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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Laurel Canyon

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 16, 2009 03:30pm | Post a Comment

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Hollywood, showing the approximate location of Laurel Canyon

This blog entry is about Laurel Canyon. To vote for other Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


The woodsy area in the Hollywood Hills now known as Laurel Canyon was originally inhabited by the Tongva. A spring-fed stream attracted Mexican shepherds in the 18th century. After the region became part of the US, Anglos arrived. About 100 years ago, the area was divided up, cabins were erected and the area was marketed to vacationing tourists. The first movie made in Hollywood was shot in Yucca Corridor in 1910. Though the film industry remained centered in Edendale for a few years, it gradually shifted to Hollywood and Laurel Canyon became the home of some of the burgeoning industry's photo-players.


Famed cowboy star Tom Mix bought the Laurel Tavern and converted it into his residence. Mary Astor had a love nest on Appian Way. Gay Mexican "Latin Lover" Ramón Novarro lived there until his murder in 1968.


Though better known as an escapologist, Hungarian magician Harry Houdini sometimes acted in the silent era and was another resident to Laurel Canyon. Other stars of the silent screen who made Laurel Canyon their home include Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Theda Bara, Bessie Love, Wallace Reid and Norman Kerry.


After most of the movie stars left, the rustic neighborhood was still a draw from some bohemian types. It was there, in 1948, that actors Robert Mitchum and Lila Leeds were busted for possession of jazz cigarettes. Mitchum moved away in the '60s. The next influx of inhabitants were more often part of the music industry.


"she lives on Love Street"





 
Located as it is, just up the hill from the famed hippie and folk-rock nexus The Troubadour, the nearby bucolic setting attracted members of that scene. In the 1960s, many musicians moved to the neighborhood including Love’s Arthur Lee, The ByrdsRoger McGuinn and David Crosby, The DoorsJim Morrison and Robby Krieger, the Mamas & PapasDenny Doherty and Cass Elliot, The TurtlesMark Volman, The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, Troy Donahue, Fabian, The Beach BoysBrian Wilson, Buffalo Springfield’s Neil Young and The Mothers of Invention’s Frank Zappa.

Laurel Canyon Country Store - "the place where the Creatures meet."

In 1968, Laurel Canyon's navelgazing period truly began -- That year, Crosby, Stills and Nash formed one of the first supergroups, named after themselves, of course. The amount of musicians who referenced the neighborhood in their works is pretty humorous. The great, underrated Jackie DeShannon was first, with Laurel Canyon.  Two months later, John Mayall released Blues from Laurel Canyon. The following year, Joni Mitchell began recording Ladies of the Canyon. David Geffen moved to the neighborhood hoping to exploit the increasingly mellow singer-writer and soft rock scene embodied by new residents like Jackson Browne, Carole King, James Taylor, Judee Sill, Linda Ronstadt and members of The Eagles and America. In 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sang the highly irritating "Our House" about Nash and Mitchell's home. The transition from acid rock psychonauts to self-worshiping cocaine cowboys was completed in 1973, when The Roxy opened down the hill in West Hollywood.

By the ‘80s, most of the singer-writer scene had dried up and blown away but the coke hadn’t. In 1981, four members of The Wonderland Gang (Laurel Canyon’s premier coke distributors), were murdered, leading to the arrest of porn star John C. Holmes. The sleaze quotient rose further when shock jocks Adam Carrola and Tom Leykis moved there (not together).
 

In the '90s, the neighborhood became the home of mainstream darlings including Jennifer Aniston, Neve Campbell and Trent Reznor. A new generation of cocaine cowboys began to wax about the good old days of Laurel Canyon. In 2001, British band The Charlatans released their album Wonderland. Accepted into the scene, by the time of his solo debut a couple of years later, singer Tim Burgess seemed to embody the Laurel Canyon revival. In 2002, in true Laurel Canyon fashion, a movie about Laurel Canyon was released, titled Laurel Canyon.


 
World's largest dog park 

Today, Laurel Canyon still exudes considerable charm. The whimsical houses are in a variety of styles, although their current residents are unfailingly scowly types with dogs in their purses and yoga pants on at all times. Their chilly expressions are somewhat fitting in a neighborhood that, despite being surrounded by urban Los Angeles, conveys an undeniably autumnal vibe.





