June 27, 2022

Photo Essay: Southern California's Oldest County Courthouse

The Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana, California—the county seat of Orange County—is a Richardsonian Romanesque monolith of steel, cement, and brick clad in Arizona red sandstone (with a foundation clad in Temecula granite).  

It was dedicated in 1901, just 12 years after the establishment of Orange County (having split off from Los Angeles County). That makes it Southern California's oldest county court building—now recognized as a historic landmark on both the state and federal levels.

June 25, 2022

Photo Essay: Hayward's Japanese Gardens, Built 30+ Years After the WWII-Era Detention of Japanese-Americans

The East Bay city of Hayward, California once had a large population of Japanese-Americans. But during World War II, they were sent to internment camps—like the detention center at the former Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno, on the San Francisco peninsula.

You might not ever know it by visiting the city today—were it not for the Japanese Gardens, just beyond the Hayward Area Senior Center. 

June 21, 2022

Photo Essay: A Peek Into the Millard Sheets-Designed Bank That's Becoming Chabad of Beverly Hills

A couple of weeks ago, I joined Hollywood Heritage on a bus tour of some of the Millard Sheets-designed bank buildings in the Los Angeles area. 

I'd already been inside several of them (including the closed Santa Monica location and the to-be-landmarked Sunset and Vine location)—but I was interested in what our guide, Adam Arenson (who literally wrote the book on Millard Sheets and his banks), would have to say. 

Since our tour took place on Memorial Day—a bank holiday—I assumed we'd only be able to admire these structures from the outside and peer through the windows. 

But then we got to the former bank on Wilshire Boulevard and Oakhurst in Beverly Hills—which I'd driven by many times.

June 20, 2022

Photo Essay: The Only Surviving Home from the Demolished Desert Inn Country Club Estates, Vegas

I'd been waiting since 2019 to return to Nevada Preservation Foundation's annual Home + History tour—and one of my top destinations this year was the nationally-landmarked Morelli House by architect Hugh E. Taylor.  

June 16, 2022

Photo Essay: A Victorian Home Built Like a Ship Is Permanently Moored at Heritage Museum of Orange County

Formerly known as both The Discovery Museum of Orange County and the Centennial Heritage Museum, the Heritage Museum of Orange County in Santa Ana, California is home to many local artifacts and educational exhibits... 

...but its centerpiece is the H. Clay Kellogg House, designed and built in 1898 by Hiram Clay Kellogg and relocated from 122 Orange Avenue (now a parking lot) to the museum grounds in 1980. 

June 10, 2022

Photo Essay: Dodger Stadium, Home of The First Sports Arena Botanic Garden In the U.S.

LA's newest botanic garden isn't in the mountain foothills or on the grounds of some grand, historic estate. 

It's at Dodger Stadium—the first sports arena in the country to qualify for botanic garden accreditation (which took five years). 

June 05, 2022

Photo Essay: Santa Barbara's 'Queen of the Missions,' Never Abandoned

After visiting all of the other Southern California Spanish missions—including some of the sub-missions (or asistencias)—over the course of my 11 years living out here, I finally got to Mission Santa Barbara (in the Central Coast city of the same name). 

Founded in 1786 by the "forgotten friar" Friar Fermín de Lasuén—successor to Junípero Serra—as the 10th of 21 Franciscan missions, it's the only continuously operating mission in the California system. Even after secularization in 1833, the Franciscan friars were allowed to stay—helping this mission avoid the neglect and vandalism that plagued the others that were abandoned. 

It became known as the "Queen of the Missions"—a title it has retained, having never fallen into ruins.  

June 04, 2022

Photo Essay: The Oldest Hotel in Vegas, Golden Gate Hotel & Casino at 1 Fremont Street

I've been feeling a sense of urgency to visit all the Vegas hotels and casinos I can before they get imploded. I've seen too many disappear already—some devastatingly before I ever had the chance to visit. 

I still rack my brain trying to remember what the Strip was like when I first stayed there, at the Stratosphere, when I was too sick with the flu to really explore or appreciate it. That was before I knew everything would go away one day. 

Now I know. And it tortures me. 


May 31, 2022

Photo Essay: The Historic Railroad Attraction Along the Tracks That Helped Build the Hoover Dam

One thing I'd wanted to do in Boulder City, Nevada since I first visited there in 2011 was to ride the Nevada Southern Railway at the southern outpost of the Nevada State Railroad Museum (its main outpost being in the state capital of Carson City, and the Nevada Northern Railway being in Ely). 

May 24, 2022

Photo Essay: Glendale's Stone Barn, Once Burned and Flooded, Reopens As a Nature Center

Georges Le Mesnager was an immigrant French winemaker who arrived in Southern California in 1885-6 and purchased land in the Dunsmore Canyon area of La Crescenta—formerly known as Las Flores Canyon, now known as Deukmejian Wilderness Park.

At the time, the canyon was wild and steep—but nevertheless, Mesnager tried to develop the land, planting vines and growing wine grapes there. 

In 1905, his son Louis began building a stone barn primarily to be used as a stable and a storage facility—not only for vineyard equipment but also to store the grapes that would be shipped off to the family's winery at Main and Mesnager Streets in Downtown Los Angeles, a couple of hundred feet away from the west bank of the LA River. 
And now, over 100 years later, the stone barn is the site of grape-growing once again—and is home to the newly opened Stone Barn Nature Center. 

May 22, 2022

Photo Essay: The Resurrection of Verdugo Hills Cemetery, Upon Its Centennial Celebration

The Hills of Peace Cemetery (later renamed Verdugo Hills) was dedicated in 1922 to serve the areas of Sunland and Tujunga, California—in the Crescenta Valley region of Los Angeles. 

The most recent headstones you see are from, say, 1972. There's one crypt in the mausoleum dating back to 1977. 

That was before the torrential rains of February 1978 washed away many of the hillside graves.

And until recently, the only thing almost anyone ever remembered about it was its grisly history—not only natural disasters, but also vandalism and remains that were improperly disposed. It was so bad, some families actually moved their loved ones from their crypts.  

The cemetery finally closed to the public in 2002—after which family members of those interred could visit by appointment only (despite it being declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2009). The only other time it was open was for occasional historical tours. 

But thanks to the efforts of Friends of Verdugo Hills Cemetery (led by the "undertaker," Craig Durst)—which held monthly and then weekly volunteer cleanup days—the cemetery was prepped and beautified for its centennial celebration on April 23, 2022. 

May 19, 2022

Photo Essay: A Wartime Recreational Facility and Dormitory in San Diego, Reborn As The Guild Hotel

With the Navy Bridge Run starting at 8 a.m.—and me having to come down to San Diego from LA—I needed to book a local hotel room for the night before. Ideally, one that would be either walking distance or a trolley ride from the starting line (as parking there would either be impossible or just grossly expensive). 

I also needed to make sure I'd get a good night's sleep the night before. I was worried enough about completing the race (even just walking it) and didn't need any extra factors working against me. 

In the past in San Diego, I've stayed everywhere from the budget-friendly Dolphin Motel on Point Loma (literally a fisherman's motel) and Motel 6 to the historic Sofia Hotel and Hotel Palomar and the luxury U.S. Grant. 

And then in my search, I came across one hotel in Downtown San Diego I hadn't heard of before: The Guild Hotel, which opened in 2019. (From 2003 to 2014, the property was home to a hostel called the 500 West Hotel.)

Owned by Marriott and operated as a luxury boutique hotel, it's located in a former YMCA building for the Army and Navy—which made it just seem perfect for a stay on a Navy-related trip

May 17, 2022

Crossing Over to Coronado On Foot (Or, Bridging the San Diego Bay)

On January 25, 2020, I registered to walk the Navy's 34th annual Bay Bridge Run in May. 

 circa 2021

On April 1, 2020, I received the cancellation notice. And it would be another two years before I could get onto that bridge. 

May 13, 2022

Photo Essay: Meow Wolf's Omega Mart in Las Vegas Claws at Modern Consumerism

One of the new arrivals to Vegas since my last visit in 2019 was Area 15...

...with its outdoor event space and sculpture garden and multiple immersive, interactive attractions indoors.

Its centerpiece is the Las Vegas installment of Meow Wolf—an expansion of the Santa Fe immersive art collective founded by Emily Montoya and Benji Geary.

May 12, 2022

Pandemic Reflections: My Body Is My Own

The last two years have been so crazy, we're still making sense of them. They probably won't make much sense to any of us for decades to come. 

But very early on, it became clear that one of the silver linings of mandated "social distancing" was the fact that I got my personal space back. 

May 11, 2022

Photo Essay: A Special Makeup Effects Creator's Own Museum of Monsters

Most of the times I've been to Boulder City, Nevada, it's been for ziplining or something related to the Hoover Dam

But this time around, I managed an early morning visit to the railroad museum (photo essay forthcoming)—with just enough time to visit Tom Devlin's Monster Museum before returning to Vegas. 

May 08, 2022

Photo Essay: Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens' "Flights of Fancy" for Spring

While other casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip may be focused on recreating the opulence of ancient Greece, Rome, or Venice, approximating stereotypical Paris or New York City....

...or meeting the ever-changing expectations of "luxury"... 

...the Bellagio creates immersive, botanical experiences for each season in its 14,000-square-foot Conservatory.

May 07, 2022

Photo Essay: Tracking Down Del Taco's High Desert History in the Mojave

Driving east down Main Street in Barstow, California—taking a short detour on my way to Vegas last week—I spotted a sign advertising "The Original Del Taco Barstow," since 1964. 

April 24, 2022

Photo Essay: The Only Museum Devoted to President Abraham Lincoln West of the Mississippi

Every year in February around the commemoration of President Abraham Lincoln's birthday, I've wanted to visit the only museum west of the Mississippi dedicated to him for its annual open house. And every year, I've had something else to do (or just haven't wanted to make the 72-mile drive to Redlands, California). 

Somehow it hadn't occurred to me that the Lincoln Memorial Shrine would be open the rest of the year—or that I could visit anytime I wanted. 

April 20, 2022

Photo Essay: The Fraternal Origins of Hollywood Forever's Masonic Lodge

At the Santa Monica Boulevard entrance of Hollywood Forever (formerly known as Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery when it was first established in 1899) stands what today serves as the cemetery's administration complex.

 circa 2020

But it has far more esoteric origins. 

April 19, 2022

Photo Essay: Santa Barbara's Lil' Toot, the Little Tugboat That Could

I hadn't been to Santa Barbara since February 2019—and upon my return visit last week, at the top of my list of things to do in the area was to ride Lil' Toot

It's a little boat with a big personality—one that serves as a water taxi between Stearns Wharf and Santa Barbara Harbor. 

April 18, 2022

Photo Essay: An Alpaca Visit Worth Waiting For

A couple of weekends ago, I decided to spend nearly four hours driving from Los Angeles to the East County San Diego backcountry to visit an "Alpaca Haven in the Hills"—Hazard Alpacas in Jamul, California.


April 17, 2022

Video: Avoiding Regret on TV Talking About Surfridge Ghost Town, Next to LAX

I always really enjoy the opportunity to share my discoveries with a wider audience—and sometimes beyond the written word, like at speaking engagements or via television appearances.

It feels like an opportunity to connect on a more personal level. 

And it gives me an excuse sometimes to return to a favorite spot—like Surfridge

Screenshot: Fox 11 Los Angeles

April 16, 2022

Photo Essay: San Diego's Steel Bridge Was Closed to Traffic 35 Years Ago, Still Open For Exploration

In East San Diego County, where the community of Spring Valley meets Rancho San Diego just southeast of Jamacha Junction, Campo Road runs along an old stagecoach road that was the primary east-west route between San Diego and Yuma, Arizona

April 08, 2022

Photo Essay: A Privately-Funded Public Library Built On Borrowed Money, In the 'Jewel of the Inland Empire'

What is a library—besides its collection? In the case of the A.K. Smiley Library in Redlands, California, it's the nationally-landmarked building itself (added to the National Register in 1976 and the California state register in 1990) as well as a significant chapter in the founding of a California citrus town, the "Jewel of the Inland Empire."

Known as the "Patron Saints of Redlands," East Coasters—and identical twin brothers—Alfred Homans and Albert Keith Smiley arrived there in 1889, just after the city had been incorporated. More and more people were relocating to Redlands for its citrus estates and other developments—so, in response to the growing need for a library, "A.K." donated 16 acres of land and the building in 1898. 

Photo: circa 1900 (Public Domain, via California Historical Society Collection, USC Digital Libraries)

April 05, 2022

Photo Essay: Farewell to Oceanic Arts, The Emporium of Exotica That's Closing After 65 Years

The first time I visited Oceanic Arts in Whittier, California, I wasn't in the market to buy any tropical or Polynesian decor. But since it's the world's leading supplier of it—and the longest continually operating manufacturer of such products—it felt like a pilgrimage I needed to make. 

March 31, 2022

Photo Essay: The Grub, Grottos, and Gunfire of the Los Angeles Police Academy, Elysian Park

The Los Angeles Police Academy is one of the most recognizable landmarks of LA's Elysian Park...

...starting with its "Academy Arches," which have appeared in many TV and movie productions, including American Beauty and episodes of Dragnet and T.J. Hooker.

March 27, 2022

March 22, 2022

Photo Essay: The Mid-Century Science Lab Where Modern Oceanography Was Born

I've been attending San Diego Architectural Foundation's Open House San Diego for the last few years—even squeezing in a visit a little over a week before everything shut down in 2020. 

But this year was different—not because of the pandemic, but because my car has been sitting in the shop (essentially undrivable) since January 17. 

I've been getting around on foot and via public transportation (like a good former New Yorker). But that was going to put a cramp in my style somewhat for Open House San Diego. 

I knew I could take the Amtrak down to Santa Fe Depot no problem—and that the trolley could get me around to lots of places. But I wouldn't be able to cram very much into one day. 

So, I agonized over having to limit myself to just one general area—and having to choose among the dozens of sites (when normally I can cram at least four or five into a day). 

Instead of going for quantity, I went for exclusivity—and chose to keep my reservation to the sold-out tour of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) Munk Lab at the UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, co-hosted by AIA San Diego. (Fortunately, I could get pretty close to it by taking the new Blue Line trolley extension to UCSD.)

March 21, 2022

March 20, 2022

Photo Essay: Roadside Ostriches (And Ostrich Eggs) On the Way to San Jose

The first time I ever fed an ostrich was back in 2011—and although I haven't been back to Ostrichland USA since then, I have had the chance to visit some other ostriches in Southern California. They've always been a good time. 

So, when I spotted the sign for the Gilroy Ostrich Farm in Gilroy, California last year on my way to San Jose (yes, I knew the way), I slammed my brakes and turned my wheel hard to the right, spinning out a little as I swerved into their gravel parking lot. 

March 17, 2022

Photo Essay: West Hollywood's 1922 Schindler House and the Encroachment of Multi-Unit Dwellings

There are three different structures designed by Vienna-born architect Rudolph Schindler in the Los Angeles area that you can explore thanks to The MAK Center for Art and Architecture—including the Mackey Apartments in Mid City and the Fitzpatrick-Leland House in Laurel Canyon. 

But the one at Kings Road in present-day West Hollywood, where Schindler himself lived and worked for 30 years (until his death), is the one that everybody knows as the Schindler House. 

March 16, 2022

R.I.P. The First-Ever Hot Dog On A Stick (A.K.A. The 'Hot Dog Stick' Shack)

In December 2021, the State of California approved the demolition of the first-ever location of the treasured Western U.S. fast food chain Hot Dog on a Stick—located near the original "Muscle Beach" by the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica—without much fanfare. 

 circa January 2021

March 12, 2022

Photo Essay: How Macy's Lake Avenue Preserves the History of Bullock's Pasadena, 'The Store of Tomorrow'

Most people wouldn't give a Macy's department store a second glance—but I'm not most people. 

Besides, even  though it happened long before I arrived in California, I know how Macy's took over some of the historic Robinson's department stores (like in Woodland Hills and Newport Beach).

I can only assume there are more historic treasures hiding behind a Macy's logo elsewhere in SoCal.

Which brings me to the Macy's on Lake Avenue in Pasadena, California.

Every time I'd drive past it, I'd marvel at what I assumed—but didn't really know—to be a landmark shopping destination. It dominates Lake Avenue, with its wide, low profile—and its Streamline Moderne elements on the north wing catching the eyes of passerby drivers like me.

I'd always wondered what it was like inside, but I'd always be on my way to something else—and wouldn't make time to stop and go in. 

That changed when Pasadena Heritage recently offered a tour of Macy's Lake Avenue—which turns out to be the former Pasadena location of Bullock's department store. 

Photo: "Dick" Whittington Photography Collection, USC Digital Library

March 09, 2022

Photo Essay: The Once-Too-Popular Taft Garden in Ojai Now Keeps A Low Public Profile (But Is As Stunning As Ever)

I'd taken a couple of trips to Ojai, California—and even wrote an entire article about what to do there—but I hadn't heard of Taft Gardens and Nature Preserve in the Santa Ana Canyon foothills above Ojai until just last year. 

It's considered "secret" because it's not listed on Google Maps and its address isn't published. If you want to go, you've got to make a reservation—which I was fortunately able to do so I could visit its 15-acre sprawl last month. 

March 07, 2022

Photo Essay: The Ojai Home & Studio of Beatrice Wood, the Rebel Potter Who Flourished Late in Life

Late ceramicist Beatrice Wood has been called "The Mama of Dada"—a title she scoffed at during her life, even denying that she was an artist herself at all. 

But she was part of an avant garde movement—starting when she became lovers with art collector Henri-Pierre Roché and then his best friend Marcel Duchamp, a love triangle that was said to have inspired Roché's novel Jules et Jim (which Truffaut later made into a film).

February 25, 2022

Photo Essay: Temple Isaiah, Where A Modernist Chapel Is Hidden Underneath a Giant, Brutalist Boat

Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs, California isn't just one temple—but two. 

And it's not just a synagogue—but also a Jewish Community Center, performing arts center, concert hall, and screening room for the Palm Springs Jewish Film Festival. 

February 22, 2022

Photo Essay: A Hot Time at the Date Orchard, Where Sex and God Collide

When I first started spending time in the Palm Springs area in 2009, I took a tour of Oasis Date Gardens—and I thought that was enough. 

I didn't realize how absolutely baffling and curious the nearby Shields Date Garden was. 

February 21, 2022

Photo Essay: Caddy Cars, Grocery Getters, and Marketeers at A Museum of Vintage Golf Carts

I'm almost always up for visiting any kind of car museum—and in Palm Springs last week, that meant making a stop to the National Museum of Golf Cars. 


February 12, 2022

Photo Essay: A Former YMCA in Pomona, California Is Getting Ready to Rise Once Again, Ahead of Its 100th Birthday

In 2018, I had the opportunity to explore the historic YMCA building in Pomona, California, as renovation efforts had begun to convert it into an 80,000-square-foot mixed-use space called The Village Pomona. 

Postcard image: Springfield College Archives and Special Collections, Cliff Smith YMCA Postcard Collection [CC BY-NC-SA]

Four years later, the project still isn't complete—even though it was projected to open in early 2019

So, instead of waiting to do a "before and after" photo essay, I thought it was time I finally shared the "before" look. 

February 05, 2022

Photo Essay: Exploring A Little-Known Inland Stretch of the Second Transcontinental Railroad (In a Locomotive Cab)

In the 1880s, Southern Pacific Railroad led the charge in creating the nation's Second Transcontinental Railroad line—the first having been completed between the San Francisco Bay and Omaha, Nebraska in 1869, with the ceremonial "Golden Spike" (or "Last Spike") being driven at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.

The second one was considered the "southern" one. 

By 1881, it had connected Atchison, Kansas to Los Angeles, California. And by 1883, it had connected Los Angeles to New Orleans. 

Last month, I had the chance to visit a little-known section of the second TCR—and see it from a perspective most passengers never get to experience—in the Inland Empire city of Perris, California. 


January 31, 2022

Photo Essay: The Happy Trails Highway Hideaway Where Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Retired From Hollywood

Roy Rogers was such a big deal in the High Desert communities of California that there used to be a museum devoted to him there—first in Apple Valley (opened 1967), then in Victorville from 1976 to 2003, when it moved to Branson, Missouri. 

It closed for good in 2009 and its items were either sold at auction or donated (like to the Autry Museum in LA).

A statue of his golden palomino stallion Trigger once stood outside of the California version of the museum—now relocated to the entrance of the Spirit River Center in Apple Valley. 
Nowadays, the only place open to the public where you can really dive into the history of Roy Rogers and his partner (in work and life) Dale Evans is the Apple Valley Inn, the hotel they leased after moving to Apple Valley in 1965.