October 30, 2012

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

"Are you being helped?" I was standing restlessly outside the Automobile Driving Museum, the time quickly advancing towards their closing hour.

"I'm waiting for another ride," I explained. It was Ridealong Sunday, and I was back to try some more cars.

"What do you want to ride in?" one of the volunteer docents asked.

"Whaddya got?"

They pulled out a 1915 Model T and asked me if I'd ever ridden in one. I'd barely uttered "no" before I landed into the front seat.

It's an unrestrained, openair, rumbling ride in the 97 year old granddaddy of the modern automobile, feeling more like a wagon than a car. Not surprisingly, it was in fact designed to ride along wagon tracks rather than actual paved roads, and its high seats give a clear view over and through the windshield at whatever in the road might need to be avoided.

Even just riding in that Model T Roadster was a thrill, my hair whipping all around my head, my hand waving at all the pedestrians and other drivers who'd stopped dead in their tracks to watch us go by.

By the time I got to ride in the Model T, I'd already been driven around in the 1958 MG A Roadster...

...a gorgeous aquamarine blue color...

...and top down - or was there no top at all?

Like the Model T, there were no seatbelts, but this one was so low to the ground, we had to stretch our legs straight out - like in a Formula1 racer - just to fit in the front seats.

In order to squeeze in a final ride, the closing hour having already come and gone, I asked to tag along with two kids who were taking a 1941 Plymouth deluxe sedan out for a spin. I gladly climbed into the backseat to share the ride.

Normally I don't like to settle for being just a passenger - I want to drive everything - but these mini excursions in classic cars throughout the ages are addictive. I'm surprised I was able to wait two months for my second visit. Of course, I'd considered going nearly each of the last eight Sundays since my first visit (including my birthday), but plenty of other new explorations had kept me away.

Maybe I'll go again next week. Maybe I'll go again next month. After all, it's a different set of cars every week.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Automobile Driving Museum's Ridealong Sunday

To Like Avoiding Regret on Facebook, click here.

October 29, 2012

Photo Essay: Where Old Meets New at Caltech

I'm not affiliated with the California Institute of Technology. I'm not a member of the Pasadena community. But if someone is going to offer an architectural tour of the campus, I'm going to take it.

Caltech's campus (which is divided into four main parts: Early, Modern, North and South) is the epitome of old-meets-new, and the architectural train wreck that can occur when modern buildings are added to an existing group of historic structures. It's where Mayan Revival and Art Deco meet Brutalism. Spanish tile and vaulted arches meet glass towers and Platinum LEED certifications.

But of course, although the original plan for the campus was Spanish Renaissance - which you can see today with a variety of courtyards, patios, fountains and tilework - some of the buildings in what's now known as the Early Campus were built in the 1920s and 30s and were modern at the time...

...utilizing Art Deco decorative elements...

...and indicating the purpose of each building (in some form or another of science) through the design of the building itself, like the biplanes framing the doorway of the Aeronautics building.

The former school of electricity's facade was once ornamented with an ornate Art Deco pattern, the front entryway replete with lightning bolts, but almost all of it was removed in the modernization of the campus as the building transformed into the Laboratory of Mathematics and Physics.

Now, instead of a blue-tiled domed building which was part of the campus' original plans, a hulking tower of reinforced concrete (the Millikan Library, built 1967) now seems to be its focal point.

The styles throughout the campus varied so much between pre-War regional architecture and post-War modernism, Caltech became its own architectural microcosm.

As a result, in 1989, the City of Pasadena incited the development of a new master plan to unify the buildings and to regular future expansion...

...mandating that new buildings be designed in the spirit of Caltech's original campus...

...which is pretty diverse as it is.

Case in point: as a nod to the past, when the Laboratory of Chemical Synthesis was to be built, a plan was hatched to incorporate into the facade Alexander Stirling Calder's arches that were saved from the original Throop Hall (Caltech's first building erected in 1910, nearly destroyed in the 1971 San Fernando earthquake and subsequently demolished).

Other buildings - like some that were built in the mid-20th century as functional boxes - were remodeled and renovated to reflect the architecture of the Athenaeum (where Einstein himself briefly stayed) and the student residences.

