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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Exploring Hollywood Boulevard and Dinner at Miceli's

Last month, my wife, kids and I were in Southern California for a week long vacation. After stopping off to see some Disney memorabilia at Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, and then driving in along Ventura Boulevard and the Cahuenga Pass, we drove into Hollywood for our first night. 

Above, the multi-story Motel Six Hollywood.

Our towels shaped like swans - or was it a heart? At any rate, the Motel Six Hollywood is a clean, simple hotel. The huge draw is (relatively) reasonable price and it's location on Whitley Avenue, a quiet street right off of Hollywood Boulevard.

View while waiting for the elevator from the fifth floor, looking south on Whitley towards Hollywood Boulevard. 

A historic apartment building, located across the street. 

There is an on-site parking garage ($15 a night). If you're staying the night, you'll want to make a reservation for a room AND for a parking space. 

Stacked parking down in the garage, but the parking lot staff was super helpful getting us out quickly. 

Historic Hollywood Boulevard at Whitley Avenue, down the street from where we were staying. 

If any of these buildings look familiar, perhaps you've seen replicas at either the Disney Studios at Walt Disney World, or Universal Studios, Orlando. 

To the left is the 1928 J.J. Newberry Building, 6600 Hollywood Boulevard, now home to Hollywood Toy and Costume. 

To the right of it is the 1935 Kress Building: which originally housed a S.H. Kress & Co. Department Store. From 1949 to 2005 it was home to Frederick’s of Hollywood, and then a nightclub and restaurant, appropriately called Kress. Currently the building is vacant and for lease

Immediately to the east was the historic 1927 Hollywood Studio Building, now home of the Second City comedy club. The second story floral motifs and scrollwork is known as Churrigueresque ornamentation. 

Hollywood Boulevard, looking west. The Kress Building is on the left. There's a nice combination of palm streets, and flowering jacaranda trees. 

One of the most popular things to see in Hollywood is the Hollywood Walk of Fame, consisting of over 2600 embedded celebrity stars in the sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard. Originally the brainchild of Chamber of Commerce President E.M. Stuart, the first stars were unveiled on March 28,1960. It currently attracts over 10 millions visitors every year. 

Above, the star of Kitty Carlisle (1910-2007). While I'm not familiar with any movies that Kitty Carlisle was in, I vaguely remember her (along with other regulars like Richard Dawkins, Nipsey Russell, and Charles Nelson Riley, ) on 1970's era game shows.

Art Carney (1918-2003) was best known for playing sewer worker Ed Norton opposite Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden in the 1950's sitcom The Honeymooners

And singer and songwriter Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) - arguably the greatest guitarist ever.

Want to find a particular star? Here's a handy online guide

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I'm reminded that what each of these individuals from film, television, and music have in common is "the dash."  That is, the brief time here on planet earth. That's true for all of us. As someone has wisely said "the statistics on death are impressive: one out of every one person dies." 

I mentioned this idea of "the dash" in a previous post while visiting my grandparents grave at Mission San Fernando Cemetery. 

"What we do in life ... echoes in eternity." Maximus Decimus Meridius (Gladiator, 2000).

Each of our lives on earth is brief indeed.
 Not to throw cold water on our walk to dinner, but to live in reality. To remember that each of us will eventually stand before our Creator. To live with an eternal perspective. 

Is it possible to live with an external perspective, even when walking to dinner? I believe so. 

My wife, kids and I were in Hollywood for a few days back in 2013, and had dinner at the Pig 'n Whistle. That was fine, but - especially with kids - I'd recommend Miceli's.

Our family ate at  Miceli's next to Universal Studios back in 2002. This was our first time at the original Hollywood location.

Old School Italian restaurant, Miceli's has been a Hollywood fixture since 1949.

The food was good, but for us was the singing waiters. We walked into as one of the waiters belting out incredible Italian songs. A few minutes later, he was singing again. 

Here's a short clip. My apologies - I don't know the name of the song (despite the fact that's a very familiar tune). 

The folks listening, I believe a tour group, seemed to really enjoy it! Good experience at Miceli's. Definitely recommend. 

Back out on Hollywood Boulevard. Our family wanted to head up to the Griffith Observatory. My wife and kids walked back to the hotel. I decided to take a few minutes to explore Hollywood Boulevard, at least a couple of blocks. Much more on that next time. 

© 2017

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ventura Boulevard: Sherman Oaks and Studio City

Last month, my wife, kids and I were in Southern California for a week long family vacation. 

Our first stop wasin Sherman Oaks at the Van Eaton Galleries, which was featuring amazing collection of Disneyland memorabilia. Here's a link to the previous post with more information on their auction. 

The Van Eaton Galleries is located on Ventura Blvd. Rather than get back on the Freeway, we opted to drive on surface streets over to Hollywood, where we were spending the night. 

When we lived in Los Angeles, I posted photos of urban walks along Wilshire, Santa Monica, and Pico Boulevards (starting at the ocean, and heading inland) as well as part of Main Street in Santa Monica, Abbot Kinney in Venice, and Sunset Boulevard in Silverlake. 

Pictured above: we were only walking back to our car - and would then be driving along Ventura Boulevard. My son, now 17, wanted to drive. How about if I just snapped some photos along the way? That's what we did. 

Ventura Boulevard is 18 miles long. It begins to the west at Valley Circle Blvd in Woodland Hills, and ends at Lankershim in Studio City where it becomes Cahuenga Boulevard. It's a couple miles longer than it's more famous cousin on the other side of the hill, 16 mile Wilshire Boulevard (which runs from Downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica). 

Leaving Sherman Oaks and entering Studio City: the communities changed at Dixie Canyon. This is a block up, between Nagle and Fulton. 

Unlike Wilshire (which goes through different cities), Ventura Boulevard remains entirely within the L.A. City limits. Ventura Boulevard goes through five different communities - all part of the City of Los Angeles:

- Woodland Hills

- Tarzana
- Encino
- Sherman Oaks

- Studio City 

This is between Alcove and Goodland - the Sportsman's Lodge Hotel is immediately to the left. 

Here's something I didn't know: according the the Wikipedia article, Ventura Boulevard is the longest avenue of contiguous businesses in the world. It also feels very, very suburban. 

This is the intersection of Ventura Boulevard and Laurel Terrace Drive to the south, Whitsett Avenue to the north. While I'm no expert on the history Ventura Boulevard, the vast majority of the businesses along the way looked like one story mid-century era buildings. A huge plus is that most business face the street - rather that a large parking lot around back. 

A few feet up, past the intersection, the view is longer obscured by the traffic light. 

I love this view - with the long row of palm trees on both sides of the street. This really says Los Angeles. Businesses, palm trees, and cars.

On the other hand, this was a Sunday afternoon, with relatively very light traffic. If Ventura Boulevard is anything like other major arteries in Los Angles, my guess is that this is a tough slough during rush hour. 

In Los Angeles, "rush hour" is from 5am-10am, and then 3pm-7pm. However, L.A. rush hour can extend until 11am the morning and 2:30pm-9pm at night (meaning rush hour can last over 12 hours per day). 

As a Christian, I hope my faith influences everything in life, even on something as mundane as the infrastructure of a city. Obviously, urban planning is not my career choice, but it's something I'm still interested in. 

Christians speak of "human flourishing". This comes from the greek word eudaimonia, meaning happiness or welfare - an idea that originated from Greek philosophers. 

I like this quote from Yale University: "Concern for human flourishing is at the heart of Christian proclamation. Theologians have long proclaimed that the very heart of a Christian’s hoped-for future, which comes from God, is the flourishing of individuals, communities, and our whole globe." 

Above: Ventura Boulevard at Laurelgrove. 

Ventura Boulevard follows the original El Camino Real, the 1771 era road connecting the chain of California Missions from San Diego to Sonoma north of San Francisco. This would make Ventura Boulevard one of the oldest roads in Los Angeles. 

Most of this area was zoned, in this case for commercial, during the post World War II building boom of the 1950's and 1960's. "Human flourishing" at that time no doubt involved communities built around cars. The idea of a walkable city meant density - which, was seen as a throwback to the 19th century urban problems of places like New York or Chicago. Los Angeles' post World War II urban planning may have seemed forward thinking at the time, but there's certainly an sense of short sightedness as the city has continued to grow. 

Any thoughts "human flourishing"? 

This is between Lauralgrove and Vantage Avenues. 

Most of the San Fernando Valley, or "The Valley" as it's comonly referred to, is within the L.A. City limits. Like other parts of Los Angeles, the Valley is made of long east/west, north/south streets and avenues. In that sense, Studio City is similar to other communities in the Valley. 

Ventura Boulevard at Colfax. Surprisingly, the Los Angeles River is literally a few hundred feet from this spot - it parallels Ventura Boulevard for several blocks beginning at this spot.

In addition to it's proximity to the Los Angeles River, what makes Studio City different from other parts of the Valley is the combination of high end homes (especially in the hills to the south) as well as the number of residents connected to the entertainment industry. Current and former residents include George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Leonardo DiCaprio, Zac Efron, Neil Patrick Harris and William Shatner. 

Ventura Boulevard at Big Oak Drive. As a kid, most of my time in the Valley was in over Woodland Hills - also straddling Venture Boulevard, but on the western edge of the Valley. 

