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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Not "If" But "When" - the 30th anniversary of the Mandeville Canyon Fire

photo credit:

On this day thirty years ago, October 23 1978, a fire broke out at 9:41am near Mulholland Drive and the 405 Frwy in the Santa Monica Mountains. Stoked by Santa Ana winds and very hot, dry conditions within a few minutes a large brush fire started moving westward.

photo credit: Julie Keese 

This is one of the very few color photos I was able to find of the fire. Looks like it was taken from the roof of what's now the CVS pharmacy in the Palisades. The old RTD bus is at the intersection of Sunset Blvd and Swathmore.

photo credit: Palisades Post

Via de la Paz, looking north from the business district. 

I was a student at Palisades High School. I pulled this and the next few photos from our school yearbook.

Thirty homes were destroyed in
Brentwood and Pacific Palisades - it could have easily been over 200. 

Here's another color photo. It was actually a postcard, and was for sale for several years afterwards.
The back of the postcard reads: "Santa Monica Mountais on fire-Fall 1978. The fire is nearly 10 miles wide in this photo taken from Venice, Calif. Photo and copyright by Jeffrey Stanton." 

photo credit: Karl Edward Dean

Every year Southern California deals with brush fires. In fact, as I write this yet another fire broke out this morning (below) next to the 405 Freeway - very close to where the Mandeville Fire began 30 years earlier. Fortunately, this morning's fire was put out quickly.
photo credit:

My family's home on Lachman Lane came very close to being destroyed in the
Mandeville fire. A few things I remember:

1) the
speed of the fire. When I got home from High School, I literally thought the fire might be near our home sometime in the next day or two. It was more like 4 hours.

2) the
size of the fire. There is something terrifying about a 50-60 wall of flames several miles wide coming towards you. Trying to defend your home with a garden hose felt like a joke.

3) the
smell of the fire. I get an awful feeling everytime I smell a fire - bad memories of October 1978.

SOUND of the fire. This was perhaps the scariest thing of all. I still remember the low, loud roar. It was surreal.

Our family was very fortunate that the winds shifted just was the fire approached our street. Other families were not so lucky - loosing not only their homes, but everything inside.

photo credit:

The Marek fire (above) in the San Fernando Valley last month was a reminder that brush fires in Southern California are not a question of "if" ... but "when."

As a Christian, I'm reminded that brush fires involve issues of environmental stewardship, protection of lives, protection of property, understanding the specific climate (Mediterranean) and topography (mountainous) of Southern California. Brush fires are NOT forest fires. Remember Smokey the Bear? Not the same here. In Southern California several of the native plants are designed to burn (there's that pesky "design" again).

One of my professors at UCLA stated that a fire every ten years is significantly less dangerous, less intense than one every fifty years. I have to now agree that it would make sense to have controlled burns of uninhabited mountainous areas every 10-12 years - but it will never happen (political suicide).

A brush fire is a sobering reminder how brief our stint on earth really is. "Teach us to number our days aright so we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12

© 2008


Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Night At the Pantages

Last weekend my son and I had an opportunity to see a live show at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. His cousins (my niece and nephew) had seen the Broadway musical "Wicked" earlier in the year, so - of course - he really wanted to go. We decided to make it an early birthday present. Since my wife had already seen it earlier in the year, I got to go.

Traffic into Hollywood can be pretty wicked during the week, so we went on a Saturday - smart decision.

The Sunset Strip (in West Hollywood) isn't known for family friendly billboards. This 60 foot ad on the side of a building for "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" in West Hollywood was an exception.

Hollywood is technically part of the City of Los Angeles. We had dinner at Subway at Sunset & La Brea. Not too exciting, but my son was looking for familiarity.

Hollywood Blvd. was full of life and activity around the Kodak Theater (the El Capitan, the Disney flagship theater, is across the street).

The mile between Hollywood & Highland (Kodak Theater) and the Pantages is - unfortunately - pretty gritty. There's a ton of large scale urban renewal going on ... but much of the area around the theater still needs an "extreme makeover."

The Pantages was built in 1930, and has recently been restored to it's original grandeur. The place was packed.

So what about "Wicked"? Overall, I enjoyed it. It probably would have helped if I had read an on-line description of the story ahead of time, as it was actually a lot more complex than I expected. I had a hard time sticking with the plot and themes, especially as some of the important dialogue is sung - it is, after all, a musical.

I cheated on these last two pictures and pulled them off the internet. Our seats were literally in the very last row. Great sound, but hard to see the subtle nuances of the actors on stage (and besides, the Pantages has a "no photography" policy). I pulled the next two pics off the internet. 

image credit:

The show has very catchy tunes, and deals with some serious questions of good and evil, who is really "good" ... and who is really "wicked." The first half is fairly lighthearted. After the intermission, it's more serious, more of a drama.

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The show runs fairly late - to about 11pm. We actually left about 20 minutes before the end of the show ... way too late for a 9 year old. Yet another one of those parental "what was I thinking?" moments. In hindsight, we should have probably caught a matinee show.

So while I'm not qualified to give a review or summary of the show, I do appreciate this excellent review from Dr. Brian Howell, anthropology professor at Wheaton College. If you're planning on seeing "Wicked" - or have already seen it - I recommend reading Professor Howell's review.

Watching a Broadway show (or a movie) from a Christian perspective, a Christian world-view, doesn't take an advanced degree in anthropology. But it does involve thinking through what's being communicated. And for Christians anywhere, hasn't God called us to love him with all our "heart, soul, mind, and strength"?

© 2008


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Junk Mail

Not everything we get in the mail is junk. Last month we received a nice mailer from the good people at Lamborghini Calabasas:

We're currently not in the market for a car, which is really too bad, because it's only $2,398 a month. Hmmm, that's about double an average American's monthly mortgage, but everybody says that things cost a bit more in L.A.

The reverse side explains in detail what the "affordable" payments are.

Are you sitting down?

$50,000 down.
$2,398 per month for 35 months
with a final balloon payment of (drum roll) $164,000.

Total cost: $300,000.

My wife and I laughed - is there seriously a market for a $300,000 car? We showed a few friends ... sort of the "can you believe this?"

Last week I spotted the exact same car driving up Sunset Blvd. Hey look, the $300K car!

Which was followed by another ...

and another ...

and another.

Handling must not be very good ... as you can see, the guy in the silver car had a hard time staying in lane.

Reminded me a bit of P.D. Eastman's Go, Dog, Go! Remember that children's book? Maybe they're on their way to a "big dog party" in a tree somewhere.

At the light (Sunset Blvd. & Palisades Drive in Pacific Palisades) there were these four, plus another three up ahead. Huh, that's $2 million and some change.

Obviously, even in L.A., you don't see seven Lamborghinis drive by at once very often (or ever).

As they drove by I had to wonder what Jesus meant in Luke 12 when he said: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

Actually, I don't really wonder. Jesus referred to anyone focusing on the "good life" as a fool.

There are a lot of fools in Los Angeles.

While I'm currently not in the market for a car (my Honda Accord set me back $5 grand - and it's running fine) is how I'm investing my time, my talents, and my resources .... wise ... or foolish?

"Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?'Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." Proverbs 30:7-9