Throughout our entire trip there was lots of yelling “I’m pulling over!” or “Pull over!” depending on who was driving. Sometimes it was quite frantic. I have been called “dramatic” at times. But I just can’t help myself when I see a good vintage neon sign! And boy were there a lot of good ones! Some were attached to businesses still operating, others abandoned. So, in my last road trip post I share a collection of all of the gorgeous signs we saw, plus a few images of their accompanying buildings if the were pretty neat looking too!
When I think about iconic old Los Angeles, a few places immediately spring to mind. The Bradbury Building, LA City Hall, Angels Flight, Griffith Observatory, and Clifton’s Cafeteria. Clifton’s is most certainly an institution in here southern California, and it’s one that was reborn last night, and Patrick and I were lucky enough to attend the grand re-opening. There are three stories that I feel are important to tell, so, this is going to be a longer than normal post.
First I want to tell the story of Clifton’s Cafeteria and its owner, Clifford Clinton. And while at first that may sound kind of boring, I’m telling you it borders on sounding like a James Elroy novel. The first Clifton’s Cafeteria was opened by Clifford Clinton (the name Clifton’s was created by taking portions of his first and last name and putting them together), in 1931, and was called Clifton’s Pacific Seas. The cafeteria was jungle themed, with murals, faux palm trees, waterfalls, and, my favorite detail, a rainfall every twenty minutes. The Pacific Seas location would remain open until 1960. Clinton opened his second cafeteria in 1935, Clifton’s Brookdale as it was called, and it featured a Redwoods inspired interior, rock work and water features. Clinton opened his cafeterias during one of America’s most difficult time periods, the Great Depression, and while other restaurants were turning away customers who couldn’t pay, Clinton had the following printed on guest checks, “Regardless of the amount of this check, our cashier will cheerfully accept whatever you wish to pay – or you may dine for free.” His openness did not end there. In a time when there were separate drinking fountains and much, much more for blacks and whites, Clinton welcomed everyone, regardless of race.
In the same year, Clinton was invited to inspect the food operations at LA County General Hospital, and it was the stepping off point on a crusade against corruption. At the hospital, Clinton made a report siting waste and poor patient treatment, and offered suggestions to trim the budget, but what he didn’t know was that the hospital and its budget had political ties, and Clinton’s suggestions were not welcome ones. In 1937, Clinton found himself selected for LA County Grand Jury, and specifically a jury that would hear offenses punishable by a year or more in prison, and the service would last one year. Shocked by what he learned while serving, and the resistance he met within the grand jury, Clinton created his own group, Citizens’ Independent Vice Investigating Committee (CIVIC). He compiled a report highlighting the relationship between city officials and the criminal underworld, and after the grand jury refused to print it, Clinton printed it himself. After the report, Clinton soon found his own restaurants were being issued violations, and even lawsuits by people claiming food poisoning and more. In October of 1937, a bomb exploded in the basement of Clinton’s Los Feliz home, and just a little while later, another bomb exploded in the car of an ex-cop, who was giving information to Clinton. The bombing was tied to an LAPD Captain, who was soon put on trial. The trial also exposed that the Captain was running illegal wiretaps, and soon the public became aware of the corruption within the city’s government. With the bombing and other corruption now pubic, Clinton with his CIVIC allies then began a recall campaign against the mayor, and they were successful.
After Pearl Harbor and America’s entrance into World War II, Clinton, at 41, joined the army and worked as a mess officer. After the war, he attempted to run for mayor. When he lost, he turned to the problem of world hunger, and teamed up with a Caltech biochemist to develop a food supplement to give proper nutrition, and did so at the cost of five cents per meal, Multi-Purpose Food, as it would be called. He then used this to create Meals for Millions, which has continued to this day in the form of Freedom from Hunger. During his crusades against corruption and hunger, Clinton continued his restaurant businesses, and opened several more locations, however, Clifton’s Brookdale was the only one to survive, being sold in 2010 to Andrew Meieran, who then closed it for refurbishment, and underwent many, many delays, as well as $3 million before it reopened its doors Monday night.
The second story I want to tell is the shortest of the three. As some of you might already know, my dad is originally from the Los Angeles area. He grew up down here, and he can tell you where nearly every business used to be, and recalls stories of his childhood and teenage years before he headed to Oregon for college. It is his stories, along with California’s lush history, that I want to track down and relive, they are stories that inspire me. When he told me about visiting Clifton’s, I longed to go, and Clifton’s shot to the top of the list of places to visit after we moved. But, like many, we found out we had to wait.
