Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Photo Essay: Tracing the Remains of the First Busch Gardens

There's magic to be found in LA, but even if you know where to look and what you're looking for, it helps to have someone guide you.

Scan by NYPL [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For example, I knew that there were some vestiges of Busch Gardens (founded by Adolphus and Lilly Busch, of the Anheuser-Busch brewing conglomerate) in Pasadena, and I even knew the general area that they were in.

But without a local expert as my companion, I would've never gotten so close to the Old Mill...

...a replica of a mill found in Banbury Cross, England built to delight the Busch grandchildren who'd heard about it in a nursery rhyme by Mother Goose.

You can barely even see it from the street—and you'd have no way of knowing that the old mill pond that was on east side of the former upper garden is still there, kind of, though it's been converted into a swimming pool.

The nexus of the extant relics is where Busch Garden Drive meets Busch Place and Busch Garden Court (which also meets Busch Garden Lane).

The street signs and the carved curbs will tip you off as to where you might be...

...but with all of the development that's occurred on these hillsides...

...and all the plots that have been subdivided...

...it takes a little hunting to find some original stonework...

...like on the once-picturesque cactus wall.

Hiding in plain view are also some faux bois pillars and railings...

...with many decorative features secreted away in private backyards, invisible even to the most scrutinous eye of a passerby.

But in an area where so many of our hills have been leveled and our landscape features flattened, it's nice to see some embankments and winding paths looming high above the Arroyo Seco.

And among all the build-outs of these subdivisions, there are pieces of the old garden attraction—a precursor to the brewery tour / amusement park experience in Van Nuys and a distant ancestor to the theme parks / water parks that still operate in Florida and Virginia.

One contemporary house has been built as an attachment to an original pergola...

...which the homeowners have kept in its (more or less) open-air original state.

Another original pergola stands as a gateway to the former natatorium...

...which has been unrecognizably converted into a private home, though the original bones are still in there somewhere.

Other skeletal features include Arroyo rock markers at various former entrances to the gardens...

...a paved, stone-lined "trail" that once meandered through the gardens...

...and the original V-mesh fencing that kept critters out and prevented horse hooves from getting caught in it.

In 1906 when the gardens were opened to the public, nearly everything was covered in ivy.

Now, those crawling vines have largely given way to dead leaves...

...and the shadows of a horticultural wonder of days gone by.

Busch Gardens' demise came slowly but decisively, first with the death of Adolphus in 1913 and then with the start of World War I in 1914—which was complicated for his widow, German-born Lilly Anheuser, who was an American citizen but the mother-in-law of two German nationals.

Of course, the start of Prohibition in 1920 hit the Anheuser and Busch families where it hurt most, their fortunes predicated on the sale of alcohol to beer-guzzling Americans.

Lilly's death in 1928 marked the loss of the gardens' main steward—and although it changed hands a few times in the years that followed, Busch Gardens closed to the public in 1937.

And all we have left are the postcards, a few movies that were shot there, and a jigsaw puzzle of remaining pieces scattered throughout private lots and yards and lawns.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A 1950s Time Capsule in LA's Oldest Operating Brewery
Photo Essay: The Ghost Town of Cornell and Its Abandoned Lake Enchanto

Photo Essay: Upon the Grand Reopening of LA's Cold War Museum

I don't think a museum like the Wende would be able to exist on such a large scale in the LA area if its lease didn't cost a mere $1 per year.

That may be the biggest fiscal advantage of relocating our local "Cold War Museum" to the former National Guard Armory in Culver City...

...but there's also the exciting prospect of reactivating an abandoned but historic building and providing a more suitable spatial context for its collection than the small business park it was in before.

Of course, the Wende has such a large collection of former Eastern Bloc artifacts that it can't put them all on display at any one time in the new space...

...but from a curatorial perspective, the museum can now show a lot more all at once and be more strategic about its themed exhibitions.

After all, it's not all bronze-cast busts of Lenin (although there are a lot of those).

It's not even all Stalin.

In fact, upon its grand opening, the Wende displayed an entire tribute to the Soviet-era space industry, including an acknowledgment of Laika, the hero canine space cadet who became the first animal to orbit the Earth (and perished as a result).

