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: A Ride on the Embarcadero Freeway

A Friday reminder of how things used to be: a 1984 video of a ride on the now-demolished and sometimes-missed Embarcadero Freeway, 3 minutes in each direction.

There are moments, driving up Third Street and then Kearney on my way to the Financial District, that I sorely miss the elevated, two-level concrete monstrosity. And then I have lunch outside on the Embarcadero, and I remember what an awful eyesore the thing was.

Not everything an earthquake does is a bad thing. Sometimes Nature does for us what we should have done for ourselves.

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.

California’s Energy Crisis

Cholla Power Plant, Arizona. Photo by Aaron J. Wolf
Cholla Power Plant, Arizona. Photo by Aaron J. Wolf

One thing you learn as you travel across America is that our energy and environmental challenges come from unexpected places. Arizona, a state that for many of us exemplifies alignment with the environment, apparently is not as much so as we might think. Indeed, the state has been singled out by the EPA as a producer of greenhouse gases.

Much of the reason for that lies in the way Arizona has urbanized over the past half century (read “sprawl,”) and the resultant need for an air conditioner in every home, if not every window. For historic reasons, Arizona cannot lay proportional claim to the output of Hoover Dam, so it must turn elsewhere for the energy to keep its citizens cool in the summer heat and dry beneath the annual Monsoons.

The Cholla Power Plant, pictured, gives a clue as to why. The plant is considered by the authorities to be among the dirtiest (most polluting) coal-fired power plants in the US. The EPA has put Arizona Public Service, the plan’s owner, on notice: make costly renovations to clean up the plant, or close it. The jury is still out.

With our mix of nuclear, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and the like, California and our public utilities do not face the same stark choices that Arizona does. Nonetheless, we might, and right soon. The growing backlash against nuclear, combined with the effects of an extended drought, mean that we may for our own reasons find ourselves scrambling for the energy to power our future.

Today we are focused on water. California’s next energy crisis is right around the corner, and we won’t be able to blame this one on Enron. We can only wonder if we will be ready for it, or if we will let it catch us as unprepared as we were for the drought.


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.





Sunset Crater and a Seismic America

Photo by Aaron J. Wolf

Sleeping north and east of Flagstaff, Arizona, just north of I-40 is Sunset Crater, the heart of a complex of volcanos – the San Francisco volcanic field – that dot the southern section of the Colorado Plateau. The oldest of these volcanoes dates from six million years years ago, and the youngest, Sunset Crater, is a babylike 1,000 years old. To be sure, Northern Arizona is not what a Californian would think of as a geologically active region, but geologists figure that the top end of the Grand Canyon State sits atop a hot spot in the Earth’s mantle, and that it’s only a matter of time before Sunset Crater or something just to the east of it erupts.

One of those silent cultural changes that takes place once you pass the Colorado River on your way east is the disappearance of what for lack of a better phrase I’ll call “seismic consciousness.” The rest of the nation seems blissfully unaware that while California is blessed, if you will, with a level of earthquake activity unmatched elsewhere in the continental United States, the rest of the continent is not immune. Volcanoes dot Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. The nation is suffused with faults, and our route east along I-40 and old Route 66 bisected a trans-continental belt of seismic danger zones that stretches from Arizona to the Carolinas, peaking in a California-like danger zone along the Mississippi River from Memphis to St. Louis.

Yet hotel room safety cards ignore the possibility of earthquake, and even many modern public buildings – most infamously the Memphis Pyramid – were built to standards that would not hold up in an earthquake. Checking into a hotel in a moderately hazardous zone in Knoxville, Tennessee, the emergency information in the phone book was silent on what to do in case the ground started to move. And they call us Lotus Eaters.

Sunset Crater is just a highly visible reminder that the earth can shake anywhere. California has a lot we can teach the nation, provided they are ready to learn before it is too late.

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.

Pictures of the Past

Composite Then and Now Photos of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake « PixTale  A brilliant but chilling collection of composite images that bring the present and the past together in single images. These are more than just great art – they are a hammer-blow reminder that cataclysm is just a strike-slip away for many of us here in the Golden State.

The Sidewalk in Front of Perino’s, 1936

“What Do We See When We Look at L.A.? The Swells on Wilshire Boulevard in 1936”
Where We Are

SoCal Focus

The Great Depression did not mean that people stopped living or having fun, and these 1936 Wilshire sidewalk shots uncovered by KCET’s D.J. Waldie at his SoCalFocus blog are poignant reminders.

The photos are from USC Digital Archive’s collection of “Dick” Whittington’s study, and based on the content they look like they were done as part of a job for Perino’s.

Perino's 1936

Pop on over to Waldie’s blog for more, or, better yet, to Ryerson’s  posts on the forum Noirish Los Angeles.