The Museum Of Jurassic Technology: A Study In Presentation As Knowledge

Housed in a small building on Venice Boulevard, where Palms and Culver City meet we find the Museum Of Jurassic Technology (MJT).  Although that building is often described as "nondescript", it's actually rather interesting in its own right.

The Museum Of Jurassic Technology
 This narrow frontage of this building gives a definite European feel.  The inner pedestrian zones of many small to medium size towns in Europe, where they seem to be standard, often include buildings very much like this one.  From 1992 through 2006, the MJT operated a Tochtermuseum ("Daughter Museum") in Hagen, Germany.  This building would not be out of place in the Fußgängerzone of some German city. 

That is, except for the curious decorative fountain design that extends over much of the lower facade--and also the  curious  outdoor vitrine, next to the door, which puts us on notice that this is no ordinary museum.

This display is not explained.   But then, why not display a vase behind some glass, surmounted by about thirty dead moths?   In saying this, we don't mean to disparage the curators at the MJT.  To the contrary, the entire operation is a single very large work of conceptual art, of which the selection, arrangement, and mounting of the displays are all constituent parts.  In this regard it is highly successful, making the point that nearly all of us will will stop to peer intently at almost anything, as long as it is placed behind glass and moodily lit by a tiny spotlight.  In this, we, too become part of the concept behind the Museum itself.

Now would be a good time to stop and consider the Museum's stated mission: From their website:
Like a coat of two colors, the Museum serves dual functions. On the one hand the Museum provides the academic community with a specialized repository of relics and artifacts from the Lower Jurassic, with an emphasis on those that demonstrate unusual or curious technological qualities. On the other hand the Museum serves the general public by providing the visitor a hands-on experience of "life in the Jurassic"...

Notice, we get not just ordinary, run-of-the-mill artifacts from the Lower Jurassic, but only those that exhibit curious or unusual technological qualities.  Of all the possible Lower Jurassic technological relics they could have put on display, they have selected the absolute best...well, you get the idea.

Let's go inside.

From the beginning, the overriding visual impression is one of darkness.  Even the small entrance hall, in which a receptionist holds forth, requesting a modest and voluntary donation, is dark, although the numerous books and other souvenirs for sale are brightly spotlit, evidently by tiny LED lamps.  

After making our donation and proceeding further inside, we encounter first an explanation of the history of museums, and how the MJT fits into this larger scheme.  The MJT traces its origins to what it terms the earliest and most comprehensive of all natural history museums--the Ark of Noah.   The narration goes on to describe the early collections of "wonders" accumulated by wealthy enthusiasts in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.   Often these early collections were characterized by their generalist nature, and featured works of fine art side-by-side with rare animal fossils, mineral specimens, and other artifacts of the natural world.  Incidentally, this practice continued through the founding of some of today's major public museums.  The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is a good example, having been founded in 1910 as the L.A. Museum of Science, History and Art.  LACMA didn't come into existence until 1965, when most of the artworks were moved to the new facility at Hancock Park.  At the MJT this generalist tradition continues.

The attribution to Noah is surprising in itself, because the West Side of greater Los Angeles is not known for being a hotbed of Biblical fundamentalism.  And again, it's difficult to accept the notion that the Museum's curators actually believe in the literal truth of the Noah legend; instead we are confronted with the idea of it:  Wouldn't be compelling if this were true, and if this Museum could trace its origins to the Ark?  We're not saying it is true, but--.

We notice that the general darkness prevails throughout.  This, too, is part of the concept, because it reinforces the notion that the wall displays and vitrines contain objects of incredible rarity and significance.   This is the way that world-class natural history museums mount priceless gemstones.  

Most of the wall displays are dark until the visitor presses a "start" button; then several objects are spotlighted in sequence as an audio program is played through a telephone handset.  At any given moment during the narration, you can only see the one or two objects then being described.  The first such display is devoted to a  supposed legend among  a certain tribe living along the Caribbean coast of South America.  During an 1872 expedition to the region, we learn,  the natives told explorer Bernard Maston of the "Piercing Devil"--an unseen flying creature which could penetrate solid objects.  In 1952 Donald Griffith visited the area, having designed an elaborate pentagonal trap constructed mostly of solid lead.  In August of that year he succeeded in trapping the first ever Myotis lucifungus encased in solid lead.  (In fact, M. lucifungus is none other than the  little brown bat, the most common bat of North America--and unknown further south than Northern Mexico.)

Bernard Maston and the Demon Piercing Bat
As native legend would have it, one of these creatures pierced the hand of a child, who bore no wound or trace of the encounter.

Child's hands pierced by the Demon Bat
 Thereafter the child had the ability to heal superficial skin disorders by the laying on of hands.

