Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Inside the "Witch's House" in Beverly Hills



       By Alison Martino 



I grew up trick or treating on Halloween in the late ’70s and early ’80s at the Witch’s House. The owners at that time would dress up as ghosts and goblins and hand out taffy from a witch’s kettle. There was dry ice coming from the moat around the house and Disney’s Haunted Mansion soundtrack could be heard out the upstairs window. It was an event. - See more at: http://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/exclusive-look-inside-witchs-house-beverly-hills/#sthash.iVNgewYR.dpuf
I grew up trick or treating on Halloween in the late ’70s and early ’80s at the Witch’s House. The owners at that time would dress up as ghosts and goblins and hand out taffy from a witch’s kettle. There was dry ice coming from the moat around the house and Disney’s Haunted Mansion soundtrack could be heard out the upstairs window. It was an event.

Then suddenly, the house went dark in the ‘90s, no explanation given. Over time, the property started to show neglect. Thankfully, REAL ESTATE AGENT Michael J. Libow purchased the cottage in 1998 and taken wonderful care of it since. What began as a gradual renovation project 15 years ago turned into something else: Landmark #8 for the City of Beverly Hills. 

In addition to restoring the property, Michael has made some incredible additions to the house. The landscaping in the front yard is purposefully bizarre, with gnarled, twisted trees and a wooden bridge crossing a mystical moat with a ceramic glass bottom. The home now looks more organic, like it’s growing up out of the ground. There is a huge wrought iron spider web COMPLETE with a nefarious looking spider and the house is surrounded by a rickety-looking picket fence.

I had the pleasure of visiting my childhood haunt earlier this year, and it immediately reminded me of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disneyland. I half expected Walt’s ghost to appear at any moment. Its dilapidated-looking pitched roof is pointed like a witch’s hat, and the walls of the house slope precariously, giving the impression it could collapse at any moment. Saggy, wooden WINDOW SHUTTERS are hung at odd angles.


Michael was kind enough to allow me and photographer Stephen Russo, my Vintage Los Angeles colleague, to TOUR the home while he prepared to welcome more than 4,000 trick-or-treaters this Halloween. Between a few rounds of pinball on Michael’s vintage Captain Fantastic pinball machine, he spoke with me about his oddball home and what it’s like on All Hallows Eve.
Tell me about the Witch’s House history.



The house was built for Willat Studios back in 1920 as a set for a few silent films, including Hansel and Gretel, and a studio office. It was not built to be lived in. Nobody’s certain when exactly it was moved to Beverly Hills. I am desperately searching for photographic evidence of the house being moved on a truck. You can imagine what a big deal that must have been back in the 1920s. I’ve seen building permits from 1924, so that helps narrow the date down, but back in the 1920s, Ward Lascelle, one of the producers who worked with the Willats, bought the structure because the studio was planning on demolishing it. 


  Ward Witch's outside the Witch's house at the corner of Carmeleta and Walden Drive shorty after it was moved   
  from Wallet Studios to Beverly Hills
 
I would love to know what he was thinking back then. Some Web sites and historians refer to this house as the Spadena House. Let me explain why: Ward Lascelle’s wife, Lillian, DIVORCED Ward, kept the house, and then married the house boy/guest/man servant, whose last name was Spadena. Lillian took over the house’s legacy and eventually sold it to the Green family in 1965. I purchased it from Mrs. Green in 1998, so I am truly now the keeper of “The Witch.”






                            The entryway in 1933


                            Entryway Today



Why did you want to own it? 

I was raised in ‘baja’ Beverly Hills, so I knew the Witch’s House as a kid. It was the place that everyone migrated to on

Halloween. I was actually scared of it back then. I never imagined I would one day be the owner. I graduated from Beverly Hills High in 1981 and from UCLA with A MAJOR in mathematics in 1986. My initial inclination was to become a rocket scientist, but as fate would have it, my family was forced to move around quite a bit in the early ‘80s and I became fascinated with architecture and real estate. I decided to get a real estate license to support myself through school and I’m glad I did. I began my career in Cheviot Hills which, oddly enough, introduced me to a well-known 1930s architect named Aiken who designed storybook-style homes. Consequently, I fell in love with that style.

Years later, after growing my career at Coldwell Banker, I was searching for a home in the flats of Beverly Hills. The Witch’s House was placed on the market in 1997 and it was being shown extremely discreetly by the Greens. In fact, Mrs. Green would only allow a prospective buyer to visit the house if he or she brought a deposit toward the purchase price with them in the form of a cashier’s check. If she sensed a buyer would want to tear it down, she casually ignored that person. I had to cajole the listing agent to allow me to view it because I wanted to see if I could remodel the home. After buying it, I thought I could get away with powdering its witch’s nose. Boy, was I wrong!


