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April 18, 2021

Photo Essay: Soaring With Butterflies at South Coast Botanic Garden

I first encountered butterflies up close—really up close—in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History's Butterfly Conservatory, maybe 20 years ago. 


I've spent the last couple of years chasing the annual monarch migration—just when the species has become so critically endangered, the millions of butterflies have dwindled down to thousands, hundreds, or even just dozens. 

April 10, 2021

Photo Essay: Camp Iron Mountain, The Best-Preserved WWII-Era Training Camp in Gen. Patton's Desert Training Center

About 50 miles west of the Arizona border, 32 miles north of the town of Desert Center...



...north of the juncture of Highways 62 and 177...



...is one of the best-preserved sites of General George S. Patton’s training efforts in the high desert during World War II. 

April 09, 2021

Photo Essay: An Easter Sunday Celebration at West Hollywood's Historic St. Victor Catholic Church

I'd been meaning to swing back by St. Victor Catholic Church in West Hollywood during the pandemic to document its stunning stained glass windows and mosaic mural—but somehow, even with so much more time on my hands, I hadn't gotten around to it yet.

I hadn't been to mass there since Christmas 2019—but then again, my formal church visits are usually few and far between. 

I'm much more likely to go to any church for some quiet reflection on a solo, unceremonious trip. 
 

But then Easter rolled around and, well, what better time? 

April 07, 2021

Photo Essay: A Sun-Soaked Stay at a Modernist Hacienda in Borrego Springs

The first time I stayed overnight in Borrego Springs, it was at Palms at Indian Head—a Mid-Century resort palace that still captures my imagination and draws me to visit, even if I haven't booked a room there. 

Since then, I've gone camping in the park, stayed in a tipi in Ranchita, slept on a military cot on my friend's porch in a windstorm, partied hard at the Warner Springs Ranch, and tried out Mid-Century motel life at Stanlunds Inn (the former Guppy Motel) in Borrego.  

But there's only one place I've returned to for an overnight stay while visiting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Boynton's Hacienda del Sol. 


April 03, 2021

Photo Essay: A Sugary Walk Down Candy Lane

Just in time for the Easter candy eggstravaganza, there's a new walk-through interactive experience at the Woodland Hills mall...

 

April 01, 2021

Photo Essay: The Retirement Ranch of An Oil-Employed Fossil-Finder, W.W. Orcutt

At one point a few years ago, I'd set off to visit and document all the historic ranges in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and its environs.

But somehow after 10 years in LA, I still hadn't made it to Orcutt Ranch.

Maybe it's because its name didn't carry the same weight for me as "Paramount Studios" or "Lake Enchanto" or "Gillette" (of the razor empire). 

Its namesake, William Warren (W.W.) Orcutt, was a SoCal oil geologist and Union Oil exec whose name is less recognizable to us today than perhaps it was in his heyday. (Or, at least, to me—a California transplant.)


March 27, 2021

Photo Essay: The Delightfully Uncrowded Bloom at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego hasn't had a "superbloom" since Spring 2019—but I still wanted to go check it out this year, just in case I could find some blooms.
 

March 23, 2021

Photo Essay: The Agricultural Beginnings of a Classic Car Collection

The Motte Historical Museum in Menifee, California had its grand opening in 2013, after being founded by John Victor and Evelyn Motte through their estate.   

 
The Mottes are one of the oldest pioneering families in Riverside County's Perris Valley, not too far from Temecula. They established Motte's Romola Farms in 1910—and in the 1940s, Frank, Charles, and John Victor partnered up to create the Motte Brothers agricultural enterprise.

March 22, 2021

Photo Essay: Inside 50 Years of the Walt Disney Archives, After a Yearlong Wait

I don't post a lot about museum exhibits that aren't permanent—mostly because most of my posts have a long tail of readership, and I think it's frustrating to come across something that closed or moved on months or years ago.
   
But this time was different—because although I'd been to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California before for great events and exhibits, this latest show really knocked my socks off. 
 

