My LA to Z: Charles Phoenix

Looking for some “time-honored Southern California-aged places with patina”? Or are you in the market for Col. Sanders bow ties and awesome English toffee? “Histotainer” Charles Phoenix offers his picks


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Charles Phoenix hosts slideshows, school bus tours, and variety show extravaganzas honoring the quirky side of mid-century Americana.


The Bonaventure cocktail lounge

From dusk to darkness on a crystal clear evening, it takes one revolution in the bar high atop the ’70s science fiction-style hotel. I get intoxicated with a Roy Rogers with an extra maraschino cherry garnish on top.

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Farmers Market

I’d go on an eating binge which would begin with a piece of English toffee from the greatest candy store in the city, Littlejohn’s and a scoop of Fancy Nancy ice cream at Bennetts followed by a dinosaur-shaped donut at Bob’s. Then let’s see, I’d follow up with a pastrami sandwich at Magee’s and then—oh!—fill a basket with fruits and vegetables to take home and then go on a shopping spree at the Bernie Shine Gallery—what don’t I like there? I love just about everything. It’s a little overwhelming and filled with, well they say “curios, vintage memorabilia, old store stock and warehouse finds.”

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The world’s greatest vintage clothing store. I’d try on a sparkly Col. Sanders bow tie to add to my collection. It’s an absolute wonderland of vintage clothing, textiles, shoes, and unusual artifacts from the past. It’s mostly women’s but they definitely have a men’s department. I bought my turquoise Nudie suit embroidered with red roses and studded with multicolored crystal stones there. Have a chat with Esther of Golyester while perusing this museum—it’s more than a store.



The Bob Baker Marionette Theater

The puppet show that I love the most is the Day-Glo Day of the Dead number with the skeletons that fly apart and magically come right back together. The shows all seem to run together, don’t they? I marvel at a man who found his life’s work at the age of eight—which was 75 years ago—and that he’s still doing it. It’s such an interesting contrast of cultures: the neighborhood, the puppeteers, the vintage marionettes from all decades and the ice cream in the party room beside the Beverly Boulevard bridge. It’s a palace of puppetry, a castle of creativity.

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The DWP building

My favorite, favorite thing to do is to walk around the DWP building and have a total Tomorrowland moment in downtown Los Angeles, and then walk across the Music Center and down the stairs to the sunken garden past the most incredible fountain in the city and a flying saucer landing pad. The DWP has to be the most spectacular mid-century modern building west of the Mississippi, second only to the Space Needle in Seattle. The fountains are flames lit with orange with a little cobalt blue underlight.



The Piñata Palace…

It’s a series of open-front warehouses that are side by side at the corner of Los Angeles and 7th Street. It has to be the greatest selection of piñatas anywhere. They’re made out of cardboard and newspaper and Papier-mâché. My dream is to special order a giant piñata, which they claim they’ll make. Maybe a pink poodle—is that too weird?



Old Chinatown at dusk

Stand in the courtyard when the newly restored neon flickers on, just after seeing that lost-in-time 1940s lawyers office upstairs. Oh, my God, you’ll pass out.  Everyone weeps. Richard and Marshall are the guys who did it and they own Realm where I love going on a gift-shopping spree. It’s L.A.’s most spectacular gift store and it’s in the old Chinese restaurant Hong Kong Low. They have these really tasteful gifts beautifully displayed. It’s spectacular with all these objet d’art, books, things for the home—somewhat with an Asian flair, but also with a mid-century, contemporary flair.



Naples in Long Beach, the Venice alternative

It’s kind of a sampler platter of architectural styles from the ’20s through now and unlike Venice they actually park their boats in the canal in front of their homes. Occasionally you’ll see a gondola drive by with a romantic couple embracing and a gondolier singing to them in Italian, opera-style.



The Watts Towers

Standing beneath the Watts Towers is the most spectacular energy field in this entire city. There is something about the energy, the spirit of them that completely embodies the spirit of Los Angeles. They are theatrical, they are creative, and they are unphotographable. You must stand beneath them to experience them. The variety of details—the bits and pieces that are encrusted in each of the 17 different formations including the three soaring towers—is just not something you can get in a photo.



A little day trip to my hometown of Ontario

It always includes a visit to the Graber Olive House, which is like a living museum. They have been curing and canning olives since 1894. Always a trip by Logan’s Candies—home of the world’s largest handmade candy cane—to pick up some spellbinding spun sugar ribbon candy. It’s like spun satin, it’s unbelievably beautiful. I top it off with dinner at Vince’s, the world’s largest spaghetti house, where I enjoy a savory platter of spaghetti and salad with Italian dressing, a bowl of their delicious vegetable soup, and some garlic cheese bread. The whole dinner for $8.55, all in the glow of their spectacular vintage neon sign out front.

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The Huntington

I love dashing through the Disneyland of gardens, the Huntington. Going into the rose garden and finding my favorite rose there, tiki, from 1964 and seeing if it is in bloom. I marvel at the new Chinese garden, and it’s breathtaking scampering through the newly restored home, wishing I knew more about all the art in there. They have this tea room, but I always go to Pie ‘n Burger afterwards, where I have the biggest, juiciest, most delicious cheeseburger in all of Southern California followed by a piece of olallieberry pie, if it’s June. The guy who’s making the pies there has been doing it since ’71.

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The Moonlight Rollerway 

I get my exercise there every Tuesday night when Domenic plays the live organ. Southern California’s last classic roller rink was built in 1955 and when you walk in the door it’s one of those places I love the most—you walk two steps in and ask “What decade am I in? Is it the ’50s or the ’80s?” I love it all.

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All images courtesy of Flickr users (in order): (1)The Westin Bonaventure Hotel, (2) Flickr/bossco, (3) Flickr/The Sierra Club, (4) Flickr/by Xurble (5) Flickr/Omar Omar, (6) Flickr/peasap, (7) Flickr/Omar Omar, (8) Flickr/Mozo Man, (9) Flickr/danagraves, (11) Flickr/tomsaint11, (12) Flickr/Uh … Bob,