How did the house look before you purchased it?


The exterior looked similar. It always had that Gingerbread-house-in-Bavaria look to it. The entire interior, unfortunately, had the look of a bad tract home from the 1960s with sliding glass doors and recipe tiles adorning the kitchen, red shag carpet throughout, ELECTRIC FIREPLACES, and super low cottage cheese ceilings in many rooms.



 198os


What was your overall vision? 


The home always straddled the line between cool and kitschy. In my remodel, I wanted to keep it a bit more cool and a little less kitschy. I had been to Barcelona, Spain and fallen in love with Antoni Gaudi’s sensibility. I was fascinated with how his buildings appear to emanate from the ground in an organic fashion. I wanted my home to have a similar vibe as it is such an anomaly for the flats of Beverly Hills. I designed the home with barely a right angle in it, as I’m told that this is a sign of good Feng Shui. There’s also a nice mix of water and fire elements, which supposedly contributes to good chi, but the funky shapes of the doorways and entryways were most certainly influenced by the Gaudi structures I saw in Spain, and not by a Feng Shui master.













Who helped you execute your vision?
 
I worked with a fantastic film production designer named Nelson Coates and an equally wonderful landscape designer, Jane Marshall; they were able to draft things that I couldn’t. The ceilings in the living room, den, and entry were the same height they are today, but the rest of the house was much, much lower. I used to hit my head in the bedroom hallway. All of the wild hardware comes from J Nicolas Hardware in Corona Del Mar. The expert woodworker who created all the incredible cabinetry, doors, WINDOWS and custom built-ins is a film industry veteran named Jim Betts who typically worked with Styrofoam on film sets and was super excited to be able to fabricate items out of solid oak at my home. For the pool, which I put in, I wanted a lagoon style and requested “beach entries” on either side so that I could walk into it without stepping down stairs. 






The most difficult task was placing each tile on the pool surface. The exact process had never been done before according to my tile expert at Ann Sachs Tile. Each tile was laid in a mosaic pattern individually, not in sheets. All of the glass inside the home was done by James Thomas Stained and Leaded Glass in Studio City, which is owned by Dawna Miceli and her husband, Jim Thomas. Dawna is a relative of the legendary Miceli’s Pizzeria family, so some of the glass may look very familiar!








What goes down here on Halloween night?

 
The Witch’s House is a Mecca on Halloween—I knew that when I bought the house. What I didn’t realize is how much work it really is! In just a few hours we typically have between three and four thousand children and their families visit with hands outstretched and mouths agape. I hire private security for the night. Police and volunteer officers also maintain control in the area. The surrounding streets are cordoned off as it’s simply too dangerous to have traffic flow when masses of children are in the streets. When I look out from the WINDOW on Halloween night, it can be a bit frightening how many people are out front, but it’s an incredible tradition and I’m happy I brought it back. Some neighbors love it, some don’t. Out of courtesy to certain ones who asked me to one year, I tried to shut the whole event down. I even placed newspaper announcements and left off the lights—but people still came by. Now I embrace it.



 



                                                Halloween Night 2014

              Alison Martino and Michael J. Libow on Halloween night passing out candy to 5,000 visitors

How often do tour buses come by?

Countless times per day, and more in the past 10 years since the “crop top” VAN CONVERSIONS have been in place and new independent TOUR companies exist. I was told by a Starline tour guide that mine is the most requested and most visited non-celebrity house in all of the West Los Angeles!

Do you ever see yourself moving?


I can’t imagine living anywhere else. My home is irreplaceable. I tell my clients, I will never treat their homes as a commodity; the same goes for my Witch’s House.





Who would you like to have at your next dinner party?

 
I would love to have Tim Burton over. He’s such a master at melding fantasy and reality. That’s what I have tried to do in my home. It’s very Burton-esque!

Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the FACEBOOK PAGE Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to writing for Los Angeles Magazine and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram






I grew up trick or treating on Halloween in the late ’70s and early ’80s at the Witch’s House. The owners at that time would dress up as ghosts and goblins and hand out taffy from a witch’s kettle. There was dry ice coming from the moat around the house and Disney’s Haunted Mansion soundtrack could be heard out the upstairs window. It was an event.
Then suddenly, the house went dark in the ‘90s, no explanation given. Over time, the property started to show neglect. Thankfully, real estate agent Michael J. Libow purchased the cottage in 1998 and taken wonderful care of it since. What began as a gradual renovation project 15 years ago turned into something else: Landmark #8 for the City of Beverly Hills.
In addition to restoring the property, Michael has made some incredible additions to the house. The landscaping in the front yard is purposefully bizarre, with gnarled, twisted trees and a wooden bridge crossing a mystical moat with a ceramic glass bottom. The home now looks more organic, like it’s growing up out of the ground. There is a huge wrought iron spider web complete with a nefarious looking spider and the house is surrounded by a rickety-looking picket fence.
I had the pleasure of visiting my childhood haunt earlier this year, and it immediately reminded me of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disneyland. I half expected Walt’s ghost to appear at any moment. Its dilapidated-looking pitched roof is pointed like a witch’s hat, and the walls of the house slope precariously, giving the impression it could collapse at any moment. Saggy, wooden window shutters are hung at odd angles.
Michael was kind enough to allow me and photographer Stephen Russo, my Vintage Los Angeles colleague, to tour the home while he prepared to welcome more than 4,000 trick-or-treaters this Halloween. Between a few rounds of pinball on Michael’s vintage Captain Fantastic pinball machine, he spoke with me about his oddball home and what it’s like on All Hallows Eve.
Tell me about the Witch’s House history.
The house was built for Willat Studios back in 1920 as a set for a few silent films, including Hansel and Gretel, and a studio office. It was not built to be lived in. Nobody’s certain when exactly it was moved to Beverly Hills. I am desperately searching for photographic evidence of the house being moved on a truck. You can imagine what a big deal that must have been back in the 1920s. I’ve seen building permits from 1924, so that helps narrow the date down, but back in the 1920s, Ward Lascelle, one of the producers who worked with the Willats, bought the structure because the studio was planning on demolishing it. He had owned this lot at the time, so he moved the house here to Beverly Hills and turned it into a functioning home. It was really small at the time. There was only the entry foyer, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a tiny kitchen. I would love to know what he was thinking back then. Some Web sites and historians refer to this house as the Spadena House. Let me explain why: Ward Lascelle’s wife, Lillian, divorced Ward, kept the house, and then married the house boy/guest/man servant, whose last name was Spadena. Lillian took over the house’s legacy and eventually sold it to the Green family in 1965. I purchased it from Mrs. Green in 1998, so I am truly now the keeper of “The Witch.”
Why did you want to own it?
I was raised in ‘baja’ Beverly Hills, so I knew the Witch’s House as a kid. It was the place that everyone migrated to on
Halloween. I was actually scared of it back then. I never imagined I would one day be the owner. I graduated from Beverly Hills High in 1981 and from UCLA with a major in mathematics in 1986. My initial inclination was to become a rocket scientist, but as fate would have it, my family was forced to move around quite a bit in the early ‘80s and I became fascinated with architecture and real estate. I decided to get a real estate license to support myself through school and I’m glad I did. I began my career in Cheviot Hills which, oddly enough, introduced me to a well-known 1930s architect named Aiken who designed storybook-style homes. Consequently, I fell in love with that style.
Years later, after growing my career at Coldwell Banker, I was searching for a home in the flats of Beverly Hills. The Witch’s House was placed on the market in 1997 and it was being shown extremely discreetly by the Greens. In fact, Mrs. Green would only allow a prospective buyer to visit the house if he or she brought a deposit toward the purchase price with them in the form of a cashier’s check. If she sensed a buyer would want to tear it down, she casually ignored that person. I had to cajole the listing agent to allow me to view it because I wanted to see if I could remodel the home. After buying it, I thought I could get away with powdering its witch’s nose. Boy, was I wrong!
How did the house look before you purchased it?
The exterior looked similar. It always had that Gingerbread-house-in-Bavaria look to it. The entire interior, unfortunately, had the look of a bad tract home from the 1960s with sliding glass doors and recipe tiles adorning the kitchen, red shag carpet throughout, electric fireplaces, and super low cottage cheese ceilings in many rooms.
What was your overall vision?
The home always straddled the line between cool and kitschy. In my remodel, I wanted to keep it a bit more cool and a little less kitschy. I had been to Barcelona, Spain and fallen in love with Antoni Gaudi’s sensibility. I was fascinated with how his buildings appear to emanate from the ground in an organic fashion. I wanted my home to have a similar vibe as it is such an anomaly for the flats of Beverly Hills. I designed the home with barely a right angle in it, as I’m told that this is a sign of good Feng Shui. There’s also a nice mix of water and fire elements, which supposedly contributes to good chi, but the funky shapes of the doorways and entryways were most certainly influenced by the Gaudi structures I saw in Spain, and not by a Feng Shui master.
Who helped you execute your vision?
I worked with a fantastic film production designer named Nelson Coates and an equally wonderful landscape designer, Jane Marshall; they were able to draft things that I couldn’t. The ceilings in the living room, den, and entry were the same height they are today, but the rest of the house was much, much lower. I used to hit my head in the bedroom hallway. All of the wild hardware comes from J Nicolas Hardware in Corona Del Mar. The expert woodworker who created all the incredible cabinetry, doors, windows and custom built-ins is a film industry veteran named Jim Betts who typically worked with Styrofoam on film sets and was super excited to be able to fabricate items out of solid oak at my home. For the pool, which I put in, I wanted a lagoon style and requested “beach entries” on either side so that I could walk into it without stepping down stairs. The most difficult task was placing each tile on the pool surface. The exact process had never been done before according to my tile expert at Ann Sachs Tile. Each tile was laid in a mosaic pattern individually, not in sheets. All of the glass inside the home was done by James Thomas Stained and Leaded Glass in Studio City, which is owned by Dawna Miceli and her husband, Jim Thomas. Dawna is a relative of the legendary Miceli’s Pizzeria family, so some of the glass may look very familiar!
What goes down here on Halloween night?
The Witch’s House is a Mecca on Halloween—I knew that when I bought the house. What I didn’t realize is how much work it really is! In just a few hours we typically have between three and four thousand children and their families visit with hands outstretched and mouths agape. I hire private security for the night. Police and volunteer officers also maintain control in the area. The surrounding streets are cordoned off as it’s simply too dangerous to have traffic flow when masses of children are in the streets. When I look out from the window on Halloween night, it can be a bit frightening how many people are out front, but it’s an incredible tradition and I’m happy I brought it back. Some neighbors love it, some don’t. Out of courtesy to certain ones who asked me to one year, I tried to shut the whole event down. I even placed newspaper announcements and left off the lights—but people still came by. Now I embrace it.
How often do tour busses come by?
Countless times per day, and more in the past 10 years since the “crop top” van conversions have been in place and new independent tour companies exist. I was told by a Starline tour guide that mine is the most requested and most visited non-celebrity house in all of the West Los Angeles!
Do you ever see yourself moving?
I can’t imagine living anywhere else. My home is irreplaceable. I tell my clients, I will never treat their homes as a commodity; the same goes for my Witch’s House.
Who would you like to have at your next dinner party?
I would love to have Tim Burton over. He’s such a master at melding fantasy and reality. That’s what I have tried to do in my home. It’s very Burton-esque!

