Tuesday, July 29, 2008

His Friend, Bill

After my conference wrapped up Friday morning I headed to the North Shore of Lake Tahoe to visit the Thunderbird Lodge -- known as Tahoe's "Castle in the Sky."

Built by eccentric San Francisco multi-millionaire Captain George C. Whittell, Jr., this house and the story behind it are fascinating.

Whittell was the only child of two parents, each of whom inherited fabulous fortunes around the turn of the last century. Though Whittell was expected to take over the family businesses he showed his intentions by running away to join the circus at age 16. His father's death left him 33 buildings in San Francisco, but when offered a key to the family's office suites he made it clear he "never intended to work a day in his life" and instead of keys preferred they just send him checks.

The the forests on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe were clear cut to provide lumber for Carson City, Virginia City and the silver mines of Nevada. Once the timber was exhausted Whittell purchased major land holdings from the lumber companies.

He kept many wild animals on his property, including the lion photographed above -- "Bill." He had an elephant house built on his Lake Tahoe property to house his pet elephant, but the elephant didn't do well in Lake Tahoe's high elevation so it was returned to the family mansion in Woodside (near San Francisco).
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Thunderbird Lodge, though beautiful to look at, is remarkably small. Whittell closely guarded his privacy and this "cottage" was built for himself and his wife. With just two bedrooms there might have been room for folks to "visit" but there was no room for them to "stay."
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Whittell owned 27 miles (27 miles!) of Lake Tahoe shoreline (from the lake up over the mountain ridge) for a total of 40,000 acres on the Nevada side of the lake. He mostly refused to develop it to protect his privacy. That's the biggest reason the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe is so different (undeveloped) from the California side (developed).
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One of the "modern" gadgets on display in the house is this cellulite reduction machine.
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Whittell had many of the rooms in the house labeled. For instance, this is the kitchen. This wasn't done by the Preservation Society running the house now, this is how Whittell lived. All of the electrical switches are labeled too, "hallway lights," for instance.
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A six hundred foot long tunnel (the length of two football fields) runs underground between the house and the boathouse.
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Under the category of wanting the fastest, brightest and most modern toys -- this is the 55 foot mahogany Thunderbird Yacht.

Whittell kept it inside the boathouse during WWII so the federal government wouldn't put it to use in the war.
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The foundation of the lighthouse at Thunderbird Lodge suffered damage during storms last winter. The Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society (www.thunderbirdlodge.org) is seeking to raise money to repair it before next winter.
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Here's a picture of Bill all growed up. According to our tour guide, Bill really was Captain Whittell's best friend. Whittell liked to put Bill in the front seat of his Dusenberg convertible and drive around San Francisco. Apparently the dashboard has the claw marks to prove it.
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Before leaving South Lake Tahoe and heading to Incline Village I had lunch at the Beach Grill right on the shore of Lake Tahoe. You can see the Stateline Beach and Lake Tahoe in the background.

The food was so-so but the setting was stunning.
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Saturday night I went to the El Centro Theater in Hollywood to see Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins" with my friend, Dave Hannon, who knows one of the cast members.

A musical about the people who have killed, or attempted to kill, Presidents certainly is a dark topic. But it works. Like it or not (obviously not) they're a part of our history. And Sondheim can do no wrong in my book.
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Before the show Dave and I had dinner at the nearby Larchmont Grill on Melrose Avenue. Their upscale comfort food was good but I thought the menu was way overpriced.
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Monday night I went to see the sublime film, "Brideshead Revisited." What a gorgeous film to look at -- especially the scenes filmed in Venice. Even the "poor" people look rich in this one.
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Machines Who Need Machines

After manning my booth Thursday from 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., what better way to relax than going to a movie last night?

Finally caught up with Pixar's "WALL-E" -- a beautiful animated movie, with quite a pointed message. It's set on Earth after the planet has been trashed to the point where it can't support human life. All that's left is one robot -- a mobile trash compactor -- and a cockroach.

Humans, living on a space station, send a probe back to earth to see if the situation has changed. The trash compactor and the probe fall in mechanical love.

The cutest thing about the trash compactor is while he's collecting and compacting trash he separates out and saves items that catch his fancy -- a spork, cigarette lighters, Christmas lights, etc. And he treasures an old VHS tape of "Hello, Dolly." He watches the "Out There" number (starring a very young Michael Crawford) over and over.

Any story that turns on an old musical can't be all bad. Even if they dumped Carol Channing in favor of Barbara Streisand for the movie.
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I don't know why this bear is dressed like Carmen Miranda.
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chattin' with The King

You never know who you're going to bump into on the streets of Nevada.

I had some free time today and went to see two movies -- one before my conference began and one after it concluded for the day.

Both films were shown at the movie theater inside the Horizon Casino. I think it's so funny that most movie theaters in Nevada are located inside casinos.

The two movies couldn't have been more different -- Mama Mia and Hellboy II. However, both films were gorgeous to look at.

Mama Mia is so much fun. Meryl Streep is amazing -- her ability to act and sing at the same time is very impressive. Pierce Brosnan can't sing for a lick -- but I thought that made his performance even more touching. And the setting on a Greek Island is breath-taking.

Actually I was pretty disappointed by the first 20 minutes of the film. The whole thing just seemed so cheap. But it turns out the problem was with the movie theater. I guess the "real" projectionist showed up about 20 minutes into the film because he adjusted the size of the screen (while the movie was running), turned up the volume in the auditorium and got rid of all the irritating scratches in the image. What a difference a good projectionist makes.

