Tee-Gee's: A Postwar Bar Frozen In Time

(Note to the reader: I published this post several months ago in another blog which I was planning to run as a sister site to this one.  Since then, I haven't been feeding and maintaining the other blog, so I'm republishing here.) 

Club Tee-Gee was founded sixty-four years ago by returning World War II veterans Neal Tracy and Joe Grzybowski.   As is typical in this city, most people probably enter from the parking lot side, but the street side entrance is worth a look.

Although the place has been rebuilt a couple of times since its founding, it's obvious that the building's design has stayed true to its postwar origins and heritage.  The inwardly angled walls give the building a vaguely Googie-esque shape which seems to suit a cocktail lounge well.  It seems the only thing missing is the neon-lit outline of a martini glass. The blank areas betray the former presence of windows, which are absent for a very good reason.  In the mid 1980’s someone threw a Molotov Cocktail into the place, nearly burning it to the ground.  As it turns out, Vyacheslav Molotov, was still alive in 1986, but I'm confident he was nowhere near Atwood Village at the time the attack went down. 

Club Tee-Gee's, Atwood Village

A sure sign of a good neighborhood bar is that the customers' ages run the gamut from 21 years and zero days to the chronological limits of human life.   This is certainly true of theTee-Gee, where you're apt to see a group of twenty-somethings holding down one booth, and a group of fifty-somethings occupying the next booth.   There's no live music, but the jukebox gets its music from the Internet.  After sixty-four years the kind of music chosen by the patrons usually sets up a pleasant kind of cognitive dissonance; the bar looks like you should be hearing Frank Sinatra, but you're much more likely to hear some kind of rock and roll.  Nevertheless, you can undoubtedly get some Sinatra if you want it.

Tee-Gee's Interior
Neighborhood bars do share a good deal of common ground.  They're almost always fairly dark inside, with the bar on one side of the room and the tables on the other.  But good bars need to have some kind of individual touches, because if they don't, they look like The People's Alcohol Dispensary #714.  Behind the bar of the Tee-Gee we see the customary indicators of beverage abundance--stacked up glasses and the typical array of bottles.

Behind The Bar

To the left, the Homely Lampshade adds a nice warm touch, but what's really individual here is the abundant supply of Betty Boops, one of which has pride of place in the middle of the bartenders' workspace.  Another rises imposingly in the corner, where the glittery ceiling above the Boop creates a nice effect.

In case you noticed some of the sketches behind the bar, those are another one of those individual touches I mentioned.  There is an artist in the family here, the sister of one of the owners, and most of one wall is devoted to her artwork.

Close-up of the picture wall

I don't know if these pictures were drawn around the time when the bar first opened, but it sure looks that way.  Regardless, it's clear the artist felt most comfortable expressing herself within that aesthetic.   The drawings of young women sporting 1940s-style coiffures call to mind the drawings of his sweetheart a forlorn soldier might have made during off-moments before turning in.


Griffith Park: Fern Dell

In this second installment of our series on Griffith Park, which began here, we look at Fern Dell, which is another one of the Park's oldest attractions.  From the Observatory, Fern Dell can be reached by a downhill hike of approximately 1.3 miles, which, in most cases, will be followed by a much more difficult uphill return.  It's probably a pleasant enough walk, but we used the car that day in the interest of time. 

The higher area of the Dell is a nicely wooded refuge from the city.  And, we might add, even from the Park itself, much of which isn't landscaped and reflects Southern California's semiarid climate.  Woods and groves are an important asset to a large metropolitan park, and all too often these things are missing from other parks around the city, partly due to the need of open space for games.

Picnic area, upper Fern Dell

The trees in this area are deciduous trees typically found in the area, including sycamores and oaks.   Redwoods and other non-native plants have also been brought in.


Being occasional viewers of the Ghosthunters franchise on the SyFy network, we initially thought we might have discovered an entity or spirit of some kind, hovering in these redwood trees:

Sun shining through redwoods

We went behind the trees to investigate, and to take some live action AV material, but as luck would have it, our equipment malfunctioned, as so often happens.  Besides, the entity seemed to recede at the exact same pace with which we approached it.  Ultimately, having just come from Griffith Observatory, we soon suspected that we were looking at something known as the "sun".  There was really no doubt, since we knew that it was daytime, and according to our ephemeris, the sun was supposed to be out, somewhere above the horizon.

Fern Dell used to have an artificial stream running through it, fed by runoff from Griffith Observatory's cooling system.   Unfortunately, when the Observatory was renovated and expanded a few years back, this water source was eliminated, and the Fern Dell stream is now dry.   However, the existence of a spring in the immediate area has been known since 1929, when it was rumored to be a fountain of youth.  This does sound bogus, we must admit, but not altogether surprising given the time and place.  This was the era of the first flush Hollywood celebrities, of early Pentecostals and other evangelists.  It was the end of a decade during which the population of the Los Angeles had increased twenty-fold.  Most of that increase was from new arrivals from other states and countries, most of whom hoped to re-invent themselves--or at least their lives.   A definite contributing factor was an influx of young men and women hoping for a career in motion pictures.   We shouldn't be surprised if a continual stream of visitors showed up  at this alleged Fountain of Youth, armed with bottles and jugs in which to carry some of the magic water home.  

