CURIOUS CITY — WILDFLOUR, WADDY AND JIMI. We’re losing another iconic business, Wildflour Pizza on Main Street, but have you gone by there in the last few days? It’s not bright yellow anymore! Shocking! The brightness of the yellow paint was shocking the first time you saw it but we all got used to it and then it became kind of a signpost, an anchor; you knew where on Main Street you were when your eye caught that yellow.
In redoing the building for new tenants they have removed the yellow and exposed underneath a faded wall with the words “Office Supplies” and “Wholesale,” a life-sized blond figure at street level, and in the upper left corner, Snoopy! In a Superman outfit, holding a briefcase and dancing among the stars. Oooh-kay. That sure says office supplies to me. I’m betting they did not get Charles Schulz’ permission, did not send him a check. Or even a free pizza. Go check it out before it gets painted over.
I think Wildflour was there for nearly half a century, because my good buddy Joel pointed out where his childhood home was, just across the parking lot, and how excited he was as a kid when a pizza joint was built practically in his back yard. He said he was there the minute they opened the doors, got a slice and immediately told the owner everything he was doing wrong. Joel hasn’t changed much.
Monday night we went to see “Jimi: All is By My Side,” the new movie about a year in the life of a rising Jimi Hendrix, just before he blew minds at Monterrey Pop and became huge. I won’t review the film but will highly recommend it mainly because Andre 3000 (of Outkast) did such a remarkable job of nailing Jimi’s persona and speech patterns. (Disclosure: my friend Nigel Thomas produced it. If it stunk, I would have done him the favor of saying nothing.)
Legendary session man Waddy Wachtel brilliantly played all the guitar parts (pre-“Foxy Lady” material – Jimi’s snotty half-sister Janie, who sadly controls his music, wouldn’t release rights to the film for less than a king’s ransom), and Waddy and Joel used to be housemates. There is a Beatle song in the movie; Jimi had the nerve to play his vision of “Sgt. Pepper” two days after the album came out, to a crowd with some pretty important guests. Nigel told me that when Paul gave his blessing to using the song, he sternly admonished, “You better not ef it up!” You’re safe, Waddy.
GOING TO SCHOOL ON A BEAUTIFUL SATURDAY IN SANTA MONICA. Why was I indoors on such a glorious fall day at the beach? Was I a bad boy?
Sort of. I had not attended any of the other meetings of the Santa Monica Civic Working Group, and was feeling guilty.
Of all the things to save in Santa Monica, what’s more important than our famous, beautiful, mid-century modern Civic Auditorium? Older than Wildflour, even!
From Ella to Dylan to the Dalai Lama, from the Academy Awards to Stairway to the Stars, this building is overflowing with memories and meaning for so many, not just here but in the whole area.
No one thinks it will be torn down but it’s in need of maybe $50M to reopen, and the 50 mil we had went poof when Gov. Jerry disappeared the funding agency three years ago.
This citizens’ panel to save the Civic was offering a chance to the public to offer their ideas. Hooray – maybe the backroom deals are still proceeding, but the citizens will be heard.
At one point a show of hands was called for – “How many here live in Santa Monica?” About half the hands went up. Hmmm.
So what else did I learn in school that day?
I learned that nearly every Santa Monican present favored the Civic reemerging as a performing arts center, with other uses secondary. That we did not want a hotel added, or commercial or residential buildings. We favored open green space where the parking lot is, and a link to Santa Monica High School’s Greek Theater and Barnum Hall for an extended cultural center, with ties to our students. Maybe a soccer field for them in the green space.
We were told to come up with possibilities without concern for price tags, to paraphrase Working Group member Frank Gruber. A good method, but also perhaps the setup, several cautioned, for the later money sessions then focusing on how to pay for all those dreams. C’mon folks – you’re going to need that hotel. But I’m betting many from this group will show up again for those meetings with some creative financing ideas.
We were given four possible categories to consider, with examples, by the consulting firm HR&A. The categories and examples (Brooklyn? Norway?) seemed inappropriate and loaded, to many I spoke with that day.
I learned that HR&A is being paid about $400,000 for this. By us. I learned that their project manager, partner Paul Silvern, is a former Santa Monica Director of Planning. That he left that position to join HR&A, founded by John Alschuler, our former City Manager. That he is currently Chair of our Redevelopment Successor Agency Oversight Board, managing the substantial leftover assets there. That HR&A is consulting on many more projects for our City.
On the one hand, you sometimes need to hire experts, and pay them lots of money. On the other hand, you wonder how much coziness there is in this kind of setup, and whether our highly paid consultants are really working first and foremost for the benefit of all our citizens. I heard lots of doubt about that expressed last Saturday.
I learned there may be an element of eminent domain. There was an African-American community there in the ’50s, when the land was seized. I learned landmarking might gain some financial advantage. I learned it could involve Regulatory Takings.
I learned how much I don’t know now, and how to learn. So, a good day to be in school, even on a gorgeous Saturday.