On May 18th, 2017, Grauman’s Chinese Theater will turn 90!
Try to imagine it’s 1927, and you’re invited to one of Hollywood’s most spectacular events. Thousands of people are lining Hollywood Boulevard in hopes of catching a glimpse of movie stars and celebrities of the era. Massive spotlights can be seen for miles. A Wurlitzer organ and 65-piece orchestra provide music for the prologue. And the premiere film is Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings, preceded by Glories of the Scriptures, a live prologue devised by master showman Sid Grauman. $2,000,000 sure could buy a lot back in those days.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of standing in front of the theater, it still thrills. And the change of energy as you step from the sidewalk into the forecourt, is palpable. Could it be the footprints and signatures of those glorious stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era who’ve left echoes of their lives in the concrete, letting us literally touch the past? Is it the feeling of being wrapped by 40-foot high curved walls with copper turrets, creating a big warm cosmic hug? Or is it the effects of amazing feng shui, as chi is channeled from the heavens down into those curved walls circling the forecourt before it breaks out onto the sidewalk. Whatever the case, it’s tangible and it’s exciting.
I was surprised to learn that the forecourt, designed by architect Raymond M. Kennedy of the firm Meyer and Holler, was inspired by St. Peter’s Square. Apparently there were lots of issues regarding morality during the early days of filmmaking, with great concern about the impact of movies on society in general. There was great social change happening at the turn of the 20th century as we transitioned from a Victorian sensibility into our modern era. It was absolutely scandalous for women to even show their ankles. And who could imagine that within 20 years women would be lopping off their hair into bobs, smoking cigarettes in public, and wearing slinky glitzy sheath dresses. Quite frankly, morality was going to hell in a hand basket, and those movies were promoting a degenerate lifestyle… as some would say. Therefore, the subtext of the theaters forecourt was meant to have a religious, and thus moral feeling to it. What a great way to use architecture and design to shape social attitudes. Below is a fantastic 1925 rendering by Mr. Kennedy, illustrating his idea for this slice of chinoiserie heaven.
The 18th of May is just a few days away, and I may have to drop by the theater again to see what kind of celebration is happening. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this interview that I recently had with Barbie artist Judy Ragagli, as she discusses the inspiration behind her painting Barbie in Hollywood.
Lily Et Cie, a renowned Vintage store in Beverly Hills, has one of the most stunning window displays that I’ve seen in ages. I quite literally stumbled upon this gem while out for one of my late night strolls last week. It was one of those, hit the breaks and back up moments… while on foot. I love it when something is so beautiful that it stops me in my tracks.
For over 30 years this luxury vintage boutique located at 9044 Burton Way has been home to some of Hollywood’s most exquisite haute couture designers, such as Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Gucci and Chanel. When I peered through the glass of the front door, I could see racks of remarkable black and white vintage gowns, waiting for their next walk on the red carpet. Even in the dim light of the showroom, excitement stirred in my soul. I waved at the overhead camera, took my photos, and headed for home with a little extra bounce in my step.
Since I wasn’t familiar with this boutique, I did a little research online. Reviewers on Yelp were not kind to Ms. Rita Watnick, the stores owner. That said, I totally understand her point of view. If you’ve got museum quality gowns worth tens of thousands of dollars each, the last thing you need or want, are ‘shoppers’ riffling through your merchandise with no regard for how delicate or special these items may be, especially when considering their provenance. This isn’t the Goodwill and you’re not there to find a designer bargain. Her dresses are pure art, and need to be handled as such. As a small business owner myself, I’m very sensitive to how people handle the items on my retail shelves. So yes, I’m going out on a limb to defend a woman I’ve never met, and a store that I’ve never set foot in. Why?Because when something has special or extraordinary written all over it, you should proceed with caution and kindness.
And on a side note, Chinoiserie seems to be a hot fashion trend this season. I’ve seen several jackets at retailers from Bloomingdales to Kitross, with embroidered dragons and other chinese motifs.
