Monday, December 26, 2011

Disneyland Hotel

My sister, who lives north of Seattle, and her extended family are in Southern California for the holidays.  It's been wonderful having them so close for Christmas.  The most fun, though, was when 19 of us, including three toddlers, descended on Disneyland.  The last time I went to Anaheim with young ones was when my sister's kids were little. Now here I was with my niece and her two-year-old son!  Time certainly flies when you're not looking. 

Since everyone lives out-of-state, we arrived when the park opened at 8AM and stayed almost till closing.  Tim and I wisely reserved a room that night at the recently renovated Disneyland Hotel.  And lucky, too, because my pedometer (I've been trying to maintain a daily 10,000 steps regimen) clocked over 24,000 steps—more than 13 miles that day! An even bigger surprise was when our room was upgraded to a suite on the eleventh floor of the hotel's Frontier building.  As you can see below, the view was absolutely phenomenal.  

Matterhorn and Downtown Disney in the foreground

California Adventure's Bear Mountain and Tower of Terror
and Grand Californian hotel in foreground

California Adventure between Grand Californian
and Paradise Pier hotels (click on image to see new
Cars Land under construction in the background)

Looking west to downtown L.A. (!)

New hotel carpeting

Breakfast at Goofy's Kitchen

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's a Wonderful Life

The Geffen Playhouse held a fun holiday-themed fundraiser last night: a live radio-reading of It’s a Wonderful Life, starring four-time Oscar-nominee Annette Bening.  Tim, Karen and I are big fans of Bening’s stage as well as film work, so bought tickets on her name alone; but were even more thrilled when the rest of the cast was announced: Peter Gallagher, Bryan Cranston, Glenne Headly, Marty Ingels, Gregory Itzin, Shirley Jones, Leslie Jordan, Josh Stamberg, and Lorraine Toussaint.  We also knew there was a good chance Annette’s husband Warren Beatty would be in the audience, making the event doubly exciting.

Tim and I are Geffen season ticket-holders this year, so I called the subscriber hotline to get tickets.  I scored third-row seats!  I called Karen with the good news.

“Maybe we’ll sit next to Warren!” I exclaimed.

The play started at 8PM, but an email from the Geffen encouraged us to arrive early to celebrate the holidays.  Sure enough, 1940s carolers were singing in the lobby when we arrived, as people chatted and milled around.  Tim headed straight for the bar.  A woman walked by holding a plate piled high with cookies.

“They’re serving Christmas cookies!” I whispered to Karen before heading off to the right.  There I found a table displaying an assortment of baked goods, including cookies that we could decorate with four types of frosting.  We had, of course, eaten dinner before leaving for the theater, but that didn’t stop us from loading up.  Everyone else had the same idea, because soon the table was mobbed.  We stepped aside and watched as the locusts descended.  We were also on alert for celebrity sightings.

I knew that Warren Beatty would appear as soon as I went to the restroom and, indeed, the first thing Tim said, when I returned, was, “You just missed Warren Beatty!”

“WHAT!!?” I asked incredulously.

“He was standing two feet away,” Tim insisted.  A woman standing next to us confirmed.

“You and my husband,” she said, shaking her head.  Her husband was also in the bathroom.

“Did Karen see him?” I then asked.

“Nope.  She was at the bar getting a soda.”  

I broke the news to her when she returned and then sent Tim off to find Mr. Beatty.  He came back a few minutes later.

“Warren’s on the other side of the lobby!”  

The ten-minute warning lights were flashing as people started pouring into the theater.  Luckily, Warren Beatty is tall, so we could see him above the crowd.  He looked exactly as he looked the last two times I’d seen him: handsome.  We could now find our seats.

We never did see where Warren Beatty sat, but our seats were very good.  Since the play was a live radio-reading, five old-style microphones were setup at the foot of the stage.  The sound effects station was to the left.  Small bistro tables and chairs were arranged in the center for the actors to sit when they weren’t delivering lines.  The rest of the stage was tastefully decorated with huge one-dimensional Christmas trees.  The actors strolled out one-by-one and quietly took their seats while the audience continued to pour in.  At one point, Bryan Cranston walked to the front of the stage, looked at everybody and thoughtfully said, “What a good-looking crowd,” then sat back down.

