Looking Back

The last week of February in Southern California, from 2016 to 2020, from the archives –

That Mushroom House (43 images): Everyone calls it the Mushroom House – the O’Neill House at 507 North Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Don O’Neill was a successful art dealer specializing in art nouveau, and in 1978, he and his wife Sandy began to renovate this property in homage to his favorite architect, the surrealist Antoni Gaudi. Don O’Neill died in 1985, just as the project got underway, but his wife vowed to finish it in his honor. In 1988 she finally did, and it certainly is surreal – and now there’s a sculpture garden across the street to match it. One block south, Rodeo Drive turns commercial – the most expensive shopping street in the world and surreal in its own way – and one block east is the way-over-the-top City Hall. Beverly Hills is a trip. It’s the mushrooms. ~ Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Rock and Manga (45 images): Just another day in the neighborhood – down on Guitar Row – Sunset Boulevard just west of La Brea – where the professional rock people buy their custom gear – there’s a masterful drummer wailing away in the back of a pickup truck. A large crowd gathers – but it’s not all rock. Across the street there’s the largest Manga store in Los Angeles. It’s easy enough to get all Japanese too. And odd words are plastered everywhere too. Daily life out here is a trip. ~ Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Darker Venice (32 images): An odd dark day in Venice, California – Leap Year Day – the deep morning fog never really lifted. The streets and the beach seemed somehow menacing. ~ Monday, February 29, 2016

A Touch of the Poet (31 images): A celebration of multiculturalism at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) on Venice Boulevard – everyone is welcome in Los Angeles. ~ Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Driftwood and Pacific (30 images): Parking in Venice Beach is difficult, but there was an open spot at Driftwood and Pacific, a few feet from the sand – and out there a crew was shooting a display ad for the latest in surfer fashion. Cool. And they rolled in the perfect Woodie. Cool. And there were real surfers in the distance. Cool. This was pure California, in the dead of winter. ~ Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Fit for California (25 images): Muscle Beach – Venice Beach – and the basketball and handball courts and the rings and ropes – abandoned on a cold winter afternoon – Friday, February 23, 2018

The Cold Beach (30 images): Venice Beach on a winter afternoon can be a cold place, or at least a curious place. ~ Friday, February 23, 2018

At the Clock Tower (35 images): Los Angeles sometimes looks like a Hitchcock movie – “Vertigo” perhaps. There’s that mysterious old clock tower on Santa Monica Boulevard at La Cienega in Hollywood’s theater district. That would scare Jimmy Stewart. And sometimes the light down there is extraordinary – bright and menacing at the same time. And of course that old clock tower doesn’t tell the time. Each face shows a different wrong time. Hitchcock would approve. ~ Monday, February 26, 2018

This One Corner (40 images): It’s just one corner of Hollywood – Sunset Boulevard between North Laurel Avenue and Hayworth – but it’s a fascinating block. There’s the big bronze-glass Directors Guild of America building – a visual treat on a stormy day. There’s that old Italianate building from the twenties – another fantasy from Norman O. Stiles that now houses the Laugh Factory and Greenblatt’s, the oldest deli in Hollywood. It’s spooky. F. Scott Fitzgerald ate his last meal there. And there’s that giant faded flag at the gas station on the corner that’s been there for decades. This is where the Sunset Strip starts – and it’s also home. ~ Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Old Fantasies (40 images): This is an old fantasy – the Trainon Apartments – Leland Bryant, 1928 – 1750-54 Serrano Avenue – named after Marie Antoinette’s petite hideaway chateau at Versailles – possibly because “Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau,” the 16th century Burgundian military outpost that actually served as the prototype here, wouldn’t fit up on the roof. But this is still magnificent – another fantasy from Old Hollywood. This one is French, just off Hollywood Boulevard – and the dark Spanish Revival fantasy is just down the street, on Hollywood Boulevard itself, just under Olive Hill. Walk up the stairs. Frank Lloyd Wight’s Hollyhock House is up there, his 1919 Mayan fantasy – but that’s for another day. ~ Monday, February 25, 2019

Winter Glass (45 images): The light was good at the glass corner, Wilshire and Roberson in Beverly Hills. The light was extraordinary, falling on the glass office buildings on that corner. Mondrian lives! Even the nearby old Art Deco building was looking newly mysterious. The winter light changes everything. ~ Thursday, February 28, 2019

Deep Shadows (40 images): The Hollywood Athletic Club, 6525 Sunset Boulevard, 1924, designed by Meyer and Holler, the same architectural firm that built the Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Egyptian Theater – founded by Charlie Chaplin, Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolph Valentino and others. It became a hangout for Errol Flynn and Clark Gable. Johnny Weissmuller trained in the pool here for his Tarzan films and Cornel Wilde was a fencing instructor. Dick Powell brought the corpse of John Barrymore here for “one last drink” and John Wayne often tossed billiard balls from the roof at passing cars below. Jean Harlow once showed up here after she was stood up by Errol Flynn, wearing only a fur coat, which she soon shed. It was that kind of place. The past casts shadows here. But next door the new striped rock club cast its own new shadows. There’s the past, but there always a new rock club. ~ Monday, February 24, 2020

Method Acting (35 images): The acting school at the bottom of the hill here – next door to a 7-11 and a laundromat – the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute (and its Marilyn Monroe Theater) – 7936 Santa Monica Boulevard at Hayworth (as in Rita) – and yes, Marilyn Monroe studied method acting with Strasberg. But both of them are quite dead so that doesn’t matter much. The shadows were cool. And across the street that’s a hot new club with an even hotter new mural – startling high drama appropriate for this particular corner. It’s Hollywood. ~ Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Between Hope and Grand (40 images): The renovated Music Center Plaza between the Mark Taper Forum and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Music Center complex – the plaza had been closed for twenty months and forty-one million dollars later this is it. Rios Clementi Hale Studios lifted up a sunken area of the plaza and relocated the rather grotesque “Peace on Earth” sculpture from the plaza’s fountain to a spot on Hope Street – across the street from the absurdly angular Department of Water and Power building. But the plaza faces Grand, with the iconic Los Angeles City Hall in the distance. The fountain in the center of the plaza was reconfigured and reprogrammed. The Ahmanson Theater and the Mark Taper Forum and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion were all designed by Welton Becket, the architect of the Capitol Records building and the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, and they’re still here, and still unremarkable. But the new plaza is pretty cool. And of course Frank Gehry’s curved and surreal Walt Disney Concert Hall is across the street to the west. This part of Los Angeles is between Hope and Grand. ~ Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Impossible Light (40 images): February in Los Angeles ended in the eighties with strange skies and even stranger shadows – odd weather on the way soon – and the place didn’t seem real. But it was, under impossible skies. ~ Friday, February 28, 2020


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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