All posts by Alexandra Apolloni

Alexandra is a Canadian writer, teacher, and scholar, currently living and working in Los Angeles. She enjoys 50’s diners, vintage dresses, coffee, 60’s bikini movies, playing the ukulele, and reading Dorothy Parker. She is a doctor of musicology from UCLA.

Spend your Monday evening listening to robot pianos!

Yes, admitedly, “robot pianos” is a slightly hyperbolic description. Tomorrow night, Monday May 23, some friends of mine in the Ethnomusicology Archive at UCLA are hosting “Ethnickelodeon,” a really neat concert of vintage pianola music. The pianola is a player piano, the old-timey kind that play music off of paper rolls. Apparently, operating the controls of the pianola is a bit of an art-form: so Monday night’s event won’t just consist of a ghostly piano playing by itself on an empty stage, but will feature Bob Berkman, a master of the pianola genre and an expert on automated instruments,

operating the controls. Berkman recently donated a huge collection of folksongs on piano rolls to the Ethnomusicology Archive, and is coming down from Buffalo, NY to play some of those rolls.  You can see him in action, playing a Lithuanian tune, here .  Apparently there was a huge market for culturally-specific folk tune piano rolls during the early 20th century, as immigrants from abroad were moving to the US, so you can expect to hear Finnish, Jewish, Russian, Hungarian, Croatian, Ukrainian, Italian, Syrian, Greek, West Indian, Mexican, Argentinean, and Cuban music, as well as jazz, bluegrass, and classical. The concert is 7pm in Popper Theatre in Schoenberg Hall at UCLA, and admission is free.


After hearing about the concert, I was wondering if, given LA’s longstanding history as a center of the entertainment world, there was ever much of a pianola industry here. The all-knowing Wikipedia tells me that the Los Angeles Art Organ Company attempted to manufacture a pianola-like device, but was sued for copyright infringement by the Aeolian Company of New York. (The image of their factory, at left, is from the LA Public Library Photo Collection – I can’t track down an address for the building, unfortunately!) The Southern California Music Company, which is now based out of Glendale, and is one of the oldest operating stores in California (they opened in 1880), sold piano rolls and other related equipment – the ad above, from a 1911 edition of the California Outlook is for a pianola attachment that turns regular grand pianos into player pianos.

There are more details about Monday’s concert here, and you can find out more about the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive on their blog, the EAR.


Apocalypse! Wow!

Image by Thomas Hawk

The end of the world!  It’s coming!  On Saturday!

Surely you have seen these billboards that are up all over town, claiming that the End Times begin this weekend, right?  (There was a particularly good one up near the Donut Time corner at Santa Monica and Highland for a while that just said “Save the Date!”  They’ve also been pretty offensively installed in the heart of West Hollywood – see Weho Daily’s coverage.)  Well, in case you missed the memo, the rapture is scheduled to start Saturday.

While this is certainly bullshit, and while I am not normally one to encourage or draw attention to the creepy ramblings of religious wackadoos, I am always in search of an excellent excuse for a movie marathon, and so my friends and I plan to spend my Saturday night awaiting the rapture (or not) while watching some excellent (and terrible) End Times film.  With all this talk of rapture in the air, the Left Behind movies are probably the most a propos, however, I really don’t think I can stomach that much Kirk Cameron, even if I am doing it mostly ironically.  Instead, we’ve settled on an all LA-themed program of apocalyptic film, including:

The most visually stunning jello in town!

I feel like Downey is probably one of the unsung corners of Los Angeles county.  It is chock full of modest awesomeness:  there are those apartment buildings that used to belong to the Carpenters; there’s the world’s oldest McDonald’s (please note that I am not advocating eating at the world’s oldest McDonald’s – but it’s worth a stop for the retro signage and for the surprisingly humble and ramshackle McDonald’s museum that’s attached for it); there’s the absolutely gorgeous, restored, award-winning Bob’s Big Boy; and there’s Porto’s, where all your Cuban baked good-related dreams can come true.  And, at 7420 Florence Avenue, there is Amapola Market, where all of my jello-related dreams recently came true.

Still life with tulips, robot, jello

Amapola is a Mexican grocery store and deli, and they have an amazing deli counter full of delicious carnitas and tamales, and a bakery that makes scrumptious pan dulce.  But, given my personal predilection for food that a) is kind of weird and b) looks like it comes from outer space,  I am most drawn to their absolutely beautiful jello molds, which are sparkling, jewel-like creations that put the jellied salads of 1950s housewives to shame.  Just look at this!  This is not just dessert.  This, my friends, is art.  Also, this was only $9.95, which, frankly, is an extremely small price to pay for the amount of joy it brought into my life.  They will also take special orders, making it easy to coordinate the colors of one’s jello mold with the colors of one’s outfit.

