April 27, 2017

Photo Essay: The End of the Old West at Gilman Ranch

When you think of what Southern California was like before cars, you might think of the railroad—but there was something even before trains that allowed people to safely traverse across muddy, mountainous, and desolate terrain.


If you were going to get across any of our mountain passes—to travel either north or south—you'd need a team of horses and some pretty big wheels.

The days of the stagecoach and wagon trails are celebrated at the Gilman Historic Ranch and Wagon Museum in the Inland Empire town of Banning, CA...

...which was situated along the Bradshaw Trail (a.k.a. "The Gold Road" because trailblazer William Bradshaw created it to connect San Bernardino with the gold fields in western Arizona)...

...and, like the nearby Highland Springs Ranch, was once part of the Rancho San Gorgonio.

James Marshall Gilman had moved to Southern California in 1869, looking to buy a cattle ranch and settled on this property...

...where he operated the stagecoach stop and, a decade later, built his own Victorian-style ranch house.

The stage stop didn't get many passengers in the advent of railroad travel, but the trails remained a freight route for quite some time.

With Gilman at the helm, the ranch had continued to be successful, growing from its original 160 acres to a peak of 500 acres.

Gilman lived there until he died in 1916. The ranch house burned down in 1977, so what stands there now is a replica from when the museum first opened in 1991.

It's a reproduction of life as it was lived by the early 19th century pioneers of the area...

...100 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean...

...but fed by three natural springs.

The access to water meant that Gilman could find some success in shifting from sheep and cattle grazing to more agricultural purposes... growing fruit.

But where Gilman really found success was in olives.

Still standing is the original shed...

...where the olives were cured... well as milk house...

...and carriage housing.

There's also a blacksmith shop...

...though it's mostly just for show now.

Gilman Ranch may be historic, but it's also infamous as the site of a well-known murder scene...

...a killing that led to the so-called "The West's Last Famous Manhunt," which made national news in 1909.

A man known as "Willie Boy" (or "Billy Boy") followed his teenaged distant cousin Isoleta (also called Carlota, though sometimes reported by the sensationalist media as "Lolita") to Gilman Ranch, where she was picking fruit with her family. Their families forbade their love—and, in an altercation with Carlota's father, "Old Mike" (as he was called) was shot and killed.

The "Wanted" poster for Willie Boy read, "Desperate man. Take no chances!" And, as the story goes, the teenage girl (who was 14, or 15, or 16 years old, depending on the source) fled with Willie Boy and was on the run with him until a member of the search posse accidentally shot Carlota, mistaking her for her lover. In one version of the story, Willie Boy shot himself to rejoin her in the afterlife.

Some say, however, that Willie Boy escaped, never to be seen again. At Gilman Ranch, there are no bullet holes to examine, nor graves to inspect. The supposed murder is now just the stuff of legend.

The "Old West" time period ended shortly after the murder and manhunt, in 1912. And even the original adobe house from 1854—considered the "first permanent landmark" in the Banning area—is now a pile of rubble.

But 20 acres of those olive trees are still standing tall—and still dropping olives.

Stay tuned for more on Old Woman Springs Ranch, one of the stops that Willie Boy made while on the run.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Healing Powers of Highland Springs
Photo Essay: Graber Olive House
Photo Essay: Along the Old Stagecoach Pass
Photo Essay: The Ruins of Santa Fe Springs

April 26, 2017

Photo Essay: The Art Deco Jewel of The West

It's one of the Art Deco treasures of Los Angeles—or, really, of the entire Western U.S. But since it was converted from a department store to residential lofts, most people can only admire it from the outside.

Its turquoise-colored, terra cotta-tiled, gold-leafed exterior is one of LA's most photographed and filmed (appearing in everything from the pilot of Moonlighting to the Transformers blockbuster movie).

But if you're lucky enough make it past the zig-zagged, chevroned vestibule of the Eastern Columbia Building (so named after the Eastern Outfitting and Columbia Outfitting companies, for which it was built)...

...walk upon the lobby's original terrazzo floor (which was restored in 2007)...

...and ride one of the original elevators to one of the upper floors...'ll see how Angelenos once shopped for furniture and rugs, standing on concrete floors between monumental columns, under wedding cake-shaped Art Deco lighting fixtures.

And, during my visit, I got to see how the other half lives...

...namely, movie star Johnny Depp...

...who recently moved out of the five penthouses he called home...

...three of which were interconnected through secret passageways behind shelves and one authentic bank safe.

He devoted an entire floor of one of his penthouses to closet space...

