Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Photo Essay: The Riches of Birding and Railroading at El Dorado Park, Long Beach

It took me two visits, one year apart to see everything I wanted to see in El Dorado Park, Long Beach—just east of Long Beach Airport (LGB) and the historic site of archery competitions for the 1984 Summer Olympics.

circa 2017
I came for two things, really: birding and railroading. 

circa 2017

Thanks to its geographical position along the Pacific Flyway, the LA metro area has got no shortage of birds, that’s for sure. Credit at least to see the migratory flights headed north and/or south. But it's not always guaranteed that you'll see any fine, feathered flocks out in the wild.

circa 2017

Sometimes it feels more like bird-searching instead of birdwatching.

circa 2017

Fortunately, the El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach has both a body of water that attracts the water-loving, fish- and invertebrate-snacking birds and feeders that attract nectar-thirsty hummingbirds.

circa 2017

From there, spotting birds along the couple of miles of trails that wind through riparian, woodland, and grassland habitats gets a little more hit-or-miss.

circa 2017

El Dorado Park provides habitat for an abundance of scrub jays, mallards, Canadian geese, coots and quite spectacularly, great blue herons perching visibly in trees.

circa 2017

Although all those species might not always be visible...

circa 2017 can definitely hear them, wherever they're not-so-silently hiding out.

circa 2017

Other birds that are known to appear at El Dorado include flycatchers, woodpeckers...

circa 2017

...and of course songbirds like warblers, goldfinches, the song sparrow, and Hutton's vireo.

circa 2017

A red-shouldered hawk might even swoop somewhere above. 

circa 2017

It's hard to look everywhere a bird might be, all at the same time. 

circa 2017

You're bound to miss some of them—on the water, in the trees, or in the sky—as you're looking at the others.

circa 2017

But if you spend your entire time at El Dorado Park looking for birds...

circa 2017 might miss out on the lizards, red-eared slider turtles...

circa 2017

...and wildflowers that can be pretty spectacular.

circa 2017

And in the end, if the bird-searching doesn't turn into a lot of bird-finding over by the Nature Center, one surefire way to see a bunch of winged wonders is to visit the El Dorado Duck Pond next to the El Dorado Park Golf Course.

circa 2017

Who knew there were so many different kinds of ducks, geese, and swans?! Among the specimens at El Dorado that share the classification in the family Anatidae are the wood duck, cinnamon teal, Northern shoveler, a mute swan, and domestic swan geese.

circa 2017

I'd never seen so many feisty snowy egrets perching in the same palm tree!

circa 2017

I'd never gotten so close to a black-crowned night-heron.

circa 2017

Not to mention two. 

circa 2017

And I may never again.

circa 2018

As if the birds weren't enough for me to hightail it 40 miles to Long Beach, El Dorado Park also features something else I can never resist: a tiny train. 

circa 2018

The El Dorado Express, located at Caboose Corners, is a live steam engine train originally built in 1946 as a kiddie railroad ride, acquired in 1988 after sitting in a dirt lot for two decades, and refurbished by Tony Ruvolo and his son Greg from 1989 to 1991. 

circa 2018

Locomotive "No. 2" can carry a maximum of 38 passengers...

circa 2018 it travels a maximum of 7 mph along the 18-gauge miniature track...

circa 2018

...through ye olde ghost town and its corresponding tunnel (made out of shipping containers) and along nearly a mile's worth of track.

It can, however, be tough to catch this train. The El Dorado Express runs only on weekends and only from March to October—and if the crowds aren't lining up towards the end of the day, it might close up shop early.

So, for now, I'll have to be satisfied having seen the train but not ridden it. Its lease with the park is at least through September 2018 with at least one, one-year renewal option—so, while I've got some time, I don't have forever.

I never do.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Hatchlings In the Marsh
Basking in the Gloom at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Dome on Sunset Boulevard That Makes A Spectacle Out of Cinema

The first time I went to the Cinerama Dome, it wasn't to see a movie (despite the fact that it is, by virtue of its name, a cinema).

I wasn't even living in LA yet, but I'd flown out to LA—begrudgingly—to attend a conference called The L.A. Office Roadshow, tasked with creating brand partnerships for the kids' music property I was representing at the time.

I attended once or twice to shake hands and hand out business cards—and then, in 2007, I stood in front of that giant screen (32' X 86', curved at an angle of 126 degrees) and gave my own presentation.

