Oakland's iconic "Mid-century Monster" rescued

If you know Oakland, you know about the big, free-form sculpture that lives on the shores of Lake Merritt in Oakland. You probably also know that it's been behind a chain-link fence in disrepair for several years. But for a long time, it was not just a piece of art to appreciate but a usable play structure for children to climb in and on. Now, a local group of its fans have ensured the now-iconic "Monster" will live on.

In 1968, for their "Dance to the Music" album, Sly & the Family Stone posed on the "Monster."

The "Mid-Century Monster," as it's now called, was created in 1952. Oakland Parks Superintendent William Penn Mott, Jr., who had founded Children's Fairyland just two years earlier, asked local art professor Bob Winston to create the 40-foot, chartreuse sculpture.

The "Monster" in the 1950s, photo via Martha Ellen Wright

Many years later, however, the "Monster" fell into such disrepair that the city fenced it off and forgot about it. In 2015, an effort was launched by Lake Merritt's Mid-Century Monster Fan Club, led by Kyle Milligan and Susan Casentini, to bring it back to its former glory.

This is what the sculpture looked like just four years ago — blanched, broken, and behind a fence. image via Lake Merritt's Mid-Century Monster Fan Club

Earlier this year, the restoration was complete, and on Sunday, July 28, from 11 to 3 the club will be hosting a free party to celebrate at the site. The public is invited. Read the rest

Designer turned mid-century matchbook covers into gorgeous pro-voting memes

Filmmaker and designer Helen Stickler of Providence, RI has repurposed vintage matchbook propaganda art into swell political memes supporting #VoteBlue, #GOTV, and Democrats.

She writes that she'll be posting them individually on her Facebook page until the midterm election.

I'm particularly sweet on this one:

Thanks, Margot!

Previously: Street artists leave 'Please Clean Up After Your Democracy' signs to encourage voting Read the rest

The Mid-Century Supper Club revives kooky recipes of yore

When I was a kid, my grandmother's holiday go-to dish was a mayo-topped carrot and pineapple Jell-O salad (I still despise mayonnaise to this day).

In the 70s, I remember flipping through my mom's cookbooks and recipe cards looking at all the questionable creations inside. Looking back I can see that the recipes were targeted to ambitious homemakers with plenty of time on their hands. Ungodly (in)edibles like aspic-glazed lamb loafs (below), cocktail weenie trees, and ambrosia salad immediately come to mind.

My pals Karen Finlay and Jennye Garibaldi were also fascinated by the elaborate dishes within these cookbooks. So much so that in 2007, after meeting like-minded folks in a Mid-Century Supper Club Flickr group, the duo started hosting themed potluck parties where invitees were asked to whip up vintage recipes to share with other the guests.

The Mid-Century Supper Club (MCSC) potluck was born and it soon became a big success.

In 2008, the first potluck was held in Karen's Oakland, California flat. By the end of 2012, the annual party had gotten so big that it had to be moved to a rental venue. For the past few years, it's found a home at the (amazing, old school) Eagles Hall in downtown Alameda, California.

A good deal of the MCSC's charm is that it's more than just about re-creating a vintage dish. It's about going all in. To be sure, presentation is key, as laid out in the official rules:

If you've ever looked through vintage cook books and booklets, you know that in the mid-century era, creative and stylish presentation was almost as important as the taste of the food...judging by some of the ingredients, maybe more so!

Read the rest

Nothing says Christmas like an aluminum tree

Lisa Hix of Collectors Weekly has just published a great interview with Sarah Archer, whose new book, Midcentury Christmas: Holiday Fads, Fancies, and Fun from 1945 to 1970, explains how companies like Alcoa Aluminum used Christmas to capitalize on the technologies it had developed for World War II.

Here's a snip:

The company that produced the most aluminum for the war effort was Alcoa, but there were also some smaller companies, too, many of which were based in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, of all places, which was one of the big aluminum capitals of North America. Like a lot of mid-century Christmas items, including the acrylic rubber that coats Christmas lights cords, aluminum trees came from thinking about repurposing a material produced for the military. The aluminum strips that were used to make the trees were originally designed for something called chaff, which was sprinkled over enemy territories to scramble radar because the little pieces of metal would diffuse the signal.

Many 1950s aluminum tree producers used Alcoa branding. The exterior of the box would say, “We proudly use Alcoa aluminum.” You could put ornaments on these trees, but one of the challenges of decorating them was not getting electrocuted, which was mentioned prominently in the how-to pamphlet that came with the tree. Because it was not safe to put electric lights on the metal, the companies distributing the trees would sell a rotating lamp that would shine different-colored lights on the tree to bathe it in magenta or purple.

Read the rest

Proud Bird restaurant humbled by huge rent hike

Back in the aerospace heyday of the 1960s-1980s, the Proud Bird restaurant was the steakhouse of choice for Los Angeles industry workers, who gathered to drink strong martinis and talk shop.

But the Proud Bird (founded in 1958 by a B-17 WWII pilot) will fly no more, thanks to a one-two punch of a gigantic lease hike and declining patronage.

Mid-Century culture fanatic Todd Lappin has a beautiful Flickr set of the storied dining establishment (which is where I swiped the photo above), and the LA Times has an article about the Proud Bird's impending closure, save an 11th hour miracle.

Proud Bird, aerospace watering hole, about to run dry Read the rest

Key to the Gustavademecum

Last week, I posted about the The Gustavademecum for the Island of Manhattan, a delightfully geeky, DIY-made, mid-20th century dining guide produced by a physical chemist for the benefit of traveling scientists and engineers.

One of the key features of the guide was an elaborate series of symbols and letters that provided a lot of information about various restaurants in a small amount of space—and which look like some kind of crazy alchemical shorthand. In the original post, I included a page from the guide, so you can look at that to see the symbols in action.

Hugh Merwin, who wrote the story on The Gustavademecum for Saveur, also scanned a page from the guide's key, which didn't appear in the original story. You can see some of it above, and visit his personal website to see the full key. Read the rest