Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 5, 2018

Java Jive! Long Beach Style

I love coffee, I love tea
I love the java jive and it loves me
Coffee and tea and the java and me
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup (boy!)

Let’s drive east, across the Vincent Thomas suspension bridge, over the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, to the city of Long Beach. I went there recently in search of some of the city’s large stock of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings.

Long Beach Art Deco Brad Nixon 5964 (640x454)

We’re headed to 4th Street, which starts near the Los Angeles River, north of the port, and extends due east for a couple of miles, skirting the northern edge of downtown. 4th Street’s lined with one- and two story commercial buildings, backed by residential neighborhoods of single- and multi-unit dwellings. Many of 4th Street’s structures survived the earthquake of 1933, or were built soon after that.

The street changes character numerous times: sometimes for better, while some areas are a bit beaten-down. A long block between Cherry and Junipero Avenues has become a lively zone full of vintage clothing, furniture and collectible shops, plus a few restaurants. The architectural highlight is a classic Art Deco movie house, the Art Theater.

Art Theater Brad Nixon 9116 (640x517)

The Art began life in 1925 as the oriental themed Carter Theater. It received its Art Deco restyling in 1934. I don’t know this for a fact, but it’s reasonable to speculate that it suffered some damage in the earthquake and emerged from repairs in the Art Deco style of the day, as did numerous other buildings in Long Beach.

Renovated in 2008, the theater has about 600 seats and shows current, classic and art films. As you can see, the day I shot the photo in January, 2018, they were showing “The Shape of Water,” which won the Academy Award for best picture just an hour or so before I was writing this post.

Let’s head seven or eight blocks west from the Art Theater to see another architectural gem. With the automobile becoming a common mode of travel in the 1930s, motels and restaurants vied for the attention of passing travelers with dramatic, sometimes silly or downright wacky structures shaped to let you know what sort of service or product was on offer. There are myriad examples. As I’ve written before, Los Angeles preserves its share of programmatic buildings,  including a few survivors of the “Big Donut” and “Donut King” chains.

Donut King II Brad Nixon 2274 (640x480)

Why, yes, they do sell donuts there. How did you know?

4th Street boasts a hard-to-notice little programmatic building that’s beaten the odds, and, despite having been significantly modified, it’s still there.

Koffee Pot LB Brad Nixon 0612 (480x640)

You’re right again. It started life in 1932 as a coffee shop. It’s had several names, including The Coffee Pot, Koffee Pot and, my favorite, Hot Cha. Programmatic? Yes.

Hot Cha LB Brad Nixon 0614 (640x517)

Apparently the place survived the earthquake, but I went looking for Hot Cha without much expectation of finding it. The latest edition of An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles (2003) describes it not likely to endure, having been derelict when they published. I’m happy to say that those photos, shot in January, 2018, show a recently refurbished structure with a sign indicating “Available.” Coffee entrepreneurs take note: Might be the location you’re looking for.

Some sources describe the building as hexagonal, but the Architectural Guidebook is correct: eight sides, octagonal. See it at 955 E. 4th St. in Long Beach, on the north side just east of Alamitos Ave.

The Art Theater is at 2025 E. 4th St. Click on the link for listings and show times. Cruise past the Koffee Pot to see if they’re serving. As the song says, shoot me the pot and pour me a shot!

Is there a programmatic building in your town? A big fish? Cactus? Giant hot dog or famous local produce? Tell us in a comment, and remember to let us know where, so we can visit.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Lyrics and music for “Java Jive” by Milton Drake and Ben Oakland. The Ink Spots recorded it in 1940, but you may know the later version by Manhattan Transfer, 1975 and after.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 4, 2018

A Tale of the Sea: Flotsam and Jetsam

The Walrus and the Carpenter were walking close at hand
They wept like anything to see such quantities of sand
“If this were only cleared away,” they said, “It would be grand!”

As I wrote in my previous post, we walked along the beach one afternoon last week.

Redondo Beach Brad Nixon (640x478)

Brilliant sunlight glanced off the deep-blue water. The ocean was relatively rough for Santa Monica Bay. A chilly wind swept the almost empty sand. With the temperature in the 50s, there was no one in the water except a few short-board surfers at the breakwater.

By a Commodius Vicus of Recirculation

Gazing at the ocean, through one of those series of word associations, a question came to me.

“What do you think ‘flotsam and jetsam’ actually mean?” I asked The Counselor.

Rarely nonplussed on matters etymological, she pondered, then replied, “I don’t know. Sounds like a blog post topic to me.”

Thus, here we are, in the flotsam and jetsam blog post.

With flotsam and jetsam in mind, we strolled to to take a look at the very edge of the surf. There was a typical line of debris at the farthest reach of the waves as they surged up the beach.

Flotsam Brad Nixon 3 (640x478)

After a lifetime of assuming “flotsam and jetsam” simply denoted that sort of stuff, generically, I then had to wonder if there were some differentiation between the two terms.

Flotsam Brad Nixon 10 (640x478)

Is one organic material like kelp, while the other signifies man-made items like bits of plastic, fishing buoys or the odd gold Doubloon? Or, perhaps, is flotsam floating material while jetsam is, say, cast up onto the sand, (perhaps, my inner etymologist conjectured, related to Latin jactare, “to throw”)?

Law, Not Etymology

At home, dictionaries open, I thought I’d merely be inquiring into questions of etymology. As it turns out, “flotsam” and “jetsam” are associated because they signify specific aspects of marine law. They define conditions of ownership of the debris from shipwrecks.

“Flotsam” does indeed derive from “float” or “floating,” from an old Anglo-French word, floteson. Legally, flotsam is cargo, fittings or other material from wrecked or sunken ships that floats to the surface. In marine law, it’s finders keepers where flotsam is concerned. Thus, if one finds something that’s floated away from a shipwreck or washed off a boat, it’s fair game to tote it home.