How much of the past should be saved, remembered, tributed? Is it possible to maintain two, separate, concurrent existences of the past and the present? Can a former identity persist through the present and future, or must the progression of time eventually either consume the past or be consumed by it?

Related Post:
Photo Essay: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena 

To Like Avoiding Regret on Facebook, click here.

October 28, 2012

Photo Essay: Last Chance Look at the Tower Theatre Part 2 (Backstage, Projection Booth, Basement)

When I arrived at The Tower Theatre on Saturday morning, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see two lines, all the way down the block and wrapped around the corner. Turns out, there are more than just a few of us who'd like to take a peek at the interior of one of Broadway's historic theaters.

Especially since the LA Times wrote about it.

Especially since it might be our last chance to see it before it undergoes a major renovation for adaptive reuse, and the peeling paint is removed entirely.

Audiences could see the main parts of the theater - the lobby styled after the Paris opera, the house with its muraled ceilings, the balcony with its cry room - up until the Tower closed in the late 1980s. But very few civilians have ever gotten the opportunity to explore upstairs into the tower itself, as well as downstairs past the powder room and lounge, into the bowels of the basement, past all of the inner workings.

Until now.

At the top of the second balcony, on the opposite side from the cry room, there is an old wooden door that leads to the projection booth...

Balcony door to the projection booth

View of the stage from the projection booth

...which still houses its equipment and other ephemera.





Lighting board bulb

Beyond the projection booth is the rewind room...

Rewind Room

...which has a bit more light...

Rewind Room

...though the windows have been painted over.

Rewind Room

Downstairs, you can find original phone booths, and the public restrooms...


...featuring original fixtures and tile floors.

Men's Room

Powder Room

Ladies' Room

Beyond the bathrooms, there are a series of tunnels beneath the theater through which the various actors and crew would move about during the shows.

Back door

Utility sink in basement

Air conditioning compressor

Insulated pipe

Some of them may still roam these dark corners. There are rumors of hauntings at the Tower...

...and at least one light seemed to turn itself on while we were poking around.

As with many of Broadway's historic theaters, there are several chances to glimpse the exterior and interior of The Tower Theatre on film (The Mambo Kings, Mulholland Drive). But the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation takes you where the bodies are buried (so to speak).

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Last Chance Look at The Tower Theatre (Lobby, House & Balcony)

To Like Avoiding Regret on Facebook, click here.

October 27, 2012

Photo Essay: Last Chance Look at The Tower Theatre (Lobby, House & Balcony)

Last updated 4/30/18 8:22 PM PT

The Tower Theatre is a bit of a curiosity on the strip of historic theaters along Broadway in Downtown LA.

circa 2018

It was built on a very small, corner plot of land, and its namesake tower rises high above a strip of retail businesses.

circa 2018

It's clearly run down (as many of them are).

circa 2018

It's tough to get inside (as many of them are).

This week, the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation (of which I am a proud member) invited me to visit the inside of the Tower Theatre twice, as a last chance before this former vaudeville-cum-movie theater gets reborn as a concert venue (as the nearby Orpheum has).

The architects and developers responsible for building the Tower made sure that its small size did not render the venue short on opulence, modeling its design after the style of a Paris opera house, with plenty of French Renaissance and Beaux Arts elements, from its grand staircase... its dangling chandelier...

...hung across a stained glass window situated high above the marquee...

...casting a warm glow over the entryway.

In the back of the house...

...ceiling lights illuminate where there once were murals...

...and ornate carvings adorn the standee rail...

...where audiences with cheaper tickets and crying babies could watch the show from behind a glass partition.

As embellished as the interior of the theater looks, plenty of ceiling murals have been painted over in one of the many renovations that the theater went through over the years—paint now peeling, or covered by years of dirt, soot, nicotine and tar.

Two singers' boxes flank the tiny stage...

...which was actually enlarged and extended for one of the many film productions that have utilized the theater for a shooting location.

All the seats on the floor were removed in 1988...

...but they still remain anchored to the balcony floor...

...where there are two levels of seating and even a cry room way up in the back.

Watch your step getting up there in the dark.

During Monday's walk-through and today's tour...

...we had basically unrestricted access to the entire building, top to bottom.

Stay tuned for glimpses into the projection booth, backstage, downstairs lounge, and basement.