(In which... POOF!)

Posted by Job O Brother, August 17, 2009 12:41pm | Post a Comment

I realize that I, all too often, leave you feeling jealous and unfulfilled after reading my blogs. You learn about my glamorous, jet-set, Hollywood lifestyle and come away asking yourself:

“Why can’t my life be more like Job’s?”

“How come the Gyllenhaals always attend his Scrabble night, but never mine?”

“What’s that claw-like black thing headed towards my face?”


Phew! Well, now that I’ve saved your life from an eternal damnation of sorts, maybe now you’ll be a little forgiving that I once again have a story of rad proportions to share with you.

One of my fellow Amoebites* – we’ll call him Erik Estrada from the TV show Chips in order to protect his identity – is currently a pupil at the world-famous Magic Castle, located in the heart of Hollywood.


For those of you who’ve never heard of the Magic Castle, here’s a brief history lesson. (If you already know this material, feel free to skip ahead to the part where Courtney Love threatens to slit my throat open with a ventriloquist dummy.)

The Magic Castle opened as a private club for magicians in January of 1963, after an extensive renovation of what was once a glorious mansion at the turn of the century, but had since then become a dilapidated apartment complex. Today it hosts a nightly variety of magic acts for guests to enjoy in-between drinks at one of its plush bars or restaurant.

It is not open to the public – one must either be a member or a guest of one. Formal attire is required and you cannot bring in burning tires (or, for those in the United Kingdom, burning tyres).

Thanks to Erik Estrada from the TV show Chips, I gained entrance into the illustrious Magic Castle, along with the boyfriend, and another co-worker and friend, Smithy.

We arrived in our fancy dress and waited to be met by Erik Estrada from the TV show Chips. Smithy and I eagerly discussed what cocktails we would first order. She settled on a sidecar (see above) while I opted for my new love, Campari with a splash of soda. The boyfriend stuck to his standard, slightly dirty Grey Goose martini.

Great. Now I’m thirsty. Is 11:30 AM too early for a mint julep?

LOL! Alcoholism is funny. Anyway…

Upon first entering the Magic Castle, you are faced with a lobby of walls filled with books, but no doors. Perched atop a [noun TK] is a stuffed owl, for whom you must recite the correct “magic words.” I won’t tell you what they are and spoil it for you, but I will say I got it right the first time! (Hint: it’s not “Houdini deserved it.”)

Next, you are led into the first lounge. In the course of our evening, there were often magicians sitting at tables, casually performing card tricks for on-lookers. This casualness made for a chummy atmosphere, and I loved the magicians’ passion for their craft. We got our drinks. The booze made for a chummy atmosphere, and I loved the bartender’s passion for their craft.

In one lounge sits a piano, next to a huge framed painting of a Victorian girl-child. This painting is said to be Irma, the ghost which haunts and plays the piano. For a tip, Irma will take requests. The delightful but awkward ritual goes like this:

Step up to the piano, insert a bill into the golden birdcage, and say something like, “Hi, Irma. Would you play ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ for me, please?”

And the piano starts playing your request!

That is, unless you’re me. I did, in fact, request the above mentioned jazz standard by Cole Porter. For the boyfriend and I, it’s “our song." Hardly an obscure number, it’s been played and sung by hundreds of musicians and singers, so we were shocked and – yes, I’ll say it – miffed, when Irma didn’t play “Every Time We Say Goodbye” and instead began performing “Every Time You Go Away,” the one-hit wonder, circa 1985.

Now, I love Paul Young as much as the next guy – which is to say, I hate Paul Young with a passion beyond my years. Smithy and I desperately explained to Irma in heightened tones that she was playing the wrong song and to please, please stop!

She finally did and we patiently tried to educate her on what song I wanted, which must have made for a funny scene: Two people emphatically detailing the history of a song to a vacant piano.

But Irma remained silent and we became disheartened. Corey returned with a round of drinks and blithely asked Irma to play “Total Eclipse of the Heart” – without even tipping Irma – and she started performing it!

At this point, Smithy and I lost our cool and outright shouted at Irma to STOP and to NOT PLAY ANY MORE HITS FROM THE 80’S! The boyfriend didn’t understand what the fuss was about, but then, he actually likes to listen to music that was recorded by people who are still alive. Gross.

It wasn’t losing the dollar that bothered me so much as it was that this Victorian ghost seemed well-versed in all things VH-1 but remained ignorant of ditties more appropriate for the environment we were enjoying. I mean, we’re sitting in a well-appointed lounge plucked from the time of great-grandparents; meanwhile, this cheeky spook seems to be just waiting for an excuse to break-out into a perky rendition of “The Safety Dance.” Irma my ass – this piano was obviously haunted by Ferrante & Teicher!

