Nostalgie de Banlieu

Recent History from L.A. Northern Suburbs

If you’ve ever seen Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), you have some idea of how the City of Los Angeles annexed most of the San Fernando Valley after William Mulholland’s aqueduct brought water several hundred miles from the Owens Valley to L.A. In the period of the movie, the Valley seemed to be mostly orchards. Today, some two million people live there. Its period of greatest growth was in the immediate postwar period when aerospace was king. Today—well, today much of the gloss has vanished. During the summer, the Valley is almost as hot as the floor of the desert: Today the temp reached 91º Fahrenheit (33º Celsius) as we left in mid afternoon.

The reason we were there was to visit the Valley Relics Museum at Balboa and Stagg in Lake Balboa. The museum pays homage to the Valley’s glory days during the 1950s and 1960s, when it seems everyone was buying property there because it was cheaper than the more liveable parts of L.A. adjoining the Ocean.

Ash Trays from Bygone Restaurants and Clubs

The Valley is still an interesting destination. For one thing, there are many excellent restaurants, both ethnic and American. (Today, for instance, we discovered a great place on Ventura Boulevard at Burbank called Hummus Bar & Grill that we will no doubt be visiting again.) There are several interesting historical sights such as the Leonis Adobe and Los Encinos State Historical Park, plus museums like the Nethercutt Collection. So the Valley is still a target-rich destination, though it is no longer the fashionable locale it used to be when I first moved the Southern California in 1966.

The museum had fight posters featuring Mohammed Ali and Cassius Clay, film stuntmen memorabilia, old restaurant menus with pre-inflation prices, neon signs from clubs and restaurants like the Palomino, and even an interesting selection of working pinball machines—particularly one featuring Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, a former TV horror film hostess.

 

Monsters: American vs. Japanese

Mark Nagata’s Kaiju Eyezon

As I promised, I stopped in again at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in downtown L.A. to take a second look at the “Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey Through the World of Japanese Toys” exhibit. (To refresh your memory, the term kaiju refers to Japanese monsters, like Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan.) Looking at the kaiju in the exhibition, I noticed that the Japanese monsters were picturesque, bordering on the cute. Even Eyezon in the above illustration, dangerous as he appears, would probably arouse as much amazement as terror.

Another of Nagata’s Kaiju, an Iridescent Giant Lizard

I keep thinking back to the Ishiro Honda’s Toho horror films of the 1950s and 1960s. There was an element of wonder, which was emphasized by the presence of child actors. Look, for instance, at the cute figurines in the above photo below the giant lizard.

What came to mind as I saw these kaiju was the role of the wrathful deities in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. By being frightened of the wrathful deities in the bardo state following death, the decedent is reborn. Only by not being afraid can the soul attain Nirvana.

Contrast the kaiju with American monsters, whose goal is to frighten the bejeezus out of you, like Boris Karloff in The Mummy below:

Boris Karloff in The Mummy (1932)

The aim of American and Western European horror films is to scare you to the maximum extent possible. If you don’t grasp the arms of your theater seatmate, the film is reckoned a failure.

Now maybe if Boris Karloff were iridescent, and children were brought into the picture, we would have something resembling the kaiju figurines I saw at the JANM.

 

Victorian Los Angeles

The Ford House at Heritage Square

On Saturday, Martine and I re-visited the Heritage Square Museum in Highland Park. We had been there many years ago, when it was a struggling attraction in the process of coming into being. Most of the old Victorian houses that had been moved to their location just off the Pasadena Freeway were not yet furnished. In the intervening years, we would pass by the site visible from the Freeway. I am glad that Martine suggested we give the place another chance.

We don’t think of Los Angeles as an old city, despite the fact that it was founded as a Spanish pueblo in 1781—some fifteen years before Moses Cleaveland founded the city of my birth. But whereas Cleveland has shrunk into relative obscurity during my lifetime, Los Angeles has become one of the great cities of the world, and the second largest in the United States. One of the reasons we think of it as a new city is that we have made too liberal use of the wrecking ball to clear away old building to replace them with new ones.

The Main Entrance to the Hale House at Heritage Square

The only real way to visit Heritage Square is to take one of the tours that begin on the hour. The ours themselves last upward of two hours and are quite informative. Our guide explained how, even after they have been moved, two of the houses are subject to paranormal phenomena. Most of the incidents were in the octagonal Longfellow-Hastings house, at which an apparition appeared during one daytime tour. There have also been occurrences of table-tipping; and, one time, a latched door opened by itself just as the tour guide was planning to release the latch. No spirits made a ruckus during our tour yesterday.

 

 

Desert Dreamers: Cabot Yerxa 2

Cabot’s Old Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs

Yesterday I wrote about Cabot Yerxa the writer. Today I turn to his Pueblo Museum on Desert View Avenue in Desert Hot Springs, a city a few miles north of Interstate 10 and Palm Springs. Other than the various spa hotels, the Pueblo Museum is the only real tourist attraction in that community. According to the pamphlet handed out at the museum:

Cabot’s vision is alive and realized in his 35-room, 5,000 square foot Pueblo built entirely of found and repurposed materials. Everyone who wants to see first-hand what can be accomplished with the three R’s—reuse, reduce, and recycle—will be in awe as they walk through the museum and home of Cabot.

