All winter long, in the shade of towering, ancient oaks, camellias bloom red, pink, and white in California’s Descanso Gardens. This enchanting garden has a painful origin, one tied to World War II. It is also a story of a beam of light in the darkness, an act of friendship amidst the anguish of many people.
This KCET video tells the story in less than twelve minutes, starting at the nine-minute mark, but you may want to watch the entire episode. Descanso Gardens is located in the city of La Canada (can-YA-da) Flintridge, only thirteen miles from downtown Los Angeles.
This video should start at about 9:00 minutes. Watch to 20:24. The last minute tells of the construction of Japanese Garden at Descanso Gardens, completing the story of what is now the largest camellia collection in North America.
E. Manchester Boddy saw a business opportunity, Brown says, but also had “deep compassion” for his friends and paid a fair price for the camellias.
The camellias I’ve seen in California are pink, white or red or a combination, such as red and white stripes. I hunt for “sports.” These are single plants with two different colors of blooms. For example, a camellia shrub with red blooms might have a section with white ones. Those branches have a natural mutation, so its blooms are different.
The trailer for the episode shows the gardens at Descanso.
Camellias at Descanso bloom from early autumn to spring, with the most dazzling floral display in winter, from January through February. Other gardens at Descanso make it beautiful year-round.
I visited France and wrote about a spectacular garden, shown here.
“Welcome, Modernists!” read the banners in Palm Springs, California. I hadn’t thought of myself as being modern, but this is Midcentury Modern, with a focus on the 1950s and 1960s. It might be as cool now as it was back then. I went to the fall preview of Modernism Week, an annual February event billed as the ultimate celebration of Midcentury architecture, design and culture.
Frank Sinatra’s Home
My first stop was Twin Palms. Designed by E. Stewart Williams, this house will forever be known as Sinatra’s house, although he lived here only ten years.
He and his first wife, Nancy, moved into their brand new home and threw a New Year’s Eve bash to usher in 1948.
Yes, his bedroom was open for the tour! This is the view from the bed.
A preservationist who spoke to our tour said the pool, which is in the front yard, was not built to look like a piano, although its shape reminds people of one. The walkway’s pergola often casts shadows which look like piano keys.
Sinatra left his wife for actress Ava Gardner. In 1951, they married, but the marriage was stormy. The master bathroom sink is still cracked from the time Sinatra reportedly threw a bottle of champagne during one of their fights. They divorced in 1957, but became lifelong friends.
There is a lot of sandstone inside and out. A microphone was found embedded in it. The preservationist said Sinatra did that because he wanted to hear what people said about him after he left.
Fireplaces in the Sinatra home. On the left, the sandstone one in his bedroom.
Sinatra could record from the property. An antenna extends up from the stone feature in the middle of the photo below. It sent his home recordings to his studio.
His living room had sound and recording equipment built in.
We saw many houses in a few days, but one stood out. We forgot the official name–the Morse residence–and called it, “The James Bond House.”
The James Bond House (But Not Really)
In 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Morse commissioned architect Hal Levitt to remodel their tract home. They liked to entertain and wanted to bring a pool into their living room.
A framed photo in the home showed one of their parties in the 1960s, with Mrs. Morse dancing to a band.
When the party’s over, partitions are pulled out of the walls, and the living room is separated from the outdoor pool.
The party continues. Even if you can’t go, see photos with sunshine and style at Modernism Week.
This was my first taste of Midcentury Modern, and now I really appreciate it.
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It’s still a New Year celebration in Pasadena. The 100th Rose Queen reigned over the Rose Parade yesterday, and the Pasadena Museum of History has remarkable photos, fashions, crowns, and more on display.
Fashions have changed, and fashion reflects history. This is the 1971 Rose Queen and Royal Court.
A hundred years ago, chariot races were the post-parade sporting event instead of football.
Mr. D. M. Linnard raced chariots in this toga around 1905.
The early Rose Queens had to come up with their own costumes (they were given five or ten dollars to defray the cost), and also the roses to decorate their carriage.