March 21, 2021

Photo Essay: Noshes and Late Nights at Canter's Deli on Fairfax

The Beverly Grove neighborhood of Los Angeles has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to groovy and historic coffee shops to visit—from Norm's on La Cienega to Swinger's Diner on Beverly and Dupar's at the Original Farmers Market
 

But Canter's on Fairfax—at the edge of the nationally-landmarked Beverly Fairfax Historic District, one block north of Beverly Boulevard on Fairfax Avenue—holds a special place in my heart, as it's located in a former movie theater. 

March 16, 2021

A Shot Towards Ending the Pandemic

I'd marked the date "March 15" on my calendar—that was the date that I would become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. 

I'd signed up for all the notifications, but I didn't trust that they would actually notify me in any timely manner. 

And I'd already completely lost trust in my primary care physician in LA, who's lost my test results before and forgotten that I'd been in for a physical—likely distracted by her stint on reality TV. (But that's a story for another day.) 

So, I knew it would be up to me to sign up to get the jab the moment the spots opened up online. 

I tried to book an appointment a few days before just to see what would happen. I reached the equivalent of an internet brick wall. 

But on the night of Sunday, March 14, I saw a message online that indicated that spots for the new eligibility tier had opened up early—and in the hour before midnight, I began clicking around to find a place to get the shot. 

Patience isn't one of my virtues. After trying two of the local hospitals and one of the local pharmacies, I gave up and typed in "Valencia, CA" as my location.
 

March 13, 2021

Upon the One-Year Anniversary of the Pandemic Times

"How long do you think this is gonna go on?" my friend asked.

"At least a couple of months," I said, despite the authorities telling us it would only be three weeks. 

"Really? That long, you think?" she said. 

"Oh yeah."

 Warner Grand Theatre, San Pedro (taken 4/25/20)

March 10, 2021

C'mon Ride the Hot Dog Train: Studio City Edition

Carney's Restaurant is a family-owned business with two Los Angeles locations—the Sunset Strip and Studio City, both housed in vintage rolling stock. (A third location in Glendale is no more.)
 

March 07, 2021

March 02, 2021

Photo Essay: Cruisin' Through A Custom Car Show at Six Flags Magic Mountain

When I first drove through Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California back in November 2020, seeing the theme park that way just blew my mind—even in the dark, with only Christmas lights to illuminate the park's permanent features. 


So I jumped at the chance to attend the West Coast Customs Cruis’n the Park Car Show—this time during the day—which opened to the public the last weekend of February 2021. 

February 28, 2021

Photo Essay: A Pasadena Garden Grows Where the 710 Freeway Never Got Extended

Arlington Garden is located on 3 acres of the former 10-acre estate of Chicago-born wholesale grocer John Milton Durand, whose mansion stood at the corner of Pasadena's "Millionaire's Row" (Orange Grove Boulevard) and Arlington Drive from 1904 to 1964. 

February 26, 2021

Requiem for Fry's, The Quirkiest Electronics Stores There Ever Were

Last updated 3/13/21 3:14 PM PT—architect info added

I can't remember the first time I drove past Fry's Electronics in Burbank, California—whether it was on an early business trip to LA or after I'd officially moved here in 2011—but it felt like it had always been there. 


And as much of an oddity it was, with a flying saucer having crash-landed into its front entrance, it never occurred to me that it wouldn't always be there. 

February 22, 2021

Pasadena City Hall's View Corridor May Soon Become Obstructed

It seems like the City of Pasadena is trying to pull the ol' switcheroo. 

You see, back in 1923, the public voted to approve a $3.5-million bond measure to create the Pasadena Civic Center District—a grouping of monumental civic buildings designed in a homogenous style, each located at the terminus of wide, ceremonial boulevards. 

Essential to the plan—created by the Chicago firm of Bennett, Parsons, and Frost—was the unobstructed "view corridor," which has been mostly preserved. 

But maybe not for long. 

Because as a group called the Pasadena Civic Center Coalition has been sounding the alarm, the City is trying to redesignate that public open space—with its uninterrupted sightlines—as surplus. 

