Monday, April 27, 2015

Heritage Park: A Revolutionary Playground

I must often remind to myself that wacky tacky is not some abstract concept, some mysterious, intangible quality floating in the ether, only to be applied arbitrarily by a capricious overlord.  Often times wacky tacky is determined by the irrefutable proof of simple arithmetic.  Get out your number-two pencils.  What do you get when you take a Southern California city of early-Mexican lineage and a Spanish name, add a community whose population is 62-percent Asian, plus the tax-payer funding to build a thematic playground?  The answer is obviously, Colonial Boston.  Duh.

Now I am no historian, but I can say with some degree of certainty that the bulk of the action during the American Revolution did not take place in - or even around - Cerritos, CA.  Why then would the city fathers hearken back as far as our nation's forefathers for inspiration in constructing the city's flagship playground?  Clearly imbued with the "Spirit of '76," that for all practical purposes had the entire nation possessed during the bicentennial celebrations, Heritage Park was born.

Heritage Park - Cerritos, CA

Floating on its own little man-made island (just like Boston), Heritage Park is wonderland of trails, tunnels, waterfalls, and sunbathing turtles.  With my nephew in tow, I navigated the wacky tacky time machine to the American Revolution!!!

He's still embarrassed that he left his tricorn hat in the future...

At Heritage Park, the playground equipment is cleverly integrated into the colonial village scene, where each building (saddlery/tannery/blacksmith shop) houses slides, jungle gyms, and ropes courses.  I'm not so sure that this translates to a highly effective lesson in American history, but it pays to start early, right?

Can you see the slide coming out of the second story of that building (top left)?
I mean, who doesn't want to slide his way out of the Old North Church?!!

Okay, so maybe the American Revolution is a tad advanced for a four-year-old.  Maybe I had to tell him we were going to a "pirate ship park" to elicit any kind of enthusiasm.  wacky tacky wisdom dictates that we teach history in baby steps.

heritage park cerritos
"The Boston Tea Party is that-a-way, boys!" what I would have liked him to say.
"Avast, me hearties," instead was his cry.

The thing I really love about Heritage Park is that it is so atmospheric.  It might not recreate an accurate picture of 18th-Century Boston, but the meandering trails, the countless bridges, and the water features turn taking the kids to the park from a chore to a midday "vacay."

And that blue, blue water is spec-tacky-ular!!!
There is something about water that is dyed blue (an algaecide) that
makes it all the more magical as it trips and falls over stones on its way. 

Be ye history buff, pirate enthusiast, or lover of man-made nature, Heritage Park offers something for everyone!  In a time when when "you get what you pay for" rings more and more true, I am so glad that some intelligent city planners and parks departments are putting our money to work in ways wacky tacky!  Forty years old or two-hundred-forty years old, we love a playground that excites our imaginations...while doing some of the work for us!

Blast you, you dirty red coats pirates!!!

heritage park cerritos
Paul Revere says, "Be 'Just Like Me;' one, if by land, and two, if by sea."

"Just Like Me" - Paul Revere & The Raiders

Heritage Park
18600 Bloomfield Ave
Cerritos, CA


Mr. Tiny

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sew What?! Santa Clarita Meets Santa Maria

Please stop me before I've gone too Chico's.  There is a fine line between bohemian/folky/ethnic chic and a full-blown Southwest nightmare - and I'm having to learn where to draw it.  Not that there is anything wrong with Chico's; it's only that Mary is just barely twenty-two and not quite ready to ride off into that great sunset of Santa Fe-senior sophistication.

Santa Maria in Mr. Tiny's Mexicali Folk Couture
Nevermind the blue wristband...check out those cool, cowgirl gauntlets!

This past weekend, Tiny & Mary were thrilled to be part of the annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival where we shared the stage with our pals Deke Dickerson and the rip-roarin'est kings of the Hollywood honky-tonk, The Lucky Stars.

File this under awkward family photos.
Dan, Mary, Tiny, Russ, Sage, Pappy, Andy, Djordje,
with Deke front and center...but where's Wally?!?!!

As the event landed within a few days of Mary's birth, she was definitely entitled to one new outfit, one that would hopefully work for our performance.  Ours was a daytime affair, so instead of going the rhinestones and fringe route, I opted for something a little more casual, a little more sultry, and a little more inspired by looks found south of the border.

Our little Santa Maria is still "on the fence" as to whether this looks
artistic or like the climax of an old-west melodrama.  Or maybe both?

In the steadily-reducing fabric stash at Mr. Tiny's Workshop, I discovered a remnant of multi-colored, woven fabric of indeterminate origin (my best guess is Peru).  The oddly shaped piece, garnered at an estate sale as part of a bin of fabric, had already been cut and used by its previous owner (a seamstress and lover of ethnic textiles); there was so little usable material left that I almost put it in the rag bag.  Mary rescued the remnant and it became the top of this two-piece entry into Mr. Tiny's Mexicali Folk Couture.

