Friday, April 17, 2015

EVENT: Escape to Pasadena - with Obscura Society LA


A day trip exploring the architectural, historical, and cultural treasures of the City of Roses!

Join me on a day-long excursion to the crown jewel of the San Gabriel Valley, Pasadena – a town which boomed in the early 1920s thanks to a small group of settlers from Indiana, and subsequently a flock of Midwestern industrialists who fled harsh winters in search of milder weather and idyllic scenery.

Stop #1: Pasadena City Hall
In a wink to its midwestern beginnings, Pasadena's City Hall most recently has posed as city hall for the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana on NBC's Parks and Recreation, but it made its first appearance on the silver screen in 1940, in Charlie Chaplin's satire The Great Dictator. A docent will lead a tour of the recognizable exterior of the Mediterranean Revival Style and Spanish Colonial Revival building, and if council isn't in session, might be able to give us a peek inside.

We'll stop by the adjacent Jackie and Mack Robinson Memorial to learn about the two brothers who spent their formative years in Pasadena, and later made sports history by breaking the color barrier in athletics in two very different ways.

Stop #2: Pasadena Playhouse
Next we'll take a short walk to the Pasadena Playhouse, a Mission Revival theater from 1924. Shockingly on the forefront of technology for a legit playhouse, it was responsible for launching and operating one of the first TV stations in Southern California, KTTV, and trained technicians that went on to work at other TV stations and even the Air Force. With a rich history that includes performing Shakespeare's entire canon for the first time stateside, The Playhouse has cranked out so many Hollywood stars such as Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, it earned the nickname "The Talent Factory." On our docent-led tour, we'll go behind the scenes, backstage and into their green room and library, and explore other secret and hidden corners of the historic landmark.

Stop #3: Lunch at The Pasadena Star-News Building
Join us for a casual, no-host lunch at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School's Technique Cafe, located in the former headquarters of The Pasadena Star-News, a newspaper that made radio history. We'll get to eat food prepared by actual Le Cordon Bleu students in a historic setting.

Stop #4: Wrigley Mansion / Tournament of Roses House
A short drive away to the west sits the former home of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., now officially the Tournament of Roses House. Situated along "Millionaire's Row," the Italian Renaissance mansion was one of Wrigley's six homes away from his Chicago home, purchased in 1914 and gifted to the City of Pasadena in 1958 specifically to house the Tournament of Roses, home of two of Pasadena's longest-standing traditions – the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade – and organizers of the infamous chariot races which once supplanted the annual New Year's Day football game.

We'll enjoy the restored house interior, Rose Parade memorabilia, and the garden which includes more than 1500 varieties of camellias, annuals, and, of course, roses.

If you think you're ready to discover the treasures of "The Crown of the Valley," be warned: you may never want to leave.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The House of Chewing Gum and Roses
Photo Essay: Gamble House, Pasadena
Photo Essay: Castle Green Open House, Old Town Pasadena
Photo Essay: Where Old Meets New at Caltech
Photo Essay: Pasadena Doo Dah Parade 2014

Photo Essay: The House of Chewing Gum and Roses

I'm not one for house tours, usually. I prefer dilapidated and vacant to repainted and furnished (especially when the house contents aren't original, but replicas or "period-appropriate" substitutes).

But the Wrigley Mansion is different. It's not a house museum.

It's the headquarters of the Tournament of Roses, the folks behind the Rose Bowl football game and Rose Parade, whose floats and bands and horses march down Orange Grove Avenue (also known as "Millionaire's Row"), right past the house.

In the quiet months before things start really ramping up for New Year's Day – February through August – you can actually visit the inside of the mansion...

...which was one of several homes of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., who did most of his candy business out of Chicago but liked Southern California so much, he bought the island of Catalina (and also called that home).

Wrigley didn't actually commission the construction of his mansion: he purchased it from architect G. Lawrence Stimson, who built it for his family to live in. Eight years later when it was finally complete, children had grown and they no longer needed a residence of that size, so they sold to Wrigley.

Stimson's architectural legacy is still evident in the house, with three of his characteristic design elements: exotic woodwork (like on the four-inch-thick mahogany front door)...

