Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hollywood House Hunting: Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

In the great scheme of things, an adventure to find one of our favorite houses from one of our favorite films seems positively puny when compared with the BIG adventure of the film's hero.  It might also seem highly unreasonable for a grown man to consider said house as holy ground.  When one considers that the house' primary, if fictional, resident was one Pee-Wee Herman (the original "eccentric man-child"), it all starts to make more sense.

Pee-Wee's House from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
There are many subliminal (or overt) style cues/taste preferences I picked up from both Pee-Wee Herman and art director, David L. Snyder - cowboys & indians, holiday decor, lawn art, space age travel, and symmetrical homes
of the 1920s.

Built in 1922, this delightfully-symmetrical house made Mr. Tiny jump for joy.
Even without its fire-engine-red paint job, yard full of statuary, and Water
Wiggle sprinkler system, this home would suit this eccentric man-child to a T!

Nestled between quite sizable Craftsman-style homes, the scale and current color of Mr. Herman's house make it a real standout in its lovely, South Pasadena neighborhood.  Having made no secret of the fact that my very favorite houses are those that resemble either a child's drawing or the sweet simplicity of a Mary Blair illustration, I could easily see myself feathering this particular nest.  I have never even seen the inside but I know that living in Pee-Wee Herman's house would make me feel like "the luckiest boy in the world."

With its red-tinted roof, picket fence, and twin peaks, Pee-Wee's house is a passable,
real-life stand-in for The Little House - even without the gingerbread trim.  

In taking this picture, I assured Mary that I was Pee-Wee and she was definitely Francis.
The neighbors, including Mr. Crowtray (I always thought he said "Crabtree"), were not buying it either.
Incidentally, this shot includes the window from which Mr. Crowtray communicated with Pee-Wee.

I am such a die-hard fan of everything Pee-Wee related that someone might be liable to call me "crazy," "a nerd," "an idiot."  To that person, I have only one thing to say, "I know you are but what am I?"

 Pee-Wee's house in action

Pee-Wee Herman's House
1848 Oxley St
South Pasadena, CA


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Holy Rollin': Calvary Chapel of the Canyons

Even the most pious among us will acknowledge that every religion works some kind of angle - faith, charity, karma, guilt.  Are you a church-going type?  If so, what angle are they working at your church?   Well, if you're a parishioner of Calvary Chapel of the Canyons in Silverado, CA, then you know that the angle working overtime at your place of worship is the TRI-angle.
Calvary Chapel of the Canyons (1961) - Silverado, CA

Cleaving into the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains like a modernist's interpretation of Abraham's sacrificial knife, this mid-Century church takes religious symbolism to a new level.  It does not, however, take the genius of Benjamin Franklin Gates, Nicolas Cage's inimitable symbologist, relic hunter, code-breaker, mechanical engineer, history nerd, unwitting criminal-turned-savior-of-the-world's-most-valuable-antiquities in the National Treasure franchise, to interpret said symbolism.  To we wacky tacky laymen, it was clear that the Holy Trinity could be found in the endless series of triangles that make up Calvary Chapel of the Canyons.  Narrowly escaping the destructive flames of wildfires in 2013, the church's survival is sometimes credited to its resemblance to "a pair of praying hands."  Perhaps I'm too literal, but I don't see it.  Don't go by me though; I was never able to see the hidden image in those 3D Stereogram kiosks so prevalent in late '90s malls either.  Triangles, on the other hand, I can see.

Alright, so maybe from this angle I can kind of see it...
But approached from any angle, angelical Christians and architectural enthusiasts
alike are greeted by a veritable tessellation of triangles.  The silhouette is a triangle.
The buttress is a triangle.  The three arms of the church's triangular combination bell-
tower and steeple are braced by graduated triangles.  While marked by some rec-
tangular panes, even the stained-glass windows form a triangle.  It seems that the
only thing not triangular in nature at this church is the cross!

We I should have known better than to think the Calvary Chapel website would include a page dedicated to the church's architectural history.  With much more weighty matters on their minds (and souls), it makes me wonder if the architectural significance of this splendid church ever crosses the minds of the squares attending this jazzy triangle!