Presumably in response to traffic concerns, at first  the city capped the spring,  but this caused unwanted seepage in neighboring houses and streets.  In the end, they  simply routed the water instead to spigots in the Fern Dell ranger's house, which has been lost to the passage of time.

It's too bad we no longer have the sound of a running brook here.  Still, as we saw at Franklin Canyon,  sheltered canyons in this area do support a greater variety of trees and plants than you find on the hilltops.   Chapparal scrub and stunted live oaks give way to tall sycamores, oaks, and spruce where the surrounding hills reduce the exposure to sunlight and help the plants to retain what moisture they can get.  There's usually more groundwater in these canyons, where springs are relatively common.

The lower end of the canyon features more definitely exotic plants, especially for Southern California.   Although this fine cycad looks like a palm tree of some kind, is actually a holdover from a much more primitive era of plant life.

Cycad plant at Fern Dell
While it is a seed bearer, it first evolved hundreds of millions of years before flowering plants like the true palms.  Incidentally, only one kind of palm, the Desert Fan, is native to Southern California, the rest being imports.

As we might expect, there are also actual ferns.

Lower Fern Dell
Here we also find elephant's-ear, banana, and hibiscus among other non-native plants.  Although they come from areas with warmer climates, they do well given plenty of shade and water, and are often seen in people's front gardens around town.  In fact, banana plants can be made to produce fruit here, contrary to common belief.  

Along the main road in this area is Trails Lodge, where they pour a decent cup of coffee.

Trails Lodge
When we went, it looked as if  something odd had  been happening to the birds which roost around here.

Or maybe they just hadn't taken down the Halloween decorations yet.

What do you know, there seems to be another apparition. Behind the man in a short-sleeved shirt, walking out of the picture to the right, a shadowy form seems to hover, as if just on the point of rising from the table.  Was that there when we took the picture?   I don't remember.

Leaving Fern Dell, we encounter a statue of a small bear where Fern Dell Drive meets Los Feliz Boulevard.

As the plaque informs us, it is a Cold War monument, presented to the people of Los Angeles by the people of West Berlin.  Berlin and Los Angeles are sister cities, a relationship which, at the time, was presumably recognized only by West Berliners.  A bear standing in this posture is the main design of Berlin's coat of arms, and is an example "canting" arms, since the German word for 'bear'--Behr--is pronounced very much like the first syllable of 'Berlin'.


Griffith Park: The Observatory

In this installment we begin a series of occasional posts about the attractions of Griffith Park. 

Since it was established in the mid-1930s, generations of Angelenos and tourists have come to Griffith Observatory to watch planetarium shows, look through the Zeiss 12-inch refracting telescope, and enjoy the views of the L.A. Basin.   In 1896 Col. Griffith J. Griffith, donated over 3000 acres (1291.9 ha) for the city park that bears his name, and in 1919 he bequeathed additional funding to the City for the construction of an observatory, planetarium, and Greek styled theater.

The Observatory Building

First, though, let's take a look at the building, which is a fine example of the Art Deco style varied with elements of Federal neoclassicism, and even touches of California Spanish style.  

Approaching Griffith Observatory

 By their nature, nearly all astronomical observatories are at the tops of long winding roads, and this is no exception. Situated as it is on the hilltop, the building's white color suggests a classical acropolis in a way that can't be coincidental.  Prior to the second World War, an echo of inspiration from the classics was standard for the buildings that housed schools, museums, and similar institutions like this Observatory.  Ancient Greece was considered to be the font  and origin of Western civilization and science, and of astronomy not the least.   John C. Austin, who designed this and many other local landmarks of the era, was deftly able  to heed the traditional expectation that the Observatory would be an acropolis of learning, and culture, yet at the same time avoid the use of virtually all "neo-" stylistic elements.   Here there are neither Ionic columns, nor Roman vaults, nor Gothic arches.   Instead, most of the details are Art Deco, which, given the unusual shape of this building, seems more than modern: it seems futuristic.   If we didn't know what this building was, it could almost be a backdrop from an early Star Trek episode, the kind they used to smash cut to, accompanied by an imperious trombone passage to let us know we were looking on the works of a mighty and alien civilization.

As we'll see, Griffith Observatory functions mainly as a museum of astronomy, which makes the numerous large windows unusual.   Windows can reduce a museum's interior exhibit space; yet in this case that doesn't happen.  From the inside, unless you look for clues as to how the space is divided, it's impossible to tell where the windows are.   It's hard even to be sure that they are actually windows at all, and not just blind recesses in the exterior with shades and lights that are turned on at night.

