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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: July 12, 2009 - July 18, 2009

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Chinese Drama Troupe Performs in Los Angeles



July 17, 1899, Chinese Troupe


July 17, 1899: The educators convention underway in Los Angeles brings a troupe of 55 Chinese performers from San Francisco.

Jack the Ripper Strikes Again



July 17, 1889, Jack the Ripper


July 17, 1889: Another horrible murder by Jack the Ripper.

Julius Shulman Q & A



Los Angeles Times Interview

Julius Shulman


Capturing the Essence of California Architecture

October 9, 1994

By Steve Proffitt, Steve Proffitt is a producer for Fox News and a contributor to National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition." He spoke with Julius Shulman at the photographer's home in the Hollywood Hills

In 1960, Julius Shulman took a photograph that, perhaps more than any other single image, conveys the style, grace and allure of postwar Los Angeles. Inside a steel-topped glass box balanced lightly on a hilltop, two young women in white cotton chat, while the City of Angels sparkles below. It is a picture both nostalgic and modern, the work of a self-taught photographer who truly invented himself.

In 1936, Shulman used a vest-pocket Kodak to snap a shot of a Hollywood home designed by architect Richard Neutra. A brash 26-year-old, he showed the picture to Neutra, and a career was born. Neutra hired him to photograph some of his other projects, and introduced the young photographer to such other leading West Coast architects as R.M. Schindler, Raphael Soriano and Gregory Ain. Shulman's dramatic prints played an important role in establishing an international reputation for these and other Southern California architects, especially during the '50s, a period many consider the golden age of Modernism. More than any architect of that era, he created a public image of the California style of design.

Perhaps because he never had formal training, Shulman worked intuitively, eschewing light meters and fancy light-reflecting umbrellas, and relying on nature. Yet, he was a master manipulator, often working at twilight, creating long exposures, opening and closing the lens, while turning lights on and off, to create texture and contrast. His clients often expressed surprise when seeing his images, for Shulman created a vision even they, as the creating architects, had never seen.

Shulman, who turns 84 tomorrow, lives with his wife, Olga, in a steel-frame house designed, in 1949, for them by Soriano. Long walls of glass contrast with corrugated sheet-steel siding. The house is hidden within two heavily wooded acres in the Hollywood Hills.

In 1986, Shulman announced his retirement, in part as a way of expressing his distaste for post-modernist design. But the lure of the lens was too strong, and now, back at work, he's busier than ever. A retrospective of his early photographs is currently on view at the Craig Krull gallery in Santa Monica, and a biography, "A Constructed View: The Architectural Photographs of Julius Shulman," by Joseph Rosa, has been published by Rizzoli. Inside his studio-office, Shulman shows off prints and publications, bouncing around the room with the energy of a teen-ager, promising not to retire until he hits 120.

*

Question: What were the elements that came together to make the 1950s so robust in terms of architecture in the Los Angeles area?

Answer: I'd say, first, the economy. The '50s were glorious years . . . . The population was booming--people were coming to Los Angeles from all over the world. And architects were given free rein. They were allowed to experiment, not in the way that is being done today--these horrible monstrosities being made in the name of post-modernism--but with integrity. The architects of this period, people like Richard Neutra, Pierre Koenig, Gregory Ain--they respected the client. Every line they drew was drawn with the client in mind.

Those were the great years and the result was that, throughout the world, there was a recognition of these architects' work. I was lucky to be doing the right thing at the right place at the right time. So anytime, anybody wanted a photograph of a modern house, Uncle Julius provided the picture.

Q: Can you describe the essence of the design philosophy of these '50s Californian architects?

A: I have to backtrack a little to answer that. In the 1930s, it was the heyday of what we call the International style. Architects like Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano--these men were following a very austere, Bauhaus kind of practice. The result was that many architects who followed people like Neutra began to edit that style of architecture, by doing things like literally raising the roof. They said, "We don't have to have just a box, let's add a little character to the design."

And that was one of the things that happened during the '50s, and right up to the '60s. Soriano, for example, who did my house, used an all-steel framework. During the earthquake--it was a shattering, powerful quake--we had not a crack. I am indebted to Soriano for his discipline in using those steel frames. The earthquake has proven this type of architecture is completely successful.

Yet, Soriano didn't have a client for 25 years. The public didn't recognize his work; they didn't buy it. But other architects modified the austerity, began to create more space with higher ceilings, sloping roof lines, and created some character.

