Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 14, 2018

Call Me Isthmus

I photographed the isthmus from the promontory today.

Catalina Isthmus Brad Nixon 2786 680

Granted, it’s not a particularly great photo — looking into the afternoon sun on a hazy day.

Can you blame me for shooting that picture just so I could write today’s lead-in? How often do you get to use “isthmus” and “promontory” in one sentence?

Here’s how the promontory looked today.

Point Fermin Brad Nixon 2785 680

Those views are along a route we walk at least once or twice a week. It takes us to Point Fermin Park, which projects into the Pacific Ocean a few miles from home. The isthmus is a low, narrow bit of of land on Santa Catalina Island, 22 miles to the southwest. Here’s a view of Catalina from a higher elevation on a clearer day.

IMG_0188 Santa Catalina Brad Nixon (640x473)

You can see the isthmus just to the right of the container ship out in the Santa Catalina Channel. It’s about 800 yards wide.

Catalina Island Map

Catalina Island Google

The isthmus connects the large northern (photo, right) and southern masses of Santa Catalina. There’s a small town there, named Two Harbors because there are harbors on either side of the isthmus, west and east windward and leeward, if you’re a sailor. Two Harbors is on the near, leeward side. On clear nights, you can see lights there from the mainland, although some of the town lies below the curve of the ocean’s surface at that distance.


Regular readers can already guess: etymology ahead.

After living in close proximity to one for 25 years, I finally looked into the origin of that unusual word, so difficult to pronounce, “isthmus.”

The derivation is almost disappointingly straightforward. Ancient Greek ἰσθμός — isthmós  meant “neck.” It’s a neck of land, a phrase familiar in English.

As for “promontory,” what seems rather self-evident is a bit deceptive. You’ll probably recognize it as stemming from a Latin word, thanks to the familiar Latin prefix, pro-: “forward” or “toward.”

But the other seemingly obvious component, “mont-,” which appears to be structurally related to Latin mons or mont “mount,” fooled me. Promontory originated from a verb, prominere, “to jut out.” The original Latin noun was promuntorium. Since promontories are elevated to some degree, it’s likely at some point the identification of mont with height altered the original spelling to substitute “o” for “u.”

Notable Examples

The only isthmus I learned about in school was the Isthmus of Panama, but there are many others. Aukland, New Zealand is on an isthmus. Others include the Isthmus of Kra in southern Thailand, the Isthmus of Suez (and the canal), the Karelian Isthmus in northwest Russia and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, always a favorite here because of the Wallace Stevens poem, “Sea Surface Full of Clouds.”

In that November off Tehuantepec
The slopping of the sea grew still one night
And in the morning summer hued the deck

I wrote a blog post with that title, and  unaware of the correspondence  illustrated it with a photo that included the Isthmus of Santa Catalina and duh, a sea surface full of clouds.

Santa Catalina Brad Nixon 1 (640x478)

How perfect is that?

Is there an isthmus near you? Please leave a comment. We’ll compile an authoritative Guide to Isthmuses! Merry isthmus, one and all.

P.S. Friend and former colleague Bill in Australia writes that Sydney’s famous Manly Beach lies along an isthmus north of the city. Another friend and former colleague, Niels, points out that the Netherlands — as one might expect — has many deltas and coastal lands that include isthmuses, the name for which in Dutch is landengte.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Maps © Google with my emendations. Isthmuses around the world information courtesy Wikipedia. Etymology from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition, 2000, Houghton Mifflin Co., New York.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 10, 2018

L.A. Survivor: West Adams Bungalow Courts

I like to tell myself I’ve done a good job of rambling over the greater Los Angeles metropolis in my 25 years here. That’s true to some degree. Although I think of myself as an Angeleno now, I was well into adulthood before I arrived. I’m always cognizant that I’ve had fewer years to get to know the place than longtime residents the same age as I am. The place is vast, seen in this view from a vantage point near my house, looking north across 30 miles of city. The skyscrapers of downtown are a speck against the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance.

roof view northward to Los Angeles

That’s a lot of territory to cover, and it’s just one slice of the city.

All I have to do to be reminded that I haven’t even made a dent in the task of knowing L.A. is to take a freeway exit I’ve never used, or go to an appointment in a new part of town.

