It Never Lets Up

California Appears To Be A-Changing

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but there seems to be a serious discrepancy in weather forecasts, especially with regards to the duration of heat waves in the coastal area. A three-day heat wave was predicted for Zip 90025 beginning July 5 of this year. The first day of the heat wave was indeed a scorcher, with the mercury at nearby UCLA topping off at 111°, a new record. Then we were supposed to go down to the Seventies (Fahrenheit), but every day since then, for six weeks and counting it has been in the Nineties or, at the very least, in the high Eighties.

My apartment was built in another era when there used to be cool summers. Therefore, we have no insulation. We are on the top floor, and the roof superheats and makes the inside temperature 10-15 degrees warmer than the outside temperature until the middle of the night. I have slept atop the blankets for six weeks, burrowing under the covers in my sleep when it finally cools off.

What is worse, when it gets hot in Southern California during the early summer, the humidity is much higher than normal, making the heat feel more oppressive than the temperature reading. The reason is that, for the deserts of the Southwest, this is the rainy season, with monsoonal moisture coming up from Mexico and causing humidity and, in the deserts, rain.

Two or three days a week, I head for the Westfield Mall in Culver City to enjoy their air conditioning, read a book, and eat lunch. By the time I return home, around three or four in the afternoon, it is hot and muggy indoors. But at least I have had some comfort.

For those of you in the metric zone, here is a translation of the Fahrenheit readings mentioned in this post:

  • 111° F = 44° C
  • Seventies F = 21-26° C
  • Eighties F = 27-32° C
  • Nineties F = 32-37° C

My brother thinks that the weathermen deliberately underestimate the length of a heat wave just to keep people coming back to their news station for current updates. But then, why do that on the Internet, too?

 

An Automobile Museum Right By LAX

The Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo

There’s an old Hungarian expression which, roughly translated into English, states “It was almost poking your eyes out!” This was the case with the Automobile Driving Museum (ADM), which is tucked among warehouses and hotels within hailing distance of the Los Angeles Airport (LAX). Although I’ve been driving distances to see the Petersen and Nethercutt Automotive Museums, and even as far as Oxnard to see the Mullin and Murphy Automotive Museums, there was an equally interesting auto museum right in the neighborhood.

There are several unique features to the ADM. On Sundays, they give free drives in classic cars for a few blocks around the museum. Martine and I took a ride in a 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner Convertible. Within the museum is a cute little ice cream parlor which also sells sodas and snacks. Finally, most of the cars on display allow you to not only touch them, but get in and snuggle behind the wheel as if you were driving them. The picture below with Martine behind the wheel of a 1949 Crosley Station Wagon:

Martine Behind the Wheel

Perhaps most important of all, the ADM provides lavish documentation about the cars on display as well as wall and free-standing displays of information about how the American auto industry developed from its earliest days. There are approximately 130 cars on display including some unique items (which they don’t allow you to touch) in a glassed-in auto “showroom” adjoining the museum.

It is appropriate that Southern California is so richly endowed with automotive museums seeing as it was a city made possible by the automobile, with its vast spaces and mountains. All of these automotive museums are worth visiting—much more so than many so-called tourist attractions, such as Hollywood Boulevard.

A Section of the Museum Display Space

 

The Fenyes Estate

The Fenyes Estate on Pasadena’s “Millionaires Row” with Back Yard Gardens

Yesterday Martine and I toured the Fenyes (Hungarian for “Bright,” pronounced FEN-yesh) Estate on Pasadena’s Orange Grove Boulevard. We had wanted to go a couple weeks earlier, but there was an intervening event that closed the tours for that day. Fortunately, the docent couple who gave the tour knew their subject cold, so we had a great time. It is always interesting to visit a millionaire’s mansion built over a hundred years ago. One obtains a view of what life was like not only for the family of the owner, but also the servants. The Fenyes Estate is only a few hundred feet of the more famous Gamble House, built by the Gambles of the Procter & Gamble fortune.

The Parlor of the Fenyes Mansion

In the photo of the parlor above, several of the chairs have little footstools. They were an aid to modesty so that the long dresses would cover every inch of bare skin on the women’s legs, er, I mean, limbs. Eve Fenyes, wife of Dr Adalbert Fenyes was a noted painter in her own right, and specialized in plein aire subjects. In addition to the usual portraits, which are of high quality because of Eve’s talents.