On the balcony with a balconette top.
I rather inappropriately think of those decorative accents at the neckline as
"eyebrows;" some perfunctory internet research indicated that tops of this nature
can be referred to as "balconettes."  Help me out here, vintage sewing pals???

Because I had only enough to barely eke out the bra-top, I began the hunt for fabric in a complimentary style.  I drove to nearly EVERY fabric store in the Western Hemisphere, even perusing the stalls at that lovable, little tourist-trap known as Olvera Street, to no avail.  I was not looking for a match.  In fact, I was happy with the idea of an altogether mismatched set.  Nothing I found, however, had the same weight, the same richness, nor the same quality as that damnable little scrap of fabric with which I began this whole mess...until I remembered that there was another, much larger, woven textile found in the same tub of fabric at the same estate sale, a piece I had looked at every day during my search but had tuned out because it was being used as a throw over a chair.

Using every last inch of the material, I gathered it into a long,
patio-style skirt, using solid black for the alternating tiers.

After the show, we went to explore the festival grounds, situated on the historic estate of William S. Hart.  The 1927 Spanish-Colonial mansion, the cactus, and the slowly-sinking sun were an ideal backdrop for a few photo-ops.

But maybe the sun had sunk a little too low for this picture...
Nevertheless, the view from the Hart mansion is 360-degrees of beautiful hill country.

Justifiably unsatisfied with my pitiful photography skills, Mary
set the auto-timer on her phone and captured this photo of herself.

As this was our first time at The Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, we were unsure of exactly what to expect.  As it happens, the festival is a full family affair with activities for everyone.  Next year, I plan to make a long weekend out of it and listen to some of that cowboy poetry, hear a few more bands, rope 'n ride 'n wrangle, and get there well before all the barbecue is sold out!

Happy to finally be standing next to a real cowboy/frontiersman,
Santa Maria thought this guy was Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, and
Buffalo Bill all rolled into one!

Well, what do you think?  Have I strayed too far into the land of metal lizards and copious amounts amber jewelry?  Are this ensemble and this guy haunting your desert dreams?  Fortunately, with this photo set, I think we're giving neither Chico's nor any of our photographer pals need to worry that were moving in on their territory!

Mr. Tiny & the wacky tacky adventure team say, "'Happy Trails,' until we meet again, Mr. Hart!!!"

"Happy Trails" - Roy Rogers & Dale Evans


Mr. Tiny

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Nethercutt Collection: The House That Merle Norman Cosmetics Built

Everyone's house has a smell.  Frustratingly, it is nearly impossible to distinguish the fragrance of one's own home because years of living in a particular aroma leave the olfactory senses distinctly immune (finally putting to rest the old saying that has been haunting me my entire life, "He who smelt it, dealt it").  As a child, I was especially concerned with the different smells of houses.  One of my childhood friends' homes smelled like a perpetual batch of buttery croissants was freshly baking.  Another's home smelled of wheat grass and sandalwood.  Yet another's home had the crisp and comforting smell of chlorine; his was the "cool" house featuring an architect-designed swimming pool with waterfall.  Having spent a good part of my childhood around families of much greater means than mine, I always assumed that if rich houses smelled rich, then our tidy but modest home must have smelled of festering bologna and day-old diapers.  Years of neurotic nose-blindness were laid to waste one fateful day when I walked into a "fancy" neighbor's home and was immediately assaulted by the stench of stone-cold goat urine.  Stale.  As one is loath to find a goat within the suburbs of Southern California, I committed each subsequent trip across their threshold to full-bloodhound mode, sniffing out the fetid source of the home's signature scent.  For reasons inexplicable, I always suspected their ancient family Bible, haughtily perched in the same location, silently bragging about the baptisms and marriages of Mayflower descendants and a commitment to Christian idealism.  I still don't know if that was the origin but I now know that the Bible was probably purchased at auction and that people of independent means can often smell like the product of incontinent "weens."  Yes, money needn't necessarily equate to the perfume of prosperity.

To wit, when passing through the bas-relief doors of solid brass into the
house that Merle Norman Cosmetics built, one is greeted by the rather
plebeian, if not entirely unpleasant, aroma of axle grease and rubber tires.

To adulterate Fats Waller's famous quote for my own pun-ny benefit, "One never 'nose,' do one?"  Nevertheless, while circling the soaring marble columns, taking in the grandeur of a mirrored, recreation deco-era auto palace filled with beautifully-restored antique automobiles lit by glittering chandeliers, one cannot escape the distinct whiff of wealth.  Started by Mrs. Merle Nethercutt Norman in the 1920s, the eponymous cosmetics company (currently helmed by her great-nephew) has, over the past nine decades, amassed a world-class collection of rarities, featuring priceless cars and automated music machines.  After many seasons of gathering dust on the wacky tacky adventure list, The Nethercutt Collection finally made its way to the top, happily finding us in sunny Sylmar, CA.