- See more at: http://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/exclusive-look-inside-witchs-house-beverly-hills/#sthash.iVNgewYR.dpuf



I grew up trick or treating on Halloween in the late ’70s and early ’80s at the Witch’s House. The owners at that time would dress up as ghosts and goblins and hand out taffy from a witch’s kettle. There was dry ice coming from the moat around the house and Disney’s Haunted Mansion soundtrack could be heard out the upstairs window. It was an event.
Then suddenly, the house went dark in the ‘90s, no explanation given. Over time, the property started to show neglect. Thankfully, real estate agent Michael J. Libow purchased the cottage in 1998 and taken wonderful care of it since. What began as a gradual renovation project 15 years ago turned into something else: Landmark #8 for the City of Beverly Hills.
In addition to restoring the property, Michael has made some incredible additions to the house. The landscaping in the front yard is purposefully bizarre, with gnarled, twisted trees and a wooden bridge crossing a mystical moat with a ceramic glass bottom. The home now looks more organic, like it’s growing up out of the ground. There is a huge wrought iron spider web complete with a nefarious looking spider and the house is surrounded by a rickety-looking picket fence.
I had the pleasure of visiting my childhood haunt earlier this year, and it immediately reminded me of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disneyland. I half expected Walt’s ghost to appear at any moment. Its dilapidated-looking pitched roof is pointed like a witch’s hat, and the walls of the house slope precariously, giving the impression it could collapse at any moment. Saggy, wooden window shutters are hung at odd angles.
Michael was kind enough to allow me and photographer Stephen Russo, my Vintage Los Angeles colleague, to tour the home while he prepared to welcome more than 4,000 trick-or-treaters this Halloween. Between a few rounds of pinball on Michael’s vintage Captain Fantastic pinball machine, he spoke with me about his oddball home and what it’s like on All Hallows Eve.
Tell me about the Witch’s House history.
The house was built for Willat Studios back in 1920 as a set for a few silent films, including Hansel and Gretel, and a studio office. It was not built to be lived in. Nobody’s certain when exactly it was moved to Beverly Hills. I am desperately searching for photographic evidence of the house being moved on a truck. You can imagine what a big deal that must have been back in the 1920s. I’ve seen building permits from 1924, so that helps narrow the date down, but back in the 1920s, Ward Lascelle, one of the producers who worked with the Willats, bought the structure because the studio was planning on demolishing it. He had owned this lot at the time, so he moved the house here to Beverly Hills and turned it into a functioning home. It was really small at the time. There was only the entry foyer, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a tiny kitchen. I would love to know what he was thinking back then. Some Web sites and historians refer to this house as the Spadena House. Let me explain why: Ward Lascelle’s wife, Lillian, divorced Ward, kept the house, and then married the house boy/guest/man servant, whose last name was Spadena. Lillian took over the house’s legacy and eventually sold it to the Green family in 1965. I purchased it from Mrs. Green in 1998, so I am truly now the keeper of “The Witch.”
Why did you want to own it?
I was raised in ‘baja’ Beverly Hills, so I knew the Witch’s House as a kid. It was the place that everyone migrated to on
Halloween. I was actually scared of it back then. I never imagined I would one day be the owner. I graduated from Beverly Hills High in 1981 and from UCLA with a major in mathematics in 1986. My initial inclination was to become a rocket scientist, but as fate would have it, my family was forced to move around quite a bit in the early ‘80s and I became fascinated with architecture and real estate. I decided to get a real estate license to support myself through school and I’m glad I did. I began my career in Cheviot Hills which, oddly enough, introduced me to a well-known 1930s architect named Aiken who designed storybook-style homes. Consequently, I fell in love with that style.