"A Jazzy Triangle Meets A Square" from Sesame Street (1969)

Sadly, Calvary Chapel of the Canyons was closed for business when we were taking our most recent joyride through "the canyons."  So spectacular is the church that I wouldn't put it past these wacky tacky "holy rollers" to take another joyride out to Silverado on a Sunday morning, if only to catch a glimpse of the interior in person (pictures found online indicate that the interior architecture is also dominated by geometry's holy trinity).  Until then we can only pray that we'll find more opportunities for some wacky tacky holy rollin'.

Calvary Chapel of the Canyons
8002 Silverado Canyon Rd
Silverado, CA


Mr. Tiny

Monday, February 9, 2015

Kitsch-en Kounter: The Love Shack!

One word that I make a conscious effort to use as infrequently as possible is "obsessed."  Hosting exchange students in our house quite regularly, most of them Japanese, I learned how bizarre it was to them when we we would so freely express our love - of bagels, of TV shows, of shoes, of songs, of weather, of hair products, of sunglasses, of almost anything except one another.  It is my understanding that the word for love in Japanese is reserved exclusively for only its most romantic definition; it therefore must have seemed particularly odd when I would jubilantly proclaim, "I LOVE hamburgers!"  Some romances never die.  

These days, it isn't enough to like something.  It isn't even enough to love something.  To prove the fervor of our 21st-Century commitment to trends, movements, and inanimate objects, we must say that we're OBSESSED!!!  Well, occasionally, I fall victim to the vernacular and find myself obsessed with something, in this case, Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cook Book.

vintage betty crocker
Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cookbook

Originally published in 1957 and printed many times since, Betty Crocker's Boys and Girls Cookbook was among the first to acknowledge the interest of a burgeoning youth population to participate in the kitchen.  The edition that I grew up with, the new edition, was published in 1965 with edits, updates, and a new crop of "home-testers."  When my grandmother would pull this book from the uppermost kitchen cabinet, we knew that we were in for a self-styled treat - mostly because she was probably so sick of looking after four rambunctious kids that she knew the only way to take a break was to sacrifice her freshly Pine-Sol'ed linoleum and unleash us on her immaculate kitchen of lime-green formica.

For what seemed like hours, my brothers and sister and I would pore over the images of party-cut sandwiches, Hawaiian Luau Loaf, clown-faced hamburgers, and - my favorite - the soda fountain drinks served in all manner of old-timey glassware.  We spent so much time deciding what to make that I honestly can't recall if we ever actually made anything (crafty Grandma).  Year after year, I have returned to this book for inspiration, for nostalgia, and for a gateway to my grandparents.  The book makes frequent cameos in conversations with my siblings, mostly as we wax nostalgic and wonder who the keeper of the book is (I guess I'm letting the cat out of the bag).  At this point in its fifty-year history, the book's pages are spattered, dog-eared, and torn.  The back cover is missing and the rusty spiral binding could more accurately be described as barbed wire.  Well worn and well loved, it is a physical manifestation of the kitschy culinary obsessions that blossomed in Mr. Tiny's earliest years.  Way beyond both the limits of our food-styling abilities and the limits of Grandma's patience, one particular recipe in the book very tragically went ever unmade.  Having dreamt of the Enchanted Castle Cake since childhood is proof that an unmade recipe can become the fodder for a lifelong obsession.

wacky tacky castle cake
Enchanted Castle Cake

"My father took a picture of me with my cake."
Oh, Joan, it was probably because he wanted to capture that lovely
asymmetrical haircut you received at the Braille Beauty College.

