Saturday, May 21, 2016

Capitol Records Tower

VIP tour pass
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Capitol Records Tower, one of the most iconic buildings in L.A. Distinctly round—like a stack of LPs—the Tower is HQ to Capitol Records, creative home to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, the Beach Boys, Barbra Streisand, and many of our other favorite performers. Interestingly, the Beatles never recorded here as a group, though Capitol did release their early albums (produced in the U.K.) stateside.

 Magnificent: one of my all-time favorite 
L.A. buildings

To celebrate the building's 60th anniversary, several two-hour tours were announced a few weeks ago and quickly sold-out. But not before we bought tickets. At 11AM today, a group of ten of us were treated to an intimate and rare look inside Capitol's recording studios, located in the heart of Hollywood. Our tour guides obviously had a field day assembling exhibits to thrill and amaze us. Here's just a small portion of what we saw:

Entering the inner sanctum—no artists recording today

Tim and vintage audio console still used to record
contemporary performers, like Paul McCartney and
Katy Perry

Vintage microphone still in use

Me and the mic Dean Martin is using
in the photo below (mood lighting!)


Tim and hero Frank Sinatra's 

The organ Billy Preston played on Let It Be with the 
Beatles at Abbey Road Studios

Though the Beatles never recorded at Capitol as a group,
they did hold a famous press conference here after
playing the Hollywood Bowl. Me and George Harrison
with one of the mics the Boys used. (Can you find my
Beatles pin?)

To me, all audio consoles look alike. But, judging by the group's
reaction, this one is apparently special: a 1970s Neve 
still in use today.

More old equipment still used . . .

One of the highlights was getting to see a master
disc being cut for a vinyl 45. This is the machine that
cuts the masters from which vinyl records are (still being) made.

All done, we were escorted out the back door
to the parking lot. What an unforgettable, 
once-in-lifetime experience!

Expo Line to Santa Monica

Waiting for the train to Santa Monica
The long-awaited extended Expo line lightrail, from Culver City to Santa Monica, finally opened yesterday. We, of course, had to be among the first to ride it. 

The new rail was due to open at noon, so at 11AM we walked two blocks to Sepulveda Blvd. to catch the northbound #6 Culver City bus to Pico. We arrived at the lightrail station 15 minutes later to find police cars and a line of people, of all ages and creeds, waiting to get on the train. As one seasoned passenger said, "They're here for the novelty, but will never ride it again!"

 Waiting on line

 Tim advising older riders how to get senior fares

On the platform

We were allowed onto the platform at 11:50AM. Everyone was jubilant. A trolley promptly arrived a few minutes after noon; but our cheers quickly turned to boos when we realized it wasn't in service. We waited another 10 minutes for the real first car to arrive. But again more disappointment when the doors opened and there wasn't room for even one person to get on. We ended up waiting half-an-hour, when we finally squeezed our way onto the third set of cars. By some miracle, I snagged a seat next to a young man who had never ridden the lightrail before. He was on his way to work and had no idea where to get off. After two false starts, he exited. I saw him on the platform, looking confused, as we zipped by.

 New trolley to Santa Monica--love the color!

No room for us!

 The first train to L.A.

Fun decorations

Heading north

We finally got on--Tim holding tight
We arrived in Santa Monica after about 20 minutes. Hundreds of people were waiting on the other end to catch the train to downtown L.A. We decided to eat lunch, in hopes the crowd would subside. Turns out we were overly optimistic. Still, it was worth the wait. Santa Monica may be only 8 miles from Culver City, but driving there is always a nightmare. Though not ideal, taking the trolley, from now on, will be a complete joy.

Waiting to go home

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Space Shuttle's External Tank

Me and ET
As I reported here back in October 2012, one of the biggest thrills of my life was seeing the space shuttle Endeavour travel down the streets of Los Angeles as it made its way to Exposition Park, where it now lives.

Well, it's about to be joined by the last remaining external shuttle fuel tank, which arrived in Marina del Rey yesterday, after sailing here from New Orleans. The tanks are typically jettisoned eight minutes into lift-off, so it's highly unusual to see one still in tact. This is one of the few built for flight, but never used. Eventually, it will be attached to the Endeavour, which will be repositioned to stand erect. What a coup for L.A. to get both the shuttle and an external tank.

 Lift-off: Endeavour with external tank

With the Marina only a handful of miles away, Tim and I made a beeline to see the tank before anyone else. We parked at a nearby shopping center and then walked the short distance to the dock. Turns out lots of other people had the same idea, too.

Not as spectacular as the shuttle, the tank, dubbed ET, is nonetheless impressive with its orange foam exterior and massive size. At 154 feet, it is longer than the shuttle and weighs 38 tons without fuel. Getting it from the Marina to Exposition Park will be another engineering marvel. 

 Looks like an enormous hot dog (or am I just hungry?)

Top end of the tank

Bottom end (detail)

Hauling crew and equipment

ET Xing
At this point, we have no plans to see the tank cruise the streets of L.A. in the wee hours of Saturday morning, but may change our minds come Friday night. Check back with us on Saturday . . .

Saturday, May 14, 2016


Tim at the California Automobile Museum
I have a book manuscript due in January, so I've been running around the state doing research: San Diego a month ago, the Central Coast a week later, and Sacramento this past week. I often go alone, but it's always much more fun when Tim comes along. Between bouts of research, we did some fun sightseeing in Sacramento.

California State Library

Built in the late 1920s, the State Library is located across the street from the State Capitol and is considered one the state's most beautiful government buildings. Architecturally modified over the years, the library was recently renovated to its original glory. Here are just a few images of its magnificence:

Front facade

Lobby ceiling

Former circulation room. Note card catalogs still in the walls.

Statue detail

Chandelier and ceiling detail

Gillis Hall (i.e., reference room) plaque

Gillis Hall mural by Maynard Dixon

Other side of mural

California Automobile Museum

We have lots of car museums here in L.A., but a friend recommended the California Auto Museum, so we went. He was right. Housed in a large warehouse, the museum does a nice job chronicling the history of automobiles from the late 19th century to now. 

My personal favorite era has always been the 1930s-50s, when cars were built to last. They may not have been as fuel-efficient as today, but all that chrome and those fabulous colors—wow! I obviously went berserk taking photos:

Funky homemade RV


Gunther's Ice Cream

We first heard of Gunther's, last year, when Charles Phoenix posted a video of his favorite ice cream parlor in Sacramento. We made a mental note and went looking for it after visiting the auto museum. On a corner surrounded by houses, Gunther's has been making and serving ice cream since 1940. 

School had just let out and so the place was packed. We soon found out why. I got a raspberry sherbet cone and Tim a root beer float. Can't wait to go back! 

Gunther's ice cream parlor

Neon sign detail (not lit-up during day)

Waiting inside . . .

Tim's RBF and me and my cone

California State Railroad Museum

As noted elsewhere on this blog, we love trains. So no surprise that we made time to visit the California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento. Deceiving at first—the museum looks rather small from the outside—we ended up spending several hours there, watching a film, taking the tour, and then climbing through actual train cars exhibited inside the museum. What a fun way to spend half-a-day! Highly, highly recommended.

Looking down on some of the exhibits

Old passenger cars

Central Pacific engine, circa 1863

Replica of the Golden Spike that celebrated
 completion of the Transcontinental Railway


Wheels detail and reflection

More modern engine

Dining car kitchen

China from the glory days of rail travel

More china

And, yes, women worked on the railroad, too