Los Angeles: Preserving A Sense Of Place

 The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Century Plaza Hotel won’t be falling to the wrecker’s ball.  Martha Groves writes that the hotel’s owner and preservationists have cut a deal to save the historic hotel-

“As of now, plans call for “sensitive rehabilitation” of the hotel to preserve 400 hotel rooms while converting those on the top floors to 45 condos. Meeting space would be reduced, and a slightly smaller ballroom would replace the existing one. The developer plans to propose other buildings on the site to the rear and/or sides of the hotel and a low-scale structure with some retail shops or restaurants to enliven the front of the hotel.”  -LA Times

It’s a hopeful sign that another piece of older Los Angeles is being saved.   It’s wonderful for a place to have a sense of history and tradition.  Fact is, the city has a lot going for it even with the apparent ongoing push by developers to tear things down.  We still have Olvera Street, Hollywood and its famous sign, Broadway and the old downtown area, LA City Hall, Pantages and the other vaudeville/movie palaces, Musso and Frank Grill, the Original Pantry, Philippe’s, Pink’s, the old Herald Examiner building, Chinatown, the old downtown post office, Union Station and now the Century Plaza.  Too bad the original Schwab’s,  Chasen’s and Bob Cobb’s  old Brown Derby are all gone.

Original Schwab's Drugstore

               photo: ron olsen/workingreporter.com

Schwab’s Pharmacy, was located at 8024 Sunset Boulevard.   In a case of art imitating reality, the pharmacy was used as a location for the classic film “Sunset Boulevard.”  In reality, its lunch counter was a popular hangout for young actors.  It is also the legendary spot where “sweater girl”  Lana Turner is said to have been discovered.   That may or may not be true.   Another version has Turner being discovered by the publisher of the Hollywood Reporter at the Top Hat Cafe on the southeast corner of Sunset and McCadden Place.  The publisher referred her to Zeppo Marx, and from there….well, she was off to the races.  Or so the story goes.

As is sometimes the case in Hollywood, the truth slips through the cracks as the image becomes reality.   Consequently, I’m not sure where Lana Turner was discovered.  I do know it was a popular pharmacy for the movie set, many of whom lived in the hills nearby.  They liked Schwab’s because the pharmacy had a delivery service which eliminated the need for the rich and famous to show up in person or send someone in to pick up their prescriptions.    That’s the straight scoop from the people who worked there.  I know, because I was there on October 22, 1983,  the day Schwab’s closed its doors for the last time.   I was doing the story for KABC-TV.   I snapped the photo above just before they locked the doors and went home.  Five years later, Schwab’s was demolished.

Chasen’s (Beverly Hills) was opened in 1936 by vaudevillian Dave Chasen on the advice of his friend Frank Capra and was called “Chasen’s Southern Pit.”  “New Yorker” Editor Harold Ross helped finance the operation.  “It was nothing more than a shack, but quickly became well known for its chili and was soon a favorite among Hollywood actors at the time. At first, Capra had to loan Chasen his silverware for the restaurant’s operation.[1] Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple, Cary Grant, Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason, W.C. Fields, James Cagney, Clark Gable, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were customers.” -Wikipedia

I’ve read that Alfred Hitchcock had his own booth.

As for the Derby, legend has it that Bob Cobb, a first cousin to baseball great Ty Cobb, invented the “Cobb Salad” for his diet conscious superstar clientele.    LA has a lot to offer, you just have to dig a little.  While the digging continues, it might be nice if our City leaders could think a little more about renovation as opposed to annihilation.  Just a thought.

Original Brown Derby Restaurant

                          photo: chalmers butterfield

(Trivia note:  Brown Derby founder Bob Cobb, should not be confused with the maestro by the same name of “Seinfeld” fame.  Also, I realize there are other noteworthy spots in the city and surrounding area.  Feel free to add to the list by clicking on “leave a comment.”)

Van Nuys Bumped As Busiest Airport

Apparently Van Nuys no longer has the busiest general aviation airport in the nation.  According to a piece in the Arizona Republic, the title now belongs to the Phoenix – Deer Valley Airport.

“We are ranked Number 1 for the busiest general aviation airport in the country,” said Gary Mascaro, Deer Valley Airport manager, who attributed the increase in business in part to flight schools.

The Valley’s general airport outperformed its longtime competitor, San Fernando Valley-based Van Nuys Airport, which had comparable landings and takeoffs.

That airport in California averaged more than 400,000 landings and takeoffs in 2005, when it clinched the world’s busiest general aviation airport.” -AZ Republic

An earlier story in the Los Angeles Times, points to an over-all drop in passenger traffic at Los Angeles Area Airports in 2009.  The decline is believed to have been caused by high fuel prices and the recession.

