Saturday, December 29, 2012

Afternoon Tea for the Millennium Biltmore Hotel

View from the tea room!
Maybe one of your New Year’s resolutions is to try to slooooow things down a bit in your life. You know, take time to stop and smell the roses and actually talk to people—without having to use a keyboard. Or, maybe you want to meet friends for tea and munch on cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.  We figured out how to do the latter option. The answer: Afternoon Tea at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Biltmore, a Historic Cultural Landmark, is located on Grand Avenue, right across the street from the Central Library, making it a perfect place to plop down after a fun afternoon of hunting down Harlow biographies and Deco fashion tomes.

The Biltmore has retained its classic glamour for nearly 90 years, and it is one of my (Lara) go-to places when friends come to town and want to go somewhere that captures an Old Hollywood vibe. This hotel is also a great local escape if you live in Southern California and need to get out of your toy-strewn house for a few hours of toddler-free calm. But enough about me!

Look at that glorious ceiling!
Striding into the Biltmore’s grand entrance (those columns! that archway!) by day might make you wish that you were decked out in a fitted suit with a smart hat, and by night a 1930s, Gowns by Adrian-style, clingy number.
If it is later in the day when you visit, you could stop into Gallery Bar for a drink and admire all the bronze and exquisite lighting. And make sure you look up as you walk through the Galleria to see the hand-painted, frescoed mural ceiling done by Italian artist Giovanni Smeraldi (one of the restaurants in the hotel was named after him).
It is tough to pin the décor down to one style; is it Mediterranean? Beaux Arts? Spanish? Yes, yes, yes, and more. We did not see any classic Art Deco details, but we proclaim the Biltmore Deco because it definitely captures the exuberance and unabashed glamour that we associate with the Art Deco era.

It opened in 1923, just two years before the start of what many experts consider the Art Deco period of 1925-1939, and it was the largest hotel west of Chicago. And even now, surrounded by skyscrapers, it still looks and feels imposing with a solid eleven stories.
The Biltmore has always had a strong Hollywood connection, from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences being founded here, to the rumor that MGM Art Director Cedric Gibbons sketched a drawing on a napkin that was the basis for the Oscar statue, to hosting eight Academy Awards ceremonies in the 1930s and 1940s.
Where tea is served!
There are four restaurants and bars in the Biltmore, but afternoon tea happens Wednesday through Sunday from 2-5p in the Rendezvous Court (once the hotel’s lobby), beside a gently gurgling fountain, under Italian chandeliers, and at the foot of an impressive Spanish Baroque staircase that you may have seen on the TV show Entourage.
With so much grandeur, you might think that you need to show up in a twinset and pearls, sit with your back straight, and stick a pinky out as you sip your tea, but the space and the atmosphere is remarkably warm and friendly, a perfect place to relax with girlfriends or your daughter.
Reservations are recommended, but thankfully we were able to slide in last-minute on a Saturday afternoon. Cori and I opted for the traditional Victorian Tea ($45 per person, excluding tax and gratuity), but you can also go with the Princess Tea ($22), which includes a pot of tea, a freshly baked scone with cream and preserves, and a selection of freshly baked cakes.
Our Victorian Tea came with more than enough food (served on a traditional three-tiered stand) and drink to fill us up!

There is a wonderful variety of teas to soothe away stress and help you forget that you are surrounded by the busy downtown streets of a major city, including Ceylon and India, Black Tea Blended, English Royal Breakfast, Masala Chai (my favorite—nice and warming), Lemon Echinacea (good for a cold), and Apricot Cinnamon. 

And did we mention that the tables are covered in white tablecloths and set with china featuring a sweet rose pattern? It is exactly the kind of china that I am always looking for at the Santa Monica Airport Flea Market. 
Our selection of tea sandwiches, which were cut into these cute tiny diamond shapes (crusts off, of course!), featured egg salad and asparagus, smoked salmon and dill butter, cucumber and cream cheese, and ham and cheese on pumpernickel. And the mini pastries are almost too pretty to eat…but, of course, we did. 
It is tough to choose a favorite among the fruit tarts, chocolate truffles, and the freshly baked scones with homemade Devonshire cream and strawberry preserves, but suffice it to say that we were practically licking the heavenly clotted cream off of our fingers, and Cori was wondering if her husband (a talented vegan chef) could make a dairy-free version of this. Stay tuned ;) 
We took a few leftovers home for our husbands, who had spent the afternoon watching the kids, although, I must confess, I continued eating the gold-dusted blueberry lemon tart in the car. J

Tea for two, please!
Contact Info:
Millennium Biltmore Hotel
506 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Wiltern Theatre: A Glam Experience, Even From The Last Row