Jetsam is a different matter: cargo or goods intentionally thrown overboard, whether to lighten a ship’s load, preserve them from sinking with the ship or other reasons. It hasn’t accidentally floated away. The root word, obviously enough, is “jettison*,” from which “jetsam” derived while we were speaking Middle English. If the original owner files the appropriate claim (I can only imagine the complexities of doing that) attesting that certain goods or items were cast overboard by intent, the finder of jetsam must return it to the owner. *Language nerds see note at end.

Quite obviously, the pair of words has entered the vernacular without their specific legal significance, but that’s what they originally signify.

But Wait, There’s More

Marine law uses two additional terms to define the status of shipwrecks and goods.

Lagan specifies items that, like jetsam, have been intentionally cast away, but fixed to a buoy or marker. They may be adrift, but are typically resting on the bottom. The owner of lagan retains right of possession once it’s recovered. It comes from an Old French word, possibly out of Old Norse for lie or lay (which through a separate derivation probably gives us first the Old English precursor of Modern English “lie,” as in to lie down).

Finally, there’s abandoned material (which might be an entire ship) submerged, resting on the ocean-, river- or lakebed, without a marker or buoy. Such items are “derelict,” employed as a substantive, not an adjective: A sunken ship is “a derelict.” We use the term in the same way, grammatically, when we describe a lost or homeless person as a derelict. The word derives from Latin derelictus, abandoned.

Topping It All Off

British law contains a category that includes all flotsam, jetsam, lagan and derelict: Wreck. Whether something floats or is cast away ─ marked or unmarked ─ or resides unclaimed on the seabed, it is Wreck.

On some of Britain’s stormy coasts, there have long been reports of inhabitants who did brisk business collecting goods from shipwrecks in order to keep or sell them. In some tales, they used lights to lure ships onto rocks to cause shipwrecks, a practice known as “wrecking.” Britain established an officer stationed on coasts empowered to use any force necessary to stop such activity, register any wreck, and administer its return, if possible. To this day, there’s a British official titled “Receiver of Wreck,” who supervises the tracking, recovery and return of wreck.

Alas, amongst the flotsam (and/or jetsam) that day on the beach we found no doubloons or pirate treasure, only these:

Flotsam glasses Brad Nixon (531x640)

At least now I know they’re flotsam. I left them there. Cute, just not my style.

*Initially jetson, derived from original jettison. Common usage changed it to jetsom, in imitation of other common words ending in –some.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Stanza from “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” by Lewis Carroll (recited by Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Through the Looking Glass, 1872). “By a commodius vicus of recirculation” appears in the opening sentence of Finnegans Wake, James Joyce, 1939.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 28, 2018

Water-Gazer on an Urban Beach

The cities of southern California have an enormously popular asset: They’re adjacent to ocean beaches. Quite a few other places in the world can make the same claim — Barcelona; the French and Italian Rivieras; Rio de Janeiro; cities in Australia and Florida — and they’re important to both residents and tourists. Urban beaches like our SoCal ones have an extremely different vibe than, say, the wilder, less-frequented ones a thousand miles to the north in Oregon and Washington.

Oregon beach Brad Nixon 1874 (640x480)

Urban beaches like ours along Santa Monica Bay of Los Angeles have parking areas, restrooms and lifeguards. At the edge of the sand is a paved walkway popular with runners, cyclists and skaters, “the Strand.” And, as I’ve written before, many have piers for fishing and recreation. Redondo’s has shops and restaurants, as well as fishing.

Redondo Beach Pier Brad Nixon 3044 (640x414)

LA County Beaches and Harbors grooms the sand with tractors to keep it reasonably free of litter and provides — of course, this is California — volleyball nets.

Redondo volleyball Brad Nixon 8666 (640x491)

Most of all, unlike those empty beaches of the Pacific Northwest, urban beaches are visited by a lots of people, sometimes hordes of them. Not so much, though, on a winter weekday afternoon, as in this photograph I shot a few days ago on Redondo Beach, southwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Redondo Beach Brad Nixon (640x478)

An excellent day to walk or run, contemplate whatever thoughts the vastness of the ocean suggests, all the while scanning the surf line for a glimpse of dolphins, or the horizon for the distant spout of a whale.

There’s always some number of people: sitting solo or in pairs, small groups exercising or practicing yoga, an ever-changing opportunity for people-watching. The beach is a popular spot for couples posing for wedding photos, even on that breezy, chilly day this week, the bride obviously miserable in her sleeveless white gown, probably impatient that the photographer just get on with it (below, being lifted up by the groom, also dressed in white).

Bridal couple Brad Nixon (640x436)

One watches not only the water for wildlife, but the air. I’ve seen thousands of them, but I never tire of watching flights of pelicans on their way to the next fishing spot.

Pelican flight Brad Nixon 5794 (640x480)

Just as graceful in the air, though smaller, on that windy day the gulls seemed satisfied to hunker down on the beach.

Seagulls Brad Nixon 3 (640x461)

They’re all facing the same way, watching the ocean. We’re all, as Melville observed, “water-gazers.” An urban beach might not have the windswept, craggy aspect of the world’s wilder shores, but it draws us there. Whether it’s for wedding photos, exercise or simply to look and ponder, we want to be there.

My old friend, Algernon Swinburne, would probably not think much of my tame urban beach on its genuinely pacific ocean. Raised on his grandfather’s estate along the storm-wracked coast of Northumberland (to borrow a bit of his wonted hyperbole), he was utterly enthralled by the wild sea, desolate beaches and moors, the ceaseless surf.

Slowly, gladly, full of peace and Swonder
Grows his heart who journeys here alone
Earth and all its thoughts of earth sink under
Deep as deep in water sinks a stone.
Hardly knows it if the rollers thunder,
Hardly whence the lonely wind is blown.

One doesn’t always need a lonely wind or thundering rollers, Algernon. It’s still the beach.