There are two more Amapola locations, in Compton and in Paramount, but I haven’t been so I don’t know if they also do jello.  If you’ve been to either, feel free to report in in the comments!


It Caught My Eye: Beautify the Mundane

I spotted “Beautify the Mundane” written into a chainlink fence on my way to coffee at Sabor y Cultura up near Hollywood and Western, and it made me smile.  It’s written on the fence around a Project Angel Food community garden.  And while I totally concur that we should beautify the mundane, I would add an addendum:  we should also try to find beauty in the mundane.  I’m always trying to explain to people that I can’t see Los Angeles as the concrete wasteland that it has an unfortunate and unfair reputation for being; and that even if it is, I think there’s beauty to be found in cracks in the concrete.

So anyhow – it’s spring and the jacarandas are blooming on my block, and they’ve inspired me to try to be less cynical, so help me out and let me know:  what do you think are the most under-appreciated and beautiful places in Los Angeles?

And a shout out, too, to Project Angel Food – I don’t know if they’re responsible for the writing on the fence (I assume they probably are), but they’re a group that definitely helps make the city more beautiful, by providing meals to AIDS and HIV patients all over the LA region.


Happy bunny weekend!

Hey, Easter is coming! And we all know what that means: FUZZY BUNNIES. If you are excited about the impending onslaught of cuteness, here are some ways that you can treat yourself to a hopping (oh, admit it, the bad puns, you love them!) bunny-themed Easter weekend!

1. Forget the lions and tigers and bears, the LA Zoo is hosting Big Bunny’s Spring Fling, Friday through Sunday, with bunny face painting, bunny ear making, and lots of real live bunnies. But most important of all, their website says there will be FREE PEEPS. Oh, happy day! (April 22, 23, and 24 at the LA Zoo. More info available here.)

2. At Olvera Street, you can bring your pets for the annual Blessing of the Animals, which is a charming tradition that moves even my largely agnostic heart. And while this isn’t bunny-specific, I imagine there will be some bunnies in attendance, or, if photos from past events are any indication, at least some puppies in bunny clothing. (Saturday, April 23, 12pm-5pm, El Pueblo Historical Monument, 125 Paseo de la Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012. More info available here.)

(More bunny rabbit fun after the jump!)

Continue reading Happy bunny weekend!

The Mighty Wurlitzer Lives On in El Segundo!

Dear people of Los Angeles:  I am in love with the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo.  And you should be, too.  I went for the first time a few weeks ago, and it was a completely enchanting experience.

The Mighty, Glow in the Dark Wurlitzer at the Old Town Music Hall

The Old Town Music Hall is run by two guys with a Wurlitzer organ, who have been operating out of their present location since 1968.  The theatre is pretty tiny, and is painted red and decorated with figurines of Nipper, the RCA dog; velvet curtains; and sparkly chandeliers.  Every weekend they do film screenings – sometimes talkies, sometimes silent films with Bill Field, the resident organist, masterfully providing the soundtrack, but always great old movies that really deserve to be seen.  We went for a screening of Seventh Heaven, which was, admittedly, a pretty ridiculous movie, plot-wise  (seriously, but we SAW the male lead die.  In a war.  Of gunshot wounds. He was seriously killed to death.  And then suddenly he was alive, like the Terminator or something, and this was supposed to be a romantic drama, not a science fiction film), but it was absolutely worth seeing, as a piece of film history.  Each screening at the Music Hall opens with a few tunes on the organ from Mr. Field (and the audience is encouraged to sing along!  And who doesn’t love a singalong?) and a short film (we got to see a Laurel and Hardy short) before the main feature.  And it’s only $8 which seems somehow like the most incredible deal, for, like, 3 hours of entertainment that prominently features live music.

I love this place because I love tiny little businesses run by people who love what they do and are sticking it out even if what they do is kind of on the anachronistic side.  And I kind of want to give all of my money to the Old Town Music Hall because I love what they’re doing so very, very much, and, by the sounds of things, they can use all the financial support they can get.  But I do need to eat and pay rent, so instead of giving them all of my money and worldly goods, I am advising you, dear readers, to head over to El Segundo some weekend to see some old movies, and support a dying art.  If you’ve never seen a silent film with organ, it’s an absolute must if you’re at all interested in film history.  It’s an amazing thing to see and hear: the organist’s job is to anticipate and highlight the emotional content of the film, and when it’s skillfully done, it can give silent movies an amazing sense of presence and immediacy.

