As I walked past The Ivory Suite Bridal Boutique the other night I had to stop and take a long look through the glass. I'm not sure, but it looked like that row of gorgeous couture gowns might have been moving a little in the darkness. Restless before their big days? Swaying to a distant wedding march, perhaps?
Or maybe they were just under an air conditioning vent.
It's funny to think about the things that end up as traditions. I seriously doubt the Pilgrims put little marshmallows on top of their yams but a Thanksgiving table today hardly seems right without them, right? They flavor our memories, along with green bean casserole, pumpkin pie and the never ending argument about which is better -- cornbread dressing or breadcrumb stuffing. And at our house, no Thanksgiving would be complete without hand-shaped turkey cookies.
In fact, making and decorating sugar cookies spans all holidays around here. It started when my four year old daughter was 18 months old and a TV commercial for Pilsbury Christmas cookies caught her attention. She giggled, clapped and squealed at the display of multicolored treats ... then sobbed when the commercial ended. The next day we made a big batch of cookies with drippy globs of toddler-applied frosting. It was so much fun we made more cookies on New Years Eve, too. (Those candy sprinkles look a lot like confetti.) Valentine's Day sent us out to buy heart shaped cookie cutters. Easter? Of course, we had to have bunny cookies. There have been St. Patrick's Day clovers and Fourth of July flags and Halloween pumpkins. We even tried to make little worlds for Earth Day but they ended up looking more like paint splattered balls. Hey, the technique worked for Jackson Pollack! Maybe he decorated sugar cookies with his mom, too.
May you enjoy a Thanksgiving filled with traditions that comfort, amuse, enliven and inspire -- and by all means, feel free to add your own. This year my daughter decided that in addition to the gaggle of turkey cookies we should make a peacock. (It's the one on the lower left of the picture.) You know, I'll bet when those Pilgrims started cooking that first Thanksgiving someone probably said, "Here's an idea ... let's put marshmallows on the yams!"
This old muscle car looked cool the other night as it lurked in the shadows of an otherwise empty lot. I've already come up with some fanciful scenarios about why it was there (a stakeout, a shady deal, a secret tryst) but does anyone else want to chime in?
I'm extremely fond of this image. I took it a few months ago at the South Pasadena ArtsFest and I've probably pulled it up on the computer at least a hundred times since then. I never seem to be able to write about exactly why I like it so much or what I think it means. Today, however, I stumbled upon a wonderful poem called Barter, by Sara Teasdale. These lines perfectly explain things:
Life has loveliness to sell, All beautiful and splendid things, Blue waves whitened on a cliff, Soaring fire that sways and sings, And childrens's faces looking up Holding wonder in a cup.
I've featured this mural before. It was painted by girl scouts many years ago and still brightens the small tunnel under the overpass near lower Arroyo Park. "It is not enough to give signals," Enzo Cucchi once said about art. "Things can only ever last if they have functioned as signs."
I opened an old notebook and a page fell out. It was something I copied down a long time ago, scribbled among other scribbles copied down a long time ago. It was a poem, written by someone named Pixie Foudre:
Browsing the dim back corner Of a musty antique shop Opened an old book of poetry Angels flew out from the pages I caught the whiff of a soul The ink seemed fresh as today Was that voices whispering? The tree of the paper still grows.
When the Arroyo Parkway (now known as the 110 or Pasadena Freeway) opened in December of 1940, it was hailed as a marvel of modern motoring. While the Pennsylvania Turnpike staked the claim of first United States freeway (opening in October of 1940,) the Arroyo Parkway came in a close second. In fact, some historians argue that it more closely matches the definition of a modern commuter freeway. Connecting downtown Los Angeles with Pasadena along the Arroyo Seco, it represented a huge leap from the early highway/parkway system. Here's a little perspective on what was considered so revolutionary at the time: engineers designed the curving road to accommodate modern speeds up to a whopping 45 mph.
The completion of the roadway came after decades of other failed or short-lived proposals dating back to 1895. The most interesting project has to be this one:
In 1897 -- at the height of a nationwide bicycle craze -- the California Cycleway Company purchased a 6-mile right-of-way from downtown LA to Avenue 54 in Highland Park. 1 1/4 miles of elevated wooden track were built between Pasadena's Hotel Green and South Pasadena's Raymond Hotel. In 1900 the bikeway opened to great fanfare, with high expectation of turning a profit. A toll booth was located in what is now Pasadena's present Central Park. (For 10 cents you could bike one-way. A round-trip fare was 15 cents.) But, as we all know, greater Los Angeles was destined for an automobile culture. The bikeway was eventually torn down and sold for scrap lumber in the first decade of the 20th Century.
But the Arroyo Parkway endures. In fact, the 110 remains largely as it was almost 60 years ago, right down to the original bridges and narrow lanes -- with modern-day SUVs taking those 45-mph curves at almost double the speed. It's considered a National Civil Engineering Landmark, a State Scenic Highway and a National Scenic Byway. Here -- during an oddly traffic-free moment -- it posed for an interesting study in high contrast. (Don't worry, I didn't stand on an overpass with my camera. I was in the passenger seat when my family was waiting at a red light.)
