VENEZIA long ago

I have no idea how old this real photo post card is or where I got it. Two interesting views of Venezia with the one on the back obviously cut-out and glued on.

Click on either image to see it larger.

Down the left side on the front is the word "depositata" which apparently means deposited. No idea why it's on the front of the card.



I've written on my vernacular photography site about tourist photos. You know the kind I'm talking about. You're on a ride, or a ship, or just somewhere with a group and they take a shot of you standing or sitting with the group or your loved ones. After the ride is over you can buy a copy or two of the photo. Or you're walking down the street and a photographer steps out, takes your photo, then hands you a card letting you know where you can get a copy.

Click on either image to see it larger.

This particular card was handed to my family after getting off a plane in Honolulu. They put leis around our necks and handed probably my mother this card. My family did not go to look at the photos or buy them. The only time I remember my folks buying such photos was on our cruise aboard the Matsonia to Hawaii. The shots were taken as we sailed in the fog under the Golden Gate Bridge bundled up in our East Coast woolens. Not even slightly tropical.

I do like the line "There is no charge unless you like it." So I'm wondering if you went in and said, "I think it's a horrible photo. I don't like it, but I'd like to get 10 copies." Would they have charged you if you stressed how much you didn't LIKE it? I'm thinking yes.

I imagine the Outrigger Camera & Gift Shop is long gone. Perhaps the "no charge" line put them out of business.

Wonder what my photo looked like on roll 39?



I remember hearing my folks talk about going to the Barefoot Bar in Waikiki to see Sterling Mossman. I have no memory of him other than this card.

"Hula Cop Hop" - Sterling Mossman

Sterling Mossman, a man as versatile as he was talented, literally led a double life. A detective with the Honolulu Police Department during the day, after dark he was one of Hawaii?s most popular entertainers. His diversified careers earned him the nickname “Hula Cop”. Holding forth from the stage of the famous Barefoot Bar at Queen's Surf in Honolulu with a unique potpourri of beautifully performed songs, rollicking comedy and some sharply honed but good-natured needling of the Barefoot Bar regulars and the tourists alike, Sterling Mossman became one of Hawaii?s most popular entertainment attractions. Sterling Kilohana Mossman lived from February 3, 1920 to February of 1986. (SOURCE: Territorial Airwaves)
Click here to go to Territorial Airwaves to hear Sterling Mossman sing Hula Cop Hop. If you have memories of Hawaii in the late 1950s to late '60s this should make you smile. And here's another brief post about Mossman.

To read about the lovely dancer on this card, Varoa Tiki, click here.

And to see images of the Queen's Surf Hotel click here. Click here to read an interesting letter from 1947 extolling the quality of the hotel for meetings and tourists.



Another album I heard a lot as a child was Ritual of the Savage by Les Baxter. Sometimes the living room just wasn't large enough for my dance moves. I was a skinny little blue eyed blond with a soul calling out for Exotica and Mahalia Jackson. Even my mother called me weird.

Click on any image to see it larger.

Les Baxter (March 14, 1922 – January 15, 1996) was an American musician and composer.

Baxter studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory before moving to Los Angeles for further studies at Pepperdine College. Abandoning a concert career as a pianist, he turned to popular music as a singer. At the age of 23 he joined Mel Tormé's Mel-Tones, singing on Artie Shaw records such as "What Is This Thing Called Love?".

Baxter then turned to arranging and conducting for Capitol Records in 1950, and conducted the orchestra of two early Nat King Cole hits, "Mona Lisa" and "Too Young", but both were actually orchestrated by Nelson Riddle. (In later releases of the recordings the credit was corrected to Riddle. Not an uncommon practice these days: Baxter himself had arranged Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" in 1947 for a recording conducted by Frank De Vol. In 1953 he scored his first movie, the sailing travelogue Tanga Tika. With his own orchestra, he released a number of hits including "Ruby" (1953), "Unchained Melody" (1955) and "The Poor People Of Paris" (1956). He also achieved success with concept albums of his own orchestral suites: Le Sacre Du Sauvage, Festival Of The Gnomes, Ports Of Pleasure, and Brazil Now, the first three for Capitol and the fourth on Gene Norman's Crescendo label. The list of musicians on these recordings includes Plas Johnson and Clare Fischer.