The Famous Sign!
Before I (Lara) was bitten by the Art Deco bug almost five years ago, I thought that the Wiltern Theatre was aesthetically pretty and an ideal place to see a show, but it was not until recently when I truly saw it for the stunning Art Deco masterpiece and historical venue it truly is.
Let me take you back a few years to my experience at the Wiltern. Instead of gazing at the luxe entrance (Terrazzo flooring!) in wonder, I could be found pounding on the locked front doors as I stood outside with twenty winners from my radio station’s contest. My goal was simple, but it was oh-so-profound: to enable my station's contest winners to enjoy an acoustic performance at the Wiltern with the band Train.
Of course, someone eventually heard all the commotion out front and let us in, and we enjoyed some lovely renditions of “Meet Virginia” and “Drops of Jupiter” and even engaged in light banter with the band.
Now, a few years later and even more in love with Art Deco, I approach those same front doors with a sense of reverence and awe, almost as if I am entering a church. Can I get an Amen?
The Glorious Entrance! Look at the ceiling!
The Wiltern is located in the big, blue-green Pellissier Building in Koreatown at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue. A poster located at the entrance gives you a Reader’s Digest version of the theatre’s history: The Wiltern opened its doors in 1931 with the premiere of the film Alexander Hamilton, starring George Arliss.

Design on the side of the building!
The theatre showed movies for over 50 years, and it was almost torn down in the 1970s until an awesome group of Angelenos (with help from the equally awesome Los Angeles Conservancy) saved it. In the book Theatres in Los Angeles (p.43), Anthony B. Heinsbergen, whose company created much of the Wiltern’s artwork, writes (when told about the plan to tear the Wiltern down) that what really killed all the grand movie palaces was the fact that there was no parking.
In fact, folks started going to films in suburban areas simply because they had room to park. Thankfully, there is now ample parking in the form of street parking, lots, and structures, and since the 1980s the Wiltern has flourished as a venue for live music.
The best way to see the Wiltern is to attend a show. Cori and I stopped in recently to see A Fine Frenzy and Joshua Radin in concert, and even though our seats were in the very LAST row, it was still a great view. (And no, our noses didn’t bleed…much.) And the seats are comfy! And even if they weren’t, you would notice for long because you would be blissfully drowning in the acoustic sounds. Seriously, the theater’s acoustics are almost heavenly.
The auditorium part of the Wiltern is reminiscent of the Egyptian or Pantages, with a sunburst and gold (so much GOLD) everywhere, and an overall feel of luxury. You might want to get a pic of yourselves (as we did) in the lovely rotunda, which is all about waves and sun and leaves and nature. We asked a nice gentleman who worked at the Wiltern to snap our pic, which he did, while also secretly turning Cori’s iPhone camera around and photographing his charming mug. (We sooo want to publish it!)  

Beautiful terrazzo flooring out front!
Contact Info:
The Wiltern Theatre
3790 Wilshire Boulevard  Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 388-1400

Monday, November 12, 2012

Why You Should Love Besame Cosmetics

Note to Reader: The following is a review of Besame Cosmetics, written by one of our Art Deco Divas, Chandra Savaso, a licensed cosmetologist and a celebrity makeup artist. 

Besame Crimson Rouge product!
I think the first time I learned about Besame Cosmetics was in 2009. I always try to stay in-the-know about new products because the industry is constantly changing and improving the "stuff" we put on our faces. 

Besame caught my attention in a big way because of their attention to detail in their product packaging. It is, to say the least, an absolute work of art. Even if the contents within the package were complete rubbish, I would probably purchase them because of their external beauty.  Besame was founded by Gabriela Hernandez in 2004. The inspiration came from Gabriela's recollections of childhood aunts, never leaving the house without their "lips" on. 

From Gabriela’s bullet style lipsticks to her intoxicating, yet lightly scented Brightening Violet Powder, all are encased in gorgeous ways.  To my delight, not only is beauty in the packaging but it is also in the ingredients and quality of these products.   

Bésame does not test on animals and only uses natural ingredients and organic oils in all their products. Their product line is formulated to be beneficial to your face. How much more can you hope for? The colors they have created are actual vintage reproductions, so you truly are putting a little vintage glam on your face--except it smells and tastes so much better than the lipsticks of yesterday! The lipsticks do not contain any lead ingredients and they are paraben free. And bonus: They are scented with real vanilla extract.

