Thursday, December 14, 2017

In The Valley of Nostalgia: The Valley Relics Museum

Neon and on and on at the Valley Relics Museum.
The San Fernando Valley might be known for being the archetypal Southern California suburb, for a notable early 1980s teenage female linguistic dialect, and yes, uh, pr0n, but if you love and appreciate your local history as much as The Militant does, you'll know that it's a place that has changed over time, from agricultural farmland to suburban wonderland, to the modern quasi-urban districts that are currently springing up on both ends of the 818 along the 101. Now, The Militant doesn't get over to the other side of the hill that much, but when it does, it actually matters.

This past weekend, one of his operatives totally wanted to go to the Valley Relics Museum, a relatively new (opened 2013) exhibition of SFV nostalgia, most of which is the personal collection of Burbank native and North Hollywood resident Tommy Gelinas, who started exhibiting his collection over a decade ago in his NoHo art studio. Gelinas has also been responsible to salvaging and maintaining several iconic signs and artifacts from across the Valley (and a little beyond) after their original public purpose was shut down forever.

After a quick Saturday morning trip up the 101 to the 170 to the 5 to the 118,  we arrived at a quiet industrial park nestled between Topanga Canyon Blvd and the Metro Orange Line (yes, this place is totally transit-accessible), and through the doors is some 4300 square feet of space jam-packed with SFV and general Southern California nostalgia. Where to start?

The Valley Relics Museum's Busch Gardens collection! The Militant loved this aerial view which shows the old theme park's exact location near Roscoe and Woodley. The park was replaced by an expanded Budweiser plant, and only the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks near Woodley remains.
 The first room has some photos and memorabilia of various SFV institutions, from the aerospace industry (Lockheed and Rocketdyne called the Valley home) to ground-based transportation such as the Pacific Electric and the RTD. An adjoining room has behind-glass knicknack displays featuring such sights as the old Busch Gardens theme park in Van Nuys and some 1984 Olympic memorabilia (including not only an Olympic torch, but an accompanying manual book).
The Western memorabilia room, including several Nudie's Rodeo Tailors store artifacts, curated by Julie Ann Ream.
Another room is packed with movie and TV Western memorabilia (including remnants of the iconic North Hollywood Western apparel store Nudie's Rodeo Tailors), curated by Julie Ann Ream, whose grandfather, Taylor "Cactus Mack" McPeters was an actor in several Hollywood Westerns, who worked alongside such icons as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and John Wayne.  Preserving the artifacts of her grandfather, her other Western actor relatives and their peers has become her personal passion, and on most days Ream is on hand to talk about her collection and her Western family members' stories.

The main exhibit room contains antique iconic store restaurant signage and a collection of classic BMX bikes (an SFV invention)!
The rest of the museum is the main exhibit room, which encompasses over 2/3rds of the total space. Front and center is Gelinas' collection of classic '70s-era bicycle motocross (BMX) bikes, which originated in The Valley. The characteristic rigid frame was invented by Gary Littlejohn in North Hollywood and the open suburban spaces of the SFV allowed for large BMX dirt tracks to be built. Futhermore, BMX manufacturers like Mongoose, Redline, Champion and Robinson were all based here in The Valley.

Some relics from The Palomino, including a ticket stub from a 1979 Elvis Costello concert there!
The room also contains a large collection of now-gone store and restaurant signage, several of which are neon like the original sign from North Hollywood's Palomino nightclub (which featured now-legendary country and rock music acts from 1949 to 1995) and more conventional signage, such as the original Googie-style Henry's Tacos sign from Studio City.

A 1958 newsstand ad insert for the old Los Angeles Mirror (the old afternoon paper that eventually merged with the Los Angeles Times), touting the SFV as, "L.A.'s Happiest Half-Million" (that population has since grown by over 3 1/2 times).
The room also contains many signs familiar to those from, yet not unique to the Valley per se, such as a Pioneer Chicken revolving sign saved from the Olympic Blvd. location, '70s and '80s-era Jack In The Box (the chain originated in San Diego) signage, which also includes the old-school drive-thru clown speaker (even earlier than the type that was blown up in the infamous 1980 commercial) as well as the incandescent Tiffany Theatre sign rescued from its now-demolished West Hollywood location.

