Last night Patrick and I tracked down our folding chairs, as they had not been out since our move, and trundled up I-5 to my dad’s old stomping ground of Downey. One of the iconic suburbs of Los Angeles, Downey is lush with Googie architecture and neon as well as rich with unique American history from the mid-20th century, and last night the Ambassador of Americana himself, Charles Phoenix, paid homage to it.
For those unfamiliar with Phoenix, he is a man with a passion very similar to mine, that of the mid-20th century and its stellar signage, killer modern buildings, classic cars with fins reaching toward the stars and everything that is kitschy. He tours the country doing shows featuring vintage slides from his personal collection that he has amassed over the years. He also shares his glorious images and wealth of knowledge in books, such as Southern Californialand and Americana the Beautiful. You can see all of his books, and more by visiting his website. Basically Phoenix is a bacon of hope and inspiration for Americana lovers, as he preaches the gospel of unique American history and preservation, and last night he teamed up with The Downey Conservancy and the Columbia Memorial Space Center to for a presentation showing the unique and spectacular history of Downey. Plus there were two opening bands! The Ameba People, an awesome science themed rock band (seriously think if Bill Nye the Science Guy had a band), who also happen to be the house band for the Space Center (the only museum to have a house band) and The Noble Gasses, where the bass player is also the director of the Space Center, who played music that was originally recorded at Downey Records.
So, what makes Downey super cool? It’s home to some of the most American icons around, including the oldest McDonald’s, Harvey’s Broiler Drive-In, now Big Boy’s, the original Taco Bell, which I’ll talk more about in a moment, and is the location where they built the Apollo capsules!
Now, about the Taco Bell. I know what some of you are saying… “Taco Bell…? Really?” Look. Fast food is one thing that is uniquely American. Fast food was built around America’s love affair with their automobiles and the birth of the freeway system and the legendary road trip, all of that was born here. Fast food is part of that unique American culture and we need to work on preserving it. So, yes, right now, the very first Taco Bell is in danger of meeting the wrecking ball, and a group of preservationists, We Are The Next, is trying to save it. Seriously, check them out, if you are a SoCal resident, and especially if you are a SoCal teacher, as they do work with schools!
And speaking of Taco Bell, it may have had an influence in going for a Mexican theme with my ensemble for the evening. Originally I wanted to do a space theme, but that outfit didn’t come together for the weather, which was an odd mix of chilly, but humid. But it meant I got to break out one of my favorite, and rarely used purses, a Mexican tourist purse! Yes, Mexican tourist purse!
I look forward to visiting the remaining icons of Downey, many of which my dad visited growing up, as he grew up in the Downey, Bell and Lynwood are. As well as the Columbia Memorial Space Center!