Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Jazz Bakery

Are you a "Big Butter and Egg Man?" (N.B. That's a reference to a Louis Armstrong tune.) Then you need to head out on your next date to the Jazz Bakery in Culver City. The place is no longer a bakery (it's in part of the old industrial Helms Bakery). From the Jazz Bakery web site:
"...a serious, no-frills, seven-nights-a-week nonprofit listening room of international renown, where everybody who’s anybody has played; where iconic musicians turn up as regularly in the audience as on the bandstand; where just ascending the stage is a sure sign that you’ve made it into the music’s highest ranks." (from Brandt Reiter, LA Weekly, "The House that Ruth Built")

Friday, May 25, 2007

UCLA Digital Photo Archive - Waste Hours at Work

Every LA blogger and their mother has contributed a post about the UCLA photo archive: Changing Times: Los Angeles in Photographs, 1920-1990. Here's my obligatory contribution.

I read about the archive first at LA Observed: New toy for L.A. buffs, and I have admit that I've spent many hours searching for interesting photos. Every query has provided something interesting, and each query seems to lead down another fascinating path. The photos are licensed under the Creative Commons, so we're free to post images.

Here's one of Bing and his wife Kathy relaxing at Pebble (oddly, came up from a search for LAX).

Aerospace Dollars at Work

I've always been a fan of NASA the aerospace industry, and today I read post on Metroblog Los Angeles that shows an image of the Catalina fire from space (provided by Bigelow Aerospace). Cool stuff. Visit the blog below for the image:
Metroblogging Los Angeles: Catalina Fire from Space: "Chris Reed from Bigelow Aerospace sends in this pic (click the above for much larger full version) of the fire on Catalina island, taken from space. He writes:

'We've put on our Web site a new image beamed down from Genesis I that shows a smoke plume emanating from the island of Santa Catalina off of the Southern California coast on May 11. More than 4,000 acres burned in the fire that forced the island's evacuation and threatened the famed tourist town of Avalon.'"

Shipwreck and Spanish Gold!

Friday's posts have recently turned to stories about pirating. Well, I'm always in the search for booty! (Image below: AP)

NPR and Associated Press report this week described one gigantic haul:
Deep-sea explorers who found what could be the richest-ever shipwreck treasure said Monday that the reaction to their discovery has overwhelmed them. Meanwhile, claims on the loot started coming in even as they were exploring new waters — television and movie deals.

Odyssey Marine Exploration on Friday announced the recovery of more than 500,000 Colonial-era silver and gold coins possibly worth $500 million. The exploration company from Tampa has withheld details about the shipwreck, where it was found or even what kind of coins they had hauled back.

The piece reports that the Odyssey's co-founder was in Los Angeles meeting with Disney execs to sell the movie rights. I thought that was odd, since if you suddenly found yourself 500 mil richer, would you bother with the movie rights?

It turns out, the Odyssey and her crew might not be able to keep the riches. National Geographic reports that Spain is suing for ownership of the shipwreck's contents based on the Law of the Sea Convention, "enacted by the United Nations in 1982 and applies to shipwrecks found on the high seas, which are outside the jurisdiction of any government. The Convention, supported by 150 nations, recognize countries ownership of their sunken vessels."

If I were the Odyssey and her crew, I'd find an island somewhere to get lost, and then I'd send Spain a letter saying, "Come and find us with your navy, if you still have one. Best regards, Blackbeard"

Lest you think I forgot to mention a travel item (that being the thing I do on Fridays), SFist, one of the fine blogs from the Gothamist city blog collection, recently posted a story about a shipwreck that's so near the coast, that once in a while, tide and surf expose the remains of the ship.
Shipwreck'd At Ocean Beach: "The King Philip is usually underneath the sand, but was revealed once before in the 1980 El Nino. It's still visible as of the running of the story, but may get buried under the tide any moment now. So go check it out!
There are over 100 shipwrecks in the waters off the San Francisco Bay Area coast, including the Tennessee, a Gold Rush steamboat that sank in 1853 near Marin City, the Reporter, a schooner that sank in 1876 and whose remains are intermingled under 5 feet of sand with the King Philip on Ocean Beach, and the City of Rio de Janiero, which sank in 1901 off Point Diablo."
Happy Memorial Day and Happy Treasure Hunting!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

KXLU 88.9

Everybody knows about KCRW, and if you're in Southern California, you also know about KPCC and KKJZ (which I have written about here). All are exemplary models of public radio.

