Flashbacks

SERIES – Knott’s: From Boysenberries to Ride Warriors

I’m really enjoying exploring things for more than one post. So today we’re going to head a bit South to introduce yet another series. This time we’ll be exploring a local landmark that *even your kids* are very familiar with (but probably don’t know the history of)… the former fruit stand of Walter Knott.

Basically, we’ll learn more about how this…

Image via image-archeology.com

Turned into this… (more…)


PART 2 – The Ambassador Hotel All-Stars

SERIES: Visions of the Ambassador

[youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIPrZzStLxg[/youtube]
click for larger viewDuring the roaring 20s and 30s, the Ambassador Hotel’s nightclub “house bands” quickly became the most popular orchestras in the world. An issue of (the then-popular and catchy-named) Talking Machine World magazine identified Abe Lyman’s California Ambassador Orchestra (see video clip above) as “Los Angeles’ most famous popular musical organization” in 1923.

Abe Lyman (August 4, 1897 – October 23, 1957) was a popular bandleader from the 1920s to the 1940s. He made recordings, appeared in films and provided the music for numerous radio shows, including Your Hit Parade… For an engagement at the Cocoanut Grove in The Ambassador Hotel on April 1, 1922, Abe added a violinist and saxophonist. Opening night drew a large crowd of 1500 guests in the Cocoanut Grove, plus another 500 more outside.”

For a five year run in the 30s, a dapper group of musicians known as Gus Arnheim’s Orchestra (see video below) was then stationed at the Cocoanut Grove and widely considered to be the most popular band on the West coast. In 1930, the band began to feature male singing trio The Rhythm Boys, featuring a young singer named Bing Crosby. Arnheim Orchestra alumni also included Stan Kenton, Russ Columbo (seen playing violin and singing in the middle of the trio in the clip below), Charlie Spivak, Woody Herman, and actor Fred McMurray (on saxophone).
[dailymotion width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1u2m8_gus-arnheim-and-his-ambassadors1929_music[/dailymotion]


IMAGERY – Traffic on the Cahuenga Pass, 1897

Welcome to the original 101 Freeway.

Photograph of two cyclists on the Cahuenga Pass, Los Angeles, circa 1897. The man to the right walks his bicycle on the unpaved road, looking at his companion riding to the left, on whose back is strapped a briefcase of some kind. The terrain surrounding them is comprised entirely of grassy hills. Caption on photoprint reads: “Cahuenga Pass — connecting Hollywood and San Fernando Valley — as it was in 1897.”

Click on image for larger view.
©USC Digital Archive


SERIES – Visions of the Ambassador: Introduction

ambassador2Today I was remembering a fancy corporate event I witnessed in the mid-90s. It was the kind of an all-out, over-the-top shindig people simply don’t *have* in economic times like these. The theme of this party was the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub… so for one night, Disney paid to have the Ambassador Hotel returned to its former glory. A friend had been invited by a client, and I won the lottery as his plus one.

ambassadorUntil I physically got out of the car that night, it really didn’t register what I was about to experience. I knew about the Cocoanut Grove and I knew Robert Kennedy had been shot in the kitchen… but walking up to the front, surrounded by klieg lights, the night ended up being more profound and emotional for me than I’d expected. There was plentiful food and drink, and fortune tellers and games scattered around… but it was the building that entertained me. At one point I remember walking through the nightclub just mesmerised by the palm tree columns that still existed. After a few drinks, while everyone else was busy shmoozing, I then became obsessed with seeing where Kennedy died. A small group of us convinced a waiter to let us sneak back into the kitchen and I remember tipsily wandering around muttering “Where is it?” until a busboy pointed down at the ground. I sobered up instantly as a very haunting image flashed into my brain and wouldn’t leave. The past became so vivid for a moment that I felt a bit of an Overlook Hotel vibe. I was a bit quieter for the rest of the night.

When the party was over, I knew in my heart that I’d been touched by a place that wasn’t going to exist much longer. The importance wasn’t lost on me… as I walked outside I felt like someone hesitating to leave their sickly grandparent’s house, knowing they probably weren’t going to see them alive again. And sure enough, I didn’t… as the Ambassador faced the wrecking ball, I avoided driving by it. I found its destruction too depressing to think about.

