Sunday, October 25, 2015

Santa Monica Pier

The current Santa Monica Pier consists of two adjoining piers.  The first pier is a 1600-foot-long Municipal Pier that was opened in 1909 to carry sewer pipes beyond the breakers.  In order to combat the weather and sea conditions, the pier was the first one on the west coast to be constructed of concrete.  In 1916, Charles I. D. Looff and his son, Arthur, constructed a short wide adjoining pier to the Municipal Pier.  Looff was a Danish-born American master carver and builder of carousels.  During his life he built 40 carousels, rollercoasters, Ferris wheels and several amusements parks.  The Pleasure Pier, built in Santa Monica by Looff and his son, included the Looff Hippodrome building which, by 1922, would house the beautifully carved 40-horse carousel, a wooden rollercoaster, the Whip, merry-go-round, a Wurlitzer Organ and a Funhouse.  The Looff carousel was so popular he added another row of horses.

In 1919, the concrete piles unexpectedly collapsed.  This resulted in a two-year process of replacing the concrete piles with creole-treated wooden piles.  Eventually, the concrete deck was also replaced by treated wooden deck boards.

After years of thriving, the popularity of the pier waned during the depression years.  Following the death of his father, in 1924, Arthur Looff sold the Pleasure Pier to the Santa Monica Amusement Company.  They decided to build the biggest ballroom in the world.  They hired T.H. Eslick to design the building with a Spanish facade and a French Renaissance interior.  The La Monica Ballroom opened on July 23rd, 1924.  More than 50,000 people attended the opening.  Equipped with a 15,000-square-foot hard maple floor, the Ballroom served many purposes in its time, including a venue for a radio show, a car exhibition and even a rollerskating rink.  Sadly, the La Monica Ballroom was demolished in 1963.

During the 1930s, the pier was primarily used as a ferry dock.  In 1938, the pier gate and bridge were constructed.  The amusement park facilities were closed down and some of the attractions were sold.  In 1943, Walter Newcomb, a Venice banker, purchased the pier from the Santa Monica Amusement Company and changed its name to Newcomb Pier.  He revitalised the amusement park and replaced the ageing Looff carousel with a 1922 Philadelphia Toboggan Carousel.  Following Walter's death in 1948, his wife, Enid, took over the management of the pier for the next 26 years. 

In the 1950s, George and Eugene Gordon purchased the pier.  The pier started to fall into disrepair and, in the 1960s, many of the buildings - including the Hippodrome - were used as apartments.  These apartments attracted all manner of bohemians, artist, actors and hippies.  In 1975, the apartments were destroyed by fire.  Becoming more and more of an eyesore, the city acquired the pier and various plans were discussed to remove the pier.  In response to these proposals, the citizens of Santa Monica created a group called "Save Santa Monica Pier".  It was decided that the pier should be preserved. 

In January 1983, a huge storm hit Santa Monica, destroying the lower deck of the pier.  In March, when the repairs had just started, another storm hit.  This second storm dragged a crane that was repairing the pier into the sea.  As it was dragged into the sea, the crane battered at the pier.  A third of the pier was destroyed. 

In 1987, work was started to rejuvenate the pier.  Concrete pilings and a concrete fishing deck were added.  Santa Monica Pier now has restaurants, bars, shops, entertainment arcades and an amusement park. 

The Santa Monica Pier is said to be haunted by a tall shadowy figure.  This figure has been seen walking across the roofs of various of the pier buildings, as well as riding on the carousel.  As far back as the 1960s, people living in the apartments in buildings on the pier reportedly heard the carousel organ playing in the middle of the night, despite no-one having access to the carousel. 

The Santa Monica Pier is a popular fishing spot and, over the years, several fishermen have disappeared from the pier, leaving fishing buckets and rods behind.  Some believe that they were mugged or swept out to sea.  Many people have reported hearing the sound of dull footsteps, spinning reels and rattling fishing buckets at the end of the pier when no-one has been on site.

