Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Photo Essay: The Art Deco Jewel of The West

It's one of the Art Deco treasures of Los Angeles—or, really, of the entire Western U.S. But since it was converted from a department store to residential lofts, most people can only admire it from the outside.

Its turquoise-colored, terra cotta-tiled, gold-leafed exterior is one of LA's most photographed and filmed (appearing in everything from the pilot of Moonlighting to the Transformers blockbuster movie).

But if you're lucky enough make it past the zig-zagged, chevroned vestibule of the Eastern Columbia Building (so named after the Eastern Outfitting and Columbia Outfitting companies, for which it was built)...

...walk upon the lobby's original terrazzo floor (which was restored in 2007)...

...and ride one of the original elevators to one of the upper floors...'ll see how Angelenos once shopped for furniture and rugs, standing on concrete floors between monumental columns, under wedding cake-shaped Art Deco lighting fixtures.

And, during my visit, I got to see how the other half lives...

...namely, movie star Johnny Depp...

...who recently moved out of the five penthouses he called home...

...three of which were interconnected through secret passageways behind shelves and one authentic bank safe.

He devoted an entire floor of one of his penthouses to closet space...

...a "his and hers" setup he shared with his most recent wife, Amber Heard.

Each side had its own private bathroom, in addition to the loo downstairs (and those in the other penthouses).

The penthouse is technically in the decorative clock tower, so you're standing right under the clock when you walk out onto the patio. It's an homage to the career beginnings of Eastern Columbia founder Adolph Sieroty (at a clock shop), but it was also a cheat that allowed the 13-story building to surpass the height limit of the time. Its neon had been dark for about 20 years until it was relit upon the 75th anniversary of the building in 2005.

That clock might be the most distinctive feature of this 1930 landmark, but for those who actually live in those lofts, you just can't beat the view you get out of those original, iron-clad casement windows.

It's a wonder that Johnny Depp ever decided to sell.

Interior designers of the lofts seem to have embraced the 1930s charm of the building, incorporating Art Deco elements (like salvaged panels from the 1933 World's Fair)...

...with retro-styled appliances...

...and, if not original, then good reproductions of vintage lighting fixtures.

Eastern Columbia Outfitters went out of business in 1957, after which point its flagship store was converted into office space. For its reuse as a residential tower (containing 147 condos), developers added a "leisure terrace," featuring a sundeck and a pool, onto the roof below the clock.

You can get 1730 square feet of the building, consisting of two bedrooms and two bathrooms, for a mere $1.4 million—which, in my mind, is a steal compared to real estate prices for shoeboxes in New York City.

Or you could move into one of Johnny Depp's former penthouses—each with more than 2000 square feet and two beds, three baths—for around $2.5 million.

But if I were a millionaire, I'm not sure that's what I'd spend my money on. For now, my tiny Art Deco apartment suits me just fine.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Bullocks Wilshire, The Art Deco Law School Campus (Updated)
Photo Essay: Oviatt's Art Deco Penthouse, At Night
Photo Essay: The Oviatt Building's Art Deco Legacy
Furnishing an Art Deco Apartment on a Dorm Room Budget

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Photo Essay: Hatchlings In the Marsh

I'd been meaning to visit Madrona Marsh in Torrance ever since I first saw it on the map. But what finally drew me there was the promise of baby birds.

I knew that there had been some recent hatchlings spotted at the 43-acre preserve in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, but I didn't realize what a good birding spot it would be in general.

Right by the entrance, I spotted several low-lying lesser goldfinches, though they certainly weren't the only songbirds I heard.

It helps that there's plenty of vegetation for them to perch onto and hide in, like the dune lupine (a.k.a. bush lupine, or Lupinus chamissonis)...

...and clarkia...

...and, of course, poppies.

Although wildflowers in the vernal marsh (so named because the temporary freshwater pools are only wet in the spring, thanks to rainwater runoff) are already past peak bloom...

...I still spotted some nice yellow sweet-clover (Melilotus officinalis) and garland daisies.

And while the butterflies were out in full force, so were the bloom-loving bugs.

But I had come to this rare, undeveloped parcel of land (part of which was formerly an oil and gas recovery site) in a highly commercial area of the City of Torrance for birds...

...and, in my quest, I got sightings of house finches...