I would love to eventually try them all, but there were a few specific products that I have been wanting to try for quite a while.  These are the products I am reviewing:

- Cerise & Red Masterliner Pencil
- Besame Red Classic Color Lipstick
- Crimson Rouge Vintage Inspired Cream Rouge for Cheeks and Lips
- Brightening Violet Powder

The Cerise & Red Masterliner Pencil comes in a gorgeous gold double-ended encasement.  Both ends have the liner and they are sharpened for precision application. I lined my lips first with the liner, which was creamy and made application so easy.  The color is a rich deep crimson red.  This product has better staying power then so many liners I have used. I was really amazed!

Besame Red Classic Color Lipstick was applied next.  The scent is so delicious you want to eat it instead of wearing it! It smells of vanilla but not an overpowering fake vanilla. It is very pigmented so although the size is probably smaller than an average lipstick, a little goes a long way.  It has a sheen to it so it is not really a matte red.  I like it because you could wear it and not have to top it with a gloss.  But it is not too shiny if you like the more matte look.

The Crimson Rouge has a sort of vintage smell to it, but it is a nice pleasant scent.   This too is really pigmented so one swipe of a finger in the pot will give your cheeks a rosy glow reminiscent of back in the day. I applied it to my cheeks and it blended so easily. Be sure to apply it before you powder. It gave me that flushed look, like the kind you get after receiving a smile from a handsome gentleman.  Surprisingly, I applied the rouge to my lips and Wow! I have to say, I may even like it better on my lips than on my cheeks.  It has got a sheerness to it, and it makes your lips look youthful without looking overly made up.  Paired with some black cat eyeliner and mascara, it would be a beautiful look to sport for daytime. Simple, chic and classic.

Last but not least, the Brightening Violet Powder was the product I was most excited about.  I’m not sure if it is because of the name or because of what I hoped it would do for my skin.  The older we get, the more sallow our skin appears.  I used my regular foundation and lightly applied the Violet powder all over my face with a powder brush.  It comes with a little puff in the compact but I wanted to keep that looking new.  

I was first impressed by the scent.  It is a delicate violet scent.  I am not typically into strongly scented cosmetics; they sort of scare me.  Fragrance on my face is not appealing to me.  But the powder has just the slightest hint of violet, enough to notice but not overwhelming.  And the result?  It decreased my shine, but it gave my skin a little boost of brightening.  My skin looked amazing and yes, brightened. 

I would highly recommend all of these products and I plan to replace them when they’re gone.  For now, I am going to enjoy looking at them and using them daily.

I am so very impressed by Besame Cosmetics.  From their packaging to their customer service.  This is a company of integrity, quality products and such a beautiful concept.  I know they will stand the test of time.  They have brought back the beauty, boudoir and luxury of days gone by.  Thank you Besame for letting me experience a little bit of history in a new and improved way. 

For more information and store locations:

Besame Cosmetics Boutique
1558 Victory Blvd.
Glendale CA 91201

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Vintage Wedding Playlist

Pretty much all of us have been to a wedding where The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” has been played, and maybe you had the same thought I had while watching the newlyweds dance to it: This song is about stalking. Or maybe you have heard Frank Sinatra’s “These Foolish Things” and wondered if the lovebirds realized that the “cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces” was reminding Frank that he was now alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. So, sidestep any kind of musical faux pas (whether it is your first wedding or fifth) and go with this playlist of romantic songs that are guaranteed to melt even the coldest heart. And even if your wedding is at the courthouse and you are toasting your new union at home with just the two of you, these songs on your iPhone will take you to the pinnacle of romance. We wish you many years of happiness!

Pro Tip: If you are having a full reception with a cocktail hour and dinner, you can start things off with a soft instrumental mix, and then work in songs with lyrics as you get closer to the dancing portion of the evening.

1. The Way You Look Tonight - Frank Sinatra
Fred Astaire charmed millions of women when he sang this in the movie Swing Time as Ginger Rogers was washing her hair nearby and feeling less than gorgeous. Dorothy Fields (who wrote the lyrics) said that when Jerome Kern played her the melody he had written, she “went out and started to cry…I couldn’t stop, it was so beautiful.” I am tearing up right now and feeling a glow just thinking of Frank’s lovely 1964 version.

2. Come Rain Or Come Shine – Ray Charles
Written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, Ray had a hit with this in both 1960 and 1968. You may have heard the line, “We’ll be happy together, unhappy together” and wondered why the heck anyone would stick around to be unhappy together. At some point, though, you will discover that being unhappy with the right person is better than being happy with the wrong one. This is a wonderful song and tribute to a love that lasts through the ups and downs of life.

3. How I Will Say I Love You – Tony DeSare
“Call My Name
I’ll be at your door
Cry out loud
I’ll hold you till it’s over
And that’s how I will say
I love you.”
Need I say more?!

