In 1970, Los Angeles in many ways as compared to Today, was still kind of a Small Town. 2 L.A. Artists, living founder & still Active Artist Victor Henderson and now deceased co-founder Terry Schoonhoven created the L.A. Fine Art Squad.
In a largely Pre-Gangsta & Grafitti Era, the word Tagger hadn’t been invented yet. These two artists Divided & Conquered Los Angeles with their Epic in Grandeur, Realism and Scale- Urban Murals on the Streets of Los Angeles. In that time, Los Angeles was having a sort of Renaissance Redux and the Rare Ability to Poke Fun at itself.
The film, Shampoo from 1975 and starring Reigning TinselTown Real-Life Lothario Warren Beatty, the Understated Eroticism of Ms. Julie Christie (LOVE her Table Manners), the Overstated & Ultra 70′s Ms. Goldie Hawn and a very Mrs. Robinson-Like Lee Grant. Take your pick George, you Lucky Guy…In a thinly disguised screenplay based on Real Life Hollywood Swingers like hairdressers Jon Peters & Doomed by the Manson Family – Jay Sebring, Shampoo is a brilliant look at 70′s Hollywood Life itself, much the same as Sunset Boulevard had done some Twenty years before. With this Mentality in Mind, The L.A. Fine Art Squad was Born.
Victor Henderson and Terry Schoonhoven began their collaboration in 1969 with the mural, Brooks Street Painting, on the back wall of Henderson’s Venice studio. A portrait of his one-time girlfriend, who lived upstairs.
The house, a few blocks from the Venice Boardwalk has been replaced by condominiums, the mural, as many of the Fine Art Squad’s later works, did not survive, as we shall see.
Schoonhoven & Henderson as a Mural Team were now Clearly Inspired, and from their Humble Beginnings of Brooks Street, came the Dawn of the Seventies SuperGraphics Era. The Newly Christened L.A. Fine Art Squad added 2 New Members, Jim Frazen and Leonard Koren, students of Schoonhoven’s. The Squad nowgeared up Big Time & tackled the 15,000 square foot exterior of the groovy Climax Nightclub, on La Cienega Boulevard…
Beverly Hills Siddhartha ~ A Name that Reeks of 70′s Warholian & Rock N’Roll Culture
Beverly Hills Siddhartha • 1969. LAFAS Completely Covered the 15,000 square foot exterior of the Climax Nightclub in Beverly Hills,. In a time & place that arguably spawns the Birth of the Disco Era. As art, The LA. Fine Arts Squad took a stand against the Staid Studio Standard of ‘contained’ art in a room or gallery and Poking Fun at & For the Community – Art for All and For the Times. Aware of Hollywood Excess, Adult Absurdity and Current California Culture, their art Paved the Way for Future Environmental & Performance Artists who went on to become Much Bigger Success Stories & Shameless Self-Promoters ~ a la Christo.
Within 2 Years new owners would buy the Climax & in true Seventies Stucco over it Fashion, painted out the entire work and exterior in a Bold Stroke of pure blank white. And so…The Fine Arts Squad Marched On to an Increasingly Tongue in Cheek Drummer. Based on a report from 1949 that it had actually Snowed in Venice, the Squad carried out its Next Mission on the Venice Boardwalk. The aptly named ~
Venice in Snow 1970
Photos of the Fine Art Squad works, like the works themselves, are rare. Two of the only existing 70′s era snapshots of the mural (stitched together here) failed to even show the entire work, as evidenced by the missing ‘R’ of the MARKET above.
And, True to Form – who cares it’s just L.A. cement-it-over Urban Renewal-style -Venice in Snow, which stills exists today, has been permanently obscured by a newer building erected directly in front of it on the miniscule plot of land shown. Only in L.A., by Strange Fate the mural is one of the only Fine Art Squad works preserved for years to come, but of course no one can see it. Perhaps sensing this very California Fatalist Feeling, L.A. Fine Art Squad would next create perhaps their Most Recognizable Work ~ one that is Truly Synonymous with L.A. itself .
The Catalyst of 2011 Current World Events and the Impending Doom of THE BIG ONE ~ Itself a California Icon, are what makes Isle of California 1970-1972 one of our most Legitimate Urban Artworks
Down the Road in Zuma Beach at the Same Seventies Time another L.A. Poet Laureate Artiste expressed much the Same Sentiment on his Classic California album Time Fades Away, Neil Young ~
And Indeed even in L.A. City of the Stars….Time Fades Away
L.A. Fine Art Squad carried on their work with a Series of increasingly Surrealist Trompe L’oleil works, mainly in and around Venice. Their murals perhaps never reached again the Epic Timeless Irony as Isle of California conveyed.
Terry Schoonhoven then set off & worked primarily as an individual and rendered the surrounding Venice neighborhood in a Mirror-image Reflection of the Urban View opposite, almost M.C. Escher-Gone to California Style. His St. Charles mural, on Speedway Avenue in Venice at 50 feet high x 100 feet long is his most Enduring Solo Work ~
Like many of their works were destined, The L.A. Fine Art Squad were Fading & Fast Becoming Extinct. New Emerging California Muralists adopted their Witty Slice of Life Style and emulated the Nutty Venice Neighborhood with Increasing Verve & Skill.
A Prime Example of the Fine Art Squad’s Influence on Funky Faux Futurists is Brandelli’s Brig 1973 ~ a Self-Portrait of Artist Art Mortimer, painting himself painting Former 1930′s Boxer, Babe & Betty Brandelli and their bar which lives on in Venice to this day, The Brig.
From the Origins of L.A. Fine Art Squad Emerged The Messiah of All L.A.Muralists ~Kent Twitchell
Artist/Illustrator/Muralist Extraordinaire Kent Twitchell is Easily The Most Prolific Picasso of all L.A. Muralists. Nearly his entire life has contained a Constant Form of Illustrative Expression. Twitchell arrived in Los Angeles in 1968, just at the founding of the L.A. Fine Art Squad and Los Angeles as a World Epicenter of the New Muralists. Pop Culture expressed in the Art & Music scenes were exploding just as Twitchell arrived. From his First Large-scale work -
Twitchell as an L.A. transplant Immediately Conveyed his understanding for Diverse & Angeleno Culture ~ con Respecto
The Mural has existed for nearly 40 years in the Heart of Downtown L.A. on the side of Victor Clothing Co., on Broadway. In a very Telling photo, Angeleno Locale Chicano Grafitti permeates the entire Urban Existence of Los Angeles and is Truly a Legitimate Cultural Art Form in its own right. The fact this mural is un-tagged, albeit the walls all around it, shows a Mutual Cross-Cultural respect not only in Subject Matter by Twitchell, but by the Community as well.
Twitchell’s Immediate Grasp of the Diverse L.A. Neighborhoods & Culture, his huge Illustrative Skill nonwithstanding and his Longevity in the Medium are what has made him THE L.A. Muralist to this day. His ability to choose Offbeat Characters in California Culture that Strike a Chord with Angelenos is uncanny, the Mural even overshadowing the fame of the subject and reinforcing the Un-obvious, as in Twitchell’s next mural of actor Strother Martin at Fountain Avenue & Kingsley Drive in Hollywood ~
Strother Martin Monument 1971
In 1970 in Twitchell’s work around town, his reputation was building & he clearly did not Have a Failure to Communicate..
“I painted only a black and white face of Strother at first. Word got around and he drove over to see it. Then he called me and we became friends. As I was painting the afghan he agreed to pose for me and I added the figure on the left…” Kent Twitchell
Twitchell’s Next Work proved to Be Brilliant not so much in Subject Matter, but perhaps his awareness that in L.A., everything is about location Location LOCATION…
The Freeway Lady 1974
No Angeleno who has Been Around Town for any length of time has not seen & felt the presence of The Freeway Lady. She watched over California Travellers on the 101 Freeway in Downtown L.A. for years, like an Aging Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Twitchell has this to say about her ~
“I am told this was America’s first freeway mural. I painted it in 1974 to honor my grandmother who lived in Hollywood. I chose actress Lillian Bronson as my model and we remained friends. She overlooked the Hollywood Freeway for 12 years and was suddenly destroyed. I am now painting her again, thanks to the Valley Institute of Visual Art (VIVA). A new front afghan was created by members of the Crochet Guild of Sacramento. The flying afghan streamer is being created by Peggy Baxter of Long Beach. The new mural will be on the west wall of the VIVA gallery at 13261 Moorpark at Fulton in Sherman Oaks . . . . Update: VIVA was prevented from putting the mural up and now it may possibly be painted on the campus of Valley College, visible to the public streets outside.”
His Work & Ethos show a repeated Sensitivity to the Surrounding Environment and ability to Reach the Hearts of Hardened L.A. City Dwellers through his Astute Choice of Freeway-Close Commercial Canvases to Paint. Perhaps this is what makes Kent Twitchell’s Legacy as one of California’s most Enduring Artists, much like that of one of his Most Famous Subjects ~
Ed Ruscha Monument 1980
“I Painted it to Honor All California Artists” Kent Twitchell
In True Jaded Faded California Fashion, Twitchell’s 6-story tall Hill Street L.A. work suffered the Fate of many works by L.A. Fine Art Squad so many years before, as Ed Ruscha Monument Mysteriously Just Disappeared one day in 2006…
Twitchell was able to sue & gain a substantial Million-Dollar plus settlement as to the loss of his Iconic Homage to all us California Artists. He has gone on to Create several other Noteworthy Works and indeed remains a living Active California Cultural Treasure to this day. Urban Graffiti for 30 years now has become a Valid Art Form as well…Case in Point ~ Elusive English Artist Banksy arriving on the L.A. Art Scene just in Time for the 2011 Academy Awards, with a Decidedly Reminiscent Wit, Message and Look of Early Pop Art. All Valid & Legit & Honored as an Innovative Modern Artist ~
Charlie Burn 2011
Thanksy Banksy for Comin’ to Town ~ but us California Creators Been There Done That ~
Ed Ruscha • Burning Gas Station 1966
“The spray paint vandalism was at the core of the end of the mural movement. L.A. started the murals in the late 60s with those of us who thought of ourselves as hippies and it travelled around the world, helped by the media attention unusual things in L.A. get. Ironically LA has now become the one place where murals cannot survive. Most of the murals that were painted over were done so because they were covered with graffiti. Efforts to clean the tagging eventually compromised the paint surface and the perception was that the paint was not lasting. Today perception is more powerful/influential than truth and people began thinking of murals as ugly graffiti-laden walls that would have been better left unpainted. Spray paint vandalism and the murals have now been tainted with the same understandable discrimination and the days of the late 60s through the mid 80s are a memory for those of us who were there. The “Mural Capital of the World” has become the” Graffiti Capital of the World” and LA has officially outlawed murals along with building-sized commercial ads. That doesn’t stop the taggers of course. It’s a strange new world. You are absolutely right though. We thought that we were in Florence. That’s why we put so much into our paintings. We thought the world was good and that people just all wanted to be nice.”
~ Kent Twitchell, 2010
L.A. Times- Feb 17, 2011 • Urban Outfitters, who have made a few bucks off the work of street artist Banksy through the years, now allegedly want his “Crayola Shooter” piece, on the wall behind their Westwood store, to be painted over.