Baxter also wrote the "Whistle" theme from the TV show Lassie.

Baxter did not restrict his activities to recording. As he once told Soundtrack! magazine, "I never turn anything down".

In the 1960s, he formed the Balladeers, a besuited and conservative folk group that at one time featured a young David Crosby. He operated in radio as musical director of The Halls of Ivy and the Bob Hope and Abbott and Costello shows.

Like his counterparts Henry Mancini and Lalo Schifrin, Baxter later worked for the film industries from 1960s to 70s. He worked on movie soundtracks for American International Pictures where he composed and conducted scores for Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe films and other horror stories and teenage musicals, including The Pit and the Pendulum, The Comedy of Terrors, Muscle Beach Party, The Dunwich Horror, and Frogs. Howard W. Koch recalled that Baxter composed, orchestrated, and recorded the entire score of The Yellow Tomahawk (1954) in a total of three hours for $5,000.

When soundtrack work reduced in the 1980s, he scored music for theme parks and SeaWorlds. In the 1990s, Baxter was widely celebrated, alongside Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman Group, as one of the progenitors of what had become known as the "exotica" movement. In his 1996 appreciation for Wired magazine, writer David Toop remembered Baxter thus:

Baxter offered package tours in sound, selling tickets to sedentary tourists who wanted to stroll around some taboo emotions before lunch, view a pagan ceremony, go wild in the sun or conjure a demon, all without leaving home hi-fi comforts in the white suburbs.

Les Baxter has a motion picture star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6314 Hollywood Blvd. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
Click on the Wikipedia link above to see a list of his recordings. Click here to read more about Baxter. And click here to go to the official Les Baxter site.

As to the cover artist, who I believe is William George (1930-):

William George is a world-famous illustrator who studied with Norman Rockwell and began his career painting covers for magazines such as Argosy and Cavalier, as well as for paperback westerns and crime novels by authors such as Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. He has been commissioned to paint portraits of figures ranging from Charlton Heston and Bette Davis to Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra and his art has appeared in publications ranging from Reader’s Digest to The Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine. His work can currently be found in a number of art galleries. (SOURCE: Hard Case Crime)
Click here to read a bit more about the artist. And click here to see what I believe may be a photo of him. If anyone else has anything to contribute about William George just let me know.

Now on to some Exotica. As I said the other day, kick off your shoes and go native. Dance baby, dance!


ARTHUR LYMAN...sounds of my childhood

There was a background music for growing up in Hawaii in the late 1950s and early '60s: Exotica. Of course I didn't know at the time it had such an exotic name, it was just the music I heard all the time. It was the music that had me dancing in the living room. It was the music I used to teach my best friend how to dance. No Arthur Murray dance lessons for us; it had to be Arthur Lyman. Think seven year old Isadora Duncan's in the jungles of our imagination.

Click on any image to see it larger.

From left to right: Allen Soares, John Kramer, Arthur Lyman, Harold Chang
Arthur Lyman was born on the island of Kauai in the U.S. territory of Hawaii, on 2 February 1934. He was the youngest of eight children of a Hawaiian mother and a father of Hawaiian, French, Belgian and Chinese extraction. When Arthur's father, a land surveyor, lost his eyesight in an accident on Kauai, the family moved to the island of Oahu and settled in Makiki, a section of Honolulu. Arthur's father was very strict with him, each day after school locking him in a room with orders to play along to a stack of Benny Goodman records "to learn what good music is." "I had a little toy marimba," Lyman later recalled, "a sort of bass xylophone, and from those old 78 rpm disks I learned every note Lionel Hampton recorded with the Goodman group." He became adept at the 4-mallet style of playing which offers a greater range of chord-forming options. He became good enough to turn professional at age 14 when he joined a group called the Gadabouts, playing vibes in the cool-jazz style then in vogue. "I was working at Leroy's, a little nightclub down by Kakaako. I was making about $60 a week, working Monday to Saturday, from 9 to 2 in the morning, and then I'd go to school. So it was kind of tough."