Q: So would you say that, in the 1950s, California architects held on to the framework of the Bauhaus, and humanized it?

A: Yes. The dominant feature of contemporary architecture in the '50s was glass. My house has two window walls, which are 30 feet long. That's great for us, because we are on a large piece of property, surrounded by a jungle. But, as my wife has always said, put this house on a 50-foot lot on a city street, and it would be a disaster.

Soriano once built a house in Long Beach on a normal, city-street lot. The bathroom faced the street, and he walled it with obscure glass--textured glass. He told the owner she didn't need draperies because of the obscure glass.

She moved in, had a open house to meet her neighbors, and one of them said to her, "I hope we can be friendly and tell you this. We admire your figure when you take a shower." The obscure glass provided a perfect view of her silhouette. The next day she got draperies.

So the architects who came down the line refined the architecture. They designed with less glass, more solid walls, more space. And the result was an architecture that became popular throughout the world. You could almost say it was an evolution in design, to fit the needs of more and more people.

Q: What happened in the '60s and '70s? Why did modernism in architecture fall into disfavor and disuse?

A: One of the reasons was that the public-at-large still didn't buy the work of contemporary architects. And by the '70s, a new breed of architect came on the scene--represented by men like Frank Gehry and Michael Graves and even Charles Moore--who introduced a sloping, high-cathedral-ceiling kind of design. People began to say, "Hey, this is good," because these designs didn't have the walls of glass like the '40s and '50s designs did. The result was that they began to accept what I call "weird architecture."

And, right now, we are in still another transition. Even architects like Gehry are beginning to reform their designs. He admits that he is an experimenter, and his work is often not well-received by the public. Nowadays, the elite--the people who can afford it--they want something "different." They are getting it. And they are paying for it.

Q: Let's turn back to your career, and the way you use the camera. You've said the camera is not important when it comes to taking a picture. What do you mean?

A: The camera is the least important element in our work. Photography is dependent on the eye, the mind, the heart and the soul of the photographer. Many times, even architects aren't aware of the presence of their structures, and they will ask, "How did you get this picture?"

In 1937, the architect Stile Clements, one of the old-timers, had done the Coulters Department Store on Wilshire (razed in 1980). The building faced north. He called me--it was late in June--and asked me to photograph it. But he said there was a problem: Because it faced north, he thought I wouldn't get any sunlight on the face of the building. I didn't say anything other than that I could photograph it.

Well, being a good Boy Scout, I knew that the sun rises in the summertime in the northeast and sets in the northwest. Architects often don't know these things. And so I went down early one Sunday morning--I do most of my public buildings on Sunday when there is less traffic, especially in those days. I set up my camera across the street, the sun was beaming across the north face of the building, and I made an 8x10 photograph. I gave it to Clements the next week and he said, "How did you do this, I thought the sun didn't hit the north side of the building?" And I said, "Oh, it was easy Mr. Clements, I just turned the building to face the sun."

The point is that I have always tried to be conscious of the site, the direction of the sun--by the minute. I learned to look at a building and know exactly what time of day to photograph, to best reflect and define the quality of the architecture. It has nothing to do with snapping a shutter. My photography is based on the quality of my vision, my feeling for nature, the site and location of a building and what was around the building.

Q: You almost always include people in your photographs, something fairly unique to you in architectural photography. Why people in a picture of a building?

A: For scale, and also to create a feeling of occupancy. When I photograph, for instance, a university building, I will round up some young people and put them in places where they fill in voids in the space. Without the people, you would get a flat, vacant, austere photograph. Sometimes, I will tell people, "OK, that's it, we're all through"--and just as they start to move and walk away, that's when I actually take the picture.

Q: Your photograph of the Pierre Koenig house is, to me, an almost perfect expression of the optimism of the 1950s--the house cantilevered over the city below, and the two women so breezy and sleek and sophisticated. Did you know how dramatic this photograph would be when you took it then?

A: Well, people just love to see that picture. It represents a quality of architecture and photography that is not very well-observed. But the ironic thing is that when I took the exposure in my 4x5 camera, I honestly didn't know what I had. I saw something--a mood and a scene. But I didn't realize I had made what would literally be one of my masterpieces.

Q: It seems silly to ask, but who are those two women?

