Thursday, June 23, 2016

Photo Essay: Under the Hood at a Hot Rod Shop

In Southern California, "car culture" doesn't just mean cruising down the PCH with the top down.

In fact, in many ways, LA wouldn't be what it is today without its history of car racing—and I don't just mean the illegal drag races you see depicted in the Fast and Furious movie franchise (though, those too).

From the former raceways at Paramount Ranch and Ascot Hills to the midget car races at Gilmore Field (adjacent to the current-day Original Farmers Market), a lot of our racing culture has become archival.

But there's one place that has been around for 70 years, has played an integral role in our racing history, and is keeping hot rod culture alive and well today...

...and that's Edelbrock, currently in its third location in Torrance.

It all started in the 1930s, when Vic Edelbrock Sr. had moved from Kansas to California and designed his own aluminum intake manifold called the "Slingshot" for a Ford flathead.

Since then, Edelbrock has been putting the pedal to the medal, outfitting street legal cars with enough custom power to become racing roadsters.

And while they use their own foundries to create the metal forms of many of their performance parts (including carburetors, cylinder heads, intake manifolds, and so on), they're also leveraging state-of-the-art technologies like 3D printing to keep the process as up-to-date as possible.

Photos aren't allowed in their manufacturing room, where trade secrets and silvery shards of metal abound, but equally as fascinating is their "Dyno Room"...

...where parts are put to the test in engines put through various road conditions to determine their force, power, and torque using a machine called a dynamometer (or "dyno," for short).

In fact, Vic Edelbrock Sr. bought and used one of the first engine dynos in 1948, which solidified his products' dominance in race-winning cars—and now they have a total of three.

The Dyno Room isn't really where testers determine whether the parts work, but rather how well they work—and, ideally, it's better than whatever came before it.

They've even got a platform where they can rev a car up to racing speeds, without it ever leaving the shop.

This place is a gear-head's dream.

But there's a lot of history here, too.

Vic was able to use his own racing career as a springboard to creating a vertically-integrated corporation—all starting with a modified Ford roadster that he would drive out to El Mirage, remove the fenders and windshield, race on the dry lake bed, reassemble to make it street legal, and drive back home.

Eventually, Vic became a full-time machinist, designing and manufacturing pistons, crankshafts, and more that helped racers set and break records.

In fact, the first single engine streamliner to go over 200 mph was the Edelbrock-equipped Bachelor-Xydias So. Cal. Special.

But these performance parts aren't just for pro racers.

Any motorist who wants to pimp their ride can get in on the action...

...especially if they want to make sure it all fits under the hood.

Edelbrock can supercharge a number of different sweet rides, from classic to current.

And at any given time, there's a good mix of boosted beauties in a room they call the "Toy Barn"...

...which is a kind of playroom where they're always working on something in somebody's car (may of them are company cars).

This is where you can find out what's inside the highest performance vehicles on the street—and beyond—like the next-generation electronic fuel injection system that optimizes its performance over time, as it "learns" the kinds of demands you'll be putting on the car and its engine.

I keep thinking I'll find myself "racing for pinks" at some point—or, at the very least, I'll want to transform a car from drab to drag racer—so I consider my visit to Edelbrock a kind of scouting mission.

The technology will certainly change by the time I'm ready, but at least I will have gotten something of a head start.

Stay tuned for pics from Vic's private car collection.  

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Haven for Hotrodders
Photo Essay: Paramount Ranch & Raceway

Monday, June 20, 2016

Photo Essay: An LA Museum for Streetlight People

LA has kind of a love affair with streetlights.

Maybe it started relatively recently, like when LACMA installed its "Urban Light" art installation, which was supposed to be temporary but became so popular that it still stands out front today, facing Wilshire Boulevard.

But now that I've seen some of the historic streetlight designs dating back to the early days of electricity, I suspect that LA's fascination with design in light started long before that.

I've always been fascinated with streetlights in general...

...but since starting my explorations of LA, I've found myself increasingly photographing streetlights as part of documenting where I've been.

One of my early explorations was a public art installation called "Vermonica," which features 25 antique street lamps from the LA Bureau of Street Lighting.