Irma’s short-comings notwithstanding, the three of us went on to have a lovely time. We saw two shows, each in different but equally charming performance spaces, and Erik Estrada from the TV show Chips gave us a tour of the mansion, which winds seemingly endlessly, constantly revealing another lounge, another hallway, another treasure trove of spooky artifacts (we’re talking W.C. Fields’ pool table, kids!). The atmosphere was sumptuous and kick-ass, and Smithy and I frequently remarked that it was a shame we couldn’t make the Magic Castle our regular hang-out.

It came time to go. So we went. Not much story there.

If you ever get the chance to go to The Magic Castle, be the opposite of a dork-faced loser and go. And try a sidecar – Smithy’s right about them – they’re delicious!

(For those of you who just wasted their time looking for the sensational Courtney Love drama, shame on you for 'skipping ahead'! I spend days... well, okay - not days... I spend minutes writing these blogs for you. The least you can do is read them in their entirety.)

*This is what we at Amoeba call co-workers. It’s cute, it’s affectionate, and it’s a lot easier to say than “Co-moeba-ccupationalists.”

National Salad Week & the Brown Derby's Culinary Input

Posted by Whitmore, July 27, 2009 08:23pm | Post a Comment

July 25 to 31 is National Salad Week. And don’t forget the salad dressing. According to a recent consumer survey conducted by Synovate, 95 percent of Americans consume salads, or at least lettuce, at least three times per week. Not only do most Americans eat salads regularly, but they perceive other salad eaters as healthier, happier and, according to the Atlanta-based Association for Dressings and Sauces (ADS, a national trade association representing the manufacturers of salad dressings and condiment sauces), salad lovers are thought to be sexier. In other words, if you want to impress, eat a salad, though you might want to avoid the onions...
One of the most popular salad concoctions was invented here in Los Angeles, just around the corner from Amoeba, in glamorous old Hollywood at 1628 North Vine Street; the former location of the Hollywood Brown Derby. That delicious meal in a bowl would be none other then the Cobb Salad.
But first: The Brown Derby was a chain of four restaurants in Los Angeles. The first and the most iconic of these was located at 3427 Wilshire Boulevard. Shaped like a man's derby hat, its diameter was 28 ft and it stood was just under 18 feet tall. The restaurant was started by Bob Cobb, eventual owner of the Hollywood Stars baseball team of the Pacific Coast League and Herbert Somborn, the former husband of the screen siren Gloria Swanson. Opened in 1926, the building was moved to 3347 Wilshire Boulevard in 1937 and after being sold and renovated in 1975, it was quickly euthanized in 1980 by a strip mall known as the Brown Derby Plaza. The doomed domed structure was incorporated into the third floor of the building where there is supposed to be a cafe, but to be perfectly honest, its dignity and splendor is long gone.
Designed to catch the eye of passing motorists, the architectural inspiration, according to one story, was the hat worn by New York governor and the perennial Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith, who was a good friend of Somborn’s. Another version has Somborn playing with the idea that a great restauranteur could serve food anywhere, even out of a hat, and still be successful.
The second Brown Derby opened on Vine Street on Valentine's Day in 1929. Close to the studios like Paramount and RKO, it was here that the Derby legend was made; the Hollywood elite would wine and dine, wheel and deal, meet to compete. It didn’t hurt that legendary gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper plied their trade and rivalries at the Vine Street location, setting up shop to play their wicked little games. Unfortunately most of the building was destroyed by a fire in 1987. A small portion of the restaurant's original facade remains and is being incorporated into the new W Hotel and Condo development, project completion is set for the fall of this year.
The third Brown Derby was built in 1931 near Rodeo drive at 9537 Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills; it resembled the Hollywood branch in its Spanish Mission style. It was closed down and demolished in 1983. The fourth location at 4500 Los Feliz Blvd is the last remaining original Derby standing. Cecil B. De Mille, legendary director and producer and a part owner of the Wilshire Blvd restaurant, bought at auction a restaurant named Willard's, converting it into a Brown Derby in 1940. Willard's was a country inn serving "Far Famed Chicken Steak Dinners," and its dome shaped roof design actually had a function. Water was pumped to the top of the dome and then run down the sides into a trough, creating one of the first "air conditioned" buildings in Los Angeles. Willard's also kept live poultry in cages on the grounds; they had the slogan: "chickens whose feet never touch the ground.” Sounds yummy ... and humane! The Los Feliz Brown Derby became one of the first restaurants to combine both high class upscale food and a 24 hour drive-in, perfect for the burgeoning So-Cal car culture. The restaurant closed its doors in 1960 and became Michaels of Los Feliz. In 1992 the building was transformed once again, this time into a nightclub, The Derby, and a restaurant; Louisa’s Trattoria. But in 2004, the Los Feliz property was purchased by Hillhurst/Los Feliz LLC with an idea to raze the structure and build a condominium/retail complex. An independent coalition called "Save the Derby" fought to prevent its demolition, and on May 19, 2006, the Los Angeles City Counsel voted unanimously to designate the structure as an official Historic Cultural Monument.
But I digress, back to the whole point of today’s blog: Salad Week.
According to Hollywood myth it was a dark and stormy night ... actually, it was in 1936 or ’37, owner Bob Cobb hastily concocted a midnight snack for the famished and very powerful theatre owner Sid Grauman, owner of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Cobb grabbed a few leftovers and whatever he could find in the refrigerator; a head of lettuce, avocado, tomato, some cold chicken, a hard-boiled egg or two, a little bacon, and Roquefort cheese -- different versions of the story list different ingredients. He chopped everything into a fine dice, fancied it up a bit with some leafy lettuce, laying out each ingredient on top in a clean, straight row, added some French dressing. Viola! The next time Sid Grauman came in he asked for the salad; the Cobb salad was born and soon became the signature menu item. Bob Cobb may have passed away in 1970, but his name lives on in restaurants across the land.
But as I dug deeper, trying to separate fact from fiction, another version of the story emerged. This account claims the salad came about because Bob Cobb had had dental surgery and since the pain wouldn’t allow him to open his mouth very wide, his chef fixed him a salad, dicing each item into small bits. Sounds plausible, but personally I like the Sid Grauman story better. It’s more Hollywood-like; I see an unlikely hero and an unlikely, yet inevitable, happy ending. As the writer James Warner Bellah asserts in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, ''When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.''
Anyway, I’m heading out to dinner ... though I’m more in the mood for pizza.

