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October 27, 2021

Photo Essay: A Mountaintop Religious Enclave Founded By Hindu-Born Christian Yogi, Prince Mozumdar

I'd been wanting to visit the Pillars of God (below) and Mozumdar Temple for years now—but I'd been wary of just driving up there, as I'd heard that it's fiercely guarded by its private owner and that I'd need a 4WD to get to it. 

 

October 25, 2021

An Alpaca Sleepover

I almost didn't go to the Central Coast Railroad Festival this year. 

My trip had been bumped by one year because of pandemic cancellations—and I wasn't sure whether the COVID-era festival would be worth attending, or if I should wait. 

But it was my birthday weekend, and I thought at least my overnight accommodations would be worth the trip. 

 
After all, I was booked to stay two nights on an alpaca ranch. 

October 24, 2021

A Surprise Sneak Preview of the Not-Yet-Completed Norgrove Gardens Railway, A Private Narrow Gauge Through A Central Coast Vineyard

Early on in 2020, I'd booked a trip to attend the Central Coast Railroad Festival in October of that year. I was hoping for a chance to ride the Bitter Creek Western Railroad in Arroyo Grande and the Pacific Coast Railroad on Santa Margarita Ranch

But the festival, like nearly everything else last year, was cancelled for COVID-19

Fortunately, the festival resumed on the first weekend of October 2021, and I was able to bump my overnight stay by a year. 
 
But as the festival approached, it seemed as though I wouldn't be able to ride any of those trains—or any trains for that matter. 
    
I considered canceling my trip many times—but I'm glad I didn't. 

October 19, 2021

Icons of Darkness Descends onto Hollywood Boulevard With Horror-ible Movie Memorabilia

The latest addition to Hollywood’s horror-themed attractions is Icons of Darkness...
 

...an exhibition of a privately-owned collection of movie artifacts, just in time for Halloween. 

October 18, 2021

Photo Essay: A Last Oktoberfest at The Phoenix Club's Current Anaheim Home (Since 1992)

In 1960, a group of 15 German immigrant families formed The Phoenix Club in Anaheim to help promote interest in German-American culture and built its original clubhouse along the Santa Ana River near Katella Avenue. 
  
That was over 100 years after the first 50 pioneering German families had relocated from San Francisco and formed the Los Angeles Vineyard Society—but clearly, the Deutsch presence was still strong in their home by the Santa Ana River ("Ana" "heim").

October 13, 2021

I'd Like to Thank the Academy For Finally Opening Its Long-Awaited Museum on L.A.'s Miracle Mile

The long-anticipated Academy Museum—in the works at least since 2012—opened to the public on my birthday this year, after about a decade of waiting. Not having any other plans, I figured that was a good way to spend the day.
   

October 11, 2021

Photo Essay: Barris Kustoms Prepares to Depart Its Home of 60+ Years (And Take the Batmobile With It)

By the time I first got to visiting Barris Kustoms in North Hollywood, California, its founder and namesake George Barris had already passed nearly three years before.
 

I think I had a sense back then that his car customizing shop—long known as "Barris Kustom City," long before Pimp My Ride—might not be long for this world once he was gone.

October 10, 2021

Photo Essay: Ascending to the Ancient and Honorable Order of Squirrels at Strawberry Peak

While in Lake Arrowhead in August, I had a little bit of extra time before heading home—and my top priority was to visit the Strawberry Peak Fire Lookout. 

 

September 27, 2021

A Hawaiian Village Hideaway in the San Fernando Valley Holds Its Annual Luau, 2556 Miles from Honolulu

In the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Sherman Oaks, there's a 10-acre community of resort-style residential living that captures the mid-20th century perception of Hawaii and living in island style—though it's—a whopping 2556 miles from Honolulu. 


circa 1963 (Joan Huntington on left, Heidt on right) via LAPL

What began as a horse ranch had begun to transform into the hidden oasis it is today—Horace Heidt's Magnolia Estate Apartments—when 1930s big band leader Horace Heidt started building in 1955. 

