Sunday, August 26, 2012

Victory at Sea

Built in 1945, the S.S. Lane Victory delivered cargo to battle sites during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. A designated national landmark, the Lane Victory now serves as a local naval museum that also sails to Catalina Island several times during the summer. Tim (former Navy) must have had a hankerin’ to go to sea, because he suggested taking a daylong cruise this weekend. I agreed, desperate to get out of the miserable heat that’s plagued L.A. the past few weeks. We made reservations to sail aboard the Lane Victory yesterday.

The ship was leaving port at 9AM, so I got up early and packed a bag: blanket, sweatshirt, camera, magazines, water, baguette, and a big slab of cheese. The trip included continental breakfast and lunch, but one can never be overly prepared for such occasions. We both grew-up watching Gilligan’s Island, after all.

We arrived at Berth 46 a little before 8AM. We could already see hundreds of people crawling all over the ship. We boarded and staked our claim for a place to sit—well, actually lean, as there are far fewer seats (i.e., folding chairs) than there are travelers, so it’s first-come, first-served. Since we were among the youngest people there, we decided to stand. We got a firsthand look at the tugboats as they guided the ship out of the harbor and watched as the pilot debarked. By 9:30AM, we were on the open sea.

Waiting to launch

Our tug arrives

L.A. lighthouse and jet-skiers riding alongside

Heading toward Catalina

We’d done the cruise before. Still, it’s fun to climb up and down the ladders and poke around in the various rooms that are open to the public. A swing band and Andrews Sisters cover group performed most of the day, so we settled in near them and joined dancers who were dressed in 1940s outfits. We arrived at Catalina just as the sun was starting to break through. The island looked tempting, but we stayed outside its small harbor, moving in a wide circle while everyone ate lunch.

Land ho! Catalina straight ahead

Beautiful Avalon harbor

Lunch is served!

We were relaxing and enjoying the cool sea breeze when suddenly a voice came over the ship’s loudspeaker, warning that a German spy had been captured in the boiler room. A few minutes later, our ship was under attack by WWII German airplanes! American planes were in hot pursuit. An exciting dogfight ensued as Lane Victory gunners shot at the enemy. A small boy standing next to me wondered why, with all the shooting going on, the Germans hadn’t crashed into the sea. His older brother patiently explained that it was just a show, but the boy didn’t seem convinced.

German spy is captured

German plane is hit, but doesn't crash!

Lane Victory model

After the Germans were subdued, the ship headed back to L.A. We spent some time below deck, looking through the WWII artifacts in the museum, and then danced. We were back in port by 3PM. It took a good hour, however, before the gangplank was lowered and we were allowed to leave. By then we were famished. Thank goodness for our cheese and baguette!

Home: Port of Los Angeles

Enjoying the sea aboard the big white steamer
to Catalina, early 1970s

40 years later

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hayden Tract

Samitaur Tower, where videos and
art reproductions are projected at night

Although I’m more of a “linear” kind of gal, I nonetheless love non-linear architecture. Gaudí’s naturalistic Spanish masterpieces, Frank Gehry’s EMP and Disney Hall, and even the wacky facades of the old BEST showrooms can all provide endless hours of fascination. A bit disturbing at first glance, these types of amazing buildings always provoke thought as well as emotion. I am a big fan.

I was, therefore, thrilled when the Southern California Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians offered a tour yesterday of Culver City’s own Hayden Tract. Initially built by Sam Hayden as a postwar industrial park, the factories in this 40-acre area were largely abandoned by the mid-1980s. Enter Laurie and Frederick Samitaur-Smith, a couple of progressive urbanists, who saw the development potential of the buildings and so began renovation in 1986. Their vision: to use forward-looking architecture to attract creative, forward-looking tenants. Today, the Hayden Tract stands as an excellent example of adaptive reuse and is the hub of Culver City’s cultural renaissance.

Designed by local architect Eric Owen Moss, some of the buildings are whimsical, others pose geometric challenges. All of them are interesting. (Click on images to make larger.)

