May 29, 2020

Puckering Up For Old Hollywood Kissability at Besamé Cosmetics

I've never been much of a makeup wearer myself. As a little girl—all the way back in nursery school, I remember—I simply adored nail polish. It was enough to get me to stop biting my nails, so as not to ruin the manicure.

And I've always gotten a kick out of wearing stage makeup or getting camera-ready for a TV appearance or film cameo.

But otherwise, I've kept mostly to lipstick or, in more recent times, shiny pink lip balm, and a little line from an eye pencil or pen. I didn't start wearing mascara until I got contact lenses around age 30 because my naturally long lashes would just scrape against the inside of my glasses. And that just wasn't cute at all.

The few times my mother ever "went out" when I was a kid—maybe to my father's workplace Christmas party—she had her standard sparkly blue eyeshadow and under-eye highlighter (after all, it was the late '70s/early '80s), punctuated by some eyeliner and mascara. 

Virginia Weinheimer, age 18 (circa 1936)

But my mother wasn't exactly a beauty icon for me. Instead, I always admired my Grammy's beauty—her bright red lipstick that my Grampy hated, but that looked just fine to her in the mirror. Then again, Grammy was so colorblind, she had the rare form of the disease that rendered everything in black and white. So she was the star of her own silver screen.

Like me, cosmetics entrepreneur Gabriela Hernandez was inspired by her grandmother's beauty routine—one with a simple glamour that's somehow disappeared from modern makeup. With that vintage aesthetic in mind, she created her beauty brand, Bésame Cosmetics, and launched a single red lipstick circa 1920—later recreating historical details from several decades for contemporary versions of an entire line of her own makeup formulas.

A unique combination of artist and historian, Hernandez has found herself in the role of "color detective"—analyzing old lipsticks and other cosmetics to unveil what the pigments are underneath. Because as anyone who's ever tried to wear red lipstick knows, no two reds are exactly the same.

In the back of her Burbank storefront, Hernandez has got a kind of "hall of fame" of vintage cosmetic products—some of which might not be recreated exactly the same way because of where the pigments were originally sourced from (like, say, crushed bugs).

You can sign up for a makeup class, photo shoot, or makeup application in that back room when the store is open...

...or you can leisurely browse the front room...

...where Bésame-branded cosmetics are sold behind a nice old-fashioned makeup counter on one side...

...and the other side displays selected makeup trends from the year 1900 to today, encased in glass cabinets in a kind of mini cosmetics "museum."

Of course, Max Factor is represented here, as are Avon and Cutex...

...and old "cake" forms of mascaras, like those sold under the brand name Winx.

Practically everything started out as a powder in some form or another, whether loose or compressed...

...and the formulations evolved as makeup started to be worn by more than stage or film actors...

...and entered the lexicon of "everyday" beauty.

I don't ever remember seeing my Grammy without her red lipstick on. And I rarely saw her outside of her own home.

Meanwhile, I haven't worn any makeup for two and a half months. And I'm not sure when I'll have the opportunity to again.

When I'm ready to emerge back out into the world—whatever that world will be like—maybe I'll splurge on something nice from Bésame, like its rouge brush made from soft, cruelty-free hair, and featuring a contoured wooden handle.

If I watched much TV, I might try to look like Jessica Lange on American Horror Story: Freak Show
or the multiple actresses featured in the Netflix series Hollywood who wore multiple shades of red from Bésame.

Or one day, maybe there will be an occasion special enough for me to get my makeup done there.

In the meantime, it's reassuring to know that someone values the beauty of "Old Hollywood"—and that there's enough of a consumer market to snap up the heirloom-inspired products that continue to be released.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Jewel Box of the Cosmetic World and Its Pink Powder Puff
Meditations on Chroma

May 25, 2020

Photo Essay: Santa Barbara's Spanish Castle of Courts (And Its Ever-Ticking Clock)

I've had no official reason to visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, as I'm not a constituent of the county and haven't broken any laws therein.

I haven't even gotten the chance to get married there, though one of my ex-lovers has. I must admit, his heartbreaking nuptials piqued my interest about the place.