With its red/white/pink color story, this recipe made like Cupid, drawing back its bow and shooting straight to this cake lover's heart.  With cake in our hearts and hearts in our eyes, the Enchanted Castle became our Valentine's Day Kitsch-en Kounter project for 2015.  I, of course, terribly bored with the tedium of printed instructions, immediately went rogue.  Even at my advanced age, an entire castle seemed rather daunting; we would take our cake in the direction of something more romantic, more intimate, and more cost-conscious.  Something that, if you saw a faded sign by the side of the road, you'd be more than willing to drive fifteen miles to share in its sweet delight. 

wacky tacky kitsch-en kounter
Humble of both address and architecture (cake-itecture?),
the Love Shack is just a little old place where we can get together.

Starting with a tried-and-true, basic cake recipe, I figured it would be easy to adapt
 into a heart-shaped cake that was also colored in an appropriately-thematic fashion.

I had never before made a red velvet cake and, as it happens, I still haven't.
By the third heaping tablespoon of red gel food coloring, I just couldn't
stomach anymore.  "Maybe it will magically turn red in the oven..."  It didn't.
Incidentally, I just watched someone make a red-velvet cake on TV today
and they used two whole bottles of liquid food coloring!!!  No thanks.

Taking style cues from the Enchanted Castle Cake, I added iced ice-cream-cone spires; swirled in pink confection, they were topped with heart-spangled banners waving from heart-shaped picks.  A polka-dot red carpet welcomes lovers under an awning supported by paper straws.  The edifice is paneled in candy-stripe sticks and studded in pink, candy buttons.  Surrounded by coconut grass and a blue velvet sky, the sweetly-scaled Love Shack is to the Enchanted Castle Cake as Marie Antoinette's little Hamlet is to the Palace of Versailles.  The Love Shack became the perfect finishing touch to our humble Valentine's Day tablescape.

As a child, my favorite part of the book was the possibility, the dream that artfully playing with my food could one day become a legitimate avocation.  As an adult, with easy access to a car/grocery store/kitchen, my favorite parts of Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cook Book are the juvenile "home-testers'" reactions to helping with the book and testing the recipes (see Joan above) accompanied by the lovely, sometimes-flattering charcoal portraits.

"Being a home-tester was the most exciting thing I've ever done." - Randee (What a pity to peak so young)
"I learned how to use a sharp knife - without cutting myself." - Sandra (A recurring theme at Sandra's therapy sessions)
"We learned what words like baste and fold and beat meant." - Peter (Definitely the words of a serial killer)
Betty Crocker is like a real friend to me now." - Carol (You said it, Carol.  Imaginary friends are the best friends)

So, what are your obsessions?  Are you obsessed with making a Love Shack of your own?  Don't let Mr. Shakespeare fool you into thinking that "music be the food of love."  It's cake.  Yes, definitely cake.  So, if you're heading down the Atlanta highway and see our heart-shaped shack, just "Bang, bang, bang on the door, baby."  We'll let you in and save you a piece!

"Love Shack" - The B-52's

Happy Valentine's Day, you wacky tacky turkey necks!!!


Mr. Tiny

Friday, February 6, 2015

Collecting: The Best Vintage Valentine Ever!

Sometimes I question how deeply rooted my understanding of the human condition is in the scripted television programs of the late 20th Century.  I was fortunate never to have experienced the grade-school humiliation associated with an empty mailbox come time for the yearly valentine exchange.  Frankly, it never even seemed like an option; twenty-eight kids in the class meant twenty-eight cards given and twenty-eight cards received (granted, I was in the first wave of Project Self-Esteem, better known as Project EVERYONE is a winner).  Nevertheless, many television shows presented the now-hackneyed construct of the well-intentioned but hopelessly-geeky kid, forlorn at the absence of valentine cards in his construction-paper inbox (see: Raph Wiggum, et al.).

Hopelessly geeky myself, I always found it hard to reconcile the bevy of Valentine's goodies I received first through fifth grade - even harder still as an adult when exchanging valentines is anything but compulsory.  Imagine my surprise when I opened my actual mailbox and found the best vintage valentine ever!  Sent from my pal, and major wacky tacky booster, Charlotte (via a mutual friend's yard sale), I found Günthers Karneval Fasching, a mid-Century, German booklet of fancy-dress fashions.

Günthers Karneval Fasching
After looking at this cover one too many times, all I can see is a sexy Jane Pauley!

