Devil Winds for Halloween

Wind-Driven Fires for Halloween

At one point this afternoon, there were ten active wind-driven brush fires in Southern California. Although Martine and i do not live in any of the affected canyon areas, we felt the devil winds of the Santa Anas juddering against the walls, windows, and doors of our apartment.

The winds are so powerful, in fact, that they blew away the second “e” in EXTREME. Do you suppose they could have meant EXTRUME or EXTRIME?

 

At the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Fish Tank at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Yesterday, Martine and I visited the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. Situated as it is within hailing distance of the Port of Los Angeles, the Aquarium is as much a scientific oceanographic institution as it is an aquarium purely for show. The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach is only a few miles east and is primarily an aquarium for show.

We spent several hours looking at the various tanks and asking questions of the highly educated staff. What impressed me the most was feeding largish sea snails with algae. They seemed to suck in the algae as if they were smoking a joint.

One of the highlights was watching a video produced by the institution about how they went about collecting specimens for research and display.

One of the Features of the Southern California Coastline Are the Vast Kelp Forests

We had visited the Cabrillo some twenty years earlier and were surprised to see how much the institution has grown over the years. I was impressed by the fact that admission was by voluntary donation, and that the beach parking was reasonably priced ($1.00 per hour). Expect a visit to take somewhere between two and three hours.

 

On the Surface of Things

Brad Pitt and Leonardo diCaprio in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once of Oscar Wilde’s most memorable observations in The Picture of Dorian Gray is: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible….”

That thought flitted in and out of my consciousness as I watched Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Was it a great film? No, but it caught the feeling of the late 1960s in Los Angeles. I had arrived from Cleveland at the tail end of 1966, and I recalled the strange vibe of the times. There was, first of all, the music. Then there were the hippies. I remember buying The Free Press for a quarter every Friday and reading it religiously. It all seemed to come to a head with Charles Manson’s Helter Skelter murders, also known as the Tate-La Bianca killings.

Margaret Qualley as Pussycat, a Manson Girl

One of the things I remember most vividly is my attraction/repulsion response to hippie chicks. Right around 1969, when the film was set, I remember riding the Santa Monica Bus to my job at System Development Corporation. A very cute young blonde boarded on 14th Street with a very short dress on which was written the word “Bamboo” in red over every inch of its white cloth. Her dress was so short that it was of considerable gynecological interest—such that the bus driver almost involuntarily handed her an obscene compliment. She promptly crimsoned and got off the bus at the next stop. But I still remember her vividly some half century later.

Apparently Tarantino felt the same way about the sudden glimpses of female flesh that appeared in the late Sixties. Even the look of L.A. was lovingly captured, from the smog to the relatively light traffic. I loved that about the film.

There were other things that didn’t work quite so well. More about that later.

 

An Outpost of Progress

The Leonis Adobe in Calabasas

Over the last several weeks, Martine and I have been visiting many of the old Spanish and Mexican adobes that were built before the American occupation in the late 1840s. Built in 1844 along the El Camino Réal that connected the Spanish missions of Alta California, the adobe became occupied in the 1850s or 1860s by Miguel Leonis, a 6’ 4” Basque from France who has been called the King of Calabasas. He lived with Espiritu Chujilla, who lived with him as wife. It turns out, however, he was never legally married.

That became obvious when Leonis died in an accident which involved him falling off and being run over by his wagon in 1889.  Although he left Espiritu $10,000 in his will—no trivial amount in those times—he left his millions to various of his European relatives. The will referred to her as his “faithful housekeeper,” though she had been introduced to guests as his wifeEspiritu fought the will in the courts for many years and won, but only after a fashion. She was plagued ever after by over a hundred other lawsuits.

Espiritu Chujilla

For some reason, it was common for Yankee and European pioneers to do their level best to cheat the native Spanish and Mexican population of their land and livelihood. It is said that the Leonis Adobe is haunted. The ghost appears to be Miguel’s. If so, he has a lot to answer for….

The Leonis Adobe Museum is perhaps the best organized and funded of the adobes we have visited to date. On the premises is not only the adobe itself, but a number of the original or rebuilt farm structures and outbuildings. The premises includes chickens, turkeys, longhorn cattle, goats, sheep, and horses, which visitors may feed with packets on sale at the museum. One enters by the oldest dwelling in the Hollywood area, the Plummer House, originally built around 1870, and inhabited by the family of Eugene Plummer, close friends of Miguel and Espiritu. The house was moved from Plummer Park is West Hollywood in 1983 after vandals attempted to burn it down.

Longhorn Cattle at the Leonis Adobe

In 1962, the Leonis Adobe was named Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #1 by the newsly formed Cultural Heritage Board. (The Plummer House was State Historical Monument #160.)

Pride, Courage … and Justice

L.A.’s African American Firefighter Museum

Over the last few years, I have become a connoisseur of small museums. Instead of taking on a broad swath of subject matter, they appear to be restricted to a small, concentrated area. When they succeed, one finds that you have been led to confront larger issues than you originally anticipated. So it is with the African American Firefighter Museum at 14th Street and Central Avenue in downtown Los Angeles.

