Friday, February 12, 2016

Photo Essay: A Historic Oasis in the Valley of the Oaks

One of the stops on the Portola expedition of 1769—when Spanish explorers first arrived—was right here in the San Fernando Valley, in the LA neighborhood now known as Encino.

But at the time, it was an Indian village (a "rancheria," to the Spaniards) known as "Siutcanga" that the Tongvas (who the Spanish called "Fernande├▒os" or "Gabrielinos") had occupied for several thousand years.

Once Mexico gained control over Southern California, the rancheria became known as "Rancho Los Encinos," in reference to the oak trees that grew in abundance in the Valley.

Those that inherited the rancho from the Mission Indians that were granted it were unable to run it themselves, so in 1849, they sold it to a ranchero named Vicente de la Osa. 

De la Osa built a long, narrow adobe whose every room has at least one door that connects to the outside.

An excellent example of the basic Californio style, many of the adobe's adjacent rooms don't even connect to each other—which means you've got to go outside and then go back inside to move your way from room to room.

De la Osa established a small vineyard on his rancho, where he also raised sheep. But his real success came from renting rooms to people who were traveling along the El Camino Real.

After de la Osa died in 1861, his widow briefly took over operations of the ranch but then transferred the property to her daughter and son-in-law. When her daughter died in 1868, Eugene and Phillipe Garnier stepped in and purchased it.

At the time, in the early 1870s, cattle ranching had been more or less wiped out by three years of drought in the LA area, which created an all-out sheep boom—and the Garniers took full advantage of it, earning a reputation for producing the finest wool in all of Southern California.

But whenever there's a boom, there's a bust—and in 1873, the sheep business went belly up and the Garniers went deep into debt, along with the rest of the country who were hit by the nationwide depression.

Flat broke, the Garniers lost their ranch to auction in 1878, when it was purchased by their main creditor, a Basque named Gaston Oxarart. When he died in 1886, the ranch passed to his nephew Simon Gless (yes, a relative of actress Sharon Gless), who sold it to his father-in-law, Domingo Amestoy, in 1889.

This was the last time the 4,460 acre ranch was sold as a whole. After changing hands so many times, it's amazing that there's anything left to see.

And over time, it was split up and parceled out... many of the other ranchos from the Spanish and Mexican land grants.

In 1949, the State of California purchased the last remaining parcel of land, thereby creating the present-day Los Encinos State Historic Park.

It was all thanks to the efforts of a local preservationist named Mary Stuart, who mobilized the local community to save the De La Osa adobe, Garnier House, sheepherders' shelter (later used as a blacksmith shop), and pond from developers.

Although Mrs. Stuart couldn't protect the abode from getting hit pretty hard in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the damage from it ended up revealing historic details that had been long covered up: underneath the crumbling plaster lie frescos and walls that were painted to look like marble (during the Garniers' time).

All of the damage was painstakingly catalogued...

...and while much of it was repaired...

...portions were left exposed to show the "before" and "after" of their post-earthquake restoration work, for which the park earned a Governor's Award for Historic Preservation.

During their time here, one of the biggest contributions the Garniers made to Rancho Los Encinos was building a stone-walled pond in the shape of a Spanish guitar... the site of a natural spring.

It's now filled with ducks, geese...

...and a few interlopers.

For a few coins you can get some bird feed... lure some friends over.

Just be careful, because in case you were wondering, ducks do bite (especially when they're hungry).

Upon the shore of the pond was once the original location of the first El Torito tiki bar / Mexican restaurant, now the Lakeside Cafe.

The pond is fed by the artesian well, and it used to drain into a stream that drained into the Los Angeles River.

It now drains into the flood control system.

And while it's not exactly a "lake" per se, it provides a nice, natural body of water for nature and recreation—in a valley that's dry and hot for most of the year.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: In the Footsteps of the Pioneers
Photo Essay: A Day at the Rancho, A Step Back in Time
Photo Essay: The View from a Famous Mapmaker's Estate

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Photo Essay: The Last Major Movie Studio in Hollywood

When you say "Hollywood," what does it mean?

Hollywood Boulevard? The Hollywood Hills? The Hollywood Sign?

Or is it the culture—perhaps even the attitude—that's come to be known as "so Hollywood"?

At some point, Hollywood ceased to be where movies and dreams are made.

You see, most of our movies (and TV shows) now are actually not shot in Hollywood, but somewhere else within the 30-mile studio zone—be it at one of the remaining movie ranches in the San Fernando or Santa Clarita Valleys, Universal City (Universal Studios), Burbank (Warner), Rancho Park (Fox), or Culver City (Sony).

