Monday, January 26, 2015

One album wonders: Blue Phantom's Distortions

During the Album Era (mid 1960s-mid 2000s), the LP was the dominant form of recorded music expression and consumption. Some bands recorded just one album during their time and, whether popular or not, they are the so-called one album wonders

Blue Phantom - Distortions (1971)

Blue Phantom were an instrumental group (or project) who released one album, Distortions, in 1972. Although instrumental, there's something about the sound that undeniably speaks to the fact that it's the work of Italians. Maybe it's the slightly swing and gentle funkiness paired with dark, creepy atmosphere that reminds me both of Goblin's work and Ennio Morricone's score for The Exorcist II (both of which Blue Phantom pre-dated) but that Blue Phantom were Italian is almost all that is known about them. 

Blue Phantom were most likely not a band in the normal sense. Rather they were probably a group of musicians assembled by violinist, conductor, and composer, Armando Sciascia. Armando MichalarosArmando Sciascia (1950)Sciascia was born 16 June, 1920 in Lanciano, Italy. He graduated from the Conservatorio di Pesaro and afterward moved to Milan where he played with the orchestras of the Teatro Nuovo and Pomeriggi Musicali.

He formed his own orchestra who in 1952 (as Armando Sciascia e La Sua Orchestra) released the 10" "Poema"b/w "Non Vedo Che Te" on Fonit. In 1953, on 10" split with Orquesta Malatesta, Sciascia and company (asOrquesta De Conciertos Sciascia) released four songs through the Telefunken label. Sciascia began composing film scores for documentaries in the 1960s with 1961's Tropico di notte and the 1962's Mondo caldo di notte and Sexy.

In 1962 Sciascia formed the label Vedette, which was home to Equipe 84Gian Pieretti, and Pooh -- all of form whom Sciascia composed employing the noms de disques "H. Tical" for music and "Pantros" for lyrics. Sciascia continued composing film scores until 1966, when his last score proved to be for the film 3 colpi di Winchester per Ringo. Vedette, meanwhile, expanded into a series of imprints devoted to various genres and including Albatros, Ars Nova, Fox, I Dischi Dello Zodiaco, JAM Record, Musiche Per Sonorizzazioni E Programmi, Phase 6 Super Stereo, Pineapple Records, Quadrifoglio, Quadrifoglio International, andSpider Records.

Blue Phantom - Distortions (UK version)  Distortions Pop
UK (left) and French (right) versions of Blue Phantom's Distortions

Blue Phantom's only album was released in 1971 on Spider, which had been created the year for a Sciascia-credited library music record, Impressions In Rhythm & Sound. Distortions, though credited to Blue Phantom, sounds to me like a work by the same anonymous musicians who worked on Impressions In Rhythm & Sound. Distortions was released in France with new art on Sonimage as Distortions Pop. It was released in the UK on Kaleidoscope in 1972, again with (strange) new artwork (by an artist listed as Alan Lester) and bizarre new age word salad liner notes seemingly written by someone with limited grasp of English:

"Distortions on a theme of music and life. To outline our sleeve the artist has traced his ideas on the evolution of life through the all seeing eye. From life before birth? Through conception evolution construction resurrection and destruction: in all a total experience. The music as the titles indicate is an evolution of the avente [sic] garde. Here is a fine example of modern composition sent into orbit by Blue Phantom. The music is indicative of various states of the human mind and could well be described as an audio experience."

The "audio experience" is of the heavy psych/proto-prog variety. There are echoes of bandsHawkwindPink FloydThe Stooges, and most explicitly, Black Sabbath. Distortions found its wat into the hands of French porn director Gérard Kikoïne, who added several of the album's songs to Spanish porn director Jesús Franco's film, Le journal intime d'une nymphomane (the direction of which was credited to "Clifford Brown").

After a collaboration with Francesco Anselmo titled Notturno, Sciascia went on to record several albums of classical music done in a pop style including (as the Armando Sciascia Orchestra), La musica più bella del mondo (Music I love), NostalgiaLargo e Appassionato (both 1972), and the film scores cover album, Hot film themes (1974). In the 1980s Sciascia retired from music and in 1988 moved to Connecticut, where he continues to live to this day.

In 2008 Blue Phantom's sole release was rereleased on vinyl by Italian prog reissue label, AMS, with an extra track included as a bonus. In 2012 it was released on compact disc by Kismet (also with the extra track). If you like your acid rock brown, look for a copy!
Eric Brightwell is a writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities; however, job offers must pay more than slave wages as he would rather write for pleasure than for peanuts. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store,Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles Magazine, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Monday, January 19, 2015

One album wonders: The United States of America's The United States of America


The United States of America

During the Album Era (mid 1960s-mid 2000s), the LP was the dominant form of recorded music expression and consumption. Some bands recorded just one album during their time and, whether popular or not, they are the so-called one album wonders


The focus of this edition of one album wonders is United States of America, a band formed and led byJoe ByrdJoseph Byrd for a couple of years in the late 1960s. Their sole album, United States of America, only reached 181 on the Billboard charts after its released but has in the years since achieved well-deserved cult status. 