I expected to hear stories of pride and courage as firefighters sacrifice to save lives and property, but I came away with a sobering consciousness of American racism. For many years, black firefighters were restricted to two engine companies in the African American neighborhoods south of Downtown L.A., one of which, shown above, has been converted into a museum. Finally, in the 1950s, the LAFD was to be integrated. Consequently, existing black firefighters were distributed among hitherto white only engine companies.

Displays on the Second Floor of the Museum

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times commemorating the opening of the museum:

Only those who were there would remember.

The way Wallace DeCuir entered the station and greeted his colleagues every morning, knowing they would ignore him.

The way Reynaldo Lopez kept his cool, even after a “Whites Only” sign was hung from the kitchen door.

The day someone smeared feces on Earnest Roberts’ pillow, and the other men watched.

And laughed.

The year was 1955. LAFD Fire Chief John H. Alderson said that the segregation policy was being implemented on schedule, but that it would take five years or more to “take” in all the fire stations. In the meantime, he did nothing to enforce the agency’s integration policy and was finally forced to take an early retirement.

Exhibits like this reminded me of the way things were in the 1950s, which we whites considered to be some sort of Golden Age. Yes, but not for everybody.

I sat for a couple of hours looking at a scrapbook of news stories from the 1950s of what black firefighters had to endure in order to work side by side with their white colleagues. In the end, I was appalled that the men who are charged with saving our lives and property have to endure as a result of the racism of their colleagues.

Los Angeles has four museums dedicated to firefighters. So far I have visited three of them, and one of them, this one, taught me some sobering lessons.

With Martine at the Arboretum

Martine Sitting on the Shore of Baldwin Lake

Yesterday Martine asked me if we could drive to the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia. I was reluctant at first, as it is an hour drive at high speed over several freeways, but I was delighted that Martine actually wanted to go somewhere that was interesting to her. And the botanical gardens of Southern California are favorite destinations for her. She is shown here siting on her tripod cane chair, wearing one of my old guayaberas and a Mexican straw hat, looking at the ducks and geese plying Baldwin Lake.

We would up staying over four hours, much of it with the geese and ducks.

A Mother’s Day Portrait of Mom with Ducklings

Most of the time was spent around the lake and its various inlets. Having seen all the signs about warning not to feed the birds and wild animals, Martine felt she had to explain to the geese why she didn’t bring any food for them. They did not seem to be very put out by the lack of bread crumbs because they were so busy rooting around in the grass for the insects and plants that form much of their diet. Still, it was interesting that she felt so bad about not being able to feed them herself.

The View Across Baldwin Lake at the Queen Anne Cottage

Because we have had a wet winter, Baldwin Lake no longer looked like a large mudhole. It was covered with millions of tiny leaves that had fallen from the surrounding trees (you can see them in the middle photo above).

When she is at a botanical garden, there is no trace of the depression that marred so much of her life in the last year and a half. She no longer wants to escape to another city: She can’t because she has spent her savings on previous abortive trips. Instead, she is taking long walks in our neighborhood, which, probably, is good for her.

 

The Pacific Red Cars

Martine at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum (2016)

If you have ever seen the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), you’ve heard one theory why the best intraurban transportation system in America was destroyed. I think I can assure you that Judge Doom’s hatred of cartoon characters was not the reason why the Pacific Red Cars stopped running around the 1950s. If you’re looking for a reason, you could blame the construction of new freeways, the desire of General Motors to put every American behind the wheel of a Chevrolet, or the aging of the Pacific Electric rolling stock.

My late friend Bob Klein even wrote a novel in which the Red Cars figured—The Road to Mount Lowe—an enjoyable work (if you can get your hands on a copy of it).

The Pacific Red Car Network at Its Height

For whatever reason, the Pacific Red Cars were replaced; and, L.A., which once had a world class public transportation system, wound up with bupkis. When I first came to Southern California, there were the buses of the Rapid Transit District (RTD), which were grossly inconvenient. For instance, going from West Los Angeles to Long Beach took upward of three hours or even more. Then the RTD gave way to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), and things slowly began to change for the better. First of all, the old Red Car right of way between downtown and Long Beach was rebuilt as the Blue Line. Two subway lines were built: the Red Line, connecting downtown to North Hollywood/Studio City, and the Purple Line, from downtown to Western Avenue. (The latter will eventually extend slightly west of the UCLA campus.) Then there was a Green Line connecting Norwalk to El Segundo. (Why didn’t they run from Norwalk to the airport? Politics?) Finally, the Expo Line now connects downtown L.A. to the beach at Santa Monica.

I am a regular rider of the Expo Line, allowing me to go downtown for thirty-five cents instead of paying twenty plus dollars for parking.

Although the present network is still nowhere as extensive as the original Red Cars, it’s nice to know that the public transportation scene in Southern California is no longer going into eclipse.