Exotica Music
After graduating from McKinley High School in 1951, he put music on hold to work as a desk clerk at the Halekulani hotel. It was there in 1954 that he met pianist Martin Denny, who, after hearing him play, offered the 21-year old a spot in his band. Initially wary, Lyman was persuaded by the numbers: he was making $280 a month as a clerk, and Denny promised more than $100 a week. Denny had been brought to Hawaii in January on contract by Don the Beachcomber, and stayed in Hawaii to play nightly in the Shell Bar at the Hawaiian Village. Other members of his band were Augie Colon on percussion and John Kramer on string bass. Denny, who had traveled widely, had collected numerous exotic instruments from all over the world and liked to use them to spice up his jazz arrangements of popular songs. The stage of the Shell Bar was very exotic, with a little pool of water right outside the bandstand, and rocks and palm trees growing around. One night Lyman had had "a little to drink," and when they began playing the theme from Vera Cruz, Lyman tried a few bird calls. "The next thing you know, the audience started to answer me back with all kinds of weird cries. It was great." These bird calls became a trademark of Lyman's sound.

When Denny's "Quiet Village" was released on record in 1957 it became a smash hit, igniting a national mania for all things Hawaiian, including tiki idols, exotic drinks, aloha shirts, luaus, straw hats and Polynesian-themed restaurants like Trader Vic's.

That same year, Lyman split off from Denny to form his own group, continuing in much the same style but even more flamboyant. For the rest of their careers they remained friendly rivals, even appearing together (with many of their former bandmates) on Denny's 1990 CD Exotica '90. Although the Polynesian craze faded as music trends changed, Lyman's combo continued to play to tourists nearly every Friday and Saturday night at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel in Honolulu throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. He also performed for years at Don the Beachcomber's Polynesian Village, The Shell Bar, the Waialae Country Club and the Canoe House at the Ilikai Hotel at Waikiki, the Bali Hai in Southern California and at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. During the peak of his popularity Lyman recorded more than 30 albums and almost 400 singles, earning three gold albums. Taboo peaked at number 6 on Billboard's album chart and stayed on the chart for over a year, eventually selling more than two million copies. The title song peaked at number 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1959. Lyman's biggest pop single was "Yellow Bird," originally a Haitian song, which peaked at #4 in July 1961. His last charting single was "Love For Sale" (reaching number 43 in March 1963), but his music enjoyed a new burst of popularity in the 1990s with the lounge music revival and CD reissues.

Lyman died from thoracic cancer in February 2002.

Recording Details
Most of Lyman's albums were recorded in the aluminum Kaiser geodesic dome auditorium on the grounds of the Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel on Waikiki in Honolulu. This space provided unparalleled acoustics and a natural 3-second reverberation. His recordings also benefited from being recorded on a one-of-kind Ampex 3-track 1/2" tape recorder designed and built by engineer Richard Vaughn. All of Lyman's albums were recorded live, without overdubbing. He recorded after midnight, to avoid the sounds of traffic and tourists, and occasionally you can hear the aluminum dome creaking as it settles in the cool night air. The quality of these recordings became even more evident with the advent of CD reissues, when the digital mastering engineer found he didn't have to do anything to them but transfer the original 3-track stereo masters to digital. The recordings remain state-of-the-art nearly 50 years later. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
On a trip back to Oahu, after once again living on the Mainland, we went with friends to a lounge where the Arthur Lyman group was appearing. One of their good friends was Arthur's percussionist, Harold Chang. In between sets Harold came over and sat down at our table, Arthur dropped by too. I kept thinking how cool it all was. I was actually meeting Arthur Lyman and the man who did the percussion and bird calls. If only my friend had been there we'd have been dancing on the tables. It wouldn't have been pretty, but it would have been lively.