Like everyone else, we are completely familiar with the 1946 Jimmy Stewart movie It’s a Wonderful Life and so tried to guess, beforehand, who was going to play which role.  We had even speculated that Annette Bening would play a female version of George Bailey, but then abandoned that idea when we saw the lineup of male actors.  Annette ended up playing Mary to Peter Gallagher’s George.  Leslie Jordan was Clarence and everyone else played all the other characters.  There was no intermission, but the acts were broken-up by vintage-sounding radio commercials read by the various actors.

The show was terrific—great performances and it was lots of fun watching the foley artist creating dozens of different sound effects.  We were hoping for more cookies on the way out, but the table was gone.  So instead we left humming “Auld Lang Syne” and looking forward to Christmas with our families.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Snow White in North Hollywood

Let the holidays begin!  Last night, Karen and I previewed our first Christmas event of the season: A Snow White Christmas, playing at the El Portal theater in North Hollywood.

More Snow White than Santa (I think Christmas was mentioned only twice!), this kid-friendly musical stuck pretty close to the Disney version of the fairy tale with a few contemporary songs (Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” and Katy Perry’s “Firework”) thrown in.  The performance was staged as a panto, encouraging lots of interaction between the audience and the actors.  We sat in the first row, so plenty of opportunity to have our voices heard. 

An extremely talented Lindsay Pearce (contestant on last summer’s Glee Project) was the ever-optimistic Snow White.  The evil queen was played by Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi from the still lamented Star Trek: The Next Generation).  But we were there, of course, for Neil Patrick Harris, who played the magic Mirror.  He was great, even though he was just a (pre-recorded) disembodied face in a frame.  Marina was terrific, too, appropriately over-reacting to audience boos every time she walked onstage.  Lots of allusions to Star Trek, which I just loved.

Performances are scheduled through December 18, so if you like Glee, Star Trek, Neil Patrick Harris, or even Snow White, I highly recommend taking a trip out to  North Hollywood.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Loving Lucy

Tim likes telling the story about how, during a long holiday weekend in the late 1970s, he taped one of the first I Love Lucy marathons at a friend’s house and then had to go out and buy a machine so he could watch the shows at home!  That’s how he got stuck with a Betamax—superior technology, but not long for this world—instead of a VHS recorder.

Betamax is now gone, of course, but Tim continues to love Lucy.  No wonder then that he bought tickets to I Love Lucy: Live on Stage as soon as he heard about it.  Performed at the Greenway Court Theatre in L.A.’s Fairfax district, the show faithfully recreates the filming of two I Love Lucy episodes—The Benefit, the one where Lucy insists on singing with Ricky at Ethel’s fundraiser, and Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined, which features a funny dance number as well as Desi’s theme song “Babalu.” Seeing actors perform the episodes as Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley was a real hoot.

It was a wonderful evening—we truly got the flavor of what it must have been like to see I Love Lucy (including 1950s commercials!) performed live.  The audience was thrilled to pretend that we were still living in a black-and-white TV world.  Plus the actors never once broke character, not even during the curtain call.  Standing ovations were much deserved.

The show is playing Wednesday through Sunday every week till the end of the year.  If you love Lucy, seeing this live stage performance is an absolute must!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

L.A. Olympics

Tim and I aren’t architects nor are we architectural scholars.  We are, however, members of the Southern California chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH-SCC), which celebrates the fabulous architecture of L.A. and its surrounding environs.   Unlike, say, the L.A. Conservancy, SAH-SCC is not an advocacy group.  But its tours and other educational events do a terrific job of bringing together two of our favorite things: architecture and the history of Los Angeles.

Yesterday the Society sponsored a lecture on the continuing impact of the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, both of which, of course, were held here in Los Angeles. The program was presented at LA84, a local foundation created with profits from the 1984 games.  The speaker was Wayne Wilson, an Olympics expert and director of the LA84 sports library.

Regretfully, Tim and I didn't go to the 1984 Olympics—we were both living in San Diego at the time—but we avidly watched the games and collected and read everything we could about the various events.  So even though we weren’t there, we do know a lot about the 1984 games.

The 1932 games, on the other hand, are a relatively recent fascination, especially since the Olympic Village—the first housing ever built for the athletes—was located in the Baldwin Hills, not far from our home.  The male athletes had rooms in the Village, while the women stayed at the Chapman Park Hotel near downtown L.A.  The 1932 Olympics also marked the first time the staggered dais was used to honor the medal winners—a tradition that lives on till today.

