Monday, September 29, 2008

The Lava Lady

The Lava Lady on the Sidewalk, photo by Oscar Jimenez
On Saturday night, Larry U. and I went to a photo exhibit with our friends Beth and Larry A. The exhibit was at Brick and Mortar on Gardner Street in Hollywood. This is a clothing and art store. The photographer of the evening was Oscar Jimenez. The photo composites and journalistic style photos were all of the Lava Lady.
Art Gallery

Beth & Larry A. @ Brick & Mortar
We always used to see the Lava Lady around the Fairfax area. We didn't call her that. We called her the Pointy-Haired Lady. She wore interesting, drapey clothes (long skirts or outrageously wide bell-bottoms), very high platform shoes, her hair was always in an up-do with the highest pointy monument of hair on top of her head that I've ever seen. She always had full make-up on, including very rouged cherry cheekbones. We used to see her at the Original Farmers Market, at Ralph's Market on 3rd and La Brea, at Trader Joe's across the street and walking in the general vicinity. Because of those 5-inch platforms and long bell-bottoms and/or skirts, she seemed to glide along the street. One time, I was behind her in the check-out line at Ralph's. The checker said hello to her and I got to hear her voice. It was very high and reedy, kind of sing-songy. She seemed extremely pleasant.
The Lava Lady @ Ralph's Market, photo by Oscar Jimenez
There was a brief blurb about her in Los Angeles Magazine, September 2007, in the fashion section, "Wrap Star: You saw the vertical ponytail and you knew it was her. The Fairfax District eccentric known as the Lava Lady was an icon of style, walking down Melrose in dramatic capes and platforms."
Through other people's sightings, we found out that she lived in a black house on the corner of Detroit and Clinton, just west of La Brea. The outside of the house had lava rocks all over it. Eventually, she must have purchased the home next door, because soon, that house was painted black too.
We haven't seen the Lava Lady in about 3 or 4 years and her houses must have been sold, because they're white now and the lava rock is gone.
Soooooooo....we were very happy to find out about this photo exhibit. The photos are wonderful and you should get over to Brick and Mortar so you can experience the Lava Lady yourself!
Addendum: We found out that the Lava Lady's name is Rae Suzan Strauss. She is related to the family of the bluejeans mogul, Levi Strauss. Rumor has it that she was a fashion model in the 1960's. The lava rocks on her home were all imported from Hawaii. She moved to Florida about 4 years ago to be near her children.
After the art show, we went to Canter's Deli on Fairfax for delicious pastrami sandwiches!

I just love Los Angeles and all the crazy people that live here!



At 5:48 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the 70s we lived at Melrose and Gardner!! The apartments were above some storefronts and the building was called Canterbury Gardens. We lived in #4 as I recall. It was above a courtyard.

Whenever I travel down Melrose I'm always amazed at the difference from the time we lived there. Then the stores were pet shops, glove makers, and a little nut store. I don't recall Lava Lady. I'm sorry I missed her!

Thanks for the memories.

Christine G.

At 5:53 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wondered why I hadn't seen her around in a few. Thanks for the story - I agree, it's the characters like the Lava Lady that make this such an interesting place :)

At 9:03 PM PDT, Blogger woolanthropy said...

I so missed out on the bumping into the Lava Lady. I feel a little sad about it. I guess I better go check out the exhibit and have a taste. What a character.

At 12:45 AM PDT, Blogger justclaire said...

What a wonderful character! We have a lot of totally crazy people here in London too. Unfortunately, they seem to be more of the "dangerous crazy" type rather than just plain eccentric.

At 7:07 AM PDT, Anonymous M.A. said...

Canters! You're killing me! Ellen, when I'm most homesick for my L.A., I come to you and am never disappointed. Thank you so much!!

Hey, check out the new Breadworks at FM next time you're at SnB. Just opened and their hours are 7:30-9. If Harvey is working, tell him M.A. sent you and said that would get you a discount;-)

At 10:48 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You go to the coolest most random do you hear about all these things. i want to meet the "lava lady"!


