Speaking of the Olive…

Right next door to Jones Decorating sits the Olive Motel. The motel dates back to 1946. With its “L” shaped layout, rounded corners, flat roof, and classic neon signs, the Streamline Moderne Olive Motel is an iconic holdout amidst the rapidly changing Silverlake landscape.

Back in the dog days of August 2015, I took an evening walk around the neighborhood to cool off. As I turned onto Sunset, the familiar neon glow of the Olive Motel beckoned me to to snap a photograph.

Now you see it, now you don’t.

A couple days later the sign was gone. It had been taken down to make way for some crummy new signs that carry the Olive Motel name but none of the original style.

Out with the old, in with the new

The Olive may have lost its original signs but the motel lives on, perhaps persevering on pure grit. These days, the motel has a seedy reputation perhaps best known for rooms rented by the hour or a murder that occurred there in 2007, but what has always stood out to me is the understated art deco design that holds its own in the face of a neighborhood fast-flipping to gentrification.

The most striking thing about the Olive Motel is the remarkable human behind the design. Her name is Edith Mortenson Northman, the first licensed female architect in Los Angeles.

Edith Northman, 1893-1956

Northman cracked into the man’s world of architecture forging a steady independent career making her mark by designing over 100 buildings including residences, gas stations, motels, churches, temples, war effort projects and factories many of which are still standing today.

The Insley House, Alvira St. Apartments, Villa Sevilla, North Oakhurst Apartments, Berger-Winston Apartment Building are just a few Los Angeles buildings designed by Edith Northman.

Northman was born in Denmark in 1893. As a child, she loved to watch buildings being built but back then such a thing was considered unbecoming for a lady. Edith came to the US with her family when she was 21. During a brief stint as a librarian, she read an article that reignited her fire to pursue architecture.

And that’s just what she did. She got a degree in architecture at USC and was licensed by 1931. Northman soon kickstarted a humble yet successful solo architecture practice with just one draftsman, bucking the odds of the economic depression while being a woman in a highly male profession.

Being a rarity in the species of architects, Edith caught Hollywood’s eye. When Samuel Goldwyn was producing a screwball comedy about the hijinx of a fictional female architect called Woman Chases Man, Northman was recruited to advise on the film.

Art Imitating Life?

Observing on set, she commented that the architect character played by Miriam Hopkins did “quite unbelievable things in the pursuit of the illusive client.”

Outside of her prolific career, Edith Northman strongly advocated for women to enter the field of architecture and construction. She aptly noted that “Women are no longer a curiosity in the field. They are just as qualified after training to design in the many architectural fields as men.”


The Sephardic Synagogue & Hebrew Center of Los Angeles at 5500 S. Hoover St. was designed by Northman in 1934 and built for $26,000. It now houses the A.M.E. church.

Northman also believed in community service, participating in many philanthropic clubs and bringing her skills to the community teaching courses to the general public who wanted to be educated in home building.

Sadly, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in the early 1950’s rendered Edith Northman unable to hold a pencil, bringing a tragic end to a brilliant career. She died in 1956 but certainly not in vain. Edith Northman was a visionary that paved the way for designing women everywhere leaving a legacy of amazing architecture all over southern California and beyond.

Take an architectural road trip through some of Edith Northman’s Los Angeles buildings.

Keeping Up with the Jones

Walking down Sunset Blvd. one afternoon in the early 80’s, I noticed the smoggy sunset making an old building glow yellow, highlighting its faux Moorish or Egyptian details like a 40s film noir set. The building was topped with massive bold letters in a font from another era reading Jones Decorating Company.

I snapped a photograph just as a lone figure ambled past Jones’ neighbor, the rundown Olive Motel, battling the burning setting sun. I didn’t notice until I developed the shot that there was a sign on the building saying Jones had moved to a small storefront down the street and that the building was for sale.

Soon afterwards, a few windows were cemented over, some architecture details were chipped off, the distinctive transom windows above the ground floor were painted over, new crappy windows were installed on the ground floor, and the massive letters were taken down.

A yoga studio and furniture store occupied the space for several years until the furniture store folded and the yoga shop moved. Then wood barriers went up fronting the sidewalk and I figured it was time to do some research before the wrecking ball came for Jones Decorating.

Turns out what was left of building was being rehabbed into “three levels of creative office, retail and restaurant space” branded The Jones Building. The property’s website dates the building back to 1928 but I still wanted to know who the heck was Jones and what did he decorate?