The Old Town Music Hall is at 140 Richmond Street, El Segundo, 90245.

Mr. Wurlitzer image courtesy of Mike Fischer on flickr.


We’ve Got Valentine’s Day Licked: The Pleasure Chest, take two

Julia’s already done an awesom job of giving you a run-down of the ins and outs of the Pleasure Chest.  But I would also like to get in on the party that is this Valentine’s series, and since the Pleasure Chest is in my ‘hood, I would like to provide a, shall we say, artistic interpretation of the experience of visiting this titillating establishment.

Because, let’s face it, going to a sex shop these days can be a lot like going to MOCA.  Some of the of dildos and vibrating doo-dads at the Pleasure Chest are so artfully and carefully designed that  it would be a crying shame to hide them in your sock drawer because they make the shelves in the store look like miniature sculpture gardens.  There was a beautiful dildo made of turned hardwood that I would seriously hang on the wall beside my MA degree, and it would make the my degree look much fancier.  Some toys look like little pieces of pop art, others, like they could double for some sort of Scandinavian-designed salt and pepper shaker.

Anyhow, in the spirit of the artistic awakening that I seem to have had at the Pleasure Chest, I present to you my impressions of my visit, in time-honored haiku form.  And obviously you should take this as an invitation to leave your own saucy haiku in the comments.

Purple, red, blue, green:
Is there gold at the end of
Rainbows of dildos?

This lube smells like cake,
That lube smells like sodapop:
Junk food for your junk.

I spy ‘cross the room
A big, footlong rubber fist –
Wait, that goes in where?

Cuffs, ok, whips, fine,
Nipple clamps are a maybe,
Pony bridle?  NO.

(Pleasure Chest logo photo from smussyolay)

Adventures in donutting: Beach City Baked Donuts in Redondo Beach

Beach City Baked Donuts had been on my donut radar for a while (yes, a donut radar, I have one!), and were tragically not represented at last year’s Donut Summit (may it forever live in infamy), so finally this weekend we trekked over to Redondo Beach to give them a try.

The donuts, as the name of the shop suggests, they are baked!  Not fried.  And the resulting donuts are tiny and cute, but not too tiny – size-wise, think in terms of a happy medium between your regular old fashioned glazed and those powdered sugar ones from the grocery store.  As with so many other little cute things, they are a Japanese innovation, and they come in very exciting flavors!  We tried four:  apricot, cinnamon sugar (which, we were told, is their best-seller), green tea, and the whimsically named bananaman, which was banana and chocolate chip.  They were all tasty, although apricot might have been my favorite.  Their texture was like a cake donut, but drier, and because of that dryness, the nice folk at Beach City recommended that we either eat them with coffee or warmed up, so we did both, and, let me tell you, warming them up made them verrrry tasty indeed.  The donuts are bit pricier than average – $1.50 for one, or $15 for a dozen, and since they’re a bit smaller, too, they aren’t exactly a deal, but they make for an interesting alternative to your everyday donut.  Beach City also touts the relative health benefits of baked donuts over conventional fried donuts, but honestly, I feel like anyone telling me that donuts are good for me is missing the point of donuts, which is that they are delicious and made out of sugar.  Also, Beach City serves this thing that they call an Affogato that is a donut with ice cream in the middle and espresso on top, which probably negate the health benefits, but DAMN IT LOOKS DELICIOUS.  All that aside, I really liked this slightly avant-garde variation on the Southern California donut shop, and, should we dare ever host Donut Summit 2:  Electric Boogaloo, I’m pretty sure they’ll give all those other boring old donuts a run for their money.

Beach City Baked Donuts is located at 501 N Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach.

Sweet Charity: Blogging.LA’s Guide to Giving – the LA Conservancy

In 1978, downtown’s iconic Central Library was at risk of being demolished,which blows my mind a little bit: it’s hard to imagine downtown without it. In response to the library’s impending destruction, a group of citizens began public debate and negotiations with city council that eventually led to the library’s preservation and restoration, a project that took fifteen years, ending with the library’s grand re-opening in 1993. The group that made the restoration work possible was the LA Conservancy, who, since their founding in 1978, have continued to advocate and educate in order to keep LA’s history accessible.