It happened recently when I drove into downtown on a Sunday morning to visit a relative who was here for the recent World Series. I knew where his motel was, but my freeway exit and all the streets I’d planned to take were closed to traffic for a street race. It took me twenty minutes — including driving east on a freeway in order to turn around to go west — before I cleared the obstacles and exited the freeway a few blocks from his motel. I was in a part of town I’d never visited, called the West Adams District.

The moment I reached the end of the unfamiliar exit ramp, there it was— an unexpected discovery.

Bungalow Court Brad Nixon 2664 680

It was a happy coincidence for me. That old apartment complex is a version of the “bungalow court,” a form of architecture I wrote about recently in the post at this link. There are several hundred bungalow courts still in existence, scattered across L.A. West Adams has a few of them.

The Old City

West Adams is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, dating from the 1880s — once one of the most desirable parts of town. It’s full of Victorian, Craftsman and Spanish Revival houses, as well as some genuine mansions that show what a grand place it once was — home for the city’s bankers, merchants and businesspeople. No longer a prosperous neighborhood, today it might be called “working class,” as inadequate and vague as that term is.

Less than a quarter mile to the east of the structure I photographed is an area of West Adams called the 20th Street Historic District. The houses in that district were all designed “early in the 20th century,” according to Wikipedia, by an architect named W. Wayman Watts. There’s a bungalow court similar to this one in that area. I haven’t done enough research to know if Mr. Watts had a hand in either of the buildings.

Bungalow Court Brad Nixon 2663 680

Much of West Adams is better-kept than the impression you get from this building, and there are some impressive old estates. This court’s on a busy cross street next to a freeway exit, and is obviously down-at-heels.

Bungalow Court Brad Nixon 2662 680

This is a large example of a bungalow court. I guess it’s from the 1920s or early 1930s, in a variety of Mission Revival style architecture, common in L.A. then.

Bungalow Court Brad Nixon 2661 680

I’ll do some digging. If I find information that might be interesting, I’ll write more about this place.

Today’s Lesson

Although I know it’s there — immediately north of the University of Southern California campus —  I’ve never explored West Adams at all. Happenstance sent me there after I’d driven past it on the freeway for 25 years. One more reminder you can never know a place inside-out; you can only keep looking. And have your camera with you, ready to pull over and shoot the gosh-darned picture, even if you’re running late for an appointment.

Do you know a town like the back of your hand and still have it surprise you? Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2018

Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 8, 2018

They’re Piping Hot! But How Hot is “Piping?”

There you are, sitting down to breakfast. Your private chef enters the breakfast room (which you, of course, have) bearing a basket holding something that smells wonderful wrapped in the sort of colorful cloth personal chefs wrap baked goods in. At my place it’s a clean dish towel, but your chef will have whatever’s the linen item de rigeur.

With a flourish she sets the basket on the table, unfolds the cloth and carefully lifts a perfectly-crafted fresh muffin with her serving tongs and sets it on your plate.

MV_1045_PumkMuffins (640x480)

“Piping hot chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. Buon appetito!” she says, and withdraws to begin drawing up the day’s luncheon menu.

You eye the muffin, sniff the aroma wafting off it, and lift it toward you, anticipating a tasty breakfast treat. Halfway to your mouth, your hand stops. You give that bit of bakery goods another look and ponder.

Why yes, this muffin is hot. But why is it “piping hot?”

The very same thing happened at breakfast at Rancho Retro recently — except for the breakfast room, private chef, wicker basket and tongs portions.

Rather than leave you pondering there with your hot muffin cooling quickly, I’ll explain as briefly as possible, and then let you eat while I elaborate.

“Piping hot” has some years on it. It’s not advertising hype invented for a marketing campaign in recent times. It’s been around since English was Middle English, late in the 14th century.

You’ve probably figured it out. Extremely hot food is as hot as something sizzling in a pan over high heat, making a sound that might — to the imaginative — resemble the tootling of pipes. It’s an odd example of metonymy in which the sound of something hot is used to describe a hot object. Unusual, but memorably graphic. So memorable, in fact, that we’ve kept using the phrase for so many hundreds of years that we’ve lost sight of the original association. “Piping hot” now simply means really hot.

Go ahead and start eating your muffin if you wish. A brief observation.