Housed behind the windowless edifice of a monolithic, late-'60s commercial building, the Nethercutt Collection was officially started by Norman's successor, nephew J.B Nethercutt.  His passion for collecting, restoring, and entering historically-significant automobiles into competition has been transformed from a hobby into a slightly-obscure but must-see destination for car enthusiasts, history buffs, and high-class hoarders everywhere.  Open to the public since 1971, the collection contains sports cars, executive sedans, luxury touring cars, roadsters with rumble seats, and even an Isotta-Fraschini.  "Have you ever heard of Isotta Fraschini?"   

I fell for the tonal stripes (a stock option) on the 1930 Ruxton in a big way!

One of the first electric cars

Besides an insipid fascination with things that are fast and shiny, Mr. Tiny is not a car guy - but the Nethercutt might have changed that.  In spite of the numerous Concours titles the Nethercutts have won for their amazing 1920s-30s automobiles, they are no snobs when it comes to vehicles of all makes and models.

It didn't matter that I was bigger than this four-seater Vespa,
I was in love with a pretty little surrey with the fringe on the top!

And I could never turn my nose up at a customized '79 lowrider Lincoln!

What we saw on the first floors of the collection would have been enough to keep our imaginations quite busy.  To see all of the crown jewels, however, one must venture onward and upward!

The landing of the grand staircase is home to the simultaneous-recording
grand piano on which George Gershwin played/recorded "Rhapsody in Blue."
It was a bit thrilling to be accompanied by Mr. Gershwin as we ogled Maybachs,
and Daimlers, and Rolls-Royces.

The uppermost floor of the collection, "Cloud 99," is accessed via the "Stairway to the Stars."
The one-and-one-half spiral staircase is decorated with gilt sconces and a swirling music
staff that is an actual transcription of the well-known song - the Nethercutt's favorite. 

Cloud 99 is a grand salon used for special events and corporate entertaining.  The bulk of the room is open, the walls lined with an unrivaled collection of nickelodeons and orchestrions (completely animated music machines that briefly substituted for live bands in beer gardens, restaurants, and dance halls before the introduction of the jukebox). 

The floor is covered by thousands of square-feet of green, hand-tufted
carpet with sculpted flowers, meant to evoke a field of wild flowers.

A large, oval-shaped dining room features large mirrors at either end, creating and infinite reflection of both the diners and the antique, crystal chandeliers.  The ceiling of that dining room is adorned with Classical frescoes in the style of Michelangelo.  Studying the heavenly subjects, a few faces stand out amongst the seraphim.

The J.B. Nethercutt's and their cherubic children!
Isn't this the best?!?!!  Sometimes having more money than you know what to do with is an AMAZING thing!!!

Whilst on Cloud 99, visitors are treated to demonstrations of the nickelodeons, orchestrions, and the mighty Wurlitzer organ (one of the largest in the world).  Understandably, video recording was strictly prohibited; oddly enough, I was one of the few people who obeyed the rules!

A small fraction of the organ's smallest pipes, is dramatically lit during the performance.

The beautiful, central figure on the largest of the orchestrions.

A primitive, psychedelic light at
the apex of a Wurlitzer Nickelodeon.

By the turn of the 21st Century, the Nethercutt Collection outgrew its home and a new building was constructed across the street, called the Nethercutt Museum, to house the bulk of the automobile collection, a library, and a Edwardian-era, private Pullman car. Each and every one of the cars is operational and is driven on regular rotation; with approximately 150 cars in the collection, I am astonished that they rejected my offer to become a full-time driver!

The Nethercutt Museum

The movie Tucker was a family favorite so it was a delight to see a beautifully-
restored model of the extremely-limited-edition, 1948 car of the same name.

Rudolph Valentino's car!!! 

The car that dreams are made of.
The 1930 Rolls Royce Phantom II Town Car that once
belonged to Hollywood star, Constance Bennett

1937 Bugati

As a lover of miniatures, it was a treat to walk through the Pierce-Arrow Travelodge Trailer,
pulled by a matching Pierce-Arrow, and then find the scale-model of the same in a display case.
The only thing I couldn't understand was the pair of contemporary camping chairs; with so much
time, money, and energy put into the restoration, why couldn't we find some period-appropriate
chairs on eBay?!?!!  

"All Aboard!"
Mr. Tiny at Nethercutt Depot

Representing the golden age of rail travel, the 1912 Pullman private car (pulled by a 1930s engine)
includes multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, a fully-functioning kitchen, a dining room, and parlor.