September 26, 2021

Photo Essay: Pinecrest, Once the San Bernardino Mountains' Largest Resort

I'm a new member of the Rim of the World Historical Society, headquartered in Lake Arrowhead but covering many of the towns nestled in the San Bernardino National Forest—and it's making me feel new-to-California again. 

Like when I received the announcement of a tour of the old Pinecrest Mountain Resort, located in the "Crest Forest" town of Twin Peaks (formerly known as Alpine and, before that, Strawberry after a local strawberry farm).

postcard image via CardCow 

September 22, 2021

Photo Essay: The Former Ranch of Hollywood's Silent Film Era Western Hero, Harry Carey Sr.

On a tour of the St. Francis Dam disaster flood plain a couple of years ago with the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, we were supposed to visit the "Harry Carey Ranch"—but it was closed for a wedding.  

I'd never heard of it—and when we drove by, I saw nothing of it. Nothing besides the sign for the Tesoro del Valle residential community, which was built nearly two decades ago in Santa Clarita, California.


I finally got back there—to the Tesoro Adobe Historic Park—to see what was left of silent film star and Western movie hero Harry Carey, Sr.'s former ranch (reportedly "the first tourist attraction in Santa Clarita") and what had been washed away in the flood.  

September 19, 2021

Photo Essay: Exploring More of Winchester Mystery House, From Turret Tip to Basement

After driving nearly 400 miles over the course of more than six hours (making a couple of stops along the way, of course), it felt like a miracle that I made it to Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California at all for my first tour of the day

But after ambling up two-inch steps and making hairpin turns around switchback-laden stairwells up and down four stories over the course of a couple of hours, I found myself facing the fact that I'd been so ambitious, I'd booked myself on a second tour of Winchester Mystery House, immediately following the first

With just a few minutes of rest between the two, I was tempted to bail and head to dinner early. But the second tour was the one that was really appealing to me—because the "Explore More" tour takes guests in places of the mansion not usually open to the general public. 


September 15, 2021

Photo Essay: A Friday the 13th Visit to Winchester Mystery House

It's easy to dismiss the tragic heiress and philanthropist Sarah Winchester as having gone crazy...


...and that being the reason why her 160-room home, now dubbed the "Winchester Mystery House" is so bizarre and, well, mysterious

September 13, 2021

Photo Essay: Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights, Back in 2021 With a Vengeance

When I first experienced Universal Studios Hollywood in 2015, I considered it one of the best places in LA. 

I know that sounds like sacrilege—especially coming from someone whose favorite LA places include the Los Angeles River, the abandoned Murphy Ranch, and the St. Francis Dam Disaster Site

But when I returned for Halloween Horror Nights in 2019, and again for the studio tour in 2021, I was even more sure about it. 

I wasn't crazy. Universal Studios is great.

Oh, it's no Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm—but it's not meant to be. It's a uniquely Hollywood amusement park, with plenty of film history to offer. 


And I couldn't wait to go back to its Halloween Horror Nights, after having a good time there two years ago and it being suspended last year during COVID-19 closures.

September 12, 2021

Photo Essay: Off the Shore of Avalon, A Cove for Lovers and Tropical Fish

California's Catalina Island may offer more than 60 miles of coastline—but among its most popular and secluded beaches is Lover's Cove, located between Avalon Bay and Pebbly Beach. 

The rocky shore off Pebbly Beach Road near the rock formation known as Abalone Point leads you to the Lover's Cove State Marine Conservation Area, a protected ocean habitat where sportfishing is prohibited.

September 11, 2021

Anaheim: Where Orange County's Oldest City Got Started (Nearly 100 Years Before Mickey Mouse Moved In)

In 1857, Anaheim became the second-oldest colony experiment in California—nearly a century before the arrival of Disneyland

Named "Ana" for the Santa Ana River and "heim" after the German word for home, this "Home by the Santa Ana River" was originally founded  by a collective of 50 German families who had formed the Los Angeles Vineyard Society.

