Friday, August 22, 2008

It's 1937

Downtown Glendale can be an excellent Time Machine if you look in the right places. (The Americana and the Glendale Galleria are NOT the right places.)

The best thing to do first is to look around for a giant spire sticking up out of the middle of nowhere. As soon as you've found it, start heading in that direction. It's the Alex, a beautifully restored movie theatre from long, long ago. Although it only rarely shows a vintage film, the Alex and the areas immediately surrounding it have remained more or less the same for many, many decades. New businesses have moved in and out, but the storefronts are practically unaltered, and a few of the original businesses are still in existence.

Damon's Steakhouse is one of them.

Now, historically speaking, if I were walking down Brand Boulevard in 1937, it's a cinch I probably wouldn't be able to afford a steak dinner, much less something as frivolous as a cocktail. I'd be wearing a dress made from flour sacks and I'd probably be going home from whatever job I (hopefully) had to make dinner for the family. Somehow I think I'd look more like Marjorie Main than Claudette Colbert, but just for this one day the hubby and I must have scraped and saved just enough for a night out. Maybe it was my birthday.

I'd be wearing my best dress with a hat and gloves, because I'll be out in public, and for heaven's sake you can't go out wearing just ANYTHING. You have to look NICE.

We'd just left the wonderful Alex(ander) Theatre, which was showing You Can't Have Everything (I just love Alice Faye and Don Ameche) and London by Night. We walked a few blocks away to to that new place, Damon's, where they say the steaks are absolutely the very best, and as thick as the potatoes they serve with them. I hear the martinis are terribly strong, too, and what better way to end a night of escapism?

Well, whaddaya know, it was all true (and it still is).

After a delicious dinner of juicy steak and potatoes, we sipped our cocktails and chit chatted far into the night. Did you see the paper today? They've started printing photos in color...Stella Dallas was a terrible movie, and I hear Barbara Stanwyck still hasn't gotten a dime from that good for nothing Frank Fay...They're opening up Foothill Boulevard, so we'll be able to get to Pasadena faster now...

Finally, we wobbled our way into the street and boarded the last trolley home, looking behind us at a street practically deserted this time of night. Only the steady light from the streetlamps and the dark sedans parked along the street could be seen, not a person in sight. Tomorrow I'll have to go back to my flour sack dress, my radio shows and my Rinso white laundry, but tonight I can dream.

Damon's still has marvelous steaks and cocktails. Years ago they hooked up with a tropical theme and kept getting more and more kitcshy until they hit critical mass.

Further traveling for my time-jumbled friends:

The Alex Theatre has been gorgeously restored and the Spire is still visible from miles away. It's used mostly as a live venue these days, but among the usual must-miss events such as An Evening Celebrating Set Decorators in America and the Young Musicians from Armenia Tour, the Alex will actually show MOVIES. The Alex Film Society will tell you when. (Single lady time travellers take note: A Three Stooges Marathon is coming up; it's bound to be loaded with men!)

Damon's has their own website, but do visit in person for the excellent steaks and the framed original menu from the days where a steak dinner outed you a whole fifty cents. Years ago they hooked up with a tropical theme and kept getting more and more kitschy until they hit critical mass. They're also not in the original location anymore, but their "new" location (since 1980) is a storefront even older than the first one. The menu is pretty much the same and you can pick out the modern dishes if you want to, (she said snootily). Beware of their famous salad dressing. It's an original recipe from the 30's but I suspect it's really just Lawry's and Mayonnaise, which only reinforces the idea that maybe it really IS an original, depression-era recipe along the lines of fried dough and ketchup soup. They still have powerful cocktails to wash it all down.

The moody shot of Brand Boulevard in 1937 was courtesy the enormous and detailed photo collection that's available online from the Los Angeles Public Library, and they update it every year. Everything from the first photographs ever taken of Los Angeles in the 1860's to "Take my picture, Gary Leonard!" is here. The BEST pictures are by professional photographer William Reagh, who took shots all over Los Angeles when he was young, and then re shot the same areas decades later when he was an old man.

If you're blessed with a Library Card, you can access the ProQuest database for the Historical Los Angeles Times. Every issue of the Times from it's inception in 1881 is available. Look up your name, your address, or your favorite movie star. I found a marriage announcement for the people who lived in my house back in 1941, plus the original classified ad offering a plot of land that eventually became my neighbor's house in 1924 . What will YOU find?