But have you listened to KXLU? Their website isn't as glamorous, and I bet their broadcast reach isn't as broad as the stations mentioned above. What KXLU can offer is good music (much of it local in origin) from knowledgeable staff. In fact, they sometimes air my wife's music (Josephine Cameron), which by that fact alone pushes KXLU ahead of the competition. (One of these days the other stations will come to their senses and regularly spin her tunes.)

Listen now.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Book Heritage and Preservation in Los Angeles

In a state and country that is so young, we are often troubled to see places and buildings that are relatively young razed and demolished for something new and ordinary. We're surprised by a longing for the look of something built in 1950, maybe even 1970.

On a walk through the heart of Dublin, Ireland, I saw a memorial to the city's celebration of its millennium as a city. It's easier to define something as historic if it's been around since Ptolemy was writing history.

Thus, many in Los Angeles are perplexed when it comes to preserving places and things in our midst. We sound foolish demanding to preserve drive-in movie theaters, mom and pop restaurants, Griffith Park, or countless other mid-twentieth century places, but I absolutely sympathize.

Cut to present-day, Brentwood, a neighborhood of west Los Angeles, California.

Dutton's Bookstore (map), on San Vicente, between Bundy and Montana, is found in a rather ordinary building (despite comments below)—a flat stucco facade on a basic rectangular structure. There is a pleasant courtyard that sits in the middle of three sections of the store. Still, it is a rare gem in the decimated landscape of literary emporiums.

Dutton's is rare because it is a bookstore interested in books and authors. The staff is interested in books, the management is interested in getting you books that are not just best sellers (but are maybe classics, or of local interest, or just good reading). They host author readings and literary book groups.

They aren't interested in providing couches for you to lounge upon (did I mention that they're actually interested in selling real books?!) because they want to use their precious space for books. Though, they do have a cafe.

I know all of this to be true because my brother worked at Dutton's, and we're still patrons when we're in LA. My brother is a writer who was completing his Master's degree (with a Bachelor's in English) when he worked there (i.e. he was an intelligent resource), and yet there were co-workers who would regularly astonish him with their book knowledge. (I once went into a Border's looking for Joan Didion, and the clerk couldn't spell her last name.) Dutton's isn't a gem merely because it's independent. I worked as a clerk at an independent bookstore, and while the staff was better than average, the store was not interested in selling books. They had far more interest in getting customers to buy food in the cafe and buying trinkets and greeting cards. What resembled a bookstore was a collection intended to match the bestseller list rather than inspire or establish sufficiency. They didn't even stock The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Now, whenever I want to judge a bookstore, I make sure to see if Tom and Huck are on the shelf.

Why does Dutton's matter? Why bring it up in a post about preservation? Well, it turns out that the bookstore leases its space from Charles T. Munger, present owner of the building. According to an article on January 17 in the LA Times, Mr. Munger is...
...a founder of the Los Angeles law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson who partnered in 1978 with Warren E. Buffett to run Berkshire Hathaway Inc., a holding company; Munger's shares are worth $1.7 billion. He had been a partner with his brother-in-law, David Barry, in the San Vicente property but recently bought him out.

Munger, 83, has big plans for the property, which runs from the former Bonner School to Longs drugstore and includes del Mano Gallery and several small businesses and offices.

"It's the ultimate redevelopment site," Munger said, adding, "We've always been straight with Doug [Dutton, owner of the bookstore] and told him the property would be developed in due course. The more time goes by, the closer we are to due course."
This news came shortly after Dutton's Books and Art on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Dutton's Beverly Hills closed. Los Angeles bibliophiles came out and voiced their concern and pledged to preserve the last Dutton's. Because of the posh locale, many of these patrons are Hollywood and LA elite. Thus, their protest attracts attention. Furthermore, there is recent news that the building may be classified as a historic site. Historic review for Dutton's site - Los Angeles Times:
Four commissioners voted to follow a staff recommendation that the building warranted further investigation as a well-preserved example of mid-20th century California modern architecture. A fifth commissioner, Carlos Singer, recused himself because of his friendship with David Barry, the man who commissioned the building in 1950 and recently sold it.