Make Art Not War ~ Cheers, Federico
Simon Rodia at work on his 30 Year Art Project ~ The Watts Towers, 1951
At the Turn of the 20th Century, California Couture had Little Identity ~ an Emerging Beach & Coastal Sportswear Couture was beginning to Evolve with Influences from Europe & Hawai’i. The Matson Lines Steamships Would Soon Run Regularly from The Hawai’ian Islands to California, Bringing Culture and Couture Ideas Back & Forth Between on the West Coast. Well-Heeled Travellers able to Visit the European Beaches of the Day were introduced to the
French ‘Maillot‘, by Izod ~ A New Ladies ‘Tank’ style one-piece Swimsuit first seen on the Shores of Le Riviera ~
The Earliest Maillots were of Wool ~ and often covered with a Second Layer of Fabric for Even More Fun in the Sun, no doubt on a Hot Summer Day creating the Added Benefit of Reducing Mademoiselle’s Figure under 2 layers of Wet Wool. Add Surf & Sand to that Combination and the Poor Beach Girl of the Day would Daresay be a Trifle Uncomfortable while Making the Scene at Le Plage. However like All Good Ideas, Designers stuck with the Concept, rapidly Paring Down the Look and Streamlining Cuts to Suit Ladies and Men alike, in a Classic Tank/Trunk that would Stay in Style through the Roaring Twenties ~
Perhaps no one was More Responsible for Creating a Look that would Evolve into the Coastal California Style of Today than George Hoyningen-Heune, one of the Earliest Modern Fashion Photographers. A Russian Immigrant who would become the Chief Photographer of French Vogue, 1n 1925. His Classic Images of European Bathers and Swimwear of the Early Nineteen-Twenties and ‘Thirties would go on to Influence SwimWear Designers Everywhere, and Inspire Modern Day Designers Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Photographers Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts and many others with his Suave, Cool Timeless Images… These Would have All have Direct Effect on California Couture Style ~
In 1907, Australian Swimming Star Annette Kellerman Travelled on American Tour as an “Underwater Ballerina” – a Predecessor to Synchronized Swimming. Ms. Kellerman wore a Swimsuit with exposed arms, legs and Somewhat Low in the Back, thereby finding herself temporarily Busted in Boston for Excessive Exposure. And As Often when Something Initially Seen as Racy Behaviour becomes Trend, people like John C. Bentz, Proprietor of Sweaters & Undergarments maker Bentz Knitting Mills in California took notice and Had a Brainstorm ~ To use the Appropriately French term as its Origins would Imply…
Voila ! The Catalina SwimSuit was Created ~
Initially John Bentz re-named his Company Pacific Knitting Mills in 1912, to Reflect & Capitalize on the New SwimWear Trend in California. His Earliest Wool Suits were Almost Unisex, with Tank Top-like Uppers and short Breeches. Indeed on the Early Suits, many of which were All Black, he No Doubt thought after Mr. Henry Ford who stated about his still-new Model ‘T’,
“You can have any color you want…
…as long as it’s Black.” ~
During the Roaring Twenties in Southern California, being Prohibition and All, a New Paradise Playground began to Take Shape 26 Miles Across the Sea on Catalina Island. Fun-Seeking Folk would Fire Up their Chris-Crafts and Set Sail to visit Gambling Boats & Rum-Runners lying offshore of the L.A. Metropolis Night…
…Beckoning them with the Illegal Pleasures of the Day. Soon Catalina Isle became a Destination for Debauchery, as Chicago Chewing Gum Baron & Cubs Owner William P.Wrigley now owned & developed the Island, after buying it Lock Stock & Barrel at a Fire Sale Price years before after a devastating wildfire scorched Catalina. The Town of Avalon became a Home Away from Home to Hollywood Heroes & Well-Off California Carousers ~
Big Band music was broadcast live from the Avalon Ballroom in the Casino Modeled after Monte Carlo to a Nationwide Audience. Flying Fish Cavorted in the Channel & Glass-Bottom Boats Cruised the Harbor. Hollywood HeavyWeights like Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Errol Flynn, Orson Welles and John Wayne came to Fish, Drink, Dance & Romance ~
Seeing All of This Go Down as a Marketing Opportunity, Pacific Knitting Mills Maestro John Bentz changed the name of his growing SwimWear Company after his best-selling swimsuit, ‘The Catalina’. Of Course Now it was time to develop a New Line of Sleeker, Sexier Suits to Show Off more Skin than Ever Before, Hollywood Style ~
As World War II Heated Up ~ Catalina Took Off Big Time when California Created the Pin-Up for All those Soldiers in Far-Away lands…
… And They sent photos back from Exotic Outposts like Waikiki, wearing ‘Aloha Shirts’ & Inspiring a
New ‘California Tropical’ Look ~
As Catalina SwimWear Cruised into the Fifties, John Bentz Scored another California Coup ~ Catalina became a Sponsor for the Miss America Beauty Paegant, Supplying Suits and Inventing another Great California Tradition in the Process ~
The SwimSuit Competition…
Now the Old Knitter John Bentz & Catalina were Really in Business ~ All of America Saw his Swimsuits on Some Seriously Hot Tamales Right in their Living Rooms on this new Thing called Television. And if That wasn’t enough for All Us OverHeated California Boys, Hollywood Really Got in on the Act ~
And on the Beaches of California, Now Catalina was Everywhere, On Every Girl ~
Then Once Again the Ever-Enterprising French Got Busy & A Guy named Louis Reard Turned Up the Heat on SwimWear with His Explosive Invention named after a Bit of Cold War Atomic Testing on a Little-Known Island called the
Bikini Atoll ~
California’s Conservative Catalina was Caught a Bit Off Balance along with the Rest of the World by the Bikini in 1946. Originally Banned in Several Countries and even Scorned by the Pope Himself & The Vatican, the Bikini Became a Much Bigger Explosion than the original Atomic Blast it was named for. Guys like Bond, James Bond & his Beauties helped out Along the Way as well to Permanently Put the Bikini on the Map ~
Catalina Stoically Stuck by the One-Piece Maillot, having created a Classic California SwimWear Icon with it for Many Years, and though The Bikini certainly was a Bit More Revealing and Therefore Became Preferred by a Whole New Generation of California Girls, it takes a Certain Kind of Lady to Look Equally Muy Caliente in the Maillot ~ Thereby supporting the Theory that Sometimes ~
Less is More ~
Whatever One’s Preference in California SwimSuit Style, We can thank Catalina SwimWear for Being One of the First Ones, bringing European and South Seas Style to the California Coast, Pioneering a Multi-Billion Dollar Swim and Surfwear Industry Worldwide, Way Before the QuikSilver’s, Roxy’s, Brazilian Bossa Nova & even the Victoria’s Secrets of the World…
Helping Keep Us Californians Looking & Feeling Fab Along the Way ~
In the Fall of 1946 ~ All Was Quiet in the Los Angeles Sleepy Hamlet Suburb of Mar Vista…
Dateline : Los Angeles, 1946 • (F deC Science & Technology Dept.)
After Enduring 4 Years of Seemingly Endless War & Toil Overseas in the Armed Services, Aircraft Factories and Shipyards, Los Angelenos were Sleeping In. After All, They Deserved It. Times were Good. What with the Local L.A. Economy Flush after a Never-Ending Stream of Defense Contracts, a Down-Winding Military Machine after a Monstrous WorldWide Buildup & Murderous Mayhem, G.I. Bills & Bobs were literally Paving the Way for a Whole New Suburbia Soon to Come and A Baby Boom on its way. Californians were Chilled Out…
But Not Everyone. Some were Still Hard at Work, Experimenting and Analyzing…Being Quiet Out There
What’s he building in there?
What the hell is he building
He has subscriptions to those
Magazines… He never
Waves when he goes by
He’s hiding something from
The rest of us… He’s all
To himself… I think I know
Why… He took down the
Tire swing from the Peppertree
He has no children of his
Own you see… He has no dog
And he has no friends and
His lawn is dying… and
What about all those packages
He sends. What’s he building in there?
With that hook light
On the stairs. What’s he building
In there… I’ll tell you one thing
He’s not building a playhouse for
The children what’s he building
Tom Waits • “What’s he Building in There ?” 1989
Double Agent ~
Beautiful but Deadly Mata Hari
During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. As a Dutch subject, Margaretha Zelle was thus able to cross national borders freely. To avoid the battlefields, she travelled between France and the Netherlands via Spain and Britain, and her movements inevitably attracted attention. She was a courtesan to many high-ranking allied military officers during this time. On one occasion, when interviewed by British intelligence officers, she admitted to working as an agent for French military intelligence, although the latter would not confirm her story. It is unclear if she lied on this occasion, believing the story made her sound more intriguing, or if French authorities were using her in such a way, but would not acknowledge her due to the embarrassment and international backlash it could cause.
In January 1917, the German military attaché in Madrid transmitted radio messages to Berlin describing the helpful activities of a German spy, code-named H-21. French intelligence agents intercepted the messages and, from the information they contained, identified H-21 as Mata Hari. Unusually, the messages were in a code that German intelligence knew had already been broken by the French, leaving some historians to suspect that the messages were contrived.
On 13 February 1917, Mata Hari was arrested in her room at the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris. She was put on trial, accused of spying for Germany and consequently causing the deaths of at least 50,000 soldiers. She was found guilty and was executed by firing squad on 15 October 1917, at the age of 41.
The facts of the case remain vague, because the official case documents regarding the execution were sealed for 100 years, although, in 1985, biographer Russell Warren Howe managed to convince the French Minister of National Defense to break open the file, about 32 years early. It was revealed that Mata Hari was innocent of her charges of espionage ~
Howard Hughes ~ The Original California Big Brother… He’s Got The Goods on You.
Legendary Lurker Howard Hughes surely Goes Down as the Ultimate California Big Brother, Spying on Everyone in (and Out of) Sight, including The Guys who were ‘Supposed’ to be Doing the Spying, the FBI and early predecessor to the CIA, Office of Strategic Services, the OSS. In fact, they were Unwittingly Paying Him to Do So. Hughes’ XF-11 was a Reconnaissance- Spy Plane. The Twin-boom, high wing Monoplane Designed by Big Brother HH and manufactured by (who else?) Hughes Aircraft Company in Culver City. Because of the A-Bomb, the need was ‘Greater than Ever’ to know what other countries were Up To. The United States Government contracted Howard Hughes to build a High-Altitude Spy Plane that could go above radar with a special camera using newly developed fine grain film. In True California Stranger than Fiction Fashion ~ HH Managed to spend all that Big Government Contract Money only to Crash Into a Lovely Pair of Spanish Revival Homes in Beverly Hills.
Setting the Neighbourhood Ablaze, California Style… in Beverly Hills.
In Typical Hughesian No Harm No Foul Logic ~ The Ever-Elusive Mr. Hughes simply Escaped to The Confines of his Creepy Concrete Deco Compound & Secret Starlet Laboratory at 7000 Romaine Street in Los Angeleez, to Continue his Secret Spying Ways on Everyone, Especially Every Sweet Young Thing that Crossed his Creepy Crescent Heights at Sunset Path….
I Hear Ya Knockin’, But You Can’t Come in ~
Hmmm…Lots of Electronics & Phony Telephonics Going On in there. As We Have All Come to Know , Thanks to Mssrs. DeCaprio & Scorcese, The Aviator Hughes was Up to All Kinds of Shady Shenanigans, Hollywood Style. And he Taught A Lot of Other Corporate Communicados How to Do Just That…
There’s something Awfully Familiar about the Dick Tracy Wrist Radio every Kid Had to Have in 1946…
On January 13, 1946 Comic Strip Creator Chester Gould changed Dick Tracy forever with the introduction of the 2-Way Wrist Radio, having drawn inspiration from a visit to inventor Al Gross. This Compact Communications Device, worn as a wristwatch by Detective Tracy and Members of the Police Force, became one of the strip’s most immediately recognizable icons,and can be thought of as a Precursor to Later Technological Developments,
Such as that iPhone InYour Face, you know, the one Connected to BlueTooth, Twitter, Tattler, TMZ, TCM, e-mail, IM, Chat This-and That, FaceBook GPS & BIG BROTHER.