The Kaiser Dome at the Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel also has special meaning to me. I performed (badly) on the stage twice. One show was with my ballet troupe. We performed Sleepy Beauty. I was the purple fairy and the fairy before me stole my lines leaving me standing at the microphone speechless. I was so popular I was brought back years later to appear in a Hawaiian variety show. I performed several numbers with my hula troupe. I then retired from the stage except for one truly horrendous performance as a mother in a Christmas play in the 7th grade.

Another piece of info about the Hawaiian Village is that it was where the headquarters for the detective agency was located on the tv show "Hawaiian Eye." I was a big fan of "Hawaiian Eye" and had a crush on Poncie Ponce. I had my Poncie hat and record and was a happy keiki. A few years ago I found out a friend's dad played poker with Poncie each week. As a surprise she called me one time and told me there was someone who wanted to speak to me; she put Poncie on the phone. Oh I was all giggles and 10 years old again. She sent me a signed photo from Poncie. It's a keeper!

Now everybody, kick your shoes off and go native!


OFF TRACK with Zdenék Brdlik

The final Ceskoslovensko postage stamp for a while. From what I've been able to translate it is celebrating a 6 day motorcycle race.

Click on image to see it larger.

The only information I find about the artist, Zdenék Brdlik, are the years of his birth and death, 1929 to 1983. To see two other examples of his work click here.

The engraver, J. Mracek, is just as mysterious. I find his name listed as an engraver, but find no biographical information. Here and here are examples of his work.



I shall now show my ongoing ignorance by asking...WHAT THE HECK IS THIS THING?

Click on image to see it larger.

I appreciate the beauty of the stamp, but profess complete ignorance as to what is being celebrated with flowers and a bird on a globe...under the St. Louis arch. Okay, I know it's some sort of earthmoving equipment, right? Digging dirt with a wheel with scoops. I look at it and think science fiction movie. I can hear the metal clanging, the sound of a steam engine, and birds flying away as fast as possible.

The artist of this piece was Josef Liesler.
Josef Liesler (19 September 1912 Vidolice near Kadaň - 23 August 2005 Prague) was a Czech surrealist painter, graphic designer, illustrator, exlibris and postage stamp designer.

He studied art at University of the Architecture and Structural Engineering, Prague in 1934-38 under professors Cyril Bouda, Oldřich Blažíček, and Josef Sejpka. He became a member of S.V.U. Mánes (1942) and SČUG Hollar (1945). He illustrated over one hundred book titles and he created many drawings of postage stamps and exlibris. He received a UNESCO award for the finest stamp design (Hydrologic decade). His production is representated in many prominent Czech and international collections, including the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
To see more of Liesler's work click here.

The engraver's name appears to be L. Housa, but I'm not sure. I have not found anything about an engraver named Housa.


Max Švabinský and Alfons Mucha

I used to collect stamps when I was a kid. I never had much rhyme or reason for my collecting. I liked getting a stamp and then find the corresponding image in the album. Eventually I stopped buying anything but blank pages and just stuck the stamp near their place of origin. Some of my favorites are from Ceskoslovensko. Beautiful clean line drawings.

Now, with the net, I can actually do some research about the people who created the stamps.

First up a stamp from Ceskoslovensko by artist Max Švabinský honoring artist Alfons Muncha.

I believe the name on the right is the engraver, Jindra Schmidt. To see more of his work click here.

Now, as to the designer of this stamp:
Max Švabinský (1873–1962) was a Czech painter, draughtsman, graphic artist, and professor in Academy of Graphic Arts in Prague. Švabinský is considered to be one of the more notable artists in the history of Czech painting and produced significant work during the first half of the 20th century. He was relatively unusual among modernist artists in that his work was accepted by the communist regime; this was due at least in part to his having formed his artistic personality prior to 1900, prior to the advent of cubism.

Max Švabinský was born on September 17, 1873 in Kroměříž. Together with Jan Preisler, Antonín Slavíček, and Miloš Jiránek, he was one of the founders of Czech modern art. Early on, Švabinský exhibited period tendencies towards Plenérian Realism, Symbolism, and Art Nouveau. Some of his most important early works were portraits or family-oriented paintings. Švabinský and his wife Ela often stayed with the Vejrych family in Kozlov near Česká Třebová. There he was inspired by the picturesque landscape. This is the period in which he painted some of his most famous works.