At the time, it was just a conference center under a weird, retrofuturistic dome. But I didn't know anything about Cinerama back then, when "widescreen" had come to mean nothing more than letter-boxing on home video.

I didn't know anything about Mid-Century Modernism back then, either—or why the geodesic dome shape was as groundbreaking in 1963 when it was built under the direction of Welton Becket (in less than five months) as it is today, when it's still the only theater of its kind in the world.

Since that time, I've moved to LA and smartened up a bit. I've learned to notice—and appreciate—the modernist designs that surround me pretty much wherever I go. And I've seen a handful of movies—finally—at "The Dome," including most recently the 40th anniversary screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Of course there's nowhere better to see a movie in a theater than in Los Angeles—particularly in Hollywood. At movie theaters like The Dome (and its connected Arclight Theatres), El Capitan, the Chinese, and the Egyptian, you often get to experience the films through lobby displays of costumes, scale models, props, and other paraphernalia and ephemera related to whatever is being screened.

But regardless of what's being shown on the screen, that honeycomb-patterned dome is always the main attraction for me—whether it's while seeing a new release like Gone Girl or Marley or a repertory screening of the film that first opened the theatre, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (though it was shot in Ultra Panavision 70MM so as to reduce the number of lenses required from three to one and be projected in a single strip).

At the time, movies had to compete with television. Audiences had to be convinced why they should go out for entertainment when they could just stay home—so, Cinerama emerged of the same movement that gave rise to Smell-O-Vision, Illusion-O, Percepto seat buzzers (as with William Castle's The Tingler), 3D and 4D, and even IMAX.

The immersive experience of the giant, wrap-around Cinerama projection style doesn't feel as dated as its mid-20th century contemporaries, though—maybe because escapism never really goes out of style.

And no matter how big your big-screen TV is at home, you can't fully escape—even for just a couple of hours—if you're sitting on your own couch.

Modern-day restaurants, retailers, and of course a parking structure have been built up around the Cinerama Dome—but fortunately, they haven't consumed it entirely. And because the structural dome is such an oddity along Sunset Boulevard, refusing to be dwarfed by the CNN tower that sprung up two blocks down in 1968 or even the big Walgreens that's been selling sushi across the street since 2002, it makes for a great advertising platform for the latest release starring Shrek, Spiderman, or the Minions.

And that may be the thing that saves it in the long run.

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Photo Essay: The Doomed Domes, Casa Grande's Other Ruins

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Swimming Pool That Transports You From Beverly Hills to Bedford Falls

It took me a few years of living in Beverly Hills to know anything about its high school.

And it took me a few more to ever go visit and check it out.

Of course, when I finally did, I kicked myself...

...because it is a WPA-era, Streamline Moderne fantasy come true...

...with its undulating curves...

...and its refusal of 90-degree angles.

Though, I'll admit: That may not be true of the entire Beverly Hills High School campus.

I wouldn't actually know, because I only made it as far as the "Swim Gym."

Built as part of the New Deal—which helped the country recover from the Great Depression—the Swim Gym was added to the high school a dozen years after it was originally built in 1927.

Screenshot from It's a Wonderful Life (Public Domain)

It wasn't until the mid-1940s that it caught the attention of location scouts for It's a Wonderful Life...

Screenshot from It's a Wonderful Life (Public Domain)

...who set the dance sequence between Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed on its retractable basketball court...

...that opens up (much to their peril) to reveal a swimming pool.

Although humidity issues and the resulting water damage necessitated the floor to be replaced in October 2016 (since wood and water do not play nice with each other), the effect is still the same.

When you go, you can watch a basketball game or a water polo or wrestling match, or you can swim in the 25-yard pool yourself.

Or, you can walk among the upper stands and admire the 1938 farm/ranch mural...

...that adorns one of the walls...

...painted by an artist known only as "Scotti" (but I think was Ernesto Scotti, an Argentinean painter from Buenos Aires).

Not only is the Swim Gym a famous Hollywood film location and a civil engineering marvel, but it's also a pretty cool place to go swimming.

It feels grandiose and theatrical—no doubt because of the influence from architect Stiles O. Clements.

And you don't have to go to Beverly Hills High (since its students are mostly future celebrities or the offspring of celebrities) or even live in Beverly Hills.

Just bring cash to pay the lifeguard your swim fee.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Trolley Tour of Beverly Hills
Swimming in Circles Under a Wide Open Sky