On the 24 acres where the Ambassador once stood, a $571-million kindergarten-to-12th-grade school campus is gradually opening its doors now. I’m not complaining about this… what’s happened has happened and as I see it the hard facts here are simple ones. Both of these statements are true and indisputable: 1) Schools are good. 2) We have lost something very special. So this month I’m going to do a little series focusing on the incredible glory of Los Angeles’ former jewel The Ambassador Hotel. It was too fantabulous and important of a place for one single post to do it justice.


FLASHBACK – It’s a Big Job

In this training film, our new friend Bill explains the daily struggles of Los Angeles Transit Lines‘ transit operators circa 1947. Him? He likes his job. If he didn’t, he never would’ve taken it. [youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNRA5LAVVD0[/youtube]
Part two and part three (which includes “motor coach” operator training and electric trolley buses) are after the jump for your matinee-viewing pleasure if you are so inclined.

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FOCUS – The Dunbar Hotel

©USC Digital ArchiveSince a lot of people don’t know much about the history of the Central Avenue jazz scene that happened in Los Angeles, to accompany my last post noting Mama’s passing I decided to expand on it. The neighborhood played such a crucial and historic part not just in jazz history, but in African American history as well, it’s a worthy point to add.

The top jazz club on Central Avenue during its heyday was Club Alabam and *the* place to stay was the Dunbar Hotel, with a guest list that regularly included the likes of Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Lena Horne. Originally known as the Somerville Hotel, the structure was erected in 1928 entirely by black contractors, laborers and craftsmen and black community members helped John Somerville and his wife Vada to finance the entire project.

In 1907 Jamaican-born John Alexander Somerville became the first African American to graduate from the USC School of Dentistry. He earned the highest grade-point average in the class of 1907, and had passed the State Dental Board examination six months before graduation. His wife, Vada Watson Somerville, became the school’s first African-American woman graduate in 1918, going on to achieve distinction as the first black woman licensed to practice dentistry in California. Besides managing a successful practice, the Somervilles were instrumental in opening the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP. John Somerville also contributed to the local landscape by developing upscale properties. He was the second African-American member of the Chamber of Commerce and served on the Los Angeles Police Commission from 1949 to 1953.” SOURCE

After the jump is a video discussing the important role the Dunbar played in American history and a vintage postcard of the hotel circa 1938 (according to the card, the room rates at the time were $1 per day and $5 a week).

The Dunbar Hotel still stands, however its current future is sadly uncertain. (more…)


IMAGERY – LA’s Whistling Birds of the 1920s

Prior to television, people found such fascinating ways to entertain themselves. I have never even *heard* of a Bird Whistling Chorus before, but I imagine it probably sounded something like like this. I so wish I could’ve watched these women perform… although probably not for more than ten minutes or so. (More photos after the jump. Click for larger views.)

bird whistling 1923Apparently someone didn’t get the telegram about wearing all white…

1923 – Photographic group portrait of America’s Bird Whistling Chorus in Los Angeles. Four rows of women in light-colored dresses sit facing the camera, with one woman in a dark-colored dress to the right of center. A woman in the front row holds a conductor’s baton. The group is posed in front of an indistinguishable background, possibly a stage. (more…)


IMAGERY – Fishing in Azusa, October 1930

I really love these photos. Click on the images for a larger view.

Photograph of Jewell Teegardin fishing on a rock above the falls and Beatrice Williams fishing in the foreground, Rainbow Angling Club, Azusa, October 1930. Both women can be seen wearing knee-high laced-up boots, breeches, and sleeveless collared shirts. They hold fishing poles and have baskets slung over their shoulders.

azusa_fishing
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ODDITY – The Late, Great, Tower of Pallets Monument

Even the National Enquirer was taken aback after the city of Los Angeles designated Daniel Van Meter’s Tower of Wooden Pallets a historical landmark. A photo spread of the Sherman Oaks structure was accompanied by a headline that said, “No kidding! This pile of junk is a historic monument!”

Robert Winter, a former member of the Cultural Heritage Commission, joked later that the 1978 vote might have been influenced by fumes emanating from the pallets, which were discards from a brewery.