Which Leads Me to a Question

What is it? What pulls us toward those beaches? Why do you go? Is it simply a variety of the same urge we feel to climb a mountain path, descend into a rocky canyon or hike through the sagebrush and cacti of a desert? This is a theme I’m exploring this year: What are we looking for in those places? Do we bring something back with us we didn’t possess? Do we leave something there we feel well rid of?

What do you say? I’d like your opinion. I know you have one, because everyone who reads this blog is a traveler of one type or another … a seeker. Is going to the ocean different from going to the desert (I know it’s not just the sand), or something quintessentially distinctive? Are you equally as happy on a deserted beach as on one thronged with summer holiday revelers? What takes you there, and what do you take back with you?

More to come in this consideration of beaches. Leave your contribution in a comment. Thank you.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Lines from “By the North Sea” by Charles Algernon Swinburne, 1880.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 26, 2018

The Assault on Paris; The Long Campaign

With few exceptions, I’ve written at least once in this blog about nearly every “world city” I’ve visited. One omission stands out, because it’s perhaps the most written-about and most popular travel/tourist destination in the western world: Paris. Can one make even the slightest claim to be a travel writer of any consequence yet barely have mentioned — let alone raved, gushed about — Paris, the ne plus ultra of travel destinations?

You’ve already seen thousands of photographs: the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, Notre Dame (with close-up of gargoyle), Arc de Triomphe? That’s well-covered territory.

How, really, does one go about visiting a city as replete with so many famous, “must-see” attractions, let alone write about it? I think there are two fundamental approaches.

The Full Frontal Assault

You’re Attila attacking Rome or … well, Napoleon en route to Moscow. Armed with detailed information about locations, bus and Metro stations, opening and closing times and lists of highlights and even floor plans (e.g. The Louvre), you will swarm across Paris, visiting every single noteworthy site your time and energy allow. From the crack of dawn (baguette and coffee at some recommended bistro) until well into the wee hours (moonlight on the Seine from the Pont Neuf?), you barrage Paris with a ceaseless fusillade of attention. Museums, monuments, churches and palaces, restaurants, statues and the birthplaces (and resting places, in Pere LaChaise cemetery) of the famous (and infamous) each get a check, one by one.

Paris lends itself to this approach. It’s not limitless, and with some planning, expeditious use of the Metro and, vraiment, significant investment in shoe leather, you can range from the Eiffel Tower up to Monmartre, then down past the Moulin Rouge to the Pompidou Museum, the Hotel de Ville, and across the Pont Neuf to Île de la Cité and the cathedral of Notre Dame (alors!).

Notre Dame sunset Brad Nixon (640x429)

The traditional line of attack, though, is along Paris’ west-east axis, from the Arc de Triomphe then along Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Gardens, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel to the Louvre.

MV Louvre Brad Nixon (640x461)

After you pop in to see Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, you’re again not far from Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Brad Nixon (560x640)

Despite the impressive density of significant sites, that’s a manageable distance of only about 5 kilometers, although there is a great deal to stop and see.

Paris is one of the most human and approachable of the world cities, far more amenable to the street-level traveler than Tokyo, New York or Hong Kong: more like the historic core of Boston, Massachusetts.

One thing all travelers learn: During your campaign, however many days it lasts, what you’ll remember most vividly will be something unexpected ─ probably not on any “must-see list:” a shop, a restaurant, a view, some unanticipated discovery. Yes, you’ll have conquered Paris, but in the end, that one small thing will be – for all time – your Paris.

The Long Campaign

I’ve conducted assaults on Paris like I’ve just described, but there’s a second strategy to consider. That one city we call “Paris” has multiple layers of significance. For those who make more than one visit, a steady, patient approach will eventually achieve your goal: you will know Paris.

Ask yourself, “Why is it I really want to go there?” Is it because of the legendary reputation of Parisian cuisine? You’ll need to set aside time for that, and not just one meal, mes amis, every meal. Museums? List the big ones ─ Louvre, Pompidou, d’Orsay, Petit Palais, Grand Palais — and you’ve scarcely begun! Which will you truly savor, even if only for an hour or two?

Perhaps it’s a pilgrimage: the Lost Generation’s Paris, Hemingway’s, Proust’s, Napoleon’s Paris, or the Paris of Latrec, Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, Degas, Rodin or a hundred other artists, writers and musicians.

Paris is the city of a thousand operas, plays, ballets, films, stories and songs unnumbered (Maurice Chevalier’s Paris? Balzac? Zola? Jacques Brel? Audrey Hepburn?) There’s also shopping, architecture, book stalls along the Seine. Perhaps one of those signifies “Paris” to you.

Your answer will determine whether you’re going to wander the streets of Montparnasse or climb those famous steps to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur …

Montmartre steps M Vincent (640x460)

… and once there, search out the onetime haunt of local artists, the Lapin Agile.

Lapin Agile Brad Nixon (640x463)

Shopping? Browse the incomparable delicacies of Fauchon or the immense Printemps department store.

Printemps Brad Nixon (640x529)

Or stop for an aperitif at the Café de la Paix, near the Opera, as The Counselor and I did with our travel partners, two experienced visitors to Paris who showed us around.

Cafe de la Paix B. Pergande (640x428)

It means skipping something from the Big List, but save an hour, a morning or a day for that one experience that will make Paris yours. For The Counselor and me, one morning began with a run through the Bois de Boulogne, an experience we’d never have had loaded with backpacks, cameras and dressed for museums.

In Paris once on business, I had just one free evening. I rode the Metro to Montparnasse and simply walked as much as I could along the streets, past restaurants and shops I recognized from dozens of books and biographies. At the intersection of Boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail, I took this photo that stands for that entire visit: three landmark restaurants: Le Dome on the left, La Rontonde across the street, and beyond it, Le Select.

Paris Le Dome sunset Brad Nixon (640x499)

Take the time to see whatever it is that called you there. Then you will have Paris for all time. We all intend to return, but should that not be our fate, we’ll always have Paris.