...ornate molded plaster ceilings...

...and elaborate fireplaces, a unique one in every room.

Only one room contains furniture original to the Wrigley family's residency here, the dining room...

...featuring a large, hand-carved, Italian dining table and two sideboards...

...relocated to Pasadena from Catalina for fear of the potential damage done by the humid sea air.

Every room's ceiling bears its own design...

...and in the living room, you can see faces and bodies and maybe even demons in the black swirls of the Circassian walnut walls.

Most of the wall coverings at Wrigley Mansion are new (including the whimsical fabric walls of the soundproofed telephone booth)...

...except in the solarium, where the Wrigleys' silver foil wallpaper – there was always one room with silver wallpaper in each of their houses – is a reminder of the silver gum wrapper from which they gained their fortune.

The original layout of Wrigley's mansion included many open air areas – patios, sun rooms, porches, balconies, etc. – which have since been enclosed, or closed off for additions built by Tournament of Roses.

No visit is complete without a concert given by an organ that plays itself...

...whose pipes are hidden underneath the staircase leading upstairs, a screen and grille turning it into one large speaker.

Upstairs has seen the most dramatic conversion, where bedrooms are now offices...

...and showrooms for Rose Parade memorabilia.

Even if you've never actually attended the Rose Parade (like me), visiting the Tournament of Roses headquarters gives you a tremendous sense of the pageantry...

...through photos...

...and the crowns of Rose Queens of yore...

...which, unlike today's pearl and diamond crowns, are just costume jewelry.

Each year, the Queen of the Tournament of Roses and the six princesses in her royal court get ready in their own dressing room and bathroom...

...but maybe they'll get the chance to pop into the preserved washroom (including the 300 pound original pedestal tub) of Wrigley's widow Ada...

 ...who died in the Wrigley Mansion in 1958, over 25 years after William passed away.

Ada nicknamed Wrigley Mansion "The Shadows" because no natural light could make it into the house through all of the trees that Stimson had planted.

Many of those sun-blocking trees have since been removed, but the gardens that were built on a neighboring property purchased by Wrigley remain...

...and are open as a public park.

The gardens are maintained by the Pacific Rose Society (a member of the Tournament of Roses Association)...

...though they also include camellias and annuals, in addition to the roses.

The Tournament House is one of the more modest of the mansions that were built along Millionaire's Row. It's also one of the ones that remain after the mid-20th century rezoning of Orange Grove – an effort which demolished many historic homes in favor of multi-unit dwellings. If the Wrigley family hadn't donated it to the Tournament of Roses after Ada's death, it likely would have been razed, too.

The Tournament of Roses Association is a fascinating organization, entirely run by its volunteer members – who not only do not get paid (even the president, for whom it is essentially a full-time job), but actually have to pay membership dues and buy a $300 white suit if they don't already have one. Despite all of this, there are always more applications than open membership slots, which keeps the Association at full capacity – 935 members – all of the time. I'd like to see what the Tournament House is like when it's bustling with activity closer to the end of the year. Too bad I'm too old to apply to be Rose Queen.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Floats of the Rose Parade, 2015
Photo Essay: Rose Parade 2014 Floats, In Progress
Photo Essay: The Horses of the Rose Parade
Photo Essay: Rose Bowl Stadium, Renovated Again, and Open for Tours!
Photo Essay: Gamble House, Pasadena

Thursday, April 16, 2015

EVENT: National Weather Service LA/Oxnard - With Obscura Society LA

No matter how sunny and warm Southern California can be, our weather monitoring entails a lot more than just temperature, precipitation, and cloud cover. And when it rains, it floods.

Join me on Monday, May 4 as we tour LA's primary weather reporting and forecasting station, the National Weather Service in Oxnard, CA – where meteorologists and high-tech machines come together to inform the public about temperature highs and lows, sea conditions, surface winds, air quality, and hydrologic phenomena.