Years later, after growing my career at Coldwell Banker, I was searching for a home in the flats of Beverly Hills. The Witch’s House was placed on the market in 1997 and it was being shown extremely discreetly by the Greens. In fact, Mrs. Green would only allow a prospective buyer to visit the house if he or she brought a deposit toward the purchase price with them in the form of a cashier’s check. If she sensed a buyer would want to tear it down, she casually ignored that person. I had to cajole the listing agent to allow me to view it because I wanted to see if I could remodel the home. After buying it, I thought I could get away with powdering its witch’s nose. Boy, was I wrong!
How did the house look before you purchased it?
The exterior looked similar. It always had that Gingerbread-house-in-Bavaria look to it. The entire interior, unfortunately, had the look of a bad tract home from the 1960s with sliding glass doors and recipe tiles adorning the kitchen, red shag carpet throughout, electric fireplaces, and super low cottage cheese ceilings in many rooms.
What was your overall vision?
The home always straddled the line between cool and kitschy. In my remodel, I wanted to keep it a bit more cool and a little less kitschy. I had been to Barcelona, Spain and fallen in love with Antoni Gaudi’s sensibility. I was fascinated with how his buildings appear to emanate from the ground in an organic fashion. I wanted my home to have a similar vibe as it is such an anomaly for the flats of Beverly Hills. I designed the home with barely a right angle in it, as I’m told that this is a sign of good Feng Shui. There’s also a nice mix of water and fire elements, which supposedly contributes to good chi, but the funky shapes of the doorways and entryways were most certainly influenced by the Gaudi structures I saw in Spain, and not by a Feng Shui master.
Who helped you execute your vision?
I worked with a fantastic film production designer named Nelson Coates and an equally wonderful landscape designer, Jane Marshall; they were able to draft things that I couldn’t. The ceilings in the living room, den, and entry were the same height they are today, but the rest of the house was much, much lower. I used to hit my head in the bedroom hallway. All of the wild hardware comes from J Nicolas Hardware in Corona Del Mar. The expert woodworker who created all the incredible cabinetry, doors, windows and custom built-ins is a film industry veteran named Jim Betts who typically worked with Styrofoam on film sets and was super excited to be able to fabricate items out of solid oak at my home. For the pool, which I put in, I wanted a lagoon style and requested “beach entries” on either side so that I could walk into it without stepping down stairs. The most difficult task was placing each tile on the pool surface. The exact process had never been done before according to my tile expert at Ann Sachs Tile. Each tile was laid in a mosaic pattern individually, not in sheets. All of the glass inside the home was done by James Thomas Stained and Leaded Glass in Studio City, which is owned by Dawna Miceli and her husband, Jim Thomas. Dawna is a relative of the legendary Miceli’s Pizzeria family, so some of the glass may look very familiar!
What goes down here on Halloween night?
The Witch’s House is a Mecca on Halloween—I knew that when I bought the house. What I didn’t realize is how much work it really is! In just a few hours we typically have between three and four thousand children and their families visit with hands outstretched and mouths agape. I hire private security for the night. Police and volunteer officers also maintain control in the area. The surrounding streets are cordoned off as it’s simply too dangerous to have traffic flow when masses of children are in the streets. When I look out from the window on Halloween night, it can be a bit frightening how many people are out front, but it’s an incredible tradition and I’m happy I brought it back. Some neighbors love it, some don’t. Out of courtesy to certain ones who asked me to one year, I tried to shut the whole event down. I even placed newspaper announcements and left off the lights—but people still came by. Now I embrace it.
How often do tour busses come by?
Countless times per day, and more in the past 10 years since the “crop top” van conversions have been in place and new independent tour companies exist. I was told by a Starline tour guide that mine is the most requested and most visited non-celebrity house in all of the West Los Angeles!
Do you ever see yourself moving?
I can’t imagine living anywhere else. My home is irreplaceable. I tell my clients, I will never treat their homes as a commodity; the same goes for my Witch’s House.
Who would you like to have at your next dinner party?
I would love to have Tim Burton over. He’s such a master at melding fantasy and reality. That’s what I have tried to do in my home. It’s very Burton-esque!

