Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mystery History -- Solved

JM in Pasadena wins again but never contacted me after he/she won the previous contest, so I'm guessing that JM won't contact me this time, either (surprise me, JM, please!)

In the photo above they're breaking ground for the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in 1931 with a steam shovel. How times have changed.

For those who guessed the post office, construction on that building began in 1914 and it opened for business in 1915, several years before the autos in the photo were on the Ford assembly line! The perspective of the photo is a bit deceiving -- we're actually on the south side of Green Street looking north at a long-gone building.

Of course, we don't think about the Pasadena Civic Auditorium from the view looking north; we know it from the view looking south.
The 3,000-seat Pasadena Civic Auditorium, designed by Cyril Bennett and George Edwin Bergstrom of the architectural firm Bennett and Haskell, is owned by the City of Pasadena and listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Pasadena Civic Center District.

It opened for business on Feb. 15, 1932, during the lowest ebb of the Great Depression. It was dedicated "to the citizens of Pasadena, whose efforts and sacrifices have made the erection of this beautiful and useful building possible."

Grand opening events were free and open to the public.

I love this photo of the 1933 Rose Queen Dorothy Edwards being crowned by a Prince Charming-type onstage at the Civic Auditorium.

For 25 years from 1977 to 2001, the Emmy Awards were hosted at the Civic; and until this year, when American Idol contestants came to "Hollywood" for the first week of competitions and eliminations, they were actually at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

In my brief 18 years in Pasadena, I've seen many, many performances including several by the Pasadena Symphony plus musicals such as "Chicago" and "South Pacific," speakers the likes of Bill Cosby and Anderson Cooper, and... favorite moment ever: the first rehearsal (closed to the public and unpublicized) of José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti with the L.A. Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta a few days before the Three Tenors concert in 1994 due to the fact that Dodger Stadium wasn't ready for them yet. There were only about 30 of us in the audience that day. (Thank you, Rick Barr!)

The Civic is still going strong with a full calendar of speakers, concerts, awards shows and other productions.

And, of course, now it's surrounded by the stunning, newly expanded Pasadena Convention Center.

A note about the architects: Cyril Bennett was educated in Pasadena and trained vocationally in the offices of Henry and Charles Greene and Sylvanus Marston. He began his own architectural firm in Pasadena in 1914 and gained notoriety for his designs of residential bungalows and commercial buildings as well as his design of the Raymond Theater. George Edwin Bergstrom graduated from Yale in 1896 and began his architectural career in New York City before setting up shop in Los Angeles and eventually joining the Pasadena firm. He was in his 60s when he was the chief architect for this little building.

If JM doesn't contact me, nobody wins because there wasn't a second person who guessed correctly. Bummer.

Many thanks to Pasadena Public Library, Pasadena Civic Auditorium and Tournament of Roses Association for use of the photos.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Looking for Something to Do?

Here's a listing of upcoming free events sponsored by the City of Pasadena:

Saturday, May 2
8 to 11 a.m. -- If you like to take pictures and love the great outdoors, attend a free workshop taught by City of Pasadena naturalists and Armory Center for the Arts photographers at Hahamongna Watershed Park. Whether you prefer to shoot with conventional film or digitally, and whether you consider yourself a rank amateur or a downright crackerjack shutterbug, you'll enjoy this one! Reservations are required: (626) 744-7358 or email

Wednesday, May 6
* 7:30 a.m. -- Take a walk around the Rose Bowl Loop with Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and Erica Clark, co-founder of the Pasadena: City of Learning initiative. Meet at Gate A at the stadium. It's all part of Up & Moving Pasadena, a community effort to support fitness for health.
* 1 p.m. -- This week's free film in the Donald R. Wright Auditorium at Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut St., is "The Visitor" starring Richard Jenkins as a widowed professor who develops an unlikely friendship with an immigrant couple he discovers squatting in his Manhattan flat.

Saturday, May 9
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- Meet the dedicated men and women of the Pasadena Fire Department during Fire Service Day. At Fire Station 33, 515 N. Lake Ave., firefighters will demonstrate life-saving and fire-suppression techniques including vehicle burns and extinguishments, rescuing someone from a vehicle using the Jaws of Life, aerial ladder operations. Fire engines and other equipment will be display, and there will be hot dogs and other refreshments as well as entertainment. All other fire stations will be open to the public as well: Fire Station #31, 135 S. Fair Oaks Ave.; Fire Station #32, 2424 E. Villa St.; Fire Station #34, 1138 E. Del Mar Blvd.; Fire Station #36, 1140 N. Fair Oaks Ave.; Fire Station #37, 3430 E. Foothill Blvd.; Fire Station #38, 1150 E. Linda Vista Ave.; and Fire Station #39, 50 Avenue 64.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mystery History

Where are we? And what's happening?

The first person to guess correctly will win a fabulous prize!

I'll give you the full scoop on Thursday.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Memphis -- Day Six

Yesterday was somewhat bittersweet because it was our last day in Memphis, Tennessee.

After spending a leisurely morning, we headed to Beale Street, one of the most historic areas of Memphis.

There's a walk of fame on Beale Street dedicated to all the musicians who helped define the Memphis Blues sound.

In more modern times, they could have easily tried to turn Beale Street into something like Universal CityWalk, but thankfully they left it alone in all its glory.

A. Schwab dry goods store has been on Beale Street since 1876. Its motto is "If you can't find it at A. Schwab's, you're probably better off without it!"

We had lunch here:

And here's the daily Memphis ceiling shot, taken in King's Palace. Several of these distinctive pillars separate the well-trod wooden floors from the stamped tin ceiling.

After we left Beale Street, we drove around town for one last look at our new favorite city, then headed to the airport.

I took one last ceiling shot while we were in flight, and this will be the end of the ceiling shot series for now because I'll return to my role as Pasadena's PIO on Monday.

The series began our first day in Memphis when we went to dinner at a restaurant with an atrium ceiling and I couldn't resist trying to capture what I saw. The next day, at the Peabody Hotel, I happened to look up and was enamored by the chandelier and the lovely ceiling from which it was hanging. The ceiling series was born, and it will be reborn someday, perhaps during another sojourn.

It's good to be back!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Memphis -- Day Five

For weeks as we were planning this trip, we always said, "We're going to Graceland!" Yesterday we finally did it.

Here's the obligatory tourista photo that was taken of us when we arrived at the shuttle area for the short drive onto the property.

Then we explored the mansion and the grounds.

I'm especially glad that the family didn't turn Graceland into an amusement park, which they certainly could have done. PresleyLand would have ruined everything.

We walked through the house on an audio-guided tour, wearing headsets and listening to recorded narration as well as commentary by Elvis from old interviews and from Lisa Marie.

The house is exactly as it was when Elvis was alive.

The living room:

The kitchen. Dig that avocado-colored coffee urn.

The TV room. When Elvis heard that Walter Cronkite kept three TVs at home turned on to the three different networks, he decided to do the same.

The pool room:

Here's my daily ceiling shot, in the pool room:

Here's a closeup of the fabric on the ceiling:

The jungle room:

A closeup of the hand-carved arm of a chair in the jungle room. That's an ashtray on a wooden stand next to the chair. Today we call this kitchy; back then it was standard!

Here's the back of the house. Not quite as stately as the front.

Elvis had several out-buildings constructed on the grounds behind the house. One is filled with press clippings, costumes, gold records, etc.

We also got the official recipe for Elvis's favorite fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches:

2 large bananas
6 slices white bread
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup peanut butter

Peel and mash bananas. Mix peanut butter with bananas thoroughly. Toast bread lightly and spread mix on bread. Melt butter in skillet and brown sandwiches on each side slowly until golden brown.

(Eat all three sandwiches in one sitting, and wash it all down with qualuudes, vicodin and Jack Daniels for the perfect Elvis experience.)

I realize this is an unfortunate segue, but here it is:

The gravesite is in a pretty meditation garden.

That's Tom in the center, reading one of the inscriptions on the grave markers.

After we rested up at the hotel, Tom said he was in the mood for spaghetti and meatballs, so he looked in our Memphis tourist magazine and found what looked to him like the perfect Italian restaurant.

He was right again!

Cafe Toscana in East Memphis is a warm and comfortable restaurant with an unassuming exterior.

Tom couldn't find spaghetti and meatballs on the menu, so I told him to ask if the chef could just make it for him.

Our friendly server, Leslie Hilliard, pointed to Baked Polpette on the menu: "Pork and beef meatballs topped with tomatoes and a blend of Italian cheeses, baked and served with angel hair pasta and marinara sauce."

In other words, spaghetti and meatballs!

Lasagna Classica caught my eye.

The chef, Giacomo Ciabattini, has the magic touch.

We each had a cocktail before dinner and a glass of red with our meals.

For dessert we chose from an assortment of light and luscious mousses.

I have to give a shout-out to a very special person who helped us get around Memphis every day.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce our friend whom we named Millie. She has a very soothing voice that lulls us into a sense of complete security that we're heading in the right direction.

Back at the hotel, last night's movie on the all-Elvis-all-the-time channel was "Jailhouse Rock."

And now we're off for our final day in Memphis. Our plane leaves at 5 p.m. Check out the blog tomorrow for a recap.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Memphis -- Day Four

Before I get into Day Four, please note that I added a couple of things to Day Three this morning because I ran out of time yesterday. So take a look at a more expansive restaurant review (at Mike's request), including a link to Interstate's website, plus the nightly movie on the all-Elvis-all-the-time channel.

OK, so here's a rundown of yesterday's adventure!

Here's a hint:

Take me out to the ballgame
Take me out to the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don't care if I ever get back...

We went to Autozone Park to see the hometown Memphis Redbirds against the Nashville Sounds.

The Redbirds are a AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals (I still don't quite get how that works).

It was a gorgeous day, about 74 degrees -- a great day for a ballgame. We had ideal seats on the second level, right behind home plate.

I don't know much about baseball, so thank goodness Tom was there.

He clued me in on the secret strategies he saw the coaches working out with the hitters, the signals between the pitchers and the catchers, what's happening during a pow-wow on the pitcher's mound, what to discern from the goings on in the bullpen, all that sporty "guy" stuff. It was fascinating and I learned a lot.

Our Redbirds won the game with a score of 3-1.

I thought my daily ceiling shot looked pretty good in the viewfinder, but now that I see it full size it leaves a lot to be desired. It's the overhang that we were under at the stadium

After the game, we drove around the area known as mid-town, where we came across something that made us practically jump for joy:

There was a questionable-looking woman under the sign, clearly waiting for some business to come along (if you know what I mean), and I think she thought I was trying to take a photo of her. She approached our car and asked what we were doing. When I explained that I was only taking a photo of the sign and that we were really excited about it, she said, "Y'all must not be from around here" and walked away.

Here's the side of the market.

We did a little more exploring around Memphis, just driving around.

Here's one of their ancient electric trolley cars that seem to be everywhere, each in a different color. I guess this one is their version of the Blue Line.

Memphis City Hall. It was somewhat disappointing because we were expecting a beautiful historic building.

Next we decided to take a drive over the Memphis to Arkansas Bridge (the one the locals call the Dolly Parton Bridge) and do a little exploring on the other side in rural northeastern Arkansas.

The bridge crosses over the mighty Mississippi, which in these parts the people pronounce Miz-Sippy. In fact, the state line goes right through the middle of the river.

Once we arrived on terra firma, we were on I-55 and took the Highway 61 exit toward Osceola, which sounded to us like it would be an interesting little Arkansas town. Highway 61 is really just a back country road -- exactly what we hoped we would find. We headed deep into the countryside.

We saw a lot of these:

And these:

Welcome to Frenchman's Bayou, Arkansas, which is deserted now. It's right next to the railroad tracks. We decided that after the Interstate was built a few miles away, a lot of these little villages dried up and were abandoned.

We got a little nervous because we kept kept going deeper and deeper into the countryside and it was getting later and later in the day, and still no Osceola. So first chance we got, we hooked around onto another route and got back on the I-55, which led us to...Osceola!

Trust the car; the car knows.

A few photos from Osceola, which is a lovely town in the absolute middle of nowhere:

This is definitely old-time religion country. These signs were everywhere in front yards, and there seemed to be a church on every corner.

There are stately homes in lush neighborhoods.

Osceola City Hall:

The courthouse:

And the old courthouse, which is all boarded up. I don't know what the plan is for this property.

It was getting dark, so we wanted to get some dinner before heading back to Memphis. On the way out of Osceola, we came across this simple little restaurant called the Sandbar Grille. What a find! It's family-friendly and it was packed. Surprisingly, the menu was chock full of interesting choices at reasonably cheap prices.

I had succulent, classic chicken piccata with angel hair pasta (my mouth is watering as I write this!) and Tom had a chopped steak with a baked potato. We each had salad, a glass of wine, and for dessert we shared a piece of chocolate pound cake that was out of this world. We both said that if we had ordered this food in Pasadena, this would have been a $100 meal. Total price, including wine, dessert and coffee: $40.

We finally got back to Memphis and headed back to the hotel, AKA Elvis Central. I keep forgetting to show you the exteriors:

Last night's feature on the all-Elvis-all-the-time channel: A compilation of TV specials that he did in the late 1960s.

More tomorrow!