Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hollywood House Hunting: The Ennis & Sowden Houses

My father was a great builder of things - furniture, gates, a structure to house the pool equipment, theater scenery.  I, however, have done nothing to maintain his legacy.  Anything more advanced than an electric screwdriver is beyond my construction ken.  Hindsight graces me with the blessed guilt I feel for never apprenticing my dad, never absorbing his rich knowledge of the way things work.  As big a disappointment as I must be to my dad, Lloyd Wright must have been an equal source of genuine pride to his own father, Papa Frank Lloyd Wright.

Due to an extremely superficial knowledge of both architectural history and the location of Falling Water, I suppose that I've always associated Wright architecture strongly with locales east of the Rocky Mountains.  In spite of my ignorance, California (and the rest of the nation) shares equally in the wonder of America's most renowned architectural family.  Thankfully, two homes in Los Angeles, CA ensure that the adage "Like father, like son" will not die with Mr. Tiny.

The Ennis House (1924) - Los Angeles, CA

Built in the Mayan Revival style, Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House is as much a part of the Los Angeles landscape as the Chinese Theater or Griffith Park, in the foothills of which The Ennis House stands.  Thousands of textile blocks create an imposing hillside facade, reminiscent of many of the great architect's other works but with a little extra drama/adventure/whimsy that we'll call "The Hollywood Treatment."

Aren't these gates incredible?!!
 A definitive example of Wright's signature organic style, we always wish we could go beyond
those beautiful gates to explore the property and to get an uninterrupted view of the city.

The concrete "textile block" of The Ennis House has suffered over the years from dereliction and the elements.
Fortunately, the landmark structure has been undergoing a complete rehabilitation since its most recent sale in 2011.

The architecture and Wright-provenance alone are enough to make The Ennis House a classic sightseeing destination.  Although, movie buffs that we are, we can't escape our fascination with the home's cinematic history.

From House on Haunted Hill (1959) to Blade Runner (1982),
so many productions have used The Ennis House for location
shooting and for set inspiration, that the house has its very own 
IMDb page!

Timothy Dalton as Neville Sinclair and Paul Sorvino as Eddie Valentine in a scene from The Rocketeer (1991)
Incidentally, this is one of Mr. Tiny's all-time favorite movies; it's got everything -
nazis, mobsters, romance, action, adventure, old Hollywood, and even a zeppelin!!!

Like a chip off the old, Mayan, concrete textile block, Lloyd Wright (FLW's eldest son) designed The Sowden House.  A miracle of modernism, the younger Wright created incredible depth and dimension with a combination of glass and textural block.  This house too not only carries with it the Wright cachet, but also the intrigue of Hollywoodland lore. 

The John Sowden House (1926) - Los Angeles, CA
The lush vegitation makes passersby on busy Franklin Avenue feel as if they've stumbled upon a lost Mayan temple.

Commissioned by a reputable artist in the 1920s, by the 1940s someone allegedly far more sinister inhabited the home's storied walls.  In 1947 Dr. George Hodel, a respected surgeon, became a key suspect in the grisly Black Dahlia murder.  While he went unprosecuted for the crime, the doctor's own son believes that Elizabeth Short was murdered and mutilated inside the house, by his father, before being abandoned by the roadside in Leimert Park.  Shrouded in conspiracy and legend, the case continues to inspire Hollywood storytellers.

A more savory entry in the history of the home is its role in The Aviator; although the well-known screen siren never lived there alone or with any of her three husbands (Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra), The Sowden House stood in for the glamorous Ava Gardner's (Kate Beckinsale) Hollywood manse in the Howard Hughes biopic. 

Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Beckinsale, and Martin Scorsese on the set of The Aviator (2004)

I love both of these masterpieces of Wright architecture, as much for their Hollywood history as for their living proof that modernism was not solely a mid-century invention.  Moreover, I truly appreciate a son perpetuating his father's legacy; I hope that I can make things "Wright" by emulating my own father (if not in my ability to operate a hammer without removing my thumbnail).  If you are ever planning a self-guided architectural tour of Los Angeles, be sure to include The Ennis and Sowden Houses on your itinerary!

