Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ann Margaret

Wow, how pretty was this girl back in the day???  Crazy!!!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

No Mo Po-Po in the No Ho

I read that the police have been having to respond to many crimes of varying types in the No Ho area of the San Fernando Valley, the hip, starting-to-be gentrified area of North Hollywood centered around Lankershim and Magnolia Boulevards, where there are several equity waiver theaters and Starbucks within a half mile radius. 

Several years go, there were a rash of shootings, one of which took the life of a long time friend of mine, and then it seemed to quiet down a bit after that.  No Ho is in an area that is still surrounded by some iffy hoods; stretches that if one were to drive by at 11:30pm, one might wonder exactly what various street urchins were doing out idly that late. 

I am glad to see that parts of North Hollywood, once run down, are starting to show islands of restaurants, theaters and active business and hope that this trend spreads.  I have always wondered what Lankershim must have been like during the early days of L.A., when so many businesses were centered along the trolley line turned main boulevard, and saddened, even as a teen, to see a part of the valley so run down. 

So hopefully the occasional waves crime sprees in these areas will reduce in frequency in the future.  It would be nice to have a variety of areas in the Valley to go to for shopping and entertainment aside from just the Ventura Boulevard corridor.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two Seconds in November

I just realized tonight that on November 11th of this year, there will be two times, 11:11am + 11 seconds, and also the same time that evening, when the clock and the date will read 11:11:11 on 11/11/11. 

The same thing will happen in 2012, and then that will do it for a while.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ten Things To Do With Free Time

1. Build a sand castle out of snow.
2. Wake up early and eat eggs at that diner you've always passed.
3. See how many types of tire pressure gauges are manufactured.
4. Visit an old veteran's air field museum.
5. Stop by a show in Branson, Missouri.
6. Point to a place on a map and drive there that day.
7. Camp in a cave with just a sleeping bag and a pillow.
8. Roll a bowling ball down a slightly declined cement driveway.
9. Let go of a helium balloon and watch it rise as long as possible with binoculars and see if you experience any feelings of lament.
10. Memorize all of your city, county, state and U.S. representatives and recite them in ascending order in seven seconds or fewer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Elton John's Bit Part

Early on, when I was about nine years old, my friend Dominic introduced me to Elton John, and I became an instant fan of his songs. My mother had been weening me on classical music from children's stories to help introduce me to the style. I recall spending a lot of time listing to the music from "Peter and the Wolf" in my bedroom.

Then, I was over at Dominic's house (he was the grandson of Dalton Trumbo by the way), and he played song after song from various Elton John Albums such as "Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, " and "Yellow Brick Road." What I heard were great melodies against really smooth western chord progressions with a honky-tonk piano and a confident bass-guitar sound, which all felt good to me. I was totally aware of why his music pleased me as a child; it's hard to explain.

I pestered my dad long enough, and he finally took me to Tower Records on Sunset Blvd, and being his aerospace-working, logical self, suggested I start with,  "Elton John's Greatest Hits." This turned out to be a great choice of course. It was the album with Elton sitting at a piano in a white suit and accompanying fedora and cane.   I liked the artwork because Elton looked so professional, as if he were personally presenting me with his collection of musical works.  And the funny thing about the actual vinyl record was that the position of his hand seemed to wrap around the record player's center spindle peg. I would play the record, enjoying the songs, and get dizzy from watching him spin around, hanging on for dear life to avoid flying off of the record label.  The songs on this greatest hits album are all legendary now and baked into the minds of music lovers around the world.

The year was now 1975, one year after my discovery of Elton John, and a movie was coming out.  My friend, David Haskell, son of famed arranger and Wrecking Crew associate, Jimmy Haskell, and I used to hang out at our friend, Greg's house just up the street from us.  One Friday afternoon, Greg told David and I that we HAD to come listen to the new soundtrack of the movie, "Tommy," which he had just seen.  We lounged on his bed and floor and listened to all four sides of the double L.P.  It sounded mysterious and complicated.  And to boot, Elton John was in it! So I quickly asked my dad if he would take me. He researched it in the LA Times, found out it was called, "Tommy," and then read a review resulting in his decision that it probably wouldn't be his type of movie.  My dad listened to 93 KHJ in the car, which played mostly pop and easier rock, and this movie was some kind of exotic rock opera by, The Who.  He also cautioned me saying that from what he read, Elton John only had a bit part, whatever that meant. I imagined that Elton walked into a bar at some point, asked for a drink, and was out the door. But that was enough. I still had to see it.  My dad eventually gave in and said I could probably go see it if I wanted to. 

Luckily I had a friend, Nick, who also loved movies, music, and who was always up for something new. He lived about two miles from the Studio City Mann Theater on Ventura Blvd near Laurel Canyon and Ventura Blvd, a theater which was playing, "Tommy." I arranged for a sleep over at Nick's house, which always meant that my parents would be made to schlep me down to the San Fernando Valley from the Hollywood Hills where we lived; about a 20 minute drive, even for a quart of milk, which turned out to be why we eventually moved down to the Valley a year later.  A night at Nicks during those earlier years typically included lugging a bicycle down to his house so that Nick and I could ride around on the flats of the Valley floor; something that even to this day feels freeing to me when contrasted against my life in the topographically imprisoning hills.

Nick and I didn't 'know what to expect from the movie. It was theatrically rated PG so we wouldn't have trouble getting in to see it.  In retrospect, it probably should have been rated R for it's content. But he I went on that summer afternoon and rode our bikes to the Studio City Mann to see if we could get in.  There was a long line in front. A lot of people were waiting for the next show, and after we bought out tickets and luckily weren't hindered from getting in due to our age, Nick and I stood in the cue on the sidewalk alongside the theater entrance where they displayed their movie posters for current and upcoming films. We saw the Tommy poster, and it looked a little wild. "He's in this film?" I asked Nick as if he were some cinematic expert.  He pointed to Elton's head-bust within the poster. Yes, he was in it.

The movie was overwhelming and hard to follow at that age, and a little evocative for someone who had lost his biological father five years earlier (Tommy's father is killed towards the beginning of the movie). But it was full of exciting, new music for us presented in Quintaphonic Sound, which at that time was not typical for movies.  And it had some really strange scenes; Ann Margaret immersed in baked beans, chocolate and dish soap, making it with a couch cushion (this became my dad's favorite scene when it was later played on Z-Channel), a sadistic scene with Tommy's cousin Kevin with Hitchcockian camera-reveals, and women running around WWII bombings in gas-masks and braziers.  But Elton John's scene ended up being one of the showcase chapters of the film, so you can imagine how delighted I was when his segment came on; glittery and overstimulating as it was. And, the end of The Pinball Wizard sequence was edited with high-velocity timing.  It's still fast even for today's standards.  Director Ken Russell was obviously a man-man.  But as I'm sure you can imagine, I was absolutely delighted to see that Elton had a whole scene for himself as the "The Pinball Wizard."

And, as fate would have it, almost immediately upon release of the movie in theaters, Elton John's version of "Pinball Wizard" was played non-stop on 93 KHJ for months.  There was no getting away from Tommy for my dad.  I still love that "Pinball Wizard" scene. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Nike Defense Tower - Rediscovering A Viewpoint

Brenda and I did a cool thing yesterday while the weather was clear, fair, and a bit nippy, that we hadn’t done in a while.  We went to the Nike Defense Tower.  That’s not its official name, but that’s what I’ve always called it.  Its actual name probably involves some military letters and numbers.

I first found out about it in high school.  I was talking to someone one day during lunchtime and they said that there was some kind of gun turret up in the Santa Monica Mountains that people occasionally partied at on Friday and Saturday nights.  Apparently, it was some kind of abandoned military station tucked away somewhere.  My interest in all things urban-archeology related had already budded years before, so to me, there was not time to be wasted wondering.  It had the same aura as hearing about and locating the old zoo a couple of years earlier.   So with the most vague of descriptions, I set out to find this gun turret on my own.

It turned out to be on Mulholland a quarter mile or so West of where it turns to dirt, and the same distance West of where one of the residential streets feeding off of Havenhurst meets Mulholland.  What I found was a chain-linked gate; one that cars could drive through, only this one was deliberately locked.  Just on the other side of the fence was what looked like an old security booth with military numbers on it.  So, whatever this was, I had found it.

I noticed that the chain linked fence was cut and pulled out at one corner, so people had obviously welcomed themselves in and out of the decaying paved road that lead around the base of a hill.  I went on in through the opening in the fence, hoping not to be immediately found and prosecuted for trespassing on military property.  I ascended the paved road and around the corner, what I found was a thick, metal pillar with a platform on top of it.  At it’s base were rusted metal stairs that meandered in various directions finally leading up just under the base of the platform, at which point, there was a metal ladder that rose up through a hole in floor of the platform like a submarine.