At 3:47 PM PDT, Blogger DarcyArtsy said...

I remember her well but we heard she was the widow of Dr. Seuss! lol I also used to bike past her lava home and she had many stray cats and I tried to rescue a kitten. I will have to tell you the story sometime. My friends have also been told off by her so she was one interesting lady and I am glad she didn't pass away as that was the rumor when her house sold.

At 3:49 PM PDT, Blogger Ellen Bloom said...

Thanks for the comments on the Lava Lady, everyone.

Leslie...I find out about different events in L.A. just from reading the newspaper, blogs and from friends with mutual interests. My husband, Larry found out about this show. The postcards for the show were on the counter at the photo lab he goes to.

We always try to keep our eyes and ears open for interesting events happening around town.

At 7:18 AM PDT, Blogger Sally said...

Loved this post. So sorry I never saw her. Thanks for entertaining us all!

Kind of funny when you think of her moving to Hawaii to be closer to the kids. I mean, maybe there's a reason they moved to Hawaii!

At 7:55 AM PDT, Blogger Julie said...

How fantastic! I remember her from when I worked at the FM when I was a teen. That was 20 years ago! I remember her braided pony tail sticking straight up as though it were being held by a string from the sky. What I find odd is why my son doesn't think it's odd to find his grandparents photo in a blog on the computer.

At 12:32 AM PDT, Blogger MARGARET said...

The Cacophony Society had an information-gathering meeting about her some years back, to no real end, except there was a woman who had had an extreme obsession about her, to the point of actually going to the Hall of Records and looking up the floor plans of Lava House, and one day she happened to be walking past and saw that there were some workmen doing something on the premises, and they'd left the gate open and the door to the main house ajar. So she snuck in and started to have a look around, and Mrs. Strauss walked in on her, nearly scaring both of them to death.

This woman was feeling very sheepish about the whole thing and was really begging the group to not pester Rae further and let the whole thing drop. Rae was always puzzled by people's reaction to her and was a little perplexed that she caused such a ruckus.

At 8:06 AM PDT, Blogger Ellen Bloom said...

Thanks for the story, Margaret. When we were at the art exhibit last Saturday, I heard many more stores, similar to your's and the Cacophony Society's.

One of my friends pretended to be a location scout, knocked on Strauss's door one day, just so she could get a look inside the house. There was orange shag carpeting and minimalist furniture and fixtures. She didn't see much.

The photographer, Oscar and his girlfriend were allowed into the house and confirmed the design and color scheme.

If you hang around the Gallery long enough, more stories about the Lava Lady start to materialize. She is really a major reason for discussion!

At 12:33 PM PST, Blogger gusbrodie said...

I used to see the Lava Lady whenever I'd go to vote. She'd be the person on the other side of the ledger signing me in! She once asked me if I was related to someone else with my relatively obscure last name. She seemed very disappointed that I wasn't related.

At 7:07 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We called her Ms.Seuss and a friend went into one of her homes and everything was in a circle. I would always see her on Melrose and Farmer's Market. Wonder if she likes it now with the Grove.I loved seeing her so tall in those platforms and jumpsuits with the Seuss like hair.

At 5:03 AM PST, Anonymous vilma's dedicated server said...

Interesting post, your blog is very informative and full of such colorful characters!

At 1:47 PM PST, Blogger Gretchen said...

I used to have a regular booth at the Fairfax High Flea Market and occasionally the Lava Lady would browse at my booth. I don't believe that she ever made a purchase, but I do remember that she was soft spoken. Of course, I complimented her on her amazing outfits.

Ellen, thanks so much for the update!!

At 4:39 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

She's in FL now!

At 11:02 AM PDT, Blogger daily0826 said...

She passed away 2 weeks ago

At 4:41 PM PDT, Blogger Ellen Bloom said...

Oh! I'm so sorry to hear that she passed away. Condolences.

At 11:42 PM PDT, Blogger Josh Fritz said...

For anyone curious. She's lived in Wellington, Florida for at least the last 15 years (first time I met her.) Saw her once, she smiled at me, sweet seeming woman.


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