Monday, January 16, 2012

Historic Georgian Hotel: Santa Monica

The Georgian Hotel first opened in 1933. Back then, the Pacific Coast Highway was lined with infamous nightclubs in an era of prohibition. The Georgian's basement restaurant was the perfect hideaway spot and one of the last strongholds of the prohibition era.

The Georgian was an ideal Hollywood refuge: private, secluded and discriminating. While Clark Gable was married to a Texas socialite 17 years his senior, he would frequently meet up with actress Carole Lombard at The Georgian. Fatty Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin stayed here. Prominent gangsters like Bugsy Siegel and Al Capone would come to The Georgian to lay low. In the 1960s the property became an apartment hotel, and during summer months Rose Kennedy would take up residence at The Georgian entertaining politicos, Hollywood royalty and journalists.

The 8-story historic hotel is conveniently located facing Palisades Park and the cliffs above Pacific Coast Highway, within walking distance of the shops and restaurants of the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Pier. The hotel's veranda is a perfect spot for watching sunsets while enjoying refreshments.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Griffith Observatory

This Art-Deco styled observatory stands on 3,000 acres donated to the City of Los Angeles by Col. Griffith J. Griffith in 1896. In his will, Griffith donated additional funds to build an observatory, exhibit hall, and planetarium on the land. Construction began in June, 1933, and the observatory and accompanying exhibits were opened to the public in 1935. A four-year $92 million restoration was completed in 2006. There is a spectacular planetarium show, a Foucault pendulum, scores of scientific exhibits and a café with terrace from which there are spectacular views of the Hollywood sign and the surrounding canyons.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Getty Villa (Malibu)

After a recent $275 million facelift in 2006, the J. Paul Getty Villa Museum, set along a 64 acre canyon above the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, is now the home of the museum's antiquities collection. Over twelve hundred Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts, some dated as early as 6500 B.C., are displayed in a reproduction of the large Villa dei Papiri, a Roman country house in Herculaneum (Bay of Naples, Italy), buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Instead of picking a path through ruins, this full-scale reconstruction allows visitors to experience a Roman villa as the original inhabitants lived. Both formal and household herb gardens are planted with species native to the Mediterranean. The entry drive simulates ancient Roman roads, which were paved with large, irregular stones.

In summer classical dramas are performed in a steeply raked amphitheater opposite the museum entrance, where docent-led tours of the gardens and villa architecture begin. A café with indoor and outdoor seating is on the premises, and a museum theater shows a short film about how Getty conceived the museum in 1968, amassed his collection and established a conservation facility to preserve antiquities. Today the villa houses 29 galleries on two levels.

Note: do not confuse the Getty Villa with the much larger Getty Center museum, which is located inland near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and I-405.

Admission by required reservation (advance timed tickets): 310-440-7300 (make sure you ask for tickets to the Getty VILLA museum, since the Getty CENTER also shares this phone number). Open 10am-5pm. Closed Tuesdays and January 1, July 4, Thanksgiving, and December 25. ATM on premises. The villa is one mile north of the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. Strangely, the museum can be accessed only from the northbound direction of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Click on link:

Watch the introductory film about the history of the museum:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Queen Mary in Long Beach

The RMS Queen Mary is a piece of maritime history, launched as a trans-Atlantic luxury liner in 1936; it's also a ship hotel (Historic Hotels of America), permanently docked in Long Beach since 1967. The beautifully carved Art-Deco interior is a feast for the eyes and fun to explore, and the nightly room rates are a bargain. Three on-board restaurants are pricey, but offer a novel culinary experience. A shopping arcade has an English feel, offering British made goods and assorted Queen Mary souvenirs. An elegant Sunday champagne brunch, complete with ice sculpture and harpist, is served in the ship's Grand Salon, and it’s a treat to have a cocktail in the Art Deco Observation Bar.

If you’re too young to have traveled on one of the great old luxury liners, this is the perfect opportunity to experience the romance of an Atlantic crossing without seasickness or cabin fever. The ship is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Queen Mary is open to visitors (who are not staying onboard) from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm: Adults $24.95; Seniors 55+/Military $21.95; Child (5-11) $12.95. Maps for a self-guided walking tour are included. About a 25-minute drive south of the Los Angeles Airport.

The Grand Salon (former first-class dining room) is the setting for Sunday Brunch and special occasions, such as Thanksgiving.

Original Art Deco architectural details are everywhere.
On the web:

Queen Mary
1126 Queen's Hwy.,
Long Beach

A 1,000 foot long beauty at 80,774 tons, she carried 776 passengers in first class, 784 in tourist class, and 579 third class. The Queen Mary's final trans-Atlantic voyage left on October 31, 1967, and called at Lisbon, Las Palmas, Rio de Janiero, Valparaiso, Callao, Balboa, Acapulco and finally at Long Beach, arriving in early December.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Catalina Island

After the smog and freeway gridlock of Los Angeles, an excursion to Santa Catalina Island, with its clean air, clear water and blissful absence of traffic may be the perfect antidote. There isn't a single traffic light, yet you're only 23 miles from the California coast and still in Los Angeles County. Most Angelinos refer to Santa Catalina Island as Catalina Island, or just Catalina. Because of Catalina's relative isolation, out-of-state tourists tend to ignore it, but those in the know come to boat and fish. There are also miles of hiking and biking trails, plus golf and tennis; but the main sport seems to be bar-hopping. You will not go thirsty on Catalina Island.

Catalina Island (population 4,000), a 75 square mile patch of mountainous land, is one of eight Channel Islands off the coast of California. A herd of bison roams the island, first imported in 1924 for the silent film version of Zane Grey's Western tale, The Vanishing American. At times numbering as many as 600, the bison population is maintained today at +-150. Zane Grey’s former weekend home is maintained as a small hotel overlooking Avalon Harbor, a modest adobe villa with an arrow-shaped swimming pool. Back in the glory days of Hollywood, movie industry luminaries such as Clark Gable and Howard Hughes flocked to the island for a bit of privacy not easily attained on the mainland.