I reached the top and found that I could see all of the San Fernando Valley looking to the North, and I could see most of the Santa Monica Bay, only a portion of it blocked by a nearby hill just South of the tower, all the way across to downtown.  This was incredible!!!  How many people actually knew about this spot?

I quickly noted several things about this place not to be ignored; the rickety, decaying metal stairs and ladder on the way up, no railing on any part of the perimeter of the platform, which by the way stands about forty feet up from the ground.  But the most dizzying thing about it was that there was a second hole in the platform; one similar in size to that which the ladder had led me through.  Only, this second hole was just completely open.  Looking down at it, I could see the ground forty feet below.  One distracted step, and lights out.

So over the years, this became one of those hidden treasures that I was aware of.  A gem of a lookout point perched atop the Santa Monica Mountains.  And I always felt confident, being the guide to my guests, to help them negotiate the perils of this forgotten feature of the mountains.  I remember once, back in about 1990, I brought my girlfriend at the time, Kristin, to this tower at night to see the lights of the City and the Valley all around us.  It was an utterly gorgeous thing to behold on a clear night.  But most of my time on the platform with her was spent making sure she didn’t go anywhere near that gaping hole.  The visit was a success, I was a hero, and we’re both still on this planet to speak of it.

Since then, the Santa Monica Conservancy has done some work to make it safe and accessible.  You can go there any day of the week, but not the night anymore.  That’s now a rare experience for me, a handful of friends, and probably a few dozen pot-smoking, bottle-smashing heshers just enjoying their weekend nights.  But again, thankfully, one of them tipped me off early about this treasure before many knew about it.  The area is called San Vicente Mountain Park, and it includes bathrooms, water dishes for your dogs, disabled parking access, and couple of those blue 25 cent telescopes you can try to focus on something before the timer goes out.

The stairs that lead up to the tower are now broad, safe, and have handrails.  You arrive via the end of the stairs, and not through a hole in the platform.  The platform itself has safety rails around it’s perimeter, and most importantly, no gaping hole in the floor of the platform anymore.  In fact, the platform floor is now made of cement, and you couldn’t feel more secure. 

The Santa Monica Conservancy has also added information signs, which describe what this actually was.  It was built during the cold war to detect any incoming missiles or unwanted aircraft headed for Los Angeles or the San Fernando Valley.  When walking around the site, you will see several concrete platforms.  They held Lopar (radar) hardware that would rotate and scan the skies for anything out of the ordinary.  If incoming missiles were detected, a computer housed underneath the ground at that site would alert personnel stationed there and they would in turn launch defense missiles from the Sepulveda basin, where the dam area is located now; an area, which you can also see from this Nike Defense Station.  It’s just so cool to have this history right in our hills.  This station was decommissioned when ICBM’s (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) were developed because the Nike Station’s defense was not strong enough to intercept missiles of that speed and elevation.

This is just a side note of something I was told more than once, but I have never verified.  There apparently were various defense tower stations build during WWII, which made an arc from the Santa Monica mountains, around or through downtown, and then on towards Long Beach.  They were built after a huge bombing scare one night during the war that ended up not being an attack on LA.  And lastly, that one of these defense towers still exists somewhere in Long Beach.  I don’t know if the Nike station that I’ve been describing was actually one of those, and then adapted later during the cold war, of if what I mentioned above isn’t even true at all.  But I just thought I’d mention that since as I said, I have heard it from two sources, one of them being an uncle who just passed away, and who was a VIP airplane engineer during WWII.   …OK, I just found information on the Internet and will put it into the foot notes below.***  Could have looked it up first and saved you some reading.

 If you go to the Nike Defense Station that I’ve been describing, be sure to thoroughly walk around the upper and back areas of the parcel because there are more signs describing how it all worked, including an actual photograph of the exterior of the station.  It’s great because you look at the photo, and then you look at the actual sight.  The photo is an exact angle of the site from where you stand.  And be sure to walk all the way around the left side of the fence on the top of the parcel.  At the end and to the right, you will find yet another sign with a nugget of information.

I just love it.  And I loved it again yesterday.  People riding their bikes, finishing or halfway through their runs from the bottom of Westridge near Sunset, taking a break at a tower that had a whole hidden history for so many years.  And on a very clear day, from this platform, and from various nearby hills, you can see half the world with a turn of your head.

*** Ring of Nike Defense Sites:

More Info

Even More Info

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Susie the Sit Up Dog In "Giraffe Chase."

More footage of the crazy little black Cockapoo named, Susie.