© Brad Nixon 2018. One photo © M. Vincent 2018, used by kind permission.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 23, 2018

Italian Idyll … Catastrophe … Enlightenment

Every traveler understands the need for a bit of resilience — some willingness to roll with interruptions, delays or disappointments. I had a day in Italy that included some surprises, but concluded in a lesson about the value of taking things as they come.

To see a part of central Italy that fascinated both of us, we booked a week at an agriturismo — a working farm — in northern Umbria, on the border with Tuscany. Agriturismos offer the option of working on the farm to defray expenses, but we were simply guests staying on the property tucked into a forested valley east of the Tuscan hill town of Cortona.

Novole buildings Brad Nixon (437x640)

The Covento Novole was built as a convent in the 16th or 17th Century. The stone buildings possessed all the period charm one could desire.

20031003 Covento Novole buildings Brad Nixon (640x419)

Our quarters were in the former chapel, converted to provide a kitchen downstairs, with a sleeping loft above the small sacristy.

Novole chapel Brad Nixon (640x458)

We shopped in the market town of Camucia, at the foot of the hill beneath Cortona, and enjoyed the experience of cooking “local.” It helps to have a travel partner with some Italian roots and a fair bit of cooking skill, and The Counselor was in her element. We ate well. We had a car, and our plan was that every day we’d visit Umbrian towns: Assisi, Todi, Deruta, Bettona, Montefiore and others, each with its own distinctive history and character. That itinerary left little time for lounging around the property, which isn’t really our style, anyway. We did find time to make use of one of the farm’s amenities: a bocce court:

Novole bocce Brad Nixon (430x640)

That’s another skill The Counselor seems to have inherited from her Italian grandparents.

Day One Dawns Darkly

The plan for our first day was to visit Perugia, the provincial capital and largest city. Our goal was to visit the medieval city center with its piazza, cathedral, Palazzo dei Priori and notable fountain by Nicolo and Giovanni Pisano. We awoke at what we thought was a reasonable hour. The old chapel wasn’t a brightly lighted space at any time, but it was pitch black. There was no sign of light anywhere, and when I tried the small bedside lamp, it didn’t come on. Struggling to find my way downstairs, I determined that the power was out. Outside it was a dank, rainy early morning.

Fortunately, the kitchen had a gas stove, so we made coffee, then breakfast, getting accustomed to our first morning in the old stone building in the Italian countryside.

Italian kitchen Brad Nixon 001-2 (640x457)

Note the wood-burning stove, which was how we heated the place that chilly October. Soon we were on our way along the wet roads of Italy. It’s about an hour and a half to Perugia (red rectangle below) from the agriturismo (blue star), much of it on a major highway that skirts the northern and eastern sides of Lake Trasimeno.

Umbria map Google

I can’t recall when the realization took hold, but by the time we were threading our way through the busy city of Perugia, looking for the best approach to the centro storico, we realized that electric power was off everywhere: every town we passed, every building. No traffic lights were working. Shops were dark and closed.


In fact, almost the entire country had lost power through some fault in transmission lines from hydroelectic sources in the Alps: Milan, Rome, Florence, Turin, and every village, town and house throughout Italy was without power.

The guidebook advised that parking in the historic area was problematic. Our best means to reach the old part of the city, elevated above the modern town, was to park at the city bus station and take a local bus. At the station, we found a rather chaotic scene. Buses were running, but no agents were at the windows, since there was no electricity, and none of the display boards showing routes and times were operating.

Let It Happen

Determined to find someone who might answer a question, I went into the station, while The Counselor studied some route maps posted outside. My search yielded nothing, and I went back out.

Friends, I learned a lesson.

I stepped out to find her standing on the step of a bus. “This is our bus,” she said. Always more capable in Italian than I, she’d done an exceptional job of communicating and had found someone who told her what she needed to know. I, for no reason I can explain, doubted her.

“Are you sure?” I asked. At that point, the bus started to pull away. On it was my travel partner, and if she disappeared into some unknown part of a city I didn’t know, in a time before we had cell phones, goodness knows how I’d find her.

“Are you coming?” she asked with impressive aplomb, wondering if this guy was really going to disagree with a woman who was about to disappear. The bus was moving. She wasn’t getting off.

I hurried to get on, regardless of where it was headed. It was, of course, exactly the bus we should take, as she knew perfectly well.

We saw the ancient buildings of Perugia, despite the chilly rain. With the rain and dim light, I took no photos, but I can assure you it’s worth a visit. Here’s a photo of nearby Todi’s main piazza, taken a few days later, which has something of the same character.

Todi piazza Brad Nixon 001-2(640x452)

Perugia’s 14th-Century cathedral of San Lorenzo looms above the square, massive and stolid. On that dark day, with only candles illuminating the interior, we saw it the way it would have appeared for hundreds of years before gas or electric light. It was an experience not to be missed … although I very nearly had missed it.

I received my own illumination that day. Stop worrying. Not every moment is idyllic. You’re a traveler, dude. Get on the bus. Time to roll.

How about your “lesson learned” travel story? Tell us in a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Map © Google.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 21, 2018

Guardian on the Cliff; Point Vicente Lighthouse, California

Lighthouses must be one of the most appealing and evocative forms of architecture. They’re featured in photo calendars, greeting cards and travel posters, perched on a rocky crag above crashing waves, or, in mild weather, serenely poised above the azure sea, like Battery Point Light in Crescent City, California.

Battery Pt. Light M Vincent (640x454)

When I grew up in the Midwest, the closest lighthouse was one of the 20 or so on the south shore of Lake Erie, about 200 miles to the north. I never saw any of them, and associated lighthouses with the ocean, which was 600 miles to the east.

Now, living by a different ocean, 2,200 miles to the west, I’ve written about an old lighthouse, Point Fermin, a few miles from me. It’s no longer in operation, but there is a far more dramatic one a few miles to the west, still guarding the coast: Point Vicente Light.