And it's trying to sell it off to private developers. 

February 21, 2021

Sears Boyle Heights, A Bastion of Affordable Shopping For Nearly 94 Years, Is Closing

I'd spent I-don't-know-how-many years avoiding Sears stores.

My childhood was practically defined by my family's relationship with the mail-order catalogue and reasonably-priced retail chain—especially given the employee discount we got from Dad working nights and weekends in the credit department at the Fayetteville Mall location of Sears.

That one opened in 1974—the year of my sister's birth, when my parents were still living in Chittenango, New York and hadn't yet moved back to Syracuse. 

I don't know when my dad started working his second job at Sears, but I can't remember a time when he wasn'tscampering off at 5:45 for his 6 o'clock shift—every night except Fridays and Sundays.

That location of Sears closed in 1995—but by then, they'd already shut down their regional credit department and laid my father off (which I remember happening sometime while I was in high school).

I thought my history with Sears was over with.


Olympic Boulevard near Soto Street, circa 1950 (Photo: Los Angeles Photographers Photo Collection, LAPL)

But then in January earlier this year, I heard that the landmark Sears store in the Los Angeles community of Boyle Heights had been added to the company's closing list. According to Forbes, it's expected to close by April.  

February 18, 2021

Photo Essay: A Haven for the Prominent Figures of Orange County, Now Passed

Fairhaven cemetery in Santa Ana, California may have been created as a "memorial park"-style burial ground, but there's plenty to explore there other than flat grave markers. 

February 15, 2021

Photo Essay: The Plowed Ruins of a Private Malibu Enclave at Nicholas Canyon Beach

We were in search of some architectural treasures in Malibu—and my friend had read that the best way to get to them would be from Nicholas Canyon Beach. 
    
We both shrugged, neither one of us familiar with the county-run beach—or the other treasures we were about to find. 

February 14, 2021

A Pandemic Valentine

Ever since the first shutdown was looming back in March 2020, I've been desperate to "get back in the game."

Not necessarily the dating game, or the relationship game, but just "the game"—to be among the other living, breathing human beings who desire and are desired. 

February 04, 2021

Photo Essay: Sleep Like a Pirate at The Victorian Mansion in Los Alamos, CA

Old West towns in California are an endangered species—and I don't mean the ones that were built that way as tourist attractions or movie sets.  

  
Los Alamos ("The Cottonwoods" in Spanish) in Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley is a survivor of the Old West, founded in 1876 and still with a population of less than 2,000—despite the burgeoning wine country that surrounds it. 

 

Photo Essay: Glimpses of Solvang, A Bit of Denmark Tucked Into California's Central Coast

I've been to Solvang, California several times now. I even stayed at Solvang's Hamlet Inn a few years ago. But I don't feel like I'm very familiar with the town at all.
 

February 01, 2021

Photo Essay: O Me of Little Faith, at a California Central Coast Wine Country Church in the Santa Ynez Valley

About 20 miles north up the 154 from the San Marcos Pass is the quaint town of Los Olivos, a little gem of the Santa Ynez Valley wine country. 

It seems pretty obvious, then, why a congregation in that area would name themselves St. Mark's-In-the-Valley. 

But the Episcopalian worshippers of St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley actually didn't originate in Los Olivos—but a little farther south in the valley, in the nearby Danish town of Solvang.

A member of the Diocese of Los Angeles since 1943, it became clear in the 1970s that it was outgrowing its home and needed to move. 
    

January 31, 2021

Pandemic Amusements: Happiness Is A Warm Candy Cane

In 1933, Frances Logan and Charles (Pop) Logan founded their own eponymous candy shop at 216 N. Euclid Avenue in Ontario, California. 

Once called Logan's Candy but now known as Logan's Candies, it's best known for its Christmas candy canes—but it also caused a stir for going "Dodger Blue" last year upon our hometown team's World Series win. 


And second only to the Christmas season is Valentine's Day, when the shop breaks out the cinnamon striped candy canes.  