 

Doomed?

Paul Krugman thinks we’re “doomed.”  Here’s a bit from his column.   Click on the link at the bottom to read the rest.

“I’m with Simon Johnson here: how is it possible, at this late date, for Obama to be this clueless?

The lead story on Bloomberg right now contains excerpts from an interview with Business Week which tells us:

President Barack Obama said he doesn’t “begrudge” the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay.” -Paul Krugman in the New York Times

Blue Cross Opens Door On Regulation?

Washington, DC — “Blue Cross has opened an opportunity for lawmakers and regulators with its premium hikes of up to 39% in California, said Consumer Watchdog. In the face of questions from the White House and an investigation by California’s insurance commissioner, federal and state lawmakers should act to regulate health insurance premiums and force insurers to defend every increase.

In recent letters to policyholders announcing yearly premium hikes of up to 39% and perhaps higher, Anthem Blue Cross of California says it is “necessary to adjust our rates to cover the escalating cost of health care.” Consumer Watchdog, noting that a 39% increase is 1,500% above the rate of consumer inflation, said the insurer was simply gouging policyholders to raise profits in the face of a sinking customer base.”  -Consumer Watchdog

Reuters Photographer Released

The U.S. Military has released a Reuters photographer after taking him from his home in Iraq and throwing him in prison for more than a year without charges being filed.

“U.S. and Iraqi forces smashed in the doors to Jassam’s house in Mahmudiya town, south of Baghdad, in September 2008 and whisked him away.

He spent time in a desert prison on the Iraq-Kuwait border, called Camp Bucca, and the smaller Camp Cropper detention center near Baghdad airport.

Jassam was one of several Iraqi journalists working for foreign news organizations who have been detained by the U.S. military, often for months at a time, since the 2003 U.S. invasion. None has ever been charged, triggering criticism from international journalism rights groups.” -Reuters

Psychiatry Marches On

 “Mental Retardation” becomes an “intellectual disability,” and  “Asperger’s syndrome” becomes a mild version of autism.   Those are a couple of the changes in diagnostic language being proposed by the American Psychiatric Association.

“The manual suggests some new diagnoses. Gambling so far is the lone identified behavioral addiction, but in the new category of learning disabilities are problems with both reading and math. Also new is binge eating, distinct from bulimia because the binge eaters don’t purge.” -AP

Toyota Pulls Ads From ABC

The Guardian is reporting that more than 170 Toyota dealers have pulled their ads from ABC-TV, to protest news coverage of so-called “runaway Toyotas.”

‘”A marketing agency representing 173 Toyota dealers with showrooms in south-eastern states including Florida, Georgia and South Carolina told ABC it wants to shift spending to rival stations because of “excessive stories on the Toyota issues”.’ –The Guardian

Editor Sentenced To Five Years

Every now and then I have to remind myself that what is now referred to as China,  used to be commonly called “Communist China.”   The fact that it remains solidly Communist is pointed out by a story on a Chinese editor being sentenced to five years in prison for for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party.

The New York Times reports that Tan Zuoren, was given the sentence for writing about and against the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

Beyond that, it appears Mr. Tan was working on a piece exposing linkage between the Chinese business community and government officials that led to shoddy construction in the country’s schools.

The Times reports, “…he was assembling an independent report on the thousands of children killed when schools collapsed across Sichuan and nearby provinces during a devastating earthquake in May 2008.” -NY Times

On Haiti And Health Care

As the news continues to arrive from Haiti, I can’t stop thinking about our instinctive need to do all we can to eliminate human suffering.    The response is automatic.   In the final analysis we must depend upon one another for our security, health care and general well being.   Consequently, when visited by terrible suffering, civilized people respond without thinking about the cost.

One of the first responders from the U.S. was the search and rescue team from the Los Angeles County Fire Department.     It made me proud to be an Angelino, when I saw our guys gathering up their gear at the airport to fly out to Port-au-Prince.   They were going because people were dying and it was the right thing to do.   Other cities, counties and states responded in like-fashion as did our President, who sent troops, our Secretary of State and a hospital ship.   As a nation, we are responding as we should.  It’s the way civilized people respond to tragedy because in the final analysis, all we have is one another.

The parallels with the near non-response to assist our own people following the Katrina tragedy in New Orleans will surely be made. People will be talking about the irony of former President George W. Bush pledging his support and congratulating President Obama for his rapid response to the disaster in Haiti.   Mr. Bush, has a legacy to try and build and after-the-fact is probably better than almost no positive legacy at all.    He’s been out of office for only one year and already our 43rd President has become a historically sad public figure.  At least he’s backing the Haitian relief effort.  That’s something.  Perhaps it should be taken a step further.

