The Prairie Skyscraper

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In the soft and green rolling hills of Osage County, described by TV’s Pioneer Woman as the ‘middle of nowhere’ is Bartlesville, Oklahoma: the oil capitol, headquarters of Phillips 66 and the location of Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper.

Price Tower, named for pipeline company owner Harold Price, is one of only 2 vertically oriented structures Wright built in a lifetime of low slung, horizontal buildings

A road trip detour, after I’d read about the Prairie project sent me to explore Osage County and check out Price Tower.

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It’s situated a little out of the original downtown. Not too close to other tall buildings and in a funky office neighborhood with company headquarters, old shopfronts and a noisy restaurant or two.

To see these lovely older buildings in Bartlesville, is to understand the power of the oil and gas industry in Northern Oklahoma. In 1904, just 7 years after the first well was dug, there were 150 oil companies with an office in Bartlesville!

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Price originally envisioned a one to four story structure, possibly designed by Cliff May who had already built a home for the family. His sons, however, were influenced by local architect Bruce Goff to get the absolute ‘best architect….Get Frank Lloyd Wright’.

After a phone consultation, and in the thrall of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” the family traveled to Taliesin West in Phoenix where Harold was impressed to note that the house Wright had built was 35 years older but similarly modern to the family’s May home! FLW convinced them that a tower would cost no more per square foot than a small boxy office building, and pitched a multi use concept with rental office suites and apartments along with the corporate headquarters. Brilliant salesmanship.

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By late August 1952 with the site secured, Wright began work on the plans. It grew to a 19 story tower rising from green parklands and tree lined streets.The metaphor of “a tree that escaped the forest” was consistent with his use of green copper vertical shutters, and a tall slender structure. 

At the International Petroleum exposition in Tulsa, Wright unveiled a model and announced the project. The May 1953 event drew 250,000 visitors, many oil executives, fellow oil producers and Price’s clients. Lots of buzz.

Construction, with the inevitable cost overruns, was completed and the building opened to the public in February 1956.

It was the most famous new building in America, with visitors coming from around the world to see Wright’s Prairie skyscraper. Although tall buildings were nothing new, multi-use high rise offices and apartments, particularly outside  the major cities, were unusual.

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Visiting now, the coolest thing about Price Tower is that it contains a hotel, operated by the non profit that runs the building and adjoining art center (designed by Zaha Hadid). Not luxurious but a singular Oklahomey Frank Lloyd Wright experience with a ‘behind the scenes’ docent tour as part of the deal.

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So you stay in one of the corner suites, travel in one of the 4 minuscule triangular elevators ( 2 people and a small suitcase max!) and then hang out in the Copper Bar and cocktail as the sun sets over the prairie. The crowd is eclectic…lots of young IT professionals who work for Phillips 66, design aficionados who drive to Bartlesville specifically to stay in and photograph the building and itinerant academics and workers who are tired of the hotel chains. 

Over Manhattans we met a Navajo linguist who gave us a list of out of the way sites to explore, visitors from Tulsa celebrating an anniversary and sharing lots of Osage legend: like where George Clooney liked to eat during the filming of “Osage County” ( Frank and Lola’s), what the Pioneer Woman is REALLY like, how the Tom Mix museum is the most fun museum in the county and be sure not to miss the Bison Preserves.

So much good stuff!

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http://www.pricetower.org

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Danny Ginsburg and Real Soda

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Danny Ginsburg started collecting bottle caps when he was 4 years old. It  had started as a game when he was much younger… with baby food lids.He would save, organize, memorize the product codes and collect, until life moved on and baby food was no longer the cuisine du jour!

Did I mention that Danny is one of the smartest people I know?

At four years old, on a family hike, he was tired, bored and complaining. His mother suggested finding something to do for fun and pointed at a Pepsi bottle cap on the ground. She said how they were a ” different kind of lid” and that there would always be bottle caps to find, no matter how old you were.

Smart mum!

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So began a search for caps, research into bottling plants and factories, stops at the rest areas on highways to see what truck drivers may have thrown out and letter writing to anyone who might have interesting bottle caps. His dream was to get a driver’s license and car, and go drive to where bottle caps where!

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The collection grew, and with it the need to find more and more bottled beverages. By the time he was a teenager, he was heading out to find sodas in other cities, unusual local brands from old time manufacturers, often just as they were thinking of closing up shop.He hoarded the diminishing brands, and ever the entrepreneur, brought back some extras to share or sell to friends.

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In an industry dominated by a few, really big players, there were possibilities and opportunities, and over the next few years Real Soda in Real Bottles managed to not only track down unique and obscure brands, but to create the beginnings of a distribution network. From a small start in the 1980’s, to obtaining a business license in 1991, Real Soda in Real Bottles is now the major distributor of independent, artisan sodas and a manufacturer of it’s own distinctive brands.

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At the same time there was a growing awareness and  desire to drink soda from a glass bottle, which can easily be re used and recycled. Every bottled soda is one less can or plastic nightmare.

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There is immense charm and silliness, and an abundance of joy which pervades the world of Real Soda in Real Bottles. The products range from kid favorites to grownup  & sophisticated, historical to hysterical. 100% juices and coconut waters to caffeinated energy concoctions.Neon to crystal clear, healthy to downright decadent. Lots of old time regional brands from across the USA and imports from across the globe.

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No wonder Danny describes them as the ”world’s best beverages”!

The names and labels are priceless. Boom Chugga Lugga Ginger Ale anyone?

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From a HUGE warehouse in Gardena, bottles are shipped across California and to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada and Colorado.And now across the world.

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It’s hard to be wildly enthusiastic about aisles of cheap canned sodas at the supermarket, even when those big companies spend millions trying to convince us to partake.

So much more fun to find a bottle of bubbly yumminess at a favorite coffeehouse, corner store or speciality deli.

mmmmmmmmm:)

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http://www.realsoda.com

Mission Inn

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How many times did I fly by on the 91, intent only on Palm Springs grooviness?

Impatient for warm breezes, misting margarita nights and mid century fabulousness?

It took a visiting friend, and the chance to show off a piece of Ron and Nancy Reagan trivia that finally turned me off the freeway and into historic downtown Riverside. Home of the amazing Mission Inn.

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The Inn occupies an entire city block. A fantastical melange of arcades and gardens and turrets and towers, it started life as a 12 room boarding house in 1876 and was “completed” in 1931.

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Over the years guest wings were added, along with cloistered walkways and gardens, music rooms and galleries, chapels, spanish patios, towers and restaurants and it became a major tourist destination for wealthy east coasters and europeans.

During the 30 plus year construction the eccentric & visionary owner, Frank Miller traveled the world, collecting treasures and now the artifacts have been valued at over $