Did America’s Obsession with that Oblong Oval Glowing in their Living Rooms actually Hook Them Up to an Early Form of GPS ? Maybe They were Skype-ing Us and We Didn’t Even Know It.
Poor George Jetson, Hassled & Micro-Managed by Maniacal Boss Cosmos Spacely, while he’s Really Supposed to be Working, Being Busted Web-Surfing Again…
Meanwhile, Ms. Judy Jetson is At Home in her Stylish Modern Living Room Logging On & Video-Chatting with Wilma Flintstone (who is still on DSL) about Girls Night Out ~
So Thanks for Coming Around & Logging On, But Remember,
Even Federico Knows When You’ve Been Here….
There are 2 Esteemed California Boys, both Associates & Friends that have Given Me A Lot & all you who have Chosen to Read along, All 175,000 of You, in Australia, Austria, Brazil, The Cayman Islands, France, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, The U.S., & Sri Lanka…Inspiring People These Two Have Been for me & Hopefully for You As Well…
Of Course I, like Any Californian worth Their Salt ~ knew of him.
Some Time Many California Light Years Ago, at the Beginning of Federico’s career, he was in an elevator at a Big California Clothing Expo. Around 1985 or so. The Door Opened and in walks this Dude who was well, Electric. And All these Other Dudes & Hot Surf Chicks are Checking Him Out, throwing out Surf Mags for him to Autograph, old school Instamatics Going Off. So I tried to Be Cool. He’s got that Vibe, that this is his Brief Respite from being ‘Shaun Tomson’. And as Soon as That Door Opens, Back At It ~ kind of A Celebrity Chilling for a Moment. And Then he was Gone.
Flash Forward 20 Years ~
As a Graphic Designer who chooses to Live In ~ as they say, a ‘Small Market’, Federico often Finds Himself Hustling for Work. So at one point there’s a very, very short, briefest of brief work-for-hire listing for someone of my Particular Skillsets. I Drop Round for a Visit to meet Surf Star Royalty Shaun & Ms. Tomson at their Clothing Biz Office. There he is ~ Same Dazzling Dude from the Eighties Elevator with an Equally Dazzling Wife. Federico is given a Project Brief and and is Off on His Way to Do His Thing. Then I’m Back. and Back Again. Pretty Soon I’m just There All.The.Time. Working at the Surf Star Clothing Biz. Which Was Cool and Challenging and Pressure-Tested Creativity. Designing and Making Stylish Pressure-Tested Surf-Inspired California Casual Couture ~
And How Is he Inspirational, Federico? Because, other than the Great Hawai’ian Duke Kahanamoku, Shaun Tomson is the Greatest Ambassador of his Sport? Dude- Because he’s the Gnarliest Tube Rider Ever? No.
Shaun Tomson defines Cool Under Fire.
Whether facing a Wall at Backdoor Pipeline
or a Wall of invoices or orders, Adventure or Adversity,
He’s a Great Husband ~ Married to The Same Ms. Tomson for Many Years. A Great Dad No Matter What Goes Down ~ and Just a Straight-Up Nice Guy. With Style, Grace, Charm, Intelligence & Eloquence. Successful Designer, Writer, Film-Maker, California Renaissance Man. Surfer. ST Handles It.
Live+Work ~ Robin Donaldson AIA
Most of Us ~ At the end of Our California Day, think about What We did That Day. Uh, did a Spreadsheet. Mowed the Lawn & Washed the Car, Pickup the Kids & Went to the SuperMarket & BlockBuster. This Guy Designs & Builds the Houses and Buildings we Live+Work In. Fourth-Generation Californian Robin Donaldson has A Lot Going On Up There. I have seen the guy design a house with One Hand while eating His Lunch with the other. We’re Not talking about – no offense if you live in one, Your BasicTractHouse, either. Something More Like This ~
oh, and you’re Not Sure what To Do with the Inside ~ (architects call this ‘The Interior’). Well, how about throwing out the Cable Rug Grandma Gave You and those Plastic Milk Crates you Balance your Big Screen on for something, well…like this ~
Robin, when he’s not Dreaming Up Someone’s Phantasmagoric Phantasy Pad is Basically a Regular California Guy. He’s got a Great Family, a Big One, with a Dome-Headed Dad and a Bunch of Dome-Headed Brothers with Big Brains (Hence the Domes) and a Foxy Wife and 2 Genius-in-the Making Boys that Rip on Electric Guitar and they’re not even Old Enough to Drive, not Even Close. The Guy Drives a 10-year-old Ford Truck with Surf Stickers on the Back Bumper and Boards Inside so he can Surf when he’s not Dreaming Up more Dome-Headed Stuff like The Office You Wished You Worked In instead of those Crappy Computer Cubes Most of Us think of as ‘The Office’. For Instance ~
Robin Donaldson doesn’t Do All of This By Himself ~ He’s got an Equally Brilliant Partner and Mentors a Staff of 25 Equally Brilliant Staff Members to Design & Build these Incredible Spaces in Places like Abu Dhabi, Mexico and Of Course, California.
His Architectural firm, Shubin+Donaldson has 2 offices in California and Clients are Coming & Going Constantly in what for many is an Extremely Challenging Economy. But This isn’t about All of That ~
So What’s the Point ?
Robin Made a Book. It’s Called LIVE+WORK. And That’s the Point. That’s What We All Do. It’s How we Choose to Do It. For Damn Sure Federico doesn’t always Do it Right. which is why these California Guys Inspire Me & Can Inspire You…
Robin Said Two Things to Me That I Try to Remember…Once when Federico was Lamenting the Loss of Yet Another California Country-Club Style Crushing Hot Blonde Girlfriend, Robin’s words were, “You’ve Got to be Tougher”. That’s It. No Sugar-Coated “Sorry, Pal” for Federico. And he was Right.
And on the subject of What You’re Reading, All of It, A Year & 25,000 Readers Later…he told me
So I Do.
This Journal of California People, Places & Things was Originally Inspired by Two Other California Guys who, at the Outset of My Journey to Write over 2 Years Ago ~ Taught me so much about Where We Live. My Grandfather & Father were practically Inseperarable their Whole Lives, and when I was Lucky Enough to Come Along, there were Three of Us California Boys ~
They showed me the Mountains, The Sea & The Deserts of California. They Played me Cool Jazz, Mambo & Mariachi, and I discovered Rock N’Roll, R&B and Roots along the Way. They taught me about Animals & History, to Play Music, To Laugh at Yourself Sometimes, To Work Hard & Work with Your Hands, and To Hold a Door Open for a Lady.
As much as I think about them Every Day and All that We Shared, the fact they’re not here anymore has taught me about Mortality, that Nothing Lasts Forever. What I Choose to Write is Hopefully a Small Way To say Thank You to Them, To all of you Out There, and Thanks to wordpress.com as well. The F deC Readership is an almost Equal Split between Senores y Senoritas in Many Far-Away Lands from California ~ from ages under 13 to over 60 who have chosen to Stop & Read Along the Way ~ which Makes me Happy.
Gracias al Todos ~ Federico
photos : © Steve Wilkings, Dan Merkel, Shaun & Carla Tomson, Ciro Coelho & Shubin+Donaldson Architects
“It didn’t make any difference to me whether I thought the airplane would go faster than sound. I was assigned as a test pilot on it, and it was my duty to fly it…”
~ Chuck Yeager
“Some dang fool gave me a roadster when I was 14 and ruined my whole cotton-pickin’ life”, begins Dick Kraft on his entry into the world of California Hot Rods. “Then, I had a ‘29 Model A with Kelseys and a Winfield head that I paid for by working on the family ranches. I wasn’t getting anywhere [with the four-banger] so I bought a ‘32 roadster with side mounts and 18-inch wheels for $200. In high school, we had a car club called the Plutocrats. Every Saturday night, we would street race to hold [onto] our number-one status.” Street racing was (and is), is a part of Hot Rod History. The Legends of the Sport didn’t become heroes by collecting stamps – as kids they were racers…” ~ Dick Kraft
Although The Birth of California Hot Rodding pre-dates WWII, on the Dry Lakes & on the Streets of California ~ The War actually accelerated the growth of the Sport. With the Further Development of the Ford Flathead V-8 engine – The U.S. Army ran ‘em in their Tanks and the larger displacement Lincolns and Packard engines ended up in America’s PT-Boats and Fighter Planes. All sorts of bits from the California Aircraft Industry ended up in Hot Rods after the War, including the Pilots. Indeed the ‘Belly Tank’ Dry Lakes first ‘StreamLiners’ were fabricated from the auxiliary fuel tanks used by WWII Fighter planes like the Lockheed P-38, One BadAss California Hot Rod in its Own Right, but that’s Another Story…
After 5 years of Hell-Bent Survival of the Fittest on Land, Sea & Air, California Boys had to find a way to Quench the Need for Speed, and California Hot Rodders took to the Air & Land in the Dry Desert Air in the Pursuit of Performance ~
And Indeed 65 Years Later, The Survival of the Fittest California Dry Lakes Hot Rods reached what Most Aficionados would consider the Pinnacle of Automotive High Style ~ The Hallowed Ground of the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance, 2010. The Iconic California Dry Lakes Roadsters And ‘Belly Tankers’ have since been restored to the Nth Degree… Far More Refined & Coveted in their Appearance than the All-Business Originals. However what Really Shines Through the Gloss, Pomp & Circumstance, The Caviar & the Champagne of the Greens of Pebble Beach is This. The California HotRodders, after enduring Years of Toil, War, Death & Destruction, came home to California to Create a Culture that was celebrated Then & Today for the Pursuit of Engineering, Design & Performance Excellence in the Thin Air Desert Dry Lakes of California ~
Perhaps the Greatest Honour that can be bestowed on these California HotRods today is after years of racing, knuckle-busting, scraped together with bits leftover from Woe-Begotten World-War II Surplus by Men toiling in the California Desert Dust, Heat & Cold in the Pursuit of nothing more than Every Last Bit of Speed…Years of Neglect & Idleness, and finally these Rolling Works of Art take their place beside the Bugattis, Ferraris, Mercedes & Duesenbergs of the Classic Automotive Stratosphere, representing their Time & Place as California Art ~
California has long been called the Birthplace of Hot Rodding…
In his Book, The American Hot Rod, Iconic California Hot Rodder Dean Batchelor illustrates that, while the ‘Classic Hot Rod’ may have been a ’32 Deuce Roadster with a Hot Flathead, the Real California Hot Rodders knew of, Appreciated & were Enthusiasts of all types of MotorSport – Sports Car Racing, Dry Lakes, Motorcycling, Drag Racing, and all that entails. Mind you, NASCAR had not even been founded on the beach at Daytona when Mr. Batchelor and many other California Hot Rodders were going about the Business of Speed ~ so here, an ongoing Gallery of Images of some of the most Badass Hot Rods and the Californians that Shape the Sport ~
Although there are so many California Men & Women that define the term ‘Hot Rodding’, there are a few that have excelled far beyond their original California HotRod Roots to become International Icons of MotorSport. Santa Monica, California Boy Phil Hill was the First (of only 2) Grand Prix Formula 1 World Champions for the United States ~ Considered by many to be the Pinnacle of MotorSport. Phil Hill accomplished this in 1961. Long Associated as a Driver for Ferrari the Iconic Italian Scuderia run by Notoriously European Elitist Enzo Ferrari. For Phil Hill to be recognized as one of the Drivers in an Era Completely Dominated by European Drivers & Teams, to win Grands Prix, much less the World Championship in that atmosphere is a True Testament to Phil Hill’s Driving Skill. In 1960 he won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, for Ferrari, The first Grand Prix win for an American driver in nearly forty years, since Jimmy Murphy won the 1921 French Grand Prix. His Primary Career Victories are Simply Astounding for any MotorSports Driver in any form of the Sport ~
- 24 Hours of Le Mans (3) : 1958, 1961, 1962 12 Hours of Sebring (3) : 1958, 1959, 1961 1000 km Buenos Aires (2) : 1958, 1960
- 1000 km Nürburgring (2) : 1962, 1966 F1 Italian Grand Prix (2) : 1960, 1961 F1 Belgian Grand Prix (1) : 1961
One of the Most Talented, Winningest & Versatile California HotRodders Ever ~ Dan Gurney.