Although you might associate such a German community with biergartens, these German immigrants established Anaheim with 50 vineyard lots, 20 acres each, on 1,165 acres of the former Rancho San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana. They hoped to find wealth through wine, planting primarily Mission grapes in an attempt to create the largest vineyard in the world—despite being miles from markets, seaports, and railroad depots (at least until 1875).

And they succeeded, reigning for a time as the greatest wine-producing district in California, until 1885 when a blight wiped out their wine grapes. 

That's when they quickly shifted their attention to other agricultural crops, like Valencia oranges and walnuts.

Anaheim is now the oldest town in Orange County (though it was LA County back when it was founded). And much of its history has been forgotten, or at least eclipsed, by haunted mansions, intergalactic adventures, and the smell of freshly baked churros. 

But there are still traces of it to be found—if you know where to look.

 

September 09, 2021

Photo Essay: Mt. Ada on Catalina Island, The Other Wrigley Mansion

Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. did most of his candy business out of Chicago—but he liked Southern California so much, he bought the island of Catalina in 1911 and spent his summers in the city of Avalon, Los Angeles County, California. 

Postcard by Western Publishing & Novelty Co., Los Angeles (via University of North Texas Libraries)

September 07, 2021

Photo Essay: The Steepest Narrow-Gauge Railroad (With the Tightest Curves) Survives Among the Redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains

It had been almost a year since I'd ridden the Sugar Pine Yosemite Railroad in Sierra National Forest (and gotten smoked out of the area by local wildfires)—and it had come time for me to ride the rails once again. 
  

covered bridge (one of the shortest in the U.S,), built 1969

I'd planned a trip up to San Jose to tour Winchester Mystery House (blog post forthcoming) and had decided to drive the long way back home—mostly so I could ride the Roaring Camp Railroad on an antique train through the redwood forest of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

September 05, 2021

Photo Essay: A Sanctioned Visit Into the Off-Limits Sanctuary of Forest Lawn's Great Mausoleum

I recently posted about the incredible stained glass collection of Forest Lawn Memorial Park's Glendale location—but the truth is, I was really only scratching the surface. 

Gladiola Archway

Many of its most significant stained glass windows are inside the Great Mausoleum—which celebrated its centennial in 2020 and deserves a post entirely dedicated to it. 

August 19, 2021

Photo Essay: A Southern Sea Otter Safari in Monterey Bay

I don't remember how long ago it was when someone first told me about Elkhorn Slough as a destination for sea otters—only that it was sometime before I made it to the otter viewing spot in Morro Bay in 2019. 

Leave it to me to make smalltalk about otters with strangers. 

But when I was mapping out my trip to San Jose last weekend, I noticed that if I took the long way—hugging the coast instead of staying on an inland freeway—I could convince myself that this otter destination in Monterey Bay was on the way home.
   

August 18, 2021

Photo Essay: Dormant, Ignored San Jose Carousel Waits Patiently For Riders to Return

I've visited a handful of ill-fated carousels in my day—ones that are in disrepair or threatened with demolition and have survived fire and years in storage. 

 

August 17, 2021

Photo Essay: S.S. Palo Alto, the Concrete Oil Tanker-Turned-Party Ship That's Being Overtaken by the Pacific Ocean

"The Cement Ship"—formerly known simply as "The Ship"—has become a symbol of the unincorporated town of Aptos, California (in Santa Cruz County) and its Seacliff State Beach in the 90+ years since it first arrived. 

It's actually a misnomer, because the ship isn't made of cement—but steel-reinforced concrete (a.k.a. ferroconcrete), which the WWI-era Emergency Fleet Corporation deemed necessary for a small handful of ships built for the war effort during a shortage of both steel and lumber circa 1917. 
      circa 1920, Oakland (Photo: Naval History and Heritage CommandCatalog No. NH 799, Public Domain)

Only problem was that the 420-foot oil tanker, built by the San Francisco Shipbuilding Company at the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Oakland, wasn't finished and ready to launch until 1919—and by then, the war was already over.

 
And now, 102 years later, that ship—the S.S. Palo Alto—is falling apart before our very eyes. 