A: Pierre Koenig, the architect, told me he wanted to bring some of his students when I photographed the house, and I told him to have them bring their girlfriends; I'll use them as models. I never imagined this picture, though--we were doing photographs of the interior of the house. Then I happened to step outside, and I saw the view, and the girls in the house, chatting. I thought, "Wow, this might make a fine picture!" So I set my camera up outside, turned the lights off in the house, and exposed the film for about seven minutes, to capture the lights of the city below. Then we set off a flash inside the house to get the girls on film, and that was it.

Q: So it's a composite--an image the human eye itself could never experience in reality?

A: Exactly. And can you believe that until I read the title of the new book about me by Joseph Rosa--"A Constructed View"--did I understand that is exactly what I was doing for these 59 years: I construct my view of a building. My wife has always said that I capture a moment which can never be reproduced. No photographer could go back to that Koenig house and reconstruct that photograph--no matter how hard he tried. It was a secret, wonderful moment in my life. It almost makes you feel religious--thank God, I'm an atheist!

You know, I've never used an exposure meter. I often use natural, reflected light. I rely on nature, and the picture comes out because I know the value and quality of the film I'm using. I feel blessed that I've been ordained, if you will, to do this kind of photography and not only make a success out of it, but to create a success for the architects as well.*



Found on EBay -- Oviatt's


Oviatt's Jacket

A men's jacket from Oviatt's Beverly Hills store has been listed on EBay. Bidding starts at $5.99.

Matt Weinstock, July 16, 1959



Tomato in a Hamburger?


Matt Weinstock Again, the other day, I became embroiled in an old argument. I stood firmly on my contention that the slice of tomato does not belong in a hamburger sandwich. Most of the other people at the barbecue held that it does.

Mustard, relish, lettuce and, if one is feeling brave, onions -- yes. Tomato, no. Furthermore, I'm not so sure about the dill pickle. Let's just let it lay on the plate, to be eaten or not to be eaten. A pickle is a matter of mood.

Tomato, I argued, is a nothing flavor, which diffuses and distorts an already perfect hunk of eating. Not only that, it adds to the sandwich's thickness, making it difficult to eat.

The opposition scoffed, repeating the ridiculous canard that a hamburger is not a hamburger without a slice of tomato.

July 16, 1959, Liz Renay All right, so I am exposed as a tomato hater. All I can state is that it's about time those of us who feel deeply on this subject start a revolt against this vicious tyranny.

::

WORD STUFF -- An announcer on a Lancaster radio station, Jimmie Warrell reports, told of two bicycle riders traveling from "Holiet, Illinois, to La Hoya, California." Those Spanish Js will getcha . . . There's an Ingomar St. in Canoga Park and Stan Wood, an admirer of Ingemar Johansson, says whoever named it may have been psychic but wasn't a very good speller . . . And Herb Schnebble wonders if Al Capone ever passed through El Cajon.

::

DOWN THE MIDDLE
Vacation pleasures
I'd willingly share;
"Wish you were here!"
And I were there.
       -- RALPH FREEMAN

::

IN 1950 Paul Werth paid Harry Belafonte $50 for appearing in concert in Town Hall, New York. A few days ago Werth, now with KRHM-FM, taped a four-hour show with the noted singer for next Monday night and jokingly suggested that he would be glad to arrange another such concert and maybe up the ante to $75. Offer laughingly declined.

::

A SOCIOLOGY student at SC made a telephone survey after 9 p.m. to learn how many parents knew of their children's whereabouts.

Of 25 calls, he was surprised to discover, the phone was answered nine times by children who didn't know where their parents were.

::

A MUNICIPAL employees cafeteria, which actually serves excellent food, is known among them as the Ulcer Room. Perverse, those fellows . . . And a Hill St. gentleman drinker named Chuck, explaining a brief absence from the bat caves, said he'd been attending "a bourbon seance."

::

july 16, 1959, Miss Cuba AROUND TOWN -- Baseball fever note: On coming out of the anesthetic after giving birth to their first child, Martha Dubell, wife of pianist Cy Dubell, asked her doctor, "How did the Dodgers make out?" They lost but she's doing fine . . . Six Bonita High Schoolers are grateful to Bill Bendix, who put out in his speedboat in Lido Isle channel and towed their stalled sailboat to safety. And not a press agent in sight.

