Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Save the Ambassador

It feels as if momentum may be turning against preservation of the Ambassador Hotel -- which makes it more important than ever to contact the Board of Education and urge L.A. Unified to save the historic building.

The Downtown News reports this week that a community group that calls itself RFK-12 is urging LAUSD to stop dragging its feet and start building a new high school on the site.

And as I mentioned yesterday, it's still questionable how committed LAUSD really is to finding a way to convert the historic site into a high school (rather than just tearing the whole thing down and building a new structure, much like they're doing at the old Metromedia Square/Fox TV site). "Barbie Loves L.A." author Greg LaVoi told us how the school district initially didn't want him shooting pictures of the Ambassador -- because he was planning to portray the building in its original form as a grand hotel. (They wanted him to shoot it as a school; they later gave him permission.)

On the plus side, a group of community and entertainment figures have finally come together and formed the "A+ Coalition" to fight the potential demolition of the site.

Why is it so important to save this building? And why are we so concerned here at Franklin Avenue? Read the L.A. Conservancy's tip sheet.

Also, here's a great tribute site filled with info, trivia and pictures about the Ambassador.

And, of course, here are the shots Maria and I took inside the Ambassador when we got a chance to lurk around the old hotel last year. (Link broken)

LAUSD is now expected to make its final decision on the fate of the building in a few weeks. Again, if you haven't yet, send in a letter to the Board of Education.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Book 'Em

Maria and I managed to make it to the annual Los Angeles Times Book Festival this Sunday right before it closed.

Making our way to UCLA, we parked in the Ralphs/Best Buy/Longs parking lot and hoofed it to campus, immediately heading for the Angel City Press booth.

As far as books on pop culture and local Los Angeles history goes, we're both huge fans of the Angel City Press catalog. (Angel City puts it this way on their website: Drenched in nostalgia yet undeniably cool, each Angel City Press book is luxuriously illustrated and showcases the modern design concepts of California's top graphic artists.)

Sitting at the booth was author Greg LaVoi, signing copies of his book "Barbie Loves L.A." We quickly picked up a copy and had Greg sign it.

If you haven't seen it, or any of its writeups in the L.A. Times and Los Angeles magazine, the book is a visual treat for people (like us) obsessed with L.A.'s classic landmarks.

LaVoi, an Emmy-nominated costume designer, took vintage Barbie dolls, dressed them to the period, and, via some amazing work in creating visual perception with photography, places her in front of, and interacting with, L.A. sites.

That includes shots of 1950s Barbie shopping at Bullock's Wilshire... filling up gas at the vintage 76 station in Beverly Hills... catching a flight in front of LAX's Theme Building... Grabbing a bite in front of Perino's... and plenty more.

LaVoi said he had no problem getting permission to use the landmarks... except the Ambassador Hotel. LaVoi eventually was able to shoot Barbie standing in front of a microphone outside the Cocoanut Grove... but only after twisting the L.A. Unified School District's arm. LAUSD didn't want the Ambassador portrayed as the historical hotel it is... nope, the school board wanted the Ambassador portrayed as a school. The LAUSD eventually relented when LaVoi threatened to tell his story to the L.A. Times.

Yup, L.A. Conservancy, that's the mindset we're up against in trying to save that building.

Meanwhile, LaVoi said he's now scouting locations in New York for a sequel. He hopes to shoot "Barbie Loves N.Y." later this year.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Last Dance At Perino's

Maria soaks in the Perino's vibe at one of the legendary Hollywood haunt's booths

Maria and I caught the closing performance Sunday night of the Collage Dance Theatre's "A Hunger Artist," which also doubled as the swan song for the soon-to-be demolished Perino's restaurant.

It was our second time at a Collage show; we'd attended the troupe's performance ("Sleeping with the Ambassador") at the endangered Ambassador Hotel last summer. Like then, our main goal is to check out classic Los Angeles locales before they're sadly demolished... and the Perino's visit had an even more urgent tone to it: The building will be torn down very soon in favor of apartments. Egad.

(Adding insult to injury, Carey + Kutay Development Group -- which is overseeing the Perino's demolition and construction of the future apartment complex -- continues to capitalize on the mystique and lore of Perino's. Carey + Kutay was a sponsor of the Collage event, and owns the website perinos.net -- which touts the site's history and its importance in Hollywood culture, while in the same breath announces its destruction and auction of remaining assets.)

Collage artistic director Heidi Duckler conceived and created the dance program along with Merridawn Duckler. The contemporary dance troupe utilized Perino's ballroom, bar, dining room and kitchen to interpret Franz Kafka's "A Hunger Artist."

Like the Ambassador show, Collage also incorporated some acting and singing in the mix, particularly in the dining room, where the performers rotated from table to table -- some twisting and turning on chairs, others performing magic tricks and still others, in character, interacting with the crowd. It was all meant to tell Kafka's story of an artist who decides to fast and ultimately doesn't stop -- because he never found anything he wanted to eat.

The show had its moments -- and the athletic abilities of several dancers were nothing short of awe-inspiring. Think dance with acrobatics thrown in.

But ultimately, it was a much smaller event than the Ambassador show. Collage stuck to just four rooms -- whereas, at the Ambassador, the audience saw at least seven different performances in varied locations.

Obviously, Perino's is no match for the expanse of the Ambassador. But "A Hunger Artist" could have climbed upstairs, where a sitting room and powder area would have added one more canvas to the "Hunger Artist" pallette.

Nonetheless, the show had its moments -- we were particularly impressed by the athletic moves of Marissa Labog, while John Pleshette was enjoyable as the Perino's maitre'd. Overall, the cast was top-notch and the dancers amazing.

Unfortunately, it's too late to save Perino's. But it's not too late to save the Ambassador. We sat in a booth next to a member of the Los Angeles Conservancy, who urged us to write letters to the LAUSD school board urging them to save the old hotel. This next month or two is critical; go to the L.A. Conservancy website for more info.

Check out pics from our night at Perino's starting here.