In Kozlov, at the beginning of the century, he took up graphics systematically, especially etching and Mezzotint. On account of the high quality of his graphic work, he was appointed a professor of the Prague Academy in 1910, and in the same years completed murals for the Municipal House in Prague. In the pages of Paradisiacal Sonata in 1917, he extended his range with wood engraving, at which time his graphic work began to overtake his painting. During the thirties, he had the chance to work in monumental forms. After the mosaics for the National Monument on Žižkov Hill, he painted boards for three stained glass windows of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. At the same time, and with the same graphic skill, he was able to design in miniature for a postage stamp. At the first session of the government in 1945, he was awarded the title of “National Artist”.

Max Švabinský died on February 10, 1962. The cottage in Kozlov (near Česká Třebová, East Bohemia, Czech Republic) where Max Švabinský stayed has recently been renovated and now it is open for visitors. The interior looks just the same as 100 years ago and many of Švabinský's pictures are shown there. The tour can be performed both in Czech and English. Painted "Kamelie", Camellia in 1903. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
To see other work by Švabinský:
another stamp drawn by him and engraved by Jindra Schmidt
As to Alfons Mucha, the subject of this stamp, if you've studied art or design you'll know Mucha.
Alfons Maria Mucha (Czech pronunciation: [ˈalfons ˈmuxa]; 24 July 1860 – 14 July 1939), known in English as Alphonse Mucha, was a Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist, known best for his distinct style. He produced many paintings, illustrations, advertisements, postcards, and designs.

Early years
Alphonse Maria Mucha was born in the town of Ivančice, Moravia (the present Czech Republic). Although his singing abilities allowed him to continue his education through high school in the Moravian capital of Brno, drawing had been his main hobby since childhood. He worked at decorative painting jobs in Moravia, mostly painting theatrical scenery. In 1879, he relocated to Vienna to work for a major Viennese theatrical design company, while informally augmenting his artistic education. When a fire destroyed his employer's business during 1881 he returned to Moravia, to do freelance decorative and portrait painting. Count Karl Khuen of Mikulov hired Mucha to decorate Hrušovany Emmahof Castle with murals, and was impressed enough that he agreed to sponsor Mucha's formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.

F. Champenois Imprimeur-Éditeur, lithograph, 1897.

Mucha moved to Paris in 1887, and continued his studies at Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi. In addition to his studies, he worked at producing magazine and advertising illustrations. About Christmas 1894, Mucha happened to go into a print shop where there was a sudden and unexpected need for a new advertising poster for a play featuring Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in Paris, at the Théâtre de la Renaissance on the Boulevard Saint-Martin. Mucha volunteered to produce a lithographed poster within two weeks, and on 1 January 1895, the advertisement for the play Gismonda by Victorien Sardou was posted in the city, where it attracted much attention. Bernhardt was so satisfied with the success of this first poster that she began a six-year contract with Mucha.

Mucha produced a flurry of paintings, posters, advertisements, and book illustrations, as well as designs for jewelry, carpets, wallpaper, and theatre sets in what was termed initially the Mucha Style but became known as Art Nouveau (French for 'new art'). Mucha's works frequently featured beautiful young women in flowing, vaguely Neoclassical-looking robes, often surrounded by lush flowers which sometimes formed halos behind their heads. In contrast with contemporary poster makers he used pale pastel colors. The 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris spread the "Mucha style" internationally, of which Mucha said "I think [the Exposition Universelle] made some contribution toward bringing aesthetic values into arts and crafts." He decorated the Bosnia and Herzegovina Pavilion and collaborated with decorating the Austrian Pavilion. His Art Nouveau style was often imitated. The Art Nouveau style however, was one that Mucha attempted to disassociate himself from throughout his life; he always insisted that rather than maintaining any fashionable stylistic form, his paintings were entirely a product of himself and Czech art. He declared that art existed only to communicate a spiritual message, and nothing more; hence his frustration at the fame he gained by his commercial art, when he most wanted to concentrate on more artistic projects.