Byrd was a composer born in Louisville, Kentucky and raised in Tucson, Arizona. In Arizona he’d played in various popcountry, and jazz ensembles before moving to California to attend Stanford University. At Stanford he metavant-garde composer La Monte Young. After relocating to New York, La Monte Young and Yoko Ono curated a series of performances, the Chambers Street loft concerts, which featured pieces by Henry FlyntJackson Mac Low, and Byrd -- part of the embryonic art scene which would eventually emerge as the Fluxus movement.

In 1963, Byrd began a relationship with Dorothy Moskowitz and the two relocated to Los Angeles where at UCLA Byrd co-founded the New Music Workshop with Don EllisCraig Woodson, and others. Four years later, in 1967, Byrd recruited Moskowitz (the two had by then separated) to sing in a band he'd formed with Woodson (on percussion), called United States of America. Other early members included Michael Agnello and Stu Brotman (bassist in Canned Heat and Kaleidoscope). The band were later joined by Gordon Marron (electric violin and ring modulator), and Rand Forbes (bass).

The United States of America

In December, 1967 the United States of America recorded what was to be their sole album, an eponymous concept album. Some reviews have suggested that there was nothing else like the United States of America at the time, which overstates their experimentalism and gives the impression that the band were something other than what they really where, which was a top psychedeliband with heavy use of electronics. The results aren't entirely dissimilar to those of bands like Fifty Foot HoseThe Fugs,Jefferson AirplaneThe Red Crayola, and Silver Apples.

Lead track "The American Metaphysical Circus," for example, emerges from a cacophonous collage of circus music into something from the same corner of the universe as The Monkees"Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)." "Hard Coming Love," released as the album's single, is acid rock, albeit acid rock which prominently features violin and electronics. At other times the album sounds like a more left field Left Banke or The Beatles' "A Day in the Life." In other words, one foot is solidly on pop ground -- which is by no means a slight, but rather a counter to the narrative offered by some less charitable reviewers that the band's music is "just noise," which is far from true.

The recording of the album included contributions from Ed Bogas on keyboards, who signed on as a full-time member when the band toured the East Coast. In 1968, another single single “The Garden of Earthly Delights” b/w “Love Song For The Dead Ché” was only released in Europe. The band's tour was apparently plagued with difficulties. The early synthesizers could be described as temperamental and three members were arrested in Orange County for possession of marijuana before a performance, which left Byrd and Moskowitz alone to perform on the concert. After the tour the band members went their separate ways.

The United States of America

Byrd formed Joe Byrd & the Field Hippies (who were incidentally another one-album wonder), and went on to release two solo albums in the mid-1970s, A Christmas Yet to Come and Yankee Transcendoodle. He also scored several films (Agnès Varda's Lions LoveBruce Clark's 1971 The Ski Bum, and and Robert Altman's H.E.A.L.T.H) and taught music courses at several colleges. Moskowitz (later Moskowitz-Falarski) performed with Country Joe McDonald's All-Star Band and later taught music in the San Francisco Bay area. Marron worked as a Los Angeles studio musician and later moved Hawaii. Woodson too has taught music and performed with the Kronos Quartet. Forbes pursued work in computers. Rogas composed music for several animated works, most infamously (with Ray Shanklin), Fritz the Cat. Since 1992, The United States of America has been issued and re-issued on compact disc several times and in 2008, on hi-def vinyl by Sundazed.

Eric Brightwell is a writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities; however, job offers must pay more than slave wages as he would rather write for pleasure than for peanuts. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store,Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles Magazine, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 CE -- Fictions Set in 2015

When it comes to predicting the future, science-fiction has an pretty uneven track record. For every iPad or flip phone there's a dozen flying cars, anthropomorphic robot maids, or a BrainJail (where people are imprisoned for rubbish laws like downloading their feelings onto computer discs). It's now 2015 and we've made contact with no extraterrestrials, established zero extrasolar colonies, and built not one moon base. In the US we're still working on building a respectable rail network!

Of course most of the best science-fiction isn't about guessing what they future is going to be like but sometimes, as with Brave New World, it comes frighteningly close. However, not even Aldous Huxley could have predicted listicles or Doritos Loaded and similarly, George Orwell could never dream up portmanteaus as odious as "amazeballs" or "honeydick"  for his lexicon of nightmarish doublespeak.