Before 1935, selection of the queen and princesses was informal. Early Pasadena royals included actresses. Usually, the women of the royal court were chosen because they were popular, excellent students, accomplished in other ways, or friends and family of Rose Parade volunteers.
There were even two men. In 1913 and 1914, there were Rose Kings as well as Rose Queens, similar to Homecoming Kings and Queens at high schools and colleges.
On January 1, 1942, the parade was cancelled due to the war, but the queen and her court put on their gowns and drove a car with a giant V for victory.
The 1951 Rose Queen–in white, as always–and Rose Princesses. Contrast this fashion with the royal wardrobe twenty-one years later, when many women wanted to join the workforce and see the Equal Rights Amendment made part of the Constitution. Ready for business.
The royals are ambassadors for the city of Pasadena, with well over 100 appearances in the few months before each New Years Day. Despite a hectic schedule which includes school, their wardrobes are coordinated with each other. Here’s their secret.
The exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of History includes many gowns. Some Rose Queens got married in theirs. There were two longtime designers for the Tournament of Roses. William Cahill of Beverly Hills, a noted designer of wedding gowns, supplied gowns from 1953 through the early 1970s.
1950s Rose Queen and Rose Princess gowns by William Cahill
1970, left, and 1971, both by William Cahill
Since 1993, almost all gowns have been created by designer Tadashi Shoji. These are from 2005 and 2004. Queens wear white, and this one is made of satin ribbons with rhinestone trim.
I love this photo I took on my trip to France. For me, it’s less about the monument and more about the moment. I’ll show you more photos of my visit to the castle, but this one reminds me to slow down.
I was in Amboise, in France’s Loire Valley. Alone, I took an outdoor table at this bar. A sign advertised their healthy smoothies, but I had stopped there for the view and a glass of wine.
A senior couple chatted with the waiter, who may have been the owner. I waited to be served as a French person would. I willed myself to be patient and relax. The couple seemed to be townspeople and longtime friends with the waiter. After a couple of minutes, they told him, “A demain,” (until tomorrow), and they left. They seemed very happy. It was a sunny but chilly Friday evening, the beginning of a three-day weekend for the May Day holiday.
The Loire Valley is chateau (castle) country. Happily, it’s also wine country. I asked for a local wine. The one waiter brought it and said it was from three or four kilometers upriver. He left and returned with free hors d’oeuvres, a nice surprise. I just had to take this picture, with the river, the chateau, the wine, and the adorable free appetizers. I savored the moment.
I am on a tiny island.
I’m looking at a royal chateau, the home of kings and queens.
One of the world’s most brilliant people is buried in that little chapel.
This wine is really good.
Here is the same chateau in a closer photo. I had visited it the day before and took the following pictures.
The elegant palace sits high above buildings that include my hotel. The castle is high so the guards could see any large boats that might threaten the king and queen.
The castle wall spans the width of this picture. I’ll take you up and over, but first, notice three landmarks in the above photo. You see the row of flags on the right and the spire of a small chapel behind the flags. On the left, above the top of the wall, are the shrubs and trees of the castle garden.
Let’s go up! Here is the garden, on the right.
We are high above the river.
The royal chateau is shown in the photo above. The genius buried in the little chapel…
…is Leonardo da Vinci.
The famous Italian painter and scientist is buried beside a royal chateau in France.
King Francois I (Francis the First) was a young admirer and friend of Leonardo. When the king was twenty-two, he brought the aging Leonardo to Amboise and housed him in the nearby Chateau du Clos Lucé. Leonardo brought his unfinished Mona Lisa when he moved to France, and it is now in Paris.
The king visited Leonardo very frequently. He had a tunnel built between the two chateaux so he could visit in bad weather. He simply wanted to talk to this amazing genius.
Leonardo spent the last three years of his life here, perfecting his inventions. Some are on display at Clos Lucé and, seasonally, at Leonardo da Vinci Park. Leonardo was also an architect, theatrical director and party planner for the king’s court.