During the blitz on London, with death constantly on their doorstep and their city lying in ruins, the British people took a look around and realized that health care was a right and not a privilege.  To this day, they continue to care for one another regardless of someone’s ability to pay as does the rest of the industrialized world, with one exception.  That exception of course, is the United States.

A recent study from the Harvard Medical School, points to nearly 45,000 Americans dying annually because of a lack of health insurance and their inability to get good health care.    That’s Forty-five thousand a year.  That amounts to the Haiti death toll happening every four years or so, right here in the United States.

As we continue to do all we can to help the people of Haiti, as we should, I can’t help but feel concern for our own people.  Americans who have been forced to stay at home and suffer because they don’t have health insurance and can’t afford a visit to a doctor or dentist.   People who have lost their homes to foreclosure because of the high cost of health care while we pony up billions to bail out the banking industry.

We aren’t demanding proof of health insurance from the people of Haiti before going to their aid.   The British, the Canadians and the rest of the industrialized world have recognized that health care is a right and not a privilege.   And yet our own Congress can’t seem to deal with the necessity of providing for the health care of our own people with a genuine public health option and not some smoke-and-mirrors plan designed to protect the financial interests of the insurance industry rather than providing the kind of health care that should be considered an entitlement in any truly civilized society.

We can help in Haiti, but we can’t seem to help ourselves.  Something we should perhaps be thinking about as Mr. Obama continues his mission, playing a David-like hero for what’s left of the American middle class to the Goliath of the health insurance industry and their bought and paid for water carriers in the United State Senate.

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Late Add:  Emergency assistance needed here at home:   Not that things aren’t just ducky here in the U.S., but now comes word that an ice storm has hit the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in So. Dakota.  The people there (our Native Americans) are in need of food, medicine for kids and even shoes.  Right here in the U.S.A.  Think about it people.  Here’s a link to a Huffington Post story with info on where you can send your dollars.

Roderick Misses The Point

It seems Kevin Roderick of “LAObserved” and I have a difference of opinion.  With regard to my story on reporters missing the lede on County Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s Saturday news conference in La Canada/Flintridge, Roderick blogs-

“Olsen completely misses the dozen stories by Times reporter Paul Pringle examining management of the Station Fire.”

I don’t think so.  In fact, I included references to earlier reporting done by the Times.  But that’s not what my piece is about.

Apparently Mr. Roderick didn’t bother to read my writing.   My piece is about reporters missing the lede on a Saturday news conference, not about something that was written weeks or months ago.

The post he so roundly criticizes can be read in full below.

Did You Guys Miss The Lede?

Completely missing the lead on a story (spelled “lede” in journalism) , is among the worst mistakes a reporter can make.

Sometimes it happens.

I have to wonder if it didn’t happen on Saturday following a news conference at the scene of the mudslides in the La Canada/Flintridge area near Los Angeles.   Dozens of homes were damaged by the slides, some were left uninhabitable.

All of it was caused by the Station Fire that burned through the Angeles National Forest.  The fire broke out on August 26th and wasn’t fully contained until October 16th.

Burning 160,577 acres and claiming the lives of two firefighters, it “was the largest fire in the recorded history of Angeles National Forest (est. 1892) and the 10th largest fire in California since 1933.” -US Forest Service

Yesterday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, complained that it didn’t have to be as bad as it was.   According to the Supervisor, there was a dispute between Los Angeles County and the U.S. Forest Service over the question of how the fire should be fought.  Antonovich said that had the feds gone along with the County’s wishes, they could have prevented 160,000 acres from burning and as a consequence, he said, there would be no mudslides in the foothill area today.

I vaguely remember talk about whether the feds should have done more to contain the fire early on.  A quick search with google turned up the following from a piece in the Los Angeles Times on October 6, 2009.

“Reinforcements from Los Angeles County were scaled back early in the battle, and federal officials now say they are investigating the actions that allowed the blaze to rage out of control. The fire, which began Aug. 23 above La Canada Flintridge, became the largest in recorded county history and killed two county firefighters when their truck plunged off a mountain road.” -LA Times

A later blogged report in the LA Times on November 13, 2009, reported that commanders in charge of fighting the fire had “underestimated the threat…….and reduced the number of helicopters and crews.”

And there’s more.

The Times also reported that helicopters did not arrive in force on the critical second day of the fire, Aug. 27, until several hours after first light and after ground crews started to attack the flames along Angeles Crest Highway.

