Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ventura County

Our day Friday began at the Channel Islands Visitor Center in Ventura. John had read that there was a good park movie there on the Channel Islands. It was not in our plans to go to the islands that day as it involves a boat ride to get over to the islands. A trip there would take up much of the day. I sure do have hope some day to travel over there, however! The islands and their encircling waters are home to plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The visitor's center has a native plant garden where we could see some of those plants.
The above picture it that of a giant coreopsis. I thought my eyes were fooling me at first; those sunflowers should be blooming on the ground, not coming out of a tree trunk! The plant was at one time beaten back by grazing animals on the Channel Islands, but now that five of the eight California Channel Islands became part of our national park system (in 1980),  it is blossoming abundantly. The park is one of the least visited of all the national parks because it is not easy to get to. The movie which we saw at the center, "A Treasure in the Sea", stressed the islands' feeling of solitude and richness of biologic diversity. After the movie we climbed a tower in the visitor center to view Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands, the two Channel Islands closest to the California shore. Anacapa is 15 miles away and Santa Cruz is 21. The latter island has the highest peaks of all the islands. It also has the largest and deepest sea cave in the world.
We were encouraged by a park ranger to check out a beach north of the city of Ventura where harbor seals where staying during the winter months. Before heading out of town, however, we first visited Saint Buenaventura Mission. It was the last mission started by Father Junipero Serra in 1782. The gardens of the mission are quite beautiful, as you can see in the picture below.
Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve is where we found the harbor seals. In a couple of week they will be having their babies. Currently the beach is a protected birthing habitat for the seals during the winter months.We could only look down on the seals from a bluff above them. Two high schools students were there also, it was their community service project to watch the beach for the afternoon in order to ensure that no one disturbed the seals. A docent, who later joined us, commented that if the seals feel in any way threatened on that portion of the beach they would choose another area for their pupping. While we were there we also noticed many pelicans and other shore birds hanging out with the seals. We later did find some tide pools in the preserve which were not close to the seals. The only aquatic life we found in those pools were sea anemones. We took the longer way home through the Santa Ynez Mountains, which afforded us some very stunning mountain vistas. I continue to marvel at the natural beauty of California! A view of the seals can be seen below, in their lounging positions they do look like large rocks.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hollywood Forever

Forget about the many Hollywood celebrities buried in this cemetery, I just loved watching the peacocks stroll among the tombstones! This is one of Los Angeles's oldest memorial parks, founded in 1899. Originally part of it was a dedicated Jewish burial ground. Upon first entering this cemetery the only grave sites we saw were the ones of Jewish families. We were told by another couple wandering the grounds that if we wanted to view the graves of the Hollywood stars, directors and producers buried here, we had to purchase a map of  the grave sites for $5.00 at a nearby florist shop. We had just finished our tour of Paramount Studio and walked over to the cemetery from there (the cemetery is adjacent to the studios, on the backside of them) and it was well past our lunch time. The sun was also high in the sky and it did not appeal to us to wander around in an area were there was little shade. Certainly all the celebrity graves would not be located in one area, so there was a lot of territory to cover if we did not purchase a map. We took a few minutes to wander around  the memorial park without a map and found one celebrity tombstone.
Remember Mel Blanc? He was "the man of  1000 voices".  He once admitted that it really was 850 voices. Mel Blanc was a voice actor and comedian, creating the voices of such cartoon characters as Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Tweedy Bird, and many others. Also buried in this cemetery are Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Peter Lorre, Douglas Fairbanks, and many others. Contrary to popular opinion, Jayne Mansfield is not buried here but back in Pennsylvania. Her fan club put a cenotaph for her in this memorial park, complete with an inaccurate birth date on the gravestone. She never wanted her age to be known.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Paramount Studios

The above picture is that of Bronson's Gate, the main entrance to the studios. The gate was named after a street which once ran in front of the studios. We took a tour of Paramount today and, according to our guide Stacy, the gate was not named after Charles Bronson. It was the other way around, he took his acting name from the gate's moniker. Paramount Pictures has a logo of a mountain surrounded by 21 stars. The mountain is located in Utah, the stars are for the original 21 stars at Paramount. The studio was named after Paramount Apartments which were around in 1914 when the studio was started- someone just liked the name. And in the picture below is a running list of what talk shows, and television series are currently being shot on the lots.
 Well, that is barely readable, so I will list a few:  Dr.Phil, The Doctors, glee, Happy Endings, and Community. The later two sets are presently live- meaning that they are in use and set up for shootings, no pictures can be taken by us on the tour.  For Happy Endings we toured the bar where many of the scenes are shot, and also the apartments of the characters. That was fascinating to see; how a setting is decorated so close to reality, when actually most of it is an illusion. Equally interesting was the set for Community where we toured the dean's office, library and cafeteria (the story takes place in a community college).  Also intriguing were the street scenes outside of the studios. Our guide pointed out to us how scenes can be set up to show any typical street in the world. I never realized that Chicago's fire hydrants look different than New York's fire hydrants. While we were there a street scene was being shot for Happy Endings. The building which is currently being used as a bar for that show is sitting on a corner where a scene for Breakfast at Tiffany's was once shot.
Stacy had a lot to show us in this little section of Paramount (note the above picture). She played on her iPad a scene from the Brady Bunch,  which took place below the tree.  In another corner of this area is where Paramount has their day care building. Lucile Ball was one of the first mom actresses to insist on having her children near her while she was at work. And speaking of her, the door at the far end of the building (with the awning above it) was her dressing room. Audrey Hepburn used it before she did. Our tour took about two hours and the time flew. It was all quite interesting, so totally another world. My last picture to share with you is that of Forest Gump's bench. I believe now that John and I have seen three out of the four which were made for the movie. The other two we saw are located in Savannah, Georgia.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Venice Beach

This beach, located south of Santa Monica Beach, is primarily most known for its Ocean Front Walk. We were there late Saturday afternoon. It was quite a cool breezy day so we probably did not see all the activity that is usually along the board walk. Despite the cool day many homeless people were hanging out there wrapped up in their blankets. A few had small tents. Some were selling stuff like small plastic skulls painted in garish colors. One young man offered two jokes for a dollar. And then there were about 6 shops where salesmen outside of the buildings claimed that "the doctor is in". If we had anything from cancer to insomnia we supposedly could be examined and approved for a marijuana use. Occasionally we could smell the drug in the air as we walked along the board walk. In the picture below is one of the medical shops- "evaluations" mean medical examinations. There are also shops for body piercings and tattoos. Quite a colorful beach front area. Not surprisingly, Venice Beach has served as a back drop for movies and some television series.
Venice Beach is known for its muscle builders who work out on the beach. Los Angeles parks department has an outdoor gym on the beach with body building equipment.  Had it been a warmer day I am sure we would have seen those athletes in action. A variety of entertainers were around playing on drums and guitars. One young lady was twirling around with a hula hoop under a park sculpture. It was getting dark by the time we noticed her.
Venice Beach is also popular for its wall art. Permission from the city is required to do this public art.
We ended our afternoon on the beach at a small restaurant which offered Mediterranean food. The food was delicious and the service was awesome. There seems to be no shortage of good eating places in the area. We took is one last look at the beach before leaving. Unlike Santa Monica beach, this one has a  rocky shoreline.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Franklin Canyon Ranch

While hiking through this park I made the comment to John that Hollywood does not have to travel far when producing movies. There are plenty of natural settings around the immediate area which afford the perfect scenery for many movies, especially westerns. I found out later, from a park brochure, that Franklin Canyon has been an active filming location since the 1930s and still is today. It Happened One Night, The Silence of the Lambs, the Andy Griffith Show, and more were filmed in this park. There are several hiking trails within the canyon, we chose one which took us to the top. It  was a bit steep and sort of  a challenge, but we kept going thinking we would stop before reaching the top. There were quite a few other hikers besides us out on the same trail enjoying the warm day There were also plenty of birds and wildflowers to enjoy along the way. I was even surprised to hear the song of the  whip-poor will, which is not a common bird out west.
 At the top of the canyon we had a beautiful view of Beverly Hills, which has an occasional mansion tucked away in its hills. There are plenty of beautiful areas around Los Angeles to build a home with such a view.The big question is whether one wants to take the chance of living with forest fires or mud slides.
We took  Mulholland Drive out of the park. Along this road there is a scenic overlook for Universal Studios, which is the very tall building in the foreground of the picture below.
Along Mulholland Drive we also stopped at an overlook for the Hollywood Bowl, and from there we were also able to see the Hollywood sign far off in the hills. It was at this place where we found some interesting information on Los Angeles. The town began as one pueblo- it lacked a good harbor, coal, iron, timber or water, all necessary items to start a town. Eventually it was oranges, oil, movies and tourism that spurred its economic growth. By the 20th century railroads were built, the harbor was dredged and water piped in.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

This and That

I have received several inquiries recently regarding how our aged cat is doing. Amazingly he is still alive and relatively healthy. A lot of his fur is turning white and he sleeps a lot. He has come to find a very sunny window in our home where he now spends his morning sleeping. So one of my first tasks every morning is to make that spot available, and to lift the shades on that window the minute the sun comes streaming in. Below is a picture of the first morning when we found KC at that spot. He was waiting patiently for me to raise the shade, but I do think even if I did not let the sun come in, he would continue to sit there. He does dumb stuff like that, like looking at a wall with his back to us.
In a posting before Christmas I mentioned a movie which we saw being produced when we were on Hollywood Boulevard one Friday evening. Recently I saw a piece in the Los Angeles Times on that movie. The movie, "The Gangster Squad", is a Warner Bros. action drama based on a series of the newspaper's articles on Los Angeles' crime element in the 1940s. The cast includes Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, among others. The film is set to open October 19. I hope we remember to see the movie as we had been fortunate in watching one of its' scenes in the making. For people in Los Angeles this probably is no big deal as movies are being shot all over this town rather frequently.

Friday, January 20, 2012

San Fernando Valley Historical Landmarks

Our game plan yesterday was to complete our tour of the historical sites of the valley. There is not much left of the Shadow Ranch which was active during the 1880s, presently a small portion of it is park. The ranch home is now a preschool and much of the grounds have been turned into sports fields. However, the fine grove of eucalyptus trees, said to have been the first ones in the valley brought over from Australia, are still standing. We detected their odor immediately when we walked toward them. In San Diego we stayed at a park surrounded by those trees, so we recognize that smell very easily. It is not a great smell, but not all that bad either.
Our next stop was Orcutt Ranch Horticultural Center. It has nearly 100 of the oldest live oak trees in the valley. While walking on the nature trail we found one of them with a marker stating its age as 700 years old. The knars on its trunk as well as its height is quite impressive! It looks every bit its age.
While walking on the trail the distinctive call of a bird caught our attention, I researched that bird later and it may have been an oak titmouse. In that same area I espied a woodpecker. We also saw two blue jays chasing each other around a tree. It was a short nature trail but there was a lot to see. The Orcutt Ranch was built in the 1920s. W.Orcutt and his wife designed it with styles and symbols of the American Southwest. There is an inclusion of the Native American swastika above the door lintels. On that wall is also a series of pictures depicting two cocks fighting, a sport which is popular in Mexico.
As we were heading to our last spot of the day, a homestead acre and pioneer home, we drove on Woolsey Canyon Road which overlooks the San Fernando Valley. What a great view we had on that drive!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Plants and Birds of San Fernanado Valley

When touring the Andres Pico ranch grounds on Monday we saw a century plant which had just finished flowering. I think that I need to show the century plant first, and then the stalk which grew out of it.
The stalk is in the background of the picture above. The century plant grows slowly, and it received its name from the idea that it takes 100 years to flower. That is not quite correct;  how long it takes to flower depends on the richness of the soil, climate conditions and the vigor of the plant. The volunteer at the ranch said she has enjoyed watching that plant this past year; seeing the stem come out of the plant , grow rather quickly, leaf out and produce white blossoms. Now the stalk is dead and needs to be chopped down. The stalk is what caught our attention, it must be at least 35 feet in height. Had not our guide pointed it out, we just would have thought of it as a tree and not connected it with the century plant at all.
 Also at the ranch we saw a flowering jade plant, a rather common sight here in the Los Angeles area.
Camellia and Magnolia trees are also in bloom, and today I saw a white iris, as well as jonquils. I think spring is starting around here, but it is hard to tell because some trees are dropping their leaves. Whatever season it is, it is just great being outside. And surprisingly we can always find a bit of nature right in the middle of the city! Yesterday, while biking through Sepulveda Recreation Area, we came upon one egret and several varieties of heron. There is another area of the park that has been set aside as a wildlife refuge, which we have visited, and only may see one egret in that area. What a surprise yesterday to see so many herons hanging out at a creek in the park, so close to a area heavily populated by people and traffic. While standing and watching a white egret and blue heron (pictured below) we heard a flapping of wings and two green herons flew out from the trees above us. We have never seen that many in one place, or that close to us.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Andres Pico Adobe

This is the second oldest adobe home in the Los Angeles area. It started as a one-room, single-story about 1834. The home was built by the Indians of what was then the ex-San Fernando Mission. Sometime between 1846 and 1860 the land around the house was owned by Andres Pico, the last Mexican governor of California. He chose, however, to live in the convent of the mission. His brother lived in the house at the time and added the dining room and present library. That same man, Pio Pico, passed the land on to his adopted children and at that time the adobe was modernized by adding a second floor. Other improvements were added to the house to produce an up-to-date Victorian residence of the mode of 1873. The building has undergone about 4 restorations since then. On Monday we took a guided tour of the home. We had been encouraged to visit the adobe by a friend we met at First Lutheran. She volunteers at the historic home.
This is a corner of the living room. All the furnishings are of the Victorian era. Behind the chair on the right is an Edison cylinder phonograph. The house has many antiques, from dolls to quilts to vintage clothing and branding irons. John asked if movie studios use the clothing and he was told that not only is the clothing used, but also movies have been made in the home, as Zorro. This home is a very important piece of the San Fernando Valley history. On the grounds of the Pico Adobe is the Lankershim Reading Room, which is one of the last remaining vestiges of the Lankershim Ranch. That ranch once covered the southern half of the valley. The Reading Room was built in 1904 and, before residing at the Pico Adobe,  it was used for a time as a research library at Roy Rogers' Canyon Chapel in Topanga Canyon. It is an octagon-shaped building made of redwood in the Folk-Victorian Style. What we found most fascinating about it are the sash pocket windows which slide down into seven panels of the building. When they are all down the building has a gazebo look to it. Today it serves as a mini-museum and contains artifacts pertinent to the valley's history.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Downtown Los Angeles

Saturday we took the metro train downtown, which is also what we did two years ago when we were in Los Angeles. This time, however, we did not spend any time looking at the historic buildings in the Old Plaza area. We instead took more time strolling through the Mexican-style market place, on Olvera street. Even though we had no serious shopping in mind, it still was fun to visit the craft booths and vendors of traditional Mexican wares. Plenty of food booths and restaurants are also available in the market place. We stopped to listen to Mexican music provided by one of the eating places. It was fun just taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells of the marketplace.
From there we walked over to Chinatown. The main street there is Gin Ling Way, which was named after a famous street in old Beijing. The name means "Street of Golden Treasures". And there are treasures to be found there, one shopping plaza has a long row of jewelry stores! The town is currently quite decorated. We came to find out the the Chinese New Year will be January 23. We were wished "Happy New Year" many times. I also learned that it will be the year of the dragon.
 And this time we had Chinese music for our listening pleasure.. The man pictured below stopped  playing on his two stringed violin to explain the instrument to us. It is called an Erhu. Unfortunately, with his broken English we could not understand most of what he said. However, he was a very sweet guy and after we placed a dollar in his donation pot, he gave us a bamboo backscratcher. 
I have not yet become bored with Los Angeles. It seems that we can drive or walk anywhere and find something fascinating to view. Returning to Union Station to catch our train that afternoon we noticed a large room in the station being readied for a banquet. We learned that a fashion show for charity was to take place in a few hours.. While we stood there a model came out to practice her walk across the stage.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Nethercutt Music Collection

After a brief introduction to the first floor of the Nethercutt Museum our tour guide allowed us to wander around on our own for a brief time. Our free time was to last until the end of George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue. The music came from the player piano located on the landing above the floor. Near the piano is a Tiffany clock encased in a walnut cabinet. Its chimes rang out on the hour.
One of the first music boxes we saw on the next floor had five small dancers twirling to the music. It is typical of the "station music boxes" placed in railway stations and other places of business to entertain travelers during the railway boom of the late 1800s. This one was made in Switzerland in 1895.
 The next floor of the museum had orchestrions. They were made only in Europe and are mechanical devices able to produce the sound of a full orchestra. One in the Nethercutt collection has a 20 piece orchestra. It can be seen in the background of the picture below.
The Mighty Wurlitzer, in the foreground of the picture above, is the third largest in the world. During the  years of silent movies it was used in theaters to produce different sound effects. We were told that this organ had an option of  537 different sounds; everything from the sound of thunder to galloping hoofs, to a door bell ringing or a steam engine chugging away from a train station. We were told that it was not an easy task for the musician at the organ. He had to watch the screen, provide certain sounds at the appropriate times and perform for all the shows which may be shown on the screen in one day! A variety of those sounds were produced for us by our tour guide. He also played a couple of songs for us on the organ. While the organ was playing doors opened to reveal two rooms which contain 5,000 organ pipes. We fully enjoyed our two days at the Nethercutt Museum, and there is no admission price!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Nethercutt Car Collection

We returned to see the second building of the Nethercutt Collection. In the first building, which we toured Tuesday, there are 150 cars which the family restored. There is a total of 250 cars in the collection so we saw a few more today besides many musical devices. Our toured guide stressed that it is all "functional fine art".  The music boxes play, the cars can be driven and the musical watches keep accurate time. This posting will have a focus again on the cars, I promise that the next posting will feature other items in the Nethercutt collection! The car showroom we toured today is a bit fancier than the one we toured Tuesday. It was designed to look like a showroom of the 1920s and 30s. There is quite a bit of blaze to the room with the bright lights overhead, and the reflections in the mirrors of the gleaming cars.
 The first car pictured here is another one produced in St.Louis Missouri (I featured the other one in my posting two days ago). In the first years of car manufacturing there were over 4,000 car companies. So it probably is no surprise that I found another car company which used to be in St.Louis.  The 1930 Ruxton, pictured below, was made by New Era Motors. It was advertised as an  "Art Deco Front Drive Automobile". It was a sensation when introduced but that lasted only one year, after 200 of them were produced. Internal company strife and poor funding killed the Ruxton, according to the information provided by the museum.
The other car which I want to show here is is a 1932 Maybach. The informational sign posted near it says that it was "the very peak of  German automotive refinement". The story as to how the Nethercutt family received this car is an interesting one. Apparently it was smuggled out of East Germany under a load of cabbages (this was at the time when the Berlin Wall was in existence). It probably did not look this good back then!
It is hard to believe that many of the cars in this collection were once rust buckets before being restored. Once restored they are kept in mint condition. They are dusted daily, also waxed and detailed every 150 days, according to the curator. Just before leaving today we returned to the first building and were fortunate to be able to witness a corvette getting waxed and detailed. That was fascinating to watch!

Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine

This is a 10-acre meditation garden that includes a spring-fed picturesque lake. In the 1940s Twentieth Century Fox had their studios here and built an authentic reproduction of a 16th-century Dutch Windmill.
The Self Realization Fellowship church worshiped in that building until a new temple was built. The new temple is a domed octagonal building crowned with a golden lotus. It sits high on a hill overlooking the lake to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The founder of the church was Parmahansa Yogananda, who came from India in the 1920s. Students of the church learn through Self-Realization studies how to balance their lives with meditation. However, the garden is a shrine to each of the five principal religions of the world. At the Court of Religions (where there is a monument to each of those religions) one can gaze upon a nearby hillside to see a life-size statue of Christ. Yogananda felt that the goal of every faith is the same- direct experience of God.
On the grounds is also the Gandhi World Peace Memorial. Here a brass coffer containing a portion of Mahatma Gandhi's ashes was enshrined in a stone sarcophagus at the dedication of the Lake Shrine in 1950.
It is quite the spot for reflection and prayer. A path goes around the lake and along that path there are many small private areas where one may sit quietly and meditate. Flowers abound everywhere and their fragrance permeates the air. Birds also seem to enjoy the gardens, it all certainly gave me a sense of being in paradise!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Life in Van Nuys