A few iconic Valley trios also make their presence here: Statues of Alvin, Simon and Theodore of The Chipmunks fame (born in Van Nuys), and Yakko, Wakko and Dot from The WB's Animaniacs (who, of course, lived in the studio's water tower in Burbank).

Exit Through The Gift Shop: Do buy some of Valley Relics Museum's t-shirts of classic now-gone Southern California businesses. Because you will look so awesome rocking that Pup'N Taco shirt!
Not only can you see some Valley relics, but you can wear them as well. The mini gift shop by the entrance sells shirts of now-gone So Cal institutions like Pup'N Taco, Malibu Grand Prix, Fedco, Zody's, Muntz TV, Saugus Speedway and legendary rock stations KMET and KNAC, among others. The sales of the shirts support the museum, so be generous!
The collection does not explore the comprehensive history of The Valley; aside from an 1865 letter penned by Issac N. Van Nuys himself, much of the Valley Relics at this museum cater to the collective memories of Baby Boomers and Generation-Xers spanning the second half of the 20th century. So there are hardly any relics from the SFV's agricultural era. But still, Gelinas and the rest of the folks that run the museum must be given massive props for preserving the relatively recent history of The Valley. The staff have mentioned that some patrons have brought parents or grandparents who suffer from Alzheimer's Disease into the museum, and the sight of familiar memories from the exhibits instantly woke up something inside of them.

Yes, History can be that powerful, folks.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, the place isn't that big. Fortunately, you can enjoy the place in under two hours, and unfortunately, you can only enjoy the place in under two hours. But apparently there's more collection that they don't have the space for. The museum is planning to move into larger digs sometime in 2018, with one potential location being an old airplane hangar at Van Nuys Airport, but the museum has also explored even a Santa Clarita Valley location (Blasphemy!).

The Valley Relics Museum is transit-accessible! It's just two blocks south of the Metro Orange Line and Metrolink Chatsworth Station (something that didn't really exist during the RTD era...

Yes, this MA blog post is probably some four years late,  and some of you might have already been here already, but a museum open only 50 or so times a year, coupled with a busy Militant schedule can cause that. But better late than never. And hey, The Militant is actually blogging about something other than an Epic CicLAvia Tour. That in itself is something to celebrate! Woo-hoo!

But if you haven't been here before, and especially if you're an SFV native or grew up in the 818, make sure to pay a visit to the museum this Saturday (those t-shirts make great presents, BTW), or at least add it to your New Year's Resolution list for 2018, before they move into their new location. And then visit them again when they have more stuff to display!   

Valley Relics Museum, 21630 Marilla St, Chatsworth. Open Saturdays only, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free admission (but do kick them at least a few bucks to keep their nonprofit operation open). Accessible via (M) Orange Line and Metrolink (Chatsworth Station) - bike or walk two blocks south along the Orange Line bike path.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Militant's Epic CicLAvia Tour XXIV!!!!

Click here for larger map!

The year closes with CicLAvia XXIV, the fifth of five Los Angeles open streets events in 2017! Our Epic CicLAvia Tour returns to iconic Wilshire Boulevard for the first time since August, 2015, this time with an extra half-mile added at the east end of the four-mile route, incorporating a small section of previous "Heart of L.A." CicLAvia iterations. So this Epic CicLAvia Tour guide is basically a re-run of the 2015 route, with a few extras added on for your enjoyment. Enjoy CicLAvia on Sunday. You may or may not see The Militant on the streets!

1. Spring Street Park
428 S. Spring St, Downtown

A former parking lot turned into urban park in June 2013 to satiate the open-space and recreational needs of the new DTLA residential population, this plot of land, in its short history, has already accumulated a list of challenges with regards to its management, upkeep and (ab)use, from un-leashed dogs to people misusing the facilities. Nevertheless, the space does perform its role as a green oasis within the built city core.

2. Broadway-Spring Arcade Building
541 S. Spring St, Downtown

This unique building is actually three, opened in 1924 on the site of Mercantile Place, a 40-foot street cut between 5th and 6th streets connecting Broadway and Spring. Mercantile Place was a popular shopping and gathering locale in the early 1900s. Having fallen into decay by the 1970s, it was recently renovated and is now famous for, of all things, vendors selling rock band t-shirts. It also becomes an artistic venue during the DTLA ArtWalk. And The Militant probably doesn't need to mention that this building is home to the DTLA Guisado's.