Dr Fenyes had his own talents besides medicine. He was the first to use X-Rays in his practice. In addition, he was a noted entomologist (whose collection now sits in a San Francisco museum) and an expert gardener. The grounds on which the house sits are beautifully landscaped.

The Music Room of the Estate

In addition to the piano and early Victrola shown in the above photo, notice the elegant stairway to a mezzanine-level for singers. There is no door to the right on this level. There is also a trap door set in the floor for entrances by actors engaged in various entertainments put on by the family.

Even though there are only two houses of this sort on Orange Grove Boulevard that one can tour, it is clearly worth visiting them to understand how we all got where we are today.

 

The Centinela Adobe

One of Los Angeles’s Original 19th Century Adobes

Just north of the Los Angeles Airport, adjacent to the southbound lanes of the San Diego Freeway (the I-405), is one of the 43 surviving adobes around Los Angeles. Sitting somewhat incongruously on a suburban street full of ticky-tack postwar single-family homes, the adobe is run by the Historical Society of Centinela Valley. The Centinela Adobe is the original structure of a huge Mexican land grant comprising some 25,000 acres of the Rancho Aguaje de la Centinela, including parts of the communities of Inglewood and Westchester.

Built in 1834, the adobe is generally open only on Sunday afternoons. Martine and I were there at opening time and had a great tour of the premises by one of the volunteers who was both knowledgeable and forthcoming on the many historical exhibits.

Looking at the above photograph, it looks as if the structure is a wood frame house. A kitchen extension built later is indeed built with wood, but the main part of the structure is built with mud bricks (such as the ones shown in the picture below), covered with stucco, and painted over with white paint. Originally, the roof consisted of tar taken from the La Brea Tar Pits. It lasted about a hundred years, until the 1930 Long Beach earthquake forced the Historical Society to install a modern roof.

Adobe Mud Bricks of Which the Main Building Is Constructed

In September, there will be a big Mexican-style fiesta at the adobe which I plan to attend. Next weekend, there will be a barbecue, but as a diabetic, I tend to eschew the usually heavily sugared barbecue sauces.

People tend to think that California is a state without a history. In fact, Los Angeles goes back to the year 1781 and has flown the flags of Spain, Mexico, and the United States. Parts of the state were also under Russian control in the 1850s—but very briefly. I plan on visiting more of the adobes and ranchos that were the base that the second largest city in the United States was built.

Greene with Envy

Front Entrance to the Gamble House

Yesterday, Martine and I drove to Pasadena to visit the Gamble House. No, it’s not a casino. It was the home of the Gambles of the Procter & Gamble fame. Situated on Orange Grove near where the Tournament of Roses Parade makes the turn onto Colorado, the area is a turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is) millionaires’ row. We had visited the house before, years ago, but it’s a good thing to renew one’s acquaintance with great works of art from time to time.

the house is the work of the architectural firm of Greene & Greene. While their works are usually characterized as “arts and crafts bungalows,” what we have here is a sizeable mansion.

Gamble House Exterior

There is something infinitely pleasing and subtle about the works of Greene & Greene when they are at the top of their game, and the Gamble house was definitely at the top of their game. The architects decided not only the exterior feature of the building, the room layouts, and the grounds—but even the furniture in many cases. In one room, everything is made to resemble a vase on the dresser.

Although the architects had never been to the Orient, they did stop at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago on their way to California, where they saw a number of examples of Japanese architecture. That glimpse was sufficient to get them thinking about how to use wood not only for weight-bearing, but also for decorative purposes.

Gamble House Sample Interior

Note the way all the features in the above room blend in with one another. The pottery, the lighting fixture, the table and chairs seem all of a piece. At one point where the servants would injure their hip by banging into a sharp counter corner, the architects made the counter trapezoidal, eliminating the sharp corner. At another point, the very short Aunt Julia Gamble had a special chair made for her to work with the fastenings on her high-button shoes. (Also note Aunt Julia’s little step stool in the above photo for her comfort.) In the boys’ bedroom, there is a low, wide drawer for storing their shoes. In the kitchen, there is a super-wide drawer for storing tablecloths without wrinkling them along the folds.

Everything is on a human scale. And strikingly beautiful.

 

Los Angeles the Hard Way

An Old RTD Bus on Its Route

When I first came to Los Angeles late in 1966, I did not know how to drive. And now I was living in a city in which it is considered to be impossible to get anywhere on public transit. For the next nineteen years, I was to disprove that. It was then that I began to study the city’s public transportation network. At that time, there was no fast rail, no subways—only buses. I lived in or near Santa Monica, so I could take either the Santa Monica Big Blue Buses or the orange RTD buses.