When I went to find out how the phrase one of us used that morning came about, it was easy to find both the meaning as well as its first recorded use in English. As with many other Middle English words, the first recorded instance was in a collection of stories titled, The Canterbury Tales.

The Tales runs about 12,000 lines, a work of considerable size. Chaucer was highly literate and well educated. He was also working in a time from which our records of the language are limited. His work was enormously popular, and survived in multiple copies and editions. We’re fortunate to have it, because he was writing English during a time of radical change in the language. He, himself, was an innovator, and almost certainly coined some of the words and phrases. More important is the fact that he recorded the language being spoken at the time, capturing innumerable words for the first time.

Chaucer wrote a large number of works in addition to the Tales. All told, his manuscripts record approximately 2,000 English words for the first time. “Piping” and “piping hot” are among them.

Here’s Chaucer’s use of “piping hot” in line 193 of “The Miller’s Tale,” rendered in modern English:

“Wafers piping hot out of the glede (coals).”

If one’s in the habit of looking up word derivations in the Oxford English Dictionary, Chaucer pops up repeatedly. It was no surprise to encounter him again, but always a pleasure.

Buon appetito!

© Brad Nixon 2018. Piping hot muffin and coffee photo © M. Vincent 2018, used by kind permission. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1971.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 5, 2018

Year Ten on the Beat. Thank You.

Today, a brief post to thank you for reading Under Western Skies.

This week I begin my tenth year of blogging. As I say each year at the anniversary of the first post, the best part of it has been encountering readers from all over the world, and finding fellow travelers, kindred spirits — people who share an interest in literature and the arts, history, architecture and, sometimes, mere whimsy.

That’s not what I expected when I started in November of 2009. My objective was to give myself an incentive to do more writing about subjects that interest me. The blog has certainly been that, but it’s been gratifying to discover thousands of other writers, photographers and travelers with distinctive voices whose work captures my attention.

As a result, my world is both larger and smaller. I have a wider knowledge of places I’ve never traveled and some of the people who live there, literature I’d never read. I’m always delighted when I see I’ve had a visitor from a country that didn’t exist when I studied geography in elementary school or a place that was virtually unreachable, about which one could know almost nothing from here in the U.S.

Those connections have reduced some geographical, political and cultural gaps that tend to isolate us from one another, and make it too easy to rely on stereotypes or unfounded, preconceived notions of what people are like in other places, other cultures.

On we go. The world does lie before us — so various, so beautiful, so new. Thank you for visiting, never hesitate to leave a comment, and who knows what we’ll discover next? I’m pleased to have you along.

Oobop shebam.

BN at Bristlecone M Vincent 1398

© Brad Nixon 2018. Photograph of Brad in the White Mountains of California © M. Vincent 2018, used by kind permission.


Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 31, 2018

Inyo County Courthouse; Emblem of A Faded Era

Independence, California is the seat of Inyo County. It’s located in the Owens Valley, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Independence straddles the only road that traverses the valley — four busy lanes of north-south U.S. Route 395. With fewer than 700 residents and no traffic lights or stop signs, Independence doesn’t have much to slow travelers headed for Death Valley, Yosemite National Park or the ski resort of Mammoth Mountain. I didn’t even bother to photograph the town itself, other than what’s visible in a picture of The Counselor intent on shooting photos of an old hotel across the highway.

Independence Brad Nixon 1117 680

Local businesses, shops and a post office line the highway, a few blocks of houses behind them, and that’s Independence. You can see the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance, above. The valley is dramatically beautiful. The Inyo and White Mountain ranges fill the eastern horizon, with the Sierras towering a few miles to the west.

Sierra view Brad Nixon 1316 680

Independence is uncharacteristically small for a county seat, classified only as a “census designated place,” not a city or town. But sparsely populated Inyo County has only about 18,000 residents in all. Its relatively central location makes Independence as reasonable a place as any.

There are a few historical points of interest in and around Independence, including the site of the former U.S. Army Fort Independence, active from 1862 to 1877. There’s a small museum, and the home of southwestern American nature writer, Mary Austin (1868-1934).


In contrast, there’s the Inyo County courthouse. It faces Route 395, and is immediately to the right of The Counselor in the photo above, fronted by that green lawn.