In addition, the Forest Service had issued a memorandum three weeks before the blaze ordering managers to cut firefighting costs by minimizing their use of reinforcements from local and state agencies. Today’s report says costs played no role in the Forest Service’s decisions to use fewer reinforcements from Los Angeles County on Day 2 of the Station fire.-LA Times

I’ve done a little looking around, but I have yet to find anyone doing any real reporting on the charge Supervisor Antonovich has leveled, on what can only be described as the possibility of a huge error in judgment by the US Forest service which led to the Station Fire spreading from around 577 acres to 160,577 acres.

It could have been stopped at just 577 acres, but the Forest Service elected to let it go?

Did you guys miss the lede?

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The top of a news story is spelled “lede” and not “lead,” to distinguish the written words in the lede from the metal (lead) the pressmen used to melt down to make typeface back in the old days.

The Unkindest Cut Of All

 Los Angeles Times

                               photo: chris eason   

On February 2nd they cut another inch from my Los Angeles Times.  I’ve been living with it this way for a few days now, but I can’t get used to it.

When I pick it up, I am left with the uncomfortable sensation that someone has sliced not one, but two or three inches from the right side of what used to feel like a legitimate “broadsheet.”   It now feels like the paper needs a prosthetic of some sort.

Somewhere out there, there has to be someone sitting on a pile of money big enough to rescue this paper.  Someone who can buy it, lock, stock and presses, and then give it back to journalism and Southern California.  We need the Times, you see.  We need someone to cover local news.  Someone with the reach to cover Southern California with solid investigative pieces that hold the bastard’s feet to the fire.   The west needs it, the country needs it.  The Los Angeles Times is a vital part of what keeps our city, state and nation functioning as a free society.   A watchdog against the vulgarians who would take it all away.

Somewhere out there, there must be someone with the money and the social conscience to make it happen.  Someone sitting on a pile of old money out in Pasadena, or a pile of new money up on Mulholland Drive.  Someone who will be satisfied with being simply wealthy, as opposed to falling victim to the business community’s popular obsession with quarterly growth projections that can’t be met without further devastation.

If you have all that money anyway, why not leave a legacy of truth, justice and the American way?   You know it’s the right thing to do.

Please do it soon, before they amputate another inch or two from the soul of Southern California.

(With more than 650,000 readers, The Times still has the 4th largest daily circulation in the country.  The Sunday circulation numbers are just a bit above 983,000.)

Comcast Pushback

The proposed NBC-Universal/Comcast mega-merger is being debated in the nation’s capitol, with more than a little pushback.

Minnesota’s freshman Senator Al  Franken, is among those doing the pushing, or trying at least.   With the amount of money involved and the influence it can buy, it appears Franken might be needing some help.

“The $30 billion transaction would significantly reshape the media landscape by giving the nation’s largest cable and broadband Internet provider control over content that makes up one out of five TV viewing hours, according to some analysts. NBC owns Universal Studios, theme parks, shows such as “The Biggest Loser” and “Heroes,” and cable channels such as USA Network, Bravo and CNBC.” – The Salt Lake Tribune

You could dismiss this as just another merger among the many that have taken place in recent years, and it is.  And that is precisely the point.  It’s exactly why it should not be dismissed with regard to consequence.

The merger tsunami has been rolling across the country for a number of years.

A posting by the Media Reform Information Center is telling-

“In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S. At the time, Ben Bagdikian was called “alarmist” for pointing this out in his book, The Media Monopoly. In his 4th edition, published in 1992, he wrote “in the U.S., fewer than two dozen of these extraordinary creatures own and operate 90% of the mass media” — controlling almost all of America’s newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, books, records, movies, videos, wire services and photo agencies.”

“In 2004, Bagdikian’s revised and expanded book, The New Media Monopoly, shows that only 5 huge corporations — Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) — now control most of the media industry in the U.S. General Electric’s NBC is a close sixth.”

The more you look, the more interesting the question of mergers becomes.

In 2007, MSNBC reported on the possibility that the FCC was destroying data that pointed to the possible negative impact of mergers.

WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission ordered its staff to destroy all copies of a draft study that suggested greater concentration of media ownership would hurt local TV news coverage, a former lawyer at the agency says.  -MSNBC

But the mergers have continued moving forward.   Consider the the holdings of just one company, Clear Channel:

According to a company press release, Clear Channel has a presence in more than 50 countries and-

  • Reaches more than 154 million people, or 75% of the 18+ U.S. population.
  • Operates over 800 radio stations reaching more than 97 million listeners every week.
  • With international partners, owns and operates more than 140 radio stations in Australia and New Zealand.
  • Premiere Radio Networks syndicates 90 radio programs and services to more than 5,000 radio stations affiliations reaching over 190 million listeners a week.
  • The Katz Media Group is the largest media representation firm in the U.S. representing more than 2,600 radio stations and 400 television stations.
  • Clear Channel Outdoor operates close to one million displays in over 50 countries across 5 continents.
  • In the United States, the company operates just under 200,000 advertising displays and has a presence in the top 50 Designated Market Areas.

