Around Town

Remember the specifics of the controversy a few years ago surrounding the city of LA’s deal with large, politically-connected outdoor advertising firms over the installation of bright digital billboards, many of which had been originally placed illegally? I don’t either. Controversy is fleeting, but those billboards are here to stay.

This is an interesting survey of billboards in the 1940’s that’s part of a presentation on why outdoor advertising is important for YOUR business. (They’re all so low to the ground!)

See if you can spot the Brown Derby cameo. Let’s have a cocktail and dinner and watch, shall we?

(Via Vintage Los Angeles)

Pasadena’s Memorial Park is has all kinds of interesting treasures hidden around it.  The park is basically in Old Town, and the Gold Line stops right next to it.  If you haven’t explored Memorial Park, here are 5 things to see you may not know were there:

1.  Civil War Memorial (1906)

2.  Vietnam Veterans Memorial (2004)

Originally dedicated in 1993 at City Hall, it was rededicated in the park nine years later.  Inscribed on the granite are the names of the 31 Pasadena men killed during the Vietnam war.

3. Miniature Pasadena Train Station Playground

I don’t know when this playground was built or the story behind it, but stumbling upon it inspired me to write this entry.

Bult in 1935, Pasadena’s actual Santa Fe depot was shuttered in the early 90’s.  It was moved, integrated into the Del Mar Station development, restored, and now houses La Grande Orange Café.  Lots more on the station here. (Photo via

4.  Memorial Library Arch (1955)

Pasadena’s public library was erected on this spot in 1890.  The building was damaged in the Long Beach earthquake of 1933 and was demolished in 1954.  The archway was restored in 1955 but was subsequently damaged during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.  It’s been fenced off ever since, and is an unfortunate exhibit of of crumbling bricks and pigeon guano.  Here’s the accompanying plaque:

5.  A show at Levitt Pavilion (1930’s)

New York philanthropist Mortimer Levitt made his fortune selling custom made shirts at his nationwide chain of stores.  The Levitt Foundation he created in 1966 has restored and endowed several open air bandshells around the country through public-private partnerships to bring free live music to the community during the summer.  Since 2002, the Levitt Pavilion Pasadena has featured music and children’s shows five nights a week from June through August.

Soul Funk’s Motown Revue on August 12, 2010.

For those who can’t get enough of Bunker Hill the way it used to be,  Bunker Hill 1956 has just been posted to vimeo.

The 17-minute film was a project by students at USC Film School, directed by Kent MacKenzie, who went on to direct The Exiles, a feature about Native Americans living on Bunker Hill.  As with the series of stunning color photographs mentioned here before, those documenting the neighborhood for this film knew that its days were numbered.  In this case, the focus is on the pensioners living there and what was to become of them.  As one longtime resident says of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s plan:

Their method of going about it is to not only clear the slums but clear all the people out of the area, and rebeautify the whole thing, rebuild and  put an opera house up here.  Make a picture area out of it, without keeping the inhabitants in mind at all.

The film vividly captures the fabric of the area, the rich textures of a drug store, a shoemaker’s shop, meager apartments, and everyday street scenes.  And there are great shots of Angels’ Flight (in its original form) and the Grand Central Market.

(via LA Observed)

CalArts was founded by Walt and Roy Disney in 1961 with the merger of the LA Conservatory of Music and the Chouinard Art Institute.  Classes weren’t offered until 1970, and the current location in Valencia didn’t open until 1971, so the vision set forth in this mid-60’s film was pretty much just that.

But the quality of the film and the vibrancy of the color is stunning.  There are gorgeous renderings of the future Music Center downtown, as well as a LACMA that didn’t materialize as shown.  And a huge modern film museum across from the Hollywood Bowl that also didn’t happen, though the site currently houses the Hollywood Heritage Museum‘s Lasky-Demille Barn.

The most shocking revelation are the renderings of the proposed campus perched high above Hollywood in the Cahuenga Pass between the 101 and Lake Hollywood.  When I checked Google Earth, the ridge today is still mostly open space, save for one tiny feature: the beautiful and historic Ford Amphitheater.  Now how could the city allow a venerable landmark to be destroyed to build a school?  Oh right.

via The CalArts Story on Vimeo.

First in my series of virtuosos who mastered obscure instruments is Emmett Chapman.

This clip not only includes incredibly expressive playing of a then newly-invented instrument, but also illustrates the wit and sophistication of one of my favorite game shows: What’s My Line (the Larry Blyden daytime syndicated version).

[youtube VGcvHgXtgiY]

Chapman created the Stick in the 60’s and started manufacturing and selling them in 1974.  Because the strings are tapped, not strummed, one can play two separate lines and chords, like a piano, but  with the sound and style of an electric guitar (or two).  He’s based in LA and still makes them.

Be sure to catch the Fuzzy Logic Boptet around town if you can.  They’re a fantastic jazz combo, and Jim Wright plays a mean touch-style guitar.  (I know it’s a Warr guitar and not a Chapman Stick but they’re both still neat).

The Milestone Theatre Company is mounting a production of The Laramie Project to benefit the LGBT community in Pasadena.  Tickets are $25 with proceeds going to the AIDS Service Center and PFLAG of Pasadena.  The Laramie Project follows the true experiences of the actors in the Tectonic Theatre Project as they interview the residents of Laramie, Wyoming in the aftermath of gay college student Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder.  The show runs July 23rd to August 1st at the Church of Truth in Pasadena.  To buy tickets, visit the or

On Bunker Hill has unearthed a trove of newly found photos of the once opulent, formerly run down, then gone area of downtown.  In addition to being so detailed and vivid so as to look like they were taken only 10 years ago instead of 50, the snapshots have the distinction of having been taken by a former vaudeville star and originally in 3D.

On Bunker Hill writes of the area:

Bunker Hill is a ghost, and though you may today walk streets named Grand and Hope and imagine that you stand where once were grand Victorian homes turned flophouses, you are in fact one hundred feet beneath the old roads, which the city shaved away to make a wider footprint for the high rise tenants that replaced them.

Look up, ten stories up, and if you’re a dreamer you can almost see the big houses bobbing there between the towers, old men and women toddling out onto the porches and down the avenues, exchanging gossip, feeding the cats, collapsing under some junkie’s fists, boarding Sinai or Olivet for the ride down to Grand Central Market, pruning the roses. . .

See the rest of them here.

Last night marked two sad milestones in the Pasadena Symphony’s 82-year history and shows that the wrenching changes undergoing arts organizations in the Pasadena area (indeed everywhere), especially the Symphony, are still playing out.

The performance was the last for the Symphony to play at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium before moving to its new home at the Ambassador Auditorium on the former Ambassador College campus west of Old Town.  The Ambassador has the reputation of being “acoustically perfect” and is about half the size of the Pasadena Civic, which will certainly mean fewer empty seats at concerts (and there are a LOT of empty seats these days).  To me, though, it seems that a city-sponsored orchestra should perform in the city-owned venue, especially when it’s gorgeous, and right in the middle of a civic and commercial center.  It doesn’t seem right that they should move to a private church that’s isolated on an empty campus blocks away from anything.

The performance was also the last for longtime music director Jorge Mester.  After 25 years at the helm, contract negotiations fell through over a pay cut and he and the orchestra parted ways.  This news hit the day before the last performance of the season and I think came as a surprise to many.  The Pasadena Symphony and the Pasadena POPS have been in dire fiscal straits and merged a few years ago to help keep the organizations afloat.  The “Recovery Plan for a Sustainable Future” unveiled last year included a 10% cut for Mester, among others, but apparently recent negotiations were unsuccessful.  I hope this shift in key artistic personnel doesn’t damage the orchestra more than the $200,000 budget deficit already is.

The LA Times has a review of the evening.

Here’s Jorge Mester’s goodbye after the “Bravo Beethoven” performance, including the orchestra’s send-off:

Today, Kevin and I got to go behind the scenes of Adenoid Hynkel’s palace in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. We also stopped by city hall in Pawnee, Indiana of Parks and Recreation fame.  Then we trekked the magical world of San Francisco as portrayed in the Kevin Costner / Jennifer Anisten vehicle Rumor Has It.

Of course, all of those places are actually at the same location: Pasadena City Hall.  And thanks to the city’s Public Information Officer Ann Erdman, we got an up-close VIP tour, along with several new-found friends in the Pasadena blogosphere.  Let’s go inside.

Ann tells the storied tale of Pasadena’s history and the architectural significance of the building.

Some of the rich architectural details, including the Pasadena seal of a crown and key (a compromise stemming from a disagreement among the city’s founders as to whether “Pasadena” meant “Crown of the Valley” or “Key of the Valley” in Chippewa).  There are also bands of fruit symbolizing abundance, lions representing strength, and the strange face of a man with a walrus mustache.

Pasadena’s newest city council members.  Kevin thinks it’s a wonder that the City Council can stay awake during meetings, knowing first hand how comfy their leather chairs are.

Thanks, Ann, for a great afternoon!

By the way, Rumor Has It is set in Pasadena and includes a veritable tour of Pasadena’s landmarks.  But in no way is it worth watching.  I recommend the original Graduate instead.