I have been to Santa Monica Pier many times, and always enjoy my visits to this beautiful place on the sea.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Falkland Palace

Situated at the foot of the Lomond Hills of Fife, Falkland Palace was originally used as a hunting lodge. Prior to the construction of the palace, a hunting lodge existed on the site in the 12th Century. By the 13th Century the lodge had been expanded and became a castle owned by the Earl of Fife. A great wood of oaks existed between the royal stables and the River Eden. Parklands, groves, meadows and orchards surrounded the castle. In 1371 the castle was destroyed by an invading English army.

The Duke of Albany, Robert Stewart, the younger son of Richard II, chose to make the castle his home.  He was appointed the Guardian of Scotland by his father in preference to his elder brother John.  Despite this, John became King Richard III. As he suffered ailing health his younger brother Robert maintained a tight control over the kingdom.

In 1402, the twenty four year old son of Robert III, David Stewart, was imprisoned by his uncle in Falkland Palace. He was probably starved to death. James, the youngest son of Robert III, fled Scotland, only to be captured by English pirates, some believe after receiving a tip off from his uncle.
Robert, Duke of Albany retained power until his death in 1420.  In 1424 James returned from captivity and after executing Murdoch, the 2nd Duke of Albany, Robert Stewart's son, he took over Falkland Palace. 

The palace became a country retreat for the Stewarts.  Falconry was practiced and deer were hunted.   A large pond was used for fishing.  Wild boars were imported from France and let free to roam in the fenced royal gardens. 

Between 1501 and 1541 Kings James IV and James V transformed the old castle into a beautiful palace. The south range of the Palace was built and the buildings were extended in French Renaissance style. James V built a Royal Tennis Court, now the oldest tennis court in the world. James V died from apparent shock caused by the loss by his army at Solway Moss and his wife producing a female heir, Mary, later to be known as Queen of Scots. Queen Mary loved Falkland Palace and it is documented that she caused a commotion when she played tennis on the Royal Tennis Court in men's breeches. 

An accidental fire in 1654, caused by Oliver Cromwell's troops, destroyed much of Falkland Palace. 

In 1887 John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, purchased Falkland Palace. He rebuilt much of the palace, completing work on the Gatehouse, the South Range and the Cross House, before his death in 1900 at the age of 53. Work continued on the palace and the gardens were enhanced.  The addition of a Victorian Greenhouse to the grounds meant that exotic plants and flowers could be grown. In 1903, celebrated garden designer, Percy Cane worked on the gardens.  

In 1952 the Hereditary Keeper Major Michael Crichton-Stuart appointed the National Trust for Scotland as keepers of Falkland Palace. 

The beautiful Tapestry Gallery in Falkland Palace displays the famed verdure tapestries, or garden tapestries, most commonly depicting garden foliage and most likely created in France.  It is in this gallery that the ghost of a woman is said to wander. The woman is described by witnesses as having a grey glow about her.  She is said to stand by the window of the gallery weeping.  It's believed that she is waiting for her lover who went to battle and never returned. 

When I visited Falkland Palace I was struck by its beauty but also the fact that the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots had enjoyed the Palace and the sports its gardens had offered. She was said to have been happy there.  The Palace is a beautiful piece of architecture which is surrounded by gorgeous gardens.  The oldest Royal Tennis Court in the world is also there for visitors to see. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Distillery District - Gooderham and Worts Limited

John Worts was a successful mill owner in Sussex, England.  In 1831, he decided to move to Toronto with his eldest son, John, and his wife, Elizabeth, and establish himself in the same business.  Choosing a place at the mouth of the Don River, he built a windmill on the Toronto waterfront.  The next year his brother-in-law, William Gooderham, decided to join him in his new business venture.  The business prospered, as it processed grain from all over Ontario and then shipped it out via the port at Toronto. 

In 1834, Elizabeth Worts died in childbirth.  A few weeks later, John Worts threw himself into the company well and drowned.  Gooderham kept the business running, involving his nephew John Gooderham Worts.  The business prospered further as the wind-powered mill was converted to steam power.  A distillery and grist mill were added.  With business thriving, architect David Robert Sr was commissioned to construct a five-storey limestone mill.  The distillery opened in 1861.  The original windmill was removed to make way for a cooperage, malting and several other red-brick buildings. 

