Thursday, July 31, 2008

Living (in) Color

Ripe Persimmon?
Burnished Coral?
Rose-kissed Brick?

Just wondering the name of the paint used on these Mound Street apartments. In a town displaying the lovely but muted palette of classic Craftsman architecture, these cheeky buildings stand out like red dresses at a black tie gala. Personally, I love their counterpoint.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rock Steady

There are a few things that bring together the many disparate communities of greater Los Angeles: the day of the Academy Awards, a KCRW pledge drive, when the Lakers win,

and earthquakes.

The undeniable rumble begins and it doesn’t matter if you’ve created your own version of life on the Mediterranean (in Santa Monica,) in an urban art commune (Downtown LA's Brewery,) or in a real life adaptation of Grovers Corners (right here in South Pas.) Earthquakes remind us that we’re all together in one sprawling neighborhood. And that neighborhood is built on shaky ground.

We had what local newscasters like to call a temblor, yesterday. My 3 year old daughter and I were at Toys R Us in nearby Alhambra when the concrete floor started rocking and all the metal lamps began banging together. My daughter said, “Mommy, why are the toys moving?” I explained that it was an earthquake, when the ground rolls over and everything wiggles. She said, “The ground needs to lie back down and go to sleep.”

That pretty much sums up the response everyone has when an earthquake strikes.

Today’s quake was a respectable 5.4: not strong enough to do serious harm but big enough to remind us that we all need to take the time to ready ourselves for the inevitable day when that seismic number is higher. Our friends at Cal Tech advise us to be preparedby having a plan, plenty of batteries, knowledge of our home’s gas shut off valve and a supply of canned food and water. I’ll admit, I had gotten a little blasé about earthquakes after several years of low activity. In fact, I raided our earthquake kit a while ago to replace the batteries in my daughter’s toy ipod.

But if I’ve become nonchalant about earthquakes, South Pasadena seems un-phased by it. I find it comforting that there are so many historic buildings here and throughout the region. Our 108 year old wood-framed house rode out today’s shaking the way it has ridden out all the prior shakes. There were a few creaks, a few glasses overturned in the cabinets, but nothing major. Go with the flow … wasn’t that term coined in Southern California?

The rest of the world loves to claim that Los Angeles is ephemeral, that everything changes and nothing sticks around for very long. If we eventually crack off and fall into the ocean, then I guess the world will be right. But I like knowing that this big city has learned how to endure on the top of a surface that occasionally jolts and quivers. Who would have thought that flaky Los Angeles, the land of extremes, could teach the rest of the world a little something about balance?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Garfield Park at Dusk

Filmmakers call it magic hour; poets call it twilight … that transient period right after sunset where light and darkness can’t quite decide which one is leading the dance. I think I snatched a fragment of the moment here. The only things missing are fireflies. Or maybe fairies.

Monday, July 28, 2008

BOOK 'em Mysteries Book Store

Ever wonder what goes on in a mystery bookstore late at night? Since classic noir is a personal favorite, I imagine Philip Marlowe is back there somewhere playing 5 card draw with Nestor Burma and Sam Spade.

If you ever find yourself on Mission Street, it would be a crime to miss BOOK 'em Mysteries. This is a true book lovers shop with a fantastic selection of titles across the entire mystery and crime genres. You’ll delight in the choice of classic whodunits, suspense, private eye fiction, police procedurals, young reader mysteries and a decent selection of contemporary horror novels. Owners Barry Martin and Mary Riley are the kind of personal and involved independent booksellers who promote books they love – and books they think other readers will love, too. They handle both new and in-print titles and represent the David Kaye Collection of fine first-editions. And if that isn’t cool enough, they support local authors by hosting autograph sessions with some of the area’s greatest mystery and crime wordsmiths.

According to the store’s website, BOOK ‘em itself has its own “unsolved mystery.” In 1991, it had been open less than a year when an arsonist destroyed the original location. Lucky for all South Pas book lovers, the store was relocated to its present spot. To this day, the perpetrator remains at large.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Parrot Perched Upside Down???

Not content to live his bird life behaving in the expected parrot ways, perhaps this little fellow decided to actualize his inner bat. After all, this is Southern California. We can be true to ourselves here...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

If This House Could Talk...

Charming turn-of-the-century homes like this are usually associated with quaint and more simple times. We all accept the Victorian stereotype perpetuated by Hollywood: the one with all those tight corsets, tea parties, waistcoats and fresh baked pies. But whenever I see a late Victorian house like this, I imagine what topics of the day may have been discussed around its early dinner table. Were there arguments about the revolutionary new ideas of Freud, or Marx? Darwin, or Neitzsche? Did parents wring hands over their children's interest in Schoenberg's shocking atonal ending to his Second String Quartet? (These kids today! And their crazy music!) Were there passionate discussions about the outlandish new theory of relativity? Women's suffrage? Those scandalous Impressionist painters?

Houses like this were built by the generation that brought modernism to the world stage. And that's not exactly quaint or simple. That's actually quite radical!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Library at night

Today is my birthday! So here is a photograph that includes many of my favorite things:
a library
at night
with exquisite vintage light fixtures
and arches
and dark wood columns and ceiling box beams
and a wistful afterglow
captured by sneaking up close after hours
climbing stairs
and aiming my camera through a beautiful wood paned window...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Almost four o' clock across from Mission Station

I've lived in Los Angeles for 20 years. From Santa Monica to Silver Lake the one consistency for me has always been the frenzied pace. It's a swirl of chaotic quests for the newest and fuel-injected launches toward the fastest and always, without fail: traffic, traffic, traffic.