Mucha married Maruška (Marie/Maria) Chytilová on 10 June 1906, in Prague. The couple visited the U.S. from 1906 to 1910, during which time their daughter, Jaroslava, was born in New York City. They also had a son, Jiří, (born 12 March 1915 in Prague; died 5 April 1991 in Prague) who later became a well known journalist, writer, screenwriter, author of autobiographical novels and studies of the works of his father. In the U.S., Alphonse expected to earn money to fund his nationalistic projects to demonstrate to Czechs that he had not "sold out". He was assisted by millionaire Charles R. Crane, who used his fortune to help promote revolutions and, after meeting Thomas Masaryk, Slavic nationalism. Alphonse and his family returned to the Czech lands and settled in Prague, where he decorated the Theater of Fine Arts, contributed his time and talent to create the murals in the Mayor's Office at the Municipal House, and other landmarks around the city. When Czechoslovakia won its independence after World War I, Mucha designed the new postage stamps, banknotes, and other government documents for the new state.

The rising tide of fascism during the late 1930s resulted in Mucha's works, as well as his Slavic nationalism, being denounced in the press as 'reactionary'. When German troops moved into Czechoslovakia during the spring of 1939, Mucha was among the first persons to be arrested by the Gestapo. During his interrogation, the aging artist became ill with pneumonia. Though released eventually, he may have been weakened by this event. He died in Prague on 14 July 1939, of a lung infection, and was interred there in the Vyšehrad cemetery.

At the time of his death, Mucha's style was considered outdated. His son, author Jiří Mucha, devoted much of his life to writing about him and bringing attention to his art. In his own country, the new authorities were not interested in Mucha. His Slav Epic was rolled and stored for twenty-five years before being shown in Moravsky Krumlov and only recently has a Mucha museum opened in Prague, managed by his grandson, John Mucha.

Mucha's work has continued to experience periodic revivals of interest for illustrators and artists. Interest in Mucha's distinctive style experienced a strong revival during the 1960s (with a general interest in Art Nouveau) and is particularly evident in the psychedelic posters of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, the collective name for British artists Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, and Bob Masse. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
Click here to go to the Mucha museum.

So, I learned something new today. Though I knew of Mucha I did not know of Švabinský. Little piece of old paper provided the impetus to broaden my mind.


LET'S EAT OUT: Part 5...Farmers Market Los Angeles

In all the years I lived in Los Angeles I never once went to the Farmers Market. I drove by it a lot and ate up the street at Canters, but for some reason I didn't go to the Market. Sad really. I'd been there in the 1950s and '60s and have fond memories.

This card and souvenir booklet date back to most likely the 1940s or early '50s. I believe they probably belonged to my maternal grandmother who made at least 4 trips west during her life.

I'll let the booklet give you their version of the history. If you need more you can go to the Farmers Market official web site. Or try the book Los Angeles's Original Farmers Market by David Hamlin.

Cover art was done by Alex Perez. Alas, I cannot find anything about him.

The photos were taken by Herbert Bruce Cross. No bio information about him either, but you can Google his name and find many shots, mostly architectural.

And if you've a keen eye you'll notice something the same, but not really.

Click on any image to see it larger.


LET'S EAT OUT: Part 4...with Kojak

I wish I had a bunch of history to share about eating at the Sheraton-Universal Hotel, but I don't. I do have memories which most will find boring. And I can tell you that the restaurants shown no longer exist.

I will briefly say that in 1972 two friends and I drove down to Los Angeles for vacation. We stayed at the Sheraton-Universal because, well...it was right on the grounds of a movie studio! We were hunting for movie stars! We were in search of our own "I Love Lucy" William Holden episode. Alas, we did not find it on that trip.

Click on either image to see it larger.