So, on two different occasions when I had some free time on my own to explore the historic core of the city of Santa Barbara, I chose to visit the 1929 Spanish Colonial Revival courthouse.*

Mostly, I went back a second time not to torture myself more—but to get into the clock tower, which was closed for visitors my first time around.

Under that red terra cotta tile roof—and beyond its white stucco walls and window grilles—there are the day-to-day operations of the Santa Barbara Courts and Public Administration.

But visitors like me want to see the structure itself—a national landmark that took only three years to build, starting in 1926.

Originally designed by Paris-trained architect William Mooser III, the courthouse as-built was reportedly more the result of modifications made by architect J. Wilmer Hershey. Unfortunately, Hershey died before he could see his work come to completion.

The Spirit of the Ocean fountain, by the Anacapa Arch

Finished at a cost of nearly $1.4 million, the courthouse was funded by oil tax revenue that had come in from the 1928 oil strike at Ellwood. And it's a good thing, too—because the courthouse was dedicated just two months before the 1929 stock market crash that kicked off the Great Depression. 

It could've been even more expensive, too—but using some local materials, like sandstone, helped defray some costs.

And while it's only three stories tall, it's actually an L-shaped amalgamation of four separate buildings, connected by arches, bridges, or breezeways.

In addition to the Superior Court proceedings, the Santa Barbara courthouse also handles small claims, civil, and criminal cases (including traffic court), as well as family law, juvenile court, probate, and appeals.

It no longer, however, houses prisoners in its "Jail Wing."

circa 2016
There are other county courthouses in Lompoc, Santa Maria, and Solvang—but as the City of Santa Barbara is the county seat of Santa Barbara County, this one is the flagship of the county's court system.

On the second floor, the former County Board of Supervisors' assembly room is now the Mural Room—featuring a 4200-square-foot mural depicting Early California (at least, the Spanish colonial period,  starting in 1542). Daniel Sayre Groesbeck hand-painted it in just four months. 

circa 2016

That's where the docent-led tours start—and that's where lots of people get married, right there under the wrought-iron chandeliers and 30-foot coffered ceilings, in front of depictions of explorers and conquistadors like Cabrillo and Vizcaíno and Frémont. 

When Mooser was working on the architectural plans for the courthouse, he considered this a kind of "throne room"—reinforcing the sense that you're in an Andalusian castle.

Hand-made terra cotta floor tiles throughout the building were made by Gladding McBean...

...and the feeling of "Old Spain" has been preserved inside and out, despite multiple renovations (including some ADA improvements).

Adding to the romance of the structure—or, I suppose, its romanticized representation of Santa Barbara's founding—is the 85-foot-tall clock tower and "El Mirador" observation deck.

Up there, the Spanish fortress opens up a little bit.

The Seth Thomas mechanized clock is still ticking—and there's an entire gallery devoted to its inner workings.

Too bad they don't let you have weddings up there. That's where you've got the best view—and where you can see how the courthouse occupies an entire city block. Seems like a good spot to exchange vows.

Most public festivities take place in the Sunken Garden—where the original 1872 courthouse stood until it was destroyed in a 6.3 earthquake in 1925. Hopefully its replacement has received all the seismic retrofitting necessary to survive the next "big one" that's sure to come.

Modern engineering has figured out ways to keep a building from crumbling under massive shaking.

But modern medicine hasn't yet figured out how to keep a heart from breaking—or how to put a broken heart back together.

*all photos circa 2017 except where noted

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Gardens of the Blacksmith (Los Jardines del Herrero), A Slice of Spain Outside of Santa Barbara
Photo Essay: The View from Above Balboa Park's Former Expo Grounds

May 24, 2020

Photo Essay: A Slice of Arizona's Longest Operating Mining District, Castle Dome

A little over two years ago, a group of us ventured out to Yuma, Arizona for some sightseeing. By then I'd already been wanting to visit the Yuma Territory Prison historic site for a while—but to be honest, the real draw for me for that particular trip was to visit the "Enchanted Cavern" at Castle Dome Mine Museum.

It's become a tourist attraction for sure, but it began as Hull Mine. Its naturally fluorescent mineral walls—sparkling with cobalt blue fluoride crystals—make it a good candidate for a psychedelic spectacle.