Dutton's 'represents a wonderful, cherished community center,' said [architectural photographer Julius] Shulman, 96. 'There should not be a debate.'

The home to Dutton's since 1984, the building is organized around a central courtyard that has long been a neighborhood gathering spot and the setting for hundreds of book signings by the likes of Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Tom Wolfe and the late Kurt Vonnegut.

The applicant in the case is Diane M. Caughey, a daughter of Milton H. Caughey, the modernist architect who designed the building on San Vicente Boulevard.
I do cherish Dutton's, and I do want to preserve California architecture. I'm not sure if this building is the best case for preservation (i.e. the building itself), but I do hope that the literary establishment based there is preserved. Whether the building as it stands is necessary for that to endure, is part of the question. Nevertheless, we do tear down far too much history in California, and it is up to us (as patrons and citizens) to hold the line.

I am surprised that this gentleman, Mr. Munger, is at all interested in real estate development at this stage in his life. He's wealthy and has established his legacy. Why the battle to put up condos? If I had his fortune, I'd leave Dutton's as is. Only I'd build a massive river ride that docked at Dutton's cherished courtyard. It would be a literary journey upon a waterway that resembled the mighty Mississipp. Patrons would ride for free on river rafts, guided by actors portraying Tom, Huck, Jim, maybe even Aunt Sally, who would regale us with tales and suggestions for great reading.

An LA Times reader, M.T. Gyepes, from Pacific Palisades wrote to the Op Ed page this note, which I think says it all quite well: "Ah, the sadness and the sorrow of it all; poor L.A. -- so much money, so little refuge."

Ahoy! We Return to Santa Catalina

Many years ago, at home from college one summer, I was invited with friends to boat from Marina Del Rey to Catalina Island. I knew nothing of the boat, nor the particulars of the voyage, but I sort of trusted our captain, Wayne, and the conveyance looked seaworthy. This craft was a speed boat Wayne had purchased with his dad at a police auction. (It was not hard to imagine that it was used in the Mexican drug trade, as secret compartments were aplenty.) Our voyage was delayed by the Coast Guard pointing out that we lacked some paperwork or license (though we did have the proper number of life preservers). We set out from MDR after dark. Wayne said all we needed to get to Catalina was to stay on a particular compass reading and we'd reach the island (some 30 miles away in the dark). We were near full throttle, about a mile out, when Wayne noticed that we were not planing, as a speedboat should. I took the helm (gulp!), and Wayne opened the engine compartment. Wayne shouted to us something, but I could not hear what he said. I could see my brother's reaction and soon realized we were in trouble. In fact, we were fast taking on water. This was not good. Wayne signaled for me to cut the engine, and he ran to activate the bilge pump. In that brief moment of quiet, before we started cursing out Wayne, I looked back to the distant lights on shore. If we had to ditch the boat, I knew I could swim that distance. But it would not be easy. I had done it once before, to achieve the mile swim badge as a Boy Scout at Camp Emerald Bay in Catalina (during and following which I experienced mild hypothermia due to the cold water currents around the island). Lucky for us, we chugged back into harbor, safe but somewhat timid of sea voyages.

The good news is that one does not have to endure such travails to get there and back again.