4. Love Is Here To Stay – Dinah Washington
Written by George and Ira Gershwin in the 1930s (and sometimes referred to as Our Love Is Here To Stay), you may have first heard it as the main theme for the 1951 Gene Kelly movie An American In Paris. Dinah’s version is so romantic, and I love the “thing” in her voice (Is it a growl? A purr?) that just completely pulls you in.

5. That's All – Steve Tyrell
If all you can give me is country walks in springtime, a love that lasts forever, your heart to own, a hand to hold when leaves begin to fall, and arms to enfold me…the answer is “Si!”

6. At Last – Etta James
When you listen to this classic from Etta (born Jamesetta Hawkins), you will understand why she has influenced everyone from Christina Aguilera to Diana Ross to Rod Stewart. Hello, blue skies, and goodbye, loneliness!

7. I Get A Kick Out Of You – Rod Stewart
Don’t we all want to be the one person to thrill the guy or gal who is thrilled by nothing? Although if champagne is not giving you a kick, you might try a different brand (or switch to tequila). Rod’s fun version will liven up your reception, and you can use the opportunity to share a naughty detail you learned about him in his book, Rod: The Autobiography.

8. My One And Only Love – Chris Botti with Paula Cole
When you pair a handsome trumpet player with the lovely vocals of the gal who did the Dawson’s Creek theme, the result is swoon-worthy. Plus, you can get this as a ring tone for your cell to play when your new spouse calls you.

9. Unforgettable - Nat King Cole
This one was almost called Uncomparable (“Uncomparable…that’s what you are…), which I don’t think has quite the charm of Unforgettable. Nat’s version, with the awesome Nelson Riddle arrangement, was recorded in 1951 and is still the most popular one, though we do love the David Foster remix of Nat’s 1961 recording that turns it into a duet with his daughter, Natalie.

10. Orange Colored Sky - Natalie Cole
“Flash, bam, alacazam, Wonderful you came by.” That is about as good of a way to describe being struck by one of Cupid’s arrows as I have ever heard. Lady Gaga has performed this song numerous times, including once while wearing a dress made of hair. Do you use conditioner on that?

A bonus tune that you can bust out that is pretty much guaranteed to get Grandma out on the floor and shakin’ what her mama gave her is Glenn Miller’s In The Mood. You can never, ever go wrong with that one to liven things up.

And, if you are feeling a little cheeky, here is one you can play for all the singles: Toni Tennille’s version of Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love. Seriously, even educated fleas do it, so there is a good chance someone at your wedding will at least fall in like.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Disney Adventure in Deco

There are certain things you can count on when you spend a day at Disney, like the best attractions, and food in the shape of mouse ears, or groups of adults in matching t-shirts proclaiming their family’s tenth reunion.  But now, when you visit Disney California Adventure Park, you can add Art Deco to that list. 

Buena Vista Street is a glam new addition to the park, and as noted on the Disney website, it captures “the spirit of optimism and opportunity that Walt Disney discovered in Los Angeles when he stepped off the train in 1923.”  I (Lara) think the twenties and thirties must have been a fascinating, albeit challenging, time to have been alive and to have pursued a career in balmy, smog-free Southern California (what was that like to be able to see the mountains every day?), and certainly Walt personified that Deco spirit of hopefulness, excitement, and dreaming big.

You might find yourself saying, “Hey, that’s Art Deco!” as soon as you arrive at the gates of California Adventure and spot the pale blue and white, Streamline Moderne, Pan Pacific Auditorium-inspired entrance.  The Pan Pacific was built in 1935 on West Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, burned down in 1989, and in between hosted everything from a home show to an ice rink to concerts.

There’s more Streamline to your left once you enter the park, in the form of a gas station with cream and red colors, smooth corners, speed lines, and a pylon on top that simply says, “GAS.”  It reminds me of the Firestone Garage on La Brea (just south of Wilshire) that has been around since 1937 and was recently saved from demolition. (Thank you, Art Deco Society of Los Angeles and everyone that was involved in the rescue!)

Just ahead is the Carthay Circle Theatre, which is impossible to miss. As the Depression deepened, movies offered a way of escape, making it easy to forget your troubles for a few hours while immersed in the drama on the screen and the beauty of a luxurious movie house, and the Carthay Circle Theatre was one of the most beautiful and glamorous. 

Opened in 1926 on San Vicente Boulevard, this Spanish Revival-style building captured the Deco spirit by hosting many glamorous Hollywood premieres, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and Fantasia in 1941. It was torn down in 1969.  