There was only one problem.

Our trip didn't overlap with the days of the week that the Enchanted Cavern is actually open. And the Castle Dome Mine Museum wouldn't bend the rules to let us in off-schedule.

The sentiment of the group was that we would just return to Yuma sooner rather than later to cross the Enchanted Cavern off all of our lists. But other sites (and sights) and adventures have taken precedence since 2018—and we haven't made it back yet.

Fortunately, the Castle Dome Mining District—which once encompassed 10 square miles and eventually 300 mines—had plenty to offer to keep us occupied for a few hours.

And as it's only fully open from October to April (call for hours the rest of the year), I'm glad we got there when we did.

In operation from 1864 to 1979 (the longest operating mining district in Arizona), Castle Dome began with 17th-century diggings from Spanish explorers—which eventually gave rise to the state's second patented mine, the Flora Temple Mine, in 1871.

Down there—150 feet deep—they found a half-mile-long vein of galena, an important source of silver (mixed with lead). Galena is formed along earthquake faults, where the earth fractures and is pushed up by seismic and volcanic action.

In fact, most of the mines at Castle Dome produced silver—though occasionally a pocket of gold would be uncovered.

There was enough mining activity at one point to warrant a population explosion of up to 3000 residents, living in cabins...

...and, eventually, bunkhouses (presumably for the bachelors without families).

By the year 1878, Castle Dome City was bigger than Yuma, having gotten 200,000 ounces of silver out of 5000 tons of silver galena ore.

But now it's a ghost town, its only permanent residents the bodies that are buried in the cemetery—including those who died by a knife wound or were beheaded—and those of four miners who got caught in a flash flood in 1887 and never escaped from the 450-foot-deep vertical hole.

Today, the Castle Dome Mining District attraction is a step back in time to an era of machine shops, mercantiles, a blacksmith shop, a saw shop (which sells, literally, saws), and more.

Among the 50+ buildings (seven of which are original to the town), there's a stone cabin, filled with artifacts (many unearthed from surrounding mine shafts)...

...and a church, situated against the backdrop of the Castle Dome Mountains (and the "dome" itself, actually a butte) and the surrounding Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

Preservation efforts have really benefitted from Castle Dome's remote location.

The church's bell in its tower still rings.

Owned by Pennsylvania-born 49-er Jacob Snively and his brother Connor, Castle Dome Mining District consisted of just a portion of mining claims along the Colorado River—which enabled the ore to be transported by (steam?)boat and ultimately shipped out for smelting.

But those who lived and worked at Castle Dome mostly never left—and the isolated boomtown was a boon for their most basic tendencies.

It was the Wild West, with all the trappings...

...including the town saloon.

A miner's life can be the pinnacle of the "work hard, play hard" ethos...

...and there was plenty of work to be dome at the bank, the assay office...

...the recorder's office...

...and even the barber shop.

The deepest they ever got was 700 feet. Given what a chore it was to separate the silver from the lead, it wasn't really worth it to dig any deeper.

And with the rise and fall in demand for silver over time. so did the success of Castle Dome fluctuate.

During both WWI and WWII, lead actually emerged as the more valuable mining yield—and with the involvement of Arizona Lead Company, bullets were made from millions of pounds of extracted lead.

Still, the war effort wasn't enough to keep the Castle Dome school from being shut down in 1950.

In 1979, the drop in silver prices was a death knell for Castle Dome's mining operations. When the separating process began to cost more than the value of the silver, it dealt a final, fatal blow to legitimate mining on the claim.

In the years that followed, scam artists showed up as scam artists are apt to do. In 1993/4, Allen Armstrong and his wife, Stephanie bought the land that sits atop three of the patented claims of the former mining district—and by 1998, they were able to open it as a museum.

The Hull Mine—the sparkly, colorful, "enchanted" one—is actually a recent acquisition, circa 2016. I hope it sticks around long enough for me to go back and see it in person.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Bodie Ghost Town
Photo Essay: Glimpses of Yuma Territory
Photo Essay: Crossing Over Into Yuma