Pt Vicente light Brad Nixon 0158 (640x467)

The 67 foot tower was built in 1926. Combined with its location on a bluff 130 feet above the ocean and the 1.1 million candlepower of the light, it’s visible from 24 miles at sea in clear weather. In the next photo, you can see Santa Catalina Island on the horizon, 22 miles to the south.

Pt Vicente lighthouse Brad Nixon 1200 (640x480)

The Catalina Strait between the mainland and the island is an extremely busy shipping lane. The entrance of the Port of Los Angeles is about 8 miles to the east. Ships have sometimes come to grief on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Point Vicente Light map Google

The lighthouse occupies a stunningly beautiful spot on a promontory. The light is now automated and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Aids to Navigation Team. Some USCG staff live on the property. I interviewed a former commander of the Los Angeles USCG base who was billeted there, and he described what a wonderful spot it was for his young family at the time. No doubt!

Pt Vicente light Brad Nixon 0159 (640x480)

Lighthouse aficionados know that the heart of any light resides in its refracting lens and the mechanism that rotates it. Point Vicente Light is noted for possessing its original hand-ground fresnel lens, manufactured in Paris in 1910. The city of Los Angeles was radically different in 1926, and the peninsula was almost entirely open range. But the light still shines from Point Vicente.

Seeing the Light

Point Vicente Light is at 31550 Palos Verdes Drive West, Rancho Palos Verdes, California. It isn’t the most convenient driving destination in Los Angeles. Here’s a map that also references some other Under Western Skies blog post locales, so you can plan an entire day.

Palos Verdes area destinations map Google

Point Vicente is due south of LAX and downtown Los Angeles. Interstate 110, the Harbor Freeway, is the nearest freeway access (map, upper right). It ends and continues on Gaffey Street, south through San Pedro (blue line and arrows). To the left (east) of downtown are the Port of Los Angeles, the Battleship Iowa (red box, right) and the subject of my most recent post, the Harry Bridges memorial. Point Fermin lighthouse is at the bottom right (red rectangle).

Continue through San Pedro and turn right (west) on 25th street, which becomes Palos Verdes Drive South. It’s 7.5 miles from Gaffey Street to the lighthouse. The road hugs the coast, along the top of bluffs, with views across the strait toward Santa Catalina. You’ll pass lovely Abalone Cove, across the road from the remarkable Wayfarers Chapel, designed by Lloyd Wright (blue rectangle).

Wayfarers Chapel Brad Nixon 0709 (640x480)

Once you pass the Terranea Resort, take the next left to access both the lighthouse and the Point Vicente Interpretative Center, which I mentioned recently as an excellent place for whale watching, with experts from the American Cetacean Society on hand during whale season (December-May).

Tours of the lighthouse are available on the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Currently, the lighthouse tower is closed, so you won’t be able to climb up to see the big lens, but you can visit the grounds. Check the website for updates.

A good vantage point to photograph the lighthouse is on your return leg. There’s a pull-off with parking spaces (red star) before you reach Terranea, from which I shot the two west-facing photographs above, as well as this one, looking southeast with Catalina on the horizon.

Pelican Cove Brad Nixon 2188 (640x480)

Do you have a favorite lighthouse? Tell us about it in a comment.

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

© Brad Nixon 2018. Battery Point Light photo © M. Vincent 2018, used by kind permission. Ms. Vincent’s portfolio is available at Maps © Google.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 19, 2018

Wild About Harry … Bridges; Our Man on the Waterfront

This year, I’ll write a number of posts about the Port of Los Angeles. I’ll never “cover the waterfront;” it’s far too extensive. There are 3,200 acres of harbor and channels along 43 miles of waterfront lined with docks, piers, shipping operations, cruise lines and marinas. 7,500 acres of land hold enormous arrays of warehouses, highways, railroad lines and forests of cranes supported by towering gantries.

LA Port Brad Nixon 7180 400 (640x472)

Those cranes load and unload metal containers on and off ships. The containers are typically 20 or 40 feet long. Here’s a closeup of the above scene showing one 40-foot container (red circle) to give you a sense of scale.

Port Gantry circle Brad Nixon 7182 400 (640x480)

The port offers mind-boggling views from the Palos Verdes peninsula to the west. Here’s a shot looking down from the street in front of my house, zoomed in at the limit of the lens I had that day.

LA Port Brad Nixon 5805 (640x472)

That’s a small segment of the port. In the distance is downtown Long Beach, to the east.

Amidst the ships, machines, roads and rails, it’s possible to lose sight of one component of the port operation: people. There’s a human being operating each one of those cranes (a highly sought-after job), and armies of longshoremen (and women), warehouse staff, accountants, inspectors, auditors, logisticians, security, the U.S. Coast Guard, pilots and seamen (and women). In all, the port and its adjunct businesses employ more than half a million people in Los Angeles County, and about 1.6 million worldwide.

Employment in and around the port has undergone significant changes. At one time, the harbor was the base for a large fishing fleet, and fishermen from around the world came here to work. There were seafood processing firms and canneries, with L.A. supplying much of the fresh and canned fish in the U.S. During WWII, the port was primarily a shipbuilding center, employing 90,000 workers. Shipping, although now “containerized,” has always been a mainstay since its earliest days.

A strip of green along Harbor Boulevard in San Pedro on the west side of the port — Gibson Park — has a number of monuments to people who’ve spent their lives working there. The Fishing Industry Memorial features a statue of a fisherman holding one of the big tuna that used to arrive by the boatload.

Fisherman Mem Brad Nixon 9288-2 (476x640)

The commercial ships are crewed by merchant seamen from many nations, and the U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans’ Memorial honors American seamen who perished aboard ships in peace and war.

Merch Marine Mem Brad Nixon 9270 (640x472)

Then there’s this bronze bust.