The distillery became the most successful in the British Empire.

By the mid 1890s, architect David Roberts Jnr had been brought in to design and watch over the construction of the final Victorian buildings in the district. 

After 153 years of continuous production, the Gooderham and Worts Distillery closed in 1990. 
The unique and beautiful constructions of the Distillery District served as the backdrop for many films and TV series through the 1990s.

In 2003, the Distillery District was officially opened to tourists, offering all sorts of dining and shopping experiences.  You can also see the place where the original mill built by John Wort is believed to have stood.  An arc of red bricks was built over the original windmill's limestone base in commemoration of the structure.

There have been many reported incidences of loud banging and footsteps when the buildings in the Distillery District were empty.  Doors have been seen to open and close on their own.  A man in old-fashioned work clothes was reportedly spotted by someone working on a film crew but, when the figure was approached, it vanished.  Some areas of the Distillery District are said to have spots of chilling air, even in the heat of summer.  The sound of heavy furniture being dragged across the floors has been heard in some of the buildings.  In one of the restaurants situated in the old boiler room, a woman reported seeing a man hanging by a rope.  Some have claimed to have seen the figure of a man that they believe is John Wort, still walking around his mill after his sad death. 

The Distillery District is a wonderful place to visit.  The buildings are beautiful, and there are any number of interesting stores to shop in and eateries and pubs to sample the local cuisine.  When you step through the gates there is a feeling that, just for a little while, you have stepped back in time.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cholame, California

I've loved James Dean since I was a child.  I have no idea how I first came to know of him but, once it started, I collected everything I could about him.  The iconic James Dean, immortalised by his tragic death at the age of just twenty-four, made only three feature films.

Although I have visited as many places as I could in my travels where I knew James Dean had been, this post is going to focus on my trip to Cholame, the place where James Dean was killed 60 years ago this year.  Cholame is an unincorporated community in San Luis Obispo County, California.  James Dean's ghost is said to have been seen replaying that fateful event. 

James Byron Dean was born in Marion, Indiana on February 8th, 1931.  Jimmy lost his mother at the age of nine, and his father, being unable to care for a young son, sent him to live with his aunt and uncle, the Winslows.  A Quaker home, the Winslows lived on a farm in Fairmount, Indiana, and cared for Jimmy as if he was their own son.

Jimmy performed well at school, and decided to move to California after graduating to attend Santa Monica College to major in law.  He transferred to UCLA and changed his major to drama.  In 1951, he dropped out of UCLA to pursue a full-time acting career. 

Following successful theatre performances and small parts on television shows, in 1953 director Elia Kazan gave Jimmy the role of Cal Trask in Steinbeck's "East of Eden".  He went on to portray the quintessential rebel, Jim Stark, in Nicholas Ray's film "Rebel Without A Cause", opposite Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo.  Giant, which was released after Jimmy's death, saw him in a supporting role next to Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. 

Jimmy was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and he remains the only actor to have received two posthumous acting awards.  In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him the 17th-best male actor. 

In 1954, Jimmy became interested in motor racing.  He purchased various vehicles after he completed filming East of Eden, including a Triumph Tiger T110 and a Porsche 356.  Prior to starting the filming of Rebel Without A Cause, he competed in his first professional race in Palm Springs.  He did very well in the race.  A month later he raced at Bakersfield, where he finished first in his class.  With ambitions to race in the Indianapolis 500 shelved due to his busy schedule, and all other racing barred by Warner Brothers while he filmed Giant, Jimmy's final race was on May 30th, 1955, in Santa Barbara. 