- See more at: http://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/exclusive-look-inside-witchs-house-beverly-hills/#sthash.iVNgewYR.dpuf






















Friday, October 31, 2014

Bullwinkle Statue fully restored!


      By Alison Martino

On September 24, 1961, a gigantic revolving sculpture featuring the cartoon stars Rocky and Bullwinkle was erected at 8218 W. Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, directly across the street from a revolving statue of a cowgirl promoting the Sahara Casino Hotel in Las Vegas. 


The Rocky and Bullwinkle statue was created by TV producer Jay Ward and placed in front of Jay Ward Animation Studios to poke fun at the showgirl on the other side of the street. 



She lasted 10 years, but Rocky and Bullwinke stayed put much longer—until 2013—long after Ward’s studio shut down their offices and closed the Dudley Do Right Emporium just east of the statue.  

 
The Dudley Do Right Emporium shop just east of Jay Ward studios.  The boutique would sell Jay Ward memorabilia including original cells and Jay Ward cartoon memorabilia.
(today this is Pinch’s Taco’s)
Photo courtesy of Robert Stone 11

Over five decades, the statue became a symbol of the Sunset Strip. What else would you expect from the cartoon capitol of the world?

Last year I discovered Rocky and Bullwinkle had been mysteriously removed. On the morning of July 22, 2013, a video of the statue’s unceremonious removal landed in my inbox anonymously and without further explanation. All I could tell from the 10-second clip was that a crane had whisked Rocky and Bullwinkle away.
                                                                                                                    Mysterious video here

In the 15 months since, I’ve heard every depressing scenario possible from would-be sources, all of who agreed the statue was likely never be seen in public again. They were wrong. I’m thrilled to report that Rocky and Bullwinkle have been lovingly restored by Ricardo Scozzari of Burbank Furniture Restoration at the behest of the Ward family, and the statue is now at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, where it will be on display through December. When I spoke with Scozzari recently about the local icon, he told me exclusively what it took to get the statue back in shape and the truth about its mysterious disappearance.





How did you get involved with the restoration?

I am a jack of all trades. I’ve been fortunate enough to know the Wards for many years, and they’ve relied on me for many facets of their legacy. I was a commercial illustrator and learned many other different trades, such welding and sculpting.

What condition was the statue in when you began the project?


When I took the statue back to Warner Brothers, my associates and I had to strip a layer of paper mache. It almost looked like it had a bad case of skin disorder. All that weathering had gone into the steel. Its original assembly wasn’t welded; there was steel and wood inside of the statue. 





The cowgirl had a better chance of living longer! And yet, the moose lasted 53 years. But she was a commercial billboard. The Bullwinkle statue was part of the studio. I think the cowgirl was removed because her contract was up. She was replaced by the Marlboro Man billboard.



Was the statue in fact created to promote the premiere of the cartoon?
 
Yes. It was initially created for the opening of the “The Bullwinkle Show” in 1961. It was a hyped PR thing. Jayne Mansfield was at the opening. They had a band and lots of people. The show was premiering on NBC, and it was a big deal.



