DIGStv | The Birthday House of Redondo Beach

DIGStv | Episode 15

The Birthday House of Redondo Beach

DIGStv with Constance Dunn takes you back into the late when 1800’s a carpenter named Micajah Thomas built his home in Redondo Beach: a two-story Queen Anne Victorian with three bedrooms, a parlor, and all the latest trimmings—from a decorative ceiling in the foyer to a second floor cooling porch flush with lace-web porch supports.

More than a century later, the oldest-standing home in town rests upon a sedate block of S. Francisca Avenue, preserved in impeccable state, all the way down to its original details, including gleaming wood floors and brick parlor fireplace to panes in the windows and crystal cut knobs on raised paneled doors.

“There’s a theory that it might have been built in 1888,” says Horrell, granddaughter of the firm’s founder Kay Horrell. “But there were no city records prior to 1892, so they officially dubbed it, ‘The Birthday House.’” One that is well worth celebration.

Three for the Show

Skirball Cultural Center curates a fascinating viewing experience with three thought-provoking exhibitions.

Written by Jenn Thornton|Photos Courtesy of Skirball Cultural Center

Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution

More than 400 objects comprise this compelling retrospective of a major force in rock music. Of these is a handbill from the first Bill Graham concert, “an appeal party for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a cutting-edge theatrical group of social and political activists led by actor Ronnie G. Davis and managed by Bill,” says Curator Erin Clancey. Historically significant, she adds, because “When Davis was arrested in Lafayette Park for putting on a play the city deemed ‘offensive, indecent, and obscene,’ Bill organized a benefit party on November 6, 1965, to raise money for Davis’ legal costs.” It was a turning point; Jefferson Airplane appeared and Graham “found something he was born to do.” Also displayed is original poster work for many Bill Graham Presents productions, including one by psychedelic art movement leader Bonnie Maclean, promoting a 1967 concert at the Fillmore Auditorium featuring supergroup The Doors. “When designing the gallery experience, we tried to strike a very careful balance between evoking an era and going completely kitsch,” says Clancey. Hence, hints of the period—“little touches that help you get into the era and feel as if you are kind of living the Fillmore experience.” Through Oct. 11, 2015

Petit Takett: Love, Legacy, and Recipes from the Maghreb

“I find it fascinating how a recipe box can spark a new art project,” says Curator Doris Berger, referencing LA artist Orly Olivier, who inherited a small wooden box containing handwritten cards from her late father, an enthusiastic cook and entertainer of Tunisian Jewish descent. This led Olivier to start the Petit Takett project, which involved a blog and a dinner series honoring her family’s heritage. “One way we brought this idea of connecting family history through food to the exhibition space at the Skirball, and made it more universal, is with a recipe mosaic,” says Berger of a wall painting offered to visitors of different religions and ethnicities to fill with recipe notes. “I find it exciting to see a family history that became an artwork transform into a participatory work with a collective history.” Through Jan. 10, 2016

Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams

This little explored interlude in Adams’ career probes a troubling time in the nation’s history. In shifting his focus from magnificent landscapes to Japanese Americans forcibly interned at Manzanar, Adams produced an important historical record—a study of injustice happening some 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The photos went on to appear in Adams’ book Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans. Published in 1944, while the country was still at war, the volume stirred controversy, introducing Adams as an activist. “As the managing curator on this exhibition, I have been able to work with a diverse range of material, including photographs featuring different perspectives on Japanese American incarceration by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Toyo Miyatake, as well as original artifacts and artwork from the Manzanar camp,” says Linde B. Lehtinen, assistant curator at Skirball. Letters and documents put a personal face on an experience that not only included incarceration, but also “acts of resistance and protest.” Essential is the exhibition space, its palette meant to evoke Manzanar’s desert surrounds for an immersive look at a complex history. Oct. 8-Feb. 21, 2016



Griffith Observatory has opened new horizons for LA.

From bold notion to star attraction, Griffith Observatory has opened new horizons for LA.

Los Angeles is known for its galaxy of stars, but since bursting on the scene in 1935, Griffith Observatory has been no less a luminary, occupying an orbit all its own.

Essential to the narrative of LA, the Observatory is a testament to exquisite architecture (Art Deco with Greek elements) and “location, location, location,” says its long-tenured director, Dr. E.C. Krupp. From its perch on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, the Observatory is the center of the city’s universe. Lording over LA and eyeing a beaming Hollywood sign, it is the place where all points of view converge.

