First off, everyone asks me, "who is Charles Phoenix?" and there isn't any easy way to describe him. He's sort of the Emperor of Los Angeles. He's the keeper of kitsch for our fair city and a collector of vintage 35mm slides, which he finds at thrift stores and garage sales and turns into spectacular slide shows in a variety of themes. He's a local (and national!) celebrity and a fantastic host. Check his website for the Slide of the Day and updates about his latest shows.
Anyhow one of the tours that I have been wanting to do is his "Disneyland Tour of Downtown Los Angeles" which highlights the fun and frivolity of Los Angeles, through the eyes of Disneyland. You can read all about it on his Tours page. As you know, I am a big Disneyland fan, so this would interest me even if I weren't totally in crush* with Charles Phoenix.
The day began at Union Station, where I spied Mr. Phoenix and introduced myself. Ryan and I were breakfasting at the bagel place in the station and didn't want to miss the registration. Charles immediately noticed my Charles Phoenix appliqué (which I made out of felt and puffy paint, based on this puppet made by Kevin Kidney) and loved it (!) and commented that "those school bus earrings are not lost on me!" New BFFs. Right out the gate. Lovely.
The whole cadence of the tour is fantastic. After checking in with Jodi (in the bowler hat), everyone is directed to introduce themselves to Charles, who hand writes your name tag - like getting your own customized mouse ears! The tour began with a grand look around the train station, including the shuttered restaurant and both patios and gardens. We then headed to the metrolink terminal to view the Matterhorn (and the gorgeous ceiling) and catch the "monorail" train to Chinatown, where our school bus met us. After driving to the main gates of Chinatown, everyone was given a penny for the wishing fountain. Someone made this child's wish come true by offering up a quarter for the carousel. Some of the other "attractions" in Chinatown include Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, the old Mule Train ride, and Space Mountain rockets. We got a tour around Chinatown and even a tour of You Chung Hong's office, which had been sealed since 1977 when Mr. Hung died. Mr. Hung was the first Chinese-American attorney in Los Angeles and his office is a temple to mid-century decor gorgeousness.
After Chinatown, we boarded the bus and headed to Olvera Street, where we toured LA fire station #1 (the first one!) and the Pico House, which was hosting an Italian-Californian exhibit (very interesting!). We then walked through Olvera Street proper to browse the various kiosks and tour the Avila Adobe, the oldest house in Los Angeles. At the end of Olvera Street, Jodi (in the bowler hat!) was waiting for us with delicious taquitos! After stuffing our faces and licking our fingers (believe me, you don't want to miss a drop of that tomatillo sauce!), we boarded the bus again to head to LUNCH. Lunch at Clifton's Cafeteria! I didn't take many pictures there, since I was too busy gawking at the jell-o display and making references to our last trip there in March. We did get two pictures of us pigging out, which is really more than you need.
We then walked through the Grand Central Market, which was LA's first 'grocery store' where you can still find whole roasted pigs (with fresh chicharones) and medicinal herbs, alongside fresh produce. We then headed to the defunct Angel's Flight which is a short trolley up a very steep hill (rumored to be re-opening in 2008). We took the stairs along side the trolley which were very steep indeed. I was proud of myself for making it up! There are about a zillion steps and they are at a crazy incline. My thighs were burning, but I made it! At the top is a plaza between several high rise buildings, which are the Tomorrowland of LA. On the street, we were delayed momentarily by a film crew, shooting a car commercial. It was funny to pass the PAs who would huff into their walkie talkies, "hold. This group is still moving through." We walked to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is gorgeous in a garish way. It's a massive silver structure, the likes of which you've never seen (unless you live in a Frank Gehry vision). Charles gave us an overview from the center of the donor circle, which is a neat spiraling tribute in marble (on the ground) to all of the donors who made the concert hall possible. We passed through the "Grand Canyon" of the concert hall (where you can see how reflective the building is) to the gardens where a giant water feature was designed as a tribute to Lilian Disney. The broken china that has been turned into a beautiful mosaic reflects Mrs. Disney's love of Delft china. On this side of the building, it was pointed out where the reflective covering had to be refinished, because the sun reflecting into the neighboring condos and office buildings were creating temperatures of 140 degrees!
Then we traveled down the block to have a "Great Moment with Mr. Lincoln" before finding the sunken garden, which harbors a spaceship fountain! (Disney buffs may recall the old Flying Saucers of Tomorrowland, which bear a striking resemblance to this fountain.) After enchanting at the roar of the water, we traveled via our Magic School Bus to Carroll Avenue, which has the highest concentration of Victorian Homes in LA. Charles pointed out some key Victorian architectural points, my favorite was this "abacus" design on the porch, and then we met our bus once again to head over to the Bob Baker Marionette Theater.
If you haven't yet had the pleasure, I implore you to go see a Bob Baker show. This theater is like nothing you've ever seen. You walk into a plain door and are transported into this gorgeous techicolor world, where puppets come to life. The marionettes are all hand-crafted lovingly at the theater and are handled by performers who love their craft. We were honored with a preview of The Nutcracker, which is running now, and then Bob Baker himself came out to perform with a puppet that he built when he was EIGHT YEARS OLD (he's now 85!). I have a video of his performance that I'll post to my YouTube page when I get the chance, because it is so magnificent.
After the show, we were invited to the Party Room for cake and ice cream (!) and a Q&A session with Mr. Baker himself! (I also have a video of him telling the story of landing his first puppeteer job - check YouTube) We were so wound up from all the fun that we had a hard time being corralled back onto the bus, which would deliver us back to Union Station and into "reality." Which was jarring, to be honest. We said goodbye to everyone and even got a souvenir and weren't ready to leave. We ended up browsing around the station a bit more and then grabbing a snack before driving home. It was SUCH an incredible day. And the best way to 'take in' the city in a single afternoon. It was the perfect introduction and we will definitely be back to all of these places again soon.
If you are interested in a Charles Phoenix tour (and you should be!), check his site for details www.charlesphoenix.com/tours about upcoming events. We've already got our tickets for the Holiday Rollerway Jubilee -- how about you?!
*my cousin coined this term as a kid. He never had a crush on a girl, he was "in crush" with a girl.