The Ennis Houses
2607 Glendower Ave
Los Angeles, CA

The Sowden House
5121 Franklin Ave
Los Angeles, CA


Mr. Tiny

Monday, August 25, 2014

Signs of the Times: Rancho Super Car Wash

There are some signs that, no matter how often they've been seen or photographed, still beg to be documented at every passing.  Such is the case with the animated, car-washing elephant of Rancho Mirage, CA's landmark, Rancho Super Car Wash.  Every time we head down Highway 111, we pull out the camera to capture the glimmering glory of that fez-wearing jumbo.

wacky tacky Rancho Super Car Wash
Rancho Super Car Wash (est. 1966)
"Light" on the animation (just the sparkling stream of water) but heavy on charm,
this bastion of vehicular OCD insists on a clean car; the desert can get very dusty
and an elephant never forgets to wash - and vacuum - his car....but never look in the
trunk (it's pretty filthy). 

Like a well-trained escapee from the never-was Coachella Valley Kiddie Circus, this playful pachyderm is a gentle reminder of how lax I am about the cleanliness of the wacky wagon.  Sadly, as soon as we get our photos, we usually just roll up the water-spotted windows and hit the time, next time.

I'll spare you the 749,000 other photos but trust me when I tell you that the sign is pink during the day and is only emblazoned in blue after sunset.  Thinking that Southern California had the market cornered on car-washing elephants, it was hard to contain my enthusiasm when on a late-night ride through Seattle, WA, I saw a similar silhouette glowing in the distance.

wacky tacky Elephant Super Car Wash
Elephant Super Car Wash (est. 1951)
Overwhelmed at the sight of Rancho's older sister in Seattle, all I got was
a glare-filled, through-the-window picture.  But isn't that sign great?!?!!
And get a load of that sweet ride on the other side of the road; my guess
is that it is another carload of neon-elephant-loving nerds!!!

Day or night, the Rancho Super Car Wash and its seemingly-unrelated extended family of signs has us drunk on neon wine; it seems that we see a parade of pink elephants everywhere we go!

"Pink Elephants on Parade" from Walt Disney's Dumbo

Rancho Super Car Wash
71490 Hwy 111
Rancho Mirage, CA

Elephant Super Car Wash
616 Battery St
Seattle, WA


Mr. Tiny

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mr. Tiny's Neighborhood Watch: Tiki Go Bragh

Limerick, Shamrock, Donnybrooke, and Kerry, these names offer the promise of a wee bit o' Ireland in the form of rolling green hills, stone cottages, and colorful village pubs.

What if I told you that there was a wacky tacky neighborhood in Southern California with street names as Irish as Irish Stew but whose architecture couldn't be further from the Emerald Isle - homes where fieldstone is replaced by lava rock and cozy thatch replaced by high-pitched roofs with longhouse beams?  Only about four suburban blocks long in either direction, there is a neighborhood that somehow manages to seamlessly blend the shillelagh with the ukulele.  

It's true!
Costa Mesa's Killybrooke neighborhood is an
island of island style in a sea of '60s ranch houses.

A half century of makeovers, remodels, and incongruous paint jobs have obscured some of the details of this tiki-tastic neighborhoood, but as the old saying goes, "The [tiki] devil is in the details."

Some people might tell you that these houses aren't anything special, but that's just a bit of the blarney.
The lava rock, decorative screens, assorted stone, and beautiful trim work all speak to their polynesian provenance.

Many of the homeowners, probably unaware of the treasures they have, try their best to disguise some of the tell-tale tiki signs.  If a homeowner has made it difficult to detect the Hawaiian-style heritage, one need only look up; it is easy to put on a new front door or slap on a coat of paint, but very few people change the roofline.

Some rooflines are high-pitched, some are supported by decorative beams.
My favorites have the extreme angled notch and the longhouse beams.

Beyond the Irish names, the most surprising part of this neighborhood is that not a single homeowner has truly embraced the original architecture.  The most exciting homes are those that have essentially just been left alone.

All it needs is a bit of landscaping!

Not the most ostentatious house on the block, I appreciate this one for the louvered
vents on the garage, the roll-down window blinds, and the dynamic roofline.  In its way it does
faintly echo the architecture of some of the modest plantation homes on the islands.