As a driver, Gurney scored Practically Countless Victories in the sports car races at Daytona, Sebring, the Targa Florio, the 1000 km at the Nurburgring and Le Mans. He won four World Championship Grand Prix races, in France, Belgium and Mexico, three additional Formula 1 races, seven USAC/Indy Car road races and five NASCAR 500 Stock Car races. He was twice runner-up in the Indy 500. Gurney has the distinction of being the only U.S. citizen in the 100 year history of Formula 1 racing to win a World Championship Grand Prix in a car of his own construction.
Dan Gurney’s All American Racers is the only constructor in the U.S. that has designed and built a winning F1 grand prix car, The Gurney-Weslake Eagle. A variant of-winning Indianapolis 500 car and a winning sports car. The All American Racers’ factory team employed 66 drivers winning 78 victories, the “Indy 500,” 83 pole positions and eight Championships.
The HotRodder’s Hot Rodder ~
In the 1950′s & 60′s of California HotRodding, there really were no Corporate Sponsors or Big Paychecks. Guys like Mickey Thompson built what they had and ‘Run What They Brung’ to Pursue Speed, often with very little budget. Mickey Thompson built, ran and financed a Succession of Successful Hot Rods in Drag Racing, Off-Road and his Pursuit of the Land Speed Record at Bonneville.
He developed a brilliant career as both a driver and an Innovative Automotive Technician; later as a designer, manufacturer and seller of racing and performance equipment. In addition to being a Drag Racing Champion, Mickey Thompson set more speed and endurance records than any other man in automotive history. He is credited with designing and building the first slingshot dragster in 1954, moving the seat behind the rear axle to improve traction when the existing racing tires proved unsuitable. A change so momentous in the Sport, it would not happen again until Don Garlits introduced the Rear-engined Dragster in 1971. Thompson also was noted for being the first manager of Lions Drag Strip near Long Beach, California in 1955.
In his long career, Thompson raced everything from stock cars to off-road vehicles and engineered numerous competition engines. He went into the performance aftermarket business in the early 1960s and then, in 1963 he created “Mickey Thompson Performance Tires” that developed special tires for racing including for Indianapolis 500 competitors.
Thompson founded SCORE International in 1973, a sanctioning body to oversee off-road racing across North America. He and his wife Trudy formed the “Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group” (MTEG) which ran an indoor motocross and off-road vehicle racing show and competition that brought the sport from the back-country terrain to stadiums in the heavily populated metropolitan areas.
The Fastest Man Alive…
The Spirit of America
Incredibly Driven California Hot Rodder Craig Breedlove was Driven to Pursue his Quest as Fastest Man Alive in 1962. In Pursuit of the Land Speed Record ~ Breedlove set out to Build and Field the Fastest Car on Wheels, The Spirit of America. Breedlove was and Is to This Day so Incredibly Driven to Build the Ultimate Bad California Hot Rod, he built it in his garage, simultaneously putting on suit & tie while pursuing Big Financing to Keep his Project Alive and meeting with Suits from Goodyear and Shell Oil. In a Succession of Cars, Breedlove Won & Lost & Won Again his Quest for Fastest Man on Wheels -
The Spirit of America was the first of the modern jet-propelled record breaking cars, built with a narrow stream-lined fuselage, three wheel chassis, and most significantly turbojet engine. Like most of the other competing vehicles the engine was ex-military, the first Spirit had a General Electric J47 engine from an F-86 Sabre and was tested at Bonneville Salt Flats in 1962, where difficult handling resulted in failure. Before trying again a new stabilizer was added and a steerable front wheel.
Breedlove set his first record on September 5, 1963 at Bonneville, the first man to set an average speed of over 400 mph during a land speed record.
With 5,000 pounds of thrust, The Spirit wasn’t just pretty, it was fast. On Oct. 5, 1963, clocking a two-way average of just over 407 mph, Breedlove brought the land speed record back to the United States for the first time in 32 years. He broke records with Spirit of America until October 1964, when, at more than 500 mph, his chute snapped off. The car overshot the track, smashed through some telephone poles, skipped across a saltwater pond and sank like a stone. Breedlove walked away wet, but unscathed, and with a record — 526.28 mph. He’s the only driver to nearly drown while setting a land speed record.
A new Spirit was built over 1964-65 to attempt to beat Arfons, dubbed Spirit of America – Sonic I a four-wheel design with a much higher rated GE J79 engine originally from an F-4 Phantom, the same type as that used by Arfons’ Green Monster. Competing for the LSR over several years with Arfons ended with Breedlove setting the record at 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h) on November 15, 1965, a record that stood until 1970. The Sonic I is currently on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum, California.
After a lengthy break from world records Breedlove began work on a new Spirit in 1992, eventually named the Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV. The vehicle is 44 ft 10 in long, 8 ft 4 in wide, and 5 ft 10 in high (13.67 m by 2.54 m by 1.78 m) and weighs 9,000 lb (4 t), construction is on a steel tube frame with an aluminium skin body. The engine is the same as in the second Spirit, a GE J79, but it is modified to burn unleaded gasoline and generates a maximum thrust of 22,650 lbf (100.8 kN).
The first run of the vehicle in October 28, 1996 in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada ended in a crash at around 675 mph (1,000 km/h). Returning in 1997 the vehicle badly damaged the engine on an early run and when the British ThrustSSC managed over 750 mph (1200 km/h) the re-engined Spirit could do no better than 676 mph (1088 km/h). Breedlove believes the vehicle is capable of exceeding 800 mph (1,200 km/h).
Breedlove sold the Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV to Steve Fossett, holder of many sailing, ballooning and other aviation records, and the car was undergoing rebuilding in hopes of some preliminary shakedown runs in late September 2007 at Bonneville. However, Steve Fossett went missing in early September 2007 while scouting for alternative land speed record venues in Nevada, and his body then later recovered.
To Be Continued…
The International Six Days Trial is considered the Olympics of Motorcycling ~ and Rightfully So. An Endurance Contest of Six Days’ riding over Extremely Challenging Terrain & Weather by 5-man teams from Many Countries of the World. The Trials are a True Test of Man, Machine, Skill, Endurance and Reliability.
International Six Days Trials
The ISDT was first held in 1913 at Carlisle, England. It has occurred annually, apart from interruptions due to World War I and World War II, at various locations throughout the world. Up until 1973 the contest was always held in Europe. In 1973 it travelled for its first overseas jaunt the United States. Since then it has been outside Europe more frequently: twice in Australia (1992 and 1998), once more in the USA (1994), Brazil (2003), New Zealand in 2006 and Chile in 2007.
The event has attracted national teams from as many as 32 different countries in recent years. Over its long history the rules and conditions have changed to keep in step with the developments in the sport, but it remains a supreme test of rider and machine. Over the six days and upwards of 1250 miles a rider must contend with strict rules about time allowances and restrictions on mechanical replacements, carrying out his or her own track-side repairs. One must not arrive at a Prescribed Checkpoint either too early, nor too late, and doing either necessitates a penalty or deduction of Points from a Total Given at the Outset of the Event. Rider & Machine must carry all requisite spare parts, tools and equipment as required and needed for each day’s ride on their motorcycle. If a Team Member receives Assistance of Any Kind during roadside repair, even as much as being handed a tool by an onlooker or a Sip of Water, that Rider will be Disqualified from the Event. The Remaining Team Members must carry on Without Him.
McQueen & One of the World’s Most Famous Motorcycles • Triumph ISDT TR6SC
In 1964, Iconic Motorcyclist First ~ Steve McQueen~ Actor Second, was chosen along with 4 of the Best American Off-Road Riders of the Day to Represent the United States in the 1964 ISDT in East Germany. His Teammates were Brothers Dave & Bud Ekins from Hollywood, John Steen and Cliff Coleman.
Californians All ~
Bud Ekins • One of the Greatest & Most Famous Motorcyclists ~ Ever
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Bud Ekins was the undisputed “King of the Desert” and offroad races, with wins at all the major races including the famed Catalina Grand Prix in 1955, where he took almost 10 minutes off the race record time. He won the offroad Big Bear Run in California three times, most memorably in 1959, covering the 153-mile course over half an hour ahead of the second-place rider, despite getting a flat tire and breaking a wheel.
Ekins competed in seven International Six Days Trial (ISDT) events in the 1960s, winning four gold medals and one silver — all on Triumph motorcycles. His Now Revered North Hollywood Shop has long been the California Holy Grail of Moto. He travelled to England prior to the ISDT and prepared the Triumphs for the ISDT alongside the Meriden Factory Techs, 4 650′s and one 500CC. Bud Ekins was also a founder of the famous Baja 1000, making record runs Down the Baja Peninsula-and Back.
In 1962, McQueen asked Bud Ekins to do some stunt riding for the filming of The Great Escape. Ekins was in Germany working on the film, and it was at the end of shooting that he and McQueen came up with what is arguably the Most Famous Motorcycle Stunt of All Time. Ekins – being the Master of All Things Triumph and through his Previous Supreme ISDT Performance was charged with arranging delivery of the 4 Brand New TR6SC and T100SC models collected from the Triumph Factory in Meriden for the ISDT Competition…
Bud Ekins Won 4 Gold Medals and a Silver
in ISDT Competition
According to Dave Ekins, McQueen managed to get Paramount Studios to pay for the trip by hiring his racing teammates as ‘bodyguards’ accompanying Steve to the European premier of his new movie, “Love with the Proper Stranger.” Dave E. won the Bronze Medal in the ISDT riding a much smaller displacement Triumph 500 while his Mates were All Aboard 650′s, and Flailing About at the Finish. Ekins went on to earn a second ISDT gold in Sweden in 1966 riding a Zundapp. He then won the Bronze in the West German ISDT in 1969 despite a broken rear axle.
Dave Ekins rode in 5 ISDTs in total ~ That’s a Lot of Endurance, Reliability & Skill.
Within a Few Short Years the Belgian rider Joel Robert would become World 500cc Motocross Champion- An Absolutely Grueling Sport at That Level ~ Robert was a Completely Dominating Rider. The Sort of Competition the Americans Rode Against. McQueen & Co. were certainly Riding on Par.