Here’s a fun video with Rita Watnick and Leon Talley, discussing the nuances of a vintage dress reportedly loaned to Princess Margaret.
The Laramie State Bank Building in Chicago is a feast for the eyes. Whether or not you’re a lover of Art Deco, you can’t help but notice this gem while driving by. The butterscotch colored terra cotta, created by the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
What started out as a one-story addition and remodel of a modest 1909 building, grew into a massive overhaul which was completed by 1929. Architects Meyer & Cook were responsible for the Deco makeover that features such details as: coins, squirrels, beehives, men at work, and the american eagle sinking it’s talons into the entire globe, all of which are symbols of industry and thrift. The moral of the story appears to be hard work and savings. The building resides at 5200 W. Chicago Avenue, on the corner of Laramie, in the community of Austin.
I found this building quite by accident, while driving to Oak Park to see all of the Frank Lloyd Wright homes and his personal studio last summer. It looked to be a short drive from the friends home that I was staying at. I dipped out early that Sunday morning while my friends slept, using google maps to find my way to Oak Park. The map looked simple, take a left anywhere, turn right at Chicago Avenue, and follow it all the way to Oak Park. As I rolled through the neighborhood, it appeared to be quite run down, and to be honest… downright scary. I saw the ‘Golden Arches’ of McDonald’s on my left and beelined it into the drive-thru for a quick bite. While waiting in line, I started observing the goings on in the parking lot…. hmmm. Drug deals, prostitution, it was very sketchy and I couldn’t get out of there quick enough. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I saw the amazing deco building sitting caddy corner and made a mental note to stop on my way back from Oak Park. If you’ve read previous posts on my blog, then you’ll see some of the other great buildings from my visit there, and I still have a few more to post.
Anyway, as I drove back from Oak Park, I parked my Jeep in the driveway of a different quick service restaurant, hopped out, and took a ton of photos in about 10 minutes. Yes, I was the only middle aged white guy with silver hair in the hood, so I sorta stood out. I simply smiled and said hello to those who looked at me, got my images and then bolted. When I got back to my friends house, I told her about my adventure. She said What! You went where?! Oh my god, don’t ever go there again, especially at night. You know when a fine looking black woman tells you to stay out of the hood, you’d better listen. I know I’m no Anderson Cooper covering some war torn country abroad, but I did feel like a bit of a rebel for being willing to get my blog photos. That said, so often these old buildings are in parts of town that are less than desirable. So you just have to throw on your best New York attitude and go for it. It’s always so rewarding when you come away with so many amazing images. I hope you like them as much as I do.
A spectacular desert MIRAGE, designed by Doug Aitken, sits just above Racquet Club Drive in Palm Springs. Nestled in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains, this site specific public art installation is part of a larger project titled Desert X.
I discovered this installation oddly enough on Instagram while searching the hash tag Palm Springs, or #palmsprings. It was one of those… wait, what is this, moments. By the following weekend I’d found it’s location online and made a beeline for it first thing Sunday morning, before the day heated up. It’s remarkable how something so recognizable as a suburban home, can nearly disappear when clad with mirrors. To quote Aitken, I wanted to take that form and drain it… drain it of narrative, drain it of history…. take all of the texture, surface, history. His inspiration for this sculpture is the architecture you don’t remember. I was interested in what you had driven by thousands of times and you don’t even register its presence because it’s just so much a part of the pattern.
For me, it made me think of the sci-fi film Predator, where the invisible villain reflects it’s surroundings, only being visible when it moves. So much of this home simply disappears as you move around it, because it’s reflecting the landscape. And once you’re inside, it becomes a human scale kaleidoscope. It’s quite odd to traverse the interior, not quite sure of what you’re looking at. You have to move slowly and carefully to get your bearings. That said, there was an air of giddiness and complete joy, as people of all ages experienced this space plopped in the middle of a desert oasis. I hope to return again and again, so that I can experience the home in different types of light. That said, the hours are from sun up till sun down, there’s no access after dark. It’s rocky terrain and there are rattlesnakes, so be aware of your surroundings if you choose to visit.
This art installation will be open to the public until October 31, 2017, and is free to the public.
This is my second post about Seattle’s Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum which I had the pleasure of visiting in February of this year. Bright colors like this make me happy and help to transport my spirit to a better place. The metaphor of a boat filled with Chihuly glass couldn’t be more poignant at this time. The word Chihuly starts with chi, which in Chinese culture can be interpreted to mean ‘life force’. Therefore, I’m hopping aboard this little boat full of life force that’s traversing a black sea, taking me to places unknown with a whole lotta faith. And faith is what is needed in light of the recent presidential election here in the states. It left half our country feeling completely devastated, as well as some countries abroad. We’re in a time of transition and it’s anyones guess where we’ll end up.
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and spent ten years living in the downtown area of Seattle, moving to L A in the mid 90’s. Chihuly has always been part of the local vernacular there. I had clients who owned pieces of his work, and downtown office buildings have permanent installations of his blown glass in their lobbies, such as the one below. Plus, there were always frequent gallery openings or museum shows that anyone could attend. It was just one of those things you sorta took for granted. But now that I live in earthquake country, I appreciate his work even more. My own small blown glass collection made from Seattle glass blowers, which I love tremendously, remains in storage for safety reasons.
The other thing that I’m reminded of when I think of my time in Seattle, is how I was perceived as ‘other’. With my black hair and olive skin, I was constantly asked my ethnicity. Are you Egyptian, Mexican, Persian… I was oddly exotic in those days. Then I moved to Los Angeles and all of that changed. I was stunned and excited at how remarkably diverse the culture here was. It was rather mind blowing to me that people came to this little plot of land from all over the world, to share in the California dream. At that point, I became much more aware of how white I actually was, and that I was also a minority here in a completely different way. If I were living on the westside, say Santa Monica or Brentwood, then I may have blended in more. I never gave it much thought, it was just the way LA was… a melting pot of really interesting cultures from all over the world. And now, with my silvery white hair and paler skin, I feel like the old waspy white guy. Wow, how did I get here in 25 quick years.
The reason that I bring this up is because most of us in white america never know what it means to be ‘the other’. For a period of time, I did. I think that is why so many of my friends here in Los Angeles, as well as my clients at the salon, feel completely devastated by this election. Some of them truly fear for their safety when they travel outside of our diverse little L A bubble. Honestly I’d never given white privilege much thought, until I discovered that I’m actually pretty white. My very handsome fiance is black, which also helped shifted my point of view, opening my eyes to the challenges he and his family have faced over the years. For me, people are people. Color has never been an issue. In fact, I’ve always thought people with darker skin than me were much better looking… maybe it’s the artist in me. And at my salon, I’m hearing interesting points of view from my clients who’ve immigrated from Ireland, England, Iran, Paris and Armenia. Even though most of them pass for ‘white’, they’re still concerned at what all of this rhetoric from our new president elect may mean for them.
As a progressive guy, I was very excited about the possibility of a female president, regardless of her baggage. To me, she was the most prepared for the position. I’ve since learned that over half of our country doesn’t feel included in the current american dream, and was willing to shake things up in an unprecedented way. Since the Donald is a complete wildcard, it’s anyones guess what the next four years will bring. This forced me to look deep into myself and ask myself what was important for me. It helped me to get clear on my soul purpose once again. Below is what I shared on my facebook page the day after the election.
Today I am a citizen of the world. I renew my commitment to focus on what is beautiful and right in this world, and will do my best not to go down the rabbit hole of fear, hatred and anger. I will continue to celebrate that beautiful piece of art, or a glorious piece of architecture that came from our higher source. I will celebrate man made elements that reflect our better selves, holding us to higher standards born out of our infinite source of creativity. To me, that is being godly, while staying connected to this world in a way that serves us all. #LoveWins
Thank you again for joining me on this journey of art, architecture, interior design, and anything else I find worthy of sharing with you. I really appreciate having a forum to think out loud, hopefully bringing a new perspective to things. Besides, beautiful things never go out of style.