And yet here in downtown South Pasadena -- even leaning toward rush hour -- it's as facile and peaceful as Mayberry. Yeah, I know, nearby the big city coils and teems. But it's nice to catch your breath, check the clock, and have a little time to spare.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Eddie Park

Eddie Park is tucked away in a sleepy residential corner of South Pas. I found it a few months ago when I was driving around trying to get my cranky daughter to fall asleep in her car seat. Instead, we skipped naptime and played in this unusual playground.

The historic Eddie House and grounds were donated to the City of South Pasadena by the Eddie family. And what a donation! Remember when you were a kid and you would walk past that really big house in your neighborhood? The one with the great spreading lawn you were just dying to kick a ball around? Maybe the house was a little run down, a romantic old beauty in need of a new coat of paint, the kind of spooky but marvelous place where ghosts like Marion and George Kerby might host flapper parties on nights with a full moon…

That’s this place.

Spending time at Eddie Park feels almost like trespassing. The .75 acre lawn is perfect for playing fetch with your pooch or reading a book under one of the huge shade trees. A group barbeque area is staged around a large open brick fireplace. A Japanese style wooden arched bridge connects part of a long forgotten garden to the edge of the now abandoned driveway. Of course, there are swings and a slide. The Transitional Craftsman house has suffered a few unfortunate alterations – some rather inelegant louvered windows upstairs and virtually all of the original trim painted over – but it retains much of its charm including some spectacular leaded glass. If you peek into the downstairs windows, you’ll see lovely original woodwork and a gorgeous fireplace. Apparently this level is used for Scout meetings and an Alcoholics Anonymous group. The locked sun porch, to my daughter’s consternation, is filled floor to ceiling with toys, art supplies and puzzles. It is used by Pasadena City College for early childhood development classes. Upstairs, we can only wonder. (Maybe that’s where the Kerbys hang out.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


...or maybe that tree just didn’t get the memo about Halvorson’s dress code.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Out of the bag

I saw a monster leering from the corner of the 2nd annual South Pasadena Clean Air Car Show and Film Festival yesterday. Made completely of plastic shopping bags, this particular ghoul is the creation of David Beadle and the other great people at the City of South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission. Creepy? Sure. But an effective reminder of the kind of monstrous world we may end up with if we don’t create more planet-friendly ways of shopping for stuff and getting around.

The show was a great example of how visionary minds can unstick us from the literal tarpaper of fossil fuels. Plus, it provided a chance to look under the hoods and kick the tires of some truly amazing machines. We’re not just talking about the reliable but, well, less than elegant Prius. In fact, the BMW Hydrogen-7 was spectacularly James Bond-ish in its sleek design. Examples of emerging alternative vehicles included Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid, Electric, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), Ethanol, Biodiesel, and more. Down the street, free environmental themed films were shown throughout the day at The Rialto.

Kudos to my savvy town for hosting a terrific pow-wow.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Busters Ice Cream and Coffee Stop

There are cool places ... and then there are coooooool places. Busters is a great combination of hip as well as timeless. Bogart might as well be sitting on that bench, pulling down his fedora to block the sun. This is where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy would have chatted if they'd been in Southern California instead of Vienna.

Grab a great cup of coffee, a Fosselmans ice cream cone, and a nifty view of Thursday's Farmer's Market. If you take the Gold Line, just get off at Mission and walk across the street.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Is that Buddy Holly playing on the radio?

Film students shot scenes in our neighborhood last week. Their piece was set in the mid 1950s. It was fun to see the cast members milling about on the sidewalk in white bobby socks and swirly poplin skirts. Of all the vintage cars they used, this one was my favorite.

Coming to South Pasadena --and many other areas of the San Gabriel Valley -- feels a little like time travel to those of us who grew up in cities that boomed in the 60s and 70s. I don't think I'll ever stop noticing the gorgeous turn-of-the-century houses here. Craftsman, Victorian, Transitional, Tudor, Spanish -- all nestled among hundred year old trees. When you add a couple of old cars, it really feels like you've stumbled into another era.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain

By day, it's as down-home and unassumingly sweet as apple cobbler. But by night, it transforms into this twinkly confection.

The Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain has served South Pasadena since 1915. It's a dream spot for those of us who love all things retro ... from the Victorian pendant lights to the brass fixtures of the elaborate soda fountain. The first time I went inside, I half expected a young George Bailey to come out from behind the counter. It's charming and comforting and feels like home even though most of us have seen places like it only in old films. Located on the corner of Fair Oaks and Mission Street, it's a grand reminder of old Route 66: go west, young ones, and before you claim your fortune, make sure to stop here for a cherry phosphate.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sky. Trees. Happy day.

Our garden is a lovely place to lie down and look up. I adore those wonderfully ubiquitous palm trees against that almost always blue sky.

I read something last year about the palm trees eventually dying out in Southern California. I hope it's untrue because images like this will always make me feel like I did when I first arrived in Los Angeles 20 years ago: giddy, hopeful, expansive, and in love with all those silly topknot trees waving above the streets of this city. To me they are reminders that LA doesn't take itself too seriously.

That's one of the main reasons I love it here.

And if whimsical trees aren't enough to make you smile, just see the clouds through the eyes of my 3 year old daughter. (She prompted me to snap this picture.)

"Look, Mommy. There's a happy face right up there in the sky!"


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tipping my hat to Eugene Smith

I've always had a thing about street signs. Though this snapshot can never compare to my favorite street sign photograph of all time, it gives me a similar feeling of melancholy optimism.