::

FOOTNOTES -- Ray Duncan nominates for the trite movie dialogue file the line, "Forgive? There's nothing to forgive!" The heck there isn't . . . When the temperature soared over the weekend, adman Joe Vodneck , Pasadena apartment dweller, took his wife, Adrienne, and daughter, Lisa, to a nearby motel where they enjoyed the pool and air conditioning. Next morning back to Hotsville . . . Because of conflicting warnings which have gone out lately over the wireless Hank Osborne thinks the world is ready for an album titled "Best of the SigAlerts " . . . Aside to a lady named Julia: Those gals on Hollywood Freeway islands and shoulders were only part-time picnickers. Between bites of lunch they were taking the annual state highway traffic count.

Paul V. Coates -- Confidential File, July 16, 1959



july 16, 1959, Cover

Confidential File

Some Judges Deal in Real Justice


Paul CoatesTwo weeks ago I quoted you a rather amazing conversation between an attorney and Los Angeles Municipal Judge George B. Ross.

At least, to me it was amazing.

The gist of the judge's remarks to the attorney, who was questioning the severity of the sentence given his client, was:

If a man pleads not guilty and asks for a jury trial, and he's found guilty, and I believe he was obviously guilty, it's going to cost him a lot more than if he pleaded guilty in the first place.

The attorney, Louis Romero, argued that trial by jury was the right of everyone, rich or poor. It was not a privilege reserved only for the wealthy.

He added that levying heavier fines against individuals who used their right of jury trial was a deterrent to justice.

Judge Ross replied, "Maybe so, but that is what I am doing. That is what other judges are doing, and you are going to have a to persuade a lot of judges to change their minds..."

July 16, 1959, Trunk Killer At the time, I questioned Judge Ross' statement that it is a common practice of our courts to soak someone for exercising a constitutional right.

And last week, Mirror News reporter Paul Weeks polled several judges, who both denied and criticized the use of such a policy.

I thought, then, that possibly Judge Ross' attitude was a unique one.

But today I received a copy of "The Open Forum," official publication of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

In it was the following article:

 "A Long Beach judge who habitually set excessive bail when a defendant insisted on a jury trial was officially condemned in a ruling handed down by Superior Judge Frank G. Swain last month.

"The court granted a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the appeal of Emery Newbern, merchant seaman, and ordered his bail reduced from $500 to the customary $25.

"Judge Swain appointed ACLU counsel A.L. Wirin to represent Newbern in the appeal of Municipal Judge Charles T. Smith's bail policy.

"Wirin argued that the Long Beach jurist had denied Newbern's constitutional rights to reasonable bail solely because the defendant has exercised another constitutional right, trial by jury.

Bail Held Excessive

"Judge Swain held that $500 bail on a drunk charge is 'excessive' and penalizes the petitioner for demanding his constitutional rights.

" 'It is undisputed that the purpose of bail is to assure defendant's presence in court at the required time and bail set at a figure higher than an amount reasonably calculated to fulfill this purpose is excessive under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S.Constitution,' Judge Swain ruled.

"At Newbern's arraignment, Judge Smith remarked from the bench, 'My policy is that if you plead not guilty and demand trial by jury and are found guilty, you are going to get 90 days in jail; and I will bet you 100 to 1 that the jury finds you guilty.' "

Judge Smith's quoted remark is about as shocking a statement as I've ever heard attributed to a man paid by the taxpayers of our country to administer justice.

If it weren't for the cynicism which accompanies my advancing age, I'd say that a judge's betting a defendant that a jury will find him guilty is an inconceivable bit of dialogue. It sounds like something out of a burlesque routine or out of a Moscow courtroom.

However, such bizarre interpretations of justice in our courtrooms are more the exception than the rule.

It's reassuring to know that there are dedicated men like Judge Swain who don't feel that the robe is so sacred that its wearers aren't subject to public criticism when the occasion warrants.

And if Judge Smith made the remarkable statement attributed to him, the occasion certainly warrants.

A Kinder, Simpler Time Dept: Your Movie Stars



  July 16, 1939, Movies

July 16, 1939: The comedians vs. the leading men in a benefit game at Wrigley Field.  

Nuestro Pueblo



July 16, 1939, Seewerker Nuestro Pueblo

On July 15, 1939, Jane Seewerker, wife of Times writer Joe Seewrker, died in Long Beach. Joe Seewerker and Charles Owens had been producing three features a week, but after Jane Seewerker's death, their schedule went to once a week.