This San Fernando Valley suburb is where we have now been parked for a month. Our plans are to remain here for yet another month and then we will start heading east. Some recreational vehicle parks which we have been in are primarily populated with older citizens like John and I. This place has a variety of people including families with small children. The owner told us he has traveling nurses staying here, actors, construction workers as well as people living here while under-going cancer therapy. Our neighbor is a Los Angeles water works employee. He has his young daughter and a teen age son living with him. Except for a couple of motorcycles in the park and a small airport nearby, things are generally fairly quiet around us. While walking the streets in the neighborhoods around here I have been fascinated with the plethora of shopping carts hanging around. This is just one of those places in the Los Angeles area where certain people reside who are apt to readily use them, primarily I am speaking of the homeless. Oh, there is also the older person who uses them to take their groceries home or the young mother who loads her kids in them. But for the homeless a Food for Less or Home Depot cart is a necessary part of their existence. They need a cart to carry their blankets or sleeping bags or just all the stuff they daily accumulate. At least I thought those items would be important until I saw the cart pictured below. Someone felt it necessary to leave it behind. The first day it was over-flowing with stuff: a technical school graduation diploma, an unopened single serving box of cereal, a bar of soap (still in its wrapping), towels, underwear and many plastic bags. No, I did not rummage in the cart, I am only mentioning the items I saw sitting at the top. In the following days I watched as the cart slowly got relieved of its burden until only a few junky items remained. The cart still sits by its lonesome self  at the side of the road. It seems that it does not qualify for the cart retrieval service. Yes, only Los Angeles would probably need a company like that. We watched one day as a truck came by and loaded up shopping carts around the perimeter of a shopping plaza. Leave it to John to ask him what he was doing! He thought the carts were going in for repair.
I can't leave you with the impression that we live in a questionable neighborhood. Check out this picture of a wall covered with bougainvillea. It is located at a trailer park next to us. Some of the homes around here are pretty run down, but there is usually beautiful foliage in the front yard.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nethercutt Museum

Driving off Highway 405 toward the Nethercutt Museum we passed a large Merle Norman Cosmetic plant. At that time we did not realize there was a connection between Merle Norman and the museum. In 1923 J.B.Nethercutt went to live with his aunt Merle Nethercutt Norman. He later joined her in the family cosmetic business. In 1956 J.B. and his wife started collecting and restoring antique cars. Over the years they collected many different cars from classics to hot rods. The car, in which the lady is seated in the picture above, is one of those restored cars. It was one of the most expensive Packards sold in 1934. The shiny red car with the license plate of "Hussy" is one of over a 100 restored cars showcased in the museum. The next car which caught my eye was the 1928 Diana, manufactured by the Moon Car Company located in St.Louis, Missouri. It is described as a "The Light Straight 8/Sedan Deluxe". In Roman mythology Diana is a goddess of the moon. Appropriately the company thought one of their cars should be called a Diana. The goddess with her bow and arrow is a hood ornament on the car. I found a couple other cars in the museum also made by the Moon Car Company.
We were surprised to find a restored 1938 Pierce-Arrow Travelodge in the museum. A sign near it describes it as the ultimate in travel comfort; complete with a gas heater, beds for four, ice box, and a bathroom. The museum had done a great job in restoring it, considering that its last use was as a chicken coop! Attached to it is a Pierce-Arrow Limousine. Hard to believe that about 76 years ago it was possible to travel in such style!
 The museum also has a rather extensive collection of car headlights, carburetors, horns, spark plugs and hood ornaments. It was of interest to me that the swastika was a mascot, or hood ornament, before Adolf  Hitler started using it as a symbol for his evil empire. For many ancient cultures, even our Native Americans, it was a symbol for good luck, health and happiness. The rest of the Nethercutt Collection, which also includes a variety of musical  devices, is located in another building which we plan on visiting Friday.