When I was in my early twenties I lived in Hollywood and briefly dated the lead guitarist for an arty, alternative band. While trying to find a record deal, these guys played little local venues with names like Club Lingerie and Gaslight. Their work sounded kind of like The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen or Joy Division. The songs had mysterious lyrics that I found breathtakingly ingenious but that in retrospect may have just been nonsense. (I think I can pretty much say the same thing about most of my twenties: seemed like genius -- was really nonsense.)
One of the band's songs was called Green Car. It offered enough angst-filled lyrics to satisfy even the most serious of liberal arts majors, but was set to a rollicking, danceable beat. And not once -- not even in the crowd-pleasing extended version with drum solo -- did the singer ever utter the words "green car." In fact, the song never mentioned cars at all.
I often drive past this intriguing gate, slowing a bit to try and sneak a peek at the mystery villa beyond the garden maze, obscured by trees. A little sleuthing revealed that the Florentine palazzo-inspired home was built in 1916 as a winter residence for Dr. John S. Tanner of Chicago. How could he ever go back to the hectic windy city after spending the holidays strolling around this dreamy spot? Known as the Tanner-Behr House, it was also dubbed Villa Arno by another owner. (I personally call it Villa Incognito, for obvious reasons.) By any name, it's sweet.
Take a look at what's being uncovered at the corner of Mission and Fair Oaks. The old Security Pacific Bank building used to look like this. Those big, empty windows used to have these 1950s style louvers. Who could have guessed that beneath the midcentury aqua facade lurked this historic beauty? (I'm particularly fond of the little rosettes along the top of the windows.)
If you peek inside, you can see the original 1920s South Pasadena Garage mural on the exposed brick wall of the adjoining building.
"We are lovers of the arts," the SPACE Arts Center website proudly proclaims. "We believe art makes you happy. Art has the power to change lives. Art makes a community richer. Art is for everyone."
The center has a gallery, a fine art book collection, a variety of unique gifts as well as arts workshops for children and adults. It also has a really cool window ... especially at night, in black and white.
This wonderful old light fixture hangs at the top of my stairs. I can see it through the window when I pull into the driveway after dark. It's a friendly little beacon. It's quirky and dependable -- kind of like the family it welcomes home. I love the rosy glow of that light, especially after a long day.
Like yesterday, for example...
You've heard me say that things are just different in South Pasadena. That it's kinder here. That in the cruel, impersonal jungle of Los Angeles, South Pas is an oasis of cornball, old-school neighborliness that borders on fetishistic. (And we like it that way.) It's not that the rest of LA is mean -- it's just that so much of South Pas is nice. Really nice. It's kind of weird how nice it is here. People smile and hold doors open here. They throw block parties. They bring you homemade marshmallows and fudge during the holidays. Oh, I'm sure there are some rude, angry, self-centered people in South Pas -- I just haven't run across them yet. (No doubt they skip the old-fashioned Fourth of July Parade.)
But, we can't always stay within the borders of our happy, little village. Yesterday, my daughter and I were waiting to pay for a laptop charger at the Best Buy in Hastings Ranch when a tall man in an expensive suit cut in front of us.
"Hey," I said, "The line is back there."
"Whatever," he said, and then ambled over to the check stand to buy his Transformers DVD.
So, the guy was a first-class toad but not worth getting riled up over. I explained to my daughter that sometimes grownups forget their manners. Next, we drove to a fabric store in Alhambra. At this point, my daughter realized that she needed a bathroom.
"Can you tell me where to find the bathroom?" I asked one of the cashiers.
He looked at me, sighed and said, "Um, no. We don't have a bathroom."
"I have to pee!" My daughter started to freak out, "I think it's going to come out NOW!"
"You don't have a bathroom?" I said.
He stared at me. "No."
I blinked. He didn't.
"Can you let me know which store in this shopping center has a bathroom?"
"I'm pretty sure none of them do," he said. Then, like something remembered from a training manual he added, "Sorry."
I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that I know for a fact he was not sorry.
"Hurry, Mommy!" Now my kid was crying, "HURRY!!!"
"I don't know what to tell you," he said, and then went back to straightening and unstraightening shopping bags, right next to a sign that insisted sewing holiday decorations brought back old fashioned family values.
I'm not sure how we managed it but we got home without soiling clothes or car seat -- no accidents, just a lot of tears and a few broken speed limits. Later, I realized I was out of Tylenol. I drove to the South Pasadena Rite Aid on Fair Oaks.
"I'm just curious," I said to the woman stocking paper towels. "Do you have a bathroom I could use?"
"Oh sure," she said with a glow every bit as warm as my lamp in the window. "Let me get the keys."
