Inside the City ... Outside the Box

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sometimes it's Okay to Play Games (Out and About at Game Haus in Glendale)

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What happens when you combine caffeine and 850 board games?  Find out as Jon, Raine and I check out Game Haus, a board game library and cafe at 1800 S. Grand in Glendale.  (It's in the historic Seeley Studios building.)  This is seriously one of the coolest places to spend an afternoon, but it's almost impossible to choose from among so many rare and bizarre games.  Of course, you'll find the usual amusements like Risk and Battleship, but when is the last time you sat down to a competitive round of Killer Bunnies or The Game of Nuclear War

You have been warned.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Joy Ride through South Pasadena

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When I first moved to South Pasadena almost 8 years ago, I noticed that old buildings and heritage trees were not the only historic reminders of the past.  The town has a LOT of vintage cars.  Hang out in front of Busters on a weekend afternoon and you’ll see a promenade of enough old roadsters, coupes and muscle cars to satisfy even the most persnickety car buff.  I’m not just talking about your standard issue American Graffiti-worthy hot rods, either.  I’ve spotted a late 1930s Peugot 402, 1949 Hudson Commodore and a mysterious, black sedan that confounded two car aficionados arguing about it nearby. (One insisted it was an unmarked 1939 Cadillac.  The other swore it was a Citroen Traction Avant.)


It’s not surprising that South Pasadena, Pasadena and the surrounding areas have so many examples of our driving history.  The area has always held a prominent spot in the changing landscape of Southern California transportation.   Back at the turn of the 20th Century, the horseless carriage was considered no more than an amusement created by eccentrics.  The future, according to those in the know, would not be paved with asphalt but rather etched in rail.

In 1901, Henry Huntington incorporated the Pacific Electric Railway Company and began work on what would eventually develop into the largest interurban electric rail system in the world.  One of the main hubs was Oneonta Station, located at the corner of present-day Huntington Drive and Fair Oaks in South Pasadena.  This spot marked the junction of the Pasadena Short Line and the Monrovia line, two of the most important Big Red Car trolley routes.   Within a few decades, a huge network of trains and streetcars wound their way through Southern California, connecting Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.  The system was hailed as the one to copy, and reporters all over the world began to refer to Los Angeles as a mecca of reliable public transportation.  South Pasadena was at the heart of it all.

But by the mid-1920s, those reliable trolleys had been upstaged by Henry Ford’s mass-produced, reasonably-priced automobiles.  No longer a carnival curiosity or novelty, the personal car was becoming a viable means of transportation.  By the time the Model T was discontinued in 1927, Ford had sold some 15 million cars – many to Southern California residents.  San Gabriel Valley contractors had a huge upsurge in business as local homeowners tore down carriage houses to build carports and garages.  The trolleys might have been efficient and dependable, but the mild SoCal climate tempted residents to put the top down and cruise around.


While the Red Car line continued for several more decades, it was no match for our region’s growing obsession with cars.  Little by little, rail rights of way were lost to the roads.  Once again, South Pasadena was part of an enormous transportation shift when the Arroyo Parkway – now known as the 110 or Pasadena Freeway – opened in December of 1940.  Similar to how the rails had once made South Pasadena , the Arroyo Parkway etched the city forever into the region’s road maps.  “Travel down the Arroyo Parkway,” on reporter wrote, “and you’ll end up in the fairest city of all: South Pasadena.” 


Although the Pennsylvania Turnpike had opened a few months earlier, many historians argue that the Arroyo Parkway more closely matches the definition of an actual freeway.  Hailed at the time as a marvel of motoring, the sleek, well-paved Parkway offered South Pasadenans and neighboring residents the chance to open up their vehicles full-throttle and travel at top speeds.  Connecting downtown LA with Pasadena along the Arroyo Seco, the parkway was revolutionary because engineers had designed the gently curving road to accommodate modern speeds up to a dizzying 45 miles per hour. 

The 110 we know today is almost identical to the one that beckoned South Pasadena car lovers 60 years ago, with modern SUVs whipping over those 45 mph curves at speeds the original engineers would never have believed possible.   It is a National Scenic Byway, a National Civil Engineering Landmark and a State Scenic Highway.  And if you sit at the overlook on Arroyo Drive and watch the traffic flow, you’ll see a lot of vintage cars heading to and from South Pasadena. 

Every September, South Pasadena puts its love of classic cars on display by hosting the Cruz’N For Roses Hot Rod and Classic Car Show.  There, local car owners are joined by hundreds of others around the region in a display of enough steel, chrome and shiny paint to make the most jaded gearhead swoon.  Proceeds of the event go toward South Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Parade float.

The original owners of those vintage cars discovered something that is still true today: when you’re behind the wheel on the open road, it’s not always about the destination.  Most of the fun is in getting there.  






A modified version of this post originally appeared in my former column for Patch.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gimme a Minute! #1 -- The Getty Villa

60 seconds at the Getty
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The Getty Villa is more than a museum, it's kind of like a combination Ancient Roman movie set and  fantasy vacation house.  Home to the J. Paul Getty Museum's antiquities collection, the Villa houses art from ancient Greece and Rome dating from about 6500 BC to 400 AD.  The art is amazing enough, but the actual grounds, gardens and buildings are what I love most.  Built in the early 1970s by architects working hand in hand with J. Paul Getty, the villa is a recreation of a first century Roman country house called the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy.  Yes, THAT Herculaneum ... the one that got buried along with Pompei after Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79.  (Much of the Villa dei Papiri still remains unexcavated, but the Getty Foundation was cool enough to have created this virtual tour of what it was like back when Julius Caesar's father-in-law lived there.)

If you want to experience lifestyles of the ancient rich and famous, just walk around the Getty Villa's tiled walkways and admire the mosaics, fresco paintings, fountains, gardens, and sculptures with creepy eyeballs that are supposedly closer to what the actual ancient sculptors created.  (Although, recent artistic sleuthing has uncovered that ancient Greece and Rome wasn't nearly as classical and monochromatic as we imagine it ... those beautiful, white statues were originally painted!)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Portals to the Past #1

Lobby of 448 S. Hill Street, just one gorgeous building in downtown Los Angeles

Downtown LA is loaded with architectural gems like the Pershing Square Building at  448 S. Hill Street.  The 15 story building was designed by the team of Curlett & Beelman -- who also gave Los Angeles the beautiful Chester Williams Building on 5th Street -- and was constructed between 1923 and 1924, although two more stories were added with respect to the original design in 2008.

One of my favorite downtown restaurants is on the rooftop of this fabulous old place.  Perch is kind of like something out of a film noir -- that is, if the film noir had balconies jutting right out into the LA skyline.  You walk through the above lobby and head into the elevator as if you're hunting for a private detective's office on the top floor. Once you get up top, a shady looking character ushers you to another, more mysterious elevator.  (Okay, actually the character you'll meet isn't shady at all. In fact, he's a rather a well-dressed bouncer. And the elevator isn't really that mysterious, just gorgeous and old.  But work with me here as I indulge in a femme fatale moment.)  Even better than the second elevator is the a steep, dark, nearby staircase.  Once inside Perch, you can hang out old school inside the dark paneled bar, or choose to sit outside right above the hustle of the city streets below.  Perching outdoors at Perch is awesome, but it's also pretty great to sip dirty martinis inside, right here:

This photograph is less than optimal for two reasons:  1.) I shot it on my iPhone.  2.) I was drinking those aforementioned martinis.

If you really want to indulge in what it might have been like to hang out downtown back in the day, check out the amazing stock footage I found on YouTube. Studios during Hollywood's golden age used to film hours of exterior shots to include in movies, especially to project behind actors for driving shots.  I will include more of these historical videos in upcoming posts, but for now, take a ride through downtown LA after dark... just like a private detective searching for an illusive (and possibly drunk-on-martinis) femme fatale.

Be sure to click full screen if you're watching on a computer.  If you're on a smart phone and the video player doesn't appear above, click here. I found this film at Alison Martino's Vintage Los Angeles YouTube channel. (She also added the great mood music.)   The film can be licensed through Getty Images. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Autumn in Los Angeles


Not exactly cool breezes and hot chocolate.


In fact, the temperature hit 100 several days this week.


And most of the fall leaves are green.


Okay, not all of them.


Well, they all say we live in a Mediterranean climate, right?


Hot chocolate is overrated anyway.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Noir Interlude #1

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Just a little noir photo safari ... from Pasadena, through downtown LA, across mid city, over to Culver City, creeping into the west side and Santa Monica.

(I'm inspired, as you might guess, by this guy.)

Music: 2 Die 4 by Jeff Oster

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Man of Arms

I'll resist from making a heavy metal joke, but dude, that's some seriously heavy metal.  Meet master swordsmith and renound prop master Tony Swatton of Burbank's Sword and Stone.  He's been a blacksmith armorer for over 30 years and has created weapons and other metal accoutrements for 200+ feature films.  Tony and his team have forged original pieces for film, Broadway and Renaissance festivals all over the world.  As Tony would say, these are not aluminum props ... these are deadly weapons of forged steel made much the way weapons were made in the middle ages.  Heavy metal, man!

I had the pleasure of watching Tony showing off his brilliant skills at the recent Getty Center Family Festival Day of Chivalry.  There was enough courtly bling to make your inner damsel swoon and your inner vavasseur long to kick some medieval ass.  (And for what it's worth, I found out that there were a few women knights back in the day.  Yes, that scene in Elizabeth where Cate Blanchett charges up to her troops on her horse wearing armor is not entirely anachronistic.  See below for more details.)

I have to say, of all the amazing swords, armor, shields and chain mail goodies on display from Tony's team, this one was my favorite:

For a gallant horse who just longs to be a unicorn, or perhaps for anyone into a bit of really weird roleplaying...


Tony's YouTube channel Man at Arms offers great clips of his blastforged metal world.  Be sure to check it out.  Oh, and about those lady knights, I give you: The Order of the Hatchett.