Harry Bridges Brad Nixon 9284 (480x640)

You may not know the name, Harry Bridges. If you live in a western U.S. port, there’s a good chance you do.

If you’re at all familiar with the history of industrial employment in the U.S., you know that the early 20th Century was fraught with confrontations as workers sought to establish labor unions, often opposed — sometimes with extreme prejudice — by employers and the government, often working together.

At the Port of LA and other ports, primarily on the west coast of the U.S., British Columbia and Hawaii, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) represents more than 32,000 workers. The critical event in the ILWU’s history was a 3-month strike in 1934, which closed every west coast American port. The strike was organized by a predecessor union, the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA). Violence erupted in many locations, resulting in the shooting deaths of two strikers here in San Pedro. A police shotgun blast killed two more in San Francisco on “Bloody Thursday,” July 5, 1934, a date still commemorated by ILWU members.

Every movement has its heroes. Harry Bridges organized the ILWU as a breakaway from the ILA and led the organization for 40 years. As a young Australian inspired by Jack London’s stories, he’d arrived in Jack’s town, San Francisco, in 1921 as a merchant seaman. He stayed on to work on the docks and became a member of the International Workers of the World, an activist union. He became a U.S. citizen in 1945, and was a galvanizing figure in the U.S. labor movement. The monument above is one of several in his honor in west coast port cities.

The U.S. government made a number of attempts to reduce Harry’s influence or remove him from the scene entirely. Twice the U.S. Supreme overturned convictions the government had secured that would have led to his deportation, once because the statute of limitations had expired before the government made its case, another when the high court ruled government witnesses were unreliable.

I’m oversimplifying the life and work of a contentious, controversial individual. Harry was, essentially, a hard-liner aligned with the Communist Party, although not actually a member for most of his life. He didn’t agree with the union’s decision to arbitrate the end of the 1934 strike, proposing instead to continue, but lost that effort. He did revise his previously anti-Roosevelt stance in 1941 in favor of accelerating the pace of work to support the war effort, and sponsored a no-strike policy for all unions during the war, earning some enemies within the labor movement.

The complexity and scale of any of the world’s large ports makes it difficult to fully understand the multiple, interlocking workings of systems, processes and machines. Ultimately, though, they’re all places that only function because people make them work. Now when you visit L.A., you can stand in Gibson Park and look out across the Main Channel with one more thread of its warp and woof in mind. Harry doesn’t have to be one of your heroes, but if you’re in San Pedro on July 5th for the Bloody Thursday observance, keep it to yourself. He has a lot of friends here.

Gibson Park begins at the intersection of 6th and Harbor in San Pedro, California.

San Pedro Map Google

Harry’s monument (red star) is a few hundred feet north. For the next couple of years, parking on the water side of Harbor will be limited while the port rebuilds the waterfront, just beginning as I write in February, 2018. You can park in downtown and walk across Harbor to access Gibson Park and the nearby L.A. Maritime Museum. The U.S.S. Iowa’s within walking distance a few hundred yards farther on (top right), but if you’re going there, the Iowa has plenty of parking.

Say hi to Harry. Another immigrant who made good.

Harry Bridges Brad Nixon 9285 (480x640)

Most of the 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. Map © Google

Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 16, 2018

Signifying; Rhetorical Analysis at the Traffic Light

One of an ongoing series of posts about signs — sign posts.

I pass one of those storage space rental facilities nearly every day, a mile from home on busy Western Avenue. They display this sign:

Shredding Brad Nixon 0876 (640x305)

Stopped at a traffic light, no other thoughts in my head (apparently), I wondered about the construction of that sentence. Wouldn’t the ordinary speaker of English simply say, “We Shred Paper?” Hemingway would, you can bet. But, so far as I know, Hem never wrote sign copy.

At least it was grammatically accurate. The mere presence of the “to be” verb indicates fluency as a native speaker; many businesses here in multicultural, multilingual La-La Land might have a sign reading “We Shredding Paper” or “Shredd You Papers Here,” not to mention “Trituramos Papel” (perfectly appropriate in much of the metropolis).

This is what happens after too many years spent parsing and examining obscure phrases in books. Everything becomes fodder for the linguistic shredding of rhetorical analysis.

The more I considered it, the more I liked their present continuous tense construction; it was immediate, compelling. We’re not simply standing by, waiting to shred paper, should any be presented. It’s not mere capability to be employed at some indeterminate point in the future. Brothers and sisters, we are shredding, right now. There’s a sense of urgency, because although we’re shredding now, we may not be shredding when you’re ready. It’s happening, so if you’ve got paper to shred, get it in here!

Extremely influential, insanely well compensated advertising agencies have been paid astronomical sums of money to construct far less persuasive messages. We can all think of examples. To wit: “No one doesn’t like Sara Lee” (except perhaps the three people who actually bought and consumed “New Coke” before it was taken off the market).

Just before the light changed, I’d concluded that scruffy little building might harbor the great advertising genius of the 21st Century. Perhaps the next David Ogilvy, who galvanized advertising in 1951 with his “The Man in the Hathaway Shirt” campaign featuring a devil-may-care-looking fellow rakishly sporting a black eye patch:

Hathaway ad (430x561)

(a style and tone played upon fifty years later to immensely good effect by “The Most Interesting Man in the World” beer campaign).

The light changed and just as I started my left-hand turn I noticed another sign beneath the shredding banner.

Shredding - boxes Brad Nixon 0879 (640x463)

Now, darn it. Why settle for a pedestrian, off-the-shelf sign with a phrase in simple indicative present when they may be sitting on the greatest bit of marketing rhetoric since … well … sliced bread? Why does it not say “And We’re Selling Boxes, Too!”?

So much for parallelism.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Hathaway shirt ad is someone’s copyrighted property. Hathaway closed its factory in 2002, but intellectual properties should be assumed to be in some successor’s possession and should not be used for any commercial purpose.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 14, 2018

The Big Stick: USS Iowa, Port of Los Angeles

A mile or so downhill from where I’m sitting is the Port of Los Angeles. It’s a massive complex of fascinating machinery. There are ships and boats of every description: cargo freighters, cruise liners, work boats, fishing trawlers and tug boats.