 

January 28, 2021

Pandemic Amusements: The Quest for Dinos

After hearing out my adventure through the Jurassic Quest drive-thru animatronic dinosaur show, a friend said, "You've been on a dinosaur kick lately."
 

January 27, 2021

An LA Decade

Ten years ago today, I fled a snowstorm in New York City and landed in sunny, warm Burbank—where I immediately stripped off my winter boots and headed to Target to buy a bikini. 

I had no idea what the next few weeks would hold—much less the next 10 years. 

January 26, 2021

Photo Essay: The Wonder of Bob Baker Marionette Theater's Window Displays at the Santa Monica Pier Carousel (Updated)

Last updated 3/1/21 9:24 PM PT—video embed from Bob Baker Day added at bottom.

Updated 1/31/21 7:39 PM PT—nighttime photos added at bottom. 

Because of the pandemic, I haven't been able to get inside the circa 1916 Looff's Hippodrome, the building that houses the Santa Monica Pier Carousel


In fact, it's been pretty hard just to get outside of it, with the Pier closed to the public on certain weekends and holidays to prevent overcrowding and infection-spreading.

    
But last week, I finally got to check out the "Windows of Wonderment" exhibit in the carousel building's windows—a retrospective of a handful of Bob Baker Marionette Theater's stringed spectaculars. 

January 22, 2021

Livestream with the Adventurers' Club of Los Angeles: Treading the Offbeat Path in Deceivingly Familiar Territory

I couldn't believe my little world of adventure would be compelling enough for a club full of scuba divers, anthropologists, island hoppers, and treasure hunters. 

But this week, I had the honor of guesting on a livestream presentation hosted by the Adventurers' Club of Los Angeles. (Scroll to the bottom to watch the replay.

January 19, 2021

It's a Holiday Dino Dress-Up at Cabazon Dinosaurs

Back in November, the larger-than-life biomorphic buildings known as the Cabazon Dinosaurs were kicked up a notch by being painted in Christmas colors—green for Dinney, the 150-foot-long Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus, and a Santa suit for Mr. Rex, the three-story concrete Tyrannosaurus rex

 
I didn't think it could get any better than that—but much to my delight, they've now been repainted once again. 

January 18, 2021

Who Wants In On A Split Pea Soup Empire? In Its 97th Year, Andersen's Is For Sale

Pea Soup Andersen's is for sale. And it appears that it's being pitched as a "development opportunity."

Preservationists know what that means.  Somebody might buy it just to tear it down. 

But how could that be? 

January 10, 2021

Photo Essay: Tiptoeing Across Carpinteria's 'Black Gold' Beach

Unlike on Hawaii's black sand beaches, the black you'll find on certain SoCal beaches—especially at the southernmost section of Carpinteria State Beach, just south of Santa Barbara—isn't exactly exotic or romantic. 

January 09, 2021

2020, In Hindsight

As I embark on this new year—one that's not so different from last year, at least so far—I feel inclined to record some of my personal accomplishments of 2020. 

January 08, 2021

R.I.P. Tom LaBonge, One of LA's Most Engaging and Enthusiastic Public Servants

In 2013, then-City Councilmember Tom LaBonge had helped arrange a tour of Griffith Observatory for the Los Angeles City Historical Society—but he'd gotten called away and couldn't join us there until the very end.


Tom LaBonge at Griffith Observatory, circa 2013

When he finally arrived, he brought a sign with him that said "Enjoy and Love Los Angeles." And that was pretty much his motto his entire life—right up until he died this week at home in Silverlake (where he was also born).

January 07, 2021

Photo Essay: Driving Back and Forth Across Long Beach's New 'Bridge to Everywhere'

Back in 2019, I took a tour of the construction site of the as-yet-unnamed Gerald Desmond Replacement Bridge in Long Beach—a project that first began in 2013.

Photo: Courtesy of the Port of Long Beach

And as of October 2020, the new bridge is open for traffic—while the bridge it replaced still stands.