The photo of the other chateau, the king’s chateau, brings back memories of a lovely moment. I hope you have many wonderful moments this holiday season and throughout 2018.
The first graveyard in Tombstone, Arizona, shows the violent side of the Old West. For the second time, Women Writing the West has brought me to Tucson, and Tombstone draws me like a magnet although it is seventy miles away. Last week I went twice. My only visit to this famous cemetery was just before Halloween.
Boothill contains those who died in the first years of the silver-mining boomtown of Tombstone. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places, and visitors are given a pamphlet with details of the dead. Who says historical research is dull?
Mr. Killeen was shot by Frank Leslie in a disagreement over Killeen’s wife. The recently widowed Mrs. Killeen married her husband’s murderer.
Three-fingered Jack Dunlap was robbing a train when a guard shot him. Dunlap’s partners in crime left him, and he named them before he died.
George Johnson did not realize the horse he bought was stolen.
Outlaws and respectable folk, prostitutes and strangers rest in peace. Margarita, a dance hall girl (who probably kept her last name secret), was stabbed by another, who went by the name of Gold Dollar. They had argued about a man.
Victims of diphtheria. Suicides, many of them women. Accidents, including in mines. One well-dressed stranger was found dead in an abandoned shaft.
Many murdered. Death by hanging, legally and illegally.
Tombstone is the site of the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, where Wyatt Earp and his brothers, along with Doc Holliday, killed three outlaws in a gang. They rest here, together. Two were brothers.
They say that those who live by the sword, die by the sword.
I was shaken. I did not find it spooky, only sobering. I’ll leave you with a little graveyard humor. Lester Moore was a Wells Fargo agent and argued with a man over a package. Both died, but I’m sure Moore got the better epitaph.
Portland’s Pittock Mansion was built in 1914 by Henry Pittock, owner and publisher of The Oregonian newspaper, and his wife Georgiana.
Henry was given the newspaper as a gift because he worked there, as a typesetter, for no wages, only room and board. The newspaper’s previous owner wanted out of the media business, and he was impressed by Henry’s hard work, so he gave him TheOregonian. At the helm, Henry made it very successful. Today, it is the largest news organization in the Pacific Northwest.
The mansion sits in a forest above Portland. Henry and his daughters were avid hikers and constructed trails on the property. Georgiana, however, was not so keen on moving from a nice Portland neighborhood to this more remote location. To persuade her, Henry hired a chauffeur to drive Georgiana to town whatever she wanted. Sometimes, the chauffeur drove Georgiana’s friends to the mansion, and the ladies enjoyed sewing together in her sewing room. Georgiana was the founder and fundraiser for many charities and cultural organizations in Portland. She was very active in women’s causes. Henry also promised her an elevator.
Henry knew he would have to sweeten the pot for servants, too. By 1914, keeping female servants was a problem. Women were being hired to work in offices, shops and factories, and because they worked in the city, they could enjoy their leisure time there.
With a central vacuum system–the envy of most of us today–the servants had only to carry the hose and nozzle from room to room.
It was important to keep a good cook happy. The spacious kitchen had a rubber floor that was easy on the legs and feet. It also had a window with a spectacular view.
The home was built with central heating, a new invention, with not just one thermostat, but many.
The refrigerator was an entire room. Look at the thick, heavy door. They grew their own vegetables.
Some rooms and the hall were built with indirect lighting.
The ceiling in the room below is silver leaf.
For himself, Henry built a shower with all the bells and whistles.
The Pittock Mansion, now owned by the City of Portland, is open to the public, and you can picnic in front of the view.
Weeks ago I was in France, eager to visit the famed gardens of Villandry chateau. I became captivated by the story of the couple–neither of them French–who bought the chateau in 1906 and restored it.
They met in Paris, in the laboratory of Professor Charles Richet. Richet would go on to win the Nobel prize in medicine.
Ann Coleman was in her early twenties, a Bryn Mawr College graduate from a wealthy family of American Industrialists. Joachim Carvallo was a Spaniard. He had grown up poor after his bankrupt father abandoned the family. Both Joachim and Ann had lost their mothers when they were children.