While technically not a valentine (Karneval/Fasching is essentially Deutschland's answer to Mardi Gras), and sent with intentions entirely platonic, I can't help but view the timing and the cover girl's heart-bedecked top hat as a happy holiday greeting.  At only fourteen pages, this booklet is filled with the most colorful cornucopia of carnival costumes I have ever seen.  Get ready to have your socks knocked off!

I love the arrow and handwriting on this one; "dieses oberteil" means "this top/bodice."
I suppose we'll always be left to wonder what the bottom half looked like - if there was
a bottom half.  Flashing at Fasching; it is Karneval!

Aren't these incredible?!?!!  Often self-critical, I've been known to deride my own designs as being far too "costume-y."  I guess I'm not so off base considering that, with a few minor tweaks/edits, I would find it exciting if people wore the designs featured in Günthers Karneval Fasching as everyday clothing.  Even more exciting is that the pamphlet included the complete pattern to each and every costume.  And, if my high school German still serves, I understand that "each style comes in two sizes" very clearly printed and labeled on a two-sided pattern sheet...

Oh boy...
I've heard of vintage patterns printed in such a fashion but I've never been
confronted by such a mess!  Instead of going permanently cross-eyed, I might
just have to settle for drooling over the technicolor images. 

Thank you, thank you, Charlotte, for "Choo-Choo-Choosing" me as the recipient of your thoughtful gift (and for mailing it to me).  Any mail that isn't a bill, a ticket, or a jury summons is good mail.  Any mail that I can consider a valentine when my construction paper mailbox went dry more than twenty years ago is great mail.  Any mail that is a 1950s, German, Mardi Gras-fashion booklet is the best vintage Valentine ever!  Ich liebe meinen antiker Valentinsgruß!!!

"Sei Mein Valentin"

Happy Valentine's Day, you wacky tacky turkey necks!


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Signs of the Times: Cupid's Burgers & Tacos

As this will be my 35th consecutive Valentine's Day without a valentine, I suppose I should be bitter.  I should be resentful.  I should be resigned to the fact that my heart was meant solely for utility, for the pitiful, life-sustaining function of pumping oxygenated blood through the veins and auxiliary vessels of this overgrown carcass.  And yet, I'm not...not yet anyway.

Nothing gives this lonely (not to mention enlarged) heart secondary reason for beating like a beautiful, big, blue sky playing backdrop to a novelty neon sign.  In this season of love, I'm practically palpitating at the charm of Cupid's Burgers & Tacos' chubby cherub taking careful aim at the hearts of generations of Corona, CA's most ardent burger-and-taco lovers.

Cupid's Burgers & Tacos - Corona, CA

Both the building and the sign have undergone makeovers since the
'60s - if only to keep up with inflation (24¢ hamburgers??? I'll take two
dozen!).  But we give much credit to the current owners for maintaining
the spirit and integrity of a sign that continues to brilliantly light up the
California night sky.

Given all that we know about saturated fats and high-caloric intake, it seems easy to interpret Cupid's aim at our hearts all too literally.  As the poet laureate of New Jersey so eloquently stated, "Shot through the heart and you're to blame.  Darlin', you give love a bad name."  However "darlin'" it may be, Cupid's Burgers & Tacos is probably not the most heart-friendly where anatomy and physiology are concerned.  It is enough to have nay-saying heart surgeons everywhere shouting, "Stupid Cupid!"

But at wacky tacky, we know better, don't we?  In the very heart of town, the sign at Cupid's Burgers & Tacos has weathered the changing times, the changing attitudes, and the changing health fads.  We hope that when no one remembers what it meant to be "gluten free," those golden arrows will have sign lovers everywhere singing with one accord, "Stupid Cupid, START picking on me!"

"Stupid Cupid" - Connie Francis

Here's wishing you wacky tacky lovers a Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Cupid's Burger & Tacos
623 E 6th St
Corona, CA


Mr. Tiny

Friday, January 30, 2015

You're Invited: Marriage March of the Marionettes!

