Saturday, March 28, 2015

Photo Essay: A Book By Its Cover

For those that have met me recently – say, since I moved to LA – I have many secret lives.

That time I broke a national news story as a teen reporter for my local city paper.

That time I won a game show.

That time I sang on the Twisted Sister Christmas album.

That time I was QVC's regular on-air guest.

That time I was a fledgling book arts sculptor.



Having already visited the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA – whose focus is more on the printing and papermaking side of things – I jumped at the chance to take a tour of Kater-Crafts Bookbinders...



...at their workshop in Pico Rivera where they've bound and restored books since 1965.



Their floor of tools, machinery and materials would fascinate even the casual observer...



...but for someone who has pored over color swatches...



...and agonized over fabrics...



...papers...



...and endsheets...



...this place is a wonderland.



In this digital age, bookbinding now kind of feels like an ancient art.



It's both handmade and industrial.



It involves sewing of signatures...



...which is done by machine...



...but the paper itself is fed by hand.



Every detail is examined to perfection by a real human...



...who inspects the work and throws it out if it's been done wrong.



Because of this attention to detail...



...Kater-Crafts doesn't do any large runs of new printing projects...



...books or clamshells....



...or anything else custom-bound.



Now that they're mostly digitized, libraries don't commission them to bind back issues of magazines anymore.



But somehow, Kater-Crafts has managed to be resilient enough...



...to be pretty much the only game in town.



UCLA has their own bookbindery, but Kater-Crafts is the only remaining independently-run, non-affiliated bookbinder in the State of California.



For the tactile inclined...



...and those with an affinity for colors...



...this place is such a candy shop.



Rolls of metallic sheets....



...eventually end up becoming debossed into book covers and spines.



Because this is such a rare art form, Kater-Crafts is relatively highly in demand for restoration projects...



...from people whose heirloom items have become worn out over the years...



...like family bibles and photo albums.

Kater-Crafts is a family business, currently run by the brother and sister descended from its original founder, who set up shop by the San Gabriel River on farmland where nothing else was around. Now, it's surrounded by an industrial park, and although they own the building and the land, they don't seem to have anybody to pass it down to.

I think I may have volunteered to take the business over.

But first, I need to enter their on-the-job training program to learn the cutting, folding, sewing, and gluing of the papers and endsheets and boards and covers.

I think I could be happy there. I didn't want to leave.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Book Arts at the International Printing Museum
A Missed Calling
A Case of Multiple Identities

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Photo Essay: LA's Art Deco Olympic Stadium

A couple weeks ago, I spotted a tweet about historic tours being offered at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and I jumped all over it. I'd long been fascinated with that place, maybe because I'd already visited the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, and the completionist in me needed to also see where the 1984 Summer Olympics took place.

Or maybe it's because many of the other traces of the 1932 Olympics – including the world's first-ever Olympic Village, in Baldwin Hills – have vanished.

Or maybe it's just because I'd never been there before, but I've been to an actual Roman coliseum. Feeling a bit wistful for the Roman ruins of Tunisia, this is as close as I can get in Southern California.

I was actually the first member of the media to take the tour, and so I wrote an article about it for KCET's Travel Excursions section which you can read here. But, in typical fashion, I took so many great photos that haven't been published elsewhere, and it's just so hard for me to visit any place and not show it to you.

So here, take a gander.



My first visit to the Coliseum was exciting, replete with an actual printed Ticketmaster ticket (even though I had a press pass) and a wristband – and access through those darned locked gates.



I'd tried to ride my bike around the Coliseum once before...



...and got booted out by security.



Now I could walk right through those arches of the peristyle.



The Coliseum was built as kind of a 1920s version of the Roman Colosseum, and for authenticity, stone relics from the original Colosseum site and from the Greek ancient site Altis in Olympia are on display in the forecourt.



There's a zodiac-themed gold leaf mural painted at the top of the center arch, which was used as the Olympic Gateway for the '84 Summer Olympics.



Although it had a stint as "Olympic Stadium," the Coliseum was always conceived as a memorial...



...first of World War II veterans, and later of all veterans.



The two Olympiads which have taken place here kind of overshadow the war memorial aspect of the stadium...



...giving way to an entirely different type of patriotism, in which we battle our rival countries for gold medals.



The peristyle has been converted into a "Court of Honor"...



...which pays tribute to the various athletes and coaches which have used the Coliseum as their home field – like the USC Trojans – as well as a few other legends like Dodgers announcer Vin Scully.



Through the arches, you can see the giant dial thermometer that was installed in 1955...



...and repaired in 2013 after it had been stuck at 70 degrees for a decade.



You can't get onto the field itself...



...but you can walk down the original concrete steps of the "bowl"...



...and weave your way through the seats and benches...



...each section of which seems to be from a different era.



There's something kind of magical about seeing this place perfectly empty...



...but the real treat of tours like this is when you get to walk through the tunnels...



...(particularly those reserved for teams)...



...and see all the secret, hidden places where the public is never allowed to go.



The climax of the Coliseum tour was getting up on the roof...



...which felt both special and transgressive...



....and gave us the best vantage point to see the bowl below...



...and the mountains beyond.



The press box is sparse and not air conditioned...



...and the board room is a bit gloomy...



...but it's cool to be able to see some of the more private, behind the scenes areas...



...like the home team locker room...



...and the intentionally dismal visiting team locker room.



You can almost hear the crowds roar, singing the words of USC's official fight song "Fight On!"...



...and you can almost imagine the flames still flickering out of the Olympic torch (which actually still is lit during home games and even weddings).

The Coliseum has been renovated (and threatened) many times. Its fate always seems a bit unsure. So since it's flame may not exactly be eternal, it's time to go visit it now, while it's still burning.

And before the new NFL Stadium is erected in Inglewood.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Rose Bowl Stadium, Renovated Again, and Open for Tours!
Photo Essay: This Fraternity Life
Photo Essay: Blessings for the Poor in Spirit