It would have been a better shot with a tripod, but I couldn't resist this spur-of-the-moment capture of my husband and daughter walking past Orange Grove Park. When the field and courts are lit up for games it feels like anything is possible ... like the unbridled enthusiasm of a sporting match floats up and wraps around everyone nearby. Maybe it's because my father was a coach, but the sound of cheering sports fans and (even screaming umpires) inspires me far more than most sermons or speeches. Like Knute Rockne said, "One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than a hundred teaching it."
I like walking. But somewhere in the 90s in Southern California people stopped calling it walking. If you walked in the woods or up a mountain path: it was hiking. If you walked around the track or even around the neighborhood it was worse: it was power walking. If you jogged to the corner and then walked for a few blocks before sprinting home: it was low impact cardio. Instead of walking up and down the stairs, you took step classes. Just walking had become outdated and quaint. In an age of ambition, just walking was not an action item. It was too unmotivated. (Unless it was on a treadmill at the gym.) If you just walked, you'd better do it in $200 walking shoes with a state-of-the-art pedometer, a heart rate monitor and a bottle of vitamin water.
Poor walking. Forced to compete when all it really wanted was to hang out and play.
In recent years, outdoor malls modeled after small town city centers have become the rage. At places like The Grove , Universal City Walk and The Americana at Brand, you can stroll along cobblestone sidewalks, beneath vintage-inspired streetlamps, in an experience replicating the bygone custom of ... just walking around town. We're lucky to be able to just walk around town in South Pasadena. At just barely 3.44 square miles, we can walk all the way around town. (With all the hills we can even call it a work out.)
Today is the first of the month, and that means it's Theme Day for participating City Daily Photo bloggers. This month's theme is Doorways.
Here is the vantage point from the doorway of The Rialto, South Pasadena's decaying film palace. It has been closed for some time now, open only for the occasional birthday party or Rocky Horror midnight show. In this era of iTouch and YouTube, The Rialto stands as a reminder of old-school movie magic. Stepping through these doors once meant leaving the problems of the real world behind, sinking into a plush, velvet seat an losing yourself in the film experience. In fact, stepping through these doors was kind of like entering another dimension. It was more than just the moving pictures on the screen -- The Rialto was an oasis of opulance and grandeur accessible to everyone for the price of a ticket. The Batchelder fountain, gold leaf columns and ornate Wurlitzer organ were everyman's riches. Now, the very same details shine like jewels in our synthetic age.
Like most South Pas residents, I hope for a rebirth of The Rialto. (Come on, Hollywood ... surely there are those among you who are tired of mansions, bling and race cars. Why not invest in this magical place and save an iconic part of Los Angeles history!) You can learn more about The Rialto here.
In December of 2007, after many years on the west side of Los Angeles (and at least a third of those years spent stuck in traffic on Pico Boulevard) my family settled into a happy little house in South Pasadena. This daily blog covered over 4 year as I put down roots in my new home town.
My New Blog Launching 2013
Check out my multimedia column archive: Views from the Front Porch
Published at Patch.
Find Me Elsewhere...
Thank you Charlie's Coffee House for hosting my recent photo exhibit, South Pas: Observed. From October 2011 through January 2012 my pictures graced the walls of the best place in town to get a cup of coffee!
Read the nifty story on photo bloggers Petrea Burchard, Ben Wideman, Kat Likkel and little old me featured in the September, 2011 issue of Pasadena Magazine.
For over 4 years, I presented a picture a day from South Pasadena, California -- an incorporated city within the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. All photos up to November, 2008 were taken with a Fujifilm Finepix E900 camera. I added a Fujifilm Finepix S2000HD megazoom in December 2008, a Nikon D3100 in 2010 and a Lumix DMC-DS8 in 2011. I shot with them all. In August 2010 I joined the iPhone camera craze and sometimes included pictures captured by my phone. I regularly cropped images and used basic editing software to adjust the brightness, intensify the contrast, and increase color saturation. Other than that, all images came straight from the camera with minimal alteration. (If I couldn't have done it in a darkroom, I wouldn't do it with a computer.)
The bigger picture:
Consider it a love letter to the place I call home.
You can click on any picture to see a larger version.
All photos and prose on this blog copyright Laurie Allee. Reproduction without written permission is prohibited. (Plus, it's really uncool.)
Run, don't walk to the nearest bookseller and pick up a copy of Margaret Finnegan's delightful debut novel, The Goddess Lounge -- undoubtedly the kookiest, most wonderful riff on Homer's Odyssey ever written. Margaret never ceases to inspire and make us laugh at her blog Finnegan Begin Again. Her book is magical, silly, smart and a wonderful love letter to the all the goddesses among us.
Kevin McCollister of East of West LA blows our minds with haunting images of Los Angeles. But since we can't put his blog on our coffee table, we can buy his fantastic book. I believe Kevin's images truly capture the quixotic and often heartbreaking soul of LA. Don't take my word for it, see what The LA Times had to say.