Monday, January 15, 2018

L.A. Diary

Entering the Los Angeles Basin overlooking downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood Hills and the San Gabriels beyond on Thursday afternoon Pacific Time about 3:30. The heavy smog obscures much of the green and gives much that rusty, grey pallor. Photo: JH.
Monday, January 15, 2018. Martin Luther King Day.

The weather in New York is very cold, as it was over the weekend (according to the reports), with some snow predicted for tomorrow. I wouldn't know about any of that personally because this past Thursday JH and I traveled to Los Angeles for a business meeting and stayed through the weekend, returning yesterday evening. To the cold.

It was beautiful January weather out there — mid-70s and sunny in the daytime and down to the mid-50s at starry night. Los Angeles nights are beautiful because of the juxtaposition of the Basin with the stars in the sky. It almost looks like it was concocted by a Set Designer which, for all we mere mortals may know, maybe so.
Take off Thursday noontime from JFK over the ice-covered Long Island waters.
It should be noted for the sake of reality that only 250 miles north in Montecito a catastrophe was unfolding when mudslides and rains roared into the very smart and beautiful village with torrential rains that followed the devastating fires of a week before. The mudslides and flooding that came from the mountains and hillsides were almost instantaneous in destroying everything natural and man made in its path. Many people not only lost their homes but lost their kin and friends who were swept away or smashed by the boulders and trees and buried under the muds.

Much of California is subject by nature to floods, earthquakes and fires. And thus it has always been. However, its very agreeable climate and the beauty of the lands draws us by the tens of millions to be there. The damage that has been done to many parts of this community by the fires and floods is so catastrophic that it will be a very long time before it will return to its great beauty.

Los Angeles. Regular readers probably remember that I lived there between 1978 and 1992. I loved living there. In that time, I became a devout convert to LA and its surrounding climate. Its beauty is the temptation one is led into. And not all of its purveyors and promoters are delivered from evil. That too adds to its exotic quality.  Think the movie Chinatown. Well there it is in a nutshell.

This is the first time I’ve been back there in about ten years. JH’s has been out there a couple of times with his wife Danielle, in the past couple of years. I had been told that it had “changed” a lot and that the traffic was horrible. And that it’s not the same.