This evening I went to see Hellboy II. I actually missed Hellboy I. But in the intervening years I was completely blown away by director Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth." His visual imagination is mind boggling. And he continues to strut his stuff in Hellboy II. A comic book tale, Hellboy is a creature from Hell employed by the U.S. Government to protect mankind from various nefarious plots.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Traveling North

Made my way today to South Lake Tahoe for the annual California Manufacturers and Technology Association's Energy Conference.

On the way I stopped off for lunch at the retro Coffee Shop at the Carson Nugget Casino in Carson City, Nevada.
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Went to the ginormous Raley's supermarket on the California side of the border to buy candy for my booth. This year I've decided to stick with Hershey's assorted minis but also to mix it up with some peppermint patties. They key challenge is to keep the bags of candy in my hotel room unopened until the conference starts tomorrow.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Batman Forever!

Heath Ledger is so going to win a posthumous Oscar for his performance as the Joker!

Went to see "The Dark Knight" tonight at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and LOVED it. All two hours and forty minutes of it.

Its contemplation of the theory that societies get exactly the hero they deserve (and need) is fascinating.

And I particularly enjoyed the one-line cameo appearance by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. I wonder what percent of the audience recognizes a real-life U.S. Senator amongst the Gotham City socialites?
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Batman's motorcycle is on display outside of the ArcLight Theater in Hollywood. Very cool.
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Hardy Har Har

Went to see a collection of comedic short films called "Laugh All You Want" on Sunday at the Fairfax Theater. Afterwards several of the directors were on hand to answer questions from the audience.

Lots of laughs were in store for the audience from these shorts -- ranging from witty to raunchy.
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Bunch a Lunch (and a Movie)

Had a lovely visit Thursday with Marty and Sandy Davidson, owners of the new Beverly Hills Hot Dog Palace "Marty D's Deluxe Dogs & Desserts." (www.martyds.com)

Opened about three months, this lovely spot has a Brooklyn corner luncheonette theme (with Beverly Hills flair).

My hot dog was excellent, the french fries outstanding and the hot fudge sundae (I had the small "scooter" sized one) is just about the best I've had ever since C.C. Brown's on Hollywood Boulevard closed.

These two are certainly hands on, treating this enterprise as their little baby. I told Marty I'd read about his restaurant a couple of times but it was a recent L.A. Weekly review that prompted me to come in. I read it as a very positive review. Marty was upset the reviewer, Jonathon Gold, considered his hot dog over-cooked. I've re-read the review and buried among the superlatives about Marty D's are a couple of words hinting the hot dog was over cooked. (Mine wasn't.)

But I guess when it's your baby, anything but total and complete praise stings a little bit.

Thursday night I went to see a gripping drama due for theatrical release in October called "Choose Connor" starring Steven Weber. It's about a 15 year-old boy who meets his local Congressman (running for the U.S. Senate) and quickly gets involved in the campaign as the candidate's "youth spokesperson." The boy soon learns that being involved in politics involves many choices, some of which are very unpleasant.

As someone who started volunteering on campaigns as a 13 year-old I really appreciated how this film captured youthful enthusiasm and how it can be eroded by reality.

Weber gives a brave performance as a politician drunk on power and crossing lines that shouldn't be crossed.

Often I'm critical of the artificial way movies portray political campaigns. I have to say "Choose Connor" does a pretty good job of capturing the look and feel of candidate campaigns. (Though I've never seen one quite as out of control as this one gets.)
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Tuesday I had a lovely lunch with Rochelle on the veranda of the Georgian Hotel on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. Nearly 100 years-old (the hotel, not me), I've probably driven by it a million times and never noticed it. So I'm glad Rochelle suggested it for lunch.

The food was quite good, but the real joy was sitting outside on a lovely July day overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
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Monday, July 14, 2008

The Very White House

Saturday night I went to the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City to see the excellent new play by Tanya Barfield, "Of Equal Measure."

Set between 1914 and 1917, this show is centered on "Miss Jade Kingston," an African-American secretary in the Woodrow Wilson White House who witnesses the Wilson Administration's efforts to covertly segregate the federal government.

In addition to race relations, this play deals with the right of women to vote and America's entry into World War I.

Heavy topics all, but Barfield manages to write a political play entertaining enough to keep the audience interested.

Michael T. Weiss plays a particularly odious character -- Edward Christianson, an assistant to the President who puts the moves on his African-American secretary while at the same time strong-arming segregationist policies into place.

I have to admit to not knowing much about President Wilson. It was interesting to see how he was portrayed as an intellectual torn between his campaign promises and political reality (a Democrat, in 1912 Wilson defeated Republican incumbent William Howard Taft, ex-president Theodore Roosevelt running on the Progressive ticket and labor leader Eugene V. Debs running as a Socialist).

It's also fascinating to think about the timeline of women getting the right to vote. I'm thinking my Great Grandmother, Eva Dover, -- who I knew -- probably came of age right about the time women were allowed to vote. Sure wish I could talk to her about that.
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Before the show my friend Dave and I had dinner at the Santa Maria Bar-B-Que a block away from the Kirk Douglas Theater.

The food here is consistently outstanding, the service not so much. Every time I go the set up seems a little different. Sometimes you order at the front cash register, sometimes you order from a waiter.

This time they'd posted a sign by the front door reading, "Please Wait for the Hostess to Seat You." Pretty standard directions. After we'd stood there for a couple of minutes the woman working the cash register looked at us like we were idiots, threw two menus in our direction and said, "sit anywhere you want."

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