Take a peek at that peak!

The stone chimney and garage gable are great!

I kind of love the monochromatic scheme of these two houses.  In a way it makes the trim more of a textural element.

My favorite roofline!

This garden is headed in the right direction!

Contemporary garage doors just don't do these houses any favors but a polynesian paint scheme
(and maybe a couple of masks on those white insets) would do wonders for this house.

I think this home has got it down - the tropical foliage, the covered atrium with decorative screens, and the rock walls.
It definitely wins the Mr. Tiny's Neighborhood Watch Award!

Do these homes actually look like the type of architecture one is likely to encounter in Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, or Samoa?  Probably not.  There is no denying, however, that these houses are wonderful relics of America's obsession with polynesian pop in the mid-20th Century.  I can't wait for the day when a hardcore-tiki enthusiast brings the spirit of aloha back to this micro-community.  Just imagine the luau block parties!  

Saving the best revelation for last, I must disclose that in a near-adjacent neighborhood in the very same city, the streets, with names including Tahiti, Pitcairn, Samoa, Palau, Oahu, and Maui, are all named for islands.  Was this a major city-planning mistake?  I, for one, would like an explanation!!!  Maybe Mr. "Mele Kalikimaka" can elucidate...

"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" - Bing Crosby
I guess as long as everybody is smiling, we should just be happy too.
I mean why wouldn't those eyes be smiling when gazing upon such 
an incredible neighborhood?

Do you have a polynesian-themed neighborhood where you live?  Would you want to live in a tiki-fied house?  Even better, do you live in a tiki house now?!  Have you ever been to Ireland?  Having never been there myself, it just occurred to me maybe there is nothing unique about this tract of homes; this must be exactly how all Irish neighborhoods look, right?!


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chow Time: Bun 'N Burger

I have fallen off the "Healthy Eating" wagon so often that I've determined my best bet is simply to tether my cankle to the wagon and just get dragged behind, hoping for the best.  Predictably, the knot in the rope seemed to slip a little when I saw the neon wonder of a short-order cook proffering a hamburger in one hand and a piece of pie in the other.

wacky tacky chow time

Situated on a bustling corner of Alhambra's Main St, is an under-appreciated institution of Southern California's wartime gastronomy.  Looking from the outside like something straight out of a Hollywood movie's "Main St," Bun 'N Burger (est. 1941), is just shy of its 75th anniversary of serving America's greatest taste sensation, the burger ('n the bun too).

wacky tacky chow time
Bun 'N Burger - Alhambra, CA

The angled corner entry, the awnings, and that marvelous signage are all so wonderfully stereotypical of a burger joint of its vintage.  After countless disappointing, after-hours drives-by (why am I always in Alhambra after dark???), I was excited to finally get a chance to experience what lay beyond the locked doors of Bun 'N Burger.  

The obligatory red booths and counter stools are set solidly in place before formica tables and countertops.
I immediately fell head over heals for the gleaming, stainless-steel fixtures including that monstrous exhaust hood.
I would thrill to see the two-tone green color story of the exterior brought under foot in the form of linoleum tiles.

Quiet, quick, and courteous, the service at Bun 'N Burger is top notch.  I was so lost in snapping photos that the waitress finally had to snap me out of it just to take my order.  

Oh darn, I just missed menudo....

Convinced that I was making a healthy choice by ordering a grilled chicken sandwich with no cheese and no mayo (I might be the last person on Earth that foolishly does not consider bread the enemy), I realized that the waitress probably felt sorry for me and brought my sandwich with a side of guacamole (healthy fat and omega something something, right?) AND a side of fries.

Waffle-cut fries!!!
There would be no saving room for pie...

As well as "Professional Waffle-Cut Fry Connoisseur," one of my many dream jobs would be "Make-Under Artist."  As frequently and as fiercely as I tout the ideology, "Too much is never enough," I often think that what old-fashioned eateries could really tolerate is a heavy dose of good, old-fashioned decluttering - particularly where totally-unrelated miscellanea is concerned.  When will retro diners/coffee shops/et al. realize that were they all landmarks on old Route 66, the"Mother Road" would've been a highly-circuitous eight-million-miles long!