On September 30th, 1955, Jimmy was scheduled to race in Salinas, California.  He was accompanied by Rolf Wutherich, the Porsche mechanic sent from Germany to assist Jimmy with his newly-purchased Porsche 550, a car named "The Little Bastard" by Jimmy.  Photographer Sanford Roth and stunt coordinator Bill Hickman followed Jimmy's Porsche in another car.  It had been Wutherich's idea to drive the Porsche from Los Angeles to Salinas to help break the new car's engine in.

Travelling on California State Route 466 (now 46), at the junction with California State Route 41, a 1950 Ford Tudor, travelling at high speed, driven by 23-year-old student Donald Turnupseed, turned in front of Jimmy's car.  Unable to stop, the Porsche hit the side of the Ford and ended up at the side of the highway.  Donald Turnupseed exited his car with only minor injuries.  Mechanic Rolf Wutherich was flung from the car, while Jimmy was trapped inside the mangled Porsche.  He sustained numerous fatal injuries, including a broken neck.  At the scene, a witness with nursing training detected a weak pulse, but Jimmy was pronounced dead on arrival at the Paso Robles Memorial Hospital. 

Roth and Hickman arrived ten minutes after the accident, and Hickman was said to have helped extricate Jimmy from the Porsche wreckage.  It's said that Jimmy died in Hickman's arms in the ambulance.  Wutherich had a broken jaw and other minor injuries.  Wutherich later developed severe psychological problems as a result of the accident, suffering depression, suicidal tendencies and alcoholism.  In July 1981 Wutherich, intoxicated at the wheel, crashed his car and died after having to be extricated from the wreck.

Though an original inquest suggested that Jimmy had been speeding, it was later revealed that he had, in fact, been doing the speed limit of 55 miles per hour. 

James Dean was buried in Park Cemetery in Fairmount, Indiana.  His grave is less than a mile from where he grew up on his uncle and aunt's farm.

Beside the Jack Ranch Cafe, about a mile from the accident scene, is the James Dean Memorial Sculpture.  Erected in 1977, the sculpture is composed of stainless steel and is around a Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus Altissima).  The project's benefactor was a Japanese businessman, Seita Ohnishi.  It is said that Seita Ohnishi also purchased the last photographs taken of James Dean by Sanford Roth at the accident scene. 

On September 30th, 2005, the junction where James Dean was killed was dedicated as the 'James Dean Memorial Junction' as part of the official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death. 

Leading up to James Dean's death, there had been a series of strange coincidences.  Two weeks prior to his death he recorded a National Safety Council commercial, speaking the line, "Remember, drive safely, the life you might save might be mine".  On the day of his death, Hickman had warned Jimmy to stop speeding, and he had also received a speeding ticket prior to the accident. 

There have been many reports of a spectral Porsche replaying the events of the accident at the junction where it occurred.

James Dean's Porsche, "The Little Bastard", was said to be cursed.  Fresh after the accident, it was decided that the car would be taken around to local high schools to teach students about the dangers on the road.  However, when the Porsche was near Salinas, the vehicle transporting it was involved in a serious accident.  The driver was thrown from the truck, and the Porsche rolled off the truck and crushed him to death.  Nonetheless, the car was popular and it was taken on tour.  At one of the displays, the car broke three bolts mysteriously and crushed the legs of a fifteen-year-old boy.  Next, the car snapped in two and fell from the truck that was transporting it, causing a fatal accident.  When the engine and drivetrain from the car were sold to two different men, one was killed in a car accident and the other was seriously injured.  Two of the original unharmed tyres were sold, and they both later blew out, causing the new owner to lose control of his vehicle.  Later, a garage storing the car went up in flames, destroying everything but the car itself, and thieves trying to steal parts of the car were injured.  In 1960, the then-owner placed the Porsche in a sealed boxcar to transport it from Florida to California.  The boxcar arrived sealed, but the Porsche was gone. 

What I can say about visiting Cholame and the place where James Dean died is that I was overwhelmed by a sense of sadness.  There is a feeling of something wonderful having been lost in that place.  Though I considered visiting the place where James Dean died as a sort of homage to him, it actually made me come away wishing I hadn't gone there.  I like to imagine James Dean, happy, with a laconic smile as he drives away in his car.