Moving further into the park, you may decide that it is time for a snack, so you can stop to buy some fresh fruit, water, and Mickey Mouse Freeze-Dried Apples in this Deco-detailed Market! It may well be the most glam place I have ever bought an orange. 

Check out the metalwork on the awning, the motif just under the roof, and the lettering and speed lines in the background on the Lockers building. And nice symmetry with the windows and panels there, too!

Ready to do a little shopping? Well, step right up to the Streamline Moderne-style Elias & Co. Department Store, but not before pausing a moment to admire those sleek rounded corners, speed lines, use of metal that is reminiscent of the grille on a car, and palette of what looks like three colors (white, cream, and bronze).
You will also see some Deco touches on the buildings lining each side of the street as you ride the Red Car Trolley, and your trolley host will most likely draw your attention to it as they point out various styles of architecture. I’m thinking that there needs to be a full-on Disney Art Deco tour one of these days! We volunteer to lead it, and wish only to be paid in Mickey Mouse Freeze-Dried Apples.

Some fun things to note:
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror building, like the Carthay Circle Theatre, is not recognizably Art Deco, but it has always reminded me of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, which has that glamorous Deco feel to it. Minus the out of control elevators you will find at California Adventure that we love. We love them so much!
  • Get the free Disney Park Mobile Magic App, which will give you information about Disney California Adventure and Disneyland. Once you are there, the app will “unlock” more details, like wait times for attractions and when shows are starting and parades are happening.
  • Keep an ear out for Dean Mora and his Orchestra as recorded background music on Buena Vista Street! I have loved hearing their incredible music at the Art Deco Ball on Catalina Island and at Cicada Club in Downtown Los Angeles, so it was a treat to hear them in Anaheim while wearing Mouse Ears.

 Contact Info:
Disney California Adventure
1313 Disneyland Drive
 Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 781-4565

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dance the Night Away -- Cicada Club Style

Sometimes a delicious meal out in a fabulous atmosphere can be icing on the cake! So, you can imagine my (Misha) delight when I, alongside my fellow Deco Divas, stepped into the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and through the doorway of our own black-and-white delicious movie.

Let's start with the door to Maxwell DeMille's Cicada Club, a place that is touted as a popular swing dance venue and vintage nightclub in Los Angeles that celebrates the magic of old Hollywood. 

Known for its 1920s Art Deco design throughout the 15,000 square foot space as well as a 30-foot ceiling and posh bar and lounge, Cicada can truly transport any visitor to Hollywood's golden age of nightclubs and glamour.

In front of the door is Cicada's very own dapper doorman, who graciously opened the door for us (and even obliged our request for a group photo!). Immediately we were transported into an era that although is long passed is still very much celebrated. 

Rarely do you find a place in Los Angeles where people actually dress up to go anywhere, whether it be the theatre, dinner or even an art exhibit, so I was just delighted to be greeted by a staff dressed to the nines, not to mention everyone seated at their dinner tables. 

I noticed people of all ages dressed in vintage attire and actually wished that I had taken my ensemble a bit farther. My fellow Divas looked like the bees knees I do have to say, especially Chandra (the brunette on the right in the adjacent pic) who is amazing with makeup and hair. She had her look down perfectly--with that perfect shade of red lipstick.

Walking to our table, Maxwell DeMille’s band was fine-tuning their instruments, and I immediately wished I had my dashing husband with me to twirl around the dance floor. Though I knew if the mood struck me, I’d just grab one of my divas to dance with me.

Now, at this point in this Cicada review, I could focus on the inspiring entertainment and fabulous dancers in front of me, which included The Johnny Holiday Program. But since I am the official reviewer for our upcoming book about art deco and Hollywood, I will focus on reviewing one of my favorite topics: food.

Our waiter immediately informed us that he was new to the restaurant and asked for our patience. With us four molls, he didn’t have to worry, especially since we were ordering a drink right away.  I demurely asked for my favorite cocktail, a very dirty vodka martini. 

When he brought it, I noticed right away that this was a MARTINI.  It wasn’t in a tiny little glass like most hot spots deliver, but it was in a healthy martini glass. I was duly impressed. I was even more so when I took my first sip. This had to be the best dirty martini I have had in years. It was perfectly dirty (like me) and I had to hold myself back from not wanting to drink it too quickly.  

We settled into our menus then, and I was thrilled at the variety.  I have to admit that my experience with supper clubs before then has been less than stellar. Usually they focus on the club and forget the supper. But this Northern Italian menu has so much variety that it was hard to choose.