...female red-winged blackbirds (somewhat a misnomer, given their brown and white color pattern)...

...and, perhaps most spectacularly, male red-winged blackbirds.

I found them singing in thickets of reeds...

...and perching on black willows.

Madrona Marsh is literally across the street from Del Amo Fashion Center Mall, so it's prime real estate for developers. Over 90 percent of California's wetlands have been lost to development.

But environmentalists fought—as far back as 1972—to preserve and restore the marshland for native species that would make it their home as well as for non-natives that would use it as a stopover on their migratory paths along the Pacific Flyway.

In 1989, the open space was cleaned up, with over 200 tons of junk being trucked out. But it didn't officially open to the public—accompanied by a nature center—until 2001.

And now, coots are having babies. Mallards are having babies.

And breaking up the symphony of songbirds with their own unique cacophony are a flock of Canadian geese also starting their families...

...feeding and protecting their young.

These curious little darlings didn't seem disturbed by visitors to their cordoned-off area...

...and went about their business, exploring the marsh around them...

...having a bite to eat...

...and snuggling up tight.

But soon enough they were roused to move on...

...and take a little swim...

...and glide off into the sunset.

I suspect that I only saw a fraction of the bird, insect, and plant life that's at Madrona Marsh (not to mention the mammals and reptiles I never saw, and the amphibians I only heard).

This "island habitat" had been hit hard by the drought, but now it seems to have recovered.

At least for now, it's nice to know that its residents are safe, and visitors are welcome—just like in Los Angeles, and just like in California.

That can all change so quickly, though.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Birding Anza-Borrego During the Superbloom
Damage Control
Photo Essay: Invasive Plants, Parasitic Birds, and Giant Stinging Nettle at Prado Wetlands
Basking in the Gloom at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Monday, April 24, 2017

What A Fool Believes

If you had the chance to meet the man who recreated one of the world's most baffling illusions, would you demand to know the secret behind it—one that took him three decades to discover?

Would you try to beat the chess master automaton, a "thinking machine" known as "The Turk," even though you knew the odds were so stacked against you that the Turk never loses?

Would you crawl inside the cabinet below to inspect its mechanisms, looking for false bottoms and collapsible hinges? Would you want to find out that it's not just an automaton, but a false automaton—with an adult, full-sized human operator hiding inside of it?

Or, would you rather think of it as something mystical, magical, spiritual, supernatural or evil?

You may watch incredibly closely, but do you really want to catch a ventriloquist moving his lips?

If you could ask Houdini for his autograph...

...would you investigate how the inert could possibly come alive long enough to sign a piece of paper for you?

This is the dilemma I faced the other night.

I couldn't help becoming a detective when faced with department store amusements that could make a red ball disappear and reappear...

...even though I'd rather it remain a mystery.

But this is a lesson about myself I've only learned recently.

One night when I was at The Magic Castle with a magician friend of mine, he gave me a sealed envelope to take home. The choice of whether or not to ever open it was mine, as long as I waited until I got home.

Inside were the instructions of how to perform a classic sleight of hand magic trick, the kind that so convincingly bewitches audiences, they can't figure out the secret—even if they never take their eyes off the magician, and even if they're sitting directly across from him.

After all, when a skull is talking to you, it's hard to figure out how it could not be talking to you if you can see it plain as day—as implausible as it may seem.

In the case of the secrets of the card trick that my friend had given, I tore the envelope open and began to read its contents as soon as I got home. And before I could finish it, I shoved it back into its envelope, which I hid from my view and got rid of the next day.

I'm not an aspiring magician. I have no plans to perform this or any bit of close-up magic.

And, as it turns out, I have no business knowing how to fool other people—because I want to be fooled.

I don't want to know how I'm being tricked. I don't even want to know that I'm being tricked. I want to believe that there are some things in this life that can't be explained and I'll just never fully grasp.

If there's a God, I don't want to meet him. If there's a Heaven, I don't want to go there.

If I ever find out that true love is just a ruse to get us to ensure the survival of the species, I'll clamp my legs shut and rue the day I ever posed the question.

If I've been fooled, let me never find out.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Mysteries of the Pasadena Magic House & Museum
A Magical Night Out in Hollywood
This Kind of Fool