Modern weddings require so much planning - the venue, the flowers, the DJ, the band, the menu, the guest list, the seating arrangements, the puppet show...  That's right, the puppet show.  It probably goes without saying, but my very favorite part of any wedding is the interactive, musical puppet show.  Lucky for me then that two of my most glamorous pals celebrated their wacky tacky winter wedding within the hallowed walls of the Bob Baker Marionette Theater.

The Bob Baker Marionette Theater - Los Angeles, CA

If you're unfamiliar with this Los Angeles institution, then it is time to rectify that situation right quick.  We have been to holiday shows, birthday parties, and tours at the BBMT; we've even had the chance to perform on the same bill as the Bob Baker Marionettes (some of the very same that were used in the movie, Escape to Witch Mountain) at the Charles Phoenix Wig Wam Pow Wow.  Believe me when I tell you that seeing the marionettes is a life-changing experience that elicits childlike wonder from even the most hard-hearted scrooges among us (read more about the theater in a recent post by Retro Roadmap).  With an ideal couple and an ideal venue, it would have gone against nature not to have a wedding!

"Is this thing on?"
Clad in their ceremonial, pre-wedding vestments,
Jeff and Anna came out to introduce the show and
set the tone for the nuptials.

I've said it before but in this case it bears repeating; I am a huge fan of marriage but not so much of the overblown, cookie-cutter, magazine weddings so prevalent these days.  It is my opinion that a wedding should be an accurate reflection of the couple's personalities.  A wedding should be a celebration of love and friendship, rather than a celebration of overpriced chicken dinners and questionable centerpieces.  Truthfully though, I love love and a wedding in any form makes me happy.  One that begins with a puppet show, however, makes me wish that I was headed for the altar!

Good riddance to speeches, mother-son/father-daughter dances, and endless toasting; I'd rather have sexy pink kittens, Santa Claus, and black-lit burlesque skeletons just dripping in neon fringe!  In the tradition of the best variety shows  of yore, the Christmas-tinged musical revue was a little nice and a little naughty.

I defy anyone to deny the unadulterated joy of a wedding in which the attendants include a wild-eyed opera diva, the Invisible Man, and Denise, the Maid of Honor, escorted by a skunk!  Officiated by the sweet and sinfully-soulful crooner, Monty Vista, the wedding ceremony had the bride (and the congregation) in fits of hysterics!  The faces of everyone in attendance ached for days for all of the smiles and laughter!

In this crazy world, it doesn't happen often enough that two people of the same faith, in this case fundamental wacky tacky Western Orthodoxy, find each other.  In front of a multi-colored streamer curtain and with their loved-ones looking on, Anna (wearing a lustrous, vintage sheath and dramatic, showgirl's headpiece) and Jeff (in a custom-made Charro suit of crimson shantung), were so lucky to have sealed their union in such a holy place!

Once the ceremony had concluded, everyone adjourned to the reception area for dancing and dessert.  Guests of the wedding were charged with bringing a "Wee Cake" to share.  As is my custom, I way over-thought things and did major web-based research to find out just what a "Wee Cake" was.  Was it a thing, a movement, a trend (three of my least favorite things)?  Bucking the slowly-dying cupcake culture of late, a relatively-recent chain of bakeries opened an outpost in our area that sells nothing but bundt cakes.  Its name, you ask - Nothing Bundt Cakes!  I wondered if a Wee Cake was a similarly trademarked product of which I had heretofore remained blissfully unaware.  When, with the help of a few other confounded guests posting queries on Facebook, I finally determined that a "Wee Cake" was little more than a little cake, I formulated my design.  I actually took a shortcut and bought a tiny, lemon-flavored Nothing Bundt Cake cake (surprisingly delicious for store-bought) for my connubial contribution.

