January 31, 2014

Photo Essay: The Spectacular Radio City Music Hall

Having worked in the music industry for so many years - particularly in classical music - I'd attended concerts at Radio City Music Hall a few times. I went to the Tony Awards one year. I even went to Edith's grad school graduation there.

I walked by it every day for over four years, when I worked next to Rockefeller Center.

But although I'd been there, I'd never really seen it.

Of course, I didn't realize that until I actually took the tour when I was back in NYC for Christmas.

It's not the best time of year to take the tour, because with their back-to-back Christmas Spectacular show schedule, you don't get to go into the house or backstage to see the stage hydraulics. But it was worth the trip anyway.

From the moment you walk under the marquee, it's grand.

The lobby - called the Grand Foyer - is shiny and tremendous, and at Christmastime, they've got an amazing crystal tree "ornament" which is more like a glittery chandelier.

Standing in the lobby, you are surrounded by undulating balconies...

...mural painted walls..

...and lighting fixtures reflected in mirrors.

There are the curved shapes, typical of the Art Deco style... well as the metallic finishes, and the geometric patterns.

I remembered going downstairs during shows to use the ladies' room...

...but I didn't remember the fabulous ladies' room itself...

...or, shockingly, didn't notice the luxurious lounge at the time.

The walls of the lounge are covered with a mural, Witold Gordon's "History of Cosmetics"...

...first painted oil on parchment in 1932 and overpainted in 1968.

Here, there are plenty of places for ladies to fix up their own cosmetics before and after shows, and during intermission... well as foot pedal-operated hand dryers.

Inside the elevators that take you up to the mezzanine level...

...each wall tells a story with its inlaid wood designs.

Looking down upon the Grand Foyer... get close to the shimmering ceilings, most of which were originally covered in gold leaf...

...which, being notoriously fragile and therefore nearly impossible to clean without destroying it, had to be replaced with a cheaper, more durable metal leaf - an imitation gold leaf for decorative purposes that can come in many shades.

Up here, the lighting fixtures and the carpeting (which is a reproduction of the original) scream Art Deco as well.

Although we couldn't go into the house because of the show about to start, we did get to view the Great Stage from an observation window above, its huge arched proscenium (60 feet high and 100 feet wide) resembling a setting sun.

As the show is about to start, two organists come out to play the Mighty Wurlitzer on two identical consoles.

Up there, you can also find the lighting rigs (including spotlights)...

...and the projection booth, for those times when the Music Hall does transform into a movie house (which it was regularly until 1979).

Original seats from Radio City's opening night - December 27, 1932 - have been saved....

...and relocated to small screening rooms in the upstairs office area, used for the tours.

The hallways are lined with framed posters, photographs, and other memorabilia of the many shows and celebrities that have graced the Great Stage.

Perhaps the most recognizable performers at Radio City are the Rockettes, the stars of the Christmas Spectacular, whose many costume iterations over the years can also be found on display and in storage throughout the building. When you take the tour, you even get to meet one, get your picture taken with her, and, in our case, catch a glimpse of some rehearsing.

The building is old, but it's in great shape. Its interior was designated a city landmark in 1978, and after careful restoration, it is still the largest indoor theater in the world.

And it's not just for tourists. But I guess I'm a tourist in New York City now during Christmas, just like the rest of them in Rockefeller Center...

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Lady Gaga's Monster Ball at Radio City Music Hall

January 30, 2014

Photo Essay: Point Fermin, Keeping Watch Over the San Pedro Bay

I first came upon Point Fermin, at the southern tip of San Pedro near the Port of Los Angeles, when scouting out Sunken City.

You can see Sunken City from Point Fermin, which is essentially right next door.

And Point Fermin is sinking, too. A year after my first visit there*, the old Coast Guard bunker near the edge of the cliff is now pretty much condemned, and fenced off.

That doesn't detract families from coming to the lovely, manicured Point Fermin Park...

...and the landmark Point Fermin Lighthouse is far enough inland to not be in danger...yet.

Built as the first navigational light in the San Pedro Bay, the Point Fermin Lighthouse used to be situated out there all by itself, in a vast expanse. Miraculously, it has been spared from development, and the original lighthouse - as well as the stables and a couple of original cisterns - still remain.

