Videos of Interest


Friday, January 30, 2015

Simon's Drive-In, Los Angeles, California Architect: Wayne McAllister

At one time Simon's Drive-Ins dominated the Southern California drive-in restaurant craze.  The Simon brothers had operated a chain of successful dairy lunch counters in downtown Los Angeles, and in 1935 decided to capitalize on the growing car culture of Los Angeles by opening auto friendly locations in the emerging commercial centers of Wilshire Boulevard, Sunset and Ventura Boulevards.

It was William Simon who decided on famed commercial architect Wayne McAllister to design their new drive-ins.  Architecturally, Simon's Drive-Ins were a complete departure from the angular, octagonal drive-in buildings of the 1920s.  McAllister gave the drive-ins their now fondly remembered neon lined roofs and pylons with 'Simons' spelled out in giant back-lit letters.  He virtually invented the Streamlined Moderne restaurant style that was to come to symbolize Los Angeles car culture in the late 1930s and throughout the 40s.

24 hour service was featured at the door-less drive-ins sporting wide canopies trimmed in metal.  The circular design of the buildings ensured that the many automobiles patronizing the establishment had ample room to maneuver, and arranged themselves at convenient angles for their signature carhop service.  Designed to be equally eye-catching at night as during the day, McAllister used both direct and reflected lighting to carefully accent the lettering and outstanding architectural elements of the buildings.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Biltmore Hotel Ballrooms, Los Angeles. Opened: 1923 Interior frescos: Giovanni Battista Smeraldi

The magnificent interiors of the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel are a prime example of the Renaissance style popular during the Beaux Arts period of architecture in the United States (1880-1920).  Designed by the architectural firm of Schultz & Weaver, it was associate architect Earl Heitschmidt who commissioned Giovanni Battista Smeraldi (known in the U.S. as John B. Smeraldi) to create many of the lavishly detailed interior ceilings.  Smeraldi's work can be seen in many historic public buildings in the United States, mainly on the ceilings, and he considered the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel to be his finest work in this country.  The current hotel restaurant off the old lobby is named after him.  Below are photographs I took recently of his incredible work during one of the wonderful walking tours given weekly by the Los Angeles Conservancy.  I highly encourage taking one!
Crystal Ballroom, Los Angeles Bitlmore Hotel. (November 2009)
This is the main ballroom.  This magnificent space was home to the first Academy Awards in 1927, and is the largest of the hotels ballrooms able to accommodate 700 people at tables.  The domed ceiling is a single canvas and the most detailed of Smeraldi's magnificent frescos.

Crystal Ballroom opposite wall, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. (November 2009)
The balconies visible in this photograph and the previous one extend from three of its walls.

Entryway to the Crystal Ballroom, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. (November 2009)
Photograph of a famous socialite in her specially designed gown representing the Crystal Ballroom and it's signature balconies (extending from the hip line of the gown).  She had this gown created for the grand opening gala in 1923.  This photograph hangs at the entry to the Crystal Ballroom.  For many years the actual gown stood in a glass case in the Galeria.

Emerald Room ceiling detail, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. (November 2009)
A golden retriever face stares down at guests from one of the many murals painted by Smeraldi on the beams of the Emerald Room depicting scenes of the hunt.  Once known as the Renaissance Room, it was the hotel's main dining room seating up to 400 guests.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

May Company, Wilshire & Fairfax, Los Angeles. Opened 1940. Architects: Albert C. Martin & S.A. Marx

David May founded what was to become The May Department Stores Company in Leadville, Colorado in 1877, one year before R.H. Macy founded his famous chain. It was in 1910 that the name The May Department Stores Company, later to be known as May Co., was officially incorporated. The May Company California division was established in 1923 when David May acquired A. Hamburger & Sons Co.

This striking building at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and S. Fairfax Ave. marks the western end of the "Miracle Mile" in Los Angeles, a brand new concept in city planning for the 1920s that centered around the automobile as opposed to the pedestrian. The May Company Wilshire, as it was soon to be known, was constructed in 1940 by architects Albert C. Martin & S.A. Marx.

I took these photographs when I first moved to the area in 1989. How well I remember the 'store closing' sale during it's final months. Sadly, I never photographed the exquisite interior, with its wood paneled elevators and it's polished escalators. In my mind I can still picture the interior as it was when I walked through the doors off Wilshire Blvd. The May Company chain dissolved in 1993 and many of it's stores became Macy's Department Stores. Happily, this building was preserved and acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They've retained its streamlined facade for future generations to appreciate.

May Company Wilshire, corner of Wilshire Blvd. & S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles (1989)

May Company Wilshire, looking east down Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles (1989)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Atomic Lounge: A Documentary by Filmmaker Robert Fantinatto

This is the trailer for a fascinating looking documentary from filmmaker Robert Fantinatto.  He writes,"Atomic Lounge is a 90 minute documentary that looks back at the Space-Age inspired architecture, design, fashion, and lifestyle of post-WWII America. The film will explore the conditions that led to a unique time in history when Americans experienced a dual sense of optimism for the future and fear of impeding nuclear holocaust. This period represents the critical point in the Western world when a culture of sincerity, confidence and conformity gave way to a general atmosphere of irony and pessimism."  While we're waiting for Atomic Lounge to become available, be sure to check out his other great documentaries at

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles. Opened 1923. Architects: Schultze & Weaver

A magnificent example of early Jazz Age architecture, the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (today known as the Millenium Biltmore) was the first major commission for architects Leonard Schultze and S. Fullerton Weaver, who started the firm of Schultze & Weaver in 1921.  A blend of Spanish and Italian Renaissance with an overall Beaux Arts style, it was meant as an homage to Los Angeles' Spanish heritage.  Modified through the decades (the main lobby was moved to the back of the building to allow for easier automobile access) it has received a multi-million dollar restoration and is quite a site to behold.  If you're in Los Angeles, don't miss the fascinating walking tour given by the Los Angeles Conservancy that takes place every Sunday starting at 2pm.

The monumental scale and Beaux Arts detail of the exterior facade of the entryway to the old lobby, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)

Interior view of the enormous window and moldings of the entrance to the old lobby, now the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)

The old lobby, now the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)  Afternoon tea is served, as well as Lunch and Dinner when it becomes La Bistecca.

One of the two chandeliers suspended over the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)

Detail of the intricate Spanish Renaissance style ceiling above the Rendezvous Court, Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (Nov 2009)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, California. Opened 2009. Architect: Chattell Architecture

Much has been written of the miraculous resurrection of architect Paul B. Clayton's 1958 original Harvey's, then Johnie's, and now Chattell Architecture's 2009 restoration Bob's Big Boy Broiler.  One has only to look through the pages of the marvelous book Googie Redux at the laundry list of buildings that have been bulldozed into history during the past few decades, to recognize what an amazing feat has been accomplished.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Friends of Johnie's, the Coalition to Save Harvey's Broiler, the City of Downey, Bob's Big Boy proprietor Jim Louder, Adriene Biondo, and the Los Angeles Conservancy, the newly reborn Broiler is once again serving malts for all!  For detailed accounts of the history, illegal demolition and rebirth of the Broiler, as well as plenty of wonderful photographs be sure to check out these sites:
Roadside Peek  Los Angeles Conservancy  Coalition to Save Harvey's Broiler  Bob's Big Boy Broiler

John Apodaca and I were lucky enough to be the first to dance inside the vacant restaurant during it's reconstruction, and then during the first car show in the parking lot.  These photos were taken during that car show in October 2009.

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, exterior facing west (2009)

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, exterior facing east (2009).  Detail of the imaginatively recreated sign overlooking Firestone Blvd.

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, exterior signage (2009)

Swing dancers with proprietor Jim Louder (second from left) at entrance, Bob's Big Boy Broiler (2009)

Swing dancers Teresa London and John Apodaca pose in front of Bob, Bob's Big Boy Broiler (2009)

Swing dancing in the carhop area, Bob's Big Boy Broiler (2009)

Dancer John Apodaca posing with a Bob's Big Boy carhop, Bob's Big Boy Broiler (2009)

Carhop service menu, Bob's Big Boy Broiler (2009)

Interior booths with vintage photo enlargements in background, Bob Big Boy Broiler (2009)

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, ceiling detail (2009)

All Hail Charles Phoenix!

If you haven't experienced one of his slide show performances yet then run, don't walk, to see one!  He is THE historian extraodinaire of mid-twentieth century architecture, fashion, pop-culture - you name it.  Make sure you visit his site regularly and sign up for his slide-of-the-week newsletter at

Don't miss out on his books either: Books by Charles Phoenix

Charles Phoenix (center) posing with myself (left) and John Apodaca at the Heath Ceramics grilled cheese patio party at their Los Angeles studio (2009).