For 1964, the ISDT would take place in the Communist Eastern Bloc during the height of the Cold War. On September 5, 1964 in a packed hall in Erfurt, East Germany complete with a large picture of Lenin, McQueen ~ in what has been reported as one of the proudest moments of his life – carried the ‘Stars and Stripes’ for the US team at the opening ceremony…
A TRIP TO EASTERN GERMANY IN 1964 ~
Mr Oriol Puig Bulto, President of the FIM International Technical Panel, was a experienced off-road rider during the Sixties: he took part in nine International Six Days’ Trial events between 1962 and 1970. He was in Erfurt in 1964.
In Erfurt in 1964, I remember well the American team with Steve McQueen, the Ekins brothers and other riders. They had a lot of helpers, press people, cameramen, etc., and many american flags everywhere. They were doing spectacular rides the days prior to the start, going up and down and doing fast side slides with their big Triumph twins. A real show…
I met briefly Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins, they were nice people, very accessible and ready to share experiences and fully enjoy the event. In my opinion, all members of the US Team were good riders, very much used to ride in the desert and in dry terrain but not so much in the muddy sections through the woods and hills of central Europe. Also, they were riding too ‘crazy’ for a six days event, crashing too much. I remember seeing Steve and some other members of the US team riding with torn mudguards and bent handlebars, and also with bruises in their faces. The best known members of the team, Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins had to retire on the third and fourth days after several heavy crashes. But other members got Gold and Silver medals.
I never met again Steve McQueen, but I had the pleasure to meet Bud Ekins in May 2007 at the ‘Legend of the Motorcycle, Concours d’Elegance’ in Half Moon Bay, California, where I was acting as a Judge and Bud was the Honorary Judge. Bud was in serious health condition but we had the opportunity to remember together ‘those old glorious times’, few months before he passed away in October of that year.”
And So it Went ~ Cliff Coleman achieved 3rd place in the 750cc class and Dave Ekins gained 5th place in the 500cc Class that year. Bud Ekins and Steve McQueen both crashed out on the third day, Ekins with a broken ankle. The Steve McQueen bike has been rediscovered and is now owned by Sean & Catherine Kelly of Johnson Motors, a Re-created Apparel Biz in Pasadena, California very much in the Tradition of The Esteemed California Triumph Motorcycle Dealer of the Same Name – that Mssrs. McQueen, The Brothers Ekins, Steen and Coleman frequented in their Days of Glory in 1964 ~
The BadAss California HotRod Boys Took On The World’s Best ~
Everybody’s Gotta Eat ~ even Hollywood Royalty…
At one Time or Another, just about All the Hollywood Stars have rolled up their sleeves to go to work at The Lot. In 1934, When The Legendary Formosa Cafe’ opened – The Lot was known as the Warner Hollywood Studios, the sister lot to the main Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. But the Lot was around before that, being one of the Oldest Studios in Hollywood, and so was a little Red Train Car luncheonette across Formosa Avenue. And by then, Like All Proper Hollywood Stars & Legends, the Lot & the Luncheonette had already Re-invented Themselves ~
The Lot Began Life in January of 1920, when Hollywood’s Hampton Studios opened a spacious new building and backlot to house their growing production company, and moved their operations to Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa Avenue from their former home on east Sunset Boulevard. Hampton Productions, now long gone & forgotten, was an early pioneer in Hollywood film making; their movies starred, among others, William Desmond and H.B. Warner.
Shortly thereafter, the studio was bought by the First Couple of Hollywood, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.They named it Pickford-Fairbanks Studios. Together, they turned out such HollywoodLand Film Classics as “Robin Hood” and “The Thief of Bagdad.” The First Hollywood Power Couple.
In 1928, along with Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, Pickford and Fairbanks formed and founded United Artists, prompting Charlie to leave his Chaplin Studios nearby on La Brea for this new locale.
A few years just before all these Hollywood Happenings were Taking Hold – in 1925, an Enterprising Former Prizefighter Fella with the Distinctly Chinese name of Jimmy Bernstein came to town. Jimmy wrangled himself an abandoned L.A Pacific Electric Red Line Train Car & plopped it down near the corner of Formosa and Santa Monica Boulevard, directly across from The Pickford-Fairbanks Studio.
Jimmy named his Red Car Joint the Red Post and Started Serving Up his Little Luncheonette to the Hard Working Hollywood 9 to 5 Stars, Studio Folk and WannaBe’s a short walk across Formosa from the Studio.
The Studio Star Machine grew and Business was Good. Chaplin, Norma Shearer, Douglas Fairbanks & Co. began an Exotic Hollywood Happy Hour Escape Exodus across Formosa that soon outgrew the Red Post.
Prizefightin’ Jimmy had to Expand. Along with his Fledgling but Booming Business, apparently Jimmy had a Penchant for the L.A. Ladies of Asian Persuasion. So, he added a Dining Room, Bar and Kitchen and faster than you can Say Sayonara to the Red Spot, he changed the name of the joint to Formosa Cafe. The Hollywood Studio Gentry took to the expanded version, Tradition Took Hold and the Red Spot Train Car became the Formosa Star Dining Room, as Celebs Big & Small brought Jimmy autographed 8×10 Glossies he Decorated his Dining Room with…for the next Several Decadent Decades ~
The ‘new’ (if you can possibly imagine it ever was) Formosa Cafe’ was a Small, Dimly-Lit Cantonese Cave of Coolness with a neon sign on Santa Monica Boulevard. Inside, A Cavalcade of actors mingled (& mingle still) easily with lighting technicians, stage hands, writers and cameramen, without tourists or high-powered producers talking mega-deals. Indeed, the Credo of the Formosa was & is Low-Key.
Across Town, enter one New Los Angeleno, an emigre’ from China named Lem Quon. Master Quon came to the United States on a cargo ship when he was 12, joined his parents who had already come to Los Angeles, and began working for his father in Tuewfar Lowe, one of a handful of Chinese restaurants in the city.
The Formosa 1940′s & L.A. Noir ~
By Now just about Every Star under the Hot Hollywood Sun had made their way into the Formosa. Indeed, one could write All Day listing a Who’s Who of Legends, The Faded & Forgotten Failures & Successes & Formosa Fortunes Made & Lost ~ Perhaps a Young Eastern Visitor to Hollywood, with its Extras, Excesses and Extra-Curriculars said it Quite Well…
“The Truth About Hollywood”, [Drugs, Alcohol and Sexual Morality]
It ought to be possible to write sanely about the morals of Hollywood. It will be well to keep in mind the purpose of the slightly bewildered but resolute statesman who said “I will go to the end of the road, let the chips fall where they may.” Recollection of the well known limerick may also be useful: “Said the Reverend Jabez McCotton, ‘The waltz of the Devil’s begotten.’ Said Jones to Miss Blye, ‘Don’ Mat you mind the old guy; To the pure almost everything’s rotten.’ ” I went to Hollywood, to find out the truth, good and bad. I talked with actors, directors, producers, screen writers, extras, merchants, doctors,ministers, bankers, detectives, performers, extollers, denouncers, newspapermen and women, publicity men, housewives, onlookers, lenders, spenders and others of high and low degree and varying standards of veracity. I sat with the heads of official agencies investigating the Taylor murder, the traffic in narcotics and bootleggers.
I watched movie people at their work and their frolics ~
Thoreau Cronyn • NEW YORK HERALD ~ March 19-April 2, 1922
Into this Extra-Exotic Era of Hollywood Excesses,
Enter Master Lem Quon~
Quon joined the Army during World War II and worked as a cook. Returning home, he worked briefly as a cook at the Shanghai-Gin, and when it lost its lease, he moved to the Formosa and while he worked the Kitchen, Bernstein Worked the Bar.
In 1945, Quon became Bernstein’s partner. ”I ran the kitchen and he ran the front,”
Quon told The Los Angeles Times, in 1993.
And Thus Begins The Classic Noir ’40′s Era of the Formosa & Tales of Legend ~
• The Formosa Cafe’ – Black Dahlia Connection ~
It is from 1940′s HollyWood Leading Man Franchot Tone that we get our closest near-glimpse of the Notorious Black Dahlia ~ Ms. Elizabeth Short in Hollywood, in those moments when her Still-All-in One-Piece shadow falls over a still extraordinary film called Phantom Lady made for Universal in 1944.
While Tone was making this film, he encountered Elizabeth the Soon-to Be-Dahlia at the Formosa Café. According to his later testimony, Tone asked her what she was doing there: “She said she was waiting for someone, and I said, ‘Of course you are, you’re waiting for me!’” He then told her that he knew of contacts in Hollywood who were looking for girls with her kind of looks, and offered to take her to meet him. In reality, he was simply taking her to his own apartment. “I thought it was a pick-up from the start,” he recalled later; “she came with me so easily, but to her it wasn’t anything of the kind.” His attempts to seduce her were firmly rebuffed, so he gave her some money and sent her home in a taxi: “There was something sad and pathetic about her.”
• When L.A. Mobster & Doomed Envisionary of Vegas Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel’s half-century – old safe was opened the other day at the Formosa Cafe in Hollywood, where Siegel once had an office, it was . . .(According to Modern-Day owner of the Formosa Jimmy Quon, Ben Siegel Did have a Safe Stashed in the back…)
• The Formosa served Cantonese Cuisine under the gaze of 1,000 photographs of film personalities–Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Pearl Bailey, Elvis Presley–and Lem Quon knew them all. He had his favorite anecdotes, such as billionaire Howard Hughes borrowing $20 to pay a debt to a drinking buddy.
• Lana Turner once danced in the aisles, Elvis Presley came to drink beer late at night, a Drunken Lee Marvin was thrown out and a sotted Rudy Vallee was once driven home by the staff. The Waitresses remembered Clark Gable as a lousy tipper, & the Costumed Cast Members of the “Beverly Hillbillies” and “Dynasty” lunched on Sub Gum Pork and Chow Mein. Quon arrived at work one morning, upon entering the Kitchen confronted by a Hungover & just Slept-over John Wayne – who calmly asked him how he liked his Eggs ~
After All The Stories & All The Formosa Lurid & Likely Tales of Iniquity, perhaps in True Hollywood Fashion, No Better View of the Legendary Cafe’ Than This some 60 Years Later ~ By Hollywood Itself, A Classic Example of L.A. Art Imitating Legend ~
The Formosa often played host to real-life L.A. Gangster Johnny Stompanato and his famous lover, Lana Turner. Stompanato’s gangster boss, Mickey Cohen, and organized crime chief Bugsy Siegel were both Formosa regulars, and had their own “back room” for private meetings and card games. Cohen’s arrest for tax evasion in 1952 is the starting point for L.A. Confidential but probably the ending point for the Secret Back Room.
In 1976, 1920′s PrizeFighter Jimmy Bernstein Passed to the Big Barroom in the Sky, and after 30 Years of Formosa Partnership, Lem Quon became Sole Owner of the Formosa. In 1991 The Formosa, along with Quon, Bartender Lindy Brewerton, serving drinks since 1942, and 2 Formosa Waitresses with Tales of Serving Hollywood Royalty since the 50′s, successfully fought off Warner Bros. Studios, who wished to demolish the Formosa and build a Parking Garage… Instead Quon and Cafe’ Regulars, calling themselves Friends of the Formosa, got the restaurant declared a Los Angeles Cultural and Historical Landmark and the Formosa was preserved like an Ancient Embalmed Chinese Lady.