From the start, perspective was everything. At the time the Observatory was first suggested, by Welsh-born visionary Griffith J. For Griffith (“Col. Griffith,” as he liked to be called, despite holding no known qualifiers for the distinction), the idea of public science had been brewing for some years. A public observatory, on the other hand, was a pioneering idea for its day—a real shot at the moon. 

Still Col. Griffith persisted, and upon his death left behind a detailed directive for all aspects involved in its creation (to go with the sizable purse that he earlier gifted to the City of Los Angeles to build it). His plans called for an observatory that would make science accessible to the masses. Truly out of this world was its planetarium—just the third of its kind in North America, the first on the Pacific Rim.

“Col. Griffith believed it was absolutely transformative to put people eyeball to the cosmos,” Dr. Krupp explains of the Observatory’s original intention.

“It was the experience of observing the universe that he wanted to transmit” and tap into our collective romance with the vast heavens above. And so the Observatory came to prominence, a bold and magnificent response to how we feel about a science that prompts the big, ponderous questions.

Public admiration is not without its price, however, and in 1978, four years into his post as director (after a stint as curator, where he worked from little more than a “closet” in the Observatory’s basement), Dr. Krupp penned his first memo suggesting that the Observatory be overhauled. Renovation did come—in 2002—powered by $93 million and an epic effort to mobilize the initiative forward, in part thanks to the Friends of the Observatory, the institution’s base of support.

When the dust on the massive undertaking settled—one that included the addition of nearly 40,000 square feet of public space; an array of venues; and a state-of-the-art reworking of the Samuel Oschin Planetarium—the Observatory reopened in 2006.

Of course, in a show business town, the show must go on, and for the Observatory that means untold appearances in commercials, television shows and major Hollywood movies; the most significant being Rebel Without a Cause, the first film to cast the Observatory as the Observatory, not a fortress for serialized Sci-Fi fare. As the Observatory continues to nurture what Dr. Krupp describes as its “feedback relationship” with Hollywood, he boldly suggests it be given a star “on the Boulevard.”

Until then, there’s the total lunar eclipse on Sept. 27. As with major astronomical events in years past, Dr. Krupp expects thousands to descend on the Observatory to watch the eclipse, an opportunity to connect with the sky above and community below. When it comes to the Observatory, none of it—not the nerve of its founder, the public’s long fascination with the place, or its sheer endurance—surprises Dr. Krupp, who came to the Observatory as a UCLA grad student with professorial dreams.

Still, he says with a sigh, “Griffith Observatory has an identity of its own that insinuates itself into your heart and into your consciousness; you wind up having to do the Observatory’s bidding, and are quite happy to do so. It gets a grip on people, and I fear it got a grip on me.”

Just another mystery of the universe.

Photos courtesy of Griffith Observatory

City Guide: Exquisite at Age 89

Point Vicente Lighthouse



An arresting vision sits along a postcard stretch of Palos Verdes Drive

Recognizing that a lone buoy wasn’t adequately warding ships off Palos Verdes Peninsula, in 1926 the U.S. government constructed Point Vicente Lighthouse. Since then, the South Bay landmark has been visited by the likes of Lana Turner in 1941 and featured in films such as 2001’s Pearl Harbor.

Taking a shine to the lighthouse is easy. Linger in the adjacent grassy park for a closer look, or stop by the second Saturday of each month to climb to the top, where you’ll find an 1886 Fresnel Lens shooting light across a 20-plus mile span of blue Pacific. Brilliant.

31550 Palos Verdes Drive West,  Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90274



Art & History: Splendor by the Sea


Reflections on the Annenberg Community Beach House


The pool deck at the Annenberg Community Beach House is the very epitome of history repeating itself, with its dark green Vermont marble, diamonds embedded in concrete and a marbled Greek key design mimicking an identical motif at William Randolph Hearst’s namesake spread in San Simeon. This vestige of a once rambling Georgian Revival estate that the media titan bankrolled for his mistress, Marion Davies, recalls the heady era of old Hollywood, when the couple’s elaborate feats of entertaining beckoned boldfaced names of the day.