In addition to the Pueblo itself, there are a number of outbuildings on the grounds, including a trading post, tool house, and meditation garden, to name just a few. The visitor can take a one-hour docent-led tour of the main Pueblo building, and easily spend another hour looking around the complex.

Cabot built the Pueblo later in his life, starting in the 1940s and continuing for most of his remaining years. Where most architects put together a plan to which they more or less adhere, Cabot did it the other way around. The size of the rooms had more to do with the building materials he had on hand at the time. Many of the windows, doorways, and stairs are unusually narrow or small. He justified his practice by referring to the Venturi Effect, which is usually applied to fluids, but which can also be applied to the movement of cool air in a desert building. In fact, the tour I had last Friday on a hot morning was remarkably cool in this non-air-conditioned structure.

Image of Eagle on Pueblo Wall with Narrow Window

There was no Home Depot or Lowe’s around for Cabot to buy standard windows and doors. Everything was based on found materials, as for instance in the window illustrated below. Usually, comfort on hot days in the desert is achieved by expensive air-conditioning: It is remarkable that Cabot’s Pueblo is actually quite livable. Even in West Los Angeles, where I live in an old uninsulated apartment house, the three windows facing the setting sun can heat the place up to 90º Fahrenheit (35º Celsius) until the middle of the night. Imagine what that would do in the Coachella Valley in August!

Check Out the Crude Bars and Barbed Wire on the Above Window

Although he traveled around the world more than most desert rats, Cabot Yerxa did know the desert from deep personal observation. That’s one of the reasons I am enjoying his book, On the Desert Since 1913.

 

Tut Tut

The Guardian Ka for the Afterlife of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen

There has been a major exhibit of treasures from King Tut’s tomb at the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles. The exhibit started in March and is ending in a few days, so I decided I had better hustle if I didn’t want to miss my second chance at one of the world’s great archeological treasures. (I missed my first opportunity some years back.)

In the end, it was not a pleasant experience. The exhibit was well mounted, but it was mobbed with family groups who were intent on SmartPhone snapshots of everything on exhibit. It was as if instead of people with minds attending the exhibition, the attendees were actually digital devices. No one understood what was being photographed: They were merely putting together a portfolio that could be used to demonstrate to friends that, yes, they had been in the presence. The children were mostly bored and acting up.

In the end, I seriously suggested that, at the entrance to the exhibit, all SmartPhones be collected and smashed to smithereens with mauls. That got a few laughs from the museum staff, but I seriously doubt they acted on my well-intentioned comments.

Although I have been interested in Pre-Columbian archeology for many years, I know very little about Egypt under the Pharaohs. I know I have Howard Carter’s book somewhere in my library about his discovery of King Tut’s tomb, as well as a few other volumes on the general subject, I have been extremely remiss. Resolved: After I return from Central America at the end of the month, I will try to catch up on the subject.

And that is my only New Year’s Resolution for 2019.

 

 

Flying in the Andes

Actually, It’s Anything But Tame

I have flown over the Andes on several airlines: LAN, Avianca, Star Peru, Copa, and TAME. Because we don’t often think about South America, we don’t realize that the Andes are every bit as high, in general, as the Himalayas. I say “in general” because our method of measuring altitude is in flux, largely because the ocean level is in flux due to global warming. If we measure a mountain’s altitude from a point at the center of the earth, the highest mountain on the planet is Chimborazo in Ecuador. That is due primarily to a bulge in the earth around the equator which in effect elevates mountains atop that bulge.

In the past, I used to be disturbed by air turbulence. Now, with all the vacations in South America, I see turbulence as a sign that I am nearing my destination. Virtually all flights from Los Angeles to Lima, Quito, Santiago, or Buenos Aires involve a diagonal path over a chunk of the Andes. This usually takes place in the middle of the night, so I don’t get a chance to see the snowcapped peaks over which we are flying.

That plane in the picture was the plane I flew from Cuenca in the south of Ecuador to Quito. My brother had left a week or so earlier (also on a TAME prop plane), so we had returned the rental car to the Cuenca office of the rental company. I explored a bit on my own, taking a bus to Alausi to take a fascinating train ride; and I also visited a whole lot of museums in Cuenca. There are a zillion museums in Latin America, and most of them are fun even when there are no signs in English.

For my next trip to South America, I hope to fly to Bolivia and return via Buenos Aires. There’s a lot to see in between, even if I have to take a connecting flight part of the way.

 

Ruddy’s General Store

Ruddy’s General Store Museum in Palm Springs

When I have to take a long drive somewhere, I generally prefer to leave early in the morning. Last Friday, that meant I would arrive in the Coachella Valley several hours before my brother Dan got off from work. So I decided to visit several small museums clustered along South Palm Drive in Palm Springs.

The first was the Ruddy General Store, whose sign indicates they are “A General Store of the 1930s.” This is one general store in which the goods on the shelf are not for sale. It was originally the private collection of the late Jim Ruddy. For a token admission fee of $1.00, you can see the thousands of items on the shelves and even take flash photographs if you want.

Rubber Jar Rings for Home Canning

The collection can be viewed in an hour. You can take longer if you talk to the nice ladies behind the counter, who can tell you the story of what you are seeing.