On Friday and Saturday we took some time to visit old friends and to see parts of LA where I lived. JH naturally turned it into a photo story, from departure from New York to sunset over LA.
The first couple hours of the flight was white clouds for as far as you could see, providing that grey below that we were leaving.
Crossing Nebraska from 35,000 feet. This looks like a work of an artist, perhaps a sculpture, and perhaps it was but it's also what Nebraska in January 2018 looks like — snow-covered and marked by the Earth's transitions as far as you can see, as well as the farmers' effect.
From southwestern Nebraska to not-so-snow covered central Colorado.
And looking down on the majestic Rocky Mountains from 35,000 feet.
More Rockies and even more off in the northern distance.
The elegant Mother Nature's perfect as an artist.
From Colorado into Arizona about two hours east of Los Angeles.
The Grand Canyon in the early afternoon.
More. It looks grim and forbidding, and unforgiving from this distance.
JH had Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds playing on the TV. This scene is from "Two Weeks With Love" in a clip of her and Carleton Carpenter doing a musical number singing "Abba Dabba Honeymoon." The record of them singing was a million seller and is what persuaded Louis B. Mayer that she should play the female lead in "Singin' In the Rain" with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor.
She was 17 when she did this scene. If you've never seen it, you can find it on YouTube. It is amazing what this teenage girl, a cheerleader and phys ed devotee from Burbank High School, could do.
I'm not quite sure where this is, very possibly Palm Springs as we're now closer to Los Angeles coming in from the south.
Still closer to LA.
And there it is on a winter's afternoon in January 2018.
And here is DPC trekking down the very long almost deserted corridor from the Jet Blue plane to the baggage claim at LAX.
And this guy is Christmas, having just disembarked from our flight. He was traveling with a couple (he is a Cuban filmmaker named Yassel Iglesias) who shares their house with him.
Beginning the rush hour trip from LAX onto La Cienega Boulevard on our way into West Hollywood.
And on the hillsides on either side of the roadway are the pumps working the oil fields that first drew the entrepreneurs and adventurers into Los Angeles more than a century ago.
La Cienega now in town driving north to Sunset Boulevard.
Inching our way towards Sunset and the hills.
Registered in at the Andaz, formerly the Hyatt, revamped and updated on Sunset Boulevard and Kings. I stayed here in the mid-'70s when I came to a friend's wedding and it was called the Hyatt. I chose it for the location and the great view of the western part of the Basin. It was a great choice, well located, a midpoint. Plus the service was excellent and courteous in an "Is there anything I can do to help?" way. And great views of the city.
That night we went to dinner with Nikki Haskell at Craig's on Melrose, a very popular spot, very Hollywood, babes and all. The place was filled. Howard Rosenman, who produced the recently released hit film "Call Me By Your Name," was across the way. And in the banquette behind us, Joan Collins and Percy Gibson were dining with public relations exec Jeffrey Lane and literary agent Alan Nevins. Craig's is jammed like this every night of the week. Very Hollywood.
Here, Nikki is FaceTiming me at the table.
JH's main course: Fish Piccata.
The trio.
Here is Nikki with her very tall friend waiting for the valet to bring the car.
And here's the car, rented just to match our guest's fur coat on this chilly (55 degrees) night.
Having taken Nikki to her home on the Wilshire Corridor, we return on the strip to the hotel.
JH took one last photo for the night, looking west toward Century City.
Some believe that the actual meaning of 11:11 is a sign that angelic beings are close by.  They come with love and protection, and they want to bring you clarity and guidance. Let's hope so.
The view across toward West L.A. Friday morning about 7 a.m. as the sun was just rising.
The construction crane across the boulevard, about 12 stories high towering over our hotel.
And eight miles to the East the view of downtown LA in the early morning hour.
That's me coming into the lobby from the elevators looking to join JH for breakfast and not seeing that I was going the wrong way.
Breakfast is served.
Later in the afternoon, meetings over and jeans on. I never notice just quite how long my feet are. I would not have taken this photograph but JH thought it was appropriate since I have dogs and this one was "awaiting" me in the hotel room.
This hole in the ground across the street on Sunset was once the legendary House of Blues. This hole is about fifty or sixty feet deep. I was told another hotel will be built on it.
A man in his garden up on Doheny Drive in the bird streets where I lived when I was out here.
Behind these corner windows there once sat a baby grand piano which was often played by me and by others when I lived in this house in the 1980s.
We stopped by Greystone, the Doheny Mansion where the famous unsolved murders of Ned Doheny and his childhood friend and business associate Hugh Plunkett took place in 1929 only three months after Doheny moved into the house. It is now a city park.
The Inner Courtyard at Greystone.