Inyo courthouse Brad Nixon 1114 680

The grandiose Classical Revival style building was built in 1921. The architect was San Francisco-based William H. Weeks. Weeks was 57 in 1921, well-respected, and had designed more than a thousand buildings by the time he was engaged for this one.

Inyo courthouse Brad Nixon 1126 680

As I prepared for a trip up Route 395, I learned we’d pass the most impressive structure in the entire valley, and that Weeks was the architect. I know some of his work, and so do longtime readers of this blog. He designed 21 Carnegie Libraries, including the fanciful Richardsonian Romanesque one in San Luis Obispo that I wrote about at this link.

SLO Carnegie Brad Nixon IMG_3554

The Tale (in Brief)

As you can guess, there’s a reason Inyo County built a courthouse as impressive as ones in much larger, more prosperous communities. Early in the 20th century, the Owens Valley was posed for enormous growth and development. There was mining in the mountains, immigrants from across the world were streaming into California. The valley promised to become an important agricultural center. Although not particularly wide, it’s relatively flat, extends seventy-five miles north and south, and has conditions favorable to a number of crops that can be raised with irrigation. Most importantly, there was water: a significant supply of water flowed out of the Sierras through scores of rivers and streams into the Owens River.

The river fed Owens Lake, which was approximately 12 miles long and 8 miles wide at a depth of 20 to 50 feet. Water!

The End Had Arrived

By the time the county built its new courthouse, the valley’s prospects were already poised to collapse, although the outcome wasn’t yet obvious. The City of Los Angeles acquired a large portion of the land and its water rights starting in 1913, and was diverting the river and some tributaries into aqueducts to supply the growing metropolis.

Here’s how it’s stated in the application for National Historic Register status for the courthouse:

“This elaborately designed building represents the peak of local autonomy in the Owens Valley, before the City of Los Angeles purchased the majority of land in the valley, including most of the land within the county seat. Water development policies adopted by the City of Los Angeles after 1924 led ultimately to the destruction of irrigated agriculture, and the virtual depopulation of the Owens Valley.”1

I won’t belabor the history of water use in southern California. Suffice it to say that today Owens Lake is mostly a dry expanse of salty flatland, and the huge farms never materialized.

One grand structure stands as testament to a day when aspirations were different.

Inyo courthouse Brad Nixon 1115 680

The Inyo County courthouse is at 168 N. Edwards St., Independence, California.

High resolution versions of most photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018. NRHP quotation:Judy Triem and Mitch Stone (July 7, 1997). “National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Inyo County Courthouse”

Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 29, 2018

National Chili Month: Halloween Butternut Squash Chili

There are days, weeks and months that’ve been declared “National X-Food Day/Week/Month” for nearly every type of food. One of my favorites is National Chili Month, which we strive to celebrate here at Rancho Retro every October.

I’ve left it until late, almost Halloween, so I created Halloween-themed chili. In an Under Western Skies first, I’ve teamed with blogger My Eclectic Cafe, who devised the rest of the menu and designed the presentation. I’ll direct you to My Eclectic Cafe to see the result once we make our chili.

Vegetarian, Always

Like all UWS recipes, this is a vegetarian dish, and I believe it qualifies as vegan, but I am not an expert on the latter subject.

What Makes it “Chili?”

It includes the ingredient that defines chili: chiles of the genus Capsicum. I used the smallish, green serrano pepper (Capsicum anuum), notably hotter than the jalapeño, and widely used in Mexico, often eaten raw. They vary in degree of heat, and you never know exactly how hot they are until you try what you’ve bought. Feel free to substitute your own favorite pepper, but I liked the result I got with the serranos.

What Makes it “Halloween” Chili?

The objective was to create a dish in black-and-orange Halloween colors. Two simple ingredients do it nicely: butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) and black beans. You could use pumpkin or another orange winter squash if there’s something more commonly available in your part of the world. If you do, I’d be happy to hear about it in a comment.

Halloween Butternut Squash Chili

Halloween chili Brad Nixon 2605 680


One moderate-sized butternut squash (or pumpkin), probably about 2 pounds.

1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil for sauteeing

1/2 medium sized onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

2 small serrano chiles, seeds and pith removed, minced

1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, or two large fresh ones, diced

1/2 cup of tomato paste

1 cup of hard apple cider (or a non-alcoholic apple drink or cider, not too much sugar)

1 tablespoon chili powder, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1 14-ounce can of black beans


1. Peel the squash, scoop out the seeds and cut into 3/4-inch chunks. If you’re unfamiliar with this squash, it can be tough to cut through the outer rind. Baking it in a 350-degree oven for five minutes will soften it, but not overcook it.