The two young scientists had different temperaments. Ann was introverted and resisted the roles for the women of her time. Joachim was “very romantic and enthusiastic in his loves and hates,” wrote Professor Richet.
The passionate Spaniard and independent-minded American sparred over the ongoing Spanish-American War. Then they fell in love.
Seven years after they became Mr. and Mrs. Carvallo, they bought a 1536 chateau in France’s Loire Valley.
The chateau is still in the Carvallo family. They keep these photos of Ann and Joachim on the piano.
The Carvallos Recreate a Long-Lost Garden
Joachim amassed an important collection of 17th Century Spanish art. Ann enjoyed all types of needlework and became skilled in them.
Together, they researched what their simple garden had looked like in the 16th century. They consulted books of the period. Digging in the garden yielded the remains of foundations and drains.
They transformed their grassy fields, shrubs and trees back into a spectacular Renaissance garden.
In this image, the foreground is the Ornamental Garden, also called the Love Garden. It is in front of the fenced stream, which turns into a moat.
The four squares of geometric patterns symbolize different types of love. You can see the entire Passionate Love square next to the white planters with trees. This square has shapes that suggest dancing and broken hearts.
To the left is the Tender Love square. It has heart shapes filled with flowers, pink right now. They are separated by flame shapes, and the center has hedges that represent masks worn at balls. The other squares are Flighty Love (half is shown here) and Tragic Love.
Above the fenced stream is the organic Vegetable Garden, which includes flower beds. Here is map of this garden, including colors, for this spring:
There is also a maze and a serene Water Garden with lawn, fountains, and a large pond shaped like a Louis XV mirror.
Villandry is one of many chateaus in the Loire Valley, but it has the most beautiful garden. This is wine country, not far from Paris.
I had to take photos in driving rain! Still, I did not want to leave. For lovely photos of the entire gardens, here is Villandry’s virtual tour. I’d love to hear your comment.
A ghost town is the home of the stories of its past residents.
[This post was written by reader Brigid Amos. Maybe you have seen her comments here. She is the author of a new book, A Fence Around Her. I’ll let her continue…]
There is something bittersweet about a collection of abandoned homes, businesses, churches and civic buildings, all decaying slowly in a remote location. A visit to such a place always seems to evoke the dashed hopes and bitter disappointments of those who once walked its now-lonely streets, and this is true even if the ghost town is well-maintained and heavily visited, as is Bodie, California, a prosperous gold and silver mining district in the Eastern Sierra that boomed in the 1880s. Of all the stories I’ve read or heard about Bodie, the one that always gets to me is that of Lottie Johl. I find her story so sad and touching that I loosely based a major character in my novel A Fence Around Her on this real-life Bodie resident.
Lottie was a sweet, good-natured woman who found herself, through unfortunate life circumstances and limited employment opportunities, working in a house of ill repute in Bodie’s red-light district. There she met a hard-working German immigrant named Eli Johl. Although he was quite successful as a butcher, he was a lonely bachelor, perhaps due to his limited English skills, and he seemed to be searching for someone to share his life. The woman he found was Lottie, and much to the horror of the respectable people of Bodie, he took her as his legal wife. He built her a comfortable house and furnished it in the best style he could afford. Lottie showed an interest in painting, and Eli bought her an easel, a palette, and brushes, and he kept her well-supplied with oil paints and canvases. Isolated in her opulent parlor, Lottie painted fantastical landscapes. Eli had them elaborately framed in red velvet and gilt and displayed them on the parlor walls, although no one came to their house to look at the paintings, because Lottie was still shunned by society.
Finally, Eli hatched a plan to almost force Lottie upon Bodie society. A masquerade ball was to be held at the Miners Union Hall, and Eli sent Lottie to the event alone, dressed in a white satin gown covered in fake diamonds and pearls, with a matching crown perched on her blond curls. All the men wanted to dance with the lovely lady in the diamond and pearl-encrusted dress, and all the women envied her. The committee assigned to give out the costume awards decided to give the mysterious lady the first prize. But when midnight struck and everyone took off their masks, poor Lottie was abandoned by her dance partner. A member of the committee discreetly asked her to leave, and she went home in humiliation.