LA Port tugboats Brad Nixon 9226 (640x467)

The port also has some highly specialized craft, like the LAFD’s state-of-the-art Fireboat 2.

LAFD Fire Boat 2 Brad Nixon 1273 (571x640)

Towering gantry cranes load and unload container ships.

Port of LA Brad Nixon 7198 (640x413)

The port’s own railroad shunts containers around thousands of acres to and from fleets of trucks that come and go 24 hours a day. Soaring suspension bridges, drawbridges and a maze of streets, roads, water channels and highways connect everything.

One of the largest and most complex objects visible in the harbor is this:

Battleship Iowa Brad Nixon 9240 (640x480)

That’s the USS Iowa, a battleship built in 1940, which saw wartime service in WWII and Korea between 1942 and 1958, and sailed again in 1984 – 1990.

Iowa is 885 feet long, 108 feet wide and draws 37 feet of water. Its crew complement in WWII was 2,788 officers and sailors.

It was the first of four “Iowa Class” battleships constructed at approximately the same time: New Jersey, Wisconsin and Missouri, the last battleships the U.S. built. All, like Iowa, are now floating museums. The Iowa is the most recent to attain museum status, having been towed from retirement to its location in the Port of Los Angeles, California in 2012.

Battleship Iowa Brad Nixon 9255 (502x640)

I’m not a naval expert. I’ve assembled a few facts to flesh out a landlubber’s knowledge of what you’ll see if you visit USS Iowa.

At the fore of the superstructure is the enclosed bridge:

Battleship Iowa Brad Nixon 9256 (640x480)

Originally, the bridge was not enclosed, a change that was made in 1945 while Iowa was in San Francisco for repairs before returning to the Pacific theater.

When Iowa arrived in San Pedro, I was fascinated to see that ships, like human service members, wear campaign service ribbons, to indicate engagements in which they’ve participated. The Iowa’s are painted on the superstructure, visible left of the bridge.

Iowa is, first and foremost, a weapon, or rather a platform carrying numerous weapons systems. It bristles with armament. The most eye-catching ones are the big guns.

Battleship Iowa Brad Nixon 9239 (640x480)

Each of the ship’s three gun turrets, two forward, one aft, had 3 16-inch (406mm)/50 caliber guns. They could fire twice per minute, each gun propelling a 2,700-lb shell 20 nautical miles, about 20.8 standard miles. Here are vintage projectiles packed in cases alongside Iowa.

Battleship Iowa Brad Nixon 9242 (640x417)

They’re 72 inches long, 16 inches in diameter.

Those guns were used primarily to bombard targets on land: airfields, factories and fortifications, or invasion or attack sites. Few weapons of war can deliver the steady, stable stream of firepower of which a battleship is capable. Here is a famous 1984 photo of Iowa firing all 9 guns simultaneously in a demonstration exercise.


Although a common misperception is that the perpendicular “wake” left of the ship is the tons of force from the discharge shoving the Iowa backward, that’s a misconception. Those waves are shock waves from the gun blasts. The guns and turrets are built to absorb the recoil of firing. Thanks to Mark Nixon for pointing out this detail.

The Iowa ships were loaded with other weaponry, including 20 5-inch/35 caliber guns, in pairs.

Battleship Iowa Brad Nixon 9244 (640x480)

There were also antiaircraft weapons, because Iowa had to defend both itself and the aircraft carriers it usually escorted from aerial attack.

When the ship was refitted to return to service in 1984, it was equipped with a number of new weapons systems, including several types of missiles. You can see 8 gray missile tubes above the 5-inch gun turret in the photo below.

Battleship Iowa Brad Nixon 9247 (640x480)

If you tour the ship, you’ll have an opportunity to examine much more than this wharfside introduction can show you. The power systems, living quarters, communications, fire control and, of course, the basic realities of navigating a 50,000-ton boat capable of 38 mph (33 knots) in open ocean are impressive engineering feats.

Battleship Iowa Brad Nixon 9257 (640x478)

The President Goes for a Cruise

One of the most human elements of the ship originated from its early voyage in 1943, carrying president Franklin Roosevelt and other officials across the Atlantic to a wartime conference with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin. Crippled by polio in 1921, Roosevelt was unable to use a stand-up shower, the only form of bathing normally available on a ship subject to the rolling of the ocean. Iowa, though, still has the bathtub installed for the president, perhaps unique among warships.


The Big Stick, as it was nicknamed, is now officially the USS Iowa Museum, located at Berth 87 on the main channel in San Pedro, California, just off Harbor Blvd. For directions and descriptions, hours and prices of tours, please visit the museum website at this link.

A Final Note

The Iowa is not a mere mechanical system. It is a weapon of fierce power. In its day, it was used to deliver a fearsome amount of destruction and death. This post is not about flag-waving or the glorification of war. I occasionally write about my interest in works of engineering, from ancient buildings to railroad engines, and I intend this article in the same spirit.

I invite any better-informed experts to add comments expanding my information or correcting omissions or errors I’ve made. For a balanced, expert look at the Pacific theater of WWII, I recommend The Pacific Paratrooper’s blog.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Iowa firepower demonstration photo originally retrieved from, which no longer exists, public domain. Research courtesy of Wikipedia. Any errors in terminology are my own.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 12, 2018

On the Trail to Nowhere in the National Park System

A subject that is of interest to most of you regular readers is the outdoors, wild lands and the protection of the environment. There are some issues I’ll consider at Under Western Skies in 2018.

Most of you are travelers, many of you are hikers and explorers. You know the difference between traveling to get from point A to point B and more mindful travel. If we’re fortunate, the route to our destination itself is worthwhile.