*****


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Osaka, the Westside's J-Town

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 10, 2009 11:09pm | Post a Comment



This Los Angeles neighborhood blog entry is about Little Osaka. To vote for another neighborhood(s) to be covered here on the blog, click here. To vote for a Los Angeles County community(ies) to be covered, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Westside

Japanese-Americans
have long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles. J-Towns have sprung up around the Southland in Gardena, Torrance, Boyle Heights, Pasadena, San Pedro, Terminal Island, Compton, Long Beach, Monterey Park and Sawtelle. As far as I know, only two have acquired nicknames that reflect their Japanese-ness, Little Tokyo and Little Ōsaka. The former is a well known spot downtown.


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Little Osaka

The latter is a small district along Sawtelle Boulevard between Nebraska and Tennessee in the Sawtelle neighborhood (and former municipality) favored by Nisei, foodies, otaku, hentai, nipponophiles. With the rainy season just beginning, my ex-roomie Shimbles and I set out to explore the neighborhood.

From around 400 BCE till the arrival of the Spanish, the area around what's today Little Osaka was known to the Tongva as Kuruvunga. In 1896, a neighborhood sprang up known as Barrett. The US postal service objected to the name, on account of its similarity to Bassett. In 1899, the name was changed to Sawtelle. In 1918, Sawtelle became part of Los Angeles. By the '10s, the area was largely populated by Japanese-Americans and the neighborhood was often referred to as "Soteru." From 1920 to '25, the population of Sawtelle grew rapidly, from 3,500 to 10,700.





In the 1920s and 30s, what's now Little Osaka (小大阪) was dominated by Nikkei-run nurseries which mostly served wealthy, white westsiders, although Sawtelle homes themselves often display more thoughtful landscaping than those in average neighborhoods. In 1931, a group of Japanese planted a Japanese garden (designed by Koichi Kawana) in Sawtelle's Stoner Park "for the promotion of better understanding." By 1941, there were 26 nurseries in the area. When Japanese-Americans were unjustly interred during World War II, the neighborhood went into decline. Today there are three nurseries remaining in Little Osaka; The Jungle, Hashimoto and Yamaguchi Bonsai.


Lianne Lin's I <3 Sawtelle

In the '20s, the large Kobayakawa Boarding House was built by Riichi Ishioka on Sawtelle Blvd, housing up to 60 people at a time. It remained in operation until the 1970s. When Japanese-Americans returned to the neighborhood after the war, Sawtelle Gakuin's auditorium was converted to a hostel. In 1946, Toshikazu "Tom" and Midori Yamaguchi opened the store Yamaguchi, a beloved institution in the neighborhood. Yamas remained in business until 2006, when their sons, Henry and Jack, sold it. In the late '80s, many of the existing buildings were destroyed to make way for strip malls and offices. In the '90s, the area began to bustle again, perhaps initially because authenticity-oriented foodies discovered the neighborhood's Japanese-American restaurants. Although most of the pre-war character of the neighborhood was by then erased, the JA character remained and the area began to be referred to as Little Osaka.



There are still multiple sushi, curry and noodle joints -- among others. I suspect the neighborhood may've acquired its nickname (instead of, say, Little Yokohama) because of how densely populated with eateries it is. Big Ōsaka, after all, is the city of kuidaore ("to become poor as a result of one's extravagance in eating and drinking"). Being a cold, rainy day, I had some extra hot curry and sake to warm myself from the inside out. Afterward we stopped by Beard Papa's, a chain founded in the original Ōsaka. I ate the brand new Cookie Crunch Puff. Although my sweet tooth is dwarfed by my bitter, salty, sour, spicy and umami teeth, it was delicious.


There haven't been any films shot in Little Osaka that I know of, except for a couple of short youtube docs, the area does have a connection to Japanese film. First it should be said that Amoeba has a very large selection of Japanese films -- one of the best in the city. However, if you can't find a Japanese movie at Amoeba, there's a good chance they have it at Video Addict, although probably without English subtitles.




Giant Robot
was started in 1994 by Eric Nakamura and Martin Wong as a magazine covering Asian and Asian-American pop culture. It not only filled a void in the publishing world, but its subject matter, its humor, attitude, observation and insight also made it one of the greatest magazines, period. They opened their first store in 2001, in Little Osaka. A few years later, they opened the art gallery, G2. We checked out the Post-It Show.

 


There are a lot of clothing joints in the neighborhood. As with the world outside of Milan, there are many more options for the ladies than the gents. And for the gents, most of the choices are kawaii t-shirts and outfits you'd see on kids in a jerk video.




As we left Little Osaka, we crossed Nebraska and saw this creepy Brujeria omen...



*****

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Silent night - Christmas movies of the silent era

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 6, 2009 11:55am | Post a Comment
         

Happy St. Nicholas Day! For your enjoyment, a little somethin' to break the monotony of all that hardcore Christmas that has gotten to be a little bit out of control...


