Lockdown 2021, Part Five

February 2021

Weather in Los Angeles continued to be abnormally dry during February, usually a rainy by our standards month, and so we kept up riding, including one with Theresa down to the Point Vicente Interpretive Center.  It is located next to the lighthouse of the same name, which was built in 1926 to aid navigation at the northern end of the Catalina Channel.  Modernized over the years, it still operates using electronic sensors and automated controls that have replaced the lighthouse keeper.  In 1979 it was placed on the National Registry of Historic Sites.

Point Vicente Lighthouse – By Mike Quach – Own work

The Interpretive Center is known as a good spot to watch whales during their annual migration north and south, so we paused there for a few moments and with the help of some folks with telescopes and binoculars, actually spotted a whale or two.  At 47-miles round trip, the ride was a good and rewarding effort under clear skies that highlight just how beautiful the coastline is here. 

Palos Verdes Cove

Looking for something interesting to do the following Sunday we followed up on a post I’d read in the Los Angeles Times about Rolling Through the 70’s, a self-guided tour created by the Los Angeles Conservancy as a part of the it’s The ’70s Turn 50 initiative, a yearlong educational campaign about 1970s architectural and cultural heritage sites in Los Angeles.  As we weren’t able to download the tour from the Conservancy due to a technical glitch, we did use the narrative from the Times to inform our afternoon outing. 

Rolling Through the 70’s

We started by exiting the 110 freeway at 3rd Street, drove to Flower and turned south, stopping in a loading zone in front of the City National Plaza, where we checked out a large fountain sculpture entitled Double Ascension created by Herbert Bayer that was installed in 1973.  Its original title was Stairway to Nowhere, which was nixed by corporate executives as they felt it sent the wrong message regarding the company’s goals.

Double Ascension (Stairway to Nowhere)

We then turned around to view the Bank of America building, a 55-story granite edifice built in 1974.  Instead of sitting parallel to the street, its architects positioned it so that its sides face true north, south, east, and west.  From there we drove some blocks away to San Pedro Street to the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center to examine it six story building with upturned eaves and other elements of traditional pagoda architecture, but it being Sunday and even with Covid, the streets were jammed, making parking impossible. 

Bank of America Building

And so, a few blocks away we stopped to check out on of L.A.’s favorite roosting spot for pigeons, the Triforium.  Installed in 1975, this 60-foot-tall polyphonic sculpture by Joseph L. Young features 1,500 multicolored Venetian glass prisms and a 79-not glass-bell electronic carillon.  An internal computer synchronized music and light shows, but often malfunctioned; in a 2006 restoration it was replaced with a CD player with the last concert produced in 2018. 

The Triforium

Heading out of the core of downtown, L.A.’s City Hall framed against a big blue sky, we made tracks for Chinatown where passed a group of men dressed in traditional costume getting ready to take part in a likely Covid scaled down celebration of the Chinese New Year. 

Our next stop was a Bank of America branch, this one built in 1972 and designed by Gilbert Lester Leong, the first Chinese American to earn a USC Architecture degree, who incorporated elements of traditional Chinese architecture such as jade-green tile roof. 

Bank of America Branch

We didn’t take the time to view two other buildings he had designed nearby, the Kon chow Family Association and Temple and the Chinese United Methodist Church as we were getting hungry and so made a beeline for our lunch destination, Philippe, which proudly claims itself as the home of the original French Dipped Sandwich. 

Philippe’s

Initially owned and operated by Philippe Mathieu, who emigrated from France to Buffalo, New York in 1901, and moved to Los Angeles in 1903.  In 1908 he opened his first Philippe restaurant where he served roast beef, roast pork, roast lamb, liver pâté and blood sausage.  Mathieu’s restaurants were in L.A.’s traditional Frenchtown neighborhood, which was later razed to build Los Angeles City Hall.

Outdoor Dining at Philippe’s

In 1927, he sold the restaurant to brothers David and Harry Martin, and they and their in-laws the Binders have run Philippe’s ever since.

From 1927 to 1941, Philippe’s was open 24 hours a day and in 1951, the Martins moved to its present location at 1001 N. Alameda Street due to the construction of the Hollywood Freeway.  As an interesting footnote, Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet claims to have existed before Philippe’s, but Cole’s closed for renovations in March 2007 and reopened in December 2008 thus Philippe’s claims to be the longest continuously operating restaurant in Los Angeles.

