Thursday, February 28, 2013


Whatever happened to the automat?  A major advance in the movement towards convenient, casual, and cost-conscious dining, the automat was the unprecedented, and brilliant, invention of Horn & Hardart.  Yes, before McDonald's, before KFC, before Taco Bell, the biggest names in "fast food" were Joseph Horn & Frank Hardart.

Proprietors of dinettes in the late 1800's, Horn & Hardart developed a novel style of food service that had never been seen before.  In 1902, the first Horn & Hardart Automat opened its doors to the hungry residents of Philadelphia, PA.

Reduced to its essence, the automat was a living vending machine - a wall of louvered doors behind which sat perfectly portioned roast beef, mixed vegetables, fruit salad, or bread pudding to be had for mere nickels.  On the other side of the wall was a fully-functioning kitchen and a staff of food service specialists placing and replacing food in every window.  I don't know about you, but the novelty of a coin-operated food dispenser would not have been lost on Mr. Tiny; I would have been the first in line!

Can you follow directions?

Patrons of an automat would make a brief stop at the cashier to exchange their folding money for coins; with a handful of nickels, an empty stomach, and a dream, the possibilities would have seemed endless!

Wrong or right, I most closely associate automats with the 1930's, because warm, hearty food bought for mere change seems like a practical option during a time when many city dwellers, reduced in means by "The Crash," would have found even a nickel a pretty dear price to pay for a meal.  

By the the early 1940's, Horn & Hardart
 operated over 150 automats.

Basically everything I know was learned by watching classic movies.  Does that leave me with a sub-public school level, Hollywood-revisionist's understanding of history?  I guess so.  Does that leave me constantly shouting, "Chuck Heston" when the correct answer to the Sunday School question is "Moses?"  Yea, it doth.  Does that leave me breaking into musical numbers every time it rains in California?  Sue me.  

My favorite classic movies that feature the function and unique atmosphere of American automats are Easy Living and That Touch of Mink.   Could you hope for two better heroines - Jean Arthur and Doris Day - I ask you?!!!  If you've never seen one or both of these movies, do yourself a huge favor and rectify the situation.

Easy Living (1937)
with Jean Arthur and Ray Milland

That Touch of Mink (1962) 
with Doris Day, Cary Grant, Audrey Meadows, and Gig Young

A fixture of America's largest cities in the first half of the 20th Century, automats began a steady decline in the 1960's, owing to post-war suburban sprawl, increased mobility of the average citizen, and the rise of America's most infamous and long-lasting culinary tradition - fast food.  I guess the shenanigans shown in both films (a pessimistic, albeit realistic, portrayal of an automat's deficiencies) probably did nothing to aid in perpetuating this particular dining innovation.

In my mind, the automat should still be a viable source for feeding hungry folks of the 21st Century.  It goes without saying that modern food could not be had for pocket change, but card swipers would be a practical alternative.  Although as I said, my mind is addled by the unholy amount of cinema I have viewed and the facts show that my theory is baseless and totally without merit.

The end of an era

Horn & Hardart tried unsuccessfully to revive the medium in the 1980's.  As recently as 2006, a short-lived revival was underway in New York City, subsequently hammering the last nail into the automat coffin.

Bamn Automat, NYC (2006-2009)
The inherent problem with Dutch import, Bamn Automat, was that it strayed from the original Horn & Hardart formula with menu offerings that were subpar versions of food that could be had at any number of familiar, adjacent fast food restaurants.  The beauty of Bamn's forebears was that the menu consisted of hearty, homestyle cooking.  Moreover, the originals had gleaming dining rooms with clean tables attended by uniformed employees.  The differences are glaringly obvious, making this just another edition of "Why can't things be like they used to be?"

Fortunately, in our neck of the woods we have a Great Depression survivor/holdover in the form of Clifton's Brookdale Cafeteria (see our "Chow Time" post here).  It is currently under renovation in the hands of new ownership, but we are promised a revived and restored Clifton's to be opened this year; if we can't have an automat, we'll happily survive on cafeteria fare.  Where else can you get a bowl of shimmering, shimmying, confetti Jell-O? 

"Automatic" - The Pointer Sisters
Because "The Neutron Dance wouldn't make any sense.


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Collecting: Mr. Rogers Style

I wear a uniform - not because of work demands, not because I am the oldest student left behind at St. Cosmas of Aphrodisia's Preparatory School (it's a real Catholic saint, I swear), and not because I am a  convicted felon writing to you from deep inside the state penitentiary.  I wear a "uniform" because I am a creature of habit, laziness, and ultra low-maintenance.