And now, the wait is over, and I get to tell you about our experience! Clifton’s Grand Re-Opening was a ticketed event to benefit the LA Conservancy, and Patrick had surprised me with tickets awhile ago. So I had been eagerly counting down the days, while simultaneously trying to avoid looking at pictures from the news articles that were popping up on the internet. Finally the day arrived, and the date couldn’t have been better as it fell on our one year anniversary of moving to California. Seriously, what better way to celebrate? Clifton’s pretty much sums up the reasons why I wanted to move here.
Clifton’s on one level may come across as kitsch to the max, but it is also incredibly charming, and classy. It still evokes all of the fun it did when it opened, while giving the menu a facelift, but there is still mac and cheese and Jell-O. I loved exploring its nooks and crannies, and taking pictures, despite difficulties (seriously, this place was a pain to shoot in, because it is so dark). During the party, the first and second floors were open to the General Admission (which we were), with the next two floors open for VIP admission (which we instantly regretted not purchasing, though they cost double what GA cost). And while the doors might be open, it’s still not completed. Talk of a tiki bar and speakeasy are on everyone’s lips, and I look forward to many, many returns during our visits into LA and exploring it even further.
Dress: Stars Antique Mall, Portland, Or.
Stockings: What Katie Did
Purse & Necklace: Antique Alley, Portland, Or.
Bangles: Buffalo Exchange
Shoes: I honestly don’t remember! Maybe Antique Alley as well…
Suit & Hat: Paper Moon Vintage, Los Angeles, Ca.
Shirt & Shoes: Nordstorm
Tie: Not sure…maybe found by my dad…
Today Patrick and I visited another incredibly icon of Los Angeles architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House.
Originally designed as a residence for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, the Hollyhock House house began construction in 1919, and was completed in 1921, and was Wright’s second ever project in California. It included a water feature that ran through the house, around the fireplace, and the rooftop was designed as a patio living space, with staircases going up outside, but each of these unique and innovated features played into the house never being used as a residence. Soon after completion, Barnsdall viewed the house as too costly to maintain and donated the house to the city of Los Angeles in 1927, however only if it was given a fifteen year lease to the California Art Club.
Over the years it has been used as an art gallery, and in 2007 became a National History Landmark. Recently went under a massive restoration, and was reopened to the public just this year. And I know what you’re thinking, the house has a temple like quality about it, right? It may be fun to know that the house was as a temple in the 1989 B-movie Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. You can watch the trailer and see shots of the Hollyhock House here.
Sadly, but understandably, they do not allow photographs inside, which is spectacular. The Hollyhock House is open Thursdays through Sundays, 11 am to 3 pm, and costs only $7 per person for a self-guided tour, though there are volunteers inside to provide you with more information. You can also learn more by visiting their website.
Pants (yes, they are pants!), Shoes & Bangles: Buffalo Exchange
Hat: Slone Vintage, Burbank, California
Necklace: Rummage sale, Portland, Oregon
Ring: Found by my dad
Purse: Actually a folio from Tanner Leather Goods, Portland, Oregon
Janey got the weekend before my birthday off we decided to do something special just in case she had to work during my birthday. We decided to take a tour of the most famous of the Case Study houses, #22 the Stahl House. Unlike most of the other Case Study houses the Stahl House was made famous by this Julius Shulman photograph, which depicts two women sitting and talking while appearing to hang in midair over the LA skyline. Among the Case Study houses the Stahl House has by far the best story.
In 1954 “Buck” Stahl was driving through the hills above Hollywood when he saw the site which was being used as a dumping ground for dirt and concrete. He saw the developer who owned the plot and bought the land on the spot for $13,500, about the price of a small house at the time. Over the next two years Buck and his wife Carlotta hauled dirt and concrete to the spot and an idea for a house began to form. Buck made a small model and began to show it various architects who all told him it couldn’t be built.
Finally in 1957 Buck found Pierre Koenig, who was designing the glass and steel Case Study House #21 and took on the task of turning Buck’s dream into a reality. In early 1959 Koenig suggested the Stahls submit the house to the Case Study program. The story goes that they crumpled up the application and threw it away only to pull it out of the trash and smooth it back out again. Later in 1959 just before groundbreaking the house was accepted into the program, but not because it was affordable (it cost $37,500 to build) or easily reproducible (the house is incredibly specific to the site) but because it pushed Modernist architecture to its limits and showed what was truly possible with the best materials and design of the day.
The house is all glass on three sides and every room has a sweeping view of LA below, every architectural design decision has been made to increase the view as much as possible to the exclusion of everything else. Nothing is load bearing except for the posts between the enormous panes of glass which were the largest available at the time of building. Koenig was also extremely clever with the designs, maximizing morning sun to warm the house and providing long eves on specific sides to keep in cool through the afternoon.