How can I get to Santa Catalina Island?
  • Let's begin with the fastest way: helicopter. I've heard that Hollywood executives sometimes chopper to the airport for an afternoon lunch of buffalo burgers at the Buffalo Springs Station restaurant. Round trip chopper fare to the Airport in the Sky is only $156+tax on Island Express Helicopters. The "Big Buffalo" ("a third pound, all natural buffalo burger served on grilled sourdough") is only $8.75.
  • There are passenger ferries that operate out of San Pedro (I think this is the most common port of call), Long Beach, Newport Beach, Dana Point, and Marina Del Rey (Catalina Express, Catalina Explorer, Catalina Flyer, or Marina Flyer), but be sure to make a reservation well ahead of time for a specific departure time and site. We tried planning a trip out of another location once on a new ferry service, and they canceled just before the trip due to "mechanical problems." I gathered that it was more due to not enough passengers booking on the new ferry, so they decided that it wasn't worth buying the fuel to take us over. I'm reluctant to name the company, just to give them a small benefit of the doubt. But I bet there are others who have had a similar experience.
  • Of course you can get to the island via your own private boat or aircraft. (Check each link for details.) Be sure to trust your captain or pilot. According to the Chamber of Commerce there are "approximately 400 moorings at Avalon, [and] approximately 720 moorings elsewhere in Catalina, including 249 at Isthmus Cove."
When to go?
  • As soon as possible.
  • I've heard that the one of the best things Western Civilization has to offer is Buccaneer Days at Catalina. This year, on October 6th, they're planning the 18th annual event. I've never been, but common lore is that everyone on land or sea dresses up as pirate, and there is much gallivanting going on.
  • According to the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau the weather is mostly sunny:
    Temperature and rainfall vary in different parts of Catalina but U.S. Weather Bureau records have general application to the entire island. Based on these records: Sunny or partly sunny days average of 267 per year. June through October, average Avalon high temperature is 76.1 degrees; average low is 58.4 degrees. November through May, average high is 63.2 degrees; average low is 49.4 degrees. Rainfall averages approximately 14 inches per year, nearly all of it occurring between mid-October and mid-April. Generally speaking, the daytime temperature rarely goes above 80 degrees in the summer, below 50 degrees in the winter. Water temperature ranges from 64 to 73 degrees in the summer and 54 to 59 degrees in winter.
What to do?
  • Most everyone starts in Avalon, but to be honest, I've never been. I've always avoided that side of the island. I've arrived at Two Harbors or the Boy Scout camp and explored from there.
  • Catalina is a very popular hiking and camping spot.
  • Avalon offers most amenities you can find at any tourist destination.
Why isn't this the most popular destination in Southern California?
  • My guess is that it's difficult to get to, there are no theme park rides (which I have nothing against theme parks—to each his own), and it's a little pricey to get yourself onto the island and full of food and drink once you're there. We always carry in what we need, for the most part, but that's difficult too.
Aren't the locals and other travelers going to be upset that you're reporting on their well kept secret?
  • Maybe. But to keep the numbers down, I must disclose that there are rattlesnakes on the island. I've never seen one there (though, I have seen one in the hills around San Diego, and we cooked that sucker on the barbecue. It tastes like shrimp, but maybe that's because we sautéed it in butter and garlic).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Oh Bother!

The Bear at Alert the Bear is good friends with Winnie the Pooh (old school Pooh, not the cheap imitation you see claiming to be PB today). First, Pooh is disenfranchised from the right to define his legacy by the good folks at Disney, and now he has to deal with missing honeybees due to Colony Collapse Disorder. The Bear is definitely on alert!

CCD has been covered by all of the major news organizations, but we, as consumers, don't seem to be alarmed. Supermarkets are still stocked with reasonably priced fruits. Bees are essential to the pollination of flowering vegetation. Nature supplies sufficient bee populations for this to occur without much trouble. Commercial agriculture, on the other hand, has been using commercial bee populations (that travel coast to coast, depending on the growing season) to pollinate. In fact, there are some producers that use pesticide to keep away native bees (e.g. seedless fruit products). I met a beekeeper, Erin Forbes of Overland Honey, this weekend, and she explained that among small beekeepers, they believe the problem to be, quite simply, tired and overworked bees. A story in today's LA Times somewhat agrees:
The only thing that all of the problem hives seem to have in common is that they were experiencing periods of "extraordinary stress" due to poor nutrition or drought.

If the hives are already weakened, factors that otherwise might not be fatal could have disastrous effects.
The good news in the article is that scientists and beekeepers don't seem to be as alarmed now as they have been in recent weeks. In fact, many commercial producers are reporting potentially record crops.

The apiaries are telling us to ask some questions. We need to think more about how we get food to our table. How is commercial growing affecting the environment? How are pesticides and stressed animal and insect populations going to change the way we grow and raise food? How different will the food on the table be in ten or twenty years?