As much as I love, ponder, and design fashion, my own personal style can best be described as "Mr. Rogers revisited."  On any day of the week, you will probably find Mr. Tiny wearing a version of the iconic look made famous by Fred Rogers - in his casual, I'm-home-so-it's-time-to-get-comfy-and-change-my-shoes state.  Unwittingly, I have created a small collection of a wardrobe item that is almost always associated with golfers, octogenarians, or both - the cardigan.

Mr. Tiny's cardi collection
Winter white, yellow, orange, the many shades
of red, black, navy, aqua, baby blue, gray, and tan.

In calling it a collection, I get mildly self conscious.  It is like the scene in the original Hairspray when, during the audition process for "The Corny Collins Show," Penny is asked how many sweaters she owns.  Honestly, what is the right answer to that question?  Obviously five was too few, but is thirteen enough?  Too many?  Most of my sweaters are vintage, but I am not snobby on that issue as the same came to me courtesy of the thrift store's discount day.

One of my favorites to wear is this aqua/deep green, 
acrylic cardigan with an embroidered monogram.

Everyone asks what the letters stand for and I have fun
making names up or saying that it was a hand-me-down 
from an oddly-shaped giant. 

Obviously, I have no shame, as with this tag you have woven proof of my
size and my official relegation to shopping in the "For big men" department.

Not only do I like the tag's font, this piece of "exclusive
sportswear" makes me feel like the Squire of Canyon Square.

A cardigan is so often a part of my outfit that I feel nearly naked without one.

And nobody wants to see me naked...nobody...

It is a wearable security blanket.  It is a finishing touch.  It is a layer that offers warmth without too much (and very unnecessary) bulk.  It is an homage to one of the best creators, writers, performers/puppet voices in the history of children's programming. 

"Garden of Your Mind" - Fred Rogers
An exceptional use of Auto-Tune

What do you think of Mr. Tiny's cardigan obsession; is it bordering on the pathological?  Obviously I haven't gone too crazy - no stripes, multi-colors, or patterns.  What about you?  Is there a wacky tacky wardrobe staple without which you would just cease to live?


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Crazy Crafty: 4-in-1 Rocker Table

I'm not going to exhibit any false bravado; this makes me extremely uncomfortable.

The word on wacky tacky is out and people are now giving me ideas/items that they think will work for the blog.  Such was the case when I received a bulging file of newspaper and magazine clippings that once belonged to the grandmother of our pal, Nicole, over at Swellegant.  Apparently, granny was a fan of DIY home improvement because the file was brimming with ads and articles for tile projects, wallpaper hanging, and clever uses for contact paper and cork board.  By far, and I mean faaaaaaarrrrr, the most unusual and disturbing article came from the July 1970 issue of Popular Science.

"Turniture" by Lester Walker, designer of "Living Machines"

This piece, entitled "Turniture II" is a 4-in-1 Rocker Table that "serves
 all the patio functions" for which any popular scientist could desire.

I am willing to play along with the idea of two, maybe three, of the functions.  Picnic table?  Sure. Playhouse?  Why not?  Bar?  Well...  When one reviews the design of the picnic table turned playhouse turned bar, it becomes evident that the bartender would have to shimmy under the brace/divider piece, in essence locking himself into the role of bartender until the time came to turn "Turniture II" to its tabletop formation.  Giant, four-person rocking chair/boat?  As wacky as it may seem, I think I'm going to have to take a pass.  The models in the photo do nothing to ease my discomfort; Edgar and Rhonda look like rejects from the Glen Valley Country Club key party - alienated due to a total disregard for proper personal hygiene and a wild refusal to play by the rules.

"The passing of the front porch left a void in neighborly relaxation that has been filled
by the backyard patio.  I designed this four-man rocker as a replacement for the old
 porch swing, but realized it would have to earn its space with other outdoor functions."
So, Mr. Walker, we are to believe that your intention behind this giant, plywood behemoth is something as homespun as front-porch sitting and neighborly inetraction?  I'm not saying - but I'm just saying - drugs obviously played an integral role in the design.

Admittedly, I am no popular scientist (or unpopular scientist for that matter), so this one- 
page set of instructions for "One-man, thirty minute" assembly is insufficient for my 
meager abilities.  I'm much more conditioned to the IKEA brand of furniture assembly. 

And what's with the name?  "Plywood Rocker Table?"  Give me a Spirflunkt any day.

