Sunday, March 28, 2004
Through L.A. With Mouse Ears
Two weeks ago I spent Sunday afternoon touring downtown Los Angeles on a bus. This wasn't your ordinary tour riding around looking at Hollywood Boulevard; it was led by a man named Charles Phoenix, who loves L.A., mid-century culture and architecture, and general oddities. He's become well-known locally for his slide shows of mid-twentieth-century life in Southern California. Yes, slide shows. Charles Phoenix has a hobby collecting slides from thrift stores and estate sales; he found enough to put together shows illustrating the city and its denizens' lives as they were forty, fifty or sixty years ago. I've been to several of his shows and they're great. He researches the people in the slides and can usually give some information about who they were and what they did for a living. (Example: older lady in a suit and gloves at Disneyland: "This is Gladys, she lives in Burbank and runs a beauty parlor.") Anyway, he's branched out and started running tours of the city, which he calls "The Disneyland Tour of Downtown Los Angeles." Phoenix leads the tours, and he does in fact wear a Mickey Mouse cap with ears.
* Union Station (Main Street U.S.A. and the Disneyland Railroad)
* Olvera Street and Chinatown (Adventureland)
* Carroll Avenue's Victorian homes in Angelino Heights (the Haunted Mansion)
* Bob Baker's Marionette Theatre and Toyland (Fantasyland)
and much, much more. I loved the detail he was able to provide: did you know that there are cigar cutters installed on the walls of Union Station, for instance? They looked like brass decorative dinguses, but no. They're cigar cutters and they work. We were able to go into the station's original restaurant and bar (which are now closed to the public) just to look around - it's an Art Deco treasure. Toyland isn't as much fun as it sounds - a couple of streets in industrial downtown where all the toy manufacturers and importers are. It also happens to be part of Skid Row. But some of the buildings are quite beautiful, and Phoenix enthusiastically pointed them out.
Highly recommended, if you're in Los Angeles. Click here for information on the tour. Currently the tours are basically sold out, but he will be adding more tour dates. It's $65 per person and worth it - the most entertaining six hours I've ever spent.
The L.A. Weekly has written an article about Phoenix's tour: click the link and scroll down to the fourth article, "Mr. Phoenix's Wild Ride." They liked it too.