The wee cake table was heavy-laden with some outstanding designs but after quite a few compliments, I was feeling pretty proud of my cake.  After all, even with a store-bought foundation, this small cake was no small feat; I draped a bodice, made a veil, arranged a bouquet, painted boots, and sewed miniature pant legs.  I even cut and dyed the hair of a half-doll to match the color of the real bride - all of this before realizing that it was a CONTEST!!!  Quickly labeled "the X-rated cake," I tried to tell everyone that the groom was merely looking for the garter...ahem.

I didn't win; nevertheless, fellow-runner-up, Sue, and I were
perfectly pleased with our consolation prizes - chocolate hippos!

Absolutely sure that no wedding could possibly top the drama, the hilarity, the authenticity, and the pure spectacle of Anna and Jeff's Marriage-March-of-the-Marionettes wedding, wacky tacky issues the marriage-minded among you this simple advice: do yourself a favor and just ELOPE!

Congratulations, you crazy kids!
Thank you so much for allowing us to take part in such a special day.
May the sweetness of your candy bouquet endure in your many happy years together!

Well, are you jealous or what?  Have you ever seen a more wild and wonderful wedding?  Aside from your own, what is the best wedding you have ever attended (did puppets play a part)?  If you are in the midst of planning your own wedding, be sure to send Mr. Tiny an invitation; he travels well and brings the party (and the naughty cake) with him!

"Donald's Diary" (1954)


Mr. Tiny

Friday, January 23, 2015

Going Cocoa-NUTS at The Cocoanut Grove!!!

Among the many drills (fire, earthquake, etc.) we were expected to perform in junior high school, there was one that always confounded the cognitive skills of my pathetically-literal, pubescent brain - the intruder drill (fortunately, those were the days before such drills became a frightening and practical necessity).  The drill went like this, teachers would turn out the lights and lockdown their classrooms, huddling students in the corner furthest from the door upon hearing the voice of an authority issue a public address, announcing that "Dr. Thompson" was wanted in the "Technology Building."  Um... didn't anybody know that no member of the faculty answered to the last name Thompson, no such building existed on our campus, and that among their various and questionable credentials, no PhD had ever been bestowed upon a member of our school's teaching staff.  In hindsight it became clearer that that was the big idea (only the most well-informed intruder would know that we were still watching film reels on projectors housed in a closet at the back of the library lorded over by Mrs. Middleton).

With no criminal pedigree, an obviously simple mind, and only the best of intentions, it never occurred to me that one day I might be the reason for a "Paging Dr. Thompson" sort of emergency...but more on that later.  This is our story of going to The Cocoanut Grove.

The Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel - Los Angeles, CA

Opened in 1921, The Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel defined Hollywood glamour.  The decades-long epicenter of West Coast nightlife and two-time home of the Academy Award ceremonies, The Cocoanut Grove played host to anyone who was anyone in the heyday of Hollywood (see The Silver Screen Affair's post on The Cocoanut Grove here).  It is oft said that Joan Crawford and Carole Lombard went head-to-head in the weekly Charleston contests held on the famed dance floor.  Known not only for its flamboyant clientele, the club was equally recognized for its flamboyant decor.  Lavishly decorated in a fantasy pastiche of Moorish/Moroccan/Middle-Eastern themes, The Cocoanut Grove allowed guests to sup under life-size palm trees populated by the gleaming eyes of electrified monkeys.

A packed house!
Initially, The Cocoanut Grove was a small venue within the hotel.  Quickly gaining
popularity, the club was swiftly relocated to its permanent location in the hotel's grand ballroom.

Luminaries of the political variety also made The Ambassador Hotel a stop along the campaign route.  Well-known as the site of Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 assassination, the Ambassador Hotel proved unable to outlive that legacy and the dramatic cultural shifts that marked the latter part of the 20th Century.  Officially closed in 1989, the Ambassador subsequently served as a location for filming and a relic of Holywood's golden age.  In 2005, to the dismay of preservationists, the property was sold to the Los Angeles Unified School District and slated as the location for the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.  Recognizing its significance to Hollywood and to US history, we decided that Emily's birthday was the ideal time for us to go back to school for a little education in old Hollywood.  Taking advantage of one of Los Angeles' altogether common sunny afternoons, the wacky tacky adventure team made our pilgrimage to The Cocoanut Grove.