In doing some research on the designer of this plywood behemoth, I learned that just one year prior to the printing of our article, Walker debuted and coined the term "Turniture" in the July 1969 issue of Popular Science.

Bed, cafe table, dining table, and "discreet 'tete-a-tete' couch."
Not only was Walker a forerunner of owner-assembled, multi-use furniture, he also pioneered the idea of space conscious dwellings in a series of books about Tiny Houses.  Truly, I can appreciate Walker's concept.  My counterintuitive practicality, however, makes me wonder if there is something about the execution of his "living machines" that leaves something to be desired; patent leather pillows and adult-sized playground equipment just give me the creeps.

I acknowledge the fact that furniture building is beyond my realm so the 4-in-1 will remain unmade for the time being; Mr. Tiny will not be rockin' that boat.  Now that I have the article as part of the wacky tacky library, I think I'll file it under "Bizarre, 70's Fads" (see: life-size pantyhose dolls).

"Rock the Boat" - Hues Corporation


Mr. Tiny

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chow Time: Dinah's Family Restaurant

It's a restaurant story as old as the hills (see Vince's Spaghetti), a family successfully opens up a restaurant using a tried and true, family recipe, and subsequently establishes itself as a neighborhood landmark of hearty dining.  As word spreads and business grows, it becomes apparent that a second location across town would be the natural progression.  That second location opens to acclaim and the manager (usually a brother, son, uncle, cousin) decides that to increase business, the menu should expand, the hours should change, and the recipes should be refined.  Outraged at the young upstart, the original proprietor severs all ties with the new location and each facility runs independently of one another, refusing to change the name, the sign, or the very menu item for which the small chain became famous.  In all honesty, I don't know if this is the case behind Dinah's Chicken in Glendale, CA and Dinah's Family Restaurant on the west side of Los Angeles, but it is the story I made up to appease myself when I could find no connection between the two besides the signage, the chicken bucket, and the signature fried chicken itself.

Opened in 1959, Dinah's Family Restaurant is definitely representative of its place in history.  With minimal updates, this fixture of West Los Angeles casual cuisine gives patrons an opportunity to catch a glimpse of midcentury, mid-level, Southern California dining.

My favorite part of the restaurant is the stucco flying saucers suspended at staggered heights from the ceiling.

The cantilevered barstools are comfy and portions of the original
flooring are still visible.  Under all that commercial-grade
carpeting lies some seriously beautiful terrazzo. 

The menu is huge - both in terms of
 size and quantity of available items!

Mary opted for the dish which Dinah's is most famous -
the fried chicken.  Apparently, the creators of Dinah's developed
 a method for fried-chicken preparation in which the final
 product is completely "free of cooking oils," rendering it the
crispiest and juiciest in town.

I don't know enough about midcentury lighting to
understand this particular fixture - or why I love it.
It looks like the bell that used to ring at the end of
recess - perforated just enough to let a bit of light to
sparkle through and illuminate the rock wall.

The holiday decorations - including paper plates hung by tinsel garland -
seriously distract from the integrity of the restaurant's design.  The heavy
color story doesn't help matters much either.  Design dilemmas aside,
Dinah's is a good place for an inexpensive lunch.

There is no lack of merchandizing at Dinah's - mousepads, magnets,
and mugs make Mr. Tiny hungry for chicken.

If you can't find the time to stop in for a bite, be sure to drive by and get a glimpse of the iconic chicken-bucket sign.  According to the website, Dinah's was the original bucket sign in Southern California and has been featured in multiple Hollywood productions, most recently in Little Miss Sunshine.  

I do not have any idea what the real story is behind the two Dinah's.  Although I do have a second theory that someone was in the kitchen with Dinah "Strummin' on the ol' banjo" and that led to the "Fee, Fi, Fiddle-e-i-o" that wrenched the chain in twain.  If anyone has the real low down, please feel free to share.  Until then, treat yourself to some mighty-fine food and a song.

"Dinah" - Louis Armstrong

Dinah's Family Restaurant
Los Angeles, CA
6521 S Sepulveda Blvd

Dinah's Chicken
4106 San Fernando Rd #A
Glendale, CA


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Collecting: This Little Light of Mine

I am not a blasphemer.  The strength and coarseness of my language are dictated by the strict rules we had in our house as children; name-calling was forbidden and we got in serious trouble for saying, "Shut up."  Seriously..."Shut up."  Bugs Bunny said, "Shut up" on a regular basis and he was a cartoon rabbit.  Any indication that something inappropriate might escape my lips is preempted by the thought of my mom's disappointed face - the notable exceptions being the times when I am alone in the car and surrounded by idiotic drivers (read every time I am behind the wheel).  What can I say, I am a total square.  The only reason for this preamble is a sincere hope that this post will not offend anyone - including my mom.

