Road Trip Stop 5: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

I'm taking a road trip to points of interest in Southern California! The trip is being underwritten by Buick LaCrosse, which has also kindly provided me with the use of a Buick LaCrosse to drive during the tour. My first stop was the Griffith Observatory, in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. My second stop was to Coco's Variety in Silver Lake. The third leg of my trip took me to lowbrow art galleries in Los Angeles. My fourth destination was the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City. My final stop is the Huntington Gardens, Library, and Galleries near Pasadena.

Those railroad robber barons sure left some nice things for us to enjoy. Take Henry E. Huntington. He was born in 1850 and at age 22 went to work for his uncle, Collis P. Huntington, tycoon of the Central Pacific Railroad, and made a fortune in the southern California rail business. When Uncle Collis died in 1900, he left behind his much younger wife, Arabella, the "richest woman in America." Her specialty was acquiring art from the old masters and other treasures, including "Medieval and Renaissance devotional images, and Louis XIV-XV furniture and decorative arts."

Henry, a bit of an art buff himself, took a shine to his uncle's widow, and in 1913 they were married. They shacked up in Henry's recently completed Beaux Arts mansion built on the grounds of his 600-acre ranch estate in tony San Marino, near Pasadena.

Now retired, Henry spent most of his time collecting rare books and art, and developing the gardens of his estate. Read the rest

Road Trip Stop 4: Museum of Jurassic Technology

I'm taking a road trip to points of interest in Southern California! The trip is being underwritten by Buick LaCrosse, which has also kindly provided me with the use of a Buick LaCrosse to drive during the tour. My first stop was the Griffith Observatory, in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. My second stop was to Coco's Variety in Silver Lake. The third leg of my trip took me to lowbrow art galleries in Los Angeles. This time I'm visiting the the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City.

I visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology once every few years to convince myself that it exists and isn't just part of my dreams. It's on an otherwise uninteresting section of Venice Blvd in Culver City, but thanks to the large red sign resembling a scroll, and the gold letters spelling out the name of the museum, it's easy to spot.

The interior is dimly lit. The displays are illuminated from within or with pinpoint lighting, leading to an ambience that seems to diminish both ambient noise and the awareness that you are in a lackluster Los Angeles neighborhood. The feeling is one of being in the private library of an eccentric collector of artistic and scientific curiosities.

The central gallery houses the permanent collections, including an exhibit on the Cameroonian stink ant (Megaloponera foetens), which Lawrence Weschler described in his book about the museum's founder, David Wilson, called Mr. Wilson's Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology. Read the rest

Road Trip Stop 3: Lowbrow Art Galleries, Los Angeles, California.

Ishkur, by Martin Wittfooth, 30" x 30", oil on panel. On exhibit at CoproGallery, Santa Monica, CA

I'm taking a road trip to points of interest in Southern California! The trip is being underwritten by Buick LaCrosse, which has also kindly provided me with the use of a Buick LaCrosse to drive during the tour. My first stop was the Griffith Observatory, in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. My second stop was to Coco's Variety in Silver Lake. The third leg of my trip takes me to lowbrow art galleries in Los Angeles.

One of the reasons I love Los Angeles so much is that it's the birthplace of my favorite kind of art -- the "lowbrow / pop surrealism" genre. Since I'm drawn to the sources that lowbrow artists look to for their inspiration -- hot rod and biker illustrations, monster and exploitation movies, science fiction pulps, sleazy magazines, lurid comic books, sailor tattoos, Tex Avery cartoons, and Polynesian pop -- it's only natural that I find the art they create to be appealing as well. A lot of people despise lowbrow, which makes me like it all the more. When New York Times art critic Grace Glueck called Mark Ryden a "relentless kitsch-meister," I began appreciating Ryden's work all the more, just as I'm sure admirers of abstract expressionism become even more fond of Cy Twombly's multi-million dollar masterpieces whenever uncultured hicks like me make fun of them. Read the rest

Road Trip Stop 2: Coco's Variety, Los Angeles, California

I'm taking a road trip to points of interest in Southern California! The trip is being underwritten by Buick LaCrosse, which has also kindly provided me with the use of a Buick LaCrosse to drive during the tour. My first stop was the Griffith Observatory, in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. My second stop is to Coco's Variety.

In an otherwise nondescript industrial street in Los Angeles' Silver Lake district there's a store called Coco's and it's quite unlike any other retail establishment I've ever seen. The storefront's facade is a brightly colored Trompe l'Oeil depicting a tropical paradise, complete with palm trees, a lagoon, and a jug of "agua pura" floating in the sky. There's also a painting of a red Kit-Cat Klock, with a notice that Coco's is the headquarters for the venerable timepieces.

When you walk into Coco's, the multifarious array of products on the shelves, the counters, the floor, and the ceiling is dizzying. As Mister Jalopy, Coco's proprietor, writes on the store's "Coco's Variety sells flyswatters, glass five-gallon water bottles, headache remedies, oil cloth by the yard, used bicycles, California souvenir tablecloths, Kit-Cat Klocks, gumballs, Mexican Cokes in glass bottles, squirt guns, tote bags adorned with hula girls, Lodge cast iron frying pans, old American-made tools, baskets for your bicycle, wood matches, reverse osmosis purified drinking water by the gallon and fancy Jadeite cake plates for fancy cakes on fancy occasions." Read the rest

Road Trip Stop 1: Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, California.

Photo by Eva Luedin / CC BY 2.0

I'm taking a road trip to points of interest in Southern California! The trip is being underwritten by Buick LaCrosse, which has also kindly provided me with the use of a Buick LaCrosse to drive during the tour. My first stop is the Griffith Observatory, in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.

The most important thing I learned on my recent visit to the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles was this: If you have a 12-year-old daughter, don't say "moo" in the planetarium. Mine was mortified, even when I pointed out that I had the decorum to recite the famous one-word line from Rebel Without a Cause before the show had started. That just made things worse, she pointed out, because it meant the lights were on and people could see us. Fortunately, once the program commenced, my daughter became so caught up by the heavenly bodies projected on the dome that she forgot all about it.

I learned a few other things that day, too, thanks to a terrific 20-minute movie about the history of the observatory that was shown in the new Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater located in its basement. Narrated by Mr. Nimoy himself, the film explained that the observatory owed its existence to a gentleman by the name of Griffith J Griffith. After coming to the United States as a young man in the late 1800s, Mr. Griffith had amassed a fortune in silver mining and began buying up huge swaths of land in Los Angeles, making him even richer. Read the rest