If all of this is too much to handle, I suggest spending some time with our friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Governor and Pols Survey Griffith Park Damage and Tourists Return to Catalina

This morning I came across the Los Angeles Times: Political Muscle Blog written by Robert Salladay. In the blog, he quotes a report by Dana Bartholomew of the LA Daily News:
"'Schwarzenegger, accompanied by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Tom LaBonge, emerged from his van on the south slope of Griffith Park, directly above a historic nursery saved by firefighters.

'He trudged slowly, thoughtfully, silently, inhaling the pungent remains of what had once been lush ceonothus, toyon and sage.

'For nearly 100 feet, he walked, looking at scorched earth and listening to LaBonge's much-repeated description of how 'the fire danced like Mick Jagger on stage - boom, boom, boom!' How fire roared Tuesday toward Loz Feliz, threatening such mansions as the Lautner home once featured in 'L.A. Confidential.' How the fire had turned around and raced up Mt. Hollywood, torching Dante's View and its tree-lined garden. And how water-dropping helicopters had worked through the night to save the day.

'The governor then praised the work of firefighters who had coordinated their efforts to save some of the city's most famous landmarks, including the Griffith Observatory and the L.A. Zoo.

' 'This is amazing,' Schwarzenneger said, looking toward downtown L.A. in the distance. 'It (the fire) actually stopped there. This is the work of the firefighters. If you think about it, we had this really incredible fire ... and it didn't take everything out. Then he pointed to a partially burned oak and added: 'This is "
Schwarzenneger is right to praise the firefighters. Catalina is dangerous terrain for fighting fires. Though, it seems as though the locals treated the crews well.

But those fighting the Catalina fire may long remember this blaze — and not just because it was a life-or-death struggle against the elements.

Tired they may be, after three days of battling the inferno that at one point loomed ominously over the resort town of Avalon and its picturesque harbor. But with the blaze now well in hand, some firefighters christened it with a new name — the Ten-Pound fire.

That's how much weight the firefighters jokingly said they've gained, thanks to the generosity of island merchants. Instead of their usual spartan fare while manning the fire lines, they feasted on tri-tip steak Saturday night.

Still, even as the firefighters got a little relaxation, the narrowness of the resort island's escape from catastrophe was written into the hills framing the town as the sun rose Sunday morning. They were an ashy, dusky gray. Burned evergreens drooped lifelessly, and the thick carpet of cactus and scrub that once covered the hillsides was charred to blackened stalks.

One home was lost in the fire, along with six out-buildings back in the brush.
And finally:
Elsewhere on Catalina on Monday, life was continuing to return to normal. Tourists were trickling back to the island, and firefighters were leaving. Many left with leis made of sea shells or bright ribbons around their necks.

Debbie Avellana, owner of Debbie's Island Deli, stood by the dock to give the leis to the firefighters "as a token of my gratitude and the overall feelings of the people on this island."
I bet the next time things turn dangerous on Catalina, the firefighters will not forget how well they were treated.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Santa Catalina Island Fire Uncontained

(Photo-LA Times)
I read recently in Sunset magazine that Catalina "is, in fact, a mountain, and would be the highest in California if three-fourths of it weren't beneath the sea." Through subduction, volcanic activity, and millions of years of metamorphism, this great island was formed. Nature works slowly, and we only see a mere glimpse of its record.
Los Angeles Times: Breaking News: "'Looks like a volcano'

Dozens of people watched the fire from the top of Signal Hill, 26 miles away. Even from that vantage point, the wall of flames on the islands were clearly seen.

'It looks like a volcano erupting,' said Kevin Lembke of Long Beach."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Griffith Park Fire

(Photo-LA Times)
If you have missed the news lately, you might not know that a large portion of Griffith Park has been burned by fires.
Burnt park not down for the count - Los Angeles Times: "The fire that engulfed almost a quarter of Griffith Park was brought under control Wednesday, but not before destroying familiar natural landmarks and leaving hillsides charred and barren."
The Griffith Park fire destroyed more than 800 acres. One of the largest municipal parks in the United States, the 4,200-acre property was bequeathed as a Christmas gift to Los Angeles in 1896 by Col. Griffith Jenkins Griffith, who made a fortune as a gold speculator. All of the park's buildings survived.
[Read the article--link above--to see which points of interest are temporarily lost to the flames.]