Map of the 1932 venues

Although very few new venues were built for either the 1932 or 1984 games, daily reminders of the Olympics still very much remain.  Tenth Street, for instance, was renamed Olympic Blvd. in honor of the tenth Olympiad held in 1932.   Then, in 1984, all the streets downtown were changed from two- to one-way to help facilitate traffic to and from the games.  Most interesting, though, was learning that approximately 20,000 palm trees were planted in Los Angeles in the late 1920s/early 1930s to make the city more attractive to Olympic games visitors.  Like Olympic Blvd. and downtown's one-way streets, the palm trees are here to stay.

Because the Great Depression was in full force by 1932, city leaders feared that few people would trek to Los Angeles for the summer games.  So a media blitz was launched nationwide, emphasizing the more romantic aspects of L.A.’s history.  One brochure even claimed that a group of Franciscan monks had, in their early travels, blessed the area as “Holywood”—an inspiring explanation for how Hollywood got its name, but complete fiction!  Hollywood royalty, like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, did do a lot to promote the Olympics, however, entertaining the athletes in their home and participating in public events.

Another map of the 1932 vanues

Finally, as a librarian, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention LA84’s phenomenal sports library.  Containing some 40,000 sports-related items, the library is open weekdays and by appointment.  Their digital archive of over 100,000 PDF files is also available online for free.  Happy reading!

From our own library at home

Thursday, October 27, 2011

L.A. as Subject Archives Bazaar

Looking north to downtown L.A. from USC

With both a master’s degree and doctorate from UCLA, I am a Bruin through and through.  Still, once a year Tim and I venture east to spend the day at UCLA’s rival university USC for the annual L.A. as Subject Archives Bazaar. Dedicated to improving the visibility, access, and preservation of archives that document Los Angeles’s rich history, L.A. as Subject is a group of archival institutions that make their holdings available through the web and other outreach efforts, like the Bazaar.  More than 80 local agencies promoted their collections last Saturday at USC.  Tim and I were completely in our element.

Crowds enjoying the Bazaar

The Bazaar is always a glorious event for me, chatting with former and  current students working in various exhibit booths.  But Tim loves it, too.  A couple of years ago he found a photo of his childhood Little League team on CSU Northridge’s San Fernando Valley History Digital Library website.  This year we connected with the Museum of the San Fernando Valley and talked about possibly helping collect baby-boomer memories of the area when it was still dairy farms and remote subdivisions.  The Culver City Historical Society was also there, selling note cards and umbrellas decorated with images of Culver City.

In addition to the exhibits, the Bazaar offers guest speakers, documentary film screenings and panel discussions of local historical relevance.  We heard Christopher Hawthorne, the L.A. Times architecture critic, discuss 27 essential books about Los Angeles and were fascinated as author John Bengston showed then-and-now photos of downtown L.A., where many early silent films were shot.  Finally, we attended a session with award-winning TV producer Dan Guerrero, who reminisced about his father Lalo Guerrero, the world-famous Chicano songwriter and musician.

It was a wonderful day.  And, oh, did I mention that the Bazaar was completely free?  Yay!

The old card catalog at the Doheny Library
where the Bazaar was held

Sunday, October 23, 2011

George Harrison: Living in the Material World

Tim was the one who called, ten years ago, to tell me George Harrison had died.  Although not completely unexpected—he had been fighting cancer for several years—the news was nonetheless devestating, especially since George was the youngest Beatle. 

To celebrate George’s life and highly successful career, the Grammy Museum is currently presenting a four-month exhibition, called “George Harrision: Living in the Material World.”  It complements the fabulous Martin Scorsese-directed HBO documentary  of the same name that aired earlier this month.  The exhibit features everything from handwritten song lyrics to the jacket George wore during the famous Beatles Shea Stadium appearance in 1965, as well as postcards from the Beatles’ first trip to Germany, guitars of various shapes and colors, photos, and footage of his more notable performances, including the groundbreaking concert for Bangladesh—the first ever rock-n-roll all-star benefit—and a Traveling Wilburys video.

The Museum had mounted a similar exhibit last year, celebrating what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday, but somehow “Living in the Material World” is more gratifying, even though John has always been my “favorite” Beatle.  Perhaps it’s because George lived two decades longer than John and so was able to accomplish much more in his short 58 years.  Or maybe it’s because George was so spiritual.  Regardless, it’s a joyous exhibition that anyone interested in the Beatles—and/or George Harrison specifically—should see.

As we were leaving, an out-of-town couple and their young adult son stopped Tim to ask if the Museum was worth visiting.