Catalina is so different from the mainland that it almost seems like a different country, remote and unspoiled. In 1919, the island was purchased by William Wrigley, Jr., the chewing-gum magnate, who had plans to develop it into a fashionable pleasure resort. To publicize the new vacation land, Wrigley brought big-name bands to the Avalon Ballroom and moved the Chicago Cubs (which he owned) to the island for spring training, a tradition that lasted 30 years. Wrigley also built the landmark harbor-front round structure known as the Casino, which contains a ballroom and movie theater, but has no gambling. The historic Catalina Casino also houses the island’s museum, keeper of the island's cultural heritage. Its collections include artifacts of over 7,000 years of Native American history, more than 10,000 photographs, a large collection of Catalina-made pottery/tile and ship models.

Original Art Deco casino details:

In 1975, the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy, a nonprofit operating foundation organized to preserve and protect the island's nature habitat, acquired about 88% of Catalina Island, protecting virtually all of the hilly acreage and rugged coastline that make up what is known as the interior. In fact, some of the most spectacular outlying areas can only be reached by arranged tour.

The picturesque town of Avalon is both the port of entry for the island and the island's only city (population 3,980). From the ferry dock, you can wander along Crescent Avenue, the main pedestrian street along the beachfront, and easily explore numerous side streets. Visitors are not permitted to drive cars (only a limited number are allowed on the island, and residents have a 15-year waiting list to operate one), but may rent golf carts or bicycles. Organized bus tour companies use vintage vehicles to show visitors the varied points of interest.

Photo: a 1953 tour bus is still in service.

Scenes of downtown Avalon:

Norma Jeane Dougherty (the future Marilyn Monroe) lived in Avalon at 310 Metropole Avenue with her first husband, Jim Dougherty, who married her less than three weeks after her 16th birthday. In 1943 Jim, a member of the Merchant Marine, was assigned to Catalina Island as a physical training instructor and brought his bride with him, who lived here for about 18 months. To earn extra pocket money, she was a frequent babysitter for neighborhood children. During WWII the island was shut down to tourism and taken over for military training. When her husband was shipped overseas in late 1944, Norma Jeane (a brunette until 1946) moved in with her mother-in-law in Burbank and took a job as a worker in a defense plant inspecting parachutes. Norma Jeane divorced Dougherty in 1946 to pursue a modeling career, and she signed her first movie contract in August of that year, with Twentieth Century Fox, at age 20.

The Four Preps (four students from Hollywood High School) had a million-selling hit song in 1958 that began:
"Twenty- six miles across the sea,
Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me,
Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance, romance..."

San Diego Old Town

Re-creating life of the city during the mid-nineteenth century, Old Town is where San Diego's Mexican heritage is most evident. The community was once Mexico's headquarters of its California territory, until the U.S. flag raised in 1846. Of the park's 20 structures, 7 are original, including homes made of adobe. La Casa de Estudillo (below), which depicts the home of a wealthy family in 1872, and Seeley Stables, owned by the man who ran the stagecoach and mail service, are highlights. On Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10a-4p, costumed interpreters reenact life in the 1800s with cooking and crafts demonstrations, a working blacksmith, and parlor singing. One hour walking tours leave daily at 11am and 2pm from the Robinson-Rose House (bottom).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Balboa Park

San Diego's crown jewel is Balboa Park, at 1,174 acres the largest urban cultural park in the nation. The park was established in 1868 and commemorates the Spanish explorer Balboa. Although landscaping began in the late 19th century, the initial buildings were created to host the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition, and another expo in 1935-36 saw additional structures added to the property. The park features gardens and mature landscaping, eye-popping Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings (example below) housing diverse museums, walking paths and hiking trails, an ornate pavilion with one of the world's largest outdoor organs, an IMAX theater, the acclaimed Old Globe Theatre, and the San Diego Zoo.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Coronado Island

Built in 1888 across from San Diego harbor, the turreted original wooden Victorian seaside Hotel del Coronado is a national treasure. Millions recognize the structure from the Marilyn Monroe comedy “Some Like It Hot”, which was filmed here in 1958 with co-stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon . The San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge links the city and the "island" (actually a peninsula) of Coronado. At 246 feet, the 1969 bridge is tall enough for the Navy's aircraft carriers to pass beneath. From the top of the span you can see Mexico twelve miles to the south, the San Diego skyline, Coronado and Point Loma. Since 1986 passenger ferry service has linked Coronado with the docks of San Diego’s harbor.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum rented a house which still stands at 1101 Star Park Circle, Coronado (photo above). He wrote two of his famous children’s books here, The Road to Oz (1909) and The Emerald City of Oz (1910). He wrote an earlier volume of the popular series while residing at the Hotel Del Coronado.

San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter

The revived historic Gaslamp Quarter is a mecca for shopping, entertainment and dining establishments, but is started out as a rough and tumble area populated by gambling halls and houses of prostitution. Wyatt Earp ran three gambing halls here in the 1880s. In 1887 there were 120 bordellos in operation, but by 1913 they had all been shut down. The area then became the center of Asian immigrant workers. Following WW II the area deteriorated significantly, mostly populated by tattoo parlors, pawn shops, massage parlors, adult entertainment venues and seedy bars.

By the mid-1970s several groups spearheaded efforts to revitalize this decrepit area, and the Gaslamp Quarter was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Entrepreneurs continue to restore the Gaslamp's Victorian buildings (Old City Hall photo at top), further enhancing the appeal of this vibrant neighborhood.