On the other hand, some predictions have come true. Just as Back the the Future II predicted, we do live in a world of never-ending film franchises, hoverboards, and Nike is working on a self-tying shoe for the benefit of those for whom velcro is too much work and slip-ons are just too sensical. If other works set in 2015 are as accurate, what else can we expect from the year 2015?



Firebird 2015 AD
(1981), Back to the Future Part II (1989), Memory Run (1995), Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版: 序) (2007), The 6th Day (2000), Shank (2010), Underworld: Awakening (2012), and Gatchaman (ガッチャマン) (2013).


Defenders of the Earth (1986), Future GPX Cyber Formula (新世紀GPXフューチャーグランプリサイバーフォーミュラ) (1991), and FlashForward (2009–2010).


The Peace Keepers (ラッシング・ビート修羅) (1993), Alien Soldier (エイリアンソルジャー) (1995), Drome Racers (2002), Soldiers of Anarchy (2002), Jetfighter 2015 (2005), Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (エースコンバット6 解放への戦火) (2007), Ninja Blade (2009), Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (2011), and XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012).



Isaac Asimov
's "Runaround" (1942), Robert A. Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil (1970), Osamu Tezuka's  Jetter Mars (ジェッターマルス) (1977), John B. Olsen and Randall S. Ingermanson'The Fifth Man (2002), A. R. Gurney's Post Mortem (2006), and Saci Lloyd's The Carbon Diaries: 2015 (2009).


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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Cancelled after one episode -- a look back at very short-lived television shows

CRT GraveyardCRT Graveyard

While there have been at least six or seven quality television programs, the telecommunication device has for seventy years or so more often been derided for the lack of quality programming. Whereas US forces regularly play awful music to tortured captives, no one with even the tiniest remaining shred of humanity would force even the worst villain to watch Access Hollywood or Extra so how bad, then, must a show be to be cancelled after a single episode? 

Watching Television in the 1950s

Of course, television is valued by network executives less for its artistic quality than its ability to sell advertising space, which is why we have Big BrotherWhat then would result in the plug being pulled after just once episode? Let's have a look.


FUN AND FORTUNE (6 June, 1949) 

Fun and Fortune was a game show hosted for its only episode by Jack Lescoulie. The object of the show was for contestants to identify a mystery item concealed by a curtain after being given four clues. It certainly sounds no better or worse than most game shows that came before. Perhaps ABC execs, then in their second year of television broadcasting, were merely hoping that something better would come along in its wake. 

WHO'S WHOSE (25 June, 1951) 

CBS had been around since 1927 and were, as such, veterans of mindless entertainment by the time of Who's Whose, in which celebrity panelists attempted to correctly pair the three married male contestants with their three female counterparts. It was aired as a replacement for The Goldbergs, which CBS had cancelled after the series' creator, Gertrude Berg, refused to fire actor Philip Loeb after he was blacklisted. The Goldbergs, which had debuted on NBC in 1929, returned to their old home whereas Who's Whose was never to return. 

YOU'RE IN THE PICTURE (20 January, 1961)

You're in the Picture was game show hosted by Jackie Gleason who, after a disastrous first episode, returned a week later in the same time slot to apologize. He then proceeded to revive The Jackie Gleason Show in its place.

TURN-ON (5 February, 1969)

Turn-On was ABC's attempt at cashing in on the popularity of NBC's program, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
Apparently it Turn-On was too much, and at least one network switched programming after the first commercial break and whereas others in later time zones didn't air it at all. ABC dropped it after the first episode. 

THE MELTING POT (June 11, 1975) 

The Goon Show's Spike Milligan wrote and starred as Mr. Van Gogh, a Pakistani immigrant living illegally in London. Spike Milligan had earlier been involved in a series with a similar premise, Curry & Chips, which had aired in 1996. However, after the first episode of The Melting Pot aired on BBC1, the remaining five were unaired. 

CO-ED FEVER (4 February, 1979) 

Co-Ed Fever was CBS's attempt to ride on the coattails of National Lampoon's Animal House, which had played in cinemas the previous year. They weren't alone, ABC had Delta House and NBC Brothers and Sisters, neither of which are fondly remembered but both of which lasted more than an episode. Five episodes of Co-Ed Fever were filmed but only the debut aired in the US. Audiences in Vancouver weren't as lucky, and they were all broadcast on BCTV.

HEIL HONEY I'M HOME!  (30 September, 1990) 

In 1990, Galaxy aired a Heil Honey I'm Home!, a spoof of classic American sitcoms depicting Adolf Hitlerand Evan Braun living next door to a Jewish couple. Although it sounds a bit like something Trey Parkerand Matt Stone would've made (or Mel Brooks), it didn't do well with viewers.