3. Site of Original Ralphs Supermarket
6th and Spring streets, Downtown

Before the Hotel Hayward building was built in 1905, George A. Ralphs (see, that's why there's no apostrophe) and his brother Walter B. started the Ralphs Bros. Grocers on the southwest corner of 6th and Spring. Their company still continues to this day, and in 2007, the company that started in DTLA returned to the area after some 50 years.

4. St. Vincent Court
St. Vincent Ct and 7th Street, Downtown

You'd hardly knew it was there, but this alley nestled between Broadway and Hill (blink and you'll miss it!), with its decorative brick pavement and European decor, seemingly belongs to another world. Originally the site of a Catholic college that was the predecessor of today's Loyola Marymount University, today it's a unique food court featuring Armenian and Middle Eastern eateries. The Militant calls it, "Littler Armenia." Check out this Militant Angeleno post on St. Vincent Court from 2008 for more info.

5. One Wilshire Building/Wilshire Bookend Palm Trees
624 S. Grand Ave, Downtown

Built during the first wave of modern skyscrapers following the repeal of Los Angeles' building height limit laws, this building, designed by architectural rockstars Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (who also went on to craft Chicago's Sears Tower, among many others) stood for most of its life as the address of legal and financial institutions. After a renovation in 1992, this building is now the location of CoreSite, a major data colocation center, which carries the primary Internet connections for Los Angeles (without this building, you can't read this!)

Take note of the row of palm trees, planted here in the 1970s: They are meant to evoke the end of Wilshire Boulevard, as on the opposite end, at Santa Monica's Ocean Avenue, 16 miles from here, you will also find a row of palm trees.

6. Wilshire Grand Center
900 Wilshire Blvd, Downtown

On this site rises the new Wilshire Grand Center, Los Angeles' (and the West's -- suck on it, Transbay Tower SF!) tallest building at 73 stories and 1,100 feet (kinda sorta, there's a spire, you see...). Opened on June 23, it is the city's only modern skyscraper without a flat roof, the only Los Angeles building since Hollywood's Capitol Records tower in 1956 to feature a spire, the first skyscraper anywhere to sport a mohawk, and it also has its own irreverent Twitter account. ;)

Owned by Korean Air (hence the red and blue taeguk LED logo), the tower houses the 900-room Hotel Intercontinental with its 70th-floor Sky Lobby and the unique Spire 73 skybar, with wonderful views of the south and west (the sunset vista from here is not to be missed).

The building's construction site was the location of "The Big Pour" - which lasted from February 15 -16, 2014, where 21,200 cubic yards (81 million pounds) of concrete for the tower's foundation were continuously poured - earning it a Guinness World Record for that feat.

Before the skyscaper, the site was home of the Wilshire Grand Hotel, formerly (in reverse chronological order) the Omni Hotel, Los Angeles Hilton, Statler Hilton and Statler Hotel.

7. L.A. Prime Matter Sculpture
Wilshire and Figueroa (NW corner), Downtown

Wilshire is full of awesome-looking public art. Here's one relatively-recent sculpture, recently renovated, right at the northwest corner of Wilshire and Figueroa. Designed by the late Venice-based artist Eric Orr, who had a penchant for utilizing elemental themes in his art, L.A. Prime Matter features twin 32-foot bronze columns that feature water sliding down its faces, and during random moments, FIRE emanates from the middle channels of the columns every hour on the hour! The effect is total bad-ass, and its bad-assnes is magnified at night.

8. Site of George Shatto Residence/Good Samaritan Hospital
Wilshire Blvd and Lucas Ave, Downtown

Before it was named Wilshire Boulevard, it was once called Orange Street, and on the corner of Orange and Lucas was a Queen Anne-style mansion belonging to George Shatto, a real estate developer who first developed Catalina Island and the city of Avalon. If you read the Epic CicLAvia Tour 4.0 post, his name is brought up as one of the famous Angelenos buried (in a rather ornate pyramid) at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery.

But check this out! Take a look at the picture above, and pay close attention to the masonry wall going uphill that fronts Lucas Avenue. Now, on CicLAvia Sunday, look at the exact same spot, on the northwest corner of the intersection. The house is gone, but the original wall still remains!

Good Samaritan Hospital, which was founded in 1885 and moved to the current site in 1911, is also the birthplace of many native Angelenos, including mayor Eric Garcetti.