Lara and I decided to split the Caesar Salad.  Readers...GET the Caesar Salad. The Parmesan Crisp and Garlic Puff on top could have been my whole meal. (Lara doesn't know this, but I did the splitting and couldn’t help but give myself the bigger slices. Shhh. Don't tell.)

Loving this salad, I couldn’t wait for the main course. One of the specials was a filet mignon Gnocchi, and Chandra was all over that. I had a hard time between that and the Smoked Chicken Ravioli, which is on their regular menu. Come to find out, either way was a perfect choice.  

Cori and I ordered the Ravioli, and Kitty had the Pistachio Crusted Salmon. Luckily we are a group of gals who like to share (because, after all, sharing is indeed caring!), and forks were flying everywhere. Our ravioli came with asparagus in a pink sauce, which was divine. Some pink sauces can be too heavy-handed with either the alfredo mix, but this was just perfect.  

Now I’m not much of a fish eater, but Lara’s Salmon was amazing. The Leek Mashed Potatoes and Lemon Caviar Beurre Blanc sauce were a splendid combination with the Salmon, and I was hoping she wouldn’t finish it so I could have more. 

I do have to say, between Cori, Chandra and I, the Gnocchi was something we could have ordered again...and again.  The steak was succulent in the frommage sauce and next time, if they have this as a special again, I am ordering a whole loaf of bread to dip in it. 

Suffice it to say, there wasn’t a morsel left on any of our plates.  But did that stop us from ordering desert? Are you kidding? One mention of the Chocolate Molten Cake from our waiter and we were salivating again. 

Of course I needed to try a specialty drink to go along with this. I asked our guy to bring me one of the signature drinks and that’s when he delivered to me the Tropical Snatch Martini. Filled to the brim with Makers Mark, Cucumber, Pineapple Juice and Simple Syrup, I knew after one sip that this giggle juice wasn’t your average beverage. 

What a perfect ending to a perfect evening.  Watching the couples in their vintage attire twirl around the dance floor, especially the lovely 70-year-old couple at the table next to us who couldn’t keep their hands off each other (awww!), and sipping on my cocktail, I was transformed back to a more glamorous time when elegance was celebrated.  

I didn’t even mind that I had to fight three other girls with my fork to get my fair share of that warm, chocolate gooeyness. 

Mental note to self: Next time order two desserts. Maybe three, especially if you plan to stay and watch all the glorious dancing and singing in front of you.

Contact Info: 
Cicada Club
617 South Olive Street  
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 488-9488 
(lists special events, like their upcoming Halloween party)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Give My Regards To Old Town Music Hall

The Music Hall's Wall!
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to go to a movie in the 1920s, you don’t need a time machine—just a ticket to Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo. And at ten dollars a ticket to see a film, it’s a tad more economical than the time machine option. 

Also, the theater has something the 20s didn’t: Bill Field, who’s the owner, organist, and host. (Full Disclosure: After coming to Old Town Music Hall and meeting Mr. Field, I—Lara—was so moved that I volunteered to help him out with Twitter.)

When you step through the curtain off the lobby and into the theater, the first thing you will notice is the massive organ that takes up almost the entire stage, all the way to the ceiling. 

Organ size DOES matter!
Old Town Music Hall bills itself as the home of the Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Pipe Organ, and the easiest way to describe it is that it’s kind of like a one-man band. It’s 30 feet wide, 16 feet tall, with 1,600 pipes, 268 instruments, and 244 keys. And I thought playing the recorder in third grade was tough! 

Sitting at the console, Bill can bust out something like “Yankee Doodle Dandy” or “Give My Regards To Broadway,” and you’ll see tambourines shaking and drums pounding, all controlled by him.  

And there are sound effects, too; the Rudolph Wurlitzer Organ Co. built pipe organs in the early 1900s to accompany silent films, and tricked ‘em out (Pimp My Organ?) with things like gongs, whistles, and thingamajigs that can make sound effects like rain. It was cool to hear a horn honking during a W.C. Fields short involving a wild ride through Downtown Los Angeles. Suffice it to say that Dub C would fit right in with the maniac drivers on the 110 today.

Aaahhh, yes…the short before the movie. You know how when you go to a movie these days, and there are so many commercials and previews that you’ve finished your ginormous buttered popcorn before the film and anything exciting actually starts? That’s not the case here. 