We then stopped by the residence of Debbie Reynolds on 1700 Coldwater Canyon. This property when I lived out here belonged to Edith Head, the costume designer at Paramount Pictures who won more Oscars than any other individual. It was originally built at the beginning of the 20th century by a man from Quincy Massachusetts in the style of a large farmhouse. Edith collected antique farm implements which she placed carefully in her large barn-like living room. Behind the house was a swimming pool and a lot of foliage. There was a two-story wing in the back where Elizabeth Taylor would often stay between her early husbands. Carrie Fisher bought the property after Edith died and either she or an investor built the two houses on the either side of the foot of the driveway.
Debbie's house is on the south side of the driveway, and only a few steps from Carrie's house.
Afterwards, we grabbed a delicious late lunch down on Fairfax at a pizza restaurant called Jon & Vinny's. JH is a connoisseur of pizzas and a friend told him the pizzas were the best. His friend was right. We later learned that Jon & Vinny's is famous in L.A.
This one is called "LA Woman" and features a layer of tomato sauce, chunks of burrata and a few basil leaves.  It was one of three we shared with a couple of friends. All of them fantastic.
And who should we run into but Essie, who lives with her husband in Malibu at this time of year. They had driven in all the way from Malibu for some pizza.
Essie had just had a manicure. And of course she's wearing her Essie nail polish, having created and named the popular polishes. I was told HRH Elizabeth II wears Essie. Her favorite is "Ballet Slippers."
Back out on Fairfax Avenue calling a friend about dinner on Saturday night.
The parking lot on the other side of Fairfax Avenue from Jon & Vinny's.
And back on the Strip where entire sides of buildings (such as our hotel) are advertising movies or TV shows.
Looking west along the Strip, a sea of fabulous billboards.
We walked from the hotel down to Le Petite Four restaurant on Sunset Plaza. This was the mustard chicken with fries. Good.
And then the desserts. Le Petite Four was originally a pastry shop. I had the Napoleon although three other selections were made at the table.
Walking back to the hotel after dinner. Those are Cindy Crawford's kids posing for Calvin Klein.
Janet Echelman’s "Dream Catcher" connects two buildings on Sunset.
The view of the city from across the Strip, looking over the construction site. 10 p.m.
Back in the room, looking across Sunset toward downtown at 11 p.m., with the Sunset Tower in the left foreground.
The crane and the same at that hour.
Back on the same scene early Saturday morning as the Sun was rising. There were a long line of contrails across the Basin.
Our hotel the Andaz looking from the East at 9 a.m. I think if they did that anywhere else – the wallboard – it would be regarded as tacky, but here in this light, it has it own kind of class, maybe kitsch class, but wonderful to look at. I love the Sunset Strip for these gigantic ads.
On the other side of Kings Road, Carney's burgers has been in business for more than 40 years.
Looking from Sunset down Harper Avenue towards Fountain.
The same view from another spot.
Saturday morning at ten we went down to Melrose and North Croft in West Hollywood (or what a lotta of the residents now refer to as WeHo) to Croft Alley, Michael Della Femina, Chef Phuong Tran and Madison Bright's celebrity packed LA Eatery located in the alley between Croft and Melrose. This is a very casual neighborhood spot that is hidden from the glitz of Melrose just footsteps away and has delicious food.
It was packed by the noon hour.
The Kitchen of Croft Alley.
JH's breakfast.
Michael, who is a New Yorker by birth and breadth, plans to be spending more time back here in the new year working with his production partners Jon Friedman (who also happens to be JH's cousin) and Michael Mailer on a season of their cult comedy series, "Ivy League Crimelords." Della Femina is also working on a sitcom based on (where else but) a restaurant on Melrose Place.
Chef Phuong, Madison Bright, and Michael Della Femina outside "Croft Alley."
Leaving the restaurant back on Melrose, this young lady was strolling the avenue in an evening dress resembling the one at the Golden Globes that was slit up to almost the top of her hip. In the distance is a photographer catching the "stroll."
We went over to visit a housemate Sara Romilly from my days on Doheny. On the way to her, we passed the Schindler house on Kings Road and Willoughby. Built in 1922, this house is now a landmark. As you can see it was a shockingly new design almost a century ago.
The mailbox to the house, set in the wall.
Here is Sara standing next to sketch that Bob Schulenberg did of her back in those days. (Schulenberg’s Page runs every Thursday on the NYSD)
Sara pointed out these portraits of her grandmother with her mother and her mother’s sister, (left) taken in their native England, circa 1916, and (right) a photo of her grandmother (circa 1870) with Sara’s great-grandmother and great-uncle.
A framed photo at Sara’s, taken of Sara, me, and Michael Duthie and Donna Estes-Antibi, all of whom shared the life at the house on North Doheny.
Here I am at our visit,with Donna Estes-Antibi, JH and Sara.
Leaving Sara’s, we stopped at a nearby Gelson’s to pick up some bottled water. JH was taken by the vegetable and fruit display.
This line by a construction site on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood is not for a movie, but for entrance to Medmen, a cannabis dispensary which we learned opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 9:45 p.m. This photo was taken about 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