Santa Claus
(1898) was directed by George Albert Smith (Weary Willie, Making Sausages), a former portrait photographer and member of the UK's Brighton set. In 1906, he and Charles Urban patented the world's first commercial color film process, Kinemacolor. Smith was something of an English Georges Méliès, employing and pioneering the use of special effects, mostly in the fantasy genre.

Scrooge; or Marley's Ghost (1901) was apparently the first adaptation of seemingly millions of Dickens's novel.


The Night Before Christmas
(1905) was directed by the great Edwin S. Porter (Uncle Josh in a Spooky Hotel, Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show, The Gay Shoe Clerk) and is a pretty loose adaptation of the famous poem by Clement Moore. It will undoubtedly appeal to fans of dioramas and vintage children.


A Winter Straw Ride
(1906) is another Porter effort. It's pretty light on plot, mainly focusing on the titular straw ride (sleigh ride) and the hijinks surrounding it. Warning: the score is pretty corny on this clip so you may want to play something else to accompany it.

A Little Girl Who Did Not Believe in Santa Claus (1907), co-directed by James Searle Dawley and Edwin S. Porter depicts a rich boy going to great lengths to delude a jaded poor girl into believing in the supernatural.

Essanay's version of A Christmas Carol (1908) starred Tom R. Ricketts (The Lavender Bath Lady, The Dangerous Maid, Bobbed Hair) as Scrooge; the film was released in December 1908 and probably launched the concept of the Christmas box office. Unfortunately, it appears to be lost, although it's often confused with later silent versions.


A Trap for Santa (1909) is a typically melodramatic effort of celebrated racist D.W. Griffith (The Greaser's Gauntlet, The Zulu's Heart, The Feud and the Turkey). I couldn't find it online, but it's available (as are most of these silent Christmas films) on DVD in the Kino collection, A Christmas Past -- available in Amoeba's Christmas section.


The second filmed version of A Christmas Carol (1910) was directed by James Searle Dawley and  starred Australian actor Marc McDermott (Satin and Calico, The Girl and the Motorboat, The Man Who Could Not Sleep) in the role of Scrooge.


Making Christmas Crackers
(1910) begins as a rather too in-depth look at the tedious process of making Christmas Crackers produced by George Howard Cricks and John Howard Martin. However, in the final minute or so, it thankfully veers into poetic realist territory.


A Christmas Accident (1912) is a story of two households whose residents couldn't be more different, the rich, cranky Giltons and the poor, good-hearted Biltons. However, during the magic of the holiday, the two end up finding something they didn't expect -- love. Another warning, the version here suffers from a random, repetitive and robotically performed score.

Scrooge (1913), starring Sir Seymour Hicks (Always Tell Your Wife, Sleeping Partners, Young Man's Fancy), was re-released in 1926 as Old Scrooge. He again reprised the role of Scrooge in 1935's film, Scrooge. It's available on the DVD A Christmas Carol & Old Scrooge, in stock in Amoeba's Christmas section.


The Adventures of the Wrong Santa Claus (1914) as subtitled, An Adventure of Octavius -- Amateur Detective, stars Herbert Yost (A Drunkard's Reformation, The Faded Lilies, A Troublesome Satchel) as the private dick in question. Although the character is as unfamililar to modern audiences as Ecks and Sever, filmgoers in the teens were familiar with him from The Adventure of the Extra Baby, The Adventure of the Hasty Elopement, The Adventure of the Actress' Jewels, and many, many more.

Santa Claus Vs. Cupid
(1915) stars Raymond McKee (Two Lips and Juleps; or, Southern Love and Northern Exposure, T. Haviland Hicks, Freshman, Shoddy the Tailor) and Billy Casey as rival Santa-suited suitors attempting to win the affection of Helen Bower, played by Grace Morrissey (Curing the Office Boy, Blade 'o Grass, The Tell-Tale Step). It's also available on the aforementioned Kino set.

The Dividend
(1916) was directed by Thomas H. Ince (The Hateful God, In the Land of the Otter, Shorty's Adventures in the City) and Walter Edwards (The Colonel's Adopted Daughter, His Superficial Wife, The Sin Ye Do). It concerns the yuletide misadventures of a drug addled man named Frank, played by Charles Ray (Bread Cast Upon the Waters, One of the Discarded, The Conversion of Frosty Blake).

The Right to Be Happy (1916) was another adaptation of A Christmas Carol, this time directed by and starring Kiwi Rupert Julian (The Heart of a Jewess, In the Days of his Youth, The Boyhood He Forgot, ) as Scrooge).