Once looming large over Wilshire Boulevard, the former entrance to
the Ambassador is one of the last vestiges of the hotel's glory days.

A bit underwhelming, our self-guided tour yielded only a placard, some interesting tile work, a clock
integrated into the streamline facade, and the teachers' dining room (once the hotel coffee shop),

Having seen all that we thought we were going to see, we approached a pair of friendly maintenance men and asked them if they knew anything about the hotel's history.  They shared what little information they had and even opened the door to the coral-colored coffee shop so we could get a better peek.  Explaining that we were hoping to see more of The Cocoanut Grove, they directed us around the corner and up a flight of stairs; there we found the mecca of every classic-Hollywood nerd. 

Birthday wishes can come true!
Emily stands sentry at The Cocoanut Grove's iconic entrance.

Emily's birthday wish came even "truer" when Jesse tried one of the doors 
 and found it wonderfully ajar!  Never ones to shy away from the implied 
"Welcome in" of an unlocked door (of which I could find no information as to 
the identity of the more-human monkey face on the door), we humbly walked 
in the footsteps of our biggest cinematic idols.

This is the point where it must be stated that The Cocoanut Grove is not exactly The Cocoanut Grove.  Stipulated in the contract of the sale was the mandatory preservation of the Ambassador's landmark features, namely The Cocoanut Grove.  Shortly after renovations began, it was determined that the structure did not meet minimum earthquake safety standards.  Before much objection could be raised, ninety-percent or more of the original structure was razed.  The fact is that since 1921, the hotel and the nightclub had seen significant changes; but in LA we have to remind ourselves that there are principles still worth arguing.  Rebuilt in an approximation of The Cocoanut Grove's original style, the new structure retained just enough character to transport us to Hollywood, circa 1934.

As seen in the scrolled archways and fretwork pendants, minimal details of the original interior were honored.  

While The Cocoanut Grove is now a 582-seat theater, I could still
hear the champagne glasses clinking, the orchestra playing, and the
high-stakes deals being made.  Meanwhile, Emily was center stage
starring in her own production of Cocoanut Grove.

With the rest of us relegated to supporting players...
Cocoanut Grove (1938)

Here is where our adventure turned us from sentimental sightseers into "Dr. Thompson-level" intruders.  Lost in our Hollywood reverie, we were snapped back into reality by the echo of deadbolts being locked.  In no time flat, we transformed from the elegant Fred MacMurray and Harriett Nelson (née Hilliard) into the Marx Brothers in a slapstick scramble for the doors - we were trapped!

We went from Cocoanut Grove to merely The Cocoanuts (1929)

Luckily, one set of doors had yet to be locked and we promptly made our escape.  Prematurely congratulating ourselves for a stealthy exit, we came face to face with our maintenance-minded benefactors of before.  This time, however, their faces bore none of the happy, helpful quality we had come to know.  As if their newly stern countenances weren't clear enough direction, we were curtly invited to remove ourselves from the premises before we were reported as trespassers.  Before we could protest, they were reaching for their walkie-talkies.  We would have said, "We've been kicked out of nicer places than this," but the fact is we hadn't!  Our less-than-gracious dismissal notwithstanding, our Hollywood adventure left us feeling like honored guests at "Star Night at The Cocoanut Grove."

Have you ever been accused of a Dr. Thompson-style intrusion?  Have you ever peacefully trespassed for the sake of visiting an historic landmark?  Are you a Hollywood historian pining for the days of luxurious nightlife where orchestras played under the faux fronds of papier-mache palms repurposed from Valentino's The Sheik?  If you ever  find yourself driving down Wilshire and get a hankering for some history and a taste of the exotic, then stop in at Robert F. Kennedy Community Shools - just be sure to get a visitor pass at the office first.  Tell 'em Dr. Thompson sent you.

Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools 
(formerly Ambassador Hotel & The Cocoanut Grove)
701 S. Catalina St
Los Angeles, CA


Mr. Tiny