Bob's Big Boy in Downey - winner of the LA Conservancy's 2010 President's Award for Preservation

The Conservancy does huge amounts of programming and advocacy in and around the city. They offer walking tours of downtown architechture; they run the ever-popular Last Remaining Seats film series, that brings audiences into rarely-open historic theatres; they work with specific neighborhoods to have areas designated local, state, and national historic districts; and actively work to save buildings of historical or cultural interest that are in danger of demolition. While the preservation buildings may not, at first glance, seem to a terribly pressing social concern, it’s important to remember that the spaces in which people live and work and play can be vital sites of community and cultural identity, and that with the loss of culturally, socially, and historically important spaces, we risk losing parts of the story of this remarkable city. It’s one thing to preserve history in photographs and books, but actually being able to visit the places where things happened can, I think, really keep it vital and alive.

So that’s why I think you should give to the LA Conservancy. They’re encouraging folks to make holiday donations to their Presevation Advocacy Fund. The money donated to this fund supports the Conservancy’s efforts to advocate for the preservation of historic buildings by taking on developers and governments, by working with local historical societies and neighborhood associations, and by providing educational initiatives that teach the public about LA history. You can also become a member of the Conservancy (or maybe buy a gift membership for that special someone!), giving you access to special events, or you can volunteer some time – the Conservancy needs help with everything from advocacy to photography.

This post is part of Sweet Charity:  Blogging.LA’s Guide to Giving

Bob’s Big Boy picture courtesy of Andy Perkins of Flickr.

Sweet Charity: Blogging.LA’s Guide to Giving – Esperanza Community Housing

(This post is part of Sweet Charity:  Blogging.LA’s Guide to Giving, our guide to alternative places to spend your dollars and make a difference this holiday season!)

Esperanza Community Housing serves the families that live in and around the Figueroa corridor. The organization’s original focus was on housing, and they’ve built and maintained sustainable and affordable housing for folks with low incomes. But they’ve expanded their mandate to include all kinds of things that go beyond just housing and show a real dedication to developing a self-sustaining, vital community. They provide health-related education and services in English and Spanish, they run arts and science workshops for kids and families. They have an extensive education program, and train community leaders to become “health promoters,” giving them the knowledge and resources to work for health and social justice issues on a grassroots level.

Esperanza Community Housing also operates Mercado La Paloma, an amazing marketplace and community space located at 3655 South Grand Avenue. The Mercado is full of small, independently owned, community-based businesses, all of which were founded with the assistance of Esperanza Community Housing, who provided business training and startup resources, with the intent of creating jobs and business ownership opportunities in the community. The shops in the Mercado include small restaurants and shops, selling everything from arts and crafts to computer supplies. I found out about it when I met some friends for dinner at Mo-Chica, which is an amazing Peruvian restaurant located in the Mercado. (You should go, and try the AMAZING ceviche!!) Mercado La Paloma also houses art exhibits, hosts classes on topics ranging from health and nutrition to computer how-to, has a kids’ reading nook, and plays host to events like film screenings and festivals. All in all, it’s an amazing, welcoming gathering space that provides much-needed community resources.

Want to help Esperanza Community Housing continue to provide affordable housing and resources? They welcome tax-dedutible donations on their website. And you can also support the small businesses in the Mercado by doing some of your Christmas shopping there! A good time to visit might be tomorrow, December 17th, between 5:00 and 9:00pm, when the Mercado will be hosting a holiday celebration, with live music, dancing, and art workshops.

Esperanza Community Housing and Mercado La Paloma are located at 3655 South Grand Ave.  Directions are available here.

Photo of the Mercado La Paloma mural from lili.chen on flickr.

Happy holidays, insert pun here.

I was driving through West Hollywood along Santa Monica Boulevard the other day, and noticed a festive sign in the window of the Pleasure Chest (everyone’s favorite, fabulous adult emporium).  I decided that the sign in question couldn’t possibly have said what I thought it said, because what I thought it said was too impossibly silly.

But I went back today and discovered that, actually, yes, it did say what I thought it said.  And that is why I love my neighborhood:

Happy Holidays, folks.  Tits the season indeed.

Whither the Bronson Ave Easter Island heads?

The Bronson Ave Moai in their glory days, courtesy of Just Above Sunset

I happened to be driving past the intersection of Santa Monica and Bronson today when I remembered that one of my favorite LA landmarks was in the neighborhood. OK, well maybe this isn’t so much a landmark, since it kind of lacks general reknown, but it is a Quirky, Weird, and Kind of Awesome Thing, therefore worth mentioning. On Bronson, just north of Santa Monica, is the CP Three Props Warehouse, which, for, like, ever, had a lineup of giant replica Easter Island Moai that were just strapped to the side of the building, looking awesome and incongruous. Some days they would be there, smiling nobly in the sun, some days they would be gone, like they’d vanished into the mist of some Pacific island (or, more likely, onto a set somewhere). But I could at least count on those Tiki Gods to brighten my day at least every other time I was in the neighborhood.