2. Heat the oil in your heavy bottomed chili pot. Add the onion, garlic and serrano chiles, saute until softened, about 5 minutes.

3. Add all the other ingredients except the black beans and stir together. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower it to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.

4. Taste the level of spiciness and salt at about 15 minutes and adjust if necessary.

5. Stir in the beans. If you like a soupier chili, add some water. Cover and cook for 15 minutes more.

Makes approximately 4 servings

I invite you to see the finished product on the table and read about how it tasted, along with the rest of the menu by my creative collaborator from My Eclectic Cafe at this link. Thanks, My Eclectic Cafe. Fun and delicious, every dish.

For more Under Western Skies recipes, including a dozen varieties of chili, click on “Food” in the Categories widget.

If you try this recipe, please leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2018

Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 24, 2018

He’s Baaack … Smilin’ Jack!

It’s his time of year. For the weeks before Halloween, he owns this town he surveys from his hilltop.

Smilin Jack Brad Nixon 2555 680

That’s Smilin’ Jack, and he’s appeared on that gourd-shaped petroleum storage tank every Halloween since 1952. He is, beyond all reasonable doubt, the world’s largest jack o’lantern.

Smilin Jack Brad Nixon 2556 680

You may think your neighbors go all-out, decorating their place for the holiday, but they don’t paint a three million gallon storage tank with a hundred gallons of orange, black and white paint (the tank stays orange year-round; Jack’s face only appears at this time of year).


Refinery plant engineers say if that tank contained PUMPKIN, there would be enough to make 26,800,000 pumpkin pies. (No word on how much crust would be required.)


The refinery’s changed ownership several times, but each successor has continued the tradition, currently in the hands of Phillips 66. There’s also community outreach. For several nights as Halloween nears, they hand out treats to the kids in a mile-long line of cars that cruise past the refinery.

Jack’s lighted at night, although I’ve never gotten a particularly good shot. He’s better in person, with that big charisma of his.


The refinery’s street address is 1722 W Anaheim St., Wilmington, CA 90744. If you go to see and photograph Smilin’ Jack, use caution. There’s no parking along busy Anaheim, and plant security will, understandably, prohibit you from driving into the facility to park. Your best bet is to pull into Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park, across the street, at about 1799 W Anaheim and walk back up to the road. I also have a more difficult to find vantage point, but I don’t have to tell you everything I know.

© Brad Nixon 2018

Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 22, 2018

Signifying: Free Cable TV! Mindlessness!

One of an occasional series celebrating the endlessly fascinating world of signage.

On a recent visit to Tehachapi, California, both The Counselor and I were impressed by the neon sign assembly for the Santa Fe Motel on Tehachapi Boulevard, downtown.

Motel sign Brad Nixon 4317 680

In addition to its neon, that sign boasts several classic components, including “(No) Vacancy” and “Color TV.” I suspect that the “Free Cable TV” at the top replaced a predecessor that might’ve said “In-Room Phones.”

In fact, the sign touts “TV” THREE times, which was almost certain to lure in the discerning travelers of another era as they rolled through downtown Tehachapi. At one time the street was U.S. Route 466, a primary east-west route between Barstow, Bakersfield and the coast. The 1960s construction of California Route 58, just north of Tehachapi, bypassed the town and left the Santa Fe with only local visitors.

Motel sign Brad Nixon 4321 680

Obviously, ALL TV is now “color,” and many of you don’t remember any other kind. Plenty of vintage signage still promotes it, including at the Palm Motel, just a few miles away from me along the Pacific Coast Highway in a suburb of Los Angeles.

Palm Motel Brad Nixon 1838 (450x600)

The Palm’s still-lighted neon has the eye-catching, multicolored COLOR TV sign provided by RCA, once featured on motels all across the United States equipped with those high quality RCA TV sets.

I like the irony that both the Palm and the Santa Fe “Color TV” signs are faded … in the case of the Palm’s, almost to illegibility.

What the Santa Fe’s sign is missing for the current era, of course, should be up in that top circle today: “Free Wi-Fi.”