It, too, was only supposed to last a year when it was first installed in 1993, but it's still there in the Rite Aid parking lot at Santa Monica Boulevard and Vermont Avenue. (And the lights turn on at night.)\

Although I prefer my streetlights in situ, I found myself drawn to the Historic Streetlight Museum in the Public Works building.

On the second floor, surrounded by Bureau of Sanitation workers...

...there's a tiny room that chronicles the history of how LA has lit its streets since the early 1900s.

It's only open once a month, by appointment...

...for exactly 30 minutes.

Its collection is breathtakingly beautiful... why should they keep it all to themselves?

LA has had an amazingly wide variety of street light styles—and actually still does, among its 200,000 lights standing today.

Each of the 400 styles have come to define certain areas—and, in some cases, certain streets—like the "5 Globe Llewellyn" of Downtown LA, circa 1900.

Other lamps were a bit more "all-purpose," like the very utilitarian "open type fixture" with "radial-wave bowl" and insulators...

...that was used from 1915 to the 1930s, throughout LA.

Most of them aren't just utilitarian "lights," but bona fide lanterns, lighting the way for wayward LA souls, beckoning them across certain bridges, into certain neighborhoods, and onto certain streets.

From the 1930s pendant style of the GE Novalux Form 25A, with its "ripple glass" globe... the 1928 Ray-Lite #13 Globe from the Lake Hollywood Area, these fixtures don't just illuminate the streets below them.

They draw the eyes upwards, past their concrete electroliers, to gaze directly at their textured glass globes and occasionally intricate metalwork.

These globes, pendants, and lanterns had their heyday nearly a century ago, when beauty had a utility all of its own. Luminaries like the Westinghouse Paragon Senior were the celestial bodies of Lankershim Blvd. The Lalux #1005 brass lantern disrupted the darkness of night in Brentwood. General Electric Novalux brass lanterns crisscrossed the LA River.

And then, probably in the wake of World War II metal shortages and the widespread rationing of all sorts of building materials, function began to eclipse form—and beauty was sacrificed.

From the 160-watt mercury vapor lamp of the 1940s to the 175-watt metal halide lamp of the 1960s, the romance of the streets of LA transitioned from the streetlight to the headlight. I think by the time the LA Bureau of Street Services started to use the 70-watt high pressure sodium lamps in the 1980s, our city had reached the point of no return.

But fortunately, there's been no widespread, blanket replacement of historic streetlights. Many have been kept in their original locations, as long as they still work—which will hopefully be the case as the city starts to institute their new energy-efficient LED-powered streetlights.

And for those streetlight people whose vintage lanterns may have been retired from neighborhoods like Benedict Canyon or Holmby Hills—or streets like Venice and Wilshire Boulevards, Flower Street, and Verdugo Road—there's always the antiques at Vermonica and the Historic Streetlight Museum.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Photo Essay: Lake Norconian, From Resort to Wartime Hospital (and Beyond)

Most people in other parts of the country—or the world—probably don't think of California as very militaristic. But we've got no shortage of armaments here.

There's something very mysterious, or at least exclusive, about the military bases here—particularly the ones that are still active. So I'm usually working on one way or another to get on base (which usually involves taking some kind of tour or visiting a museum).

This time around, I signed up for a 5K Run / Walk so I could visit the Naval Surface Warfare Center Corona Division in Norco, part of the Naval Sea Systems Command.

NAVSEA is, as they say, all about designing, building, and maintaining Naval ships and their systems. But there are no ships here—and no sea, either.

There's just Lake Norconian and its pavilion and boathouse, with no boats to be seen. The 60-acre lake was created to be part of the Lake Norconian Club resort, which opened in February 1929 in the newly-created community of Norco (so named because it was North of the city of Corona).

The entire 638-acre playground for the rich and famous (sometimes referred to as "Norconian Resort Supreme") also consisted of a golf course, an airstrip, a swimming pool, and natural mineral springs—making it incredibly popular with Hollywood film stars and location scouts alike.

But as the Great Depression worsened and the country prepared to go to war (again) in the 1930s and early 1940s, the resort's popularity waned, and the Navy bought it for significantly less than what it cost to build it.

The official transfer of ownership was made on December 8, 1941—the day after Pearl Harbor.

