

 New museum greeter

 Neon clocks for sale in the gift shop

Old (new?) clock

Last night, MONA reopened on trendy Brand Blvd. in Glendale.  The museum had been closed for several years, fundraising and renovating its new site, so we were anxious to go. We were greeted by a 10-foot neon frog—wearing a tux and top hat, no less!—in the gift shop window. Past the gift shop was a room filled with refreshments. Down the hall from there was the main exhibit room, where a string band—with neon instruments!—was setting up to play.

Wall art and neon musical instruments

One of the more fun new pieces 

Another interesting new piece: neon overlaid on
depiction of indigenous people
The room was filled with new art that was interesting and, in some cases, even fun. But only a handful of the museum’s older holdings were on display—where was the Brown Derby hat and Manny, Moe and Jack? To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. Still, if you’re into neon, you’ve got to go. The gift shop itself is worth a quick trip.

Iconic image: Van de Kamp's


Chevrolet OK used cars

"Cameras" and "Win with Winning Wire"


Outside the museum: Clayton Plumbers

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bob Gurr

With Bob at Club 33 in 2012
We first met Bob Gurr at a D23 getaway at Smoke Tree Ranch in 2012. While Tim went off to get a beer, Bob came over, stuck out his hand and said, “Hi! I’m Bob Gurr, Disney legend.” We’ve chatted with him a few times since then. Most notably at an exclusive Christmas event at Disneyland’s Club 33 and then at the first Van Eaton Disney auction, where Bob marveled that he couldn’t even afford to buy his own drawings. He then handed me his business card.

We’ve also heard him speak several times as part of Disney conventions, etc. Bob is a wonderful raconteur, telling funny and fascinating stories about creating Autopia, the Monorail, the Matterhorn bobsleds, and other rides for Disneyland. (His motto: “If it moves at Disneyland, Bob Gurr probably designed it.”) I would go just about anywhere to hear him speak.

Last night was even more special than usual. Bob was the guest of honor at a fan event in Santa Ana and so had the entire evening to himself. He relayed how he was hired in 1954 to design the Autopia cars less than a year before Disneyland opened. The cars were stylish, but by the end of the park’s first week, all but two were inoperable, prompting Bob to ask Walt to hire a repair crew! Like much in life, early Disneyland just sort of came together along the way.

During the Q & A, Bob debunked the notion that Disney was the first person to ride the Matterhorn. After watching a successful run of the bobsleds filled with sandbags, Walt turned to Bob and said, “Gurr, you designed it, now you ride it.” Luckily, the bobsleds worked!

He also allayed one audience member’s fears of the Monorail ever jumping its tracks. Trains, he explained, run by touching their tracks less than an inch. There’s no way the Monorail could ever jump a track that’s 2.5 feet tall.

When asked what Walt would think of all the changes made to Disneyland over the years, Bob criticized those who try to second-guess what went on inside Disney’s head. “I worked with the man for 12 years,” Gurr said, “and never knew what he was thinking!”

My latest favorite Disney collectible:
die cast metal replica of the Monorail, signed by Bob Gurr

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Broadcasting from the Queen Mary

The ship entrance
When Tim used to work for KABC radio, he often accompanied Peter Greenberg, TV's "Travel Detective," on remote broadcasts around the world (e.g., Midway Island, Hong Kong, Alaska, etc.). Sometimes I got to go, too. But that was long ago.

So it was a pleasant surprise when Tim was asked if he'd like to help Peter do a remote broadcast from the Queen Mary yesterday. It wasn't Lima, Peru, but at least we could drive to the show site. Plus the Queen offered to comp us a room for the night. We were there!

For those who don't know, the Queen Mary was once the most fabulous ocean liner on the open seas. Retired in 1967, she was bought by the city of Long Beach, where she has served as a hotel and tourist attraction for almost 40 years. Although in desperate need of a face-lift, she nonetheless provides an historic look at a time when travel really was glamorous. The Queen's interior is covered in glorious wood and her ballrooms are works of art. While Tim managed the radio equipment for Peter's broadcast, I ran around the ship, snapping pictures (click on images to enlarge).

