Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Photo Essay: The Largest Craftsman House in the U.S. Changes Hands

It was a gloomy day.

But then again, this summer has been unseasonably overcast and humid.

I might not have known that I was in LA at all, except for the fact that I was spending my weekend doing what's most familiar to me.

Once again, I was snooping around a historic property—this time, perched on a 300-foot cliff.

An estate sale had brought me to Beachwood Canyon in the Hollywood Hills to explore a sprawling craftsman mansion known as Artemesia, built in 1913 for Swedish-born construction magnate Franz (or "Frank") O. Engstrum, commissioned by his son (and partner in the family biz), Frederick.

But I wasn't there to buy any of the patio furniture on the porch or the internationally opulent wares that were tagged and displayed inside.

As usual, I was there for the historical, physical, architectural estate—which had just been sold for only the fifth time ever.

Once 12 acres but since subdivided, Artemesia still consists of the main house plus a carriage house, pump house, and former deer park.

I wanted to check out every little detail...

... from the outdoor sconces to iron vent coverings and the carved front door.

And at 13,290 square feet, with eight bedrooms (plus a sleeping porch) and seven baths, there was a lot of architect Frank A. Brown's design to look at.

Even if it's not all original.

Brown, a contract architect for Commonwealth Home Builders, created coffered ceilings (which have since been gilded)...

...and installed no less than six fireplaces, all of which are the work of the great ceramicist and tilemaker extraordinaire, Ernest Batchelder.

In fact, although Artemesia's architect never had the star power of, say, the Craftsman duo of Greene and Greene, its architectural history represents a certain coming together of the greats.

The master suite's leaded-glass skylight is rumored to be the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany (who also contributed to another Craftsman masterpiece, The Gamble House).

There are also bathroom tiles by Gladding McBean and a huge, house-encompassing player pipe organ (with sunken console and multiple echo chambers) by the "Father of Organ Building in the American West," Murray M. Harris.

Although the lower canyon has been taken over by a gated community (one that supposedly is called home by Brad Pitt), one of Artemesia's characteristic lanterns still marks the entrance at the bottom of the winding access road.

It's a shame that more people weren't lined up to check out this Hollywood "castle on a hill," as the sun finally decided to show its face.

Part of me wanted to buy something just to have a souvenir of the place—but I've been trying to scale down and scale back on my possessions, so I really don't need or want more stuff.

Maybe I don't need a memento. Maybe I'll get to go back someday.

Who knows what the new owner has planned? There have been so few owners in Artemesia's 105-year tenure.

And I doubt this next one will be the last.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Gamble House, Pasadena (Updated for 2017)
Photo Essay: The Mysteries of the Pasadena Magic House & Museum

Monday, September 17, 2018

Photo Essay: How A Metaphysical Religious Sect Brought a Glimpse of DC to LA

Los Angeles has played itself in countless film and TV productions—but it's also stood in for the Outback, Africa, Korea, the Sherwood Forest, the Minnesota prairie, and the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana.

But there's one building in Los Angeles that's most frequently scouted for its ability to portray our nation's capital: The Art of Living Foundation's headquarters in the West Adams district.

The Art of Living has been hosting yoga sessions, meditations, and other classes here since 2010—but this neoclassical monument was built to house the Second Church of Christ Scientist.

The First Church, a.k.a. the "Mother Church," of this metaphysical religious movement had already been built in Boston in 1906. This Second Church's construction began the following year and completed in 1910.

It's not unusual to see Classical Revival or Italian Renaissance edifices in the United States, especially those built around the turn of the 20th century.

You just don't usually see anything in Southern California that remotely resembles the Parthenon from Ancient Greece (or the Pantheon from Ancient Rome, for that matter).

The portico (or porch) of this rare 20th century example in LA is Corinthian, the highest of the orders of classical architecture—featuring glazed terracotta, brick cladding, tapered columns, and highly ornamented capitals. With a touch of Beaux Arts in the details, it brings forth the spirit of those ancient temples by way of France.

Beyond it, look down to see original flooring made out of hexagonal tiles and a geometric rendering of the "running dog" motif so commonly found in classical architecture.

Look straight ahead or up, and you'll find columns in the Ionic Order, a step down from Corinthian but still not the lowest order.

Gaze even higher and you'll catch a peek at the first of many stained glass windows that are surprisingly bereft of ecclesiastical imagery.

In fact, you won't find any iconography of Christ or scientists throughout the church interior—not even in the sanctuary, under the 1400-ton copper dome that stretches 70 feet across.

It's the highest point of the church—and the first (and really only) thing you see as you ascend one of the two staircases and emerge into what's now used as more of an auditorium.

Though it was built to seat around 1100 worshipers, many of the pews have been removed to make room for those attendees who might lie on the (poured concrete, though carpeted) floor to meditate under the rotunda.

The architecture was designed by Alfred F. Rosenheim, known more for his commercial buildings as well as the mansion in American Horror Story.

He also designed the opalescent stained glass windows, which have been restored after vandals knocked a couple of them out.

They cast a purplish hue under the dome—again, more regal than religious. And they depict architectural elements (again, the Corinthian columns) rather than biblical scenes.

You almost feel like you're in a federal or municipal building—a courthouse or a city hall—rather than a place of worship (or even spirituality). But there are organ pipes hiding behind a grille, if you know where to look.

And perhaps here, God is in the details.

The gold leaf, pastel color scheme, and original chandeliers sure are pretty.