Calfornia Fool's Gold -- Exploring Yucca Corridor, Los Angele's Crack Alley

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 25, 2009 01:25pm | Post a Comment
In this installment of the Los Angeles neigborhood blog, we visit Yucca Corridor. To vote for a different Los Angeles neighborhood, go here. To vote for a Los Angeles County community, go here.

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Yucca Corridor & Hollywood

The Yucca Corridor is a small, crowded neighborhood in central Hollywood, just northwest of downtown. Its borders are Franklin Ave on the north, Hollywood Blvd on the south, Highland on the west, and Vine on the east. Below is the southeast corner of what's now Yucca Corridor as it was in 1907. Nowadays it is 42% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatelmalteca), 41% white (mostly Armenian), 7% Asian and 5% black.

The Yucca Corridor
Yucca Corridor is a fairly dilapidated section of Hollywood, despite 100s of millions of dollars having been dumped into it since the death of Hollywood in the 1950s. Today, although much improved from its nadir, it’s still one of the most run-down areas of Los Angeles. Now, after decades of heralding its complete rejuvenation, the hype finally seems to be approaching reality -- though tellingly, the predominant smell in the air is of sun-dried urine.

Summer Solstice

Posted by Whitmore, June 20, 2009 10:45pm | Post a Comment

Summer begins in Hollywood, Ca 34°08′02.56″N 118°19′18.00″W
June 20, 2009, 10:45 PM PDT.
The longest day of the year is here.

At the Summer Solstice, Earth is positioned in its orbit so that the North Pole is leaning 23.44° toward the sun. As seen from Earth, the sun is directly overhead at noon 23.44° north of the equator, at the Tropic of Cancer.

A solstice occurs twice each year, when the tilt of the Earth's axis is most inclined toward or away from the Sun, causing the Sun's apparent position in the sky to reach its northernmost or southernmost extreme. Solstice means the “sun standing still;" at the solstices the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the apparent movement of the Sun's path north or south comes to a stop before reversing direction.

Scimitars and Sand Dunes - Rethinking the Middle East, Arabs and Islam

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 6, 2009 10:41pm | Post a Comment
With President Obama's recent address at the University of Cairo, there has been a veritable sandstorm of media discussion about the Middle East, the Arab world and the Islamic world; three concepts lazily interchanged in the American mainstream media (including the supposedly smarter public radio). Despite some overlap, the indiscriminate use of the terms, both out of ignorance and deliberately,  minimizes substantial heterogeneity and differences -- to the detriment of our understanding of reality, and as a result contributing to the undermining and hindering of attempts at peace in the region. While I did find the president's speech fairly nuanced, intelligent and inspirational, until substantial actions reflect those attractive words, they offer nothing more than hope.

"Neighbour to the Moon," the legendary Christian Lebanese singer, ?????.

Today Arabs, Muslims and Middle Easterners remain some of the last people in the west for whom racism is not only extremely common but also widely accepted, even governmentally endorsed. Merely advocating equality and human rights for Arabs and Muslims is often met with charges of racism and embracing hatred, probably the only people likely to ellicit that response besides Germans. Given this reality, centuries of negative stereotypes and repeated military and political actions that reflect undeniable double standards, it's no wonder that many view the frequent proclamations that "Islam is a beautiful religion" and hands extended in friendship with widespread suspicion at best.

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