August 16, 2021

Photo Essay: Where Robots Tell the Story of Old California and Steinbeck's Cannery Row

Honestly, I hadn't thought much about John Steinbeck since I read Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath and saw East of Eden as a teenager. 

 
I didn't know anything about the time he spent in Monterey, California at Cannery Row, yet I still felt drawn to the "Spirit of Monterey" wax museum that's often referred to by his name.   

August 11, 2021

Photo Essay: L.A.'s Beaux Arts Library, Built of Bricks and Funded By a Copper Fortune

The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles was one of those places I didn't know I wanted to go to until it was closed and I couldn't go. 

I think I first heard about it when it was undergoing a restoration (and earthquake retrofitting), sometime between 2015 and 2017. I kept my eye on it—and finally managed to take a tour in 2018. 

L-R Observatory, library (Photo: Security Pacific National Bank Collection, via LAPL)

August 08, 2021

Photo Essay: A Public Tour & Tasting at SoCal's Only Oyster Farm (Shuck Yeah!)

Carlsbad Aquafarm has been growing various types of sea life in the outer Agua Hedionda Lagoon—a tidal wetland that shares water with the Pacific Ocean—since it first arose out of a 1960s-era San Diego State University aquaculture research facility in 1990. 
 

But it was only five months ago that it first started conducting public tours—and only last week that those tours came on my radar. 

August 07, 2021

Photo Essay: A Rogue Rock Garden That's Full of Whimsy and Heart

It wasn't until today that I began to realize how truly quirky Encinitas, California is. And I think I've only just begun to let it charm me.   

 
A good example is on B Street, just four blocks from Moonlight Beach—a guerrilla art project and community park called Dave's Rock Garden. 

August 03, 2021

75 Years Ago: The Navy Commandeered A Former Decorating Studio to Conduct Top-Secret Weapons Research

What appears to be a simple restaurant and tea room in Pasadena, California has a much richer history than meets the eye—one that involves the "foremost designer of residential interiors in Southern California in the 1920s" (according to late architectural historian Robert Winter), military secrets, and maybe even Albert Einstein. 
   

Located in what's now known as the Green Street Village Landmark District, it's currently known as Madeline Garden—but it was designed in 1927 in the Georgian architectural style by Louis du Puget Millar as a studio/office/workshop for renowned interior decorator Edgar James "E.J." Cheesewright and his staff of craftspeople and artisans (including woodcarvers), decorators, and furnishers.

July 31, 2021

Bob Baker Marionette Theater Brings Enchantment Back In Its Grand Re-Re-Opening (After A 16-Month Closure)

The year 2020 was a rollercoaster for everybody, but I can only imagine the panic felt by the fine folks at Bob Baker Marionette Theater...

 circa 2019

...who'd just managed to reopen in a new space (the former York Theatre in Highland Park, Los Angeles) in December 2019 after getting pushed out of their home for 55 years

July 27, 2021

Photo Essay: Orange County's Oldest Private Cemetery (And All That's Left of the Yorba Rancho)

Since I often get overwhelmed by huge, sprawling cemeteries, sometimes the most interesting ones for me are those created for just families and friends. At least then, all those buried there are somehow connected.


And it can be a nice break from the star-studded nature of "Hollywood"-style cemeteries like Hollywood Forever and Forest Lawn, where tourists make pilgrimages to the headstones of their favorite celebrities like they would the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 


At the historic Yorba Cemetery in Yorba Linda, California, members of its founding family were of great renown—at least, in present-day Orange County (and, to a lesser extent, San Diego County). 


They were the family members and close associates of the pioneer Yorba family—eponymous founders of the town of Yorba Linda and the cemetery therein. 

July 24, 2021

Photo Essay: Paying Tribute Aboard A Restored Navy Swift Boat, the Only Vietnam Memorial You Can Ride

With no plans with family or friends on Memorial Day Weekend this year, I jumped at the chance to drive down to San Diego and take the annual Swift Boat Naval History tour of the Bay with the Maritime Museum

July 20, 2021

Photo Essay: A Whale of a Time in Dana Point, the First Whale Heritage Site in the U.S.

