Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Then and Now

Let's look back to a corner of Culver City.  This area of Culver City is called Fox Hills, adjacent to what was known as The Fox Hills Mall, now known as the Westfield Mall.  Fox Hills was annexed to Culver City in 1964, at which time it consisted of undeveloped land, riding stables, and golf courses. In the 1970s, the neighborhood was developed with apartments, condominiums, and the Fox Hills Mall, an indoor shopping center that opened in 1975
Slauson & Hannum Avenues, Culver City, February 1941
Notice the oil fields of Blair and Baldwin Hills in the background
photo courtesy of LAPL archives
It was raining like crazy on February 17, 1941. The caption for the above photo from the Herald Examiner reads: "Caught in the grip of the storm, autos are shown stalled hub-cap deep in mud at Slauson and Hannum Avenues in Culver City on February 17, 1941. Overnight nearly an inch of rain fell in Los Angeles, forming lakes of water and mud over the main streets in a number of outlying sections. The four-day storm brought a total of 3.06 inches of rain."
Today, the corner of Slauson and Hannum is occupied by the Westfield (Fox Hills) Mall and a number of other big box stores, as well as the 405 Freeway. The streets and the storm drains seem to have been upgraded in the past 79 years.
Slauson & Hannum, Culver City. Screen Grad, Google Earth
Whenever I drive around town and see large developments, I always wonder, "what was there?" Does that happen to you?

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Calming Obsession

Kaoru Kobayashi, "Master" from "Midnight Diner"
In these troubled times for our world, we watch a LOT of television to escape. One show that we have been watching is called "Midnight Diner. Tokyo Stories" on Netflix.   Each episode is 30 minutes. The show gives me a sense of peace and meditation. Master runs a diner from midnight until 7 am. Master is like a wise man, listening to his customers, speaking briefly. However, when Master speaks, it is always eloquent and filled with meaning. His customers range in age and profession. Often, they are night workers, coming off their shift for food and conversation. Master only has one thing on the menu, a pork and vegetable soup, plus beer and saki. However, he will cook anything his patrons desire, so long as he has the ingredients on hand.
Each episode is named for a dish. Often this dish has been swooned over by one episode's character. After the swooning, many times, others at the diner request the same dish.  At the end of each episode. One of the characters explains the recipe of this dish while Master demonstrates how to make it.
Butter Rice. My favorite recipe from the show. Yes, it's rice with butter, a few green onions and 3 drops of soy sauce. Delicious!
The characters often return to eat their favorite dish. Master listens to their troubles and serves them comforting food. I've noticed that almost every character says, "Thank you for the food," on their way out the door. 
The Ochazuke Sisters, called this because they all order ochazuke which is rice with green tea poured over, topped with different items like salmon, roe or pickled plum
Sometimes, the scene changes from the Diner and you are taken into the world of one or more of the characters. Eventually, everyone comes back to the diner.  The show is rather melancholy and noir and reminds me of the painting, "Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper.  Like I said, we're obsessed.
The cast of characters can include prostitutes, trans-people, gang members, working folks, policemen, lawyers and more
"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper, 1942
"Midnight Diner" photos, courtesy of Netflix

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Monday, July 06, 2020

Armstrong-Schroeder's Restaurant

Armstrong-Schroeder's Restaurant, Wilshire Blvd. @ Spalding Dr., Beverly Hills, 1932
I have fond memories of eating Sunday breakfast at Armstrong-Schroeder's Restaurant on the corner of Spalding Drive and Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.  I wish it was open today!  My Dad just loved the kippers and scrambled eggs.  I remember it being an old-fashioned place with green upholstered and wooden booths and colorful linoleum.
Interior, Armstrong-Schroeder's Restaurant, California State Library Collection

In the mid-1960's Armstrong-Schroeder's closed.  The building was radically remodeled and it became the first Nibbler's Restaurant.  I remember the architecture of this new restaurant being different from the usual coffee shop / Googie style.  It was very sophisticated, brick with lots of smoked glass, low-slung and attractive.
Nibbler's Restaurant, Wilshire Blvd. @ Spalding Dr., Beverly Hills. Photo by Nick Faitos, 1976
The Nibbler's Menu looked just like the building, turned on it's side
Nibbler's was a big hangout for all the kids from Beverly Hills High School, just a few blocks from campus.  It was a classy coffee shop, plush carpet, low lights and cushy booths.  Years later, Nibbler's opened up another location in an office building at the other end of Beverly Hills on Wilshire at Gale Dr., just west of La Cienega.  Both restaurants are closed today.
The Wilshire/Spalding building later became a bank. Now it is a small office building. The low-slung, clean lines still remain.  I'm hoping that some of my architect historian friends chime in with the name of the architect of the original Nibbler's.
9766 Wilshire Boulevard @ Spalding Dr., Beverly Hills, 2015. Photo, Google Maps
There have been LOTS of changes on the streets of my youth! I wonder if anything is left of Armstrong-Schroeder's in the hiding places of this building?