Why hadn’t I learned to drive? In Cleveland, we were too poor; and besides, my father was too impatient to teach me. When he tried, every time I made a mistake, he swatted me, hard. I thought it would be better if I put it off.

And so I did. Then something else came up. One of my family’s medical curses caught up with me in my twenties: high blood pressure. For years, I was taking a medication called Catapres that gave me narcolepsy, especially when I was a passenger in a moving automobile.

Suddenly, in 1985, I was off Catapres. The narcolepsy, having left me, no longer kept me from taking driving lessons at the ripe old age of 40. So I called the Sears-Roebuck driving school, and a patient teacher by the name of Jerry Kellman taught me. I passed my driving test with flying colors. I purchased a 1985 Mitsubishi Montero with automatic transmission (most in that model line were stick shift) and hit the roads.

Although I am on my third car, a 2018 Subaru Forester, I still take the buses (and now the trains, which Los Angeles now has) from time to time to go where I want without having to pay exorbitant parking fees. My trips downtown cost me a total of $1.50 there and back, which compares well to the $20-30 parking fees in cramped lots which would lead to dents in my new car.

So now I’m ambidextrous, to to speak. I can drive or take public transportation.

 

 

 

Cities That Are Hard To Read

Los Angeles: A City That Is Hard To Read

The New Yorkers are at it again. In the pages of the New York Times, two reporters—Tim Arango and Adam Nagourney—referred to Los Angeles as “A City That Never Quite Came Together.” That reminds me of that old chestnut about Los Angeles being seventy-five communities in search of a city.

From the time I heard I was accepted by the UCLA Motion Picture History and Criticism graduate program, I scoured the Cleveland Public Library for books about Southern California. One of them wrote at great length about mudslides along the Pacific Coast Highway (California Route 1) in Pacific Palisades and Malibu, and posited a fictional type of super-salesman called a “Pro-Cal,” who regarded L.A. as the best of all places—diametrically opposed to the boo-birds from the East who were intent on digging up dirt about the Golden State.

This kind of thinking negatively affected what I thought about L.A. when I first moved here in 1966. All those stucco apartment buildings painted in pastel colors struck me the wrong way. Why couldn’t they use good red brick, like we had in Ohio? Then I endured my first earthquake in 1971 and understood why they used stucco: It was the brick buildings that collapsed. Only in the 1970s that I began to actually like California. The fact that that coincided with the way I felt about myself was no accident.

My friend Lynette—who was born in California—sent me a reference to a Los Angeles Times article published on February 8, 2018  and written by Christopher Hawthorne. In it, he compares L.A. to Houston, Texas:

If I had to put my finger on what unites Houston and Los Angeles, it is a certain elusiveness as urban object. Both cities are opaque and hard to read. What is Houston? Where does it begin and end? Does it have a center? Does it need one? It’s tough to say, even when you’re there — even when you’re looking directly at it.

The same has been said of Los Angeles since its earliest days. Something Carey McWilliams noted about L.A. in 1946 — that it is a place fundamentally ad hoc in spirit, “a gigantic improvisation” — is perhaps even more true of Houston. Before you can pin either city down, you notice that it’s wriggled out of your grasp.

People who are accustomed to making quick sense of the world, to ordering it into neat and sharply defined categories, tend to be flummoxed by both places. And reporters at the New York Times are certainly used to making quick sense of the world. If there’s one reason the paper keeps getting Los Angeles so spectacularly wrong, I think that’s it. Smart, accomplished people don’t like being made to feel out of their depth. Los Angeles makes out-of-town reporters feel out of their depth from their first day here.

This is not a city on a hill, such as can be found in Tuscany. You can’t just take it in at a glance and say, “Yeah, this is Los Angeles, all right!” I like to surprise visitors with forays to ethnic enclaves like Koreatown, Little Tokyo, and East Los Angeles (or “East Los”). Then there are mountains within the county boundaries that are two miles high. The fact that there are mountains here at all is a surprise to most people.

L.A. no longer wriggles out of my grasp. I recognize it as a conglomeration of landscapes, cultures, and even architectures. So don’t think you can spend an afternoon on the Sunset Strip or the Bel Air Hotel and think you’ve scoped out the city: You haven’t even begun.