When you live 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean, you might be expected to spend a lot of time at sea.
 

But me, I like to spend most of my time inland—where no tide will tear the sunglasses off my face or try to envelop me in a salty coffin made of sea foam and regret. 

 
Last weekend, though, I had the chance to join Capt. Dave's Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari—which departs out of Dana Point, named the first Whale Heritage Site in the U.S. earlier this year. It seemed like if I was going to try whale watching again, this was the place to do it. 

July 05, 2021

Photo Essay: World's Most Expensive Stadium Lands in Inglewood, City of Champions

During pandemic closures, it felt as though much of the world had stopped.
 

But it turned out to be a great time for construction projects—considered essential business, exempt from lockdowns—like the new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.  

July 03, 2021

Photo Essay: Roycroft, the Utopian Colony of Philosophy and Decorative Arts

After I moved to LA and began exploring Southern California, I learned about the Arts and Crafts Movement by visiting The Gamble House, the Judson family's historic stained glass studio, and Ernest Batchelder's Pasadena home, adjacent to Bungalow Heaven. 

It never occurred to me that there'd be any Arts and Crafts activity anywhere in New York State, where I grew up. (I guess I forgot about Stickley.) 

But as I was traveling in and out of Buffalo on my way to make a hometown visit to Syracuse a couple of months ago, I arranged a visit to what I discovered is a federally recognized center of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. 

It's the national historic landmark (designated 1986) known as "The Roycroft Shops" (1895-1938)—located in the Buffalo suburb of East Aurora, in Western New York.
  
 

July 02, 2021

Photo Essay: Garden Grove's Time Capsule Town at the Stanley-Ware Ranch (Where You Can Find the 'Disney Garage')

The more that our historical town centers get gobbled up by high-rise hotels and other new developments, the more I really appreciate when historical societies save and relocate old buildings to create their own historical villages. 

 
Case in point: Garden Grove Historical Society's time capsule town, located on 2 acres of the former Stanley Ranch, where local pioneer Edward G. Ware settled in 1876 after relocating from Massachusetts. 

June 29, 2021

Photo Essay: Kayaking Across the Eastern Sierra 'Volcano Lake' That Baffled Scientists (Until 2015)

I've pretty much come to terms with the fact that there are some places on my Bucket List I'll never be able to cross off—maybe because I haven't got the means to get there, nor the will to keep trying. 

Or maybe some of those places will simply cease to exist before I get to them—from burning down, being torn down, or simply washing away. 

So, when a friend invited me on a trip up the 395 to visit the hard-to-reach and only seasonally visible Crowley Lake columns in Mono County, of course I said "yes"—and of course I prepared for abject failure. 


June 27, 2021

As Cerro Gordo Ghost Town Rises From the Ashes of a 2020 Fire, It Turns Away Visitors

I almost didn't write about this adventure because it felt like a failure. But I guess it was actually a partial success. 

And since I'm not exactly sure when I'll be able to ever complete the mission, I've decided not to wait—and share what I've got now, even though I found it a bit disappointing. 

But let me back up for a moment. 

In a constant boom-bust cycle that lasted nearly 100 years, the mining town of Cerro Gordo—in the Inyo Mountains of the northern Mojave Desert, near the 395 to the west of Death Valley—produced silver, lead (galena), and zinc ore at one time or another between 1866 and 1957.

I can't remember when I first heard of it. But I know I first tried to go sometime after 2013, after I'd begun working as a field agent for Atlas Obscura and thought that it would make for a great—albeit far-flung—excursion for our group.


June 25, 2021

Photo Essay: A World-Class Trout Farm In the Sierra Nevada, Closed by Mudslide

When it opened in 1917, the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery near the town of Independence was one of the first of its kind to raise trout (even the rare golden trout, California's state freshwater fish) to stock in California's lakes and streams (including those in the High Sierra backcountry) for fishermen to catch. 

The Eastern Sierra had begun "opening up" to visitors, as road improvements along old prospector trails—like El Camino Sierra, or what was to become the Sierra Highway—made "the Alps of California" more accessible than ever by car, from Los Angeles all the way north to Tahoe. 