But then suddenly it seemed like they were never out anymore, and then this summer there was a fire at the warehouse, and today when I went by they were nowhere to be seen. Have I seen the last of the Bronson Avenue Moai? Did they survive the fire, or were they tragically engulfed in flames? On Critiki (your one stop shop for tracking down giant Easter Island heads, apparently) they’ve reported that at least three of them have supposedly survived, which is hopeful, although I haven’t seen them myself. But hopefully one day they will once more grace the streets of Hollywood with their enigmatic presence!

Navigating street closures at the West Hollywood Halloween Costume Carnival

The president checks in at the 2008 festival. Image from Rockin Robin

If you live in LA, you have to do West Hollywood’s Costume Carnival at least once.  I think it brings out the best (and, arguably, some of the worst) in the citizens of this little corner of the world, or, at least, it brings out the best in everyone’s fashion sense.   Costuming, it turns out, is an area in which Angelenos truly excel.  I still think the best costume I’ve seen at the carnival was one from three years ago:  a woman was decked in gold spraypainted cardboard tubes, and was the Westin Bonaventure Hotel.  That, my friends, is style.

But if you live or work or have need to travel anywhere near West Hollywood this Sunday, you probably know that a sad side effect of the festivities is traffic hell.   So, because we care about you, dear readers, here’s the run down on street closures in West Hollywood, so you can make your travel plans for Sunday accordingly:

Santa Monica Boulevard between La Cienega Boulevard and Doheny Drive (1 p.m. Sunday, October 31 through 6 a.m., Monday, November 1, 2010

Robertson Boulevard between Melrose Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard (1 p.m., Sunday, October 31 through 6 a.m., Monday, November 1, 2010)

San Vicente Boulevard between Cynthia and Melrose Avenue ( 2 p.m., Sunday, October 31 through 6 a.m., Monday, November 1, 2010)

La Peer Drive eastbound turn lane onto Santa Monica Boulevard (3 p.m., Sunday, October 31 through 7 a.m., Monday, November 1, 2010)

La Cienega Boulevard between Holloway Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard ( 6 p.m., Sunday, October 31 through 6 a.m., Monday, November 1, 2005)

Sunset Boulevard eastbound and westbound turn lanes onto La Cienega Boulevard (6 p.m., Sunday, October 31 through 7 a.m., Monday, November 1, 2010)

The carnaval itself kicks off with a parade at 6pm and 11pm, with a kickoff parade at 7pm, and winds along Santa Monica from La Cienega to La Peer.   There’s more info on the Costume Carnival website. celebrates Halloween!!

Halloween is serious business in this town. It seems to be a sort of sub-industry: when I first moved to LA, I was completely taken aback by the sheer number of one stop Halloween shops that seem pop up around the city at this time of year. Who knew that there was such a huge market for plastic pumpkins, animatronic talking skeletons, and Sexy Donut costumes? Who knew indeed. And LA has its fair share of scary stories – from the Black Dahlia to Lizard People and everything in between – making it a particularly evocative place to be for the spookiest holiday of the year.

As the end of October approaches, we’re hotly anticipating that time when the heady aroma of smashed jackolanterns will once more waft through the air. So check in with us over the next week and a half as we bring you a variety of perspectives on navigating Halloween in Los Angeles – from LA’s spookiest places, to ghostly events, to more Lizard People coverage than you ever thought you’d need (and believe me, you do actually need it). Bookmark this post, because I’ll be keeping an archive of all our Halloween posts. And please comment below and let us know about your favorite scary sights, haunted houses and local Halloween festivities!

The Creepy Beneath Our Feet:  Kevin’s ongoing expose on the Secret Lives of Lizard People (and possibly the greatest run of posts this site has ever known)

LA’s Lizard People

The Patron Saint of the Lizard People

The City with Scaly Shoulders

Lizard People and the Bigger Picture

Passages to the Underworld

Lizards in Disguise

The Real (and Not Actually Creepy Thing

And because all good things must, sadly, end, the Wrap-Up.

Other, less lizard-oriented Halloween posts:

Navigating street closures at the West Hollywood Costume Carnival

Seriously Corny

Hide Your Silly String Tonight

Halloween Wardrobe Mal-Function

Sunshine Gothic