Motel sign Brad Nixon 4323 680

Their website says they offer free Wi-Fi, but the sign hasn’t caught up. It’s the contemporary roadside attractor that outdoes any other present-day hospitality feature aside from, perhaps, the always popular, “HEATED POOL!”

A Lesson in Mindfulness

My point today is actually about what I not only did not photograph, but didn’t even notice while capturing the Santa Fe Motel sign.

Granted, it was 1:30 in the afternoon of an already jam-packed day. We’d driven 2-1/2 hours across mountains and desert to reach Tehachapi, walked around the Apple Festival, toured the town’s museum, the old theater and the Depot Railroad Museum. We still had more of the festival to see, we were going to drive 14 miles to look at the Tehachapi Loop, and then faced the return drive that would dump us onto LA freeways at dusk with thousands of other travelers returning from their own weekends. A lot of detail to take in.

Still, as a seasoned traveler, writer and photographer, I pride myself on noticing things: observing. So it pains me to admit something I only realized several days later when I was looking through my photos from the trip: I didn’t so much as look at the actual Santa Fe Motel.

It was right there, a few feet away from the sign. Was it some classic retro structure from the ’50s — or older? Perhaps even a surviving bungalow court? Or a completely modern, gleaming palace of hospitality? I had no clue. I literally didn’t see it.

I had to search for it online to even recall what it looked like. Here’s Google’s view from 2012:

Santa Fe motel Google

Okay, it’s not a vintage motor court or icon of architectural style. Perhaps I didn’t miss anything significant. Perhaps. But we’re not sleepwalking here. This is all we have: our five senses and whatever we make of what they tell us. Ignoring the Santa Fe isn’t particularly meaningful: scarcely equivalent to texting while driving or leaving the kids untended in the pool to go check the clothes in the dryer. But if there’s a raison d’etre for this blog, it is that the remarkable is observable within the quotidian; what’s near and familiar can be just as worth observing as something distant, exotic. In order to do that, we have to pay attention.

Keep looking, friends. We only pass this way once.

The Santa Fe Motel is at 120 West Tehachapi Blvd., Tehachapi, California.

High resolution versions of most photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Santa Fe Motel exterior © Google, retrieved Oct. 20, 2018.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 19, 2018

Tehachapi Festival: Street Food and Streamline Moderne

Tehachapi, California is a city of about 13,000 people at the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. It’s primarily a farming town, and that includes a significant number of fruit orchards, a major crop there.

The town got a major boost when the Santa Fe Railroad line opened in 1876, with a depot for passenger and freight traffic. The depot closed in 1971, but a restoration stands on the original site, and is a railroad museum. Conditions prevented me from photographing the exterior, but here I am in the former freight room with a museum docent.

Docent BN M Vincent 2346 680

We went to Tehachapi to see the town’s annual Apple Festival, celebrating one of the area’s most important products. The affair was a classic small town Autumn festival.

Tehachapi festival Brad Nixon 4257 680

Street festivals can be a mixed blessing for towns. They draw visitors in the thousands —  sometimes tens of thousands. Typically only a small portion of the visitors go into local shops; they can’t even see them, obscured by festival booths on the street.

Tehachapi festival Brad Nixon 4285 680

Local restaurants and gas stations may do well enough, but clothing, hardware and other stores don’t get much of a bump.

Here’s Tehachapi’s location, about a 2-1/2 hour drive north of Los Angeles (on a good day).

Tehachapi map Google

We were a bit disappointed in the festival, although it was interesting. Only a handful of local fruit growers had a presence, and we’d expected to find tons of apples, fresh from the orchard. The Apple Festival was primarily crafts displays, local organization information booths and typical fair food, not apples.

Festival food Brad Nixon 4298 680

Why, yes. That’s a hot dog surrounded by a spiral-cut potato and grilled — or maybe deep-fried — accompanied by split hot dogs grilled to look like little octopi. No, that cholesterol disaster is NOT mine. I was happy to simply shoot pictures.

Grill meat Brad Nixon 4248 680

Street food Brad Nixon 4299 680

Several times during the day, the town’s railroad heritage showed up in the form of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train rolling through the crossing at the end of Green Street.

