Thursday, December 31, 2015

Tournament of Roses

Tournament of Rose Association logo
It's been many moons since either of us has seen the Rose Parade in person—been-there-done-that when we were much younger and far more foolish! But I do love the spectacle of the parade and so get up early to watch it live on TV every year. No wonder then that I was thrilled when Tim's friend Art invited us to the big Tournament of Roses holiday party at the Wrigley Mansion, in Pasadena, a couple of weeks ago.

Mansion entrance
For the past 115 years, the parade has been managed by the Tournament of Roses Association, a volunteer-run organization that utilizes the talents of some 1000 people (including our friend Art) year-round to prepare for both the parade and Rose Bowl game. The Association's headquarters is located inside the Wrigley Mansion, an 18,500 square-foot Italian Renaissance-style home built 1905-1914 by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley. The mansion was donated to the city of Pasadena in 1958 with the understanding that it would house the Tournament of Roses. Once a year, the home is opened to the friends and family of Association volunteers to celebrate the holidays and the upcoming parade and Rose Bowl game.

 Front door decorated for Christmas 

We've driven by the house, located on Orange Grove Blvd., probably hundreds of times, but had never been inside. For a large mansion, it was remarkably cozy, especially with hundreds of other gawkers milling around! Art showed us the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame room upstairs and the room where the Rose queen and her princesses get ready for the parade.

 Rose Bowl Hall of Fame honorees

 Team helmets

The Royal Court's powder room
We then went downstairs—along with everyone else—for a buffet meal that included salads, sandwiches and an array of desserts. We lost Art in the crowd early on, but rejoined him before leaving the grounds. Among the special things we saw was an illustrated line-up of the 2016 floats—looks like it's going to be another excellent parade! I can hardly wait.

The buffet line

Flagpole from the 1960 Winter Olympics,
donated by Walt Disney, chair of pageantry

Front door plaque

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays 2015!

Christmas cheer
Season's greetings to you all! It was a fun year and we're looking forward to even more fun as an old retired couple, starting January 1st! See you then.

Holiday selfie: Count Basie orchestra Christmas Concert, 
last night at Disney Hall in downtown L.A.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Force Awakens

Han Solo movie poster
Like everyone else in the universe, we're counting the days till the new Star Wars movie officially opens on Friday. To hold us over, we recently made a quick trip to Disneyland, where Tomorrowland has been transformed into the "Season of the Force," complete with a Launch Bay exhibit promoting the new movie and elite collectibles (a $4000 Darth Vader costume and $12,000 life-sized Storm trooper statue—yikes!). We rode "Star Tours," which has been updated to include Force Awakens characters (excellent!), but opted not to wait 90 minutes on line for the temporarily revamped "Space Mountain" ride.

 Updated Storm trooper

Millennium Falcon model


Imperial starcruiser model

Bring me the head of Darth Vader . . . 
as a cotton candy container—only at

After successfully avoiding all reviews—and after re-watching the original Star Wars movies the night before—we made our way to our local multiplex yesterday morning for the 8:30AM show. It was already the third screening of the day. The theater wasn't full, but several large groups of adults entered togetherI speculated they were employees of Sony and Culver Studios, both within walking distance. As usual, the audience was mostly male.

Tim and I loved the movie. Director J.J. Abrams got it exactly right. Filled with familiar imagery, plot lines and themes, it is the perfect sequel to the original three Star Wars films. (Prequels? What prequels?) Plus it was wonderful seeing all our favorite characters and spaceships. (The Millennium Falcon got a huge round of applause.) I won't spoil the story, which is filled with surprises. Suffice it to say, fans will laugh and cry (like I did), but will be overjoyed to be back in the world they love.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Happy Birthday, Frank!

Cake and champagne to celebrate Sinatra's birthday
One of the things that drew Tim and me together, 30 years ago, was a common love of Frank Sinatra. We both grew-up listening to his music and watching his films. His infatuation with Ava Gardner was romantically epic; plus he was, for a little while at least, a friend of the Kennedys. What's not to love?

Yesterday would have been Frank's 100th birthday. To celebrate, we schlepped over the hill to see John Pizzarelli—another favorite singer—perform iconic Sinatra songs at the Valley Performing Arts Center. We were certainly among peers: everyone there was either our age or older. Cake and champagne were served during intermission, after we all sang "Happy Birthday" to the one-and-only Chairman of the Board.

BTW, if you're a fan, there's an interesting Sinatra exhibit running through February 2016 at the Grammy Museum. Lots of film-clips and memorabilia to see and a good overview of his career.

Me and the elevator at the Grammy Museum—
winter has finally arrived, can you tell? 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Disney Auction (cont'd.)

Auction catalog, complete with post-its marking items 
I hoped to buy

I had already decided to participate in last Saturday’s Disney auction, when an unexpected surprise arrived in the mail: a free catalog from Van Eaton Gallery, the folks conducting the auction. I had gone to their first Disney auction in February and had actually bought something, so I guess they had my number.