And the recurring architectural patterns continue throughout the building, not just in its crown jewel (under the dome).

Incredible attention to detail was given to railings, woodwork, and lighting fixtures.

And a shocking amount of that has been either preserved or recreated.

The first time I spotted The Art of Living temple, it was the middle of the night, and I was in West Adams to witness the relocation of a Victorian cottage to its new lot, eight blocks away. I stood there in awe.

I thought I'd been transported to the New York Supreme Court building in Lower Manhattan. Or Federal Hall. Or the New York Stock Exchange.

But it turned out to be yet another facet of Los Angeles history, architecture, and culture that had chosen to reveal itself to me.

And this time, it only took me three years to figure out a way inside so I could go explore.

Who needs DC... or NY... or Boston... when you've got LA?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The First Cathedral of the Colonies
Photo Essay: An Ancient Roman Country Malibu?

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Sagamore Spirit Distillery, Keeping Maryland 'Wet' A Century After Prohibition

I always thought that historical whiskey tourism would only take me to Kentucky, as it did in 2006 when I attended the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

Since that time, Prohibition-era laws have changed and tax breaks have been enacted, so now there are a ton of new distilleries—whiskey and otherwise—throughout the country.

But if you were to trace the origins of American whiskey, you'd have to go beyond Kentucky or even Tennessee, where Jack Daniels was founded in 1875.

No, you'd also have to go to Maryland, too.

The Mid-Atlantic state has a rich history in not bourbon but rye whiskey. Its whiskey-making dates back to the colonial era, when distillers in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Maryland blazed a brown liquor trail that hit a fire break: Prohibition.

Nearly every state ratified the Volstead Act (a.k.a. the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution)—some even "going dry" before it was officially enacted on a federal level in 1920, and some continuing to stay dry even after Prohibition was repealed via the 21st Amendment.

The one exception was Rhode Island, the only state to refuse to ratify the amendment. But at the time, Maryland government officials and their constituents were so staunchly against the temperance movement that they simply refused to enforce it—one of the reasons why we still call Maryland "The Free State."

But even when and where it's been legal, local distilling has experienced its ups and downs—and it's only recently that there's been enough renewed interest in the non-corporate, craft, locovore summoning of spirits to really make a go of it.

Hence Sagamore Spirits Distillery, located in the Port Covington harbor area of South Baltimore (more on its location in a second). It's not exactly not corporate—its owner is the billionaire CEO of the company Under Armour, whose global headquarters is right next door.

But having only opened a year and a half ago (though starting to barrel-age some rye a couple years before that), it's still a new entry into the so-called "whiskey wars"—though it's become a juggernaut, already brewing up huge batches in gigantic tanks housed on a sprawling campus.

While other upstart distillers use after-market equipment to save some cash, Sagamore commissioned nearly everything to be custom-made and branded with its logo—most notably, the ginormous, 40-foot column still by Vendome.

Through various stages of quality control, condensers and doublers and whatnot, Sagamore triple distills two different mash bills—one of mostly rye with some corn and a little malted barley, and the other of nearly all rye and a little malted barley—which end up in two different charred American virgin oak barrels to be aged separately.

They then put the barrels in storage for about four years (double what most distillers will bother with), where they don't control the climate. In fact, they need the fluctuations in temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure to expand and contract the barrels. That will force the clear spirit up against and into the charred wood and back out again, drawing that amber color out with it.

Once the rye whiskey is bottled on the assembly line, it's still hand-labelled and initialed.

Besides the historical videos and other displays in the gift shop (which of course sells Sagamore-branded wares by Under Armour), there's also the neighboring Rye Street Tavern for elevated pub fare and whiskey cocktails (operated by a NYC-based hospitality group).

But to taste the product—including the limestone-filtered spring water sourced from an aquifer 20 miles north—you've got to do the distillery tour and tasting.

You start with the white rye, an unaged whiskey that's akin to moonshine (a.k.a. "white lightning" or "White Dog," or the higher wine that comes out of the triple distilling process). This one is so mellow that you can mix it or drink it straight out of the bottle. Next are the 83 proof and the boozier Cask Strength (at around 110+ proof, it varies).

And, as at all the great whiskey distilleries, you get to finish it off with a bourbon-infused truffle. (At the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, two meals a day consisted entirely of bourbon balls.)

Right now, Sagamore Spirit feels like it's hiding in plain sight—situated on the industrial waterfront of the middle branch of the Patapsco River at an abandoned railyard.

But given its proximity to Interstate 95 and the post-industrial chic of the Inner Harbor area that's thriving just across the way, its founder would like to see the area developed.

Think self-driving water taxis and mixed-used developments, high-rises, and utopian amenities.

And the trains would come back to this former railroad hub, too—by extending the existing lightrail lines that already run nearby.

Some Baltimoreans, of course, are in an uproar. People don't like change.

But are changes like this inevitable? I've already witnessed it at the Red Hook, Navy Yard, Williamsburg, Long Island City, and Astoria industrial waterfronts of New York City. It's happening right now at Gowanus in Brooklyn and Ports O'Call in the LA Harbor.

I'm sure Terminal Island is next.

I refuse to worry about it. Whenever I go to "the wettest state in the union" (about once a year), I'm just going to take some time to stop and sip the whiskey.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: How Brooklyn Does Bourbon and Chocolate Bars
What I Remember from the Kentucky Bourbon Festival
Photo Essay: Kings County Distillery
Photo Essay: Breuckelen Distilling Co.