Bab's Diary (1917) was directed by James Searle Dawle, who called himself "the first motion picture director." It was, however, at least his third film in the Christmas genre.

Scrooge (1923), starring Russell Thorndike (The Dream of Eugene Aram, The Audacious Mr. Squire, The School for Scandal), is availble, re-titled A Christmas Carol, on the aforementioned DVD, A Christmas Carol & Old Scrooge. In reality, both films on the DVD were released in theaters as Scrooge, but the DVD company in question, Jef, are not known for the care they put into their releases.  

The Goose Hangs High (1925), directed by James Cruze (The Golf Caddie's Dog, The Ring of a Spanish Grandee, Why Reginald Reformed), has something to do with socialism, Christmas and a snobbish grandmother.

Santa Claus (1925) was shot in the Alaskan arctic and concerns the goings on in the Land of Winter the other 364 days of the year. It's also available on the Kino collection, A Christmas Past.

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Wilshire Park, Los Angeles's "Not Koreatown"

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 8, 2009 08:32pm | Post a Comment

This installment of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Blog concerns Wilshire Park. Vote here to vote in the Neighborhoods of Los Angeles Blog Poll (NLABP) and/or here for the Los Angeles County Community Blog Poll (LACCBP). To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

  
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Maps of Midtown and Wilshire Park

Wilshire Park is a small, Midtown  neighborhood whose borders are Olympic Blvd on the south, Crenshaw Blvd on the west, Wilshire Blvd on the north and Wilton Place on the east. Its desirable, central location and quaint charm has lead to various parties attempting to claim it for their benefit. Some residential realtors have extended the traditional use of the term “Westside” to the neighborhood, hoping to attach that area’s mostly white and affluent connotations to the neighborhood. Commercial interests have occasionally led to it being described as part of neighboring Koreatown, presumably with an eye on extending the bustling commercial center into the quiet neighborhood.
 
Wilshire Blvd suddenly gets quiet in Wilshire Park
Wilshire Park is almost completely residential. When entering the neighborhood from Koreatown to the east, one notices an almost complete halt in the Hangul signs, BBQ aroma and crowded shopping centers which immediately give way to several nondescript apartments and only a couple of equally nondescript businesses.

An attractive row of typical Wilshire Park homes
The bulk of the neighborhood is made up of a variety of architectural styles including American Craftsman, California Bungalow, Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial, Mediterranean, Spanish Colonial and Victorian-Craftsman Transitional styles. The first home built in the neighborhood was in 1908 and most of the rest were built between the ‘10s and ‘30s. A number are listed as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Landmarks.

      
Although a few Wilshire Park residents have accepted the realities of California and thus xeriscaped their lawns, many of the homeowners attempted to transplant the appearance of where they’d come from to the area and a large number of the homes still feature rose gardens and lush, green lawns. If not for the palm trees, the large magnolias and oaks, the sycamore-shaded neighborhood could pass for somewhere in the Middle West.

   
              Doris Eaton                                            Helen Lee Worthing                                              Mildred Harris

Much of the neighborhood looks much as it must’ve in the silent film era, when it was home to many stars. Doris Eaton, Helen Lee Worthing, and Mildred Harris all lived there. In 1925, a chase scene in the Buster Keaton film, Seven Chances, took place at Olympic and Bronson.

   
Situated three miles south of downtown Hollywood and five miles west of downtown Los Angeles, the Mid-Wilshire area was in a prime position in the 1930s and it was at the peak of its association with the film industry, leading to the area being known as “The Upper East Side of the West Coast.” The Ambassador Hotel, the Brown Derby, the Cocoanut Grove club, Perino's and the Wiltern Theater were/are attractions which no doubt contributed to the association.

     
              Harry James                                Louise Tobin                         Joseph L. Mankiewicz                   Jules Dassin

In the pre-war era, the neighborhood was also home to bandleader Harry James and his wife, singer Louise Tobin, lived there as well as violinist Jan Rubini and screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Following World War II, the southland population largely moved to the suburbs. In the 1940s and '50s, though most of the Hollywood crowd had moved away from the city center, Wilshire Park was still home to several notables. Don McLaughlin, star of old time radio program Counterspy lived on Norton Avenue. Screenwriter/director Jules Dassin lived on Bronson.
 

In the 1960s, The Douglas Family house in My Three Sons was shot there (837 5th Ave). More recently, the neighborhood was a shooting location in Crossing Over.
 