Servicing the area between Santa Barbara and San Diego counties, the NWS Los Angeles / Oxnard facility helps protect lives (and property!) by issuing warnings about storms, rip currents, fire hazards, and flash flooding. During our visit, we'll view a presentation on severe weather, witness their workstation in operation, and stroll through their one-of-a-kind Global Monitoring Exhibit, created in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

We'll also get up close and personal with snow telemetry, doppler radar, drought monitoring, climatology, and barometric pressure, and learn how to prepare for anything from a tsunami to those hot Santa Ana winds. We may even get to see some satellite readings and experimental graphical forecasts.

Bonus Round: After our tour of the National Weather Service, we'll head over to Heritage Square for a docent-led tour of Oxnard's most historic turn of the century structures, and a casual BYO brown bag picnic lunch in a scenic setting.

Related Posts:
From Fires to Floods
Photo Essay: Hansen Dam, from Floods to Drought
Photo Essay: Verdugo Hills Cemetery - Deteriorated, Vandalized, and Washed Away
Los Angeles River's Beautiful Ugly

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

On the Sidelines

I don't make a very good spectator.

Whenever I watch something, I get restless there, sitting in my seat: I want to get up and join in on the action.

This is one of the reasons I gave up TV over four years ago. I'd rather do in real life the things that people watch other people pretend to do on TV.

As an actor, it's hard for me to watch a play in a theater or a movie at the cinema without imagining myself on the stage or screen. I can do almost anything I set my mind to. I can be almost anyone or anything.

Even a bellydancer.

When I won tickets to see an eclectic cabaret / burlesque type show one night last week...

...I sat at a table in front, watching the dancers' take on the various styles of bellydancing...

...and their Middle Eastern approaches to Indian and traditional African dance and even the Charleston...

... and thinking "I should be up there."

I couldn't help myself. I mean, I've spent time in Morocco and Tunisia. I took Bollywood dancing classes for years. I can shimmy with the best of them. And Lord knows I have the belly for it.

But sometimes you just have to watch. You have to watch...and wait for your turn.

Related Posts:
Grinning and Baring It
Photo Essay: Arabian Nights

Photo Essay: Anaheim Packing House, Restored and Reopened

I love places that used to be other places. If given the choice, I will dine in a restaurant that used to be a church, a mansion, a jail, a hair salon, a hardware store, a hospital. Whatever it used to be, I'll go there now.

Fortunately, the 1919 Anaheim Citrus Packing House has been preserved...

...restored, and converted into an eclectic food hall and community gathering space.

Situated along the Southern Pacific rail line, the current packing house complex pays tribute to its roots...

...converting an old train into patio seating...

...and retaining much of its rusty, industrial exterior.

Sometimes it's easy to forget Southern California's citrus history, because much of the evidence of it has disappeared...

...but then a place like this reminds you that you are in Orange County, after all.

The conversion into its new use is incredible.

It's open and airy, with plenty of natural lighting from the skylights and amber glow from industrial chandeliers.

Succulents dangle artistically from the ceiling.

Pipes remain exposed...

...and even the new food markets and kiosks that have been added to the space were fabricated with reclaimed wood, salvaged materials...

...and other design elements befitting a giant converted warehouse.

Unlike other stateside food halls (The Original Farmer's Market and Grand Central in LA, Eataly, Essex Street, Grand Central, and Chelsea Markets in NYC), this bi-level public market is wide open for people-watching...

...creating a truly communal experience, with a central atrium that feels like a garden, and a mezzanine that wraps all around it.

Small design touches pay tribute to the building's contribution to the citrus industry...

...but the culinary selections available go way beyond fruit.

Offerings include porchetta, poutine, fish and chips, craft beer...

...grilled cheese and pickles...

...waffles, crepes...

...and, of course, artisanal coffee and ice cream.

It doesn't feel pretentious, but it doesn't feel intentionally or inauthentically gritty, either. It's just really nice, and stress-free. My inner claustrophobe felt at ease there. And my inner urban explorer enjoyed creeping around all of the corners to see what I could find.

This is one of the few historic packing houses that still remain in Southern California, so it's nice to see it be saved, with its original purpose still visible. If you're going to develop something new, why not reuse a building that somebody else already went through the trouble of building?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Collection of the Museum of Neon Art, In Storage
Photo Essay: E. Waldo Ward & Son Ranch
Former Paper Plant Turned Urban Oasis (Photos)