9. Los Angeles Teachers (a.k.a. 'Stand And Deliver') Mural
Wilshire and Alvarado, Westlake

Art imitates life imitating art imitating life in this mural by popular SalvadoreƱo American muralist Hector Ponce depicting actor Edward James Olmos, who portrayed Garfield High School math teacher Jaime Escalante in the 1988 movie Stand and Deliverstanding next to the real-life Escalante, and delivering a mural that's part-Hollywood, part-Los Angeles, part-Latino pride, part Eastside pride and if the Internet were as accessible back in 1988 as it is today, would make one epic photo meme. And it's painted behind the 1926 Westlake Theatre, which is slated for renovation into a community-baed performance arts venue sometime soon. Celebrate the 25th anniversary of Stand and Deliver by having the ganas to stop by.

10. Gen. Harrison Gray Otis Statue
Wilshire Blvd and Park View Ave, MacArthur Park

Gen. Otis is perhaps the most visible statue at the park, which predates MacArthur's WWII service. This general served in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars, and also fought as a Union soldier in the Civil War. But in Los Angeles, he is most known for being the founder, owner and publisher of the Los Angeles Times. So why is he here? His Wilshire Blvd mansion, called The Bivouac, was located across the street, was later donated to Los Angeles County and became the original campus of Otis Art Institute. It's thought that his statue is pointing to the site of the Elks Lodge, but he's probably just pointing to his old house. 

11. Bryson Apartment Building
2701 Wilshire Blvd, MacArthur Park

This 10-story Beaux Arts apartment building, built 100 years ago, was the 20th century precursor to today's fancy modern 21-century high-rise residential developments. Built by developer Hugh W. Bryson, it was built in a part of Los Angeles that was known at the time as "the west side" (let's not open that can of worms right now, okay?). It was one of Los Angeles' most luxurious apartment buildings, and had a large neon sign at the roof (characteristic of these kinds of developments back then). Several Raymond Chandler books reference The Bryson. The 110,000 square-foot building is also part of the National Register of Historic Places and a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

12. Lafayette Park
Wilshire Blvd and LaFayette Park Place, LaFayette Park

Clara Shatto, the widow of George Shatto (remember him?) donated 35 acres of her land to the City of Los Angeles in 1899, which was once oil wells and tar pits. Her late husband wanted it turned into a city park, and so it became Sunset Park, which existed for 19 years before the locals wanted it renamed to honor the 18th-century Frenchman who was a hero in both the American and French revolutions. Gotta give LaFayette park some props for living so long in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, MacArthur (Westlake) Park.

13. Bullocks Wilshire/Southwestern Law School
3050 Wilshire Blvd

Perhaps one of the most iconic examples of Art-Deco architecture in Los Angeles, this former Bullocks Department Store was designed with a tower to resemble a New York-style skyscraper in then-unabashedly low-rise Los Angeles. It was the epitome of shopping in style in its heyday, with its own rear parking lot and other auto-centric amenities. It ultimately fell victim to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots and was closed down the next year. In 1994, the nearby Southwestern School of Law bought the building and incorporated it into its campus, restoring much of the Roaring 1920s Art Deco aesthetics.

14. Shatto Place
c. 1880s
Wilshire Blvd and Shatto Pl, Koreatown

Gee, we can't get seem to get away from that George Shatto guy, can we? George and Clara owned a plot of land here on this street, which was once home to some of the most beautiful mansions in Los Angeles at the time. Although Clara sold the land in 1904, George stipulated that all properties on the street maintain the character of the exquisite homes there, which was challenged several times until the late 1920s, when the homes started to be demolished in favor of more modern commercial development.

15. "The Vermont" Highrise Apartment Development
Wilshire Blvd and Vermont Ave., Koreatown

This 30- and 25- story highrise mixed-use apartment development is called "The Vermont" by J.H. Snyder Co. which opened in 2014. It's Metro-accessible, and it has a friggin' Pizza Rev, but who the hell can afford the rents for this place?

16. Consulate Row
Various locations along Wilshire Blvd between Vermont and Crenshaw

Some 62 countries have consular offices in the Los Angeles area and 41 of them have addresses on Wilshire Boulevard. Proximity to various foreign financial institutions on Wilshire, as well as nearby Hancock Park, where many consul-generals have traditionally resided, are the main reasons for such a high concentration of consulates on this stretch of Wilshire. The consulate offices for Bangladesh, Bolivia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, South Korea, Nicaragua, Peru, The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Taiwan are all located on Wilshire between Vermont and Crenshaw. Many of them display their national flags in front of their respective office buildings. How many can you spot during CicLAvia?