SOUTH OF SUNSET (27 October, 1993)

Glenn Frey of soft rock band The Eagles starred as an insufferable private dick in this series, which only lasted one episodes (although the remaining five that had been filmed later aired on VH1).

PUBLIC MORALS (30 October, 1996)
Public Morals

Producer Steven Bochco worked on hits like Hill Street BluesL.A. LawDoogie Howser, M.D., andNYPD Blue. He also is remembered for Cop Rock. Less-remembered and shorter lived than even that flop cop musical was Public Morals. Thirteen episodes were filmed, one aired (in markets where affiliates didn't refuse to broadcast it).

LAWLESS (22 March, 1997)

FOX got into the cancelled-after-one-episode game with Lawless, in which American football player Brian Bosworth played a private investigator. Bosworth had, six years earlier, memorably played a cop who played by his own rules in Stone Cold.

KENNY AND THE CHIMP (4 September, 1998)

Kenny and the Chimp
 (also known as Chimp -N- Pox) was an animated Hanna-Barbera series created by Tom Warburton. Production was cancelled after the the airing of the first episode, "Diseasy Does It."

DOT COMEDY (8 December, 2000)

ABC entered the information age -- or at least attempted to -- with Dot Comedy, a horribly-named series of funny stuff culled from the internet and hosted by the Sklar Brothers. It proved so unfunny that it was cancelled after a single episode and yet eight years later basically spawned the career of Daniel Tosh.

Animal Planet attempted to unleash an animal-themed stand-up comedy show, Comedians Unleashed, hosted by Richard Jeni in 2002. The first episode starred comedian Rick D'Elia and his wooly soul patch. The series was euthanized almost immediately after it was born.

WHO'S YOUR DADDY? (3 January, 2005)
Who's Your Daddy?

Fox debuted Who's Your Daddy?, a reality show in which an adopted woman tries to find her father. After adoption rights groups protested it was actually cancelled before the first episode aired, which was then broadcast as a special rather than a series premiere.

THE WILL (8 January, 2005)
Less than a week after the cancellation of Fox's Who's Your Daddy?, CBS's even tackier series, The Will, followed the hijinks involved involved in participants attempting to be named the beneficiary of a will. Although dead on arrival and cancelled immediately, it did air in its entirety in New Zealand (and later on Fox Reality Channel).

EMILY'S REASONS WHY NOT (9 January, 2006)

ABC's Emily's Reasons Why Not, starring Heather Graham as a young woman unlucky in love, was cancelled the day after it aired. The claim was later made that ABC had committed to the show (hoping that it would be Sex & the City-style hit) without the benefit of a pilot being screened to executives.


Korgoth of Barbaria 
was an Adult Swim series parodying post-apocalyptic sword and sandals shows like Thundarr the BarbarianBlackstarHe-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and Galtar and the Golden Lance. After the pilot episode aired, it was announced that the series had been picked up to debut on 18 June. However, no further episodes followed, evidence suggests partly because of production costs. 

THE RICH LIST (1 November, 2006)

The British producers of Dog Eat Dog and The Weakest Link adapted an ITV series, The Rich List, for the US. The promo advertised it as the "most anticipated game show of the year." Does anyone anticipate game shows? Maybe not. Two days after The Rich List's debut and following low ratings it was cancelled. A version of the series was later revived and adapted as The Money List, but unaired episodes of The Rich List remain unaired.

THE DEBBIE KING SHOW (5 March, 2007)
After hosting QuizmaniaDebbie King hosted The Debbie King Show on ITV Play. The debut aired for two-and-a-half hours before it was axed.

QUARTERLIFE (26 February, 2008)

NBC's Quarterlife was an adaptation of a web series about "a group of twenty-something artists who are coming of age in the digital generation" that debuted on MySpace. It was cancelled after its first episode and the remaining five episodes were a month later aired back-to-back on Bravo.


Secret Talents of the Stars, as its name suggests, was a CBS reality talent show in which stars like Danny BonaduceMarla MaplesJoshua Morrow, and others attempted to demonstrate their hidden talents. The show, live and previously recorded, required an hour to showcase its secret talents but after one episode, the show was cancelled and to this day most of the participants' talents remain secret.


Midlands Mumblecore
 reality series The Osbournes aired for three seasons. Four years after the end ofThe Osbournes, Fox unloaded Osbournes Reloaded. It was a departure from the "reality" format that had made Ozzy's family members inescapable "television personalities" but no one was having it and after it's loud, obnoxious, and strangely captivating debut, the remaining five episodes were shelved.

