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

Monday, October 12, 2015

Rise of the Jack-O-Lanterns

We decided not to do the Disneyland Halloween party this year, so instead schlepped out to Arcadia for "Rise of the Jack-O-Lanterns," a large nighttime display of carved pumpkins setup on the Santa Anita racetrack parking lot. It took two hours to get there via surface streets (trying to avoid Friday night rush-hour traffic on the freeways—silly us!), 30 minutes to wait on line and only 30 minutes to go through the actual event, so I doubt we'll ever go back. But the pumpkins were impressive, as you can see below (click on images to enlarge). There were animals, dinosaurs, cars, skeletons, and monsters all made out of pumpkins. Even more impressive, however, was how they survived the oppressive heat—it was still 93 degrees in Arcadia when we arrived at 7PM!

Gigantic skull made of 20+ pumpkins
Brad and Angelina
Darth Vader
"Sadness," from Inside Out
"Joy," from Inside Out
In memoriam: Spock

Friday, October 09, 2015

Flight Path Museum

Flight Path Museum & Learning Center 
The Flight Path Museum and Learning Center is one of the best kept secrets in Los Angeles. Housed in an old private airline terminal on the southern rim of LAX, the museum celebrates the glory days of aviation, when passengers dressed-up to fly cross-country and were served meals on real china dishes. 
Lots of aviation artifacts
A parade of flight attendant uniforms of yore (colorful!)
American Airlines exhibit
We discovered the museum in 2008 and have attended their annual fundraiser gala for the past several years. Australia Airlines was a sponsor this year, so we got to walk around under one of their gigantic planes. On previous visits, we got to go inside the much smaller DC3 parked alongside the museum. I may hate to fly, but I do love airplanes.

Spirit of Seventy-Six DC3

The Flight Path Museum is truly a hidden gem that's open free (!) to the public, Tuesday-Saturday. We highly recommend stopping by for an hour the next time you're in El Segundo.

The view from under Australia Airlines plane
Enjoying the gala

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Muppets Studio

I adore the Muppets’ Christmas CD and I cried when Kermit sang “The Rainbow Connection” live during a tribute to Jim Henson at the D23 Expo six years ago, but I’m not a big Muppets fan. Tim and Karen, on the other hand, love the Muppets, so the three of us got tickets to a lunch event at the Henson studios, last Saturday, honoring Muppets-master Jim Henson, who was posthumously inducted as a Disneyana Fan Club “legend.” But let’s get real: we were mainly there to see the studio, which is one of the most historic lots in Hollywood.

Built on La Brea, just south of Sunset Blvd., the studio was home to Charlie Chaplin’s film company from 1917 until it was sold in 1953. To fit in with the surrounding architecture of the time, Chaplin created a compound that looks like an English village. I remember always being fascinated by it when I was a kid, driving to the La Brea tar pits with my family.

La Brea entrance to the studio
Interior: homey offices
Chaplin peaking out from a doorway on La Brea 
In 1966, the studio was bought by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, who converted it into the HQ of their record label, A&M. Jim Henson took over in 2000 and installed a 12-foot statue of Kermit, dressed as Chaplin’s “Little Tramp,” at the entrance, where he remains today. 

Kermit as the Little Tramp 
Lunch, which was served on the Chaplin sound stage, featured some of the more famous dishes (e.g., Cobb salad and grapefruit cake) of the long-gone Brown Derby restaurants.

Cute Muppet centerpieces
We, however, were most thrilled by the lot itself. Tiny, compared to other studios we’ve seen, the lot was homey and very intimate. After lunch, we got to walk around and tour the grounds on our own. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Jim's son Brian's office (click on image to enlarge)
Life-size Carol from Where the Wild Things Are
Muppets everywhere!
On lampshade
Miss Piggy as lady's room sign
Men's room sign
Relaxing before heading home