Arrive early (there’s plenty of free street parking), and bring cash or a check for your tickets and snacks (they don’t take credit cards). Grab a movie and concert schedule on the way in (the theater also hosts live concerts twice a month on Sundays), get some of the best salty popcorn EVER, and say hi to Bill in the lobby. At show time, Bill will take a seat at the organ and tell you something fun about the movie you’re going to see. 
The first film I saw at Old Town Music Hall was 1923’s The White Sister, a silent film starring the delicious Lillian Gish as the hottest nun in the history of nuns, and the dashing Ronald Colman and his mustache. Bill talked about how Ms. Gish stepped out from under D.W Griffith’s shadow to work with director Henry King on this film and how it was filmed in Italy, and then played some of the big hits from ’23, including Mexicali Rose and Who’s Sorry Now? 

Then, it was time for the sing-along. I have a voice that should be heard by NO ONE, EVER, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, but that didn’t stop me from belting out Shine On, Harvest Moon (“I ain’t had no lovin’ since April, January, June, or Julyyyyyyyyy”), and I encourage you to do the same. It’s dark in there—no one will know it’s you.

It was in the early 60s when Bill first had the idea to recreate a 1920s movie-going experience. In fact, the seed was planted even earlier than that! As a child, Bill used to go to Downtown LA every day with his grandmother, who watched him while his mom and dad were at work. He would beg his grandma to take him to the Barker Brothers Home Furnishings Store, not so he could jump on the couches, but so he could hear the Pipe Organs that were played there. 

Bill received a small organ for his eighth grade graduation present in 1954, and began attending concerts and studying the musicians while also taking lessons. He then bought a tiny movie projector that he saw in the toy department at Bullocks and started collecting films for it, with one of the first being a Hopalong Cassidy movie. 

After high school, Bill Field met fellow organist Bill Coffman, who would be his business partner until Mr. Coffman’s death in 2001. The two spent $2,000 to rescue the Wurlitzer that’s currently in Old Town Music Hall from the Fox West Coast Theater in Long Beach, where it had been chillaxin’ since about 1925. It took a year to repair the organ and then a year to set it up in a space they rented from Bill F.’s aunt that they decorated like a mini-theater. 

They began presenting Sunday afternoon programs with the same Music/Sing-along/Short/Feature format that is what you can see at Old Town Music Hall today.  A few years later, they needed more room, and saw an ad in the Daily Breeze that the historic State Theatre (build in 1921) in El Segundo was for rent. 

They opened for business in 1968 with pipe organ concerts, and then tried adding in some classic movies. They found that silent films were not such a big hit with the kids at that time, but musicals were. The first movie they showed was Rose-Marie with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald (a picture of the two hangs in the lobby), and it opened to a line around the block.

We'll cover more about this in our upcoming book, but you will want to visit Old Town Music Hall because:

  • They show the best movies EVER, and it’s a great value for $10. There’s also something about seeing a classic movie on the big screen that can never be duplicated at home. And these are movies that deserve our focus and attention. Without special effects to rely on for excitement, it’s all about the story and the dialogue. Plus, does it get any better than Rudolph Valentino in a close-up that’s many feet tall? If you saw this at the Music Hall’s Valentino Film Festival, you understand why crazed female fans once climbed the gates at Paramount Studios to get to him (the gates have since been fortified), and why even today women fight over him in the comments on YouTube, One Direction-style.
  • You will probably be introduced to a star or movie that you’re not familiar with and might not normally DVR; that’s how yours truly found out about the aforementioned Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, who were a huge onscreen superstar duo that made lots of musicals in the 30s and 40s, and possibly had a hot off-screen romance.
  • You will find a wonderful sense of community at the theater. It’s just FUN to laugh and gasp at a great movie with other people, and then discuss it in the lobby afterwards. After I sobbed my way through 1940’s Bitter Sweet, I entered the lobby looking like Alice Cooper with mascara everywhere and screamed at Bill, “Why didn’t you TELL me?” To which he chuckled and pointed to another lady with a tear-stained face who was walking quickly to the restroom and said, “Hey, she’s crying, too!”
There were no tears, however, as Bill and I sat in the darkened theater one muggy afternoon in August for our interview, and he was all smiles as I asked him about his hopes and dreams for the future of Old Town Music Hall, which has been providing great family entertainment for 44 years now: “Just that we would be here, and that we would continue.”

They just don't make organs like they used to!

Contact Info:

Old Town Music Hall
140 Richmond Street
El Segundo, CA 90245

For a complete schedule (through March of 2013!!!) and showtimes, check out

Here are a few upcoming movies:
Laurel And Hardy Comedy Festival Sept. 7, 8, 9
Charlie Chan At The Circus Sept. 14, 15, 16
Gold Diggers of 1935 Sept. 21, 22, 23
China Seas Sept. 28, 29, 30

Monday, August 27, 2012

Misty Water-Colored Memories...Of The Way We Wore

My (Chandra's) idea of fun couldn’t be better than a day spent vintage shopping with a friend, followed by lunch at a trendy cafe. So when my fellow Diva Lara suggested we spend the afternoon at the Los Angeles Boutique, The Way We Wore and then grab lunch at M Cafe on Melrose, I thought that was a pretty spiffy idea. 