Tehachapi festival Brad Nixon 4252 680

We did get a look at Tehachapi beyond the festival scene. The town has a telltale pattern: numerous gaps where buildings obviously once stood, and the architecture even in the oldest parts of town lacks any period style continuity. That’s a hallmark of towns that’ve suffered a disaster of some sort. I think of Roseburg, Oregon, where 30 blocks of the town were leveled or damaged when an explosives truck blew up there in 1959. Hundreds of towns show similar results from flood or fire that destroyed buildings on a large scale. Some were replaced in newer styles inconsistent with the earlier architecture, while others were never rebuilt, particularly if the disaster occurred after a town’s prime growth had occurred.

Tehachapi’s disaster was a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in 1952 that wrecked a considerable portion of town. The walking tour available from the Tehachapi Museum lists several locations as the “former site of” historic structures.

Fortunately, many buildings survived, including three interesting examples of Streamline Moderne architecture from the 1930s. Their cast concrete structures withstood the temblor that shook down many brick and frame buildings. Since I’ve mentioned the museum, I’ll start there.

Tehachapi Museum Brad Nixon 4260 680

There’s a southwestern Pueblo-style flair to the 1932 building, which was built as the town’s library.

Tehachapi museum Brad Nixon 4264 680

The interior still shows the configuration it owes to its origin as a library, although it’s difficult to discern details amidst the exhibits that fill the floor space and line the walls. The collection is relatively small but spans a considerable amount of time and a variety of historical themes. There’s a gallery dedicated to the Kawaiisu tribe of Native Americans who occupied the area before European settlers arrived. Worth a look when you’re there. 310 S. Green St.

A contemporary building, from 1932, is the BeeKay Theatre.

Beekay Tehachapi Brad Nixon 4308 680

Originally a movie house, the building had a checkered history after it stopped showing films in the late 1970s. Then building burned in 1997, leaving the concrete shell, although revealing the Art Deco styling that had been covered for at least a few decades. The city and its community theater group sponsored an ambitious reconstruction, including the recreation of the original marquee and what had been Tehachapi’s first neon sign. It now seats 120 instead of the original 312, and hosts the community theater productions. The interior was apparently never ornate, but is compact and comfortable. Even moderately skilled actors could make themselves heard, unamplified. 108 S. Green St.

We strolled one block west of Green to Curry Street, which shows the wide, unoccupied spaces attributable to the quake. One remaining structure catches the eye immediately.

Tehachapi IOOF Brad Nixon 2355 680

Thanks to the local Heritage League’s plaque outside, I learned it was also constructed in the early 1930s by the local International Order of Odd Fellows. That recess above the door would certainly once have announced “I.O.O.F.,” a familiar name in towns across America.

I have no other details than that the building’s durability has earned it an impressive list of tenants, including labor hall, dance hall, movie theater, church hall and hotel, to mention only a few. It’s now a shelter operated by a local philanthropy, and I didn’t get a look inside. 112 S. Curry St.

Obviously, Tehachapi was growing in the early ’30s, despite the Depression. It’s interesting that of the three structures above, only the Museum building might have been built with WPA funds. The other two were privately funded. That’s no mean accomplishment in an era when farms were being foreclosed and farming communities suffered as severely as the rest of the nation. Perhaps Tehachapi’s ranchers and farmers did a little better than the norm.

I enjoyed my brief visit to Tehachapi, and look forward to seeing more of the town when the festival isn’t booming. I still need a photo of that depot.

High resolution versions of most photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Special thanks to the friendly, informative conversations with our docent at the Tehachapi Depot Museum, the volunteers of the Tehachapi Heritage League at the Tehachapi Museum and members of the Tehachapi Community Theatre who showed us their fine old playhouse. Map © Google with my emendations.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 18, 2018

Civics 101 — Reblogged from “The Task at Hand”

Here’s a thoughtful and timely post from the always well-written blog, “The Task at Hand,” apropos of the looming U.S. election.

The Hungarian Uprising, 1956 ~ Erich Lessing, Magnum Photos On October 23, 1956, I celebrated my tenth birthday. There was cake, ice cream, and a small party with balloons and crepe paper streamers. On that same day, in a world utterly removed from my cozy Iowa neighborhood, other children watched as friends, parents, and neighbors dared to cheer an […]

via Civics 101 — The Task at Hand

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