“Are you a musician?” Tim asked the young man.  He said, yes, he plays guitar.  

“Then you should absolutely go inside,” Tim advised.  “You don’t want to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

With that, we headed home to watch the DVD of George’s concert for Bangladesh

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Downtown L.A.

Photo Friends of LAPL not only supports development of Los Angeles Public Library’s photography collection, the group also periodically conducts events celebrating the more interesting items in that collection.  For instance, a couple months ago we attended a Photo Friends slide show of old pictures of Wilshire Blvd.  Yesterday they sponsored a lecture featuring crime photos from the long-defunct Herald Express, the Hearst publication that reveled in yellow journalism.  My favorite story was about Robert James, a 1930s serial killer who murdered his newlywed wife by sticking her foot into a box of rattlesnakes.  Criminals were certainly a lot more inventive in those days.

Downtown LAPL central library

Since we were already downtown, we decided to visit some of our favorite L.A. landmarks after the lecture.  The weather was perfect: warm and slightly breezy.  It had rained on Wednesday, so the city was surprisingly clean and sparkly.

Angels Flight funicular

We rode the outdoor escalator, across from the library, to the top of Hope St., and then walked over to California Plaza off of Grand Ave.  After taking a few snapshots of the famous Angels Flight funicular, which is apparently the shortest operational railway in the world, we decided to take a ride down the hill to Grand Central, the oldest and largest open-air market in Los Angeles.  My mother still remembers eating there in the 1950s after watching Spanish-language movies at the Million Dollar Theater next door.  There are lots of food options at Grand Central, but we always gravitate to Tomas’s taco stand, where $2.50 will get you a taco big enough to feed two people.  Yum!

Grand Central Market

We hadn’t seen the Bradbury Building in a while, so we wandered across Broadway and went inside.  The public is welcome to visit the lobby most days until 5PM.  Constructed in 1893, the distinctive Bradbury has appeared in many TV episodes and films, including (most famously) Blade Runner.  With its black cast-iron grillwork festooning stairways, railings and elevator shafts, the Bradbury Building (hands down) has the most beautiful interior of any edifice in L.A.

Inside the Bradbury Building

Aesthetically satiated, we rode Angels Flight up to Hope and walked back to the library, where our car was parked.  What a perfect day it had been.  That is, until we hit a traffic jam, heading south on Flower St.

“What’s with all these cars on a Saturday?” I grumped to Tim.  But then suddenly spotted film equipment.  “IT’S BATMAN!” we both yelled, noticing “Gotham City” markings on the prop vehicles parked to one side.  We'd forgotten that the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, had been shooting downtown for several weeks.

“Stop the car!  I want to take pictures,” I insisted as Tim pulled over.  

Crowds of mostly young people were clogging the sidewalks, while film crews set-up the next scene.  I was most amused by the long line of nearly 30 GPD (Gotham Police Dept.) cars parked next to the 7th St. mall.  Obviously there's going to be one helluva cop car chase scene in the new movie.

Gotham City SWAT

Gotham City police cars

Now it was indeed a most perfect L.A. day!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Pacific Standard Time

About ten years ago, the Getty Research Institute launched an initiative to study the postwar art movement in Los Angeles, 1945-1980.  Grants were awarded to art institutions throughout Southern California with the ultimate goal of mounting a massive exhibit, opening in several sites this weekend.  Over the next six months, the show, called Pacific Standard Time, will be on view in over 60 museums from Santa Barbara to San Diego.  

As members of the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA), Tim and I got to preview LACMA’s contribution to this amazingly historic event last Thursday evening.  Focusing on mid-century west coast design, LACMA’s exhibit begins in the 1920s and ends in the late 1960s, chronicling how local art trends have influenced what we’ve come to know as the “California lifestyle.”

It’s a wonderful retrospective, examining everything from a magnificent aluminum Airstream trailer (which is the first thing visitors see) to a futuristic Studebaker Avanti automobile (midway through the exhibit), from Bauer pottery to Barbie and her “dream house” (sigh!).  The high point is the recreation of the living room from L.A.’s own Eames house, one of the most architecturally significant homes of the 20th century.  There are also lots of fabulous examples of mid-century furniture and magazine shoots of modern homes built in the 1940s and ‘50s, plus album covers, textiles, books, kitchenware, artwork, jewelry (looking surprisingly contemporary) and even swimware.  It’s enough to make one weep for the days when style was everything.

We didn’t know picture-taking was allowed (without flash, of course), so snapped these photos with Tim’s iPhone.  The LACMA exhibit runs through March 2012.  The next time I go I’ll take the good camera and shoot many more photos.  For now, here's just a tiny flavor of postwar California:

P.S.  We also recently saw the Tim Burton exhibit at LACMA, which is on till the end of October.  It's a must-see for all Burton fans.  For some reason, Burton has kept every piece of art he ever created since adolescence and it’s all displayed here.  Perhaps too much of a good thing?

Monday, September 26, 2011

L.A. County Fair

My family may have been rich in many ways, but we never had much money.  Still, our parents managed to take my sister Vicki and me to Disneyland every couple of years.  Plus we always went to the L.A. County Fair—an annual ritual—that is, until Vicki and I got too old to care much about farm animals and family outings. 


When we were young, all six of us—including our Gramma and aunt Ti—would pile into the car at the crack of dawn, so we could get to the fair when the gates opened.  (Pomona was a looong way from Burbank, in those days!)  As soon as we arrived, we’d drop Gramma off at the Mexican Village, where she could yak all day with other Spanish-speaking natives.

I no longer remember what we did at the fair (other than eat), but do know we always stayed till dark, stopping at the “Fun Zone” on our way out.  My sister and I weren’t much for carnival rides, but we did love to pitch dimes at small faux Depression-glass bowls in one of the many game booths.  Vicki had an extraordinary arm, filling both our and Ti’s kitchen cabinets with tiny glass bowls—far too many, even for our family of hardy dessert-eaters. 

Me, Ti and Vic 


It’s been many years since I’ve been to the fair, so naturally I said I’d go when Tim announced he had to work a remote broadcast from there this past weekend.

The radio show started at 7AM.  We spent the night before at the Fairplex Sheraton (Pomona is still a very looong way away!).  I was surprised to see the fairgrounds looking pretty much the same: the big grandstand/racetrack at the center, farm animals to the north, the flower and garden pavilion to the south, and the permanent exhibit buildings on the east.  The “Fun Zone” has been replaced by rides located throughout the park.  Tim’s broadcast booth was next to the sky ride, from which passengers were admonished not to throw objects or spit (!).

My first stop was the old flower and garden pavilion, where I had spent many delight-filled hours as a youth—an early indicator, no doubt, of my future fascination with all things botanical (who knew?).  I was distressed to find myself back in the 1960s, however, staring at tacky lush landscapes and lots of water features.  Have the county fair exhibitors learned nothing about drought-resistent California plants in all these years?  A major disappointment.

I next went in search of Gramma’s Mexican Village.  Now called the more politically correct “Plaza de las Américas,” the stage—and the performers!—looked exactly the same, though the audience was decidedly much more heterogeneous.  Hawkers were selling the same old south-of-the-border junk; but Spanish-language radio station KWKW's booth, where Ti and I were interviewed on the air many years ago, was now history.

I then moseyed over to Fairview Farms.  In the old days, the cows, goats, pigs, chickens, and sheep were all confined to small pens.  At least now the barn was spacious, allowing the animals to roam around and stay clear of humans, if they so desired.  Where else can you laugh at a mound of adorable sleeping piglets, then step outside and order barbecued pork as soon as you leave the barn?  The county fair is nothing if not incongruous!

I spent a good hour walking down the crowded aisles of the “Shopping Place,” where you can buy everything from jewelry, candy, sewing machines, beds, flags, several brands of kitchenware, handbags, flying toy helicopters, vegetable choppers, grave sites and coffins (yikes!), and fake chamois.  You can also have your teeth whitened and/or get a foot massage, while waiting for the next product demonstration to begin.  

This, too, was a familiar throwback to my childhood.  But I did stumble upon two completely new areas that I would have loved as a kid: a medieval town, where youngsters posed with fake knights and a magician, and Jurassic Planet, a pretty good exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs.

As fun as all that was, the biggest highlight for me was the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts, where “Eclectic Collectibles” were being displayed.  Here I found collections of postcards, lunch boxes, comicbooks, buttons, thousands of soda-can pull-tabs carefully shaped into furniture, wood sculptures, fruitbox labels, and an assortment of signs on loan from the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale.  This alone was worth the price of admission.

And, of course, no county fair experience is complete without massive quantities of mostly fried food.  But as even Tim discovered, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing!  For the first time ever, he couldn’t finish his hot dog.  Another county fair memory to cherish!

Vicki, me and Dad