17. Gaylord Apartments
3355 Wilshire Blvd

Though the building's prominent neon sign has been source of many a snicker by immature junior high school kids, this building represents some serious history. It was named after Wilshire Boulevard's namesake, Henry Gaylord Wilshire, who was known as a wealthy real estate developer and outspoken socialist (Does that make sense?), who donated a 35-acre strip of barley fields to the City of Los Angeles on the condition that it would be free from railroads or trucking. The building itself is a 13-story Italian Renaissance-style apartment building that actor John Barrymore (a.k.a. Drew's grandpa) and then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon once called home.

18. Brown Derby Site
3427 and 3377 Wilshire Blvd

The now-defunct "The Brown Derby" local chain of restaurants were synonymous with Hollywood glitz and glamour. The Wilshire Boulevard location was the first of four (the others were in Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Los Feliz). In close proximity to The Ambassador Hotel and its Cocoanut Grove swing/jazz club, this was the original hipster joint back in the day, only back then the hipsters were actually cool and looked good. In 1937 the building was moved across the street and closed in 1975. In 1980, a shopping center was built on the site and the iconic dome structure was incorporated into the shopping center that exists today. It's situated on the third floor, above The Boiling Crab seafood restaurant. It's something to ponder on while you wait 90 minutes for your table.

Note that the pictures for #17 and #18 connect vertically - that's the Gaylord Apartments behind the Brown Derby!

19. Robert F. Kennedy Inspiration Park/Ambassador Hotel Site
Wilshire Blvd between Catalina Street and Mariposa Avenue

The Militant wrote a post in 2010 about this unique public space dedicated to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated just yards away at the Ambassador Hotel, which was demolished in 2005 and where the LAUSD's sprawling and costly  RFK Community Schools campus now stands. There's Kennedy quotes on public art installations and benches for you to chill on. There's also speakers playing recordings of some of the jazz music that was performed at the hotel's famed Cocoanut Grove swing and jazz club.

20. Wiltern Theatre/Pellissier Building
Wilshire Blvd and Western Avenue (duh...), Koreatown

The 12-story structure, designed by Stiles O. Clements, is Los Angeles' emerald-green temple to all that is Art Deco. Originally operating as the "Warner Theatre" (Specifically the Western Avenue location of Warner Bros. chain of movie theaters; The Warner Theatre in San Pedro is another example), The Wiltern (named so since 1935) has seen many cycles of decay and rebirth, most recently in the 1980s, when preservationists renovated the theatre to a performing arts venue. The contemporary Wiltern Theatre has been operating since 1985.

21. MaDang Courtyard
621 S. Western Ave, Koreatown

The heart of K-town is essentially the revived district once known as Wilshire Center,  a mid-rise commercial district which emerged in the mid-1960s, filling in the commercial real estate gap between Downtown and Miracle Mile. By the late 1980s, the district had fallen into disarray, with many businesses closing down or moving out, culminating around the time of the 1992 Riots (the iconic Bullocks Wilshire closed down in 1993). With the old guard having moved out, it allowed opportunities for the then-scattered Korean business community, fueled by an abundant supply of investment money from South Korea, to move into the vacant retail and office spaces and expand Koreatown into the large district that exists today. Enter MaDang Courtyard, which opened in 2010. This dense, triple-story urban mall represents not only the modern Koreatown, but a more of a visual semblance of Seoul, as opposed to the re-purposed commercial spaces of the old Wilshire Center. Anchored by the CGV Cinemas multiplex, which screens current Hollywood features, Korean films and Korean-subtitled versions of mainstream blockbusters, you can't get more K-town than that (for a non-food establishment). But speaking of food establishment, there's also a Hansol Noodle location here, a Paris Baguette (despite the francophone name, it's a South Korean bakery cafe chain), a Lemon Tree kids' play cafe and Japanese imports Daiso (picture a Nippon version of the 99 Cents Only store) and pastry chain Beard Papa's. It's like a trip across the Pacific (minus the jet-lag).

Happy CicLAvia! See you or not see you on the streets on Sunday!