But while Hearst Castle is an icon frozen in time, the Annenberg Community Beach House is a study in progress. This is a place of many incarnations, shares Santa Monica Conservancy Program Chair Ruthann Lehrer of the lavish manse turned boutique hotel. As the Oceanhouse, it operated from 1949 to 1956, but proved too costly an extravagance in the age of roadside motels and downtown hotels, and was acquired by the State of California. Obtained for beach purposes, down came the mansion in a 1957 demolition, with its beach cabanas, initially built in 1949 as an accessory to the hotel, morphing into the Sand & Sea Club—and by bunking at the Guest House, the Club’s manager ensured its survival.(Today this original estate holdover is a protected Santa Monica landmark.)

For three decades prominent families flocked to the Sand & Sea Club, with a member of one such clan, philanthropist Wallis Annenberg, playing an integral role in resuscitating the 5-acre site, its structures having sustained massive damage during the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Annenberg loved [this] particular stretch of Santa Monica Beach, explains Lehrer, who also chairs the Docent Program at the Beach House. She saw it as a very special place, but her wish was for it to be open and accessible to everyone, not restricted in membership as the beach clubs were.

Five years and a $27.5 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation later, and the Beach House—now in the clutches of the City of Santa Monica—re-opened in April 2009. The original pool and Guest House are the site’s only historic anchors, but the project architects included other markers to recall that historical era, shares Lehrer of what includes the boardwalk located at the mean high tide line from the Davies’ years; a section of the original beach wall bulkhead reconstructed outside the Guest House; and 16 geometric columns outside the Pool House evoking the architectural columns of the mansion’s façade.

With its roots in the past, the Beach House is now bounding toward the future. Today, the community jewel offers a full spectrum of outdoor recreation, cultural offerings and up-to-the-minute amenities. It’s a very civilized way to visit Santa Monica Beach! says Lehrer.

Some things never change.

From Here to Eternal: Hollywood Forever Cemetary


Celebrated enshrinements and culture make Hollywood Forever Cemetery sacred ground in Los Angeles.



Although the final resting place for Hollywood’s elite, whether it be matinee idol Rudolph Valentino, director Cecil B. DeMille or civic leader Charles Toberman, Hollywood Forever Cemetery is also the place where history comes alive.

Motivated to help develop what was then little more than an agrarian burg, all fields and citrus groves, the formerly named Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery was founded in 1899. Now in its second century, and a renaissance of sorts, this Los Angeles treasure boasts approximately 60 acres; seven mausoleums; two chapels; one crematory; an administration building and a monument production studio. And, in the park’s southwest sector, is a whole other burial ground in Beth Olam, one of the oldest dedicated Jewish cemeteries in Southern California.

If all sounds grand, like a vast English estate, “The cemetery’s landscaping was designed to create the atmosphere of a true park, rather than a mere grid of graves,” explains Family Service Counselor Theodore Hovey of the magnificent architecture, wonderfully weathered edifices and verdant growth here. “The buildings are in various styles. The Cathedral Mausoleum is Italian Renaissance, while the administration building is Spanish Baroque. The extraordinary private mausoleum of William Andrews Clark, Jr. and his family on the island in the lake is classical. Many of the other private family mausoleums are Egyptian Revival,” a popular aesthetic in the early 20th century due to significant archeological finds of the time, with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb a fixture in the public’s imagination.

The years were not always just to Hollywood Memorial, however, with the park eventually sinking into disrepair, neglect, and even controversy. Segregated until 1959, for example, it refused eternal rest for Gone with the Wind Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel until current ownership rectified the slight with a lakeside cenotaph to honor the trailblazing actress on the 47th anniversary of her death. This is one of many improvements present possessor Tyler Cassity plotted under his watch, which began in 1998, having rescued and rechristened the on-the-brink-of-bankruptcy burial ground. Hence prosperity and popularity for the newly minted Hollywood Forever, which, along with hosting ongoing restoration projects and new builds, acts as a kind of cradle of culture, welcoming a bevy of events year-round.

Emerging from the latter category is, of course, the open-air film series Cinespia. Held on the Fairbanks Lawn, an open, undeveloped expanse of grass behind the Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr. memorial, the event, describes Hovey, is “an expression of the cemetery’s indelible relationship with the film industry.”

Currently interring more than 90,000 souls, with room for plenty more—a 100 years worth, according to Hovey—Hollywood Forever is more than a local landmark; “it’s a place of great reverence” whose physical beauty and historic residents continue to stir interest in visitors from all over the world.

All leaves little doubt that some things really do live forever.