Friday, December 6, 2019

Photo Essay: Ever-Changing Hollywood, in Miniature Magic

We're watching Hollywood change before our very eyes. Some say we're witnessing its disappearance.

I don't recognize much of what's depicted in the miniature version of Hollywood that's been under the stewardship of Hollywood Heritage since 2014 and undergoing conservation since 2018.

Then again, it isn't 100% accurate. And it wasn't meant to be. The scale model—brainchild of Joe Pellkofer, owner of a Hollywood Cabinet Company—was simply meant to give people in other parts of the country just a taste of what Hollywood was like.

People who'd never been to Hollywood—and would likely never go—wouldn't notice that some streets were missing, or that certain landmarks didn't actually stand right next to each other.

I doubt if any visitor to its exhibition at Macy's in New York City or the Steel Pier in Atlantic City ever balked.

But for those of us who've been here—or live here—it's a natural inclination to compare the fantasy with the reality. And that reality has been changing all the while.

Thanks to the work of craftsmen and artists like Leon Bayard de Volo (the Italian immigrant famous for his work on Knott's Berry Farm's California Mission dioramas), the miniature model was completed in 1945 and went on tour from 1946 to 1948.

But when the handcrafted miniature was rediscovered and stepped back into the spotlight in 1985, some well-meaning folks at Landmark Entertainment Group updated some details—including names of businesses, giving them "modern" (for the time) signs. (This is probably when fiberoptic lighting was added, too).

So now conservators need to decide whether to keep those modifications (no matter how inappropriate they may have been), or to return everything back to the way it was in 1945.

But maybe Pelkofer intended it always be a work-in-progress, for the ever-changing Hollywood—like how Walt Disney expected his Disneyland to constantly evolve with the times. (And boy, has it ever.)

If that were true, that would mean that the Earl Carroll Theatre would've had to have been remodeled into the Nickelodeon Studios, back to the Earl Carroll Theatre, into the old Aquarius Theater (as it's still dressed, from the time warp film shoot of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and back AGAIN into the Earl Carroll Theatre, which it's being developed into.

But by the time the old CBS Radio building were to get renovated to become NeueHouse Hollywood (and the ground-floor restaurant, Paley)... might already have been repurposed into something else.

For now, loose pieces are being bagged and catalogued for possible restoration, recreation, and repositioning back onto the miniature...

...or at least as a record of what used to be there.

The big diorama of miniature Hollywood wasn't Pellkofer's only model creation—there were several others, including of individual buildings (some of which got destroyed in transit).

Hollywood Heritage is also in possession of a model of Paramount Studios, circa 1937-38.

You can see them both—being cleaned and restored as I write this—at the Hollywood Heritage annex gallery, situated pretty much exactly where De Longpre Gardens, the studio and residence of Paul de Longpré, stood at the turn of the last century. That's when Hollywood Boulevard was known as Prospect Avenue and the area was a suburban development on land owned by Daeida Wilcox Beveridge—a.k.a. the Wilcox Ranch.

The horticultural collection of De Longpre Gardens had become a huge tourist attraction until the French-born watercolorist died from complications of TB in 1911. 

His mansion was sold and the entire property demolished in 1925, a decade too early to be included in the Hollywood Miniature.

Related Posts:
Standing in the Shadows of Towers In Hollywood (Or, What Will Happen to the Fonda Theatre?)

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Reenacting Western Migration, On the Brutal Stagecoach Route Between LA and San Diego

It's easy to take travels for granted when you're driving a car on paved roads.

So, I like to remind myself of how difficult it was to get around in the Old West days—the terrific and terrorizing journey to get to Southern California, and the near impossibility of traversing the transverse mountain ranges to get up north.

I find myself often following the path of now-phantom carriages.

Except recently, I had the chance to ride in a real stagecoach—in a kind of brief reenactment of the "Great Western Migration" that brought an adventurous lot along the Butterfield Overland Stage's
transcontinental mail route (the first of its kind, in fact).

That's what brought me to the Warner-Carrillo Ranch—located in the San Luis Rey River Watershed on the former Mexican land grant known as Rancho Valle de San José, whose land has been owned by the Vista Irrigation District of San Diego County since 1946.

Built in 1857, the Carrillo adobe and ranch house was the home of Don José Ramón Carrillo and Doña Vicenta Sepúlveda de Yorba de Carrillo (widowed from her first husband, Tomas Yorba), who married in 1847.

Starting in 1858, they operated a type of stage stop known as a "swing station"—where horses were changed—on Overland Mail Stage Line, at the fork in the road on the Southern Emigrant Trail (technically, the  Gila River Emigrant Trail) between LA and San Diego.

At the time, Concord coaches—like the kind you still see paraded around by Wells Fargo, so named because they came out of Concord, New Hampshire—provided the ultimate in "luxurious land travel." Their wheels were fashioned of seasoned white oak with handmade spokes, both beautiful and more durable than the European-built stagecoaches that preceded them.

They'd make twice-a-week runs from St. Louis to San Francisco—and at just 5 to 12 mph, it would generally take 25 days and nights to complete the trip (though the record speed was 23 days and 23 hours).

Their primary purpose was to carry mail—but they could also carry 25 lbs. of luggage, two blankets, and a canteen.

That meant, for a $200 fare, you could book a spot in one of these "traveling hotels" as a passenger—and you'd sleep on it as it went, well, overland.

There were certain rules to follow, in order to make the trip as pleasant as possible for you—and your coach-mates. For example, if the horse team were to run away (which apparently happened often enough to warn you about it), you should hold tight and not jump ship.

And proper etiquette dictated that you not point out where murders have been committed, especially if there are women passengers present (Omaha Herald, circa 1877).