But that doesn't mean the lighthouse hasn't changed over the years.

Constructed out of California redwood, Point Fermin is one of three remaining Stick Style Victorian lighthouses in the U.S., this year turning 140 years old.

It is characteristic of the style with its gabled roof...

...horizontal siding...

...and hand-carved porch railings.

When it first opened, the Point Fermin Lighthouse was palatial, its Fresnel lens beaming the shore with candlelight, which was replaced in 1898 with a petroleum vapor incandescent lamp, and finally in 1925 by an electric light.

The lighthouse hasn't actually been lit since the harbor was darkened in the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombings, for fear of the light being a beacon for enemy ships. Instead, it was used as a Navy lookout tower (with experimental radar!) during World War II, when the giant, historic lens and lantern room at the top were removed and replaced with an unsightly square add-on, mockingly referred to by locals as the "chicken coop." In 1974, the addition was removed and the lighthouse was restored to its original condition for its centennial. The original Fresnel lens - which might've been placed in the basement by the Navy with the removal of the lantern room - was lost for years, but after much research, was recovered in 2006.

These days, from the tower you can look out into the ocean, towards Sunken City, and, on a cold, windy day, watch the waves crash against the breakwater.

Unusually, both its first and lighthouse keepers were female: first, sisters Mary and Ella Smith, and last, sisters Thelma and Juanita Austin, until 1927 when the City of Los Angeles took over the stewardship of the lighthouse. In between, Captain George Shaw resided there with his wife and daughter, and Thelma Austin's father William managed the place with his wife Martha and their eight children.

Now, the restored Point Fermin Lighthouse is landmarked and operates as a museum and historic site (with no photos allowed inside, unfortunately).

*Above photos from August 2012 and November and December 2013.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: San Pedro's Sunken City
Photo Essay: Cabrillo Beach & A Crumbling Concrete Bunker

Photo Essay: Wilshire May Company Building, Miracle Mile (Updated for 2020)

I knew I wouldn't be able to see much of it, but when I heard that the old May Company department store building - which was landmarked in 1992, meant to become LACMA West but never did - was open to the public for the Diane Von Furstenberg Journey of a Dress temporary exhibit, I decided to go and have a look-see.

Circa 1951 (USC Digital Library)

It's always been one of my favorite buildings on Miracle Mile, all shiny and curvaceous on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax. And why it hasn't been used has always puzzled me.

Circa 1970s, Marvin Rand, Photographer. (Library of Congress; Call Number: HABS CAL,19-LOSAN,39–1)

According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, the building is considered the best example of the Streamline Moderne architectural style that still exists in Los Angeles.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced that the May Co. building would house The Academy Museum, which doesn't even start construction until the end of this year, and isn't set to open until 2017 (though some crazy renderings were just released).

I was hoping to find some discarded hangers and rusty old cash registers, but it looks like it's been cleaned up a bit. And it was full of security, who were hard to get past (and chided me for using flash photography in a dark elevator bank).

Because its Streamline style is mostly visible on its exterior, I like to convince myself that I wasn't missing much inside.

Here's what I saw:

Corner of Wilshire & Fairfax

Wilshire Blvd. front entrance (now closed)

Above front entrance

Inscribed 1939, Architect Albert C. Martin (also of LA's City Hall, Million Dollar Theatre)

Wilshire sidewalk stamp

Side service door

Eastern fa├žade

Northeast corner

Former window displays, Fairfax Avenue


Northwest corner

Northwest corner, by parking lot entrance

Parking lot entrance 

Parking lot entrance doors

Inside parking lot entrance

Inside ladies' restroom

Elevator bank, with covered floor

Inside front entrance (now closed and covered)

Now, if I could just get upstairs before it's totally redone...

circa December 2019

Update 2/11/20 4:50 PM PT—The entire interior of the May Company Building has been gutted, and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is set to open December 2020. In the meantime, the facade has been rebranded the Saban Building. 

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Miracle Mile
Photo Essay: The Coca-Cola Ship