Police Court



  July 16, 1899, Police Court



July 16, 1899: Malicious mischief ... selling lottery tickets ... speeding ... theft and robbery. And yes, The Times refers to a "slant-eyed disciple of Confucius."

Man Dies of Tetanus




July 16, 1889, Tetanus


July 16, 1889: A man dies of tetanus and railroad employees are suspected of raping two passengers.

Found on EBay -- The Courthouse


Broadway Courthouse
A postcard showing an unusual view of Broadway, with the courthouse in the foreground at left and City Hall in the background, has been listed on EBay. Bidding starts at $7.99.

Matt Weinstock, July 15, 1959



 

July 15, 1959, Uras

I'm sure "Uras" wasn't pronounced the way you think. Either that or the comics editors didn't have a clue. 

Only in L.A.


Matt Weinstock Sometimes it is very difficult to make clear to visitors that the natives are not really as quaint as they seem. Take, for instance, Bob Williams, TV editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, vacationing here.

To get around our spread-out paradise, Bob rented a car. He parked it the other night at the curb outside the hotel in Beverly Hills where he was staying.

Next day at 7 a.m. his doorbell rang. A stranger, polite but with a sense of urgency, asked if Bob would consent to having his car moved two spaces away. Just give him the keys. He would do it. Bob asked why. "We need the space for another car," was the reply.

"IT IS IMPERATIVE," he went on, "that my employer's car be parked where your car is -- in front of the walk leading from his bungalow. I know it's an inconvenience and I wish you'd take this." He offered a $20 bill, which Bob declined.

Bob, irked at being awakened by such a trivial matter, wanted to know how the stranger had located him. His rented car didn't have his name on it. The stranger said he'd found him through the rental agency, which was the same one from which his employer had rented his car.

The more Bob thought of it the more it bugged him. He called the hotel manager. The manager refused to discuss it. He called the rental car agency and asked who the other person was, describing the car.

July 15, 1959, Judy Garland

"I can't give you the name," was the discreet reply. However, he confided the name of the big aircraft firm to which the car had been assigned.

Baffled Bob will always have a dark suspicion that people here are driven by mad, uncontrollable whimsies. One thing sure -- it couldn't have happened in sedate Philadelphia.

::

BREAKDOWN of negotiations and the resultant steel strike reminded newsmen of a classic line in another similar dispute.

A union spokesman said to the management representative, "But you're talking money and we're talking people!" Whereupon everyone cried.

::

July 15, 1959, Garland THE stenographic pool at a large organization has been enhanced by some shapely young girls just out of school and an executive, who likes to keep abreast of developments, dropped in the other day and said to the supervisor, "I see you have some new talent."

"Yes," she replied sweetly, "but all passes have to go through channels."

::

AND THE WAY Don Perkins heard it, two fellows were chatting over coffee and one said, "I had a funny dream last night. I dreamed I was 8 years old and went to Disneyland."

"That's strange," the other said, "I had a crazy dream, too. I dreamed that Marilyn Monroe came over to my house and 15 minutes later Jayne Mansfield dropped in."

"You mean they were both there?" the first exclaimed. "Why didn't you call me?"

"I did," was the reply, "and your mother told me you had gone to Disneyland."

::

July 15, 1959, Abby SOMEONE, Bob McMullen reports, has posted a derisive sign at Laurel Canyon Blvd. and Lookout Mountain Ave., "Guide Maps to Burned Out Homes" . . . And colleagues are talking of awarding a plaque for devotion to duty to a TV announcer who during the chaotic first moments of last Friday's fire kept pleading for people to keep out of the area. "Please stay home," he said, "and enjoy the fire on TV."

::

AT RANDOM -- On Sunday Julia Nye counted six family groups enjoying picnic lunches on Hollywood Freeway islands and sidings -- the grassy parts. Apparently tourists think it's a park . . . A man whose little flower shop is near a saloon, into which he makes frequent pilgrimages, is known among his customers as the Petrified Florist. . . Obviously, says Harry Kabakoff, newsboy at 7th and Broadway, the Russian people feel that Mr. K. has an O in front of his name. . . Bruce Baptiste asks a typographical posy to the officer who on July 9 in the noon heat -- above 90 -- stopped and changed a tire for a lady in distress on Harbor Freeway near Vermont Ave.

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