The Stealth building: triangular on one end,
rectangular on the other

Interior detail

Stealth (background) and circular "intervention" to break-up
the monotony of a nearby windowless wall

3535 Hayden - note the drooping corners

3535 Hayden - the bow-string trusses are from
the original building

3535 Hayden - interior art gallery space

Interior trusses detail

Tim contemplating the view

Cactus Tower renovation of
former industrial press

Cactus detail

The Umbrella corner feature

Umbrella side view

Another view

The Beehive

The Box

The back of the Samitaur Tower

Samitaur Tower detail

The Hayden Tract is located at the intersection of National Blvd. and Hayden Ave. in eastern Culver City. Most of the buildings are visible from the Expo Line between the La Cienega and Culver City stops.

Expo Line zipping along National Blvd.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Walt's Barn

Walt and his trains

As we were leaving Anaheim on Thursday (see below), I turned to my sister and said I’d had enough of Disney for a while. After all, Tim and I had been to the parks four times over the past two months! How much more could one person stand?

My sister just laughed, knowing my tolerance level for all things Disney is actually quite high. In fact, Tim and I had already purchased tickets for a Disney event Saturday night: a barbecue to raise funds to help preserve Walt’s old barn, sponsored by the Carolwood Foundation.

Walt's barn

We had never heard of Carolwood until our friends mentioned it when we were in Arroyo Grande last month. Turns out there’s a local group, called L.A. Live Steamers, that maintains a museum and 8 miles of narrow-gauge model railroad tracks in nearby Griffith Park. Included on this property is the barn Walt Disney owned when he and his family lived on Carolwood Dr. in the Holmby Hills. According to Disney lore, this is where Walt and his colleagues developed many of their creative ideas, including plans for a future amusement park called Disneyland. Today the barn is considered the birthplace of Disney’s Imagineering. It is open to the public, 11AM-3PM, the third Sunday of every month.

A "combine car" from Disneyland

While Tim was researching the model train group, he noticed that the Carolwood Foundation, which spearheaded the relocation of the barn to Griffith Park in the late 1990s, was having a fund-raising barbecue. I don’t subscribe to what I call “the cult of Walt Disney.” Still, I am interested in the history of Disneyland, so was vaguely aware of the barn, though didn’t exactly know its significance. Regardless, we do love barbecue and learning about historical places in L.A. and so registered for the event.

Disney fans come in all shapes, colors and ages and usually wear their various allegiances proudly. Fans of certain movies or theme park rides, for instance, tend to wear t-shirts or jewelry depicting their favorites. Not so much with the Carolwood crowd.

“Oh oh,” I whispered to Tim, while we were waiting on line to get in. “I think these folks might be more into trains than they are Disney.”

But I was wrong. As we soon found out, everyone there was totally into Disney and Walt Disney, in particular. Guest speakers included Alice Davis, the “Disney Legend” who not only designed the dress that Sleeping Beauty wore in the cartoon movie, she also designed the costumes for the “It’s a Small World” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” rides. When asked during the audience Q&A what job she’d like to do if Walt were still alive today, she answered, “Whatever Walt asked!”

Also speaking was John Kimball, whose father Ward Kimball was a “Disney Legend,” too, and master illustrator. Ward operated a full-sized train engine in his backyard and was the one who first introduced Walt to the world of model railroads. Both speakers were fascinating.

The barn, which features photos and many artifacts of Walt’s love of railroads, was open. Several trains were also running, so we rode around the grounds twice. I daresay we are now hooked on 1/8th-scale model railroads!

Fun stuff in the barn

And, oh yeah, last night we went to the Pixar concert at the Hollywood Bowl. It was wonderful. I guess I'm not quite done with Disney yet.

Ridin' the rails

Sunday, August 05, 2012

California Adventure

Vicki and me in Radiator Springs

My sister Vicki was in town this past week, so Tim got employee vouchers allowing the four of us (including Karen) into Disney California Adventure (DCA) at 8AM on Wednesday. The plan was to get there right when the park opened so we could run into Cars Land and take a quick spin on the new Radiator Springs Racers ride. Vicki and I had already decided to spend Wednesday night in Anaheim, but Tim and Karen planned to return home early to beat rush-hour traffic.