My mom really doesn't like it when there is any association between Jesus and the world of wacky tacky; unfortunately for her, there are times when the link is unbreakable.  Those times are almost always due to some well-intentioned Christian faithful who, filled with the spirit, creates a piece of art that has an even greater (perhaps subversive) impact than originally intended.  This might be the case with a little bit of religious ephemera I came across whilst performing an intense round of pre-Spring cleaning.

This die cut, trifold card was among the programs from the funeral of my great-uncle,
 who passed when I was but an infant.  Having no memories of him whatsoever, it is a
 wonder why I would have have these things beyond the fact that I really appreciate
 the printed wood grain and ornate strap hinges...and hoarding.  

When opened, the card treats the holder to a beatific portrait of Jesus, eyes closed in
"reverential silence," and a brief history of our understanding of Jesus' physical appearance.

"And Jesus was transfigured before them and His face did
 shine like the sun, and His raiment was white as the light."

The back of the card explains that the original painting used for the
interior portrait is hung inside the Little Chapel at Knott's Berry Farm.
Knott's Berry Farm!!!
Then we learn that "This picture glows in the dark and the eyes open."
As if the theme park association wasn't enough, this picture GLOWS IN THE DARK!!!

Proof that glow-in-the-dark pictures are difficult to take.
One eye is definitely glowing brighter than the other -
almost giving the appearance of a sly little wink.

It might not be the Virgin of Guadalupe on a tortilla, but I like it.

In the end, this little bit of paper may have had absolutely nothing to do with my great-uncle's funeral.  As it turns out, the artist, Paul V. Klieben, painted multiple works for the Knott family and their park.  Giving "This Little Light of Mine" a whole new meaning, this card was handed out, starting in the early/mid 1940's, at the end of every service performed at Knott's Little Chapel.  Whether you are a believer or not, I hope it is possible to see the beautiful bizarreness of a glow-in-the-dark Jesus handed out at a chapel inside of a Western-themed amusement park.  The moral of this story is that if you have a little light, including a glow-in-the-dark card, you've just got to let it shine; I think even my mom could find the amusement in that.

"This Little Light of Mine" - Sam Cooke


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Corriganville Movie Ranch: A Railroad Adventure

The only thing consistent about Hollywood is its insatiable desire for "the next big thing."  Left in the wake of obscurity created by Hollywood's endless voyage towards new horizons are many people who devoted their entire careers to the business of show.  One of those folks is Crash Corrigan.

Crash Corrigan
(February 14, 1902 - August 10, 1976)

Crash Corrigan found minor success as no-name working actor in B-movies.  He really hit his stride when his willingness to perform extreme stunt work made him a hot commodity and a star of action films - particularly Westerns - of the 1930's.  In 1937, Corrigan parlayed his affinity for the West with his knowledge of the film industry into Corriganville Movie Ranch, a parcel of land that he bought, and on which he built a fully-functioning Western town, with the express purpose of renting it as a location for filming.

The gates to Corriganville

By the late 1940's, the entrepreneurial Corrigan saw an opportunity to exploit the possibilities of his Old West town even further.  Why not open the ranch to the public?  In the days of The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, and Roy Rogers, it only made good business sense to recreate live scenes of cowboy bravery and high noon shootouts for public consumption.  At the height of its popularity, Corriganville Movie Ranch was a much larger draw than its cowboy cousin to the South, namely Knott's Berry Farm

Rodeos, Wild West shows, pony rides - Corriganville was a full-service
 theme park years before Uncle Walt had Disneyland up and running.

Corrigan and some lucky cowpokes.

There is nothing we love more at wacky tacky than a midcentury interpretation of the Old West, so we were hot on the trail of Corriganville Movie Ranch.  It seemed the perfect destination for an adventure day with our pals Jesse and Emily (a lover of old Hollywood and head blogger at The Silver Screen Affair).  Knowing that the movie ranch itself was long gone, we were hoping to see some remnants of Corrigan's vision.  Unfortunately, the parts of Corriganville that were not devastated by a fire, were destroyed by earthquakes.  Anything else that was left was torn down in the interest of public safety.  The good news is that the land on which Corriganville stood is now a park that can be explored by anyone with a free afternoon and a love of cowboy culture and the great outdoors.