We were on our way to meet another friend (and one-time resident of the house on North Doheny), Channing Chase, who lives in the Los Feliz section of LA. The Formosa Café in the photo is another kind of landmark, a cultural hotspot which first opened in 1925 by a retired boxer who loved trains. Restored last year, in its day it was a go-to spot and next to the Goldwyn Studio (now the Warner Hollywood Studios – now called The Lot). Always busy, stars like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Humphrey Bogart passed through its doors. It's been said it was where Sinatra pined for Ava Gardner, where John Wayne passed out at the bar only to wake up the next morning to cook himself breakfast in the kitchen.
The building was originally a Red Car trolley (that moved on along tracks on the boulevard).
JH said he took this photo simply because he loved the color coordination.
Driving up La Brea avenue on our way to Channing's, there's the Hollywood sign. The sign originally was Hollywoodland, a real estate development, erected in 1923 as an advertisement when the Hollywood real estate was just being developed (thanks to the presence of many movie studios such as Paramount, RKO), and lit by 4000 incandescent bulbs to attract motorists. Its planners, John D. Roche, a publicist, and Harry Chandler, who was the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, scaled the letters 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide so that it could be seen on Wilshire Boulevard (and actually all over the Los Angeles Basin). Originally just an advertisement and neglected afterwards, over time the letter "H" collapsed and fell off in the 1940s. The plan was to demolish the entire sign but someone had the bright idea of restoring the rotting letters and removing the "LAND." In 1949, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce restored it.
The Hollywood sign in the distance.
And here we are at Channing’s house in the hills of Los Feliz. Built in 1925 and bought from the original owner-builder by Channing’s husband, former advertising executive and art gallerist Dan Saxon in the 1960s. The house with all of the design accouterments of the original house still has its original stove in the kitchen – in perfect working condition (and it’s used daily).
The view from the upstairs terrace of the city.
Sitting outside behind the house is Bob Schulenberg (who was, as is his lifelong habit) sketching his friends while we conversed about our times in LA when Channing and I were sharing the house on North Doheny.
Another view of the city from the back of Channing and Dan’s house in the hills of Los Feliz. Originally an upscale development in the 1920s, Cecil B. DeMille lived in a mansion down below. One of his neighbors was W. C. Fields who lived across the way from him. In the 1980s, a new star named Lily Tomlin bought the Fields mansion with her partner, writer Jane Wagner, and restored it.
Here we are at the front door just before leaving – l. to r., Dan Saxon, Channing, Bob, and me.  I’m always astounded when I see photos like this, of how tall I am compared to my close lifelong friends who always seemed at least close to my height.
Channing bids us good-bye.
Back at the Andaz, JH couldn’t resist more shots of “the view. This one is of West Hollywood looking south eastward.
And at sunset looking toward the towers of downtown LA.
And here we are on Third Street in Santa Monica looking at the original (and still) Michael’s Restaurant, older sister of Michael’s in New York where JH and I dined with two more old friends of mine from my LA days – Andy Reznik, a set designer who works almost exclusively on major commercials where costs run into the seven figures, and Richard Ayoub, who is Executive Director of Project Angel Food in Los Angeles.
Looking towards the back of Michael's, which is a garden outdoors (covered and well heated when it is “colder” outside), Michael McCarty first opened – in this same building – forty years ago. Michael divides his time between Santa Monica and New York, and the Third Street location is managed by his son Chaz.
Diners being served in the garden (where we also sat).
Two of our many delectable dishes: Young Chicken with chicories, chives, and tarragon dressing.
And the Pork Collar with black olive honey, Japanese cauliflower, and pomegranate.
And here’s the old boy with friend Richard (l.) and Andy (r.) This is the first time we’ve been together in several years although we keep in touch regularly and occasionally I see one of them when he travels to New York.
10:40, diners have enjoyed their dinners and gone home. (LA people tend to, generally speaking, go to bed earlier than New Yorkers – and get up earlier too).
A couple of diners, having finished their dinners, are checking their cell phones (something they never did forty years ago of course).
Michael has a large art collection accumulated over the years – his wife Kim McCarty is a major artist who sells her work at a gallery here in New York as well as in Paris. The Men's and Ladies' rooms in his restaurants also have his collections. In New York, those rooms have photographs by Dennis Hopper. In New York the Men's Room has photos of Andy Warhol with David Hockney and Henry Geldzahler, as well as Brooke Hayward (married to Hopper at the time). I learned on Saturday night that artist Judy Chicago gave Michael this photograph of herself in a revealing portrait with the specific intention of hanging it in the Men's Room in Santa Monica since the Ladies' Room has photographs of men.
Here's Michael showing Richard and Andy ...
In the bar area after the dessert, the drinks, the coffees ... and time to go home.
I walked into this shot unintentionally. I’m not quite sure what Michael’s laughing about, and there’s JH finally in the picture, with his nose pressed up against the glass.
G’night L.A.; great to see you again.
 

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