Tim checking the radio equipment

Hallway to the staterooms—our room was
on the left

Ballroom fireplace

Wall ornamentation

Art deco clock

Shops on the main promenade

Enclosed deck on the promenade level

Sun deck

Smoke stacks (topside)

The bridge

Looking toward the front of the ship

Looking back from the front

Long Beach (from topside)

Stateroom bathtub faucets: hot and cold
salt and fresh water!

Long Beach through our stateroom porthole

Sunrise (topside) the next morning


Friday, January 22, 2016

Home Improvements (Den/Library)

Den remodel—note the old heater vent being disassembled
next to the closet on the right
Now that Tim and I are retired, we've decided to reorganize and de-clutter the house, room by room. First up: our guestroom/den, where guests were invited to sleep on our semi-comfortable queen-sized sofa bed. This is also the room that houses my Arthurian fiction* collection, which I've collected for 40 years. Numbering now around 1000 volumes, the collection reached critical mass several years ago with books piled up all over the den in no particular order. It was driving the librarian in me crazy. So I suggested removing the sofa bed—which was taking valuable wall-space—and buying more bookshelves. After all, in the nearly 20 years we've lived here, only a handful of people had ever spent the night. Tim agreed: my books, which are with us 24/7, won-out over the occasional family member or friend, who might want to sleep-over. We would turn the guestroom into a full-blown library.

Not mold, but 70 years of various paint coats on the ceiling, 
including dark green

 Removing the old paint coats, now on the floor (yikes!)
The den was also in desperate need of repainting. In the house's 70-year history, its rooms had been painted countless times. So many times, in fact, that big pieces of the latest ceiling coat had chipped and fallen off, revealing multiple layers of pink and dark green paint. We decided to hire professionals to remove the former coats and repaint the entire room. While there, they also dismantled an old wall-heater we were always too scared to use. Thus making room for even more books, should the need arise.

No more wall-heater

IKEA furniture in boxes

Tim building the new loveseat, while our cat Jack

Taking a break

Covering the loveseat cushions—no wonder IKEA 
furniture is so inexpensive—and, yes, that's Jack 
supervising once again
While the painters worked, we took a field trip to the Burbank IKEA to look for shelves and a possible loveseat. I had estimated the need for two 6-foot shelves: one for my book overflow and one for my Disney collectibles, which were strewn all over the house. After spending Christmas night shelving all the books in a nice, neat order (finally!), there still wasn't room for seven books (ack!!) and so back we went to IKEA on December 26. Now, after a month, our new library/den is our favorite room in the house. Next project: the nightmare that I call my office!

 Our wonderful new library!

More books

Disney collectibles
*Arthurian fiction: novels and short stories that are set in Camelot and/or feature characters and/or themes from the Arthurian legend.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Disneyland Train, Adieu

Disneyland Railroad
We spent the morning at Disneyland because, now that we're retired, we can do just about whatever we want! Actually, this was the first big test of Tim's Disneyland retirement privileges. Luckily, all is well and we're still able to get into the parks for free. Phew!!

I also wanted to ride the Disneyland Railroad one last time before it stops running, this Sunday, for two years while the new Star Wars land is being built. The train looms large in my family's history, as the Main Street station is the site of one of my favorite childhood photos:

Uncle Louie, me (age 4), my sister Vicki (age 3), 
and Mom (June 1958)

Perhaps even more importantly, the railroad is the first ride that Walt envisioned, telling his imagineers to design an amusement park that "will be surrounded by a train." Indeed, the rail runs along Disneyland's famous 20-foot "berm" that surrounds the park and shields visitors from the outside world. In addition to stopping in New Orleans Square, Toontown/Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland, the last leg of the train ride features a still-spectacular Grand Canyon diorama, plus the animatronic dinosaurs Disney designed for the 1964 World's Fair. You truly travel back in time when you ride the Disneyland Railroad around the entire perimeter of the park.

Tim on the train

We were so early (9AM), the train was empty—not so later
in the day

Grand Canyon diorama 

Animatronic dinosaurs

Long before Jurassic Park there was Disney's
Primeval World

On our way out of the resort, we stopped at the Disneyland Hotel to use the restroom and ran into these two characters!  

Me with Chip (Dale?) and Goofy