Los Angeles has a storied past full of invention, amusement, breakthroughs and oddities — enough to fill a multi-volume encyclopedia. But since most of us don’t have the attention span of Jeopardy contestants, we’d like to offer a series of random intriguing facts about our city, the land and the people who make Los Angeles a glorious, if at times bizarre, place to call home.
Orson Welles and His Noses
Actor/director/writer Orson Welles thought his nose was too small, so he wore a fake nose in almost every film he shot. Welles kept and named all his prosthetic noses and would bring them out at parties in his Hollywood home to perform magic tricks, making them vanish or playing the old shell game using three noses and a pea.
The Shortest Street in Town
The city’s shortest street, Powers Place, is 13 feet long and is mostly used for U-turns these days. The street is actually wider than it is long. Located in the historic Alvarado Terrace district in Pico-Union, the brick-paved street connects Alvarado Terrace with Bonnie Brae Street and is named after Pomeroy Wills Powers, an attorney from Kansas City who made his money developing property in Los Angeles and served as president of the L.A. City Council from 1900 to 1902. His Victorian house still sits nearby.
Barbie is a Pisces
Barbie was designed by Ruth Handler, whose husband was the co-founder of L.A.-based toy company Mattel. She got the idea while watching her daughter Barbara — Barbie’s namesake — play with paper dolls. Barbie made her debut on March 9, 1959. Marketed as a “teenage fashion model,” Barbie wore a black-and-white zebra-striped swimsuit, a signature topknot ponytail and came in blonde or brunette styles. The Ken doll was named after Handler’s son and came out in 1961.
L.A.’s First Official Movie Theater
In the spring of 1902, Tally’s Electric Theatre opened its doors at 262 S. Main Street as the city’s first theater dedicated exclusively to screening motion pictures. Since 1895, Thomas Tally had been showing films at the phonograph parlors he operated, at first with coin-operated peep-holes, but he tried it all, from kinetoscope to mutoscope to vitascope, moving on to bigger spaces and screens as technology advanced, pioneering the exhibition of films in a city destined to become an entertainment mecca.
Are California Rolls from Canada?
A few chefs claim to have invented the ubiquitous California roll in the early 1970s. Two of them, Ichiro Mashita and Ken Seusa, were actually sushi chefs in L.A., but Japan’s government officially recognizes Vancouver chef Hidekazu Tojo for creating a roll that Westerners could sink their teeth into.
Tojo says he noticed patrons were freaked out by raw fish and seaweed. So he turned the sushi roll inside out and replaced the raw fish with boiled crab, adding avocado and mayonnaise. Mashita’s story is similar, and most give him credit for popularizing the California roll in the States. Whoever truly “invented” the roll, it paved the way for all the crazy, way-more-than-a-mouthful combinations we gorge on today.
Dog Parks Didn’t Exist Until the 1980s
In April of 1985, L.A. City Councilman Joel Wachs wanted to build a playground at the four-acre Laurel Canyon Park, nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains above Studio City. He got flack from a neighborhood group called ParkWatch, whose members had established an unofficial dog park there which they maintained on their own dime. The city had nearly 200,000 licensed dogs but no officially sanctioned place for pups to run around off-leash and freely sniff each other’s butts. Wachs took up the cause. Since bureaucratic matters take forever, it was three years until the council, on an 11-0 vote, finally established the first dog park in Los Angeles.
If Beach Chairs Could Talk … Would They Sing?
The answer is yes. There’s a pair of musical chairs on the beach just south of the Santa Monica Pier. A public artwork established in 1987 by San Francisco artist Doug Hollis, these scalable, pastel-painted “wind harp beach chairs” are outfitted with sets of 18-foot-tall aluminum pipes designed to harness the ocean breeze into musical melodies. On windy days, gusts create tunes audible up to 500 feet away.
The Hollywood Bowl Has Always Invited Picnics
In 1920, two women with a grand piano performed the first-ever concert in what would become the Hollywood Bowl on a makeshift stage made from a barn door. At the time, the area was a popular picnic spot known as Daisy Dell in Bolton Canyon; its bowl shape served as a natural amplifier to trap sound waves. The Hollywood Bowl kicked off its first official season on July 11, 1922. People sat on wooden benches to see Alfred Hertz conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The first sound system was added in 1928 as the city got louder and audiences grew larger. It’s had four different bandshell designs over the years, the longest one lasting from 1929 to 2003.
A Man and Monkey Go Rollerskating
In early 1979, author and scientist Ted Coombs was living and working at the Hermosa Beach Animal Hospital. One evening, whilst skating around, he decided he should roller skate across the U.S. to protest the 1979 energy crisis. He called up local radio station KZLA and told them his idea. They hooked him up with United Artists, who at the time were releasing the film “Americathon,” and decided to sponsor Coombs’ adventure. So off he went with his pet monkey, Tim Bob, and another friend who followed him in a van.
It turns out a fellow named Clint Shaw had roller-skated from New York City to L.A. in 1974, so Coombs decided he would skate further and break that record to boot. Tim Bob died in Arizona, which is horrible, but despite getting chased by mad dogs, rattlesnakes, a gnarly fall and the van getting stolen, the country celebrated Coombs’ incredible escapade. Chicago gave him a parade complete with Playboy bunnies. New York shut down the Lincoln Tunnel to welcome him and threw him a concert in Central Park with Eddie Money. His four-month journey culminated in 5,193 miles.