FORD NATION (18 November, 2013)

After Toronto mayor Rob Ford became one of the world's most famous mayors, he and his brother Dougagreed that the next step was to star in a weekly television series. Sadly, the world was deprived of more Ford magic, reportedly because of production costs.

BREAKING BOSTON (March 13, 2014)
Breaking Boston

-loving hip house hitmaker Marky Mark produced Breaking Boston, a reality show concerning four women attempting to "break" Boston. The A&E series didn't break a second episode, however, but the rest were aired on Hulu's website.


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Saturday, January 3, 2015

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Franklin Hills

Franklin Hills DOT sign
Franklin Hills DOT sign
Usually I determine what communities to explore for California Fool’s Gold based upon results of a poll (vote for Los Angeles Neighborhoods hereLos Angeles County communities here, and Orange County communities here). However, I explored the small neighborhood of Franklin Hills in August of 2014 not based upon the vox populi but in preparation for an art show of my maps which I called, Taste of the Mideast Side. At the time I filed away the memories of my ramble through Franklin Hills deep in the recesses of my positronic neural network and forgot about them until the wee hours of New Year’s Day, when they were reawakened by a discussion with someone who'd recently moved to Franklin Hills from Detroit. Now, four months later, I’m trying to give Franklin Hills the proper California Fool's Gold treatment.
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Franklin Hills
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Franklin Hills
What and where is/are Franklin Hills? Unless you regularly spend time in Los Angeles’s Mideast Side, you’ve probably never heard of the neighborhood. If you live in Los Feliz or Silver Lake, you’ve hopefully noticed the blue, LADOT neighborhood signs but likely never heard it discussed in conversation or seen it on any map. If you are familiar with Franklin Hills then it’s probably because you either live there or have visited it to climb its public stairways.
The Hills of Franklin
The Hills of Franklin
Franklin Hills’ titular hills are part of the Elysian Hills (formerly also referred to as the Felis Hills), a small chain of sandy siltstone landforms with minor imbedded conglomerate that stretch from the eastern terminus of the Santa Monica Mountains (Hollywood Hills) in Griffith Park down to their terminus, Downtown’s Bunker Hill. For many thousands of years the mountains were home to black walnutsbobcatsCalifornia KingsnakesCoastal WhiptailsGarter snakesGopher snakesgrizzly bearsMountain Kingsnakesmountain lionsoakssteelheadsycamoresWestern fence lizards and other forms of life -- but no humans.
The ancestors of the Chumash, which evidence suggests have lived in the Los Angeles Basin area for at least the last 13,000 years, were likely the first humans to arrive in the hills. Some 3,500 years ago the Tongva/Kizh people arrived in the area from the Sonoran Desert whilst the sea-faring Chumash increasingly came to situate themselves primarily along the mainland's coast and offshore on the Channel Islands. The Tongva remained the dominant power in the Los Angeles Basin for several thousand years -- although they settled the southern Channel Islands too.
In 1542, whilst exploring on behalf of Spain, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo claimed all of California for the Empire after having set foot in San Diego BaySanta Catalina IslandSan Pedro BaySanta Monica Bay, and a few other coastal points. Nevertheless, more than two centuries passed before Spain moved to protect their till-then mostly nominal possessions from the possible encroachment from the English and Russians.
Setting the stage for conquest part to secure California, in 1769 Spain sent explorer Gaspar de Portolà de Rovira on an overland exhibition of what’s now California. In 1777 a plan was put into place to establish civic pueblos to support the newly established military presidios. In 1781, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles de Porciuncula (Los Angeles) was founded near the banks of the Los Angeles River. Los Angeles was granted four square leagues of territory, the northern border of which corresponded closely to what’s now Fountain Avenue and the western ran along what’s now Hoover Street. In other words, the Northwest corner of the pueblo was located near East Hollywood’s Akbar and thus not far from Franklin Hills.

Historic marker of North west Los Angeles (Image credit: LA Eastside)
Historic marker of North west Los Angeles (Image credit: LA Eastside)

