The Ace in L.A.’s Art Deco Deck


The Lobby
Ace Hotel
929 S. Broadway, Los Angeles

The Renaissance that Downtown L.A. has experienced in the quarter century since I last haunted these precincts is astounding, and nowhere does it hum with such subtle joy as Ace Hotel.

The hotel was crafted from the gutted interior of the old United Artists building, and the architects only touched the grande dame’s Art Deco exterior sufficiently to restore it to its former elegance. The rooms manage to meld the period and the contemporary in a way that you almost want to give a name, like “Art Deco Revival” or “Art Deco Moderne.”

I walked into the lobby and was charmed instantly. The fidelity to the era reminded me of the corridors of the Wilshire-Ebell Theater or the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The parquet floors, the arched doorways, the moldings, the iron trim, and the high ceilings above narrow spaces bespoke the architects’ determination to restore more than renovate.

True to its origins, the Ace is arguably less capacious in either room or public area than your average Courtyard, but the lack of opulence is more than balanced by its surfeit of character. To walk through her main doors is to take a step back in time and down in speed.

One is tempted to linger in the lobby, to dawdle over breakfast at the L.A. Chapter restaurant in the lobby, to set aside the email and to think, to breathe, to be in the moment. Sip the coffee. Read the script pages decorating the lobby wall. Watch the people walk by on the street outside. And listen to the sounds and echoes.

You may accuse me of wallowing in nostalgia, but you would miss the point. What is precious about the Ace Hotel and its anachronistic ilk is not a siren call to a supposedly better past, but their Zen-ish insistence that we eschew internet speed so that we may more fully occupy the moment.

Great Gold Rush Photos of San Francisco

Several dozen photographs from around San Francisco, all taken by George Robinson Fardon in 1856. If you have any interest at all in San Francisco – or if you live there – these will prove illuminating and delightful.

Source: Check Out This Trove Of Gold Rush-Era San Francisco Photography: SFist

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A Better Kind of Ride

My first amusement park was a gravel-covered block of unincorporated West Hollywood at Beverly and La Cienega  called Beverly Park. The home of a ferris wheel, a merry go-round, a smallish steel roller-coaster, pony rides, and a host of tamer amusements, Beverly Park was what I dreamed about on cool LA weekends when the boat and the beach were out of the question.

I’ll confess that I was more thrilled by the boats riding in a circle than I was the roller coaster, and I never tired of the park’s offering. it was a place where I could go where it was all about being a kid, where everything was designed, in the Disney-esque words of Beverly Park founder and owner David Bradley, to “bring life and laughs to people.” It was an innocent, almost naive mission, and Bradley succeeded admirably.

The park thrived for nearly three decades, until fatigue and rising rents compelled Bradley to close. It never lacked for patronage. Hadley Meares, a writer and historian, dis a superb profile of the park on KCET’s website where she hints at the park’s appeal as a salve for the consciences of fathers who, for whatever reason, had few opportunities to spend time with their kids or who simply lacked other alternatives. That’s no doubt true, but it’s never the whole story. Some families, like ours, went there because the kids loved it so much and pestered our parents until they relented and took us there.

Los Angeles lost something special when the park closed. In a metropolitan area that hosts four of the nation’s largest and best known theme parks, the closing of Beverly Park left a hole in the collective psyche. Over the past decade, that hole has begun to fill. The Balboa Fun Zone and the Pacific Park at Santa Monica Pier – and to a somewhat lesser degree, Belmont Park in San Diego – thrive because there is more to a great California amusement park than fear.

Because a great amusement park doesn’t need to be a competition to see who can ride the highest or fastest roller coaster. The goal of a great amusement park is not the incitement of terror or the adrenaline rush that comes with fooling your hypothalamus into believing that death is imminent; that goal should be creating a space that is safe for fun, joy, and escape. Upon that simple premise David Bradley built his life and two successful businesses and earned the gratitude of two generations of Los Angeles families.

It should incite no surprise that Walt Disney spent a fair amount of time sitting on the benches at Beverly Park taking notes, and he picked up on Bradley’s epiphany – or perhaps detected a kindred spirit. Walt and the wiser heads among his successors have managed to create, on a far larger scale, a place where not only children could enjoy being children, but where adults could do so as well without fear or embarrassment. My family have annual passes to Disneyland, and there are days when, perched beneath a shade tree in New Orleans Square, I wonder whether my son is just our excuse for coming to Disneyland and doffing our worldliness for a while.

Beverly Park could never lay claim to being “the happiest place on Earth,” but it was and ever shall be one of my happy places. I reckon that I am not alone.

Friday at the Videos: Remembering When LA Airport Was in Glendale

Los Angeles airport was not always alongside the dunes in Westchester. Back when LAX was still a seaside bean field, Grand Central Terminal a few miles north of Downtown L.A. was where passengers landed in the Southland.

This three part video series tells the story of how Glendale was the cradle of commercial aviation and aerospace in Southern California. The series is a delight for both airplane buffs and history fans.

Ziggy Socky, Baby

Bill “The Fox” Foster is long gone but still mourned. Those of you who made the trek to his smoky little pub at Wilshire on the Santa Monica city line will remember his weekly performances as a distinctly American version of Octoberfest: beer, raunchy songs, and unrestrained testosterone.

