Missing the old Pacific Electric 

A little transit nostalgia, courtesy of the Imagineers at Disney California Adventure.

Yeah, we should have spent the money on faster Red Cars operating on above- or below-grade tracks. We learned. We’re paying for the lesson now. Hindsight and all that.

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.

California Cuisine: Rolling out a Barrel

We are in Ojai upwards of twice a week (our son is in school here), so we are in regular need of someplace to pass the hours twixt, say, a parents’ meeting and pick-up time, usually during the day, but often at night. The entire valley is essentially a touristed but slow-growth artists’ colony: you won’t find a Starbucks on every corner or ample parking behind each block. Finding a comfortable, convenient nook removed from the visiting throngs is thus rather more of a challenge here than in say, Ventura or Santa Barbara.

In a hunt for such a nook, we found Barrel33.

There is little about Barrel33 from the outside to distinguish it from the other shops along Ojai’s main drag, so we almost missed it. We actually came in the side door, and as we did, it felt more like coming into a parlor than a restaurant. The room was dark yet lit warmly and softly from each table, the music relaxing and unobtrusive, the hum of conversations from each table barely able to mask the sound of our footsteps on the wood floor. The patrons were all local, casual, and unhurried, the atmosphere more Iberian than American. The decor, the architecture, and the setting were redolent of the Spain-in-the-New-World feeling that embodies the essence of the region. In short, we had found another rare piece of modern Spanish California, and we dropped into our chairs with the same kind of relief that you would feel coming into a cooled room on a hot day.

I am embarrassed to admit that I had never tried tapas before, but I don’t think that I could have chosen a better place to start my Euro-noshing experience. The wines and draughts are clearly curated rather than merely selected. Each seemed chosen both for the palette and as a subtle compliment to the menu.

And the food! We ordered the Mediterranean platter where the doumas, the hummus, and the babaganoush were all top-notch; a delightful Caesar salad; the incredible Blue Cheese and Pear quesadilla (which spoiled us both for any other quesadilla, ever,) and we finished with a chocolate souffle that melted like butter on our tongues. We wanted to try more, but found ourselves replete and happy, constrained only by the call from our eighth-grader telling us that the dance was over, and could we come pick him up?

Enjoyed over two hours, it made for the perfect date night with my wife. We will go back when school starts, the summer hordes have returned home, and when we have more time.

Barrel 33 Ojai
The Arcade Shopping Center, 308 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
(805) 646-1555


California Showpalaces: Carthay Circle

Source: Cathay_Circle_Theater.jpg (648×518)

The Fox Carthay Circle Theater, one of the great movie houses in the home of the film business.  The photo shows the theater at the premiere of The Life of Emile Zola in 1937.

Architect Dwight Gibbs created the Spanish Colonial Revival building, which housed a round theater within the building’s square frame, for developer J. Harvey McCarthy. Completed in 1926, the theater became the anchor for the Carthay district, bordered by Wilshire, Fairfax, San Vicente, and Pico.

Sadly, the great lady of the Mid-Wilshire district is no more, demolished in 1969 to make way fro two low-rise office buildings and a park.

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.

San Francisco, Before and After

After reading our note pointing to Shawn Clover’s haunting composite photographs melding image post-1906 earthquake and fire San Francisco with modern photos, Golden West Review subscriber and graphic artist Bonnie Blacklidge took it up a level by showing us some stunning videos.

The first is a video from a San Francisco streetcar driving down Market Street toward the Ferry Building in 1905, set to Airs’ superb first track off of their with Air’s superb first track off their album Moon Safari, “La Femme d’argent” by cleverb. Nicely done, and mesmerizing.

Once done with that, take a look at a video that juxtaposes what appears to be the same scenes along Market Street with footage taken just days after the 1906 quake, posted by producer John Jones. The music is suitably haunting, almost a dirge, that like the Clover photos makes the 1906 quake much more immediate and personal.

Check out the photos, then watch these two videos in sequence. As a group they make an event of a century ago more powerful, more personal, and much more profound.

Finally, I am pleased to let you know that Mr. Clover is working on a book of his photos with appropriate narrative called Fade to 1906: The Great Quake Meets Modern San Francisco. It doesn’t seem to be available yet, but you can leave an email address to be notified when it will be available for purchase.

And a big thanks to Bonnie for this feedback.

Digitally Preserving the California Missions

San Francisco - Mission District: El Camino Re...
San Francisco – Mission District: El Camino Real Mission Bell and Mission Dolores Basilica (Photo credit: wallyg)

“Lasers used to scan California missions to preserve them forever”
Chris Palmer

San Jose Mercury News
February 8, 2013

One of the enticing possibilities offered by the ready availability of massive computing power is the potential to preserve detailed, accurate renderings of people, places and things online. Two of my favorite movies from my youth, Tron and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, began exploring that theme, offering parallel visions of how the “real” could be digitized, and vice-versa. Today I prefer the detailed simalcrum of the OASIS in Ernest Cline‘s dystopian cyberpunk future of Ready Player One, where places are captured in loving detail without being destroyed in the process. We get to have our place and live there, too.

Among others, California is blessed with nearly two dozen historical treasures over which the threat of destruction hovers daily: the Missions of El Camino Reál that were built by Franciscan monks between 1769 and 1823. Whatever your feelings about the Spanish colonization of Alta California and the efforts of the Catholic Church to convert the natives of the region, you must acknowledge that these settlements are the foundation that brought forth the modern state of California. There are of inestimable historic value, yet, made mostly of masonry and each built worryingly near active faults, these iconic sites exist on borrowed time.

Enter Oakland non-profit CyArk, which has set about preserving highly detailed renderings based on laser scans and photographs that become, essentially, blueprints for reconstruction, when and if such reconstruction becomes necessary. Four missions are done, 17 remain, and my understanding is that the process gets better with each site they scan.

At some point, though, it would be fascinating to have these renderings provided to the public, to become the centerpiece of virtual tours. Having tromped through six of them myself, I am always struck by how little time I have to focus on the detail, and how, at age 48, I still have 15 I’ve not seen. Earthquakes aside, our state should recognize that we have places that deserved to be savored online with greater depth than what is available on Google Earth and Wikipedia. And of all of the states in the union, ours should take the lead in bringing our historic and iconic buildings online.

In the meantime, though, kudos to the fine people at CyArk who have already figured out that our technology offers us a priceless opportunity to capture, preserve, and share our past, as well as our present and future.

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