There was a great and growing demand to not only attract but also keep tourists in the area by facilitating their thirst for the outdoors—and their appetite for angling.  

 

June 24, 2021

The Power of Quitting

Nobody likes a quitter. 

We're expected to stick with whatever life hands us, no matter how much it sucks.

People quote Winston Churchill saying, "If you're going through hell, keep going" like some kind of encouragement. 


Not me. I'll be a quitter till the day I die. 

June 12, 2021

A Midnight Mating Party for California's Most Exhibitionistic Fish

For 10 years since moving to LA, I'd wanted to go check out a coastal wildlife phenomenon known as the "grunion run."

And for 10 years, I'd put it off because I didn't like the idea of hauling my cookies to the beach late at night to witness a group of small, sardine-sized fish (the California grunion, Leuresthes tenuis) that may or may show up.  

But no matter how much of a crapshoot it may be, I knew I'd never see this summertime spawning event if I didn't at least show up and try.

 

June 09, 2021

Photo Essay: Secret Site of the 'Mystery Mine' Mill in the Verdugo Mountains—Revealed!

Back in 2016, I'd taken a hike up Hostetter Fire Road with the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley to view the remains of a former graphite mine operation up in the Verdugo Mountains of Los Angeles.  

But there wasn't actually that much left of the former Hostetter Mine to see up the hill. 

There was, however, a significant mill site that remained down the hill—only it was so hidden in the underbrush and the overgrowth, I couldn't get to it after lagging too far behind the group. 


Five years later, I had another chance to go see it, after some volunteers had bushwhacked their way through and tried to re-establish a trail to it. 

June 07, 2021

Photo Essay: The Manufacturing of Midway Magic at Herschell Carrousel Factory in Western New York

Over 3,000 hand-carved, wooden carousels were manufactured at the Herschell Carrousel Factory in North Tonawanda, New York. 

That was from 1915—when it moved into the former home of King Lumber Company—until 1953, when the company was sold and moved from the suburbs into the city of Buffalo proper. 

 

June 06, 2021

Photo Essay: The Ever-Evolving Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour, 2021 Edition

I'd been to Universal Studios Hollywood twice as a tourist since 2015—but they were both at night, which meant I felt like I was missing out on the daytime experience. 

 
Especially when it came to the actual studio tour. 

June 01, 2021

Photo Essay: The Stained Glass in Forest Lawn Glendale's Extensive Art Collection

One of the most remarkable aspects of Forest Lawn Memorial Park's Glendale, California location is its stunning collection of stained glass.


And not just the circa 1931 stained-glass replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s "The Last Supper," located in the Great Mausoleum's Memorial Court of Honor. 

May 31, 2021

May 26, 2021

What's the Fate of L.A.'s First Major Flower Market, Now Located in the Biggest Floral District in the U.S.?

Just over two blocks away from Downtown Los Angeles' Santee Alley in the Fashion District is a wholesale flower market known as the Southern California Flower Market—which takes up nearly 4 acres between Wall Street and Maple Avenue and East 7th and 8th Streets. 

As of October 2019, the plan was to rebuild a good chunk of it as part of a mixed-use complex right in the middle of the Los Angeles Flower District—the largest and most successful wholesale floral district in the country.

What's the plan for the independent wholesaler and retailers that are housed there—not only florists, but also floral suppliers, floral related retail shops, and small flower malls?

No one has made any public promises. 

But since 2020 happened, the developer has been silent about its plans for the historic market. 

May 23, 2021

Photo Essay: Twice Around the 105-Year-Old #1 Special at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum

Despite having grown up in Syracuse, New York, I hadn't been to the Buffalo area since I was 5 years old, when my family visited my uncle in the town of Lockport and crossed the border into Canada to visit Niagara Falls and Marineland. 

 
So, last week, after having flown in an airplane for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic to visit Syracuse for the first time in years, I decided to avoid a layover at JFK Airport and fly direct into Buffalo-Niagara Airport—conveniently located near a bucket-list attraction for me, the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in the town of North Tonawanda.