As a kid growing up in the 1970's, I have good memories of spending the night at my grandparents, and riding my bike in 100+ degree heat to Thrifty Drugs (now Rite Aid) on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills for their 5 cent ice cream cones. 

You heard right: back in the early 1970's Thrifty actually sold a single scoop ice cream cone for 5 cents. This was a "loss leader" -they took a small "loss" on the ice cream as an incentive to lead people into the store. Worked for me! I LOVED going there. 

Got any "back in the day" memories from the Valley? 

Ventura Boulevard at Eureka. I like the way the road curves around the hugs the hills. 

Driving through the area, I was reminded of a friend and former co-worker (and his family) who moved to the area a few years back to develop a start a new church. I would add that starting a new church is extremely challening. "Anthology Church" is a non-denominational church meeting at the Studio City Rec Center (12621 Rye St) just a few blocks from here. Here's a link to their website. 

In the distance are two two office towers of Universal Studios.

Immediately adjacent to Studio City is "Universal Studios, Hollywood."

Except that Universal Studios Hollywood isn't located in Hollywood. It's located near Hollywood - in "Universal City" - an unincorporated area just outside of L.A. City limits in the Valley. Of course, in L.A. everything blends together. There's rarely any sense of leaving one city or community and entering another. 

Last January, my wife, kids and I were in Southern California and decided to visit Universal Studios for the first time. First time for them, I'd actually been before. It was honestly disappointing. You can read about it here. When we bought our tickets in January, we decided to spend a few dollars more an upgraded to "annual passes." 

That said, going a second time would be basically free, so - hey- why not? We planned to give Universal Studios another try the following day. 

With my son at the wheel, Ventura Boulevard turned to the right and became Cahuenga Boulevard at Lakershim - taking us through the Cahuenga Pass into Hollywood. 

Cahuenga, pronounced "Ka-wan-ga" is the short, low pass connecting Los Angeles Basin to the San Fernando Valley. It's really only two miles from the Valley over the hill and into Hollywood, really only a thirty minute walk (that is, if you can find a sidewalk). However, the topography and terrain really separates the two areas. 

We were making great time on Cahuenga Boulevard ... 

... until we hit complete gridlock just before the Hollywood Bowl. This being Los Angeles, we were suddenly stuck in traffic on a Sunday afternoon - with no explanation for why. 

After sitting in traffic for ten minutes and going no where, I had my son move over the left lane, make a slightly illegal U-turn and went over the overpass to the other side of the Hollywood Freeway. He's on his way to mastering L.A. traffic. 

For us, it was a ten minute inconvenience, but for a million or more Angelenos soul numbing traffic is a daily part of life. Los Angeles not only the distinction of having the worst traffic in the United States, but having the worst traffic in the world.

Thinking back to human flourishing, high sight is 20/20. It's amazing, in a very negative sense, how sixty years ago the city fathers tossed aside thousands of years of urban planning experience in favor of a car-centered transportation model for a major city. 

Still no idea why traffic was that bad, but we went around it and 10 minutes later, we were at our hotel in Hollywood. More on that, and a tour of Hollywood Boulevard - on foot, rather than through a windshield - next time

© 2017

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Disney Auction at the Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks

Van Eaton Galleries, located in Sherman Oaks in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, recently held an auction of Disneyland related memorabilia. My wife, kids and I were in Southern California for a family vacation a couple of weeks before the auction. I had heard about the it - and I wanted to stop by the gallery, just to see what was going to be available.

Plus, we were planning on going to Disneyland at the end of the week, so why not make this our first stop. 

Van Eaton Galleries is located on 13613 Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks. 

Ventura Blvd feels like the Wilshire (or Sunset) Blvd of the Valley, paralleling the Venture Freeway (the 101) - from Studio City in the east to Woodland Hills in the west. This is looking west. With a break in the traffic, as we crossed the street. 

Like much of the San Fernando Valley, the majority of Ventura Blvd is made up of one and two story commercial buildings. 

Van Eaton Galleries normally specializes in animation art. With Disney, Warner Brothers, Hannah Barbera (now The Cartoon Network) located close by it makes sense. They have been recently been adding in Disneyland memorabilia, with special auctions a couple times a year. 

A poster advertising the auction featuring artwork from Walt Disney's Tiki Room. We were at the right place. 

Mid century flagstone. Walk on in. 

The walls were literally covered with dozens of artifacts and memorabilia from Disneyland. 

My wife and daughter looking inside one of the display cases. 