While the Western town is gone, Jesse proves that the landscape offers plenty of Western frontier to discover.
Hiking trails abound and we came across a least two boy scout troops .

Mr. Tiny, Mary, Emily, and Jesse

The only vestiges of Corriganville's former glory are some cement foundations and some
partial stone walls that were part of the working stables. It appears as if some horse's behinds
still populate the premises. 

Okay, some partial stone walls and the vents for the plumbing;
Emily gracefully displays their improper use. 

Mary found some ancient carvings of some indigenous people that
looked suspiciously like a "WT."  wacky tacky?
Did they know we were coming?

The neat part about this movie ranch turned nature reserve are the markers placed throughout the park that identify the history of the land and the films that were shot onsite.  While Corriganville was a prime location for Western pictures, its sprawling grounds made it a natural for shooting films of all kinds.  Would you believe that the Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller were filmed there?  As a matter of fact, it was Ray "Crash" Corrigan, as Weissmuller's stunt double, who wowed moviegoers by swinging from vine to vine.

A manmade lake provided a spot for shooting aquatic film sequences.
The lake has been drained so we were able to see some structural
 elements as well as the underwater booths/bunkers through which the
 cameramen shot the underwater  scenes filmed on the ranch. 

Emily & Mary sitting in a tree...
This particular tree happens to be in the bottom of the lake!

A bitter divorce between Corrigan and his wife was the beginning of the end for Corriganville Movie Ranch.  Unwilling to sacrifice Corriganville to California's well-known community property laws, Corrigan sold Corriganville Movie Ranch and all of its assets to Bob Hope when it henceforth became known as "Hopetown" (as much as we like Hope, this is pretty lame).  According to our sources, it was a persuasive call placed by Walter Knott, of Knott's Berry Farm, to Hope that sealed Corriganville's fate.  The exact details of the phone call are lost to history but what is known is that Corriganville/Hopetown languished, burned, eventually became a ward of the parks department.  While we wish that Corriganville was still a working Western Town/film location/theme park, it was nice to see that the land has been preserved for wacky tacky adventure days.

Corriganville Movie Ranch
7001 Smith Rd
Simi Valley, CA

Just up the road from Corriganville Movie Ranch is another bit of Simi Valley history.  Instead of heading immediately back to the freeway after leaving the park, we made a fortuitous turn and found the transplanted Santa Susana Railroad Depot.  This unexpected stop on our adventure gave us even more insight into the history of Corriganville.

Curt, Mr. Tiny, Emily, Jesse, and Mary

Curt, a local volunteer at the Santa Susana Railroad Depot, was an awesome
tour guide!  He regaled us with details of his 1958 visit to Corriganville and
the "Hanging of Cattle Kate." 

Looking almost exactly as it did on its first day of operation in 1903, the transplanted depot turned museum serves as a historical landmark in the valley, a monument to early 20th Century rail travel and commerce, and a place for train enthusiasts to watch the trains go by and to build railroads of their own.

One of the depot's main functions was to serve as the
Western Union office for the surrounding valley.
If this bike was part of the job of the WU messenger, then I say "Sign me up!"

The depot is outfitted with all the trappings of an early 20th Century train station.

Like sacks of potatoes

Crates of produce

And even more sacks of potatoes....only kidding....the one in the middle is a lady.

I really loved this barrel of railroad spikes.
The most thrilling part of the Santa Susana Railroad Depot was another wacky tacky favorite - miniatures!!!  A large portion of the facilities are dedicated to a huge collection of Lionel trains and a scale model railroad.

Every week, volunteers and scale-model railroad engineers come to
build, operate, and maintain the Santa Susana miniature trains.

A whole environment has been built to reflect Simi Valley and the greater
Los Angeles area.  We were happy to see that  Corriganville was well represented.

Did I mention that I love miniatures?
The details of the setting are meant to reflect Southern California in the 1950's.

Obviously, the details are open to interpretation....
But if I was that shepherd, I would definitely move my flocks far away from
Southern California's native Bengal Tiger population.

Downtown Los Angeles is represented in the form of Philippe's.

This is the part of the railroad's journey that passes through San Pedro.
I think the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce might have a new slogan -
"San Pedro - a great place to hack up sharks." Shudder...

If you're in the market for a wacky tacky adventure day, consider heading up to Simi Valley.  We got a great dose of the Old West, Hollywood lore, railroad history, and vitamin D!  When you're there be sure to give our regards to Crash and to Curt!

Santa Susana Railroad Depot and Museum
6503 Katherine Rd.
Simi Valley, CA


Mr. Tiny