Or how about good old CBS?  What are their holdings?  Take a look at this-

CBS Television
WUPA – Atlanta, GA
WJZ-TV – Baltimore, MD
WBZ-TV – Boston, MA
WSBK- Boston, MA
WBBM-TV – Chicago, IL
KTVT-TV – Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
KTXA-TV – Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
KCNC-TV – Denver, CO
WWJ-TV – Detroit, MI
WKBD – Detroit, MI
WCBS-TV – New York, NY
WFOR-TV – Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, FL
WBFS-TV – Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, FL
WCCO-TV – Minneapolis, MN
WGNT-TV – Norfolk, VA
WPSG-TV – Philadelphia, PA
KYW-TV – Philadelphia, PA
KDKA-TV – Pittsburgh, PA
KPCW-TV – Pittsburgh, PA
KOVR-TV – Sacramento, CA
KMAX-TV – Sacramento, CA
KUTV-TV – Salt Lake City, UT
KPIX-TV – San Francisco, CA
KBCW-TV – San Francisco, CA
KCBS-TV – Los Angeles, CA
KCAL-TV – Los Angeles, CA
KSTW-TV – Seattle, WA
KTOG-TV – Tampa, FL
KCCO-TV – Alexandria, MN
KCCW-TV – Walker, MN
Other Television
Showtime
CSTV
The CW (partial)
I’d get into CBS Radio and their publishing and outdoor advertising divisions, but the list is just too long for the page.   If you really want to see it, you can go to the CJR’s “Who Owns What” page.
 
As for NBC, here’s a list –

NBC Universal Television Stations Division (TVSD) is an operation division of NBC Universal’s owned and operated NBC stations and the following Telemundo Stations:

And those are just the “over the air” tv stations owned by NBC, a network beset by layoffs and other cost-cutting measures as these media giants continue to complain that they just can’t make enough money.   At one point NBC even forced its executives to fly coach to the Superbowl.   Can you imagine that?

Franken’s stand is admirable, but with so much media already in the hands of so few, you have to wonder what will be needed to turn the tide.  Or whether it’s even possible.  You also have to wonder if at least some of what’s ailing America isn’t related to all of this.

Is it possible that greater corporate diversity would lead to increased competition with more jobs and a greater variety and veracity of opinion from those we look to for our news and information and thus a healthier Republic?

At least Franken’s trying.  Here’s some of what he had to say to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

The End Of An Era At CBS? Again?

The NY Observer is reporting on “D-Day at CBS News.”   Long-time staffers and stalwarts like Larry Doyle are being let go.

But as the names of the laid-off began to circulate, it looked less like the end of days and more like the end of an era. The final vestiges of the pre–Katie Couric regime were finally leaving the network” -NY Observer

I’m sorry, but I never worked for CBS and I have no idea who Larry Doyle is.  Although I’m sure he’s a great guy and a hard worker and his loss will be a real blow to the network.

I’m not sure how many times the media can keep reporting on “the end of an era” at CBS.  The news division at what was once called the “Tiffany Network” has been dying the death of a thousand cuts ever since Walter Cronkite exited the building.   And now we are left with  the “pre-Katie Couric regime?”  Another era?  You have to wonder how long this will last and whether anybody continues to care.

Unless the bosses at the networks come up with some way for their product to be more relevant (and from what they’ve done thus far, it appears they can’t), then it’s essentially over for the television network news of old.

We go online at seven or eight in the morning and get the headlines.    More than ten hours later Couric and her colleagues come along with mostly the same stories, but with little or no new information to distinguish the tv news product from the more complete coverage we’ve been reading on the web and watching on cable or satellite all day.

Barring some radical thinking, including a willingness on the part of the networks to pump more money into their news divisions as opposed to simply finding new ways to pull it out,  we are witnessing the end of much more than just one more “era” at CBS.

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Just got a call from my wife on her way to work in downtown Los Angeles.  “I wonder what’s going on at the courthouse” she said, “I haven’t seen that many satellite trucks in one place in a long, long time.”  I told her I wasn’t sure, but that it’s probably a hearing for Michael Jackson’s doctor.  Guess I’ll flip on CNN or MSNBC for an update.  Or, I could wait ten hours and get an abbreviated report from Katie Couric on CBS.