If Fox were working today, he would probably be the subject of an angry documentary made by some earnest UCLA Sociology grad students incensed by his apparent advocacy of alcoholism and misogyny. Fortunately, Fox was spared by fate from such ignominy, yet many of us who remember him (and his wife, who ran the joint with an iron hand) yearn for a place where, for a couple of hours a week, it is okay just to be a guy with other guys.

My fellow flack Sid Robinson has a superb post on his site, a personal eulogy of sorts both to The Fox and his eponymous SaMo landmark, The Fox Inn. Read it and remember.

Living in the Age of Airplanes

Living in the Age of Airplanes.

In the new National Geographic film “Living in the Age of Airplanes,” narrator Harrison Ford says that aviation has changed our world permanently.

With respect to the creators of this wonderful film, may I offer some moderation: perhaps aviation has not changed our world. It has, however, changed our species and the way we relate to our world.

More than perhaps any other single factor, the perspective afforded by aviation and its offspring, space exploration, have made us aware of how tiny, how fragile, how isolated, and how precious this planet is for all of us.

Like no other place in the world – whether Kitty Hawk, Seattle, or Toulouse – California is the cradle of aviation and aerospace. True, most of the great, cavernous airplane factories and their satellite subcontractors no longer punctuate the California landscape the way they used to. But flight runs deep in the bones of this state, and if you know where to look, you can still see how aviation formed California, how California formed aviation, and how the quest for the sky and the stars is a core part of our future.

To understand how, though, we must begin by exploring the past. In the coming weeks, we will be posting a series of pieces examining California and aerospace.

We welcome your thoughts.

Enjoy.

Books and Places

It has been said that the Divine Comedy is a book that reads us: one of those rare works of art that compels deep self-examination. In a similar way, Europe, despite its decline, is a place that places us.

via From Disneyland to Dante | The American Conservative.

I feel much the same way about the truly old and timeless places in California. I am attracted to places like the Missions and Yosemite not just because of their beauty, but because they evoke a kind of contemplation that can only be found in the presence of deep history, whether natural or manmade.

Cars and Kicks

 

Is that Flo? Wigwam Hotel, Holbrook, AZ. Photo by Aaron J. Wolf
Is that Flo? Wigwam Hotel, Holbrook, AZ. Photo by Aaron J. Wolf

In the twelve-hundred miles of our journey that lay along Route 66, we saw a dozen places that hinted at Pixar’s fictional hamlet of Radiator Springs. No single place captured the essence of that town more than the little burg of Holbrook, Arizona.

Turning a corner where the Route 66 sign pointed to the right we suddenly saw spitting images of Mater and Flo from Cars hanging out at the iconic Wigwam Hotel, itself the model for the film’s Cozy Cones Motel. At some point we all had to wonder whether Pixar’s filmmakers were drawing their inspiration from points along America’s Mother Road, or whether they were providing the inspiration themselves.

Red as a Tow-Mader. Photo by Aaron J. Wolf
Red as a Tow-Mader. Photo by Aaron J. Wolf

Either way is fine with me: I give the Pixar flickmeisters full credit for helping to set the stage for our road trip. The images inspired my son, but what inspired me was a quote from Sally, the Porsche 911 who was Ligthning McQueen’s love interest.

“Well, the road didn’t cut through the land like that interstate. It moved with the land, it rose, it fell, it curved. Cars didn’t drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time.”

Driving across America proved that beyond a doubt. When we wanted to make time, we got on an Interstate. When we wanted to have fun, we went looking along two-lane roads. If we came home with a single resolution, it was to spend more time on the slow roads. That is, after all, where the real “kicks” are to be found.

The Lesson of a Petrified Tree

Petrified log and Painted Desert. Photo by Aaron J. Wolf
Petrified log and Painted Desert. Photo by Aaron J. Wolf

There couldn’t have been more than a couple of dozen people in the entire Petrified Forest when we visited. A pity. Walking the paths between these gargantuan Triassic fossils, then reading the climatic history of this region in the layers of the adjacent Painted Desert was a lesson in mortality as well as geology.

A child near us asked her father how long 200 million years was. “Well, I’m 40. So five times that long is 200 years. Now a million times that, and you’re still 25 million years from when these trees fell.” Visiting these ancient giants a week before I turned fifty, I felt like a house fly.

The quiet of the park made me realize how much we have turned into a mass transit culture. Don’t get me wrong: I am an unabashed fan of boats, busses, trains and planes, and believe that these conveyances each have their place.

But sacrificing our freedom to roam as individuals, the kernel of the frontier promise at the heart of our California car culture, would do more than surrender some abstract sense of freedom. It would limit us forever to somebody else’s choices about where we should go, how we should get there, and what we should see.

You cannot enjoy places of wonder like the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert from the dining car on the Southwest Chief any more than you can from an aisle seat in the Southwest 737 five miles overhead. However the prospect might tittilate the environmental extremist, I don’t think that Teddy Roosevelt would have approved.

We can find cleaner ways to cross the country, but we can never take the road less travelled as glorified commuters. If we are to remain true to our essence without sacrificing our souls, we must apply our creativity to the problem of eliminating the carbon without burying the car.

The Petrified Forest taught me, my wife, and my son important lessons that changed our lives. We need more people to learn those lessons in a way that goes beyond a book, a TED talk, the Discovery Channel, or whatever you can see out of your window at 30,000 feet.