Building permits reveal the building was constructed for around $40K in 1928 on Sunset Blvd in the Mayberry Heights Tract by Percy G. Alen for the purpose of “studio and stores.”

By the 1940’s, E.S. Jones enters the picture as the new owner on the building permits which state that the building was being used as a decorating company on “all floors.”

More digging uncovered Jones Decorating ads in old Billboard magazines from the 40’s and 50’s revealing that Jones was a purveyor of eye-catching pennants and glowing banners, but still nothing on the man himself.

Sadly, it was a 1990 obit in the LA Times that gave life to Elmer S. Jones who has been described as a “flag, banner and bunting maker to Southern California and the world.” Elmer Jones exemplified the old fashioned American dream, where hard work actually counted for something. He was a true rags to riches story, coming to LA from Illinois and scraping by until he found a job with a decorator.

Before there was Indiana Jones… Image of Elmer Jones from a 1949 article in Fortnight newsmagazine.

When his boss went bankrupt, Jones swooped in and took over the decorating business in 1926. With loads of ambition and elbow grease, he created a little empire. He made his mark on the city by jazzing it up it for many celebrations including the 1932 Olympics, The Rose Parade, the Academy Awards, and Hollywood Christmas parade to name a few. He even had a hand in designing the Los Angeles city flag.

Jones decorated everything from political conventions to military ceremonies, tradeshows, conventions, grand openings, and holiday parades. At his peak Jones was swamped with work orders and his bustling business employed over 50 people including production men, designers, artists, seamstresses, and salesmen.

At some when point decorating for festivities and events waned, Jones recalibrated the focus of his business to a year-round Christmas store catering to the general public and the Hollywood studios. Many Angelenos fondly remember this epoch.

Jones Decorating Co., 1990’s

As a testament to his work ethic, Elmer continued working in his building 5 days a week until breaking his hip a few weeks before his death in 1990. He was 92. I really wish I would have poked my head inside the store and met Elmer S. Jones, the man who decorated Los Angeles and beyond.

It’s 2019, Jones is long gone, and his old stomping grounds are being repurposed for a new world of entrepreneurs. (Who knows? Maybe his name will reappear on the building.) But in our haste to make old new again let us not forget the men & women who trail-blazed down boulevards like Sunset, throwing up awesome buildings and creating wildly successful businesses sometimes out of nothing but some bunting, banners, flags and ribbon.

Striking Field Notes

Just knocked out a new Bowling Mini Journal. Each one of our handmade upcycled pocket notebooks is a bit different, and that’s a good thing! This one has plenty retro bowling alley pix ready to inspire at the turn of a page.

Disappearing Lanes

 

Bowl Header2 copyIt was a good Sunday when Dad packed us up in the station wagon for a trip to the local bowling alley.  The space aged geometric letters stretching into the sky were a sign of good times ahead.

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Trading in the old sneakers for a pair of groovy colored funny smelling shoes was treat enough. Then there was picking out the perfect ball and the nick name for the score sheet. Yeah, scoring was done with pencil, paper, and brain back then.

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Then it was time to sit back and chill out on the cool chairs til it was your chance to bowl.

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It wasn’t rock and bowl, or black light bowl, it was just plain bowling and it was plain fun. I remember there being lots of alleys back then and the lanes were usually packed.

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For the last few decades, old bowling alleys have been slowly disappearing from the Southern California landscape. Lately,  I read news of the likely closure of Burbank’s Pickwick Bowl.

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Will it be the next to join the bowling alley graveyard? The Covina Bowl had its last stand earlier this year and the Friendly Hills Bowl was hit by the bulldozer before that.

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They are in the good growing company of the iconic bowling centers that have gone before them. The Hollywood Star Lanes, Picwood Bowl, Panorama Bowl, La Mirada Bowl and many more classic mid mod architectural gems have been crushed for the vast and valuable real estate they occupy.

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All we have left is the memories of spares, strikes, and turkeys bowled within them.

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If you’re lucky enough to have a vintage bowling alley in your neighborhood, best go for a bowl before it becomes extinct.

Bukowski Drank Here, or Did He?

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“I started drinking before you people were born. I’ll be drinking after I bury you.”- Charles Bukowski

Chances are it’d be hard to figure all the joints Bukowski bellied up to. His domain was Hollywood and Western for a chunk of his life when he was boozing/ writing poetry and prose by day and sticking mail at the post office by night. There’s a neat video of him reminiscing about his old neighborhood here.