At some point in its history, Bun 'N Burger created an additional dining room by expanding into an adjoining space - as much to accommodate more guests as to accommodate the growing collection of reproduction Coca-Cola memorabilia, I'd wager.  Is it so wrong that I just want to see the streamlined bones of a streamline-era restaurant?  All Bun 'N Burger needs is a fair bit of curation by someone with a level head and a keen eye.  However, there are definitely a few select collectibles that I think should remain; I mean, who can resist a taxidermied swordfish?!!

And this loving tribute to the King...there's always
room in a wacky tacky environment for black velvet.

"Hot Dog" - Elvis Presley
What goes better together than hot dogs and hamburgers, I ask you?

Bun 'N Burger
1000 E Main St
Alhambra, CA


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Checking-In: Hotel Congress

The finest sight that any carload of road-weary travelers can see is that of a crackling neon sign standing sentinel atop an historic landmark hotel, beckoning them in for a night of much-needed slumber.

wacky tacky hotel congress
A glowing sight for sore eyes in Tucson, AZ

"Congress" is perhaps an all-too-accurate name for a place that over the past 95 years has undoubtedly housed so many "acts of congress" within its walls that it should soon be putting a bid in for President (zing!!!).  Actually, the name of Tucson, Arizona's most famous hotel, Hotel Congress (est. 1919) comes from the tree-lined street on which it proudly stands (incidentally, Congress St took its name from a 19th-Century Saloon).

Hotel Congress - Tucson, AZ

Primarily known as the last hideout of John Dillinger's gang (a January 1934 fire, started in the hotel basement, exposed the thugs and eventually led to the capture of their leader at a nearby residence), the hotel continues to host "Dillinger Days," on the third weekend in January.  Since then, hotel guests have been of either a more upstanding or a more otherworldly variety.  Yep, as with most hotels of a certain age, rumors abound that some guests of Hotel Congress check in but they never check out; we were so tired that the only thing that we saw during the night of our stay was the inside of our eyelids.

They must have known that a terrazzo entry is always a winner
in the book of wacky tacky!  That's kind of spooky, right?

The facade of Hotel Congress is stately, if a little unassuming but...

Once the threshold is crossed, one is
treated to a Southwestern step back in time.

Decorated in the Puebo Deco style (a combination of traditional Art Deco geometry and iconic Southwestern motifs), the common areas of Hotel Congress are a wacky tacky wonderland.  A mix of pattern, color, and shape, the near visual overload is grounded by rich woods and Spanish Colonial furniture.

The lobby, the landings, and the hallways are all decked out in Pueblo Deco finery.
Southwest design schemes tend to walk a very fine line; when it turns into that
flute-playing silhouette and those giant, metal lizards above the fireplace, I'm out. 

Hotel Congress falls decidedly on the SAFE side of that style divide!

Spare by contemporary hotel standards, the guest rooms are actually a treat for full-immersion vintage lovers looking to escape the modern world.  I was shocked to enter a room devoid of a television; and yet the absence of televisions and other modern amenities truly enriched both the overall experience and my sleep!

Black and white tiles and a pedestal sink make the bathroom feel perfectly old-timey.
Simple iron beds made up with white chenille bedspreads, modest furnishings,
and patterned, flat-weave carpets, made the whole experience period perfect!

The third-story sun deck, with its scenic mural of a stunning Southwest vista, looks
incredible and incredibly eerie bathed in the blood-red glow of the hotel's rooftop sign. 

If you find yourself in Tucson, AZ without a place to stay, why not hide out like an all-American hoodlum or haunt like an all-American ghost, and check-in to Hotel Congress.

Hotel Congress
311 E Congress St
Tucson, AZ


Mr. Tiny

Friday, August 15, 2014

Signs of the Times: The Palms Motor Hotel

Arguably one of America's most recognizable neon masterpieces, the magnificence of The Palms Motor Hotel sign is impossible to overstate.  Twin palms, permanently wind-swayed since 1954, stretch to great heights above a commanding arrow that has directed decades of passing motorists towards a choice, roadside-ogling op.  And ogle they must!

Some neon benders/sign makers would be satisfied with a one-color, one-font, one-sided sign.  The Palms sign was obviously not a product of "some" sign makers;  no less than four colors of neon and no less than five fonts create a tropical paradise in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.