And if the events of Lottie Johl’s life weren’t sad enough, her death and burial are truly heartbreaking. Lottie felt sick one day (though probably not sick enough to die), and a doctor wrote a prescription. The druggist filled it, and Lottie took the medicine. She was dead by next morning. Instead of the prescribed medicine, the druggist had given her a deadly dose of a toxic substance. It was probably a mistake, but I have to wonder if the druggist took less care in filling the prescription when he saw that it was for Lottie Johl, someone he considered of little importance.
Eli was not allowed to bury his beloved wife inside the fence of the cemetery with the “respectable dead,” so he erected an ornate wrought-iron fence around her grave. He was determined that she would have a much finer fence than the one around the cemetery, so that people would see what a fine woman she was. I think it’s ironic that so many of the people who made Lottie’s life miserable are completely forgotten, while the memory of Lottie Johl lives on.
I felt that it was important to honor the real-life inspiration for Lilly Conoboy, the mother of fourteen-year-old Ruthie Conoboy, the protagonist of my novel A Fence Around Her. I want to make it clear that Lilly is not Lottie. While Lottie was an innocent victim, Lilly brings on her own tragedy. While Lottie seems like someone I might seek out as a friend, Lilly is someone I would avoid if I could do so. But that is what we historical fiction writers do. We take history and turn it into fiction, and the two are not the same. I will always feel gratitude to the historical Lottie Johl for being who she was and leaving behind her story.
Pamela: You can read an excerpt of A Fence Around Her, Young Adult Historical Fiction published by Clean Reads, and purchase at the links below.
These are called cigarette cards. Not much bigger than a modern business card, these trade cards were a bonus in a pack of cigarettes. They came in a series, usually twenty-five or fifty, with a similar theme.
Many were aimed at male smokers: airplanes, sports and cars. These cars were modern at the time.
Cigarette companies wanted brand loyalty from consumers, so they gave them tiny works of art.
Another good way to get customers to keep buying from their company, and not from a competitor, was to display numbers on the cards.
Or even letters of the alphabet.
The cards above and below are part of a 1910 series, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.
Some were embroidered silk. Recently, a quilt made of many of these was on display at the Pasadena Museum of History.
I came across all of these, and many more, by accident, at a hotel near Yosemite, the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal. All of the ones there were from Great Britain, from 1890 to 1939. The cigarette cards below of British military uniforms were issued in 1939, when the country was fighting for its survival in World War II. I like to imagine people in a bleak time appreciating the small, patriotic works of art.
Take a second or two to load these beautiful paintings from “The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920,” now at the Huntington. With the rise of the middle class and railroads, more people could commute to their job in a city and come home to a suburb.
Artists and other people enjoyed gardening in their own yards or in their artists’ colonies. Both painting and gardening involve color, form, and composition.
“The Crimson Rambler” may look wonderfully old-fashioned to us, but its 1908 audience recognized this hybridized rose as a lovely product of technology. I like the lavender light on her white skirt, above,
the pink in the multicolor grass,
and the veil that is in sun and shadow.
I think these women are spreading out laundered sheets to dry. This is a jewel of a painting, small (not quite 12 x 20 inches), and vivid, clear, and crisp as a windy day.
This exhibit, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, is at the Huntington through Monday, May 9, and then continues its tour in the East. If you don’t live close to Los Angeles, that’s okay. I’ll keep posting about the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
I’ll leave you with two artists’ own homes.
The labels with “The Artist’s Garden” exhibit state that the garden in winter was often discussed in books and magazines. The winter garden was considered a relaxing retreat, and winter a time of renewal.
At the Huntington, I had read “renewal” to mean the sleeping gardens. I think of renewal in springtime grass and flowers. Maybe the writer meant personal renewal. Gardens, and impressionist art, renew and refresh me.
Happy Spring! Enjoy nature. I’ll post again on the first Monday in June.