Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Photo Essay: Old Hollywood's Crossroads of the World, Before It Gets Swallowed Up By 'New' Hollywood

You might think that the crossroads of the world would be New York's Times Square, London's Piccadilly Circus, or Tokyo's Shibuya Crossing.

Photo: Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But no—as it turns out, it's in Hollywood.

At least, that's according to the name of the whimsical shopping plaza between Sunset and Selma, a stone's throw from Hollywood and Highland and Sunset and Vine, .

In fact, when it was built in 1936, by most accounts it was the first outdoor shopping mall in the country.

Things have changed since then. Since as early as the 1940s, Crossroads of the World started to be occupied by private businesses like magazine publishers, recording studios, video producers, and the like. Alfred Hitchcock even had an office there once. So did Huell Howser.

From the Sunset Boulevard sidewalk and street, you can see the Art Deco tower with its globe spinning 60 feet in the air, but most of the rest of this "Old Hollywood" conglomeration stands hiding behind a gate.

Although you might find that gate alluringly unlocked or even open, walking through it—from Sunset Boulevard into the former shopping plaza—isn't exactly encouraged right now.

So, what have we been missing out on for the past several decades?

At its center is a boat—more accurately, an ocean liner—reminiscent of Crossroads architect Robert V. Derrah's other nautical-themed creation in LA, the Coca-Cola bottling plant.

It's no surprise that this is one of the many LA locales that reportedly inspired Walt Disney early in his career (which explains the reproduction of Crossroads at Walt Disney World in Orlando).

The boat is surrounded by a number of cottages in a variety of international styles—Tudor, French, Swedish, Spanish, Moorish, Italian, Mexican, Dutch, Cape Cod—all storybook.

Derrah may have been the architect, but the one who really created Crossroads of the World was Ella Crawford, the widow of an allegedly mob-tied real estate developer known as "Goodtime Charlie," who took a hit in 1931.

In an effort to get out from under the dark dealings of his past, Charlie had opened a real estate and insurance brokerage in a bungalow right here on this very property—which is also where he was ultimately taken down.

Newly widowed, Ella continued Charlie's foray into real estate—first razing the bungalow, then commissioning a cosmopolitan marketplace of the world's finest goods to be built in its place.

Like a World's Fair, Crossroads of the World would transport its visitors to the far-flung reaches of the globe—without ever leaving Hollywood. And while it opened with a splash, thanks to a bit of Hollywood glitz and glamor, it never really succeeded in its original purpose.

By the time that real estate investor Morton La Kretz took over ownership in 1977 and embarked on a restoration project, Ella had passed away and her creation had fallen into disrepair. Many of the decorative tiles had been painted over and other inappropriate modifications had been made.

La Kretz proceeded to return Crossroads back to its original plans, while adding some new decorative touches, like tiled fountains, patterned walkways, and plantings that extend all the way back through the European Village that abuts Selma Avenue.

The spinning globe was replaced in 1985 and its machinery was replaced in 2005. And now, changes are once again afoot among the turrets, minarets, and frame-and-stucco structures of Crossroads of the World.

Since 2015, the Hollywood community has been, shall we say, in an uproar over development plans to demolish historic structures and build more than one high-rise in an area that's already starting to resemble Manhattan more than Southern California.

Over the course of the past three years, the renderings have been modified to include the preservation of the former Hollywood Reporter building and the entire Crossroads complex.

But according to the most recent plans, some of the open spaces between the buildings will be filled in, and the open air up above will be gobbled up by new construction designed for "mixed use."

There is one not-so-insignificant bit of good news about these new plans: Crossroads of the World will once again open up to the public and welcome pedestrians into its fairytale village.

Maybe we'll get to walk through a door and find out what's beyond those Venetian columns that adorn the front of the poured concrete Italian building. (And no two doors at Crossroads are alike, each having been custom designed and fabricated.)

In its heyday as an "Olde World" shopping plaza, Crossroads of the World offered such retailers and services as John Macsoud's men's store (at the Sunset-facing, forward end of the ship), the Continental Cafe (at the aft end), the Barber of Seville, a pastry shop, a Mexican restaurant (in the Middle Eastern building)

I hope that for the future of Crossroads, the globe keeps spinning, the lighthouse at Selma stays lit, and the surrey rides come back.

Here's a fun music video from 1991 that gives a view of the Sunset Boulevard frontage that few have experienced (or ever will).

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Coca-Cola Ship
The Studio Built By The Little Tramp, Now Home to a Frog Named Kermit
Photo Essay: The Storybook Wedding Chapel of Forest Lawn Cemetery

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Photo Essay: A Merchant Marine Cargo Ship, Born and Berthed in LA

At present time, the S.S. Lane Victory is moored at the end of Miner Street near Berth 49 between the East and West Channels of the L.A. Harbor in San Pedro.

But it used to sail—and not just while it was in official military service.

Even after they transformed it into a public museum, they used to take it out on the water—and regular people could sail along.

While its cruise schedule is currently suspended, and while its volunteers get it back up to code and back out on the water, I paid the stationary historic and heroic vessel a visit. And I paid a dollar to ring the bell, just to contribute a bit to the cause.

The S.S. Lane Victory entered service at the end of World War II...

...but stuck around to serve in the Korean War, when she evacuated more than 7,000 Korean civilians (including one baby born on board).

They must've been crammed into every nook and cranny on the cargo ship...

...even down the alley by the propeller.

From 1966 to 1970, the S.S. Lane Victory also served in the Vietnam Conflict.

But she wasn’t just a warship – she also served in times of peace as part of the Merchant Marine fleet, transporting goods and services.

And so, it's no surprise that she's got a ton of power in her belly.

In the engine room, you'll find a variety of power sources, from turbines that work on steam pressure (as much as 6000 horsepower), DC generators on both the port and starboard sides (240 volts each), shore power (for while the ship is at berth), and battery backups.

It takes a lot to propel a big ol' girl like this through the embattled waters of the Pacific—not the least of which is reduction gear (nearly 100,000 lbs, necessary for steam turbine-powered propulsion), shaft turning gear (once every seven minutes), and a 31,000-pound propeller that can help her travel a mile with just 347 revolutions.

And, of course, since being permanently relocated to L.A., she’s become somewhat of a Hollywood starlet, having appeared in everything from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to The X-Files.

That’s because her bridge, gun placements, cargo holds, and interior have all been restored...

...and if seeing it on the screen isn't enough, most of it can be accessed on a self-guided tour.

What you don't see is how intricate the process is of running a ship like this—from the fuel oil pumps to the lube oil, cooling condensers, and circulating pumps.

And in addition to simply getting where it had to go, the ship needed to be equipped to fight (particularly Japanese kamikazes)...

...monitor the environment out at sea (including water depth, via a fathometer), and communicate via armed signalmen, especially during times of radio silence.

The signalmen raised flags (for short distances) and flashed lights (for long distances)—though nearly exclusively during the day.

Born on the LA Waterfront (built at California Shipbuilding Corporation) and originally launched on May 31, 1945, it's nice to see the S.S. Lane Victory making LA its permanent home.

The Victory-class ship no longer carries any cargo—but then again, its most famous haul was the massive group of Korean evacuees.

Maybe one day it will carry passengers again—on a WWII reenactment cruise across the Santa Barbara Channel, just like it used to.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: USS Iowa, The Last of the Battleships
Photo Essay: A Night on the Battleship
Photo Essay: The Light at Angel's Gate

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Photo Essay: Catedral de la Fe Flips Back To The State Theatre

I'm all for congregations taking over historic theaters and running church services out of them.

circa 2012

It's a common practice—from the United Palace in Washington Heights, Manhattan (perhaps my first foray into an ecclesiastical redo of a movie palace) to the Academy Cathedral in Inglewood and the United Artists/University Cathedral Church (now the Theatre at The Ace) just down Broadway in Downtown LA.

Many times, those religious communities are a saving grace of historic and potentially otherwise threatened properties.

In the case of The State Theatre at Broadway and 7th in Downtown's Historic Broadway Theatre District...

...the "Cathedral of Faith" operated out of the former Loew's State (one of dozens in the country to operate under that name) until early 2018...

...after 20 years of conducting services there and keeping the riffraff out (including forbidding photography inside).

Now, a restoration effort has launched to return the 1921 movie place to its glory days, sell tickets out of its box office again, and welcome moviegoers back under the circa 1949 neon marquee.

I recently got the chance to return to the State, as its transformation back into a theatre had just begun, and snap some "before" photos—though, in actuality, the theater is in kind of a purgatory between its original life as a cinema, its divine purpose as a house of worship, and its born-again identity as an entertainment venue.

Some ornate touches had been added to the original Spanish Renaissance design by San Francisco-bed firm Weeks and Day...

...and those are are now being stripped away.

But the original tile work (both glazed terra cotta and mosaic) is easily recognizable...

...and many of the architectural and design features are returnable to their original appearance.

From the outer lobby, you can climb the main stairs (past where the snack bar used to be in the 1940s) up to the north walkway...

...admire the coffered ceiling of the upper lobby...

...ignore the baptismal tub as you examine the former tiled fountain...

...and get a closer look at the terra cotta detailing...

..and the grotesque gargoyles perched atop the pilasters right outside the balcony entrance, just one of the many evocations of a Spanish castle interior.

From the top, you can get a good look at the Spanish Rococo ceiling (and non-original chandelier)...

...and the ecclesiastical stained glass windows that the church obviously added to the proscenium boxes, below the former organ grilles, after moving in.

I actually really liked the religious imagery of the stained glass.

I kind of hope they keep them.

As it returns to public use, The State has incredible potential, being the largest theatre on Broadway in terms of number of seats (also housed in LA's largest brick-clad building).

In addition to its projection facilities, it's also got a stage that's nearly 28 feet deep...

...thanks to having been used both as a vaudeville venue and a movie palace in the 1920s.

In 1932, though, its programming switched to exclusively films.

Among the throwbacks from that era that can still be found at The State (never removed by the cathedral) include an Armstrong-Powers asbestos fire curtain (with a reportedly crazy design)...

...and original counterweight rigging with lockrail, as the church actually did use some backdrops and other set pieces in their ceremonies.

Like many of the historic Downtown LA movie theaters, The State ran Spanish language programming in the 1960s and was used as a filming location in the 1990s.

One of the more intriguing developments in the re-secularization of The State is the opportunity to revitalize its basement...

...which opened in 1922 as the Leighton Co-operative Cafeteria.

At the time, it provided an affordable meal in a comfortable setting...

...with the dining room sufficiently separated from the service area for minimum clatter and chaos.

Although the space is pretty raw right now, its original Moorish details (including wall murals, tiles, plasterwork arches, and ) are largely still visible...

...though some have been painted over in white, and the white-clothed dining tables are gone.

The electrical gear appears to be intact, but I didn't dare test it.

A lot of the construction that the church ordered down there (including walling off areas into individual offices and rooms and adding a wooden staircase) has been demolished in the short time since the sacred tenant vacated the premises—but there's still a lot of work to be done.

It's nice to see some movement happening, though. In the immortal words of Oscar Wilde (and appropriated by Wily Wonka), the suspense is terrible.

I hope it'll last.

Related Posts:
Looking Up from the Streets of Downtown LA (Updated for 2017)
Photo Essay: The Ace Hotel & Its Rehabilitation of the Historic United Artists Theatre