I immediately went through the catalog and marked items to bid on. I then checked eBay to see if I could buy the same items there for less, but no such luck. I was stuck competing with everyone else for the least expensive items in the catalog.

Tim had other things to do on Saturday, so I was on my own. I arrived early enough, but parking was restricted to only two hours along Ventura Blvd. and so had to park a mile away in a Sherman Oaks residential area. I ran into the gallery, got my paddle and barely sat down before the first gavel. Last February, the auction was held in a roomy outdoor tent. This time about 75 of us either stood or sat on uncomfortable folding chairs inside a small vacant storefront next door. The gallery did provide a nice array of food—sliced fruit, vegetables, hummus, nuts, etc.—a true godsend, since the majority of attendees were there for the duration. Heaven forbid we missed bidding on our favorite item for want of a sandwich!

It quickly became apparent who was interested in buying what. A man in the front row bought most of the badges from old Disneyland uniforms. Another scooped up all the brochures from long-gone motels that once surrounded the park. Anything related to the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, or Tiki Room was popular. One man bought everything having to do with the Peter Pan ride.

With over 800 items to sell, bidding was, for the most part, fast and furious. Bids were taken over the phone, via the Internet, by absentee proxy, and, of course, in-person. I was desperate for two promotional Disneyland posters, but withdrew my paddle when Internet bids exceeded $1000. The virtual buyers seemed to have all the money. We cheered wildly whenever someone in the room won a big item.

Paper ephemera (e.g., Disneyland employee manuals, old ticket booklets, a feasibility study, etc.) were sold first. (I snuck off to the restroom during a spate of Epcot items—boring!). A maintenance manual for the It’s a Small World ride sold for $1100. We then moved on to park concept drawings. Suddenly the bidding got more heated. A sketch of a Pirates of the Caribbean character by Marc Davis, one of Disney’s most famous imagineers, sold for $4000. Another bidder bought a concept painting of New Orleans Square’s “Angels Court” for $20,000.

Posters were next—a real feeding frenzy! I was surprised the Euro Disney posters were so popular: $16,000 for an Adventureland poster and $20,000 for a French Sleeping Beauty’s castle. As someone behind me whispered, “It’s Euro Disney, for cryin’ out loud! Who cares?”

The auction then moved on to costumes and park uniforms. Not wanting to go home empty-handed, I bid against the man sitting next to me for a set of Monorail uniform buttons and was stunned when the auctioneer pointed our way at the end. “Did you win or did I?” I asked my competitor. “You did!” he laughed. I couldn’t believe my own luck.

All mine: Monorail uniform buttons

From my handful of buttons, the action soon escalated to Disneyland props—i.e., actual items from the park. Who doesn’t want to own a real piece of Disneyland? A bench from Main Street sold for $27,500, while part of a popcorn cart went for $8000. The star item, however, was the PeopleMover cars that were estimated to sell for $300,000. We all held our collective breath as bidding started at $250,000 and then rapidly escalated from phone to Internet buyer. Right when it looked like the bidding was going to stop at $400,000, a phone buyer topped that offer. The final bid: $410,000! We all screamed and applauded and then held our breath again as buyers madly out-bid each other for a refurbished yellow skybucket. Though not as exorbitant, the bidding was no less frenzied as the gavel finally went down at $11,500.

A few smaller items followed before a short break was announced—our first of the day. I was amazed to discover that it was already four o’clock! Should I stay or should I go home? Another big item—a car from Space Mountain—was up next, as was an animatronic Jack Skellington head from Haunted Mansion Holiday. Plus there were all the smaller souvenir items I probably could actually afford. But I was hungry and tired, so my feet took me into the wilds of Sherman Oaks, where I hopped into my car and headed home.

P.S. When Tim and I returned to Van Eaton on Monday to pick-up my Monorail booty, we were told the Space Mountain car didn’t sell (shocking!) and that the auction continued until after 8PM. (Thank goodness I went home.) We were also advised to keep an eye peeled for another Disney auction a year from now with even more exciting stuff. I can hardly wait!

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Disney Auction

Up for auction: Disneyland sky-bucket

We spent a good part of Halloween Day in Sherman Oaks at the Van Eaton Galleries, where a second auction of Disneyland memorabilia and artifacts will take place on November 21. Meanwhile, all auction items are on display at the galleries, so we took a quick trip over the hill into the Valley to see them.

A group of young men followed us into Van Eaton. "Oh my god!" one of them gasped.

"Already with the gasping?" his friend snorted, rolling his eyes. "We just got here!"

But I understood completely, because sitting in the middle of the gallery was a paper model of the most fabulous building ever featured at Disneyland: the Monsanto House of the Future. The estimated auction price: $3500 (yikes!). Nonetheless, it was a thrill to see in person.

Paper model of the Monsanto House: be still my heart!

Rocket to the Moon model . . .

and plate

Jungle Cruise model

Animatronic face without "skin" (creepy!)

Animatronic Jack Skellington from Haunted Mansion Holiday

  Mickey banner

 Matterhorn sign

 Original Shag painting celebrating Enchanted Tiki Room 40th anniversary

Lots of wonderful things!
As you can see above, there were also lots of other wonderful things—everything from Disneyland charm bracelets to plates, maps, and ride blueprints to posters and cast member costumes. The real pièce-de-résistance, however, was two refurbished PeopleMover cars, plus working console. Never one of my favorites—too boring for my taste—the long-gone ride still has rabid fans. Not surprisingly, the cars are expected to fetch more than $300,000. 

 Larger auction items in a space nextdoor to the gallery

Prices were way beyond our means at the first auction, which Tim and I attended in February; but I can't wait to see the bidding for the PeopleMover. You know where I'll be on November 21!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Walt and Salvador

My mother was quite the artist when she was a teenager, growing up in NYC. So talented, in fact, that—according to family lore—she was offered a scholarship to study with Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí, when she graduated from high school. Instead, she came to California, where she met my father and, at age 19, became a housewife and mother, like everyone else. Nevertheless, as a kid I was smitten by the romantic notion of what-might-have-been and became fascinated by the works of Salvador Dalí.

Two of Mom's best paintings (click on image to enlarge)

The Disney Family Museum is currently featuring an exhibit on Dalí and his relationship with Walt Disney. An odd pair, to be sure, but the museum does an excellent job of paralleling the subversive art of both men, until 1937 when Dalí proclaims, in a letter, that he’s going to California to meet one of his favorite “fellow surrealists,” Walt Disney! They eventually decide to work on a film together, Destino, animated by Dalí, but you can no doubt figure out how that particular story ends (think: Mickey Mouse vs. dripping clocks).

Dalí painting

Despite their differences, the two cultural giants remained friends and, in the late 1950s, visited each other’s homes. My favorite photo in the entire exhibit shows a very regal and straight-backed Dalí riding the narrow-gauge train, Lilly Belle, in Walt’s Brentwood backyard.

The exhibit runs till January 3, 2016. Highly recommended!


P.S. In addition to the Dalí, there is also a small but wonderful exhibit, about Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, in the basement of the main museum. Quotations, photos and footage from the old Disney TV shows capture Walt’s vision of the future.

Hip couple of the future
Drawing of my beloved Monsanto House
And, of course, me

Monday, October 19, 2015

MAK Tour of the Valley

Struckus House 
In 1920, renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright sent his Austrian-born protéRudolph Schindler to Los Angeles to oversee construction of the now world-famous Hollyhock House. Seeing the potential here, Schindler decided to stay in L.A. and built his own equally famous house on Kings Road, in West Hollywood, where he lived and worked until his death in 1953. 

The Kings Road house is now home to the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, which offers an annual tour of architecturally-significant buildings in the L.A. area. Yesterday's tour featured five phenomenal houses—two of which were designed by Schindler himself—in the south end of the San Fernando Valley. Not only do we love Valley homes "south of the boulevard" [i.e. Ventura Blvd.], as Tim likes to say, but we also love Schindler's work. So we were there.

Struckus House

Designed by Bruce Goff in the 1980s, the Struckus house is a four-story, bug-eyed redwood-clad cylinder that blends in perfectly with its rustic setting. We entered on the ground floor, through an amazing front door, and then climbed up a spiral staircase that led to the living room at the top. Each floor is open—that is, there is no barrier preventing someone from falling to the bottom—so a net was installed to catch any stray visitors. As you can see, the home was absolutely fascinating.

Looking upward from outside
Front door with stained glass inlay
Looking down the spiral staircase
Standing on the third floor, looking up at the living room, 
through the netting
Van Dekker House
Rescued from near demolition in 2008, this massive house was designed by Schindler  for actor Albert Dekker, who was best known for his role of the movie Dr. Cyclops. Built in 1940 when there was little else occupying Woodland Hills, the house features seven small bedrooms and four baths. But its most spectacular space is the living room, which opens up to the second story and is covered in wood and stone to match its outdoor surroundings. Furnishings are sparse, because the owner is still renovating the interior as well as the exterior.
Van Dekker house exterior
Magnificent living room
Schindler-designed dining room set
Exterior detail: green copper roof
Looking down on the living room from second floor
Phineas Kappe House
Typical of most mid-century modern L.A. homes, the Phineas Kappe house, built by architect Ray Kappe for his parents in 1956, features a glorious open floor plan and post-and-beam frame. Huge glass windows and a small reflecting pool, in the main living area, create an outdoor-indoor feeling. I loved this house. 
 Phineas Kappe house exterior
Open living area
Reflecting pool in entrance
Barsha House
Built in 1959 and renovated in 2007, the Barsha house, also designed by Ray Kappe, offers another wonderfully open common living area and fabulous views of the Valley.
Looking down on the living room from the second story
Spiral staircase connecting first and second floors
Living room detail
View of the Valley from second floor
Goodwin House
A much smaller home than the Van Dekker house, the 1940 Goodwin home reflects Schindler's interest in integrating the outside environment into human living spaces. Built on the side of a hill, all west-facing windows look upon trees and nature.
Main living area and outside view
Built-in dining table
Schindler efficiency: built-in beds with storage underneath