In 5 years I returned to the hotel with one of the friends and we did have a wonderfully awkward moment worthy of Lucy but with Telly "Kojak" Savalas. Kojak lived in the hotel so it was hard to miss him. And I can tell you it involved me kicking a friend under the table at breakfast as Kojak came up behind her to get to a coffee pot. I was subtly pointing and whispering "Kojak" over and over again only to have my friend turn around hesitantly to see what was going on and end up face to face with Kojak. She did a slow motion turn back to me, her eyes bugging out. By now I was in my best Ethel mode trying to smile and act like all of this behavior was normal.

As to the images on this card...I never saw the Four Stages Restaurant, but I can confirm that the Circus Room was just as 1970s tacky as it appears here.

One night upon returning to the hotel from whatever escapade we'd been on we decided to go to the top floor and see what the Circus Room looked like. We figured there would be some sort of an entrance, we could get off the elevator, then go and look in the lounge. Unfortunately that wasn't how it panned out. When the elevator door opened on the packed room we were IN the Circus Room. The door opened, we three numbskulls stuck our heads out, in unison we said "ohhhhhhhhhhh," the door shut, and we rode back down to our floor. We still laugh about how stupid we were. We were not cut out for the Circus Room.

A few years later I went back to LA and got to eat at the Universal Studios dining room. Now THAT was an experience. Dining with one of the top execs at the studio. People turned to stare at us figuring we had to be someone. What a disappoint we were, but I did see quite a few stars including one I had a big crush on. Wish I had a postcard of that place. Cool, very cool.

In 1977 I moved to LA and lived right over the hill from the hotel and never visited it again.

Now as to what the heck a "poolside Portuguese lounge" is....

Should you wish to visit the Sheraton-Universal now you'll find the garish colors of the 1970s gone. It's all subtle hues and mood lighting.


LET'S EAT OUT: Part 3...Spenger's Fish Grotto

Once upon a time there was a restaurant in Berkeley, California called Spenger’s Fish Grotto that had a history dating back to the early part of the 20th century. The food was abundant and good. The waiters were often as crusty as the wonderful sourdough bread that was served.

As a kid and young adult Spenger’s was a regular Friday night adventure. The wait in the bar for a table could take hours. The place was always packed. When I say packed, I mean people out on the street waiting for a chance to even wait inside. And who knows, you might even see someone famous waiting with you.

Click on either image to see it larger.

I never saw the bar as well lit as shown on this card. It was dark and smoky. Okay, I wasn’t fond of the cigarette smoke, but it was all part of the atmosphere. There were several dining rooms, but my favorite is the one shown here on the postcard, the Teak Room. I can remember sitting at one of those center tables watching waiters buzzing through the kitchen doors. The room was always busy. It was my mother’s favorite restaurant.

I bought this menu and napkin several years ago. I don't know exactly what year this menu is from, but it looks exactly like the ones I remember from the 1960s. I like to think that at some point my mother actually held this menu.

Click on any image to see it larger.

It was a family owned restaurant for generations.

My mother's favorite dish was the “Shrimp Scatter” described as “A platter full of Golden Fried Tiny Shrimp. Served with Cole Slaw and French Fries.” Look at the price. $1.85. A whole meal for $1.85. This included lots of crusty sourdough bread which was a classic with their clam chowder.

If you have memories of this place this napkin will look familiar; the only thing missing is the wet ring your glass would have made while you waited and waited for your table.

Sadly, all things change and the Spenger family sold the restaurant to a corporation. For awhile the place was closed. We worried about what changes would be made. I’ve been back once since it reopened. It looked the same outside, the entrance seemed to be similar, and the bar looked as close as my memory would allow. The dining room we were seated in bore no resemblance to the old place. The wait staff was pleasant, but generic. The food…I’ll never go back. What once was a landmark is now nothing more than another restaurant in a corporate chain of over 80 restaurants across the country. Think Red Lobster, but more expensive.

The shining history that may still linger in people’s minds when they hear the name Spenger’s was created by a family dedicated to their customers. There was no website with headings called “Our Investors” or “Our Culture."

As I’ve said before, support family restaurants. Keep the money in your community and not sent off to a corporate headquarters. Cookie cutter food prepared by people towing the company line means that the MBAs are in charge of everything and look how well that turned out for all of us.