The Nethercutt collection is so much larger than we could represent here (the hood ornaments alone would take a whole year to catalogue); so, if you've got a free afternoon to "sail away on a lazy daisy petal," then sail on over to the Nethercutt Collection.  Even if the household aroma may be decidedly automotive, the smell of J.B. Nethercutt's success is still very sweet.

"Stairway to the Stars" - Ella Fitzgerald

The Nethercutt Museum & Collection
15151 Bledsoe St
Sylmar, CA


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Crazy Crafty: My Blue Bunny Baby

If I'm not mistaken, Easter is the time for envy, the time for recognizing that the plastic Easter grass is indeed much greener on the other side of the fence - or in this case, the continent.  At least that is how I feel every time I catch a glimpse of the vintage Easter Bunny collection found in the Jersey shore home shared by Jenny & Aaron from Everyday is a Holiday (see here).  One bunny in particular has always caught my eye because I have never seen one in the wilds of Southern California's vast vintage landscape.  In fact, I very rarely see any kind of vintage Easter paraphernalia here, which makes me incredibly suspicious of the heathens by whom I am surrounded.  Setting aside the religious context of the Easter holiday, I think the world is in dire need of more chicks, chocolate eggs, and plush bunnies in that seasonally-specific pastel palette.  The bunny of Jenny's & Aaron's in which I find immeasurable inspiration is one of those crazy, stuffed bunnies with the face of a baby.

It may look even odder than it sounds.
Nevertheless, I want one!
(photo courtesy of Everyday is a Holiday)

The truth is that I covet the entirety of their bunny collection but there is something so equally sweet and disturbing about a baby-faced Easter Bunny that makes it a wacky tacky standout.  I mean, is this thing meant to be a spooky escapee from Dr. Moreau's infamous island or just an angel-faced kid in a costume?  Either way, I loved this human-hare hybrid and wanted one for my very own.  Because I have voluntarily removed myself from the regular activity of vintage "hunting and gathering," however, the acquisition of one such bunny would be relegated to either the unlikelihood of a gift (it's absolutely ages until my next birthday) or to making one myself.  Having gone the angel-faced-kid-in-a-costume route last year, this year it was time to celebrate the Easter season by making a genuine, homemade, blue bunny baby.

It all started with the face.
In cleaning out their 94-year-old garage, my brother and sister-in-law were
unnerved by the feeling that they were being watched.  I think they were
slightly relieved upon finding a cache of vintage, plastic doll faces that they
subsequently exorcised and then gifted to me.  Slightly flummoxed with how
to handle them, I was glad to finally have a project in which I could put at least
one of these little cherubs to good use (stay tuned, I'm sure they'll make a recurring
appearance in future Crazy Crafty projects - creepy clown kiddo, anyone?).

Even though the scant yard of vintage, blue cotton velvet that was too little to make into anything else wasn't quite within the range of traditional Easter hues, I slated it for my own velveteen-type rabbit.  In order to complete my bunny, the only thing I needed to buy was a small amount of blue satin to line the ears.  Have you ever tried to join satin and velvet in the shape of a rabbit ear?  It stinks.  Extremely fiddly in their own distinct way, each material left me ready to pull my hare hair out.  In the end, I was hoppy with the ears' imperfections.

Blue enough for you?
Did you see how sweet and delicate the vintage example of the bunny baby was?
Mine, on the other hand, is as sweet and delicate as a big, electric-blue punch in
the throat.  Even when I am trying to make something simple and lovely, my
wacky tacky instincts beat subtlety into utter submission!

Luckily, I had just enough aqua yarn to eke out a fluffy tail and the crudely-
executed crochet trim around the bunny baby's face (a necessity to disguise
the edges).  The ears are supported by an internal framework of heavy-gauge
floral wire.  In a show of my own surrender to the color story, I selected the blue
background and garden of blue, tissue-paper flowers.  The blue eggs are there
just to prove that, just like brown chickens and brown eggs, blue Easter eggs
come from blue Easter Bunnies. 

While I refuse to turn into one of those people who refers to his collection of inanimate objects as "children," I get such a surge of pride every time I look at the latest addition to the wacky tacky family that I feel like handing out cigars.  If you don't have a bunny baby of your own (or the inclination to make one), consider a lovingly-rendered version of Jenny's & Aaron's bunny baby in the form of a Jumbo, Wood-Mounted "Baby Bunny" Print from the Everyday is a Holiday online store to add some Easter awesomeness to your holiday decor - any holiday.

As a photographic thank you to our pals from Everyday is a Holiday
and in an effort to promote our own brand of cross-crafty, inter-
seasonal understanding, we saddled up our oversized, Christmas 
Dream Pet to give Baby Blue (take that, Knowles-Carter family) a
ride to the big Easter egg hunt.  Everyday really is a holiday!

A Happy, Happy Easter to you and yours, from our funny little bunny!!!

"Funny Little Bunnies" (1934)


Mr. Tiny