According to the Los Angeles Times, the statue’s unveiling, which was “a publicity stunt,” drew “5,000 milling, screaming, caterwauling celebrants outside the offices of the critters’ creator, Jay Ward Productions… Ward had obtained permits to have all but one lane of Sunset Boulevard blocked off and mischievously posted a sign to motorists that said: ‘Don’t complain or we’ll block this lane too.’

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY VINTAGE LOS ANGELES



So why was it removed from the Strip last year?

Well, I did all the inspections. I looked at it and there was a lot of rust down the center of the pipe. It had suffered a lot of corrosion over the years and needed to be refreshed. I was brought in every time the statue needed touching up.




We took it to Dreamworks for a bit while we regrouped, and then it went over to my associates and we all worked on it for about three months.

How was the unveiling of the statue at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills?

 
It was a wonderful evening. Tiffany Ward was there and they had a cloth wrapped around the statue with a big bow, and when she pulled it, it came down very elegantly. 




 It was very Hollywood-esque and there was a big gasp when people saw it, because it had been hidden for so long while it was being repaired. There were rumors that it had been destroyed or was stolen. Now it’s back. This city is like a giant sound stage where everything gets destroyed, so this is a rare and happy ending. 



Where will the statue go after the Paley Center?

I don’t know, but they need me to move it!





What are its actual dimensions?

Some people don’t believe it’s the real thing, they remember it being bigger than it really is. The statue itself is 14 feet tall. It was originally 20 feet up in the air, and I wanted to lower it down, so I had a new base made in the same style it originally was, just a lot lower. I also wanted to make sure he had a camera view—that Bullwinkle’s eyes were looking down—so viewers could have a Kodak moment and relate to him. Originally his eyes faced straight out, but that was OK because he was sitting in a grotto down in a pit overlooking the Sunset Strip. The statue and base weigh about 1,200 pounds.

Was the statue as shiny back in 1961 as it is today?


The original was fiberglass, which was the smoothest thing they could do at the time. As the years went on, someone added paper mache, and I ripped all of that off.




                 Rocky and Bullwinkle in 1985

 Wear and tear over the years


How similar is the restored version to the original?


I was just telling Tiffany Ward that I even counted the stripes off its original bathing suit! Everything is exactly the way it was. I took my time with the old photographs and got out my magnifying glass and I counted the stripes on his pants, his sleeves, and his shirt, and I made sure it looks exactly like it did then. The statue had been painted over so many times. That’s why we really had to strip it down. The moose had seven hairs on his head originally! Now he’s back to how he was in 1961, only brand new again. I even put a satin sheen on him.





It sounds like this was an exciting restoration project for you!

Every single person who worked on this grew up watching that cartoon. It took a gathering of great artisans, from plasterers, welders, fabricators, painters, and finishers; it was a real labor of artistic skill. I



Could the statue survive outside if it was returned to the Strip?

 He does have aircraft paint on him and a sealer, so he could be outside, but due to the environment, pollution, and weather conditions, he would need refreshing in the future. He would be safer inside. He’s actually in the best place right now. Hopefully soon we’ll find out where he’s headed. I’ll be as excited to hear that news as you!


Alison Martino is a columnist for Los Angeles Magazine,  television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram.
 



 







Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dan Tana's 50th Anniversay

 
     September 22, 2014 - By Alison Martino

When people ask me to suggest a classic Hollywood joint, there’s only one place that comes to mind: Dan Tana’s. On October 1 this dark and cozy Italian landmark will celebrate its 50th anniversary. For those of you who haven’t been (how could you?) the decor is reminiscent of a 1950s gangster flick: red walls, checkered table cloths, dark lighting, chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling. Located next to the world famous Troubadour, Dan Tana’s clientele has always been a mix of Hollywood A-listers, sports figures, musicians, and neighborhood locals, like myself (they still serve my favorite chicken parmesan.) While waiting for your table (reservations suggested!), stand off to the side and say hello to one of the restaurant’s longest employed staff members, bartender Michael Gotovac. For 45 years, patrons have confessed their deepest secrets to the lovably cantankerous Croatian. I sat down with the legendary drinks slinger to get his insights about working at the West Hollywood institution since 1968. 

How long have you been working at Dan Tana’s? 