The newest source of reference for this Legendary Tale is from 1993. Federico can attest the Fabled Formosa is Definitely Still A Dark Den of Hollywood Royalty ~ He was there last week, in 2010. Formosa Boss Man Quon married twice and lost both wives to cancer, the first in 1955, the second in 1976. He is survived by Jimmy Quon; who now Carries The Torch of Formosa Tales and runs the Joint, William Jung, three stepdaughters and several grandchildren.
The Cafe’ that serves up Cantonese Cuisine amid a Gallery of close to 1000 glossies still has that Star Attraction. Lem Quon’s first scrapbook, which is locked away for safekeeping, includes greetings from Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Clark Gable and other Hollywood Heavyweights ~
“L.A. is so ephemeral — there are not many places like this that gather that kind of ambiance and history,” said Teresa Grimes, preservation officer with the Los Angeles Conservancy, a private preservation group…
… “Nothing is really sacred. Nothing is here for a long time. We should be protecting not only our architectural resources but our cultural resources.”
Detective Ed Exley :
“A Hooker cut to Look Like Lana Turner is Still a Hooker…”
Detective Jack Vincennes :
“She is Lana Turner”.
While Many of Us Americans enjoy Barbecues & Ballgames for Memorial Day ~
There are a lot of Intrepid Americans out there who may not have quite the Three-Day Holiday most of us are looking forward to…Airports, Backyards & Bars Across America will be Filled to the Brim with Happy Hour Americans for the Duration of the Downtime. Americans are Pre-occupied with Partying, Pre-Game & Postgame, The Playoffs, Pabst Blue Ribbon & Plastic Surgery these days. Once Upon a Time ~ Then & Now…there were a lot of Americans who Did it the Hard Way so a complete generation of us don’t even have to look up from our iPhones or Facebook or ESPN to consider a time or a place where Hardship Prevails…
(Above) Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division wait to board a 214th Aviation Regiment helicopter near Ghazni, Afghanistan.
The 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) is a light infantry division of the United States Army based at Fort Drum, New York. It is a subordinate unit of the XVIII Airborne Corps and the only division-sized element of the US Army to specialize in fighting under harsh terrain and weather conditions. The division retains the “mountain” designation for historical purposes but is actually organized as a light infantry division.
Activated in 1943, the 10th Mountain Division was the last among currently active divisions to enter combat during World War II. (According to “World War II Order of Battle” by Shelby L. Stanton, the 10th Mountain Division entered combat on January 8, 1945, followed by the 8th, 13th, 16th, and 20th Armored, and the 65th, 71st, 76th, 86th, 89th and 97th Infantry divisions in the final months of the war.) The 10th fought in the mountains of Italy in some of the roughest terrain in the country. After the war, the division was briefly redesignated as the 10th Infantry Division, a training unit.
There is no ‘Bottle Service’ or Swimming Pools, or Babes in Bikinis or even a Beach for these guys. They live largely outside in conditions that range from searing heat to extreme cold, and their Holiday Outfits consist of sometimes over 100lbs. of gear. Personnel in this Division come from places like Colorado, or North Dakota, Montana and the Mountains of California. They are trained in all the Usual Requisite Soldiering skills, and have an additional resume’ that includes Heavy Hiking, Mountaineering, Snowshoeing & Skiing in the course of their Duties.
The history of the 10th Mountain Division is rooted in developments prior to the United States’ entry into World War II. Influenced by the 1939 success of Finnish troops in warfare against invading Soviet units and by concern over escalating hostilities across Europe, individuals in the War Department and the military turned their attention to the status of military preparedness for winter warfare. Troops stationed at Fort Snelling, Minnesota had engaged in specialized training, yet no large-scale maneuvers had taken place. In May of 1940, the American Alpine club urged the Department of War to begin mountain warfare training and subsequently began advising the military on equipment necessary for mountain and winter warfare.
Additional pressure for the development of elite mountain troops came from Charles Minot Dole (Minnie Dole), Chair of the National Ski Patrol Association of the National Ski Association. Dole believed the need for trained alpine soldiers existed and he emphasized the presence of skilled skiers in the US able to meet these special needs of the military. When the War Department created ski patrol units within several existing divisions, the National Ski Association reviewed equipment and training and by the end of the winter the advisory relationship had become formalized.
So just a Little Reminder ~ These guys, or Other Guys just like the originals above from 1945, are Out There Right Now. They may have a Cerveza or Two for their Holiday, they May Not. So ~ while you’re Kicking Back & Having a Good Time, or you’re Hung Over, or complaining you had one too many Slices of Aunt Esther’s Pie, or the Zone Defense of your favorite NBA team broke down in the 4th Quarter, or What to Wear, or you’re Stuck in Traffic ~ maybe Raise A Toast to These Guys, and the Thousands of American Ladies & Gentlemen in the Armed Services out there on the job doing what they do ~ So we don’t have to…Happy Memorial Day ~ FdeC.
Ay Ay Ay ~ Long Before Estamos Californianos travelled to Disneyland, Las Vegas or the Coachella Music Festival for The Weekend ~ We Went South of the Border ~ Down Mexico Way…A Lost Paradise In the Days before the Carteles and All the Drugs Drama ~ Mexico was Fun Fun Fun..!
Tijuana, B.C. Mexico ~ An Exotic Name for a Once Very Exotic Place, even to us Dyed-in-the-Natural Cotton-Californians. In the Nineteen-Twenties up to Quite Recently, (It’s become a Little Heavy Down There lately), Tijuana Beckoned Us with Amorous Adventures of Sport, Games of Chance, Just Plain Carousing and a Variety of Questionable Activities. One could Pack Up His or Her Favorite Senorita or Senor, Gang of Four or Family and within 2 or 3 hours, Travel to Tropical Tijuana or further south to Exotic Ensenada for all kinds of Fun in the Sun !
From 1919 to 1933, Alcohol, Casinos, Prostitution and Horse Racing were all forbidden or tightly restricted in California, (what else is new) and all were easily available in Tijuana. A Go-South-Young-Man No-Brainer !
Because of this California Condition, Great Pleasure Palaces were built, including the city’s fabled Agua Caliente Casino & Racetrack, and countless Hollywood celebrities, their imitators, various wanna-be’s and hangers-on Crept South by car, rail, ship and small plane.
Agua Caliente during the 1920′s was The Biggest Attraction in Tijuana – and beside being a Major Party Attraction to the EveryDay California Gentry, was a Second Home to many of the most famous Horse Racing Jockeys of the day, including the Legendary “Iceman”, George Woolf ~
Woolf was One of the Winningest Jockeys of his time along with his pal, a Fun-Loving Fella named John ‘Red‘ Pollard. Within about 6 years the 2 Men would Become Most Famous for Courting and Riding to Victory perhaps the Most Famous Californian of her era ~
~ A Demure Yet Fiesty Young Lady named Seabiscuit.
Built on an Artesian Hot Spring, hence the name ‘Agua Caliente‘, the Casino attracted and entertained high profile patrons as the stars of the Film Industry in Hollywood would venture down to Mexico for Fun, Drink and Gambling. The Grandstand had a Spanish~Mediterranean feel to it with its white buildings and red tile roofs…
By All Accounts, Agua Caliente was the Jockey’s Favorite on their circuit, this being the days before Del Mar & Santa Anita Racetracks were built Up North in California Proper. These Boys had the Neighboring Boardinghouse nee’ Bordello at their Disposal On The Hill above the Track, along with No Doubt Mucho Macho roving Bands of Mariachis, Lovely Latin Ladies & Liberal Libations ~ as they were Outright Local Stars and Heroes of The Tijuana Sporting Life…
The Agua Caliente Casino was the Crown Jewel of the Classic Tijuana era. It opened in 1928, Tiled and Stuccoed, All California Moorish and Missionary, Vast and Self-Assured. It lay only six miles South of the Border, covered 655 acres and cost about $10 million at the time ~
The Lion’s Share of The Dough was supplied by American investors. It was “one of the most opulent resorts ever to grace the Americas,” but more significantly, it was the inspiration for Las Vegas in the years following…
Wish I could jump in My Time Machine & Stop In for a Couple Margaritas on that Patio, a Couple Cancions from the Mariachis, then Head Straight to the Track ! ~
Along with the Casino offering Roulette, Baccarat and Faro (but no windows or clocks), Agua Caliente featured about 400 rooms and bungalows, a horse-racing track, a golf course, a spa fed by natural spring water (hence the name), an Art Deco ballroom, various cocktail bars, tennis courts, a riding academy, a landing strip for small planes, a blue-tiled minaret and an iconic bell tower, a replica of which now stands at the beginning of Boulevard Agua Caliente.
Charlie Chaplin and Gary Cooper came to the Races. Douglas Fairbanks sat on the Board of Directors. Jean Harlow tried the golf course. Bing Crosby and Clark Gable saddled up horses, and the showroom featured a teenage dancer, Ms. Margarita Cansino, who later changed Her Hollywood Name to None Other Than Rita Hayworth.
If One tired of All The Excitement at The Races, Perhaps a Cerveza or a Siesta is in order, or go Across Town to El Toreo for a Hemingway-esque Day in the Sun at the Bullfights…
¡ ole !
The very first Plaza de Toros (That’s Bullring in Gringo-Speak) in Tijuana was a wooden structure that would accommodate 2000 and was built in 1904 by Sevillian banderillero Antonio Gonzalez Rubio and Mexicali merchant Don José R. Alvarez, in the square block then described by 3rd and 4th streets and Avenida Revolución and Avenida Madero.
In May of 1911, the Plaza burned to the ground, allegedly by Welsh mercenary Caryl Pryce, and was subsequently replaced by a new, slightly larger (capacity 2,500) Plaza, on 5th and 6th streets, to become the Center of Tijuana’s Toro Activities in the 1920s and ’30s.
It was officially inaugurated as Plaza El Toreo de Tijuana on July 3, 1938.
Practically every Great Torero or Bullfighter of the era performed in the historic Tijuana Plaza de Toros ~ and a Few Well-Known Toreras performed there tambien...
More than a Few Celebrities visited Tijuana All The Time, even The Mild-Mannered Charles Lindbergh, ‘Lucky Lindy’ himself. He doesn’t look like a Real Fun Guy to Hang Out with though, Wonder how he did at The Track ..?
Enough Will All the Turismo, History & Culture ~ Sometimes you Just Need a Beer…
You could Belly Up to the Longest Bar in the World ~
La Cantina Ballena, a Real Whale of a Bar in Mexicali ~ and Throw Down just 5 Centavos American for a Tall Cold Cerveza, or Go Big and Get a Pitcher for .25c ~ Viva Mexico !
In the Midst of All the Mariachi Madness, no one saw what was coming. On the Horizon, everything was Manana. In 1933, Prohibition came to an end and a series of morally conservative presidents ruled Mexico. Nevada legalized gambling in 1931.Tijuana all but dried up and blew away. How Ironic ~ the Same Presidents had relied on Tijuana’s income to fund their armies during the Mexican Revolution. The Enterprising Tijuana Turismo Industry had to Dream Up other Forms of Entertainment now that alcohol was once again legal in Estados Unidos.
The U.S. was Gearing Up the Military Presence in the late 1930s in anticipation of the Second World War, and San Diego became a Major Navy Base. Tijuana responded to the sailors’ needs by saturating the area around the old bull-ring with hotels, restaurants, and bars. Informal betting along the lines of three-card monte was common.