There's just one major Hollywood studio that's actually in Hollywood, and on the same property where it originally opened: Paramount Studios.

The main gate of Paramount is an iconic fixture in both the neighborhood and movies like Sunset Boulevard.

Back then, it used to be accessible directly from a public street (Marathon Street)—until the 1990s, when Paramount bought up a bunch of the surrounding property...

...including a costume shop across the street that they converted into their own screening room, a tribute to the original Paramount Theatre on Broadway in New York's Times Square.

Not all of what exists now on the current lot is original to Paramount. It also includes the soundstages, structures, and water tower from the former RKO Pictures (one of the original Big 5), which later housed Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's Desilu Productions until 1967.

The campus is still very much a working movie studio facility, but plenty of tributes to its past are scattered about, including a bench from Forrest Gump.

Their prop house contains a hodgepodge of various items and costumes...

...from productions of the past, present, and future...

...including the Transformers franchise.

If you visited on an unseasonably hot February day this year, you might've been able to catch a glimpse of Optimus Prime.

Also parked inside are Jimmy "Thunder" Early's car from Dreamgirls...

...Greased Lightnin' from the Grease Live TV production...

...and a Pink Ladies jacket.

There's a real art to this movie magic, but you don't always get a true sense of until you're really up close to a prop like the corpse from Bad Grandpa.

In real life, it's so realistic that during the filmed prank, bystanders panicked that an actual elderly woman was being abused.

The details are so minute, right down to the wrinkles, veins, fingernails, and hair.

Propmasters even have developed multiple different types of fake snow—from the kind that's just sitting in the ground to the ultra-fine "bio-snow," which can realistically fall from the sky like real snowflakes, and not like the pieces of plastic that they are.

Between the original lot (which was 29 acres) and the later acquired RKO / Desilu studios (making a total of 65 acres), Paramount now has a total of 29 soundstages—even though their numbers go up to 32. One of the stages was bought by Technicolor. One of the numbers—unlucky "13"—was intentionally skipped for superstition. And one of the numbers (22) was merely forgotten by the guy that was numbering them.

At Stage 17, Paramount employees and guests can receive medical treatment in the beach house from Top Gun.

And at Stage 30, you can get an uninterrupted view of the Hollywood Sign...

...before you take in a taping of The Doctors—in the same exact spot where The Godfather and Little House on the Prairie were filmed.

Is there anything more Hollywood than a four-foot deep blue water tank that's used for parking when it's not standing in as the ocean on camera?

While you're enjoying your time in Hollywood, you can also visit Milwaukee...

...on the street where Laverne and Shirley skipped down the sidewalk, chanting,"Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!"

I myself was happy to pay a visit to the SoHo loft where Sam and Molly lived in Ghost...

...and "Murder Alley," where God-knows-what has happened.

The studio's approximation of New York neighborhoods feels a bit like the Old West movie towns whose saloons and sheriff stations were merely facades.

As unconvincing as it may be in person...'s done a good job of convincing the world it really was New York...

...for Breakfast at Tiffany's, episodes of Seinfeld and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and countless other Hollywood creations.

Of course, whether the streets are supposed to be New York or Chicago or Boston or Colorado...

...production crews have to work some more movie magic to make it rain (which is only convincing if you shoot the water upwards and let it fall naturally) or snow or basically any weather event other than warm and sunny with clear, blue skies.

Back in the "Golden Age" of cinema, Paramount used to crank out maybe 50 or 60 films in one year, but their blockbuster franchises have gotten so big, now they can really only handle about a dozen of their own per year.

So they rent the rest of their equipment, soundstages, and other facilities to other production companies and movie studios that want to take advantage of some of Paramount's specialties (which apparently include fake bricks, of all things).

But anybody who works on or even just visits the Paramount lot gets to experience some smidgen of its incredible 100-year history.

For me, the highlights include the Elvis Presley movies, Happy Days, Mork and MindyThe Brady Bunch, and Grease. For others, it might be Charmed or Star Trek or Titanic or Indiana Jones.

Sure, crews strike the sets, change the lights, and paint the floors when they're all done. But these actors, costumers, setbuilders, and others all leave a little magic behind with each completed production.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Ghosts of Film and TV Past
Photo Essay: Melody Ranch Movie Ranch, Closed to Public (Except this Once)
A Birthday Visit to the Heart of Screenland
Photo Essay: The Treasures of an LA Tourist Trap, Universal Studios