December 31, 2020

A Wall of Wishes for 2021

It was New Year's Eve, and I had no plans.  

For this year's holidays, I'd gotten in the habit of just jumping in the car and going for a drive to get some fresh air and feel like I was a part of the world outside. 

Today, I decided to visit the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California...

...whose New Year-themed "Wishing Wall" runs until January 8. 

I welcomed the opportunity to walk past the Skouras-era ticket booth...

...and tread upon the terrazzo sidewalk... approach the gate to the forecourt...

...where Glendale Arts has wired up some blank tags for the community to record their wishes for the new year.

Most of the wishes are what you'd expect, at least for California...

...including world peace, fame (as famous as Elvis!), and that everyone would become vegan. 

And, not surprisingly, some messages wished for the end of COVID-19 in 2021. 

My wish? For a reason to be hopeful

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December 30, 2020

Photo Essay: A Festive Visit to Fosselman's, LA's Oldest Ice Cream Parlor

 I thought I'd been to Fosselman's once before, in 2016. 

But when I supposedly returned this December, just over four years later, I had the strong feeling I had not been there before. 
So which historic ice cream parlor had I visited back then? Farrell's?

Well, no sense in splitting hairs now—even though I missed Fosselman's 100th anniversary in 2019. At least I got there. 
I'm not the biggest ice cream fan around, certainly not in the winter—though I find old school soda fountains and such parlors appealing for their historical value. 

Fosselman's—the town of Alhambra's self-proclaimed "Emperors of Ice Cream"—was founded in Iowa in 1919 by Christian Anthony Fosselman, the youngest child of a German immigrant brewmaster. He relocated to Pasadena in 1924 and arrived in Alhambra in 1941.

Although at one time there were several retail and restaurant locations, the Alhambra outpost (a circa 1905 building, also the location of the Fosselman Creamery Company's production facility) is the last to survive.* 

Third-generation Fosselman brothers Chris and John currently run the business and have evolved their menu of flavors over time to accommodate the local community—particularly as the population of the San Gabriel Valley has shifted to include more Asian immigrants and their Asian-American descendants. 

The selection can be quite overwhelming—though you can be sure that you'll find the finest Tahitian vanilla, Dutch chocolate, and Real California Milk from a Chino Valley dairy that's also family-run. 
Fortunately, I was there to make my spirits bright with one of Fosselman's holiday-themed specialty flavors. Since I couldn't choose between "The Grinch" (green mint with chunks of cake) and "Peppermint Bark," I got a sundae with both of them in it.

And it was glorious. 

So maybe I'll go back for their summertime flavor specials, like sweet corn or watermelon sorbet.

Or their pumpkin-flavored ice cream in October. 

After all, Southern California can boast year-round ice cream weather (mostly).

*In 2019, brother Mike Fosselman opened The Ice Cream Shop in Glendora.

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December 28, 2020

Beyond Repair: The Inauspicious Fate of Good Luck Bar and Its Iconic Neon Sign

In May 2019, one of my favorite bars closed. 

Technically, Good Luck Bar in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles was evicted by a developer that had bought the building it resided in, with plans to build a new hotel. 

When the development was approved by the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council in 2014, the Good Luck Bar was supposed to be a part of it. 

Five years later, it was blindsided by a 30-day eviction notice—25 years into its run as a neighborhood nightlife staple. 

But that wasn't where the story ended. And it wasn't the worst of it, either.   

circa 2015

Those of us who loved Good Luck Bar had been relieved to hear that at least its iconic neon sign, with its distinctive Chinese-style lettering, would be preserved. Then the developer (Brad Conroy of Conroy Commercial Real Estate) declared that the neon wouldn't be turned over to anyone—because he was going to keep it for himself as a souvenir.  

circa 2018

And so a preservation crisis got piled on top of another preservation crisis, with the Museum of Neon Art having already scrambled to raise funds for the sign's removal (which would require two cranes) and relocation. 

circa 2019

And the story just kept getting worse—because just a couple of weeks after last call at the bar, thieves were seen climbing ladders and removing the sign, without a crane in sight. Anybody who knows anything about neon signs would know that it would be too heavy for such a hack removal job, and it would certainly come crashing down to its death. 

circa 2019

I rushed to the scene to check it out for myself—and lo and behold, the colored glass tubes had been smashed to bits. 

circa 2019

The shattered fragments were all over the front entryway and in the sidewalk cracks on Hillhurst. 

circa 2019

But there was no sign of the sign. And we all thought the story was over. 

 circa 2019 (Screenshot: @goodluckbarla on Instagram)

After what had already been an emotional rollercoaster ride, Good Luck Bar reported on social media that the sign had been dumped in the trash nearby—as reported by an anonymous tip to the Museum of Neon Art. We knew that the glass tubing had been obliterated, but the photo of its remains (appropriately wrapped in a body bag) made it seem as though the metal encasement would be salvageable. 

circa 2020 (Screenshot:

Over two years have passed, with no announcements made to the contrary—by either the bar (which is now understandably dormant on social media) or the museum. 

And then 6 weeks ago, reality came crashing down on me like a ton of bricks—with the news broken in a matter-of-fact comment on Facebook. 

According to MONA's new Executive Director Corrie Siegal, the sign was "damaged beyond repair" when it was finally located. 

