Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Float Decorating

My son and I spent Tuesday helping out on the Boy Scout float. We were at the Rosemont Pavilion, which is a huge warehouse across the street from the Rose Bowl where Phoenix Decorating Company is building many of its floats. During the day, we cut flowers (including the carnations pictured above), pinned "Christmas Green," moved around buckets of flowers, and stuck vials of roses onto the float.

Float building is a rather amazing mix of highly professional artistry with hordes of volunteer helpers. The Phoenix site says it takes 20,000 hours to decorate an average float and 16,000 people volunteer (I think just for the 19 Phoenix floats). Our float had a Phoenix manager who had a book detailing the sequencing of how, where and importantly when the flowers are applied. He kept us all moving in one direction or another and kept boys off of the scaffolding.

Despite all the work being done, there is a wonderfully festive atmosphere at the Rosemont Pavilion. There are maybe ten floats being built there in the giant warehouse and each effort has its own band of volunteers. Many hundreds are jammed into the warehouse -- people from many different groups and cities. Camera crews are wandering around shooting the float construction. And tours are going on constantly with folks from all over being led through the Pavilion to watch the floats being built.

This is the flower tent that serves the Pavilion. Like a giant florist shop. Smells great in there!

Yeah, I know this is outside my East of Allen jurisdiction. But, sometime Friday morning all these flowers will actually be East of Allen. Stuck and glued onto floats, they'll move down Colorado Blvd. and cross Allen Avenue. From Colorado, the floats will roll onto Sierra Madre Blvd., which is a short walk from our house and where we'll see the parade.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hastings Ranch Christmas Lights

This house is on Riviera Drive. Kinda hard to see but these characters are from Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, a stop action Christmas TV special that has aired every year since 1964. There's Rudolph, Santa and the Abominable Snow Monster. I think Hermey the Elf and Sam the Snowman are in there too. This is the one where Hermey the Elf (who wants to be a dentist) and Rudolph (with his red nose) find common cause as outcasts. The special was narrated by singer/actor Burl Ives, who amazingly enough, has now been mentioned twice on these pages.

The Hastings Ranch displays are an annual tradition going back to 1957. We went several times last year and I enjoy it every year.
I've always been impressed that so many in the Hastings Ranch neighborhood join in with the annual "light up." But, from driving around, it seems that participation may have dropped off this year.
Before driving looking at lights, I took the kids to Hamilton Park, which is in the Hastings Ranch neighborhood. As we are known to do, we stayed until it got dark.

This weekend was just great weather-wise -- warm and generally clear in the mid-70's. It was nice weather to do some yard work, go to the park and then amble around looking at Christmas lights. Forecast for Christmas is clear and windy in the high 60's.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas 1878 at the Sierra Madre Villa

A 19 foot high Christmas tree, carols, sweet lichi nuts and a new cart for your donkey....

From the History of the Famous Sierra Madre Villa Hotel by William Lauren Rhoades, son of the proprietor:

When Christmas time rolled around the real fun began. I will describe a typical Christmas day in the late seventies. The day before Christmas was one of excitement for all were preparing the gifts, some driving into Los Angeles, a thirty mile drive, to get the last few gifts needed and to shop for all the rest and only about two dry goods stores, two book stores and a few other places to purchase but that made it all the more exciting. There was a tree to sit up fully ninteen [sic] feet high, that was the height of the ceiling, and a spread of branches in proportion. Then the trimmings, popping the corn and putting on the cornucopias, hanging the glass balls and the angel on the top. That day the Chinese boy, Sam, made mysterious trips to Mother's room with packages coming from the servants and Chinese on the ranch.

Christmas morning was always the opening of an eventful day. I well recall Christmas of 1878. After breakfast I was taken out to the front of the house and there stood my donkey, which was given me two years before to ride and I named her after my Mother, Jennie, and there she was hitched up to a two wheeled cart made to order with a swell leather seat, the running gear was painted red and the body black, the harness was black with shining brass buckles. The guests all stood round enjoying my delight. I took Mother in at once and we drove off in style and many were the happy days I had with the children at the Villa in that turnout.

Christmas morning the coach that ran to the San Gabriel Southern Pacific Railroad Station daily for the mail and passengers, was ready to take any who might wish to go to the Episcopal Church in San Gabriel, as was the custom on Sundays. Then the day passed and all were in readiness for the big event in the evening with the Christmas tree.

Rhoades goes on to describe the evening festivities that took place in the hotel parlor with the Rhoades family and hotel guests attending. Christmas carols were sung and the tree was "stripped." There was a gift exchange with Villa's many Chinese workers. Rhoades reports that, to the delight of hotel guests, the workers would enter the parlor with a flourish. Dressed in fine silks, the workers had "their heads freshly shaved with their cues hanging down their backs with red ribbons braided into their hair." They came bearing gifts of sweet lichi nuts, ginger and dainty cakes. In turn, the workers were given a fattened pig for roasting.