The Vida Alegre, that is to say, Prostitution, extended into the suburbs of Colonia Libertad and Colonia Independencia. Another Form of Entertainment & Betting Revenue in Tijuana debuted with the Opening of El Grande’ Fronton, The Jai-Alai Palace in 1947 ~
Jai Alai ( High’-Lie) originated as a handball game in the Basque area of Spain’s Pyrenees Mountains over four centuries ago. Games were played on Sundays and holidays in small villages at the local church, hence the name jai alai which means “merry festival” in Basque. Players would use the open-air church courtyard and the walls of the church as the fronton or arena. Often called the “fastest sport in the world,” Jai Alai consists of men with weird basket appendages a la Cricket, whipping rock-hard balls against a granite wall, trying to make their opponent miss the return while avoiding being hit with the speeding bullet themselves. It’s a game that requires a combination of skill, speed, and acrobatics.
The game spread to and gained popularity in Spanish-Speaking countries like Mexico and Cuba, and even the Phillipines. After its initial introduction in the U.S., frontons started going up all over the country. Spectators flocked to jai alai arenas to watch the “ballet with bullets,” and it quickly became an alternative to horse and dog racing for gambling.
Betting on Jai Alai is just like betting on horse racing or dog racing. So you can place a single “win,” “place,” or “show” bet on a particular team or you can pick two teams to finish first and second with a “quinella” bet. Spectators can also make Trifecta and Superfecta bets.
The skill and agility of the players allows for some handicapping but the speed and tricky action of the pelota introduces an element of luck into the equation ~
Another Development in Mexico’s Mad Quest for Turismo Dolares was the Emergence of The Maquiladora ~ What Us Gringos would call The Black Velvet Painting Factory…
There are a Few Iconic Superheroes of the Black Velvet Painting. Of Course ~ Numero Uno The World Over is Senor Jesus Christ just nipping Elvis By a Nose at the Wire in Popularity. Voluptuous Pin-Up Girls, Marilyn and Madonna, The Devil & His Vices (there are a lot of THOSE in Tijuana), Jungle Fantasies and Religious Scenes are common themes. Personal Favorites de Federico tend toward what could be called The American Badass Genre, Charles Bronson, John Wayne and The Man with No Name ~
Latin Art Curator Christina Ochoa says Black Velvet Painting goes back to the 14th century, when Marco Polo found samples of velvet paintings in Kashmir. The popularity of American black velvet painting can be traced to the work of one man known as the “American Gauguin” — Edgar Leeteg, a native of Sacramento, California, who lived and painted in Tahiti from 1933-to-1953. Leeteg, although no more skilled at the technique than his Mexican Artesano Counterparts, can be credited with effectively blending Tiki Style & Culture with the Mexican Maquiladora style of painting, and that blending in effect, is what California Culture is All About ~ Que No ?
Leeteg’s vast output of thousands of black velvet paintings served as the inspiration for imitators who flocked to create a vast industry churning out a form of art that would be indelibly associated with tourism. Many of Leeteg’s works were purchased by Navy personnel based in Hawaii, who would return to San Diego, bringing Leeteg nudes and commission Mexican painters in Tijuana to make similar portraits of their girlfriends in black velvet. She Looks Damn Good above The Waterbed ~ and In It !
For Years, Even Though the Ractrack was Gone, there were and are still Bullfights, but the old Gran Corrido is gone, and even the One that Replaced it is gone too….
A New Estadio is outside town now, not Quite the Same ~ the 3rd or 4th in a Long Line of Bullrings Long Gone. The Jai Alai Grande Palacio is Gone as well. There are still Endless Mercados…but instead of Switchblades, Black Velvet Elvis’s, Cusano Rojo Mezcal with The Worm in the Bottom, Strip Clubs, Donkey Shows, Serapes, Paesant Blouses, Endless Bad But Cool T-Shirts, Maracas & Huaraches, it’s Fake Chanel and Hermes’ (from China) and The Illicit Internet for Trashy Tijuana Turistas Looking for Quick Insta-Love. The Maquiladoras Still Churn Out the Velvet Paintings to Sell to Unsuspecting Gringos Tired & Wasted on their Way Home, lined up at The Border, but they’re not Quite The Same, either. Instead of Toreros, it’s Tupac, and even he’s not Around Anymore ~ It All kind of makes you feel you’re Just Lucky to Still Be Around at all…And those Tacky Souvenirs you Threw in the Trash, saying Why in Hell Did I Buy this ? – Are Low-and High-Brow Art Now… But Weren’t They Always ?
¡ VIVA TIJUANA !
Although this Modern Day Badass Hot Rod was not built in California ~ The Style it Embodies is completely a la Ed “Big Daddy” Roth 1963…
And California-Style It Is…Having seen, owned & been exposed to A Lot of Hot Rods, Federico had to admire Blown to Be Wild for the Sheer HotRod Audacity, Craftsmanship & Total Big Daddy RothNess of a Monster Car Come to Life ~
Though we now use any manner of digital technology to create Modern Art, preserve Nostalgia, Pop Culture & Retro-Everything, ( which I am Shamelessly Guilty Of ), One of the Most Iconic California Pop Maestro MasterMinds, Mr. Ed Roth, like Mssrs. Matisse, Picasso & Dali before him, gazed for the most part Wholly and Phantasmagorically Into the Future. None of these Neo-Artistes sat and lamented on Things ‘Back in the Day’, but completely without the aid of computers or digital devices of any kind, Roth created a FantasyLand of FantasticNess we now Worship as California High Art …and Rightfully So ~
Big Daddy embraced a wholly original technique d’art. Using Plaster of Paris to create a master shape for his Outlandish California Creations, he would hand form a molten batch of Goo into a hardened Futuristic Shape and cover it all with FiberGlass, a relatively new media technology developed during World War II. What would begin as a Big Mess on the floor, Roth would transform into a Rolling Renaissance Machine, like “Mysterion” above, built in 1963 and “Beatnik Bandit”, below in 1960.
” In Africa I had got this fantastic idea for a fiberglas car when I saw a picture of Henry Ford beatin’ the trunk of one o’ his new ’41 Fords with a sledge hammer and it wouldn’t dent. Ya could’a knocked me over with a feather. It was also very cheap! It could also be done by people with little or no talent and I had both. It seemed too far out for my brain so I just dismissed it ’til I saw the LIFE article. In ’57 I started playin’ with ‘glas’. I got some of the gooiest messes ya’d ever wanna see. My pants are always ruined by the end of each day, but in them days I’d have to throw ‘em away each day. Shoes was good for about 4 days before I’d throw a coat of black paint on ‘em.”
“First I had the frame which was your basic ’29 Ford rails and fitted this junk Caddy engine into (junk but ran good). I knew fiberglas existed but couldn’t get anyone to help me (except Dirty Doug later on) so I was gonna make me a body outa wood like the Shadoff Special guys’d done. But it was too complicated and besides, wood and me don’t jive! So I went to the local lumber yard and got some casting plaster (which is gross ’cause it dries so quick) but it was cheap and better’n wood.”
“Makin’ the buck was no problem. Guys in Detroit was usin’ clay since the early 20′s but clay was a buck a pound. Forget it! Plaster was a buck for 100 pounds. I used that! Then I covered the plaster with this messy, ooey, gooey stuff. I mean, like, it just ran into this big pile of mush on the asphalt. It was devastating.”
From “Hot Rods By Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth”/Roth,Thacker 1995
Early Big Daddy – hand airbrushing Monster Shirts, pre-Fame and screenprint days. Above right, Justifiably Proud Big D with Outlaw, 1956-60. His 1st FiberGlass car, and its Offspring, the Revell licensed model kit of it you can still buy today.
Gazillions of the model kits were made of several Roth creations..and for a while at least, in His Heyday, Big Daddy was makin’ Big Bucks..He had literally Created a Monster and Mysterion defined the Early 60′s California Hot Rod Era ~
Roth built Most of his Masterpieces along with producing his T-shirts at Roth Studios, his very Low-Techy Mad Scientist’s Laboratory on Slauson Avenue in Maywood, an L.A. suburb. Revell American produced model car kits that featured the “Beatnik Bandit” and “Road Agent”. Other model kits included “Rat Fink” and the gang, a group of hot rodding monsters. During 1963 Revell paid Ed “Big Daddy” Roth a one cent royalty for each model sold. In 1963 Ed brought in $32,000 that year in royalties, that’s a lot of model kits…
Big Daddy Ed, The Old World Craftsman, built his California Creations almost single-handedly in his small shop, heating and blowing Plexiglas Bubble Tops for his Masterpieces in a pizza oven, like some Mad Venetian GlassBlower Time Travelling to Shakey’s ~
Later On he got so busy he hired a few Dedicated Employees, guys like Dirty Doug, Robert Williams and Ed ‘Newt’ Newton, who drew most of the Cool Monster T-shirt designs. Years later, Roth would work with Moldy Marvin, who carries on the Roth Legacy, maintaining ‘All Things Roth’ to this day.
Roth was Getting So Big he started printing Catalogs – Perfect Reading During 4th Grade Math Class…
His lightweight, rear-engine Space-Age Road Agent, used a rear-mounted Corvair engine and ultra-light construction, you’ve gotta love those StarTrek pods on the sides….preceding the StarShip Enterprise, which wouldn’t be seen on the new T.V. show Star Trek for another 2 years…
Big Daddy, no Average Beatnik – demonstrated a Stroke of Pure Genius completely devoid of Modern Technology….i.e. arguably the first use of what we know as ‘RGB’ color in a non-printing application, with the lighting on his Orbitron, below, 1964. An excellent article on Orbitron is here :
Big Daddy had a family to support. He had quit his job as a Window Display artist at Sears-Roebuck and financed his Custom Car Creations work through sales of the ‘Monster’ T-shirts, travelling around to various Custom & Hot Rod Shows and related events for years, parlaying his designs into lucrative licensing agreements with Revell, for the Model Kits. Today we think of the T-shirt, with any manner of design on it, to be anywhere from ‘Designer’ couture – as in a simple black petite ladies T-shirt with ‘Prada’ on the front, to a 12 year-old’s latest Volcom ‘Surfwear’ 18-color-cool-for-a-week-design.
Every time you see some ‘Metal’ or ‘Punk’-flavoured design or ‘Urban’ streetwear, and All the Kids and Half the Adults are ‘rocking’ Cool Skulls-this-or-that, you’ve got Big Daddy Roth to Thank, because he Did it First…
Roth did his original shirts by hand, graduating to silkscreens in one to 3-4 colors, a contemporary of Mr. Andy Warhol with regard to screenprinting technology. Considering a Warhol screenprint is now worth several hundred-thousand to millions of dollars – at the same time Big Daddy was knocking out hundreds of screenprints, all the while producing 3-dimensional full-size Rolling & Driving Works of Art.
Another often overlooked aspect of Big Daddy’s Intellect were his sometimes subtle to blatant messages to Us Kids on the subjects of Anti -War, Question-Authority, yet showing Respect to Soldiers, Servicemen & Country, Government, Cops, The Establishment & encouraging us to ‘Stick It to the Man’.
Of course it was All in Fun and he was just Covering All His Bases. This was 1963-1965, Vietnam was still relatively unknown to the Average Kid, but the Big Kids knew, and Roth was speaking to them too ~
Although Roth knew Full Well – Kids were his Audience, his Army in America and We Were the Future …
…he wasn’t always so Popular with the Parents..but in Retrospect – through his Crazy California Ways, his Humour with Tongue Firmly in Cheek and his Unmistakable Genius, maybe he was Right…and perhaps now one can ask – have we Learned any Lessons he was trying to Let Us in On ?