At first, the Navy used Lake Norconian as a Naval hospital throughout both World War II and the Korean War—and kept many of its original features intact, including the pavilion and boat house.

But at the end of the Korean War, any remaining patients were transferred out either to Long Beach or Balboa Park in San Diego, and other Navy divisions (like the Ordnance Laboratory) moved in. The hospital officially closed for business on October 15, 1957.

And at the center of it all has been the 800 square foot hotel of the original resort, with its ballroom, casino, dining hall, and lots of rooms.

With no use for it any longer, the Navy transferred its ownership to the State of California in 1962, when it became the "California Rehabilitation Center," a narcotics addiction recovery center (and, at the time, an alternative to imprisonment).

In the 1980s, corrections pretty much took over rehab, and the luxury hotel became a medium-security state prison for felons.

Although many of the areas of the landmark structure have been abandoned, there are still 3100 inmates at CRC—some of whom get recruited into firefighter training to help out with the Norco Conservation Camp's efforts in fire prevention and response.

One local group of preservationists, the Lake Norconian Club Foundation, have been trying for years to get into that old hotel to fix the water damage and seal the leaks...

...and it's only just recently that it's looked like they'll actually be able to get access to it.

Above: The chauffeurs' and maids' quarters (left) and the Garage / Laundry building (right)

Meanwhile, outside of the correctional facility fence—and within the boundaries of the military base—are other Spanish Colonial Revival vestiges from the original Lake Norconian Club, designed by LA architect Dwight Gibbs...

...many of which are now being used for top-secret science and engineering missions.

Most of the people who are normally on the base aren't actually military officials, but rather civilians and defense contractors who evaluate Naval weapons that have been developed for undersea warfare. (Hence, ships.)

And while there wasn't much activity during my visit, it's clear that security is pretty tight. There were Navy officers stationed at any opportunity I might've had to wander off, including at the World War II-era gatehouse at the Fifth Street entrance.

Of course, that's exactly where I'd want to wander off—right into the old "Corpsmen's Quarters" from 1943-4, where the medical unit staff members resided.

Many of the structures built in the World War II era were designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style by Claud Beelman to match the hotel and are a rare example of a Naval hospital from the time that were built to be permanent. But in favoring function over form, they're less flashy than some of the LA architect's other landmark works (which include The Culver Hotel, the Eastern Columbia Building, and the Park Plaza Hotel).

But when it comes down to it, the historical significance of some of the structures on the property isn't so much about their architecture—say, a box clad in stucco on a concrete slab—but rather what once happened inside of them.

Whether it was used to store animals for lab testing or just a gardener's shed from World War II, that's likely what will determine whether the building is a contributor to the proposed Hospital Era Historic District.

There are actually two historic districts being proposed: the "Resort Era" and "Hospital Era." Some structures—and elements like the lake—are considered contributors to both.

Recreational boating and fishing were a major aspect of both resort life and rehabilitation (mental as well as physical).

And it looks like there are still fish for catching (and releasing) even today.

But those who once frequented Lake Norconian—Clark Gable, Buster Keaton, Bob Hope, Spencer Tracy, and the like—in its Resort Era are a far cry from who you'll find there on the Navy base today (in whichever era this period of time ends up becoming known as).

Many of today's NSWC Corona Division denizens are scientists, engineers, and other technicians who assess the war fighting capabilities of both ships and aircraft and of various defense systems (even theoretical ones) like surveillance, communications (including telemetry), tracking, power, and safety.

And then there are, of course, the inmates.

How long will they all get to enjoy this historic property, while the rest of the world looks on?

Isn't there a certain obligation to share it with the public?

Do we have to wait until the base becomes decommissioned and declassified before we ever really get to see it?

Related Posts:
To the Finish Line
Photo Essay: Boeing Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Lab, Declassified & Decontaminating
Photo Essay: Ancient Petroglyphs Secured Inside a Navy Weapons Testing Station
Photo Essay: Joint Forces Training Base (Former Naval Air Station), Los Alamitos
Photo Essay: Abandoned Naval Housing, Western Avenue
Photo Essay: Amongst the Abandoned at the Veterans Administration, LA