Parking was a snap! We parked on La Brea about a block away from the store. There’s metered parking, but we happened to hit it on a Sunday so we didn’t have to feed the meters. However, no matter what time of day or night that you ever park anywhere in LA, check the signs! Some meters are 24/7 or there's restricted parking 24/7.

Upon entering, we were given a nice welcome by Jascmeen and told about the fabulous sale that was going on. Lara mentioned that we follow the store on Twitter and the immediate response was, “Are you Art Deco Divas?”  We’d been recognized!  

Doris Raymond, the owner, approached with a big smile and unforgettable blue eyes. She offered us a drink and gave us the low down on the store's layout. Everything in the store is wonderfully organized by decade, beginning with the 20’s and 30‘s on the right with shoes, hats and bags mixed in. 

If you head up the divine leopard print staircase, you’ll find the more intricate designer stuff and miles of shoes in a rainbow of colors and styles. Despite the store's organization, I didn’t know where to begin; I wanted to grab everything and yell, “Mine, mine, all mine!” 

Leopard Staircase to the Divine!
Doris, who has owned the shop for years, was charming and gracious and willing to talk with us about her feelings on vintage clothing. When we asked her how to best care for these wonderful pieces, she laughed and said, “Well, they really shouldn’t be hung, but unfortunately they have to be.”  

She explained that in order to preserve them and prevent stress on the delicate fabrics, she cycles them off the hangers regularly. Ideally, you would want to store your precious investment by wrapping it in an unbleached cotton sheet to keep it away from moisture and dust. Storing it in plastic on a hanger is a huge No-No

Lara wanted to run home and immediately save her vintage collection from their plastic hanging chambers of doom! The plastic doesn’t allow the fabric to breathe, and it can cause deterioration over time. Hanging it causes stress to the shoulder area, which can lead to tearing. See, shopping can be educational!

Doris likened herself to a foster parent, with the garments being her children. She said that she felt as though she needed to care for them until they could find another loving parent. I couldn’t help thinking that If I had it my way, I’d do it Angelina Jolie style and take them all home with me. 

Doris gave us some advice when looking for something to buy. She said to be brave but know your limits and to shop at places with integrity that will tell you if a blemish is fixable. Also, hold things up to the light to look for any kind of damage to a garment. 

We started looking through the 20’s and 30‘s dresses, and Lara and I found a few to sample. A lot of the clothing runs small, and many of the 40‘s clothing is super-tiny, as it was custom-tailored to the owner. Extra care should be taken when trying on vintage clothing. Many have side zippers and buttons to make it easier, but watch your ribcage, and never force or tug on anything!  Also, don’t wear foundation. I wore bright red lips to get into the “Mood” so I spent the majority of the time with my lips tucked in to avoid transferring anything onto the dresses I tried.  

Shelly, the sales associate, stayed upstairs with us to help out and answer any questions. This is standard practice (and The Way We Wore has excellent customer service!), so don't feel strange if someone is hovering while you're trying stuff on. They’re there to help you! 

I tried on two gorgeous gowns. Lara found a beautiful mauve-ish taupe dress that fit her like a glove and a gold handbag that said “Diamonds are a girl's best friend.” 

We admired the fit in the full length mirror and comfy chairs they have upstairs. You could definitely spend hours chatting and lounging and trying things on, so make sure you allow plenty of time for a visit. 

And chances are you’ll find something you love, whatever your price range! We spotted sunglasses for $14, and then a beautiful dress from 1918.  I tried a few cloche hats akin to Angelina Jolie’s in The Changeling, but my noggin was just too large. I’m not giving up, though! Someone from that era had to have a head as large as mine. 

I was so thankful for this experience. Doris and her staff made us feel very welcome and were so gracious with their knowledge. Their website, Facebook, and Twitter have tons of information if you want to find out more about the boutique and expand your knowledge of vintage clothing. 

But do try to visit them in person--there's no substitute for walking through the door of The Way We Wore and being blown away by the sheer loveliness of it all. And with a little bit of luck, you’ll find a perfect fit, take it home with you, and then enjoy a night out in vintage style. And, when someone says your dress is fabulous, you can step back and say coyly, “What? This old thing?” And mean it. 

Contact Info:

The Way We Wore
334 South La Brea Avenue 
Los Angeles, CA 90036