A plaque attached to a rock marking the northwest corner of the pueblo's original lands sits in front of the old Monogram Studios (now part of the Church of Scientology). 
Rancho Los Feliz
Hand-drawn diseño for Rancho Los Feliz
In 1795, just north of Los Angeles, the 26.9 km2 Rancho Los Feliz (aka Rancho Los Felis) was granted to Jose Vicente Feliz, a Sonora-born soldier who’d served during the Anza Expedition of 1776 and who in 1787 had been appointed comisionado of the pueblo of Los Angeles. On 27 September, 1821, after eleven years of fighting, Mexico achieved independence from the Spain. In 1835, Los Angeles was made capital of Mexican California. Following the Siege of Los Angeles by US forces in 1846, Los Angeles changed hands once again the following year.
In 1850, two years after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, Los Angeles became part of the newly-formed County of Los Angeles. The lands of Rancho Los Feliz remained in the hands of the Feliz family until 1863, when Antonio Francisco Coronel (a lawyer from Mexico City and Mayor of Los Angeles from 1853-1854) acquired the land and sold it to a piano-builder/carpenter/land baron/San Franciscan named James Lick. At the time of his death in 1876, Lick was the wealthiest person in California and the majority of his fortune was donated to scientific and social causes. In 1882, the majority of Rancho Los Feliz was sold to Colonel Griffith Jenkins Griffith but the Lick family continued to retain the southwestern portion of the estate until it was subdivided.
Detail of by J.R. Prince's "Territory Annexed to the City of Los Angeles, California, 1781-1916 L.A."
Detail of by J.R. Prince's "Territory Annexed to the City of Los Angeles, California, 1781-1916 L.A."
Los Angeles’s population doubled in the 1870s and nearly quintupled in the 1880s. The first major real estate boom was in 1887 and that year, lots of the “West Portion of the Lick Tract Los Feliz Rancho” were put on sale. More tracts followed, like Nita Heights — but tract names were designed to sell homes, not to foster neighborhood identity, and their names and designations quickly faded from memory. Before then the area had been thought of as Northwest Los Angeles but as the city moved west beginning in 1896, the center of gravity moved and the area (along with Hollywood and Midtown) came to be thought of us Central Los Angeles rather than Northwest. In 1916, Los Angeles's annexations finally reached the coast of Santa Monica Bay and that same year, the city's oldest residents' association, the Los Feliz Improvement Association (LFIA), was organized.
VITAGRAPH STUDIO (now Prospect Studios)
Los Feliz in the 1920s
Los Feliz in the 1920s
Los Angeles’s real estate boom of 1887 went bust in 1888 and but from photos it seems that Franklin Hills remained mostly undeveloped until the 1920s and '30s (although there is still at least one home in the neighborhood from the 1900s).
Prospect Studios
Prospect Studios
In 1915, Brooklyn-based film company American Vitagraph constructed a large west coast film studio on Prospect Avenue. In that year alone Vitagraph produced at least 337 films, including classics like In the Latin QuarterBilly's WagerThe Smoking Out of Bella ButtsA Mix-Up in Dress SuitcasesO'Garry of the Royal MountedThe Jarr Family Discovers HarlemThe Jarrs Visit ArcadiaMr. Jarr Brings Home a TurkeyWhen Dumbleigh Saw the JokeThe Timid Mr. TootlesDimples, the Auto Salesman, and The Making Over of Geoffrey Manning.
In 1925, Vitagraph was bought by Warner Bros and in 1927 the Los Feliz facility became the Warner East Hollywood Annex. It was there and that year that Warner Bros filmed portions of the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences (using the “the Vitaphone process”), The Jazz Singer. In 1948, the property was sold to ABC and the lot became known as the ABC Television Center and it was there that quality programming like The Dating Game, The Newlywed GameLet’s Make a DealFamily Feud, and That’s Incredible! was taped (and most of which my mother explicitly warned me would, if viewed, turn my brain into oatmeal).
Shakespeare Bridge (1956)Another view of the Shakespeare Bridge
In 1926, construction was completed of the Franklin Avenue Bridge over Sacatela Creek (which had been transformed into an underground storm drain in 1916). The building of the bridge was promoted as an improvement necessary to aid pedestrian access to the then-also-proposed construction of East Hollywood High School (which as far as I know was never built). Construction of the expensive bridge was vigorously opposed by the LFIA, who suggested the bridge’s real purpose was to bring financial benefit to local property owners up in the hills and not material benefit for future high schoolers or the public at large. Nevertheless, construction of J.C. Wright’s open-spandrel arch bridge began in 1925 and the Gothic Revival style bridge, though understated, was a striking addition.
Shakespeare Bridge
Shakespeare Bridge
The Franklin Avenue Bridge was referred to both as the Los Feliz Bridge and by the name which it's mostly-known today, the Shakespeare Bridge, at least as early as 1930 when the Los Angeles Times reported that Maxine Ungeheur (then twenty) and her sister Thelma Ungeheur (then nineteen) were dragged from their car driving over it on Christmas Eve and “ravaged” at gunpoint. In 1998, after concerns were raised over the bridge’s stability following damage sustained in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, the Shakespeare Bridge was retrofitted and largely rebuilt. For an alternate history of the bridge, watch this episode of Bridges on Bridges:
Public stairs
In the 1920s, many of the hillier parts of Los Angeles witnessed the construction of public stairways and stair streets. While the claim is often made that the public stairs were built primarily to ease Angelenos’ access to the formerly considerable network of street cars, no trains ever passed through Franklin Hills. Yet there, perhaps more than in any other neighborhood, is the largest concentration of public stairways in the city. Informal names (as far as I know) include Cumberland Avenue StairwayUdell Major StairwayClayton Avenue Stairway, and Scotland Stairway. Stairs with their own street signs (and thus I reckon official status) include Radio Walk and Prospect Walk -- the “shotgun” style of the latter’s sign means that it was installed sometime between 1946 and 1962.
Radio Walk
Radio Walk
Although the stairs were surely used by bus rather than train riders (making their way to any of several stops of the Los Angeles Motor Coach Company's 87 line) the truth might be too shocking for the car-dependent — that is that even in the decade when car ownership rates in Los Angeles surpassed those of all other cities, plenty of people opted to walk up and down stairs not for exercise but because it was the option that made the most sense.
Public staircase I at first passed without noticing
Nowadays the neighborhood is served by Metro’s 175 line but it seems to me that around the 2000s all but the mobility scooter set seem to have discovered the joy of walking. Of course there have always been people who've walked but it was in the first decade of the new millennium that time people like Neil HopperRobert InmanDan Koeppel, and Charles Fleming began documenting  and gaining attention for their curious habit of walking for pleasure -- often up and down stairs.
More public stairs
Following their lead, a legion of public stairway enthusiasts/bloggers/exercisers have systematically and almost compulsively sought to follow in the footsteps of their heroes, counting with a trainspotters attention to the mundane, the number of stairs along the way. I myself have long been a fan of alleys, pedestrian walkways, and cuts -- but despite my considerable time walking on stairways I still rarely encounter others. In Franklin Hills I followed a man up a stair street who, from the sound on the other side of the gate, was heading to a mid-day party. I also passed by a group of boys vaping weed.
built in 1926Inspected by C.L. Doty
They Shall Not Pass!
They Shall Not Pass!
Thomas Starr King Middle School
Thomas Starr King Middle School
Thomas Starr King Junior High School was founded in 1926 with an address on Myra Avenue (a street built to cover Sacatela Creek which now flows about ten meters below it). At some point its address was changed to Hyperion Avenue. On the campus is sculptor Djey "El Djey" Owens’s piece, The Vanquished Race, commissioned by the WPA’s Fine Arts Program and installed at the school in 1936. In 1995, Thomas Starr King Junior High it was reconfigured to become a middle school. 
Various styles of architecture sitting side-by-side
Various styles of architecture sitting side-by-side
Although there are homes in Franklin Hills dating back at least to the 1900s, many more were built in the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘60s, and ‘80s and thus reflect a variety of architectural styles — often located side by side. In the 1920s, two twin homes near the corner of Lyric Avenue and St. George Street were owned by brothers Roy and Walt Disney.
Disney Bros. Cartoon Studio was founded nearby in Los Feliz at 4651 Kingswell Avenue. In 1926, when the Disney Brothers were both still living in their Lyric Avenue homes, they opened Walt Disney Hyperion Studios, also chosen for being within walking distance. Walt remained in his Franklin Hills home next to Roy’s until 1933, when he and his expanding family moved up the hill (still in Los Feliz) to his “castle” on Woking Way.
Roy and Walt Disney's Lyrica Avenue homes
Roy and Walt Disney's Lyrica Avenue homes
I’m a fan of almost all styles of architecture (with the exceptions of a good deal of Post-ModernismDeconstructivismSea Ranch, and Frank Gehry’s) but I particularly enjoy Streamline Moderne, a style which emerged in the 1930s and the strange, aerodynamic nautical elegance of which is reflected in the several Franklin Hills residences.
Another Streamline Moderne
Streamline Moderne -- nice and aerodynamic (just in case)
A Streamline Moderne
A seaworthy home next to the Shakespeare Bridge
Lautner's Midtown School
Lautner's Midtown School
In 1960, celebrated architect John Lautner was commissioned by wealthy industrialist Kenneth Reiner to build the Midtown School. The Midtown School was completed in 1961 and is the only campus designed by Lautner. Two years later construction was completed of Lautner’s Reiner-Burchill Residence (Silvertop) in Silver Lake. The school later became the Los Feliz Hills School, which may've had something to do with the secession of Franklin Hills and around 1989 became a campus of Lycée International de Los Angeles.