That hood has changed a lot since those days with arrival of the Metro Red Line and scads of soul-less structures filled with fast food and big box stores which knocked out whole city blocks of mom and pop shops. It used to have equal parts grit and personality… lots of bars, liquor stores, and street life.

Though Bukowski was long gone (moved to San Pedro in the late 70’s) the area still had flavor in the 80’s and 90’s when we captured these pix. This dive was on Western– perhaps he tipped a few back here before getting 86’d. Notice the sex shop next door.

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The Study is wedged between a hotel and a liquor store that Bukowski recalls, so maybe he did some “studying” here as well. This spot became a gay bar in the ’90’s and has now been erased from the landscape all together. I remember it having a pot belly fire pit inside, providing refuge from the cruel LA weather I guess.

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Buk is said to have ventured west on Hollywood Blvd. to the Frolic Room, which keeps pouring ’em strong to this day.

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Big Ed’s was a classic Culver City watering hole, popular among actors, gamblers, & hustlers in ’40s & ‘50s. It seems a stretch to think Bukowski would have been a regular here as it falls so far outside of his home turf.

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It had its last last call in the late ‘80s. Just before shuttering, it was transformed into The Golden Horn bar, the setting of the cult movie, “Barfly”, the only screenplay penned by Bukowski. If you squint, you may be able to imagine the Golden Horn neon atop the Big Ed’s. Bukowski had a cameo as a bar patron towards the end of the movie, so maybe just maybe he did drink here after all…

Sometime after the movie was made Big Ed’s was razed, but not before being mysteriously burned, which is when this shot was snapped. Wouldn’t you know it became a parking lot. Now that’s poetry.

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Find more photography of old Los Angeles dive bars here.

Lookin’ for Love

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They say you only find love when you stop looking for it. Is this really so? We took to the streets on a love quest– pounding the pavement with our peepers peeled to see what we could find.

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We took it slow. We didn’t want to rush into anything, but things were looking promising.

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Probably just a fluke. But then this?

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And glancing down.

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Looking up.

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The walls.

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The stairway.

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The freeway.

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The doorway.

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The entryway.

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Hold up– maybe things are moving a bit too fast.

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Don’t want my heart to end up here.

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Maybe we need to break up. It’s not you, it’s me. And just remember:

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Thanks to all the artists out there putting love on the streets.

Find quirky handmade sweet nothings for your sweet something this Valentines day.

DIVE REVIVAL

In this 2012 Los Angeles world of revived dive bars (King Eddy’s), dive cafeterias (Clifton’s) and dive everything else (Cole’s), a few joints that left the scene decades ago remain long forgotten.  One that begs for memory revival is The Playboy, a bar next to Nickodell Restaurant, both at one time straddling Paramount Studios on Melrose Ave.

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I only took a few slides of the place moments before it was crushed by the dozers back in ’98, but I imagine it was once a classy cocktail lounge inhabited by Sinatra and Paramount execs.  I say this because of the top hat, white gloves and black cane painted on the back door.

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Perhaps back in the ’70’s a few New Wave Hollywood directors (DePalma & pals) threw back shots of whiskey while Gulf & Western’s Paramount Studios behind the bar struggling to redefine itself.  You can see a glimpse of the studio  in the top right corner of the shot of The Playboy below, the bar boarded up and stripped of its glowing neon.  Maybe it’s a good thing that nothing remains for a LA Revivalist to polish up and charge 12 bucks for a cocktail that once sold for $2.50 back when The Playboy was living up to its name.

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Want a bit of Hollywood history in your own home bar? Find a Playboy Photo print here.

The Ivar – Legit Goes Strip

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I first stumbled on the Ivar with this slide I took in the late 1970s.  Hollywood was rundown and the Ivar was a lovely shade of pink that symbolized what was left of the city of dreams.  A legit theater that opened in ’51, it had turned into a peep show and strip club a couple decades later.  Famed street photographer  Gary Winogrand left the street to photograph the show inside and why not, they even had a photo night where horny men with cameras could get their film exposed in more ways than one.  In the 1960s and into the early ’70s, rock acts like the Doors played the stage.  For more info and some great old photos, check out this website and the various links contained on its page:  http://sites.google.com/site/hollywoodtheatres/ivar