“Maybe we were drunk,” said Winter, a prominent architectural historian. (SOURCE)

Photo Credit: BigOrangeLandmarks.comDaniel Van Meter began construction of the 22-foot-tall structure in 1951 using 2,000 wooden pallets tossed out by a local brewery. The slatted wood was stacked like bricks and placed in a circle with a radius of about 22 feet wide. According to Van Meter, the tower, his own personal sanctuary, was built around the grave of a child buried in 1869.

“I have a place where it is quiet, despite the apartments, the noise of the boulevard and the hum and screeches of the rat race on the freeway 200 feet away,” he said.

At night, Van Meter said, he climbs to the top of the tower and looks at the moon and the stars. “To me, this is a spiritual place.” (SOURCE)

The tower was bulldozed in 2006 and in January 2009 the 2.5 acre property was sold by Dan’s heirs for $4.5 million. Construction began almost immediately on a new apartment building in its place, just as Van Meter predicted almost forty years ago while lobbying for his tower’s landmark status:

“… in a few years this piece of the good earth may be covered by apartments for the storing of surplus people. In the meantime, pray, let this strange structure be, let it continue to be a haven of rest for an individual – that endangered species – who once knew how sweet was our Valley.” (SOURCE)


IMAGERY – Looking Forward to Halloween, 1961

Attention is called to the forthcoming Halloween carnivals by youthful Denker Playground patrons, left to right, first row, Ladonna Rice, 10 years old, and Yolanda Rice, 9; second row, Robert Cathcart, 11, left, and Walter Hobbs, 10, right; and back row, Denise Thomas, 11, left, and Sheila Dabney, 10, right.

©USC Digital Film ArchiveThe USC Digital Archive contains tens of thousands of great images of historic Los Angeles, but some of my personal favorites are featured in the LA Examiner archive, where this image resides.


FLASHBACK – Bono Pisses Off the LAPD

[youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQxl9EI9YBg[/youtube]

*CLICK ON THE SQUARE IMAGE BELOW TO LAUNCH PHOTO GALLERY*

7th and Main, Downtown LA –– Then and Now


Where: The roof top of the Republic Liquor Store, corner of 7th and Main, Downtown
When:
3pm Friday, March 27, 1987
What:
A rumor spread throughout the city that the band U2 was about to shoot a live music video on a rooftop Downtown. Coincidentally, many 20-somethings suffered flu-like symptoms and left work early that day.

Details: U2’s Joshua Tree album was released on March 9th, 1987 to an immediate buzz. Irish director Meiert Avis was hired to rush a video for the third single and the chosen song, “Where The Streets Have No Name,” was to set be performed live to playback. For dramatic effect they chose to film on an unexpected and very public location – the roof of a Skid Row liquor store in the middle of a workday.

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FLASHBACK – Streetcar Conducting 101, circa 1914

Most of the footage in this Pacific Electric instructional video was shot in then-barren Culver City, El Monte and Glendale. It’s so amazing to realize just how many things have changed in one hundred years. It also cracks me up when the “discourteous conductor” yells that he’s not a mind reader. [youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCTyMo8vak4[/youtube]


SERIES – Intro: Harry Golden on Los Angeles

enjoy, enjoy!I have a love for thrift store books. I’ve discovered the most amazing, unexpected things through them.

“Enjoy, Enjoy!” by author, humorist, publisher, ex-convict, buddy of Carl Sandburg and civil rights proponent Harry Golden (1902–1981) was this weekend’s found treasure. I wasn’t familiar with Harry Golden before, but wow… I wish I knew the guy for his openly sarcastic stance towards bigots alone. As a Jew living in racist South Carolina in the 60s, he came up with various methods to fight racism with humor… one being his proposition that if black people were to be called colored, white people should in turn be referred to as “colorless” (as in, “This is Joe, my colorless friend”). Also…

“Golden’s various schemes for solving the racial problem in America were most memorable. Observing that white Southerners were loathe to sit with African Americans on buses or in restaurants, but noting that whites often stood in line with African Americans at grocery stores and other places, Golden called on the public school to remove all chairs from their classrooms. This “Vertical Negro Plan” would thereby overcome Southern reservations about sitting in the same room with the other race.

Heh.

But I digress. Starting tomorrow I’ll be sharing some of Harry Golden’s 50 year old impressions of Los Angeles with you. What’s amazing is how in so many ways his insights were so brilliant. But in other ways, he makes it clear that Los Angeles in 1960 was a very, very different place with very different priorities… for better and for worse. I hope you find it as interesting as I did. :)


FLASHBACK – The Wonder City of the West, 1935

[youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egHq5t7kH0Y[/youtube]
Between 1930 and 1954, James A. Fitzpatrick traveled the world creating cultural time capsules. For decades, his Traveltalks short documentaries were shown before feature films in theaters. This Los Angeles episode was the 14th in the series. I love the imagery in this video, but I’m left wondering… I often notice people in old movies and tv calling the city “Los Angle-less” and “Los Angle-leez.” I wonder when “Los Anjuliss” took over as the standard way to say it. Feels like I haven’t heard many people using other pronunciations much. Not in a long time. Have you?

A big thanks to Chris Nichols for turning me on to this! :)


FLASHBACK – LA Doesn’t Need Rapid Transit, So Says Paul Lynde

[youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3QT69KyPq4[/youtube]

Los Angeles has had a tempestuous history with public transportation. This 1968 educational film starring actor/center square Paul Lynde and iconic Los Angeles newscaster Ralph Story was produced and distributed to libraries, schools and community groups by the Southern California Rapid Transit District in advance of a failed 1968 ballot initiative proposing a ½-cent sales tax that would go towards funding an 89-mile, five-corridor rail system (costing $2.5 billion). The bill was rejected by voters fifty-five percent to forty-five percent.

“Blame for the defeat was placed, officially on the public’s dislike of higher taxes, not hostility to rapid transit itself. Blame was probably shared by an antipathy to more taxation, and a general feeling, still prevalent, that Los Angeles was an autopian, decentralized garden city with no place for rail transit.”

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IMAGERY – Panoramas of Los(t) Angeles

I have a bit of an obsession with vintage panoramas of Los Angeles. Watch this video closely and you might develop one yourself. Think about it… these are the same streets you drive every day. Had you been born during a different era, that could’ve been you sunning yourself on the Santa Monica pier in Victorian garb.
[youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OILLXshu_X4[/youtube]
Most of these images were taken between 1902-1948.


FLASHBACK – Why do people work?

I’m baaaack! As mentioned, I’ve been working a lot this week… provided the economy’s treating you all right, perhaps you’ve been working hard too! Aren’t we all glad it’s Friday? Yay Friday! As a tribute to our hard work this week, below is a groovy little glimpse into the lives of hardworking Angelenos back in glamorous 1973. People in the 1970s liked Fridays too, I’ll bet.

After the jump, a special little treat to accompany this film. 

[veoh width=”590″ height=”430″]http://www.veoh.com/collection/ephemeralfilms/watch/v6407079gR4c6zQ4[/veoh] (more…)


FLASHBACK – De-Best of Ed Debevic’s

“If you’re really a good customer… you’d order more.”

debevicsBehold the magic of the internet… one click of the mouse and Ed Debevic’s Restaurant (which sat on the heart of La Cienega Restaurant Row from the mid-1980s up until the revolving doors were put out of motion in 2003) still exists. The clip after the jump features sights and sounds that will make you smile with recognition if Ed’s was ever a part of your life… from the little details in decor down to the steady merriment of lip-synced dance numbers, it’s the same ol’ Ed’s.

Ed Debevic’s was a fun place to bring visiting guests of all ages and group sizes (my dad *loved* it), gather for a birthday, or just hang out when you were feeling down. For a long time, it was the location of choice to commiserate when my friends and I broke up with boyfriends… we found it difficult to wallow in self pity after experiencing a few hours of girl talk, abject silliness (with dashes of pure stupidity) and comfort food (a huge bowl of mac and cheese works wonders). We each had our favorite waitstaff, and they knew us. Ed’s felt like (a very dysfunctional but fun) home somehow.

[googlevideo width=”590″ height=”400″]http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7180881846253184198[/googlevideo]
Note: I think my favorite performance in the video is the Vicki Carr tribute at 32:35

The folks at Ed’s *always* had something wacky going on. My friend Adri and I ate there on Election Day in 1988 and were surprised to see a makeshift boxing ring set up in the middle of the room. About a half hour later, two guys wearing Bush/Dukakis masks and boxing gear suddenly ran into the room and proceeded to beat each other up while diners were encouraged to cheer. Good times. Speaking for myself, I thought the food was pretty good, too… I loved the chili cheese fries, burgers and pie. I found their coffee strangely salty though, I must admit, which always confused me… how does one even make salty coffee?

A Japanese restaurant called Gonpachi now stands where the streamliner once was. Salty coffee aside, I miss the craziness of Ed’s, though… trends change, but I’m sorry it’s gone. There are more than enough Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles. We need more choreographed dance numbers.

P.S. – If you would like a memento of Ed’s, you can still buy one of their famous pickle pens online.


SUNDAY MATINEE – It Happened One Night (1934)

[googlevideo width=”590″ height=”420″]http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=469537997522665739[/googlevideo]

This seriously adorable Frank Capra classic starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert was filmed in Franklin Canyon, the literal center of Los Angeles (we’ll be talking more about the park and adjoining lake later in the week). Not only was It Happened One Night the first comedy to ever win serious film awards, it was the very first film in history (of any genre) to sweep the Oscars completely, winning Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Writing.


FLASHBACK – Coming Into Los Anjuleez. Far out.

First, let me just say that the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock has brought what is perhaps the best ABC News story headline I have ever seen. Although wow, the article’s pretty depressing.

Anyhow, in honor of this auspicious anniversary of the biggest day in naked muddy hippie history, I’m posting Arlo Guthrie’s Woodstock performance of “Coming into Los Angeles.” In case you were not aware, this song was written in 1968 about illegal drug smuggling – SURPRISE!!!!!  Yeah, that’s a shocker, I know. But I digress. In 2007 LA Times reporter Geoff Boucher asked Arlo to speak  a little more in depth about the story behind the song… you can read his comments after the jump.

[youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uoq4ar-0p4[/youtube]

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FLASHBACK – Philnjims. Philnjims. Philnjims.

[youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaaROqaVEl0[/youtube]
Phil & Jim’s TV & Appliance unexpectedly went kaput in 1994.


FLASHBACK – Today’s Forecast from Dr. George

A little cooler, but it still looks like a nice day, Los Angeles!

[youtube width=”590″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grZpfqkaP3E[/youtube]

Dr. George Fishbeck, Channel 7’s longtime weatherman, explained the reason for even having a weather report in perpetually sunny Southern California: “Because we love it. You’re doggone right we do.”


MATINEE – Felix the Cat Goes to Hollywood (1923)

[googlevideo width=”590″ height=”470″]http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7806044997030001102[/googlevideo]

Felix the Cat Goes to Hollywood (9 minutes, Original release date July 15, 1923) “Felix’s owner decides to make his way to Hollywood, but has no money. Another man who owns a failing shoe store promises Felix $500 if he can help bring in new business, which Felix ingeniously manages to do. Felix’s owner (jerk!) stiffs him out of the money, but Felix finds a way to get to Hollywood anyway, and while there meets up with the famous stars of the day, like Charlie Chaplin and Ben Turpin.” Go Felix.

Added bonus: Felix the Cat theme song singalong after the jump. (more…)


FLASHBACK – Disco Duck vs. Disgorilla

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zc5d01_riBo[/youtube] Sure, some of us older folk may remember L.A. radio personality Rick Dees from his creepy Disco Duck days. But raise your hand if you remember Disgorilla, the Disco Duck sequel.

Yeah, me neither.

The 70s were full of questionable taste, so it’s not entirely surprising that Disco Duck hit number one in the pop charts of 1976. The song sold six million copies – [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTOqeBEtyLY[/youtube] one of which was bought for me by my sister. But believe it or not, it also rose to number 15 on the Black Singles chart. (Really? Huh.)

As for Disgorilla? Yeah, Rick didn’t have quite as much success with that one. But it’s okay. Even though Ryan Seacrest usurped his 30 year career in an Eve-like swoop, the 59 year-old Dees seems to be keeping busy as co-founder of Fine Living and founder of Rick.com.

Hey, just as long as he’s not planning on spending his retirement writing more disco songs, we’re good.