Histories of ages passed with Franklin Hills existing as part of Los Feliz until 1988, when some homeowners organized the Franklin Hills Residents Association, perhaps motivated by their opposition to the construction of some townhouses on land sold by the Los Feliz Hills School
As early as 1991 the FHRA were publishing their own newsletter, The Overview, taglined “A View from the Bridge,” which covered news and views not just of Franklin Hills but Los Feliz and Silver Lake as well. I’m not sure if it’s still in publication — the last issue that I found online was from 2004. In 2002, the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council (GGPNC) was certified to represent Griffith Park, Los Feliz, and Franklin Hills. In 2008 the Los Feliz Improvement Association covered their territory to include Franklin Hills. However, as far as I know, a distinct Franklin Hills identity remains fairly intact... or does it? 
There aren't many restaurants in Franklin Hills and those that are generally claim to be in either Los Feliz or, more often, Silver Lake. One such restaurant is Tomato Pie Pizza Joint. The first location opened in the Melrose District and in 2008 they opened their "Silver Lake" location in Los Feliz/Franklin Hills. It's perhaps best not to visit their website as the writing is insufferably smug and dismissive of other great Los Angeles pizza places (like Bollini’s Pizzeria NapolitanaPizza Buona, and Village Pizzeria) but Tomato Pie does make great pizza and I highly recommend grabbing a slice.
I wish that I could love Ô Bánh Mì, because there are no great Vietnamese restaurants in the area (although Echo Park’s Kien Giang Bakery, who advertise their location as being "about 30 miles north of Little Saigon" is to my liking). Ô Bánh Mì is located in the former location of Vietnamese Soy Cafe, which is what drew me there only to find it was a different Vietnamese Restaurant... and one only open for three hours of each day! I’ve only eaten there once but as someone who prefers salty thịt chay to lemongrass tofu, expects their sandwich to have pickled carrots and daikon (Ô Bánh Mì's don't), and is used to paying $1.50 for a bánh mì in Rosemead or Little Saigon, I wasn't disappointed but neither was I motivated to return.
Franklin Hills is also home to the King’s Roost, an “urban homesteading” store for folks who want to make their own soap, brew their own beer, raise chickens in their yard and other undertakings that no doubt endear one to one's neighbors. 
In the 1990s, a tiny, windowless building was home to Cuffs, one of many now-closed gay bars in the area (also including Detour, Le Bar, Le Barcito, Flamingo, Jolie’s, MJ’s, New Faces, and The Other Side, and whatever MJ’s used to be) but the only gay bar which I was frankly too scared to ever go into, resembling in my mind something out of William Friedkin’s Cruising. Since its closing, tales recounted to me by friends have reassured me that Cuffs was, in fact, not for me.
Hyperion Tavern
Hyperion Tavern
Now the old Cuffs space is Hyperion Tavern, which I did go to once and didn't leave much of an impression on me. However, if memory serves me correctly (and it might not), they only served beer in bottles (in other words, nothing on tap) which renders it useless -- especially when Lee’s Liquor Mart does the same for much less and without pretense.
On the Los Feliz side of Tracy Street is Baller Hardware, a neighborhood institution since 1959. On the Franklin Hills side of the street is Baller Art Ware, which I suspect is somehow connected. It's my most frequently-shopped art store, where I buy the oil paint that I use to make maps as Pendersleigh & Cartography. In 2013, celebrity artist Shepard Fairey and his team installed a new mural which I reckon from its text is called Make Art, Not War -- which strikes me as good message albeit one that is a bit ironic coming from an artist best known for propagandizing our conservative, hawkish, drone-loving warmonger president.
Down the street is another sort of art store, Baltic Crossroads, established in 1992 by Alfreds StinkulsInguna Galvina, and Vladas Ruksa to support local artists of Baltic and Nordic heritage. I have a hazy memory of visiting them at their old location, which I remember being closer to the old Northwest corner of the city, but I guess it moved to its current location in 2005. 
I've never noticed this gallery:shop before -- despite passing by here hundreds of times.
Nicholas Gagliarducci's storefront
Similarly, and although I’ve passed it hundreds of times, I never noticed the shop (and gallery?) of Los Angeles-born artist Nicholas Gagliarducci, an artist who was a prominent figure in the 1990s Melrose scene. Since finding fame his have included Camel CigarettesColumbia Pictures, and Princess Cruises
Two wheel trucks
Two wheel trucks
So there you have it, get out of your car and dare to go where not even Google Maps will take you. As always, corrections and additions are welcome and see you on the streets.
Eric Brightwell is a writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities; however, job offers must pay more than slave wages as he would rather write for pleasure than for peanuts. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumLos Angeles County Store, and 1650 Gallery. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles Magazine, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.