...a "his and hers" setup he shared with his most recent wife, Amber Heard.

Each side had its own private bathroom, in addition to the loo downstairs (and those in the other penthouses).

The penthouse is technically in the decorative clock tower, so you're standing right under the clock when you walk out onto the patio. It's an homage to the career beginnings of Eastern Columbia founder Adolph Sieroty (at a clock shop), but it was also a cheat that allowed the 13-story building to surpass the height limit of the time. Its neon had been dark for about 20 years until it was relit upon the 75th anniversary of the building in 2005.

That clock might be the most distinctive feature of this 1930 landmark, but for those who actually live in those lofts, you just can't beat the view you get out of those original, iron-clad casement windows.

It's a wonder that Johnny Depp ever decided to sell.

Interior designers of the lofts seem to have embraced the 1930s charm of the building, incorporating Art Deco elements (like salvaged panels from the 1933 World's Fair)...

...with retro-styled appliances...

...and, if not original, then good reproductions of vintage lighting fixtures.

Eastern Columbia Outfitters went out of business in 1957, after which point its flagship store was converted into office space. For its reuse as a residential tower (containing 147 condos), developers added a "leisure terrace," featuring a sundeck and a pool, onto the roof below the clock.

You can get 1730 square feet of the building, consisting of two bedrooms and two bathrooms, for a mere $1.4 million—which, in my mind, is a steal compared to real estate prices for shoeboxes in New York City.

Or you could move into one of Johnny Depp's former penthouses—each with more than 2000 square feet and two beds, three baths—for around $2.5 million.

But if I were a millionaire, I'm not sure that's what I'd spend my money on. For now, my tiny Art Deco apartment suits me just fine.

Related Posts:
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Photo Essay: The Oviatt Building's Art Deco Legacy
Furnishing an Art Deco Apartment on a Dorm Room Budget

April 25, 2017

Photo Essay: Hatchlings In the Marsh

I'd been meaning to visit Madrona Marsh in Torrance ever since I first saw it on the map. But what finally drew me there was the promise of baby birds.

I knew that there had been some recent hatchlings spotted at the 43-acre preserve in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, but I didn't realize what a good birding spot it would be in general.

Right by the entrance, I spotted several low-lying lesser goldfinches, though they certainly weren't the only songbirds I heard.

It helps that there's plenty of vegetation for them to perch onto and hide in, like the dune lupine (a.k.a. bush lupine, or Lupinus chamissonis)...

...and clarkia...

...and, of course, poppies.

Although wildflowers in the vernal marsh (so named because the temporary freshwater pools are only wet in the spring, thanks to rainwater runoff) are already past peak bloom...

...I still spotted some nice yellow sweet-clover (Melilotus officinalis) and garland daisies.

And while the butterflies were out in full force, so were the bloom-loving bugs.

But I had come to this rare, undeveloped parcel of land (part of which was formerly an oil and gas recovery site) in a highly commercial area of the City of Torrance for birds...

...and, in my quest, I got sightings of house finches...

...female red-winged blackbirds (somewhat a misnomer, given their brown and white color pattern)...

...and, perhaps most spectacularly, male red-winged blackbirds.

I found them singing in thickets of reeds...

...and perching on black willows.

Madrona Marsh is literally across the street from Del Amo Fashion Center Mall, so it's prime real estate for developers. Over 90 percent of California's wetlands have been lost to development.

But environmentalists fought—as far back as 1972—to preserve and restore the marshland for native species that would make it their home as well as for non-natives that would use it as a stopover on their migratory paths along the Pacific Flyway.

In 1989, the open space was cleaned up, with over 200 tons of junk being trucked out. But it didn't officially open to the public—accompanied by a nature center—until 2001.

And now, coots are having babies. Mallards are having babies.

And breaking up the symphony of songbirds with their own unique cacophony are a flock of Canadian geese also starting their families...

...feeding and protecting their young.

These curious little darlings didn't seem disturbed by visitors to their cordoned-off area...

...and went about their business, exploring the marsh around them...

...having a bite to eat...

...and snuggling up tight.

But soon enough they were roused to move on...

...and take a little swim...

...and glide off into the sunset.

I suspect that I only saw a fraction of the bird, insect, and plant life that's at Madrona Marsh (not to mention the mammals and reptiles I never saw, and the amphibians I only heard).

This "island habitat" had been hit hard by the drought, but now it seems to have recovered.

At least for now, it's nice to know that its residents are safe, and visitors are welcome—just like in Los Angeles, and just like in California.

That can all change so quickly, though.

Related Posts:
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