As we continue through the museum, we find that most of the exhibits seem chosen to work best in the general dark scheme of things.  Looking at this iridescent scarab...

we behold  a glowing thing set off by the surrounding blackness; the same is true of micro-mosaics constructed from the scales of butterfly wings by Henry Dalton.

Each of the dozen or so insect-scale micro-mosaics on display is mounted under a low-powered microscope, thus assuring that the viewing experience is unsullied by the distractions of other objects in the room.

A small gallery devoted to the technology of antique miniature theater effects is similar.  Several tiny stages and prosceniums are ranged around the room to demonstrate how special effects like calm and stormy waters, thunder, and the like were simulated.  As we might expect, each one is lighted with tiny spotlights that simulate, in miniature, how it was done in the full sized theater.

It's Miniature Theater!
Perhaps most extraordinary is the gallery devoted to one Geoffrey Sonnabend, a professor of neurophysiology at Northwestern University.  In his three-volume work, Obliscence - Theories Of Forgetting And The Problem Of Matter he elaborated his basic notion that memory is an illusion and forgetting is inevitable.  Our illusion of memory is nothing more than our perception of the decay of experience.  He reduced this to a diagram,

The Cone Of Obliscence and the Plane Of Experience
in which the Plane of Experience passes through the Cone of Obliscence, for all experiences in the lives of sentient beings.   The Plane should be understood as finite in this context, rather than the boundless and infinite plane as conceived in classical geometry.  The Plane, according to Sonnabend, passes laterally through the Cone; while the leading ("obverse") edge is passing through the Cone the being is experiencing the event.  After that the being remembers the event until the trailing ("perverse") edge of the plane passes through the cone.  After that the being's memory of the event is illusory.  Whatever one may think of these ideas, one can't help wonder if the memory of things experienced long ago is really the memory of memories, rather than of the actual experiences themselves. 

This last bit reminds us of how Tommy Wilhelm must have felt in Sieze The Day, after a long day of listening to Dr. Tamkin spinning his humbug theories of mind and humanity.

Despite our overall impression that the Museum Of Jurassic Technology is nothing more or less than a manufactured experience, we can't help feeling fortunate to have wandered through this cabinet of wonders.   Cone of obliscence?  Who knows.  But the Plane Of Experience for this museum visit will take a long, long time to pass through the cone.


Goldwyn Terrace

If you've ever seen the play or movie Ragtime you might remember the scene where Tateh, at that point just a pushcart vendor, is passing through Ellis Island.  Later in the story it turns out he has become a Hollywood studio mogul.  If you're like me you might have dismissed that story as unlikely--if you didn't know that this accurately describes the life of one Shmuel Goldwiszc, better known as Samuel Goldwyn, the "G" in MGM.  And across Washington Boulevard from the current Sony Pictures, which used to be MGM, begins a short, peculiar street that has been christened Goldwyn Terrace in his honor. 

Goldwyn Terrace: This Way

Some distance off to the right, on Washington Boulevard is the Thalberg Building, named for legendary MGM producer Irving Thalberg, who was responsible for bringing The Marx Brothers to MGM, among other things.  

Now if we all turn to the left, we can look up Goldwyn Terrace towards Venice Boulevard.

Looking up Goldwyn Terrace, east side
This street is unusual in a number of ways.  For one thing,  streets  in L.A. tend to be many miles long.  Sunset Boulevard runs from Pacific Palisades to Whittier, or it used to, until the part in downtown L.A. was renamed in honor of Cesar Chavez.  Other streets, like Exposition Boulevard, run for a mile or so, then disappear only to start again a mile or two further on.  The same thing is seen in small, mostly residential streets.  But with Goldwyn Terrace, this one short block is all there is.  It's not only a street, but a specific location.  

The other unusual thing is the houses.  Except for a couple of modern rebuilds, they were all built around 1923 - 1925, and are among the smallest detached houses you'll see anywhere.  Contemporary tastes and standards dictate larger floor plans, and those of today's buyers for whom 1100 square feet are sufficient generally prefer condominiums.   Moreover, builders of small houses today usually cut as many corners as possible in order to achieve the lowest possible price, and the houses on a given street in a given development are usually very similar to each other.  Corner-cutting usually means small windows along with an overall lack of architectural or even decorative touches, but that's not the case with these houses.  

Within this short street is a degree of variety you don't see anywhere else.   A flat-top Spanish Mediterranean might stand...

Flat-top Mediterranean
cheek-by-jowl with a tiny version of a colonial that powerfully reminds us of 1960s-era situation comedies.  We can almost imagine  that this was where My Three Sons began, at a point when there was still only one son and he was very small.

and next to the colonial might be a relatively unadorned stuccoed dwelling straight out of the 1950s.  Hey look: it's for sale!