A photo of the lit sign during our stay in 2012.
Sure, the sign needs a little bit of maintenance (neon repair and
the arrow's twinkling lights), but the breathtaking impact is still so great that
even in the dead of winter we could've sworn we felt the warm tradewinds.

A vintage view of The Palms Motor Hotel sign.
Even from the earliest days, The Palms was offering irresistible amenities;
 "Heated Pool" and "Cocktails," what more could newlywed couple ask for?!!
(except for maybe a coin-operated, vibrating bed in the "Bridal Suite")

The amenities are all well and good, but we know that the real star of this
multicolor, neon spectacular is that bright blue monkey...and the "Free TV."

Should you find yourself in the Portland area, our recommendation is to immediately visit The Palms Motor Hotel, day or night, to get an incredible view of that amazing sign.  After you have photographed every angle and mopped up the puddle of your neon-sign-loving drool, we suggest you then hit the road for more welcoming accommodations.

"Monkey See, Monkey Do" - The Archies

The Palms Motor Hotel
3801 N Interstate Ave
Portland, OR


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chow Time: Langer's Delicatessen

If Hollywood storytelling is as historically accurate as I like to believe, then Sean Penn Mickey Cohen (holed-up in the Park Plaza Hotel before a knock-down, drag-out fight culminating in his arrest) just had to have become a regular patron of the neighborhood's oldest and most-authentic outlet of oh-so-delicate, Jewish essen, Langer's Delicatessen (est. 1947).  Nearly seventy years after both the landmark restaurant's opening and the heyday of Los Angeles' most celebrated hoodlum/murderer/racketeer, only one of the two remains; as the saying goes, "Only the strong survive."  Langer's not only survives, it thrives in its original location at the corner of 7th and Alvarado, across from the famous (infamous?) cinematic location of Cohen's downfall, MacArthur Park.

Langer's Delicatessen - Los Angeles, CA

If Mickey Cohen himself never partook of Langer's fine menu offerings, then I like to think that at the very least, Sean Penn's and Josh Brolin's assistants made time to run across the park and pick up some sandwiches from Langer's reliable curbside service during the filming of Gangster Squad.

Langer's is not necessarily a visual show-stopper.  Nevertheless, it makes the most of its '60s-era
expansion by way of terrazzo floors, tufted booths, colorful subway tile, and dramatic light fixtures.
The place is seriously legit -they've got their own t-shirts!

Missing perhaps some of the stylistic splendor of other wacky tacky eateries, what Langer's might lack in form, it more than makes up for in function - delicious food.  To describe the food as delicious, delectable, delightful is merely to practice understatement in the extreme (not to mention alliteration).  Dedicated noshers travel far and wide just to get a taste of MacArthur Park's sole recipient of The James Beard Foundation Award.

It takes first-timers a few minutes to peruse the substantial
menu, but for Mr. Tiny, the choice is always premeditated...

The No. 1 - Pastrami, Coleslaw, and Russian Dressing on Rye
It wouldn't be difficult to outdo Meg Ryan's Katz's Deli performance when eating this sandwich -
it's that good.  The rye bread is double-baked to ensure a tender center and crispy crust.

Sure, all the usual delicatessen suspects are present and accounted for: tongue and egg salad,
pastrami and pickles, ruggalach and knishes, sister-in-law and liverwurst, but let's be real Langer's...

You had me at radish rose!

And our compliments to Langer's; it's well known that
any meal that ends with a "wet one" is a good one!

Carrying on the same traditions of quality and service, as so beautifully rendered in this painting, it's dollars
to donuts (or maybe dill pickles) that Langer's will continue to make some of the best food in Los Angeles.

And with the way that they make [coffee] cake, there is very little chance
that it would ever get left out in the rain.  Even if it did, the recipe is well
secured and will continue to be made again and again.

"MacArthur Park" - Richard Harris

Whatever you do, don't make like the cake made famous in song, getting left out in the metaphorical rain; get thee to Langer's ASAP!

Langer's Delicatessen
704 S Alvarado St
Los Angeles, CA


Mr. Tiny

Take that, James Beard Foundation Award!!!