In 1960 Julius Shulman’s photos of the house appeared in Arts & Architechure as a part of the Case Study House program and launched the house into the spotlight. In 1962 an article appeared in Life, “Way Up Way of Living on California Cliffs” that featured several photographs of the house including one of Buck Stahl dangling off the edge of the cliff with a rope around his waist planting ivy to reenforce the hillside. The house has been used in dozens of movies, tv shows, commercials, and photo shoots since then.
In some ways I think the Stahl house captures something uniquely American, that Buck Stahl, a sign painter and graphic artist could devote 6 years to an idea and create it from literally the ground up. His famous quote “Nobody famous ever lived here” really sums up something about the classic American dream.
- Tours of the Stahl House
- Stahl House Wikipedia Article
- Original 1960 Article
- Wikipedia list of Case Study homes
- List of original articles
- Original introduction article
The Stahl House is open for tours on a regular basis and is one of only 2 that you can take a tour of. I really recommend the evening tour if you can make it, since you get to see the house in daylight, sunset and night. They let you take photographs only with cell phones and photos are for personal use only.
When Janey and I visited the Salton Sea last weekend we made sure to stop at the North Shore Yacht Club because it was designed by one of my favorite architects, desert modernist Albert Frey. After World War II, Frey designed some of Palm Springs most iconic buildings, including the Tramway Gas Station, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Palm Springs City Hall and, my personal favorite, Frey House II nestled up in the hills above Palm Springs. But among all his work the North Shore Yacht Club might be among the most whimsical, after all who better than the man who built a house around a boulder to design a yacht club in the middle of the desert?
Frey obviously had an immense amount of fun designing the club. From the exposed aluminum siding to the mast and nautical flags it looks like a giant ship about the set sail right off the shore. The club cost over $2 million to build (over $16 million today) but boasted the largest marina in California when it opened, and counted celebrities like Jerry Lewis, members of the Beach Boys and Marx Brothers were among its members. The club actually managed to stay open through the 1980s until a flood wiped out the marina and it was finally forced to close. After its closure some residents remember it being used for AA meetings until it was finally abandoned to rust away in the 1990s.
Finally in 2009 Riverside County funded a $3.35 million renovation to be used as a community center and museum. The team, which included the architect who also restored the Tramway Gas Station, had to strip eight layers of paint from the brickwork and search nationwide for the proper aluminum siding. Sadly, the museum is gone since its lease with the county expired, but the building is still in use as a senior center, community center and event space.
While Janey and I visited the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank last week we also decided to take a look at Case Study House #1. However, saying that the house in the photo above is the first Case Study House would be bending the truth a little. There is quite a history to the first Case Study House and its architect Julius Ralph Davidson.
Julius Ralph Davidson immigrated to the United States in 1923, working as a set designer for famed film director Cecil B. De Mille. He also began to design interiors, furniture and fixtures while remodeling homes. He also designed the famous Coconut Grove nightclub at the now demolished Ambassador Hotel, and in 1945 John Entenza, the editor of the magazine Arts and Architecture, invited him to design a home for the Case Study House Program.
The home designed for a hypothetical “Mr. and Mrs. X” was published in a 1945 issue of Arts and Architecture, but never built. The original designed called for a two story house, but, as you can see, the home was built as a single story home.
The house also included extensive built-ins, highlighting Davidson’s experience designing fixtures and furniture. Some of the highlights include a built in shoe closet in the wife’s dressing room, reading lights and book shelves around the beds, as well as extensive storage in the living room for a radio, record player, television, books and home movies, which Davidson notes could be projected on the wall above the built-in piano.
The initial design also featured a separate bathroom/dressing room for the husband and wife so the could both get ready for work at the same time. There are also easy access to garage and kitchen from the master bedroom, and a built in desk (with custom designed ceiling and desk lamps) so someone could get work done in the morning.
Unfortunately despite publication and massive publicity a client was never found and the house went unbuilt. However in 1948 Davidson revised the design for a client and it was constructed in 1948, but by that point several other homes for the Case Study program had been built so the house we saw was neither the first designed or the first built despite being labeled #1.
The revised design for the house has many hallmarks of the original, extensive built-ins, privacy, indoor-outdoor living and room for entertaining. There is a small garden hidden behind the ivy covered wall in the front and another attached to the master bedroom. There is also a guest bedroom behind the garage and separated from the rest of the house by a covered outdoor eating area.
- Original 1945 Article
- Updated 1948 Article
- Julius Ralph Davidson Bio
- Wikipedia list of Case Study homes
- List of original articles
- Original introduction article
Janey also bought be the Case Study Houses: The Complete CSH Program which has an incredible amount of drawings and photos and the original text of all the articles, which provided much more information for this house than another book we had.