I would've sat perched up top—but I would've had to have held on with both hands, leaving no hand free for my camera. So instead, I rode inside sitting backwards (reportedly the better way to go) and welcomed the bandits who robbed us with offers of my heart and innocence.

By all reports, the journey was, quite simply, treacherous—replete with annoyances, discomfort, and plenty of hardship. Some travelers described it as "cruel and unusual punishment," with nine passengers crammed into three seats.

Our trip was raucous and rumbling—enough to give us whiplash—but so brief, it was just a teeny tiny taste of what it would've taken to get just from one stage stop to another.

What we rode, of course, was just one example—with a red-painted body and yellow-painted trim, like the rest of them were, though the coaches often varied otherwise in design.

We got dropped off by the original horse corral, which is still standing—barely. In fact, it's the only such barn—of hand-hewn timber—still standing in the county.

It's slated for future restoration, including the sliver of original adobe wall that remains.

The restored adobe residence (a state and national landmark) reflects an historical time in ranching history—including the raising of cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, goats, and more and the cultivation of grain crops.

You can see how canvas was stretched over rooms to make a ceiling (or "manta," which means "blanket" in Spanish).

Original wood ceiling beams (or vigas) were preserved in the restoration—including some that had been originally salvaged from other structure that had burned down.

Although it originally began as a two-room adobe, the verandas were eventually enclosed to create a total of eight rooms.

They needed the space for the business—namely, the trading post and post office that operated as part of the stage stop.

Ramón Carrillo became postmaster, despite the fact that he couldn't read or write. It's thought that José Antonio Yorba—Vicenta's eldest son and Ramón's stepson—did all the paperwork for them.

After Ramón was ambushed and murdered in 1868, Vicenta (now twice widowed) took over ranching duties until she moved to Anaheim in 1868. In 1869, she "conveyed" the land to ex-Governor John G. Downey (also namesake of the town of Downey, California).

In 1888, Downey leased it to renowned cattle rancher Walter Vail, who died in 1911. A couple of years later, the family home became the quintessential "cowboy bunkhouse" under the operations of cattle baron George Sawday, whose operation remained at the Carrillo ranch until 1960.

Although the boarding house provided permanent residence for "career cowboys," some Hollywood cowboys—like Will Rogers and John Wayne—were known to pay a visit.

So what of the "Warner" part of the Warner-Carrillo Ranch House?

Most of the visible signs of it are gone. The historical records are scant. All we know is that a rancher and beaver trapper named Jonathan Trumbull Warner—who became a naturalized Mexican citizen of Alta California and changed his name to "Juan Jose" Warner (sometimes shortened to "J.J.")—lived either on the Carrillo's ranch property or on a parcel that abutted it.

The rest of the details are murky at best, but you can read about them here.

He's the same Warner of Warner Springs Ranch, and its stagecoach stop there, about four miles northeast of the Warner-Carrillo Ranch (and undisputedly a different historic property).

Why is the Carrillo Ranch inextricably linked to the Warner name? ::shrugs::

I'd driven by this site many times on my way to Anza-Borrego, but never stopped—for lack of time, maybe, or out of ignorance as to the significance of the site, even after its grand opening in 2013.

Or maybe I was just waiting for the right opportunity to visit, which was most certainly upon the occasion of these annual stagecoach rides.

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

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Lost Spirits: The Disneyland of Distilleries (After the Fire)

When I took the tour at Lost Spirits Distillery in Downtown LA's Arts District back in August 2017, it felt like I'd found myself in a haunted house of sorts—replete with a pirate's lair, a Caribbean jungle, and a library straight out of H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Over the next year and a half or so, the proprietors continued to build out the Willy Wonka-style tour,—enough to make me realize that I'd have to go back and experience the new and different build-outs.

And then an electrical fire broke out in January 2019, before I had the chance to go back. Although most of the distillery was spared from the flames, the smoke damage was enough to shut the place down and prompt the owners to start all over again.

And going back was like my first time all over again—checking in just one street over from the old location, though I would soon find out that we wouldn't be there for long.

The library is still there—but now it's more of an open-air experience, a thematic amuse-bouche.

That's where they let you sample their smokiest, peatiest, most gobsmacking whiskey, the Abomination: The Crying of the Puma.

But you're not there for long, because you've got to walk past a dining room (that's another nod to The Pirates of the Caribbean, perhaps)...

...through a tropical maze... a boat that takes you nowhere except back where you started from.

At the last distillery tour, the vessel was adrift on water that was actually part of the cooling system.

This time, it's just for show.

Because once you disembark, you climb aboard a shuttle bus that kidnaps you behind blackout curtains to bring you to another, secret location (somewhere in South LA, though I won't say exactly where).

That's where the magic happens.

A "tram" takes you on a ride through the barrel room—which, like before, is an electrified experiment in molecular gastronomy with wood chips instead of wood barrels.

What might traditionally take two years can take them 20 minutes. Twenty years can take six days.

They could likely reproduce any limited edition, sold-out, collectors'-only spirit—even one that's over 100 years old—as long as they get the right strain of yeast and the right grain of wood. (That's proven to be a challenge when the wood is American chestnut, which is functionally extinct.)

Next thing you know, you're boarding another bus—a different bus than the one before—and getting a final taste of one of the resurrected spirits.

Maybe it's the Navy rum. But only if you've already tasted the Jamaican rum and the brandy.

On the way back, the windows aren't curtained—but they're still blocked out, with an approximation of stained glass that blurs the view just enough to confuse and confound.

And after the two-hour tour is over, you've had plenty of time to contemplate the passage of time—and how some things are never really lost, if you can clone them later on.

Related Posts:

The Disneyland of Distilleries (Before the Fire)
Greenbar Distillery: Small, Mighty, and Loving It (Updated for 2017)