I left home in the early ’60s to get away from Communism. I was in Germany for a few years, and everybody’s dream was to come to America, so I got myself to Los Angeles and ended up here in June of 1968 as a waiter. I worked in the restaurant business with my father, so it made sense to seek work at a restaurant. I walked in here, they told me to put on a jacket, and I got the job. I was a waiter for six months. Later, they wanted me to tend the bar because the original bartender at the time couldn’t handle it. So, they let him go and I’ve been here ever since. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t speak much English, but everyone helped me. My English wasn’t so great, and I didn’t know anything about any cocktails. When I started in 1968, the bar was pretty empty. I spoke with Dan Tana himself on Sunday who said that Prior to 1976 we were doing about 25 dinners a night [I know, shocking]. But by 1970, there was a big boom, the bar and restaurant expanded. Now we do 200 dinners a night. We used to close our kitchen early, but because of the Troubadour we kept our kitchen open late.  Until this day, we still are one of the only restaurants in this area that serve after midnight. 

 Dan Tana's - 1965

Speaking of the Eagles, did they write their song “Lying Eyes” here at the restaurant?

 Yes, Glenn Frey and Don Henley would sit at Table 4. One night they witnessed a young woman hitting on a much older man. So they immediately grabbed a cocktail napkin and jotted down the lyrics, “Look at her, she can’t even hide those “Lyin’ Eyes,” which became one of their signature songs. She obviously had another agenda while warming up to him. And they wrote that song here that night.





So, was Robert Urich’s character in Vega$ actually named after Dan Tana’s?

That is true—the character Robert Urich played in the 1970s show VEGA$ was named after the owner, Dan Tana. Dan Tana knew a lot of people in show business.  The show’s producers were regulars.  He has since sold the restaurant to a new owner, but it hasn’t hurt our business at all. FYI, the character of Dan Tanna spelled it with two ‘N’s. Just inside the door, next to several restaurant awards, there’s a picture of Dan with actor Robert Urich

  
What was in this space before? 

 Before Dan Tana’s, it was a small eatery not too much bigger than this called Domenico’s. The Pacific Red Car trains would drive by—we have actual pieces of the train track nails framed on the wall here. Our neon sign outside is the same exact sign from the time—we just changed the name.


How often do you work these days?

I was working seven days a week for years, then I cut to six, then to five, now it’s two—Thursdays and Fridays only.  But I’m not going anywhere just yet. I just want to stay where I am. IN 1980 the place burned down and we were closed for 49 days. I received so many job opportunities to go to other restaurants, but I never wanted to go anywhere and never considered going any place else. I didn’t want to lose the customers. So I waited to come back.



Why do you like to give people shots of Slivovitz?

I do like to give shots of Slivovitz to my loyal customers. I tell them don’t breathe it, don’t smell it, don’t sip it. Just toss it back!

When people ask you what to order what do you tell them?


[Points to the bottles directly behind them at the bar] I tell them, “That’s my menu, Bitch!’ [Laughing]. I hate people. No, I’m kidding! I have the best job and customers in the world! And the food is amazing. I don’t want to retire. I never want to sit home on the couch. I’m happy and healthy and so I won’t go. Not yet.



What do you recommend to order?

Dan Tana’s signature dishes are named after their loyal customers such as the “New York steak, Dabney Coleman” the “veal scaloppine, Florentine, James Woods” and the “Penne Arrabiata, a la Michael Cain”. The chicken Parmigiana is cooked to perfection and the waiters also give great recommendations. I suggest the shrimp scampi myself.

How does it feel celebrating Dan Tana’s 50th on October 1?


I’m really, really looking forward to it. I expect all of our regular customers to come in and have a lot of fun.  It’s a big deal! We will be closed that day for a private party by invitation only, but I don’t think that’s going to stop people from trying to get in.


If there’s one person I’ve had the pleasure of seeing for years at Dan Tana’s, sitting at his favorite booth holding court, it’s veteran actor Dabney Coleman (Boardwalk Empire, Tootsie, 9 to 5, ). While I was interviewing Michael for this interview, Coleman graciously chimed in with a few words about his favorite restaurant.


Coleman: “There is an excitement and energy here.  There is no better place to eat. I’ve been coming for 45 years—at one point seven nights a week!  Michael is the soul of this place and that I can say without hesitation. He even named a drink after me.  He truly deserves to be celebrated.” 

Here, watch Gotovac make Coleman’s signature drink!


                      Myself with With Harry Dean Stanton

                        Meet the rest of the Dan Tana's staff!

The most important people in one's life. The one's that cook your food and pour you stiff cocktails: Bartender Michael Gotovac and Executive Chef of Dan Tana's, Neno Mladenovic.


                With Dan Tana's host, Christian Kneedler

Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram