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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

It's a Holiday Dino Dress-Up at Cabazon Dinosaurs

Back in November, the larger-than-life biomorphic buildings known as the Cabazon Dinosaurs were kicked up a notch by being painted in Christmas colors—green for Dinney, the 150-foot-long Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus, and a Santa suit for Mr. Rex, the three-story concrete Tyrannosaurus rex

 
I didn't think it could get any better than that—but much to my delight, they've now been repainted once again. 


Mr. Rex has changed out of his red suit and into a black tie...
   

...and Dinney is now sporting a very au courant shade of pink. 


If you ask me, it's quite becoming. But I'm not a purist when it comes to monolithic depictions of extinct creatures. 


They sure do brighten up that stretch of the 10 Freeway, which could use a little razzle-dazzle (aside from the Morongo Casino next door).


And we could all use a little more love these days. 


The rotating color scheme seems like a great way to draw in repeat visitors. At least, that's how it worked on me.
     
Once I'd done the whole experience back in 2019, I couldn't think of a reason why I'd ever need to go back. 

 
But now I can't imagine not going back if the dinos get dressed up for some other occasion. 


What a wonderful canvas they've turned out to be—right there in the Southern California desert. 


As was the case for Christmas, the attraction is open for limited extended hours—when there are Valentine's Day-themed lights illuminating the outdoor dinosaur garden in the back that leads to the climb up into Mr. Rex. 

I may skip that part this year so I can avoid the "couples photo opp." 

But please oh please let them do something special for Halloween this year!

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Monday, January 18, 2021

Who Wants In On A Split Pea Soup Empire? In Its 97th Year, Andersen's Is For Sale

Pea Soup Andersen's is for sale. And it appears that it's being pitched as a "development opportunity."

Preservationists know what that means.  Somebody might buy it just to tear it down. 

But how could that be? 

Pea Soup Andersen's is an absolute fixture of Central Santa Barbara County and the Central Coast—located in Buellton, which was once merely a "stopover" town on the way to or from San Francisco but now has become a destination all of its own (larely thanks to wine-country tourism, especially in the wake of the film Sideways). 

Even if you don't go to Pea Soup Andersen's, it feels indelibly etched into the landscape of the Santa Ynez Valley, with all of its billboards dotting the side of the highway. 

I didn't go for over 9 years after moving to California because I don't like pea soup. But last November, I decided to swing by and check out what else they had to offer. 

I didn't yet know that there were plans afoot to wipe it off the map.
    

In 1924, Danish immigrant Anton Andersen and his French wife, Juliette, built a little roadside cafe amidst a horse and cattle ranch and dairy farm that Buellton pioneer Rufus Thompson (R.T.) Buell had developed out of the former Mexican land grant Rancho San Carlos de Jonata. 

 
They named it "Andersen's Electrical Cafe" because they had a new-fangled electric stove. (Nevermind the articles that tell you it was called the "Electric" cafe—photos and documents show otherwise.)


In 1928, the Andersens' cafe became popular enough for travelers that they expanded the site with the construction of The New Bueltmore Hotel—a play on the name of the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. The hotel was later known as The Valley Inn. 


In the 1930s, the Andersens' business continued to grow—so their son Robert joined forces with them after college. He's the one who erected those now-infamous billboards that still stand today. 


World War II brought new challenges—as military personnel who were stationed locally needed the hotel rooms for housing. The Andersens served meals to servicemen and their families for as long as they needed it. 


After WWII, then-former Disney animator Milt Neil drew Pea Soup Andersen's cartoon mascots, Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee—who still adorn the exterior walls, interior, dishware, and menus today. Prior to the chefs, Neil was better-known for his work with Donald Duck, earning him the nickname "The Duck Man."


During that time, Andersen's Electrical Cafe evolved to become Andersen's Cafe and The Valley Inn, Andersen's Pea Soup, and finally "Pea Soup Andersen's" in 1947. The awkward syntax might've come from Robert Andersen having been known as Robert "Pea Soup" Andersen. 


Of course, Pea Soup Andersen's has been sold before—but it's legacy has continued. In 1965, local business owner, actor, and "Memphis Belle" bombardier Vince Evans bought it and installed a mini amusement park with a train, aviary, and zoo. In 1999, it was bought by Milt Guggia, whose son Milt Jr. runs the property today.


But what happens if the next buyer doesn't want to keep it? Developers may have other plans for the property, in light of the Avenue of Flags Specific Plan—which aims to create a more pedestrian-friendly, revitalized "downtown" Buellton.


That's a turnaround from the travelers’ service district that Pea Soup Andersen's anchors in Buellton—which has become renowned as "Service Town U.S.A." That reputation began when the 101 freeway cut straight through town; but it continued even after being realigned, when the former 101 that passes in front of Andersen's got renamed Avenue of the Flags in 1968. 

 
The new plan dictates that the dedicated architectural style of Avenue of the Flags be Art Deco. But the real estate listing is selling the Tudor-inspired, Old World charm of Andersen's—all 3.36 acres of it, including a 35,000-square-foot main building—as "prime for redevelopment." And for the hefty price of $4.7 million (which honestly seems like a deal, given the size).


That also would include the banquet facilities and entertainment center that currently occupy a former English pub that then-owner Vince Evans purchased and relocated from London in 1979 and reconstructed in Buellton.


It does not, however, include the adjacent Pea Soup Andersen's Inn (which was at one time a Best Western). When the hotel rooms in the main building weren't enough for the demand, they got converted into seating areas and offices—and a standalone motel was built in 1970. 

     
So, I suppose its possible that the inn might become the only remaining business in Buellton bearing the Andersen's name. But without the restaurant, bakery, and shops, how will travelers have a "soup-er" day? 

Display located in the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum, Santa Ynez

Pea Soup Andersen's has been selling over 2 million bowls of pea soup per year, including the all-you-can-eat "Traveller's Special," to "Pea Soup-ers" from all over the world.

Display located in the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum, Santa Ynez
   
Isn't there a buyer out there who wants to continue that legacy for a little while longer?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Photo Essay: The Treasures of City Terrace Park, from Medieval to Mid-Century Modern

There's so much in LA that's been lost—that I'll never get to see in person.

circa 1905? (Photo: William Henry Jackson, Denver Public Library)

But every now and then, I catch a glimpse of the past. 


 
And that's what I went to City Terrace Park on Christmas Day in search of—pieces of hand-carved Arizona red sandstone from the 19th-century Los Angeles County Courthouse (completed 1891, demolished 1936). 


The Richardsonian Romanesque-style temple of law once stood on the southwest corner of Temple Street and New High Street (now Spring) in an area formerly known as "Poundcake Hill"—which was eventually flattened for the the Los Angeles Civic Center and the Criminal Courts Building (completed 1972, renamed the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in 2002). 


The "Red Sandstone Courthouse"—designed by the San Francisco-based firm of Curlett, Eisen and Cuthbertson—was exemplary of Romanesque architecture. But the 1933 Long Beach earthquake jostled it just enough for it to be deemed unsafe and slated for demolition. 

The only way anyone can see it now—and in color!—is to visit City Terrace Park, just north of East Los Angeles, where its remnants form a kind of historic boulder garden between the playground and the baseball field.

Its reclaimed sandstone bricks—bearing the scars of dismantling, transport, and reassembly—also line the northern end of the park, which is managed by Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation (since City Terrace falls under county jurisdiction as an unincorporated area within LA metro). 

Although the 3.5-acre park was first dedicated in 1933 after having been built by crews of the Civil Works Administration (predecessor to the Works Progress Administration), it continued to be added onto—and not stopping with the salvaged sandstone.  


In 1957, City Terrace Park's ravine was filled in with 600,000 cubic yards of soil that had been removed in the flattening of Poundcake Hill—expanding it to 15 acres. And in 1960, new structures were added to create a mini Mid-Century Modern campus within the park. 

In addition to the covered walkway and administration structure adjacent to the swimming pool, the 1960s also saw the addition of the City Terrace Park Sports Shell. An indoor-outdoor dome for the basketball court that resembles a turtle shell or a saddle, it might be the only athletic dome of its kind anywhere. 


The architectural term for it is a hyperbolic paraboloid, whose popularity rose in post-war America. But even now, this double-curved architectural form is a pretty "radical approach" to park design. 


Architects Ralph J. Bowerman and Charles W. Hobson of Bowerman and Hobson designed it so that there aren't any walls at its base or interior columns—only five beams supporting it along the exterior.


And it looks as "space age" now as it probably did back then. 

Of course, the sinuous lines don't automatically "go" with the Gothic scrolls of the former courthouse's stone ornamentation. But who cares???

I wish pieces of more fallen landmarks could find a forever home at some local park somewhere. 

Then again, I wish so many landmarks didn't have to fall. 
                   
For more vintage views of the Red Sandstone Courthouse, visit Water and Power Associates

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

Photo Essay: Tiptoeing Across Carpinteria's 'Black Gold' Beach

Unlike on Hawaii's black sand beaches, the black you'll find on certain SoCal beaches—especially at the southernmost section of Carpinteria State Beach, just south of Santa Barbara—isn't exactly exotic or romantic. 

It's sticky and stinky—because it's asphaltum, a.k.a. tar, which erupts to the surface and bulges out in hulking, black gobs.  


Together, several different natural tar deposits form what geologists call an "asphalt lake"—just like the one at La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, only older.


The Carpinteria "Oil Seeps" could date back as far as 2.5 million years ago—to the time of prehistoric megafauna, like mammoths, giant sloths, dire wolves, tusked mastodons, and native camels
    
Chumash villagers (sometime between 7000 B.C. and the 18th century) discovered that the seepage make a good sealant for boats and baskets. 


And likewise, after the European colonization of Alta California, late-19th century Californios discovered that the tar also did a good job of sealing paved roads—so they mined the beach's resources to lay the first asphalt on Santa Barbara County's dirt roads, starting with nearby Linden Avenue.  


Tip-toeing down the trail past some driftwood to reach the gooey beach at Tar Pits Park, I was among the remains of the former Sattler, Alcatraz, and Higgins (1912-1935) asphalt mines—and more. Upon the depletion of significant tar resources, locals used some of this area as a trash pit until the mid-1950s. (Hence the nearby Dump Road.)


But in 1964, even more natural resources were discovered in the Santa Barbara Channel (the waters between Santa Barbara County mainland and the Channel Islands)—crude oil, which could be pumped out of the Carpinteria Offshore Oil Field. 

 
By then, many of SoCal's beaches had long been dotted with oil derricks—nearly all of which have been removed altogether or at least moved off the sand. In fact, right off of Carpinteria's Dump Road is the the formerly Venoco-operated Carpinteria Oil and Gas Processing Plant (which Chevron is currently dismantling) at Casitas Pier. 


Farther south, the neighboring community of Mussel Shoals has its own artificial oil island (circa 1958), Rincon Island—a.k.a. "the 9th Channel Island"—in the Rincon Oil Field, which was first drilled in 1929. The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway known as the Richfield Pier, whose lessee is ARCO—the oil corporation that was formed when California's Richfield Oil Corporation merged with Atlantic Refining in 1966. 

 
Decommissioning of Rincon Island is scheduled to start in Summer 2021. 

 
Nobody taps into the tar pits at Carpinteria State Beach anymore—but nobody seems to try to stop the glop, either. 

 
It flows hot, hoping to capture a animal or a shoe, until it cools off and hardens with rain or the incoming surf. 


You'd think you'd find a pinniped or a pelican trapped in there—but maybe a couple of million years of evolution has taught the animal kingdom to avoid the inky mess. 


It's still shocking to see it glisten as it coalesces onto the cliffsides and bluffs. As much as you know you shouldn't touch it, you still want to touch it—just to be sure it's real.  
 
 
This isn't what most beachgoers are looking for when they hit the sand. 

 
But this is far more interesting to me than throwing a frisbee, catching waves, or soaking up rays. 

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