Griffith Observatory front view

Without the domes it would look like a federal government agency of some sort, like a Post Office or courthouse.

Detail of planetarium dome

A close-up examination of the dome reveals the sole concession to ancient Greece: a narrow band of simplified Greek key decoration  running around the dome, and across the top of each arch.   As a matter of fact, this decorative device runs around most of the  building. 

Further details are in keeping with that aesthetic.   The wrought iron doorway embellishments, both in front and at several side entrances provide a satisfying sense of permanence and tradition, but do not emulate any specific style.  Incidentally, the side entrances are usually unlocked, because the policy of free admission, which was once standard for museums, has been maintained here.

Griffith Observatory: Side entrance to the exhibition halls

 The Hall of Science and Planetarium

The name Hall of Science reflects the simple dignity with which museums branded their exhibit spaces in the early twentieth century.  

The Foucault pendulum is one of the best known exhibits in the hall.

The famous Foucault pendulum

Because of the Earth's rotation, the direction of the pendulum's swing seems to rotate, making a full circle approximately every one and three-quarter days.   A pendulum's period of rotation is a function of its latitude, and varies from a minimum of 24 hours at either Pole to infinity at the Equator.

Overhead is a typical example of public art from the 1930s, although naturally with an astronomical theme.

Among other things, we see signs of the Zodiac, notably Taurus accompanied by the Pleiades, who, with their halos, look more like a half-dozen Early Christian saints than the daughters of Atlas.  Atlas himself is seen holding up the sky.  As we all know, Atlas was punished, for something or other, by being made to hold up the heavens for all eternity.   One day, however, Hercules passed by, on the commute to his next Labor, and Atlas nearly succeeded in tricking him to take over that holding-up-the-sky gig.   Wouldn't you just know it, though:  Hercules said, "Atlas!  Dude!  Could you just hold up the spheres of the heavens for one more minute while I re-arrange my lion pelt to cushion the load on my shoulders?  I swear, it'll only take one minute if that."  Atlas very obligingly did so, and before he knew where he was, Hercules was already on his way down the road, chuckling to himself about that dumb ox Atlas.   
Other prominent exhibits include the 12-inch refracting telescope, a current and continuous view of the Sun, magnified and projected on a screen in the hall, and a large periodic table of the elements, comprising samples of the actual elements.

Carbon.  I thought there was a diamond in here, somewhere.
This part of the exhibit also shows some of the noble gases, which are sealed in tubes and subjected to an electric current, causing them to glow in their characteristic colors.

For example, here's krypton.

And here's helium.


While we're here it would be nice to show what a typical planetarium show looks like, but that's not really easy to do on a blog.  But here's a screen shot from an excellent freeware program called Celestia.

The Northern Sky

Even in 1935 local skies were too beset with light pollution to allow serious work in optical astronomy.  Instead, the Observatory's role has been mainly to inspire and educate the public, both through planetarium lectures and through allowing visitors to peer through the telescope at bright objects like the Moon and planets. Even so, the institution is run by qualified astronomers, and it does occasionally take on more serious work. For example, during World War II, military pilots came here to study celestial navigation, as did the astronauts in the Apollo program a couple of decades later.   

Outdoor Exhibits and Views

Prominent outdoor exhibits include the Astronomers' Monument, sundials, and a scale map of the Solar System.   A monument to James Dean is one of the newer additions.

The Astronomers' Monument honors several great astronomers including Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Nicholas Copernicus, Hipparchus, William Herschel, and Isaac Newton.

Astronomers Monument

The team of sculptors responsible for this monument were commissioned as part of the Public Works of Art Project, a Depression-era program that was part of President Roosevelt's New Deal. If the way the statues are posed looks familiar, it's probably because one of the artists on the team was George Stanley, who had designed the Oscar statuette a few years before.

The Solar System Diagram is in the grand tradition of embedding in pavements things to edify and amuse us.

Solar System Layout

It is rather well done at that.

Unlike  a typical garden sundial, the Armillary Sundial  can tell  you the time down to the minute.  You can set your watch by it.  It's possible to see the gnomon's shadow moving much like the minute hand of a large clock.

Armillary Sundial

The James Dean monument is in honor of the movie Rebel Without A Cause, a key sequence of which was filmed here.

The James Dean Statue
Rebel Without A Cause is without doubt a classic, and James Dean's performance in it is legendary.  However, the administrators of the Observatory had an additional, special reason for honoring the late actor, explained in the plaque on the plinth. 

Among other things, it points out that, while many movies have been filmed here, RWAC was the first one to portray the observatory as what it is, and to contribute positively to its international reputation.   

The views from the Observatory's terraces are renowned, and in recent decades more so since the problem of smog, and especially the visible, brown kind, has been very much abated.

Here's a view to the southwest, showing the ocean in the distance.  

And this is looking toward downtown L.A.