The author of this account, William Lauren Rhoades, was the son of William Porter Rhoades. The elder Rhoades was the proprietor of the Villa and co-owned the Villa along with his father in law, artist William Cogswell. The young Rhoades lived at the Villa over much of his childhood.

The full history written by William Lauren Rhoades is at this excellent neighborhood website.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Eaton Wash 12-13-09

This picture of Eaton Wash was taken Sunday just north of New York Drive. I like this spot because it is the last point at which you can see (and hear) the water flowing over a natural stream bed. South of New York Drive, the Wash dumps into the Eaton Wash Reservoir and then is diverted into settling ponds and concrete channels.

The last two years, I've taken photos of the Wash near this place. The Wash was my first post in March, 2008 and I posted another shot of this spot in February, 2009.

Going back to 1932 and 1967, plans were made for an Eaton Wash trail running north to south through East Pasadena. As we enter 2010, we have a trail of plans, but still no trail. Note to City Leaders: The Eaton Wash trail remains the most important planning issue for East Pasadena. C'mon folks, let's get this done.

In case you can't get out to the Wash and can tolerate my camera's weak movie feature, I hope you enjoy the sound of rushing water at the city's edge:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Abbot Kinney and Mt. Wilson

While we're on Abbot Kinney....

One of our local peaks was nearly named after Kinney -- and not just any peak. Mt. Wilson was, for a short time, referred to as Mt. Kinneyloa. In 1887 a US survey team mapped the local mountains renaming the peak as "Mt. Kinneyloa" in honor of Mr. Kinney and his foothills ranch. However, as described in The Mount Wilson Observatory by Allan Sandage, the name change was short-lived. Sandage writes:

The ensuing local uproar - led by Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis - was fierce. In a scathing editorial Otis extolled Don Benito Wilson as "one of the foremost citizens of Los Angeles County and Southern California. If [Kinney] hungers and thirsts after a mountain [to be named after him], let him build a trail to the summit of one of the many Sierra Madre peaks yet unchristened, with chisel in hand. and let him cut deep into the face of its topmost granite rock the talismanic word KINNEYLOA, but keep Wilson's Peak for Don Benito."

Otis' editorial was not only hilarious with its image of Kinney chiseling his name on a mountaintop, but was apparently effective. Except for the surveyor's map, the peak continued to be named after Don Benito Wilson.

Thanks to Nat Read, who relates this story in his excellent book Don Benito Wilson: From Mountain Man to Mayor.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Abbot Kinney and the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel

The extension of Kinneloa Avenue brings to mind the name of Abbot Kinney. He is celebrated for founding Venice. Before that he was an influential conservationist and rancher. He and good friend, John Muir, were instrumental in establishing the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve, forerunner to the Angeles National Forest.

But, were it not for the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel, Abbot Kinney may never have set foot in Southern California.

It's a good story and here it is:

Sierra Madre Villa Hotel, ca. 1886, Carleton E. Watkins
Courtesy of the California History Room
California State Library, Sacramento, California

Abbot Kinney was both gifted and privileged. Educated on the east coast and in Europe, young Kinney became fluent in six languages. At the age of 26, Kinney travelled to Egypt in search of fine tobaccos for the family business. But, instead of returning home when business was done, Kinney embarked on a world tour. Over a three year period, he travelled through Europe, Asia, Australia and Hawaii.

Having seen the world, Kinney decided to return to New York. In January 1880, he arrived in San Francisco and waited for a train to take him east. However,travel eastward was temporarily blocked by snow storms in the Sierras.

Rather than sit idle in San Fransisco, Kinney booked a train south to visit the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel. Kinney had heard of the Villa and its healthful climate. He was an insomniac and asthma sufferer and anxious for a respite. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, he immediately drove out to the Villa. But, in his haste, he had not made reservations.

So it was that one January evening in 1880, Abbot Kinney arrived at the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel only to find that the hotel was full. Fortunately for Kinney, the owner (possibly William Cogswell) took pity on the weary traveller. Kinney was offered accommodations in the Villa's parlor. He would have a pool table for a bed.

Kinney had a magnificent night's sleep. He awoke refreshed and quickly became enamored with the area. He cancelled his plans to return to New York and continued his stay at the Villa.

Abbot Kinney had found home. He had visited the world's greatest cities and had the means to live anywhere in the world. But, he chose for himself the foothills above what is now East Pasadena.

Soon, Kinney purchased 550 acres of mesa land just west of the Villa. There, he built Kinneloa. The rest, as they say, is history.