It is an extraordinary part of the city, and it is the one of two places (other than the Pacific Ocean) that I tell visitors to LA that they must see. I proposed to my wife there. I hiked there when I was in high school with friends, especially at night, to see the dazzling city below and a clearer vision of the universe above.

My Favorite Spots in Nature Threatened by Nature

A large portion, more than 400 acres, of Catalina Island have been burned by fire. Parts of Avalon are being evacuated, and there are fire crews and equipment being ferried to the island via hovercraft from Camp Pendleton (thank God for our tax dollars supplying the military!). Catalina is a very dry habitat, but the weather in California has been more conducive to fire lately, and winds are making things dangerous. Read the LA Times Breaking News blog for details, and pray that this wonderful place is spared too much damage. I know that nature needs fire, but I can admit that I'm selfish. I don't want my personal treasures lost in my lifetime.

Los Angeles Times: Breaking News: "Wayne Griffin, president and executive director of Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, said 'we have fixed winged aircraft dropping fire retardant between the fire and the city. We are seeing flames on the top of the ridge. It is getting somewhat scarier. Some of the hotels have been evacuated and we are making plans to accommodate people elsewhere.'

Griffin said the fire response by hovercraft from Camp Pendleton was used last year to quash a wildfire and the firefighters are experienced in the island's mountainous terrain."

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Steinbeck's Still Writing is running an AP story about Los Angeles writer, Joel Eisenberg, discovering a collection of lost Steinbeck manuscripts.
"Eisenberg found a 188-page manuscript of 'Sweet Thursday,' the sequel to Steinbeck's famous 'Cannery Row'; a manuscript from another book, 'The Log from the Sea of Cortez'; an unpublished story, 'If This Be Treason,' set during the McCarthy era; the unfinished draft of a musical comedy called 'The Bear Flag Cafe' and carbon copies of 13 Steinbeck letters from 1953.

The collection will be auctioned May 24 in San Francisco in two lots. The auction could generate more than $500,000."
Congratulations, Joel. I'm happy for you and for Steinbeck fans, but I'm probably not the only one who is skeptical that these manuscripts were suddenly found. (Wouldn't the papers give off an ethereal glow? Wouldn't a chorus of angels sing when you opened the box?) I truly hope they're authentic. If they are, they'll be published soon. In the meantime, enjoy an oft neglected, but fun Steinbeck read, Travels with Charlie. It's a travel memoir about a driving across the United States with a standard poodle in a camper.

I'd like to own a place called, "The Bear Flag Cafe." I just might some day.

Monday, May 7, 2007

And the Winner Is...

My wife and I, like most of the world, spent part of our weekend in a dark theater watching Spider Man take on a trio of bad guys to allay his overwhelming guilt and impress his girlfriend. I enjoyed the movie, for what it is, and I'm glad that thousands of people (judging by the long credits) are making a good living making good entertainment.

In today's Los Angeles Times, below the photo of the newly elected French president (Wow, the LA Times covers international news? Who knew?) is a story about Spider Man demolishing box office records. To quote:
"Spider-Man 3" gave new meaning to the term "worldwide web" this weekend, snaring $373 million in ticket sales in a record display of Hollywood's global reach.

Fans in 107 countries lined up for Peter Parker's third outing, which shattered the previous mark by 47% and launched the movie industry's extended summer season in blockbuster style.

"Spider-Man 3" crushed the North American record with an estimated three-day total of $148 million in the U.S. and Canada, topping last summer's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." (Photo from
I grew up reading the LA Times, so I can't recall a time when Monday's news didn't include a box office tally. I glanced at it before I worked in the entertainment industry, I certainly read it when I did (or picked it up through the garbled diction in Variety), and for some strange reason I still look for the box office top five even though I'm long separated from that strange run through the film business. I gather that there are people outside of LA who are interested in this weekly race, but why should it matter unless you own shares in Sony?

Wouldn't you rather know who won the Kentucky Derby (Street Sense) or the weekend's big boxing match (Floyd Mayweather Jr.)? Or is Scream 5 beating Rocky XXVII more compelling?