Some of the artifacts are a bit more fanciful...

...and yet terrifying nevertheless.

Whether of East German, Russian, Hungarian, or Latvian origins, every artifact carries a certain gravitas—even the childhood toys.

And while the Soviet regime generally suppressed the fine arts, there were always exceptions—especially for those items that might benefit the state, like diplomatic gifts and propagandized glassware.

I can only imagine the kind of state-sanctioned programming that Eastern Bloc citizens were allowed to listen to on their radios...

...and what kind of contraband recordings or pirate broadcasts might've made their way through these speakers...

...though, given the Soviets' penchant for surveillance, it's doubtful that any of it would have gone undetected.

Was not every phone wiretapped?

Could any radio wave be trusted?

Weren't home electronics of the Cold War Era just another version of Russian spy equipment? (And are they any different now?)

Of course, there's no shortage of actual, unapologetic spy equipment in the Wende's arsenal, whether it's for recording...

...relaying covert messages and other top-secret communiqués (a.k.a. Kommuniques, коммюнике)...

...or just listening.

And perhaps the best indication of how advanced the Eastern Bloc countries were in their efforts to control the activities and movements of its people is the early (albeit analog) method of facial recognition that they developed and used at Checkpoint Charlie, the most heavily utilized access point along the Berlin Wall between East and West Germany.

It was a culture where people were presumed guilty and perhaps never given the opportunity to prove their innocence. Any opinion or criticism could get you deemed an "enemy of the state."

The Cold War officially ended in 1991, but it's not like the geopolitical tension has gone away. Communism is still alive and well in Cuba, China, North Korea, and Russia—though its activities may have gone a bit more underground than anyone realizes.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin would like nothing better than for the Soviet Union to rebuild and for Russia to reclaim the lands it lost to independence, like Ukraine.

It makes you wonder how long a historical institution like The Wende Museum will be able to rely solely on the events of the past, especially if we find ourselves facing a new Cold War.

That is, if we haven't already.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Southern California's Repository of Eastern Bloc Artifacts, Under Construction
Elegy For Those Who Won't Stay Quiet

Sunday, November 19, 2017

True Colors

It can be heartbreaking when someone you like turns on you—but, when it comes down to it, it's a blessing.

Some people manage to get by wearing a mask of kindness or intelligence or charm—and even if their humor is occasionally blue, in general, they can seem innocuous.

But, as appearances aren't always what they seem, those well-liked and often respected people are actually the worst. Because underneath it all, they're red with rage, green with envy, yellow with fear, or black with hate.

Sometimes, they're a rainbow of all those things.

And when they finally show their true colors to you, well, it's better that you find out who they really are rather than be blindsided by it in a worse way later on.

No matter how much it may hurt.

There are certain times in life that bring out the worst in people. A death in the family, for example, is likely to tear even close siblings apart—especially when combined with yet another source of divisiveness, which is a fight over money.

And there's a reason why they say you should never discuss politics or religion. Both of those can really bring out the beast within.

Unfortunately, as I've discovered over the last few years, the same principle applies to the topic of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

As a general principle, I embrace spirited debate. I don't think everyone needs to agree with me, and I don't expect to agree with everyone else.

We are stronger in our diversity. And as long as the disagreement moves the conversation forward, it's OK.

It's better to talk about it than not talk about it. The secrecy and the silencing that surround these horrors just make the trauma worse and the problem more insidious.

So, I've braved the masses by speaking out about my own experiences in this arena, in hopes that I can give voice to those thoughts, feelings, and events that some others might not be able to so easily articulate. It's a dangerous path to follow, but it always seemed like the benefits to others outweighed the risks to myself.

Previously, it's aways been strangers or casual acquaintances who've belittled my experiences or blamed the victim—that is, blamed me for the abuse that's befallen me. And I've swiftly blocked them or removed them from my life. It hurts to hear things like "What did you think would happen?", but ultimately, you move past it and you make sure you never see that person again.

It's different when it comes from someone in your inner circle—maybe not a close friend per se, but a good friend of a good friend, someone who's around a lot and who might throw some cash your way if you were desperate.

And that's exactly what happened to me this week.

It's taken me a couple of days to wrap my head around the circumstances, but thanks to giving it some careful thought, I've come up with two helpful conclusions.

First, this person is not important enough to me to make me cry the way I did.

And second, it has nothing to do with me. This is all on them.

The statement I felt compelled to respond to was this:
"Let's not listen to the women who actually worked with him... Let's listen to an Ex-hooters waitress, Playboy bunny who has flashed her T and A for a living.... I've spent too much time with the Male species to know that Frat boy behavior is indemic [sic] in our culture and the male species.....sorry women...but men are pigs...not excusing it..just calling it what it is.... She wasn't a lily in the night."
This type of commentary sets a dangerous precedent and makes a slippery slope argument. Sure, there may be other reasons to discredit a woman who has claimed harassment or assault from a coworker. She may not be trustworthy at all.

But even sluts can be harassed and assaulted. And shaming them doesn't help.

So, while reading lots of comments and replies—some in agreement, others in vehement disagreement—I researched and verified the facts.

And after formulating my own opinion, I responded thus:
"Honestly I find your perspective on this appalling and disturbing and while I really am trying to understand where you're coming from, I think this is a very clear illustration of why this is still a problem and why it may always be.... There are untold numbers of people getting groped without their consent out there -- awake and asleep, male and female, gay and straight -- and it can very easily become a slippery slope argument....This was clearly "blue" humor but how many of these people would say "I was just joking"? Legally, the line is usually drawn at consent -- something that can't happen while you're asleep, high, drunk, or underage."
And furthermore:
"'Senstivity training' in a professional environment would tell you to not go there, at all, ever. No jokes, no comments about appearance, no questions about dating or romance or sex or anything. I really don't think any industry is or should be exempt from that -- entertainment, hospitality, sports, none of it. Even in the porn industry, if someone penetrates you while the cameras are NOT rolling and WITHOUT your consent. That's rape. It doesn't make it not rape just because you're a porn actor or even just because you may have had sex with the person in the past. (And that's an argument that dates back at least to the late 1970s/early '80s when judges had to be convinced that it was possible for a husband to rape his wife.)"
And finally:
"There's a lot to unpack here, and being a blowhard about it isn't helping. And I'm betting that I'm not the only female Facebook friend of yours that feels alienated and retraumatized by this thread."
I am somewhat of an authority on this matter, unfortunately. I've attended mandatory, staff-wide sensitivity training. I've worked in multiple industries, including entertainment. And I have been victimized by coworkers, bosses, classmates, dates, and friends.

Yet the person who I dared call out on the carpet, in a classic show of narcissism and lack of empathy, made it all about him, accusing me of vilifying him with rage. He reached out to me privately and told me I shouldn't have commented at all. And he scoffed at the notion of retraumatizing me.

At first, I chalked it up to a misunderstanding, so I tried to explain myself. I hadn't been angry at him for what he said. I just thought he was horribly and dangerously wrong.

But the more I responded to him with compassion and clarity, the more vitriolic he became. And then, of course, he pegged the vitriol on me.

He was so accusatory, in fact, that I told him he was scaring me.

His response? In essence: Give me a frigging break.

As horrible as I thought what he posted was, I hadn't been angry at him for that. This is a self-professed "progressive" father and husband who has marched for women's rights, so I thought that his intentions might have been good but that he'd been misled or misguided somehow, that his sense of feminism had somehow been warped in the heat of the moment.

But instead of illustrating a bad thing that someone may have done, he got trapped in that old virgin/whore complex.

It's understandable, and I can't even really blame him for that. This is why we speak up. Silence reinforces the misinformation.

What I can blame him for, however, is his abhorrent behavior in the aftermath. I didn't deserve to be attacked or belittled. Not for what's happened to me, and not for talking about it.

But that's what showed me his true colors. And for that, I'm grateful—despite the tears and the trauma.

Because this is not a person I want in my life.

Related Posts:
Don't Blame It On Me
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Sunday, November 12, 2017

At the Center of the World, History Is Dead. Long Live History.

If you were to visit a place that's touted as the "Center of the World," you might think you'd find it in Egypt, Israel, along the equator somewhere, or at the North or South Poles.

But then again, since Planet Earth is more or less a perfect sphere, pretty much anywhere you go on its surface can be construed as the "center."

Wherever you go, there you are. And so on.

If you were to ask anyone at the Imperial County office or the Institut Geographique National of the Government of France, however, by law they'd have to tell you that the Center of the World is in Felicity, California.

And for that—and all of the other attractions found in Felicity, the town he founded in 1986 and named after his wife Felicia—we have a French-born aeronaut named Jacques-Andre Istel to thank.

A pioneer in both sport and military free-fall parachuting, Istel is widely considered the "father of skydiving," but he's also the author of a children's book called Coe: The Good Dragon at the Center of the World.

Using the tale as inspiration, Istel built an actual pyramid in the desert, just like there is in the book—only this one is in the southeastern corner of California just a few miles west of Yuma, Arizona and just east of the Imperial Sand Dunes.

Istel also more or less elected himself mayor of Felicity and has since operated the "Center of the World" as a roadside tourist attraction. You need his set of keys to get inside the pyramid where the actual "center" is, and you need his signature to make your souvenir certificate official. And you can pretty much only do that between Thanksgiving and Easter, when the weather isn't quite so brutally hot here.

However, the grounds are more or less open all year, so although I arrived a bit too early in the season in October, I could occupy myself with the Museum of History in Granite—a series of 21 monuments comprised of various engraved and etched granite panels covering the History of the United States of America, the History of California, the History of Arizona, and the History of Humanity.

With some granite panels still blank, this "museum" is a work-in-progress that's made Mayor Istel somewhat of a significant historian of his time—though, based on the geometry and geography of Felicity, some might be apt to think he's something of an occultist.

In actuality, he built The Church on the Hill at Felicity and dedicated it in 2008 with the blessing of both Monsignor Richard W. O'Keeffe (on behalf of the Catholic Church) and Reverend Arthur P.Stanley (on behalf of Her Britannic Majesty's Forces).

It sits atop on the manmade "Hill of Prayer," engineered in 1996 and created in 2002 out of 150,000 tons of dirt with the sole purpose of keeping the chapel as the highest building in town.

With a design inspired by La Chapelle Notre-Dame d’Espérance in Brittany, France, it seems an appropriate landmark for a town whose name is derived from the ancient Roman term for divine happiness and blessedness, felicitas.

But there's also something unsettling about the town of Felicity, especially when it's not officially open.

The wind is brutal up there on that fake hill, not blocked by the chapel and, in fact, even perhaps worsened by it. The sand from the nearby dunes gives the entire compound a dusty pallor.

The monuments in the array stand there like triangular tombstones that memorialize events that have passed in short epitaphs, lest we forget.

Not surprisingly, they're the handiwork of master carver Ron Clamp of Memorial Design, a company that specializes in grave markers, headstones, mausolea, and other funerary monuments.

But, though they were built to last 4000 years, there's only so much room on those panels—so, by necessity, the histories etched in Missouri red granite are selective and incomplete. The "Rosetta Stone" is inscribed with only a tiny sliver of the languages that actually exist throughout humanity.

But it's impossible to always tell the whole story. There's always something you've got to leave out to avoid digression and oversaturation. And besides, the Museum of History in Granite is just a fraction of what there is to do and see in Felicity, too.

There's also the "railroad station," which looks like it's just for show but is located pretty close to the Southern Pacific Railway line that runs more or less parallel to the 8 Freeway from Yuma (and points beyond) to Sidewinder Road just east of Felicity. There, it bears northwest through the ghost town of Ogilby, where it once serviced the American Girl gold mine (on land now managed by the BLM).

And just as there's a station with no train, there's also a disembodied, rusted iron staircase—intriguingly once part of the Eiffel Tower in Mayor Istel's hometown of Paris, France.

One of 20 such sections from 1889 that were removed for safety reasons and sold at auction in 1983, this one—number 12 (Escalier élément no. 12 de la tour d'Eiffel)—weighs 6,600 pounds and stands 25 feet high in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.

It's missing its tower, and its tower is missing its original staircase. And, presented as an orphan sculpture, it serves no other purpose.

L'histoire est morte. Vive l'histoire.

Related Posts:
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