I was In The Presence of The Great Big Daddy Roth Twice. Once at the young age of my Peers in the photo above, at an L.A. Car Show, watching Roth airbrush T-shirts, just like in the photo up top there, by himself working away, covered in paint ~ a cloud of enamel haze around his head.
He obviously made an impression, as 10 or 15 years later, I was now a young Graphic Designer/Sign Maker sharing a studio not entirely different than Roth’s above with an early partner, whose Dad was Head of the Graphics and Sign Shop at Knott’s Berry Farm. Big Daddy was working there at the time, toward the End of his Career. So of course we went to see him, and I was Beside Myself. Walking into this archaic wooden, very rural-style shop left over from the Early 30′s Days of Knott’s, my expression upon meeting him was no doubt like those of the boys in that photo above, a Jaw-Dropping Idol of mine. I had been One of Those Kids. Roth had managed to Pinstripe, Flame, Scroll and Letter – in tiny script practically the entire surface of the Shop Interior with Big DaddySpeak.
With a wry grin, towering over me – he shook my hand and chatted with us for a few minutes, before mounting his Equally Vintage Cruiser Bike, also completely BigDaddy-ized with Perfect Pinstriping and Dazzling Druid Decoration on every inch of metal surface, as He Rode off on yet another Fantasy Mission into the California Sunset ~
It’s Important to Remember, or to learn anew about Where We Live – for California has Contributed Greatly to the Arts, even inadvertently through other Intentions and Inventions in the Past, now considered Art Forms…
In our Typical Jaded California & Occasionally Uninformed Way, it took Two Non-Californians to Remind Us Locals that indeed, Time Waits for No One, and Rust Never Sleeps. Los Senores Mick Jagger & Neil Young ~ Muchas Gracias Hombres
Therein lies the Essence of our Stories here in Federico de California. As all of Our Highly Regarded FdeC Researchers are currently Out on Spring Break surfing, snowboarding, hiking, skiing, just Generally Carryin’ On or Out on WalkAbout ~ It’s left to me to Tell the Tale…
In the Beginning there were The Chumash ~ They had it all to themselves. Abalone of several pounds on the Beaches and Lobster in the Tidepools. Wild Game in the Hills and Mountains, Bear, Deer, Mountain Lions, abundant Halibut and freshwater Trout in the Streams. They Fashioned their jewelry from Abalone and Conch Shells strung with leather from hides. Their Canoes were light and fast, carved of wood in sections and the seams sealed with tar, natural seepage from the Natural Petroleum offshore. They lived in villages along the ocean, pretty much Grooving on the California Scenery much the way we do today, in places like Umalibo ~
Scholars differ regarding the meaning of its name; although it is certain that “Malibu” can be traced back to the Umalibo ranch belonging to the native Chumash Indians, the actual meaning of the word is uncertain, although it could well be the name of a person. And Albeit Several Generations later, The Greatest California Surfer of them all, none other than Miklos Sandor Dora, a 1st generation Californian of Hungarian descent, along with the Chumash should well have monuments erected to them along the Coast of Malibu today. It was they who most truly appreciated their place and although separated by many generations and cultures,
I like to think they Understood Each Other in that regard…
It is in a Most California Hurry Up & Remodel – Screw the Past Way, many of us today do not understand, California is an Art Form in of Itself ~
And Then, one day The Chumash looked up from their village to see the White Sails of the first Europeanos ~ The first outside explorers, flying the flags of Spain and of England, as they sailed along the coast of California for the first time from the early 1500s to the mid-1700s, but no European settlements were established. The most important colonial power, Spain, focused attention on its imperial centers in Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines. Confident of Spanish claims to all lands touching the Pacific Ocean (including California), Spain sent an exploring party sailing along the California coast. The California seen by these ship-bound explorers was one of hilly grasslands and wooded canyons, with few apparent resources or natural ports to attract colonists. And with these first Explorers from Another Land, so came the first Objets d’Art with them. It can be said travellers from Ancient Peru and even the Sandwich Islands (Hawai’i) and Beyond preceded them, but that is all getting a Little Heavy for old Federico ~ as I have mentioned, the Staff Anthropologists are all Out To Lunch. We’re here for the Art & The Culture a little more as We Know it Today…
Talavera pottery is the Mexican variation of the Spanish majolica produced in Talavera de la Reina and other Spanish cities and which derived from Italian Renaissance Majolica, with Islamic influences. The craft arrived in Mexico after the Conquest (1500′s) when the city of Puebla was settled. Talavera is a very stylish and beautiful glazed pottery originally produced in Puebla only by Spanish artisans as glazing was unknown in pre-Hispanic Mexico. It is likely these were some of the first types of Objets D’Art brought by the Europeanos into California, and Talavera pottery and tiles were produced in great quantities to meet the need for architectural tiles, tableware and utilitarian pottery in the New Spain. For New Spain was what California was About to Become. Baja California, specificially La Paz, was one of the original Ports of Call for the Spanish coming aboard. This is Somewhat Before Carlos N’ Charlie’s and the Giggling Marlin were Established.
The Espanoles were also very skilled Woodworkers & Carpenters, bringing with them Religious Objets D’ Art in the form of Paintings – many from Italy. Altars, Furniture, Doors and all manner of Dieties, Crucifixes and as we shall see, eventually in Part 2 ~
Their Descendants in Mexico, who created that Ultimate California Kitsch Folk Art Souvenir ~ The Mexican Black Velvet Painting. Honour the Dios !
A new Breed of the Populace Had Emerged ~ Los Californios …
As we Now have all of these Talented, Creative & Romantic-Minded Spanish Folk in our Backyard, of course They were all having Such a Good Time, and as Californians have been known to do, especially when on an Extended Holiday in Baja ~ in the Parlance of the day…it was Time to Party.
The New Californio people possessed a European background of Literacy in the Arts, Skilled Trades and Horsemanship. In one Big Rock & Roll Move, they brought with them the Spanish Guitar. Their Explorer adventuresome spirit, bred with the Distinctly Mexican skills and resources in Mining, Cuisine, and the Numero Uno skill of Tequila Distilling. So…Now it’s all starting to Make Some Sense, ¿Que No? A handsome New Breed of People were ready to Bring it On and Venture Norte’…
Early Californio Artesanos naturally made handicrafts more of necessity than decoration, however combining a skill gradually more refined and ornate. With the abundance of Mexican Silver enriching not only the Spanish government, also through the trappings of the Well-to-Do, especially in form of Saddlery and Jewelry. a Vaquero’s saddle was not only testament to his skill as a rider, also to his Position in Society, much the same as Today’s California Car Culture.
Many decorative designs in 1800′s Native Mexico for Blankets, Serapes, Ponchos and Jewelry motifs were borrowed from those of Native North American Hopi, Navajo, Zuni and Ancient Anasazi Indian tribes. The geometric patterns were inherited from thousands of years of related cultures not far away in Arizona and New Mexico, or Pre-Colombian motifs to the South. The Spanish introduced Colonial influences from their holdings and all were absorbed into a Progressive Climate of Growth in the arts, forming the basis of much of California’s Cultural Arts ancestry today ~
As the Mexicanos & Californios migrated North, and were influenced by Native American design, the Biggest Factor in Commercializing Mexican Culture into California came by way of the Easterners & Midwesterners in America ~ California Here Come the Yanquis ~
Prominent Yankee businessmen & Families made their Way West as the Railroad progressed ever further toward Virgin California. The Mexican Californio Government had established Presidios staffed initially by the Spanish and gradually giving way to Mexican rule throughout the Californias in the Early 1800′s. However ~ once high-falutin’ Soldier & Warrior-minded Yankee Businessmen like John C.Fremont made their ways into California to the North, followed by the likes of the Irvines, The Hollisters and the Stanfords.
All these stiff-lipped White Boys with their Patrician East Coast ways came on Hell-Bent to Take Over. Mexican Rancho and Land Grants to 1st-Generation Californios and Mexicanos were gradually taken up by the Easterners, and they Sure as Hell weren’t going to be imbibing any California Indio Tequilas or wearing Navajo Concho belts. And On They Came ~ And they’re Still Coming. They brought their English, Irish & French Baroque Upper-Crust style of Painting and their Harpsichords all in Major chords, and much the same as the sound of a major key Clashes with those of Andalusian and African-rooted Minor key Spanish guitar…
During the Bear Flag Revolt, Frémont imprisoned José de los Santos Berreyesa, the alcalde, or mayor, of Sonoma; two Berreyesa brothers; and others he believed were against him. On June 28, 1846, Berreyesas’ father, prominent landowner José de los Reyes Berreyesa, crossed the San Francisco Bay and landed near San Quentin with two cousins, twin sons of Francisco de Haro, the first alcalde of the Presidio of San Francisco. Berreyesa intended to visit his sons in jail. Frémont ordered Carson and two others to shoot and kill the three Californios, as there was no room for more prisoners. Later, Carson told Jasper O’Farrell that he regretted killing the men, but that the act was only one such that Frémont ordered him to commit..
Within a very short time, Fremont & His Yankee Army went South to capture first – The Presidio at Santa Barbara, and On South to Capture the Pueblo de Los Angeles. The Mexican -American War was over ~ and the Yankees were Now Large and In Charge of all California Norte. Now that all this War-Mongering was over, The Yankee Business Machine went to work and the Classic Spanish Period was over ~ at least until Yankee Ingenuity hit on the Great Idea of marketing California’s Own Native Culture Back to Itself…
All this Back-selling of one’s own resources from under their feet smacks of one of California’s Characters of Fiction ~ however loosely based on fact….
One of the Earliest Yankee Artisans to embrace the Spanish-Mexican Arts Culture and market it successfully as a saleable Art Form was an authority on Architecture from New York, William Spratling. Spratling had travelled West first to New Orleans and visited Mexico, first in 1926. Spratling quickly was introduced to and became a welcome participant in the artistic circles of Mexico. His activities in promoting the art of Diego Rivera among New York galleries led to his participation in the first exhibition of Mexican arts held in the United States. The exhibit was funded by the Carnegie Institute and opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Spratling assisted in assembling the exhibit and also lent a number of his own pieces. During this same period, Spratling was working on drawings for the expanding Morrow home in Cuernavaca. Many of these drawings were included in the book written by Elizabeth Morrow, Casa Mañana.
Dwight Morrow, the US Ambassador to Mexico, suggested to Spratling in 1931 that Taxco had been the site of silver mines for centuries. However, Taxco had never been considered a location where jewelry and objects of silver were designed and made. Subsequently, Spratling hired an experienced goldsmith from Iguala who moved to Taxco and created silver jewelry of Spratling’s design. Other craftsmen joined Spratling’s shop and produced tin ware, copper items, textiles and furniture – all designed by Spratling.
These earliest designs were based on pre-Columbian motifs as well as simple themes utilizing rope borders, strap designs and other such basic ideas. The enterprise grew far beyond Spratling’s expectations. Because he had created an apprentice system of training young silversmiths, many new talented artisans had an opportunity to develop their craft. Over time, many of these artisans opened shops of their own – all with Spratling’s support.
Other Enterprising Yankees ~ influenced by the Emerging Success of Latin Style & Culture through Artists like Matisse & Picasso, would soon realize a Spanish Cultural Revival in Architecture, The Arts & Design, Ceramics, Furniture & Music and would soon Capitalize on the once fading and Now re-emerging Spanish Style…as we shall see…