Friday, May 4, 2007

Catalina--There and Back Again

Last Friday, I wrote a post about my introduction to Catalina Island, a grand little island 26 or so miles off the coast of Los Angeles. I had planned on writing about the island's history today, but I was a bit overwhelmed by the vast amount of information I came across. Basically, a blog post can't do justice to even a brief overview. So here's a casual look at Catalina history, and some links to further reading.

A grade school classmate's mom worked at the Phineas Banning historical residence in Wilmington, CA, so we took a field trip to the house. How does Wilmington connect to Catalina? Well, Banning established the commercial Port of Los Angeles. The wealth that followed enabled his sons to buy the island (yes, dude, they bought it all) in 1891. They weren't the first to own or inhabit the island, nor the last. They bought the island from a gent named James Lick, a California real estate mogul who had the good sense to invest in land before there was even a sense of worth about California property. There were developers at Catalina before Lick, and there were pirates, Portuguese explorers, and Indians on the island before them. (One account mentioned the Tonva tribe at Catalina. This tribe is also known to have inhabited land down the street from the place I grew up.)

Most people who travel to the island learn quickly that the Wrigley family (of chewing gum fame) bought Catalina from the Bannings in 1919. Their development and push to create tourism on the island is quite visible today (including the beautiful art deco Casino, where, alas, there is no gambling). The Wrigleys also owned the Chicago Cubs, and they brought the club out to the island for spring training occasionally in the 40s and 50s. The island grew as a popular destination until WWII when the military annexed the island. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the military was concerned about an attack on Los Angeles, and they saw fit to make Catalina an outpost and watch point. (The summer camp I attended and mentioned in the previous post used Navy land and materials. I swear my tent was used by WWII sailors, and it smelt like it had lived through a lot.)

Movie crews, tourists, full-time residents, bison and wild pigs followed. The island is sparsely populated, mostly due to the conservancy established by the Wrigley family. Next week I'll tell you how to get your family and your own smelly tent to the island for a little adventure.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A Deep Look at the Rodney King Beating, the LAPD, and the LA Riots

I lived in San Jose during the '92 Los Angeles riots. I learned of the verdict late in the day, and I decided to walk with some friends in what we thought would be a peaceful (impromptu) demonstration. When I left the dorms that evening, the mayhem had begun in Los Angeles. I had not yet seen the video of the Reginald Denny beating, so I was not aware of the mood that was mixed with the movement on the street. Our scene began to turn ugly at the edge of campus. We heard glass shatter, a palpable tension reverberated, and I looked up to see a phalanx of SJPD rolling toward the crowd.

Years later, while doing research on what went down in LA, I came across Lou Cannon's exhaustive book, Official Negligence : How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD. Some of the questions I had at the time were: where was Daryl Gates, why didn't the LAPD react with force, and why didn't the rioting spread to wealthier neighborhoods? Obviously, there are other questions relating to the riots, but I had in mind this vision of (what I thought at the time was) the outsized response of the SJPD. Why didn't the LAPD respond similarly at Florence and Normandie?

Cannon, a Washington Post reporter and biographer of Ronald Reagan, provides the answers. Quoting the Sunday Los Angeles Times Book Review (from "...the definitive work of modern Los Angeles, a massive effort to see the nation's most dynamic city at its most important crossroads.... Official Negligence is a vital contribution to the city's history."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Blog Post of Note: Los Angeles Riots Remembered

I mentioned in a previous post that I could not find much written about the fifteen-year anniversary of the riots. I spent a bit more time over the last few days looking for comment. I came across this one remembrance at Monday Morning Media Quarterback, and I thought I'd share it. Los Angeles Riots Remembered, 15 Years On :
"Late in the [Laker playoff] game, a message flashed on the square scoreboard above center court. ”Inglewood Police Control: Exit to the North and West only.” The crowd had been psyched–until we stepped out into the darkness and fire. A friend’s Honda had the windshield smashed. Our inconspicuous 1987 Chevy Cavalier was unharmed. All the streetlights were out. People threw rocks as we drove through deep puddles where firemen had tried to stop the burning. We raced north on LaBrea, looking into every car as they looked at us, wondering if the people inside were angry enough to kill. "