NM 550 Brad Nixon 3946 (640x480)

Our destinations vary enormously. Sometimes, they’re pure wilderness.

De-Na-Zin boundary Brad Nixon 4347 (640x480)

What is more appealing than trekking a bizarre landscape with no trails, access roads, facilities or signs?

Bisti Wilderness WS Brad Nixon 004-2 (800x558)

Rewards are great, but so are risks. You have only what you carry with you. If you get lost, injured or overtaken by night without proper gear, no one will help you, because there’s no one there.

More often, we follow a trail, however smooth or rough, clearly marked or faintly visible.

Chaco Canyon Wijiji Brad Nixon 4042 (640x433)

Some of you, I know, are dedicated back country hikers, and may follow trails, but often well beyond the reach of a ranger station or any fellow trekkers. Here in the U.S., one of the foremost blazers and maintainers of trails is the National Park Service (NPS). Yes, there are strictly wilderness parks like Kobuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic, and many others, like Joshua Tree and, pictured below, Denali, contain vast wilderness areas.

Denali NP Brad Nixon 006_16A (640x424)

Of the 308 million visitors to NPS units in 2015, 62% of them went to 10% of the parks. Other sites, especially remote or wilderness areas, receive relatively few visitors. Park attendance has grown rapidly, increasing 64% from 1979 to 2015. Going out to see the wild is enormously popular, and attracts more people every year.

An Invasive Species

Most of you are aware of some problems this popularity breeds. With a visit to iconic places like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon on the bucket list for millions of people, popular parks are crowded; campgrounds, motels and lodges are full; restaurants, restrooms and even trails and scenic overlooks can be jam-packed. There’s sometimes a long wait in lines of traffic simply to get into some parks.

Here’s the staggeringly beautiful Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Brad Nixon 008 (800x531)

During a Yosemite trip (in midsummer), we never traveled far enough along any trail to have anything like a solitary experience. Crowds.

All those people, their vehicles and associated duffle disrupt wildlife; noise, pollution and litter stress not only the natural environment but visitors themselves, diminishing enjoyment of the outdoors.

A ranger at Yosemite told me that the most dangerous animal in the entire park was inevitably a human being driving a rented RV on a weekend jaunt.

What’s to be done? Do we begrudge our fellow travelers their share of what we value so highly? Do we become churlish and suggest that only real hikers, true aficionados of the wild be admitted, however that’s to be determined? Will there be a hierarchy, with back country wilderness trekkers at the top, descending to the car-bound visitors who pull off at the scenic overlooks long enough to gawk, snap a picture and drive to the next?

One can, of course, stick to less-visited sites. Grand Canyon gets 5.5 million visitors each year, Yellowstone 4.25 million, and a park relatively near me, Joshua Tree, sees 2.5 million. A place The Counselor and I have visited numerous times, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, gets only about 40,000. Most of those confine themselves to enjoying the scenery from the 9 mile paved road and stopping to see the most accessible of the ancestral Puebloan ruins.

Chaco Road Brad Nixon 4174 (640x480)

There are NPS trails through Chaco, though. Climbing the mesas north and south of the canyon is only moderately strenuous, the toughest spot being this one, just above Pueblo Bonito.

Chaco N Mesa cleft Brad Nixon 007-2 (446x640)

That’s doable, and the view from the mesa top is worth every ounce of exertion.

Chaco Mesa MV Pueblo Bonito Brad Nixon 006-3-2 (640x442)

Keep Wild Lands Truly Wild?

An outspoken proponent of excluding casual visitors from all natural lands was Edward Abbey. You may be familiar with his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang. Abbey worked as a ranger and fire watcher for the NPS, but was also a bitter critic of national parks. He believed that wild lands should be utterly, strictly wild: no roads, trails, restrooms, accommodations or visitor amenities whatsoever. In his view, if one wanted to see the wilderness, one packed a tent and some gear and headed out there.

Abbey is highly regarded by many supporters of the outdoors, and helped galvanize a number of aggressive preservation efforts. Yet, he was perfectly capable of making camp and enjoying the evening, cheerfully tossing his beer cans into a gorge as he finished them. He did the same thing when climbing Australia’s Uluru, then known as Ayers Rock. Great, Ed. Enjoy your private wilderness.

The Question

As outdoor enthusiasts, where do we stand on this matter? Is there a point at which we start to restrict access to any, some or even all natural areas? Do we abandon public access and leave the wild to the mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and plants whose habitat it is?

Why This Matters

Why I think this issue is critically important right now is that the U.S. federal administration is now an enemy of national parks and environmental protection. The heads of both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior (which includes the NPS) are dedicated to reducing or, if possible, eliminating all constraints, regulations and restrictions that protect land, air, water and habitat. In their view, natural lands possess no inherent value for recreation, conservation or scientific study: They are self-avowed disbelievers in science, if such a thing is truly possible. For them, natural lands represent only untapped resources to be mined, logged or farmed. Real estate development is another option, and they have a good friend in the White House who’s the self-proclaimed universal guru of real estate, and he’s gone bankrupt a few times proving it. He’d be happy to help them.

Their solutions to overuse and overcrowding in the parks might consist of a) shutting down some or all park operations b) charging for admission based on “surge pricing,” as Disneyland does, which might make a day at Yellowstone cost $150 (I’m guessing) or c) ending the national park system entirely and putting them in the Bureau of Land Management. BLM could then issue mining, logging and ranching permits, or perhaps build dams in likely spots like Yosemite and Grand Canyon. Hunting elk, bison, pronghorn and wolves could be a lucrative business, too.

Abbey was, at heart, an anarchist, who thought federal governments and organized religion should be eliminated, along with national parks. I doubt that adopting his point of view will help us deal effectively with the current situation.

There’s more to say on this topic in later posts. What do you suggest we the people ask our legislators to do, before someone else does it for us, without a vote? Please leave a comment. And call your legislator.

© Brad Nixon 2018

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