On The Market

Trust me on this, though,  you don't want to know the price because it would only break your heart.  There are also one or two perfectly preserved 1920's wooden bungalows, complete with tiny porches and large front windows.


Next we have another Mediterranean:

The world would be a better place if more small houses looked like this.  

We'll conclude our visit to Goldwyn Terrace with a view of a couple more frame houses.


Dingbat Acropolis

First of all, it seems necessary to explain that by using the term Dingbat Apartments we don't mean to criticize or demean the people who live in them.   The name is nothing more than a shorthand that denotes any apartment building of a particular design and layout.

The classic dingbat is typically a smallish building of two or three stories, which shelter perhaps nine to fifteen units.   Less narrowly, the term can denote any post-WWII apartment house that exhibits the following important feature: it is either completely bland in appearance, or else it is festooned with decorative but architecturally meaningless details.  Here's a typical example from our earlier post on the subject of Bizarre Apartment Names.

Typical "dingbat" apartment
For those who would stalk the Dingbat Apartment in its natural habitat, a pretentious name for the building, if any, is an almost sure-fire giveaway, as is any signage that includes the words Luxury Apts.   
Nevertheless, the dingbat is probably the most mocked, the most maligned form of housing that exists.  For all their lack of true architectural character, they do provide an option for residents who want to remain in the confines of an expensive city without having  to buy their own property there.  Moreover, dingbats tend to cluster around major thoroughfares whose neighborhoods often offer a variety of amenities with in easy reach.   They are almost always within easy reach of bus lines, or if you're really lucky, a rail line.  If you live in a dingbat, chances are you can use your car a much less than you would if, for example, you lived in a suburban  tract house.  Like it or not, the dingbat apartment house is first step in the evolution of a single-family home neighborhood into one of higher density.  It used to be that multi-family housing wasn't necessary in L.A. because there was always cheap, undeveloped land available over the next hill...or the one after that.  Obviously this isn't so true anymore.

For a more comprehensive treatment of the dingbat phenomenon, I  highly recommend the Dingbatologist's website, here.  I might be poaching in his territory just a bit here, but it's undeniable that certain Dingbats come into the jurisdiction of this blog, which is the bizarre , the strange, and just plain weird.

Which brings us to the present case.   The intersection of Palms Boulevard and Overland Avenue, just south of the 10, is the center, the absolute nexus, of all things dingbat.  To enumerate all the fine specimens in this neighborhood would take years, so for now we'll just look at the building I spotted a couple of blocks away.  Since it doesn't seem to have a name, let's just call it Dingbat Acropolis.

Dingbat Acropolis

Note the soaring front elevation that includes a great post-and-lintel  accented by three improbably placed columns of a vaguely Doric  appearance. Seeing this building for the first time, from across the road, I was willing to give it the benefit of a doubt.  After all, this is the southeastern facade that we're looking at, and, because this is Los Angeles, it typically gets hit with a large dose of late morning sun, nearly every day.  (Dingbats often act as heat wells.) Therefore, it seemed likely that the columns might have an actual purpose in shading the interior.  Or, assuming that there was some kind of terrace or breezeway at that level, they might also serve as a safety rail.

But no: these columns just float uselessly in the air.  The lintel on which they are mounted isn't connected to any useful space in the building.

Tiled cross-pieces and the Hanging Lamp of Horror

While we do have to acknowledge that the tile-work on the lentils gives the place a fine Googie-esque quality, the lamp is another story, and reminds us of -- what?  Could it be the Chamber Of Horrors at the Hollywood Wax Museum?  Or perhaps it's the Tower Of London.  It looms threateningly over our heads like the Sword Of Damocles.  And the air conditioner sticking out of the wall to the right is a nicely festive touch.

Here's another view of the main entrance.

Again we see the Brazen Lamp Of Death--now with a matching fence of spikes visible--but what really strikes us here is the apartment door visible near the bottom of the frame, which appears here as if it were twenty feet off the ground.  Obviously there are stairs that lead to it, but because we can't see them the placement of the door seems random.  It doesn't seem to belong.  But the spiked railing does go nicely with the lamp.  I think those spikes may figure somehow in the sanctioning of tenants who break the lease rules.

Evidently, this building went up in 1967, which is exactly what we'd expect.  We can almost imagine Sergeant Joe Friday knocking on that apartment door, or taking a cigarette break in the foyer while Gannon questions the witness.

Update: Romani Hortii 

The material on the Roman Gardens Apartments has been moved to its own post which can be found here.

We Bet You Didn't See This Coming.  Neither Did We.

Today, while walking south on Overland Avenue, south of the Sony Studios, I discovered the Grecian Gardens Apartments.

The Grecian Gardens

Although I looked carefully....

...I was unable to find anything about this place that was remotely Grecian.

The Venus de Dingbat

This section has been moved to its own post, here.