Want to buy the Tiki from the Tiki Room? It's an original cast resin from the pre-show and was estimated to go for $5000-$7000. If that's a little too steep, you might want to try the replica of the "barker bird" from the show, going from between $700-$900. Or, try the single page lunch menu from the old Tahitian Terrace restaurant for $200-$300. 

More items for auction. 

Want to own a copy of the Haunted Mansion costume? That was estimated to go for between $1000-$2000.

One of the props from the Cinderella's Village section of Storybook Land Canal Boat Ride was estimated to go from between $12,000-$15,000. If you look at this as artwork (rather than just a discarded prop) I suppose you could justify the price. 

Here's more information on this Storybook Land Canal Boat Ride item. 

A personal favorite was the sketch for Main Street USA, when the original concept drawings included both commercial and residential buildings. The residential buildings were never actually included on Main Street. 

More info on the Main Street concept art. 

A framed Disneyland map. It probably went for 25 cents (max) back in 1958. Opening bid: $1200

More info on the map. The Matterhorn, is pictured a small hill. Even as early as 1958, there were future plans for a "New Orleans Square" featuring a "Haunted House." Plans also called for never build lands of "Liberty Street" and "Edison Square" - both off of Main Street USA. 

In the next room were more items for auction, including "The Map." 

"The Map" was the most talked about - and most expensive item - in the entire auction.

This was the original map created by Walk Disney and imagineer Herb Ryman in 1953, and was used by Walt's brother Roy to secure funding from ABC to pay for Disneyland. This was the single most significant item the gallery. Here's a link with more info. 

The opening bid was $500,000, with the The Map selling on the June 25th auction for $600,000. 

My wife and kids next to "The Map".

They also had a copy of the original Disneyland blueprint. While Disneyland has grown and expanded over the years, many of the original buildings, including Main Street USA and Sleeping Beauty Castle, have stayed the same. This was estimated to go between $12,000-$15,000.

This 1958 publicity poster for the then new Alice in Wonderland attraction was estimated between $2000-$3000.

Certainly one of the most interesting items was  a group of 100 photos, plus 2000 feet of never be seen video footage, of the"Yippie Invasion." 

During the height of the Vietnam War Protests, several hundred "yippies" (politically active hippies) invaded Disneyland on August 6, 1970 - causing the police and sheriff's department to be called out and the park closed early. Not sure who would want to by this - but, if so, it's estimated between $3000-$5000.

Not sure where you'd put this, but if you've got $18,000-$20,000 you can always buy an Autopia car. Apparently, it's full functional (but they don't go that fast). 

Or, there's one of the fish from the Submarine Voyage (estimated between $17,000-$20,000). 

I guess people will buy anything, including a set of three re-entry hand stamps, (estimated between $300-$500). 

In terms of "more show for the dough" --- the best deal to be had was this massive wardrobe/entertainment center from the Disneyland Hotel. I'm not in the market for an entertainment center - but this would be fun to have. And it includes a black and white copy of "The Map." Estimate for the entertainment center was $500-$700. 

Really? Someone would pay $700-$1000 for a piece of carpet from Walt Disney's apartment (located above the Firehouse on Main Street USA).? 

Not sure what the appeal would be - especially for that price. Guess there's a buyer for everything. 

The Van Eaton Galleries posted on-line catalogue of every item for sale at the auction, which is available for viewing here.

We spent an hour at the Van Eaton Galleries. Very interesting - and, unlike Disneyland itself, no gate admission. Apparently, there was 200 people at the June 25th auction, and their next Disneyland auction is schedule for sometime in 2018. 

Think a bit more about an auction, volumes have been written about wealth and materialism - from a whole variety of viewpoints. I appreciate what Scottish born pastor and theologian Alistair Begg wrote: “Hold material goods and wealth on a flat palm and not in a clenched fist.” 

For my wife and myself, whether it's a purchase for our home, or helping to meet the needs of the poor, we want to hold material wealth loosely. While we can't speak for others, as Christians we're accountable to God for how we steward our time, our talent, and our treasure. 

Heading back to our car, this is across the street on Ventura Blvd - with lots and lots of one story, mid-century architecture. 

We parked in the neighborhood on Ventura Canyon Avenue. Probably better to park on Ventura Blvd. If you park in the neighborhood, watch the signs, as there's limited parking during the week. 

Most of the San Fernando Valley, and much of the rest of Los Angeles, looks like this: single story mid-century single family residences. The beautiful purple flowered trees are Jacarandas, native to both Mexico and South America. 

The pavement on the alleyway could use some help. In fact, a much Los Angeles' infrastructure is in need of work - including the streets and sidewalks. Topic for another blog post. 

Here's a link to the Van Eaton Galleries website. 

First night of our vacation was in Hollywood - but first we had to drive there along Ventura Blvd. More on that next time

© 2017