I asked what happened to the carcass. She didn't reply. 

In the end, I know it's just a sign from a defunct bar. Bars close; we move on. Good Luck Bar itself was a tribute to another closed bar—Chinatown's Yee Mee Loo, whose 50-year run ended in 1989. 

Fortunately, the Formosa Cafe has preserved the old Yee Mee Loo bar and the infamous Yee Mee Loo "blue drink" (which Good Luck Bar also used to serve). 

But the way this whole thing went down from the very beginning until the very end was just infinitely shitty. 

I'm almost relieved it's finally over.

It is over, right?

Further Reading:
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December 27, 2020

Photo Essay: The 1920s-Era Treasures of Laguna Beach's Victoria Cove

California hasn't been known for being pillaged by pirates as much as, say, the Caribbean—but we still have Pirate's Cove Beach (in both Malibu and Corona del Mar), a Pirate's Lair in Disneyland, and the Pirates Dinner Adventure in Buena Park. 

But the Orange County town of Laguna Beach also has a "pirate tower," tucked away under the cliffs at Victoria Cove on Victoria Beach. 

And after knowing about it for a couple of years, I decided it was finally time to find it for myself. 

It was the day after Christmas and—having no other plans—I was fully prepared to lose my way or not even make it to the tower. A friend described it as a "walk" and not a "hike," but you never really know until you face it yourself. 

The biggest challenge, as with many parts of Southern California, was the parking. 

But after snaking my way through the narrow, winding streets above Victoria Beach, I finally snagged a spot on the other side of the PCH and set off on foot. 

I walked down Sunset Terrace to reach the public access staircase between 2703 and 2713 Victoria Drive—only to find that it was closed, with a sign posted redirecting me to Dumond Drive.

Of course, there had been signs posted on the PCH that public beach access would be closed until May 2021—but either I didn't believe it or I was certain that there'd be some other way to get down there. 

I'd even driven past that closed staircase and Dumond Drive while searching for a parking spot, but hadn't noticed anything but the lack of parking. 
So I double-backed up Victoria Drive and back to Dumond...

...where I descended an emergency vehicle access ramp...

...all the way down to the beach. 

I was nearly ready to quit as soon as I reached the sand, having no idea how much farther down the shoreline the pirate tower would be. 

What a pain!

And although I'd tried to time my visit to coincide with low tide, I was running late (as usual). 

The tide was already coming back in, which meant that I couldn't walk the beach to the tower. I'd have to climb the rocks, up and over the tide pools, directly along the bottom of the cliffs. 

The hassle I experienced was exactly what Senator William Edward Brown was trying to avoid when he had the 60-foot tower built in 1926 to enclose a staircase that led down to the beach from his Normandy-style Norman House (a.k.a. "La Tour," a name that means tower in French and that sometimes also refers to the tower itself). 

Senator Brown—who represented the 37th district of California, which is the greater part of Los Angeles—spent summers in Laguna Beach with his family and is also thought to have built a circular, concrete pool just adjacent to his property.

The former swimming pool's wall is now partially buried—even in the winter, when the tide erodes much of the beach away. 

And in the summertime, the pool sometimes still fills with ocean water (and swimmers). 

The tower was built with poured concrete atop a foundation made of ocean stones and capped by a cone-shaped spired covered in shingles.  

The Medieval-looking door is now locked. 

It's in the stones, however, where the secret to the tower's "pirate" nickname is revealed—because it's where its second owner, retired naval officer Harold Kendrick, would dress up in pirate cosplay and tuck away coins for the neighborhood children to find as "buried treasure."

It looks as though visitors continue to dig and chip away at the mortar, hoping to keep the current owner to the rule of "finders keepers."

Although you can't go inside the tower—as it's still privately owned, by the current owner of the house above it—it's still quite an unusual and fascinating landmark to go visit. 

As the 1981 Laguna Beach historic register states, the architecture of the tower is "closely interwoven with the natural precipitous quality of the cliffs."

The only problem with making it all the way down there?

I had to climb back up the way I'd come, with the incoming tide having advanced even further. But it was worth it, even just to dip my toes in the ocean once before the end of the year. 

Watch a video I produced, featuring the scenery at low tide, below:

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December 26, 2020

Photo Essay: Top Posts of 2020

What a weird year it's been. 

But despite the pandemic's closures and lockdowns, I still managed to get out and about—safely, often from the safety of my car. 

I just had to shift my focus away from scheduled group events and travel outside of Southern California and back to exploring my own backyard. 

And there's still a lot to explore.

This year, I've been grateful for California "car culture" more than ever—and have tried to make the most of it. 

I've spent a lot more time alone this year than I have since 2012 or 2013, but I'm more comfortable with my own company than I've ever been. 

And I'm glad some of those solo adventures were interesting enough for people to click and read.

So here's my annual list of "Top Posts" from the year, each of which was published sometime between New Year's Day and Christmas Day 2020. 

Click on the title or on the image to give the full post a gander.

1. Photo Essay: Pasadena's Vacant Hospital of St. Luke, Patron Saint of Physicians, Doctors, and Butchers

Thanks as always for reading! I've got plenty of past adventures already "banked" and ready to be shared in 2021. 

And although I've slowed down a bit (and am following the local government orders as closely as I can), I'm nowhere near stopping. 

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