Looking toward Olympic
The sometimes histrionic reaction to being lumped in with Koreatown could lead one to believe that the residents of Wilshire Park are living out their own cozy catastrophe, holding out against the widespread Koreanization of the Wilshire region. However, walking around the neighborhood it seems that a vast majority of the neighborhood's residents and businesses are themselves Korean. Olympic Blvd is Wilshire Park’s main commercial corridor and every business is Korean-owned and targeted, including Arirang, Chung Ki Wa, Kang Nam and many others.
   
                             A Buddhist Temple                                                                  A strange sign
In reality, Koreatown means more than simply Koreans; it means high-density high-rises (it’s the most crowded area in the Southland), LCD JumboTron billboards, traffic, filth and crime. Indeed, the concerns of Wilshire Park residents are hardly unwarranted. The Wilton Place border (where several scenes of 365 Nights In Hollywood were filmed) it shares with Koreatown is noticably more litter-strewn and nearly every crime in the neighborhood (mostly burglaries) takes place within a block of the street. For more on the neighborhood, go to the Wilshire Park Association's website or check their twitter page.



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Silencio! - The Hispanic & Latino experience in the silent era

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 19, 2009 02:26pm | Post a Comment
Like other minorities in Hollywood (e.g. Asians, blacks, gays, Natives and women, to name a few), Hispanics and Latinos in the silent film era were almost exclusively produced by people who had little or no first hand experience of their subjects. But whilst Latinos may've been almost entirely excluded from the filmmaking process, a handful of actors found work in front of the camera and in the process opened doors for the generations that followed.

In film's first decade, a few Latinos in fact were involved in American filmmaking. Before the Hollywood era, the filmmaking process wasn't centralized and films were shot around the country by wealthy entrepreneurs, a few of which were Hispanic. However, most American films in the 1890s were under ten minutes long and tended to focus on single actions like sneezing, laughing or opening a door.

Though film roles in the 1890s tended to avoid any minority issues, there were a few minorities in film. In 1903, the first version of Uncle Tom's Cabin hit the screen and went on to be the most frequently adapted story in the silent era, suggesting that there was at least concern about black issues, if not other minorities. In the teens, with films like A Woman Scorned, The Squaw Man, Intolerance and The Italian, depictions of minorities broadened considerably.


                    

Two Latina actresses, Vera and Beatriz Michelena, were among the first to appear in film. The Michelenas were the New York-born daughters of Caracas-born opera singer Fernando Gonzalez. Like generations that followed, their "exotic looks" resulted in their sometimes being used as all-purpose ethnic types, although, in the title role of Heart of Juanita, Beatriz actually played a presumably Latina character (I haven't seen it).
Most Latino characters in the 1910s weren't afforded the occasional sympathy shown toward other minorities, with most Latinos depicted as dastardly "greasers," as in the films Tony the Greaser (1911), The Greaser's Revenge (1914) and the remake of Tony the Greaser, Tony the Greaser (1914). The latter, ironically, featured Myrtle Gonzalez as "Mary Blake." Generally, Mexicans were depicted as lazy and deceitful, which, not surprisingly, didn't go over especially well with Mexicans and when they responded by boycotting Hollywood, American filmmakers responded by carefully applying the negative stereotype to all Latinos, not just Mexicans.

          

For non-Latino, white, European Hispanics, race wasn't necessarily an issue. Los Angeles native Myrtle Gonzalez was billed as "The Virgin White Lily of the Screen" during her short career -- she died at 27 in the 1918 flu pandemic. Antonio Moreno was a Spanish-born actor/director. In his early films, he often played the Latin Lover, a stereotypical protrayal of supposedly exotic Mediterranean types popular at the time. Fetishizing Europeans was all well and good in the silent era, but with the coming of sound, Moreno's accent was viewed as a detriment and his career came to a halt.

            
 
In the 1920s, the vogue for Latins (as opposed to Latinos) like Moreno and Italian Rudolph Valentino proved so popular that actors actually concocted phony identities to pass, such as Jewish actor Jacob Krantz who was reborn "Ricardo Cortez." When people found out he wasn't actually Spanish, he tried to claim that he was at least French... which also proved untrue.

             

Actual flesh and blood Latinos, as a result of the craze, soon found work in Hollywood, including Ramon Novarro, Dolores Del Rio, Gilbert Roland and Lupe Velez. By the late '20s, they were internationally known stars, beloved for their inevitably sexually-charged portrayals, a stereotype that, some 80 years later, continues to be almost comically perpetuated on the rare occasions when Hollywood portrays Hispanic and Latino characters.

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