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Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Bean Fields!

Photo by Ansel Adams, 1939. La Cienega near Beverly Blvd., Oil well Island in the center of the street. LAPL Photo Archives

Whenever my Dad would drive us around town, he'd point out different buildings that he thought were interesting. We would sometimes ask, "what was there BEFORE that building was built, Dad?" He'd always yell out, "BEAN FIELDS!" It seems that our end of Los Angeles was filled with bean fields. Really? Green beans? Soy beans? What kind of beans? Do we really eat that many beans? Beans are not glamorous. ORANGES are glamorous and give us an uplifting and sunshine-y view of Los Angeles. We never drove around and heard that different areas around town were orange groves. The oranges were out in the Valley. On the west side, we got beans, or as my Grandma would say, bupkis!
I came across two photos by Ansel Adams on the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection of former bean fields, turned into oil fields. It seems that the very busy street of La Cienega Boulevard between Beverly Boulevard and Third Street in what is now known as the Beverly-Grove Area (I still call it West Hollywood), had an oil well right in the middle of the street!
Here's an interesting story about that oil well written by L.A. Times columnist, Steve Harvey in 2010:

An oil well on La Cienega? A bit unusual

When the wooden derrick was constructed in 1907, it was in the middle of a bean field. After the boulevard was extended in 1930, motorists had to zigzag around the well.

August 21, 2010|By Steve Harvey, Special to The Times

Driving around Southern California, you never know where you'll find oil.
Drilling platforms, for example, can be seen on the Coyote Hills golf course in Fullerton, in the parking lot of Huntington Beach's City Hall and outside Curley's Cafe in Signal Hill.
There's even a derrick tucked inside the Beverly Center, near the parking area for Bloomingdale's.
But one of the area's most unusual drilling sites is just a memory now. It was a well that stood in the middle of La Cienega Boulevard from 1930 to 1946, forcing drivers to zigzag around it.
"Pictures and stories about it have been sent all over the globe," The Times noted in 1945.
The oil island, between Beverly Boulevard and 3rd Street, became a running gag.
Times columnist Fred Beck quipped in 1944 that it was "squeaking badly and needs oil."
Originally part of the Rancho La Brea land grant, the well helped "give Los Angeles a reputation for eccentricity," The Times noted.
Of course, when the wooden derrick was constructed in 1907, it wasn't in the middle of La Cienega Boulevard. It was in the middle of a bean field. La Cienega didn't run that far north.
Then, in 1930, the city extended the roadway from Santa Monica Boulevard to Sunset Boulevard. Who knew? There was always a chance that it might be needed if traffic on the Westside ever increased.
But "there was much discussion and controversy over the fate of the well," The Times said. "The city refused to pay what the owners believed the well to be worth. The owners refused to accept less."
So the well stayed.
In later years it was given a bit of ornamentation: whiskey billboards on the north and south sides.
"The well is fenced and parked as if it were an ornamental fountain or statue," The Times wrote in 1938.
Eventually the owners decided it would be more profitable to operate a drugstore in the area, so the land was rezoned and the oil well dismantled.
The Beverly Center stands a few feet from the old well site.

There are still numerous oil wells pumping away in our crowded urban zone. In fact, there's one INSIDE the Beverly Center. This oil well must be a cousin to the one in the above photo. I've seen men in hard-hats enter on the San Vicente side of the building. Many of our city oil wells are disguised to look like buildings. We live one block from the one on Pico Boulevard and Spaulding Avenue, just east of Fairfax. There's another one on Pico and Doheny with a lot of rocky mountain stone on the exterior...fancy! The most famous oil well is the one on what we used to call the Girls' Athletic Field, behind Beverly Hills High School. This one was recently dismantled.
As you drive around the City, start looking for nondescript, very tall buildings without windows. Chances are, there's an oil well in hiding!

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