The Counter Before the Rush

The origins of the French dip sandwich have been debated for many years. Here are three versions of how Philippe’s French dipped sandwich originated:

  • In 1951, Mathieu told a Los Angeles Times reporter, “One day a customer saw some gravy in the bottom of a large pan of roast meat.  He asked me if I would mind dipping one side of the French roll in that gravy. I did, and right away five or six others wanted the same.” He quickly ran out of gravy. “But,” he said, “it put me wise.” The next day he had a gallon of gravy ready, but so many people wanted dip sandwiches that he still ran out.
  • In 1951, Mathieu told a Los Angeles Times reporter, “One day a customer saw some gravy in the bottom of a large pan of roast meat.  He asked me if I would mind dipping one side of the French roll in that gravy. I did, and right away five or six others wanted the same.” He quickly ran out of gravy. “But,” he said, “it put me wise.” The next day he had a gallon of gravy ready, but so many people wanted dip sandwiches that he still ran out.
  • An alternative explanation bases the invention in frugality. A fireman came into the restaurant when there were leftover rolls, which Mathieu would use up, although they were stale. The fireman complained that the roll was dry, so Philippe dipped it in jus, basically to get rid of the customer. This alternative is likely since Mathieu may have preferred to credit a customer rather than waste a stale roll.
  • The most common story is that Mathieu accidentally dropped a roll in pan drippings, and the police officer who had ordered the sandwich agreed to eat it anyway. This is less likely, since the “happy accident” theory of food origins is typically used when there is no alternative explanation.
  • An alternative explanation bases the invention in frugality. A fireman came into the restaurant when there were leftover rolls, which Mathieu would use up, although they were stale. The fireman complained that the roll was dry, so Philippe dipped it in jus, basically to get rid of the customer. This alternative is likely since Mathieu may have preferred to credit a customer rather than waste a stale roll.
  • The most common story is that Mathieu accidentally dropped a roll in pan drippings, and the police officer who had ordered the sandwich agreed to eat it anyway. This is less likely, since the “happy accident” theory of food origins is typically used when there is no alternative explanation.
  • Originally, Mathieu referred to his creation as a dip sandwich; the restaurant was colloquially known as “Frenchy’s”, which eventually developed into a “French dip sandwich”.  Regardless, we were glad to be there.  Normally during the rush, a line forms at each cashier/server station and you work your way to the counter to place your order.  With Covid, a social-distance line snaked its way to the front door and as I had recently been vaccinated, it fell to me to wait in line while Joanna went out to the back parking lot to grab us a table. 

Originally, Mathieu referred to his creation as a dip sandwich; the restaurant was colloquially known as “Frenchy’s”, which eventually developed into a “French dip sandwich”.  Regardless, we were glad to be there.  Normally during the rush, a line forms at each cashier/server station and you work your way to the counter to place your order.  With Covid, a social-distance line snaked its way to the front door and as I had recently been vaccinated, it fell to me to wait in line while Joanna went out to the back parking lot to grab us a table. 

Normal Lunch Crowds- By Bobak Ha’Eri – Own work

The wait was shorter than the length of the line suggested it would be and so I soon found myself ordering, a Pastrami single dipped for Joanna, a Beef double dipped for me, a pickle, slaw, two craft beers on draft (one, a Figueroa Mountain Lizard’s Mouth Double IPA, a personal favorite) and a piece of apple pie for dessert.  I toted the load out to the back, and we fell to it, food so good it’s not hard to see why they have been in business so long and why people still line up to eat it.  One word of advice would be to get your dip on the side, as the second half of your sandwich tends to get soggy as it waits for you to dig into it.  And of course, as each of us a ate all of our sandwiches and the slaw and pickle, we took the pie home and enjoyed it later that night.  And I believe it was even better that way.

The Beef Dip

Our final stop was on the way home at the Pacific Design Center, a 1,600,000-square-foot multi-use facility for the design community.  One of its buildings is often described as the Blue Whale because of its large size relative to surrounding buildings and its brilliant blue glass cladding.  I’d been here a number of times when I was the Director of the Student Union at UCLA as it helped inform a number of our renovation and refurbishing decisions. 

The Blue Whale – By Gary Minnaert – Own work, Public Domain

We didn’t stop and take a picture as it is hard to capture the entirety of the building from street level.  It did bring back memories of my time at UCLA, a significant period in my life and one of personal and professional growth.  And it enabled me to reflect on how far Joanna and I have traveled since those days and how much more we have to do as we look forward to the next few years of adventures we hope to share.  Care to join us?

Los Angeles City Hall

Links

Point Vicente Interpretive Center: http://www.rpvca.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/Point-Vicente-Interpretive-Center-13

Point Vicente Lighthouse: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_Vicente_Light

L.A. Conservancy: https://www.laconservancy.org/

The Triforium: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triforium_(Los_Angeles)

Philippe: https://www.philippes.com/

Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet: https://www.pouringwithheart.com/coles

Pacific Design Center: https://www.pacificdesigncenter.com/

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