By the time we parked and took the tram, it was 7:40AM when we arrived at DCA—plenty of time to use the restroom and get organized before the gates opened. But wait! The gates were already open. Quite the coup, we thought, until we saw the sign saying the Racers weren't operating till 10AM. So instead of waiting on line for 2 hours, we opted to get a “fast pass”—i.e., a ticket that allows you to go on a ride at a specific time without having to wait on line—except, of course, we had to wait on a long line to get our passes. After an hour, we finally got our not-so-fast passes for the earliest time available: 6PM! Tim and Karen had to spend the entire day with us after all.

Karen and Tim on Junkyard Jamboree

We, of course, ended up having a wonderful, if exhausting, time. We did the Junkyard Jamboree, which I love, and then headed over to the Paradise Pier section of the park, where Tim took the rollercoaster while Vicki, Karen and I went on the considerably tamer Little Mermaid ride. (Note to self: Little Mermaid cars were built for a parent and two small children, not for the wide rears of three middle-aged women!) By 10:30AM it was already getting hot, so we decided to go on the Grizzly River Run, a white-water rafting flume that’s always fun but very wet. Completely drenched, we hobbled back to Buena Vista Street, where I had made early lunch reservations at the Carthay Circle restaurant, DCA’s “fanciest” sit-down restaurant. We happily dripped-off outside while watching cast members perform a few numbers from Newsies, Disney’s most recent Broadway musical, including an unexpected guest appearance by Mickey Mouse.

Walt, Mickey and me

As I’ve reported elsewhere on this blog, Buena Vista Street is meant to represent the Los Angeles Walt Disney experienced when he came here in the 1920s. At its heart is a replica of the Carthay Circle theater, an L.A. icon that was unfortunately demolished in 1969 to make way for a hideous “box” office building. DCA celebrates Carthay Circle as both an architectural masterpiece and cultural hub. The ground-floor lobby, especially, is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of motion pictures, but the food upstairs is darn good, too.

Lunch at Carthay Circle

We eventually moseyed over to Disneyland, which seems a lot less crowded these days now that California Adventure has been renovated. We returned to DCA a few minutes before 6PM. With fast passes in hand, we rushed up to the Racers ride, only to be turned away. The ride was having mechanical problems—check back in an hour! Crestfallen, we decided to grab a bite before Tim and Karen drove home. But just as we were about to place our order, I happened to glance toward the Racers and saw cars filled with people zoom by!

“I think the ride is running!” I yelled.

We gathered our things and ran over to the ride. Sure enough, it was running. I’ll let the photo below tell the rest of the story.

 Are we going fast? Click on the photo to check-out Vicki's hair!

In the end, we all agreed that it was worth the daylong wait.

Tim and Karen left happy, while Vicki and I stayed and shopped. Soon after, we collapsed in our hotel room and didn’t wake-up till the next morning, when we had breakfast reservations at my favorite "character restaurant," Goofy’s Kitchen. Back to reality by noon.

Goofy's Kitchen - gawrsh!

Vicki and Mulan

P.S. All the affordable rooms at the Disney resort were booked by the time I made our reservation, so Vicki and I stayed at the Anaheim Sheraton, located on Ball and Disneyland Way, directly north of Disneyland. I was disappointed when they gave us a room on the ground floor, because I was hoping to see the Disneyland fireworks from a second-story window. We were just starting to watch the Olympics, when we heard loud booms bouncing off the walls. Poking my head outside, I was amazed to see fireworks bursting above the hotel! I had forgotten that the fireworks are released from a lot just north of Disneyland, right across the street from where we were. They were spectacular. So if you want to see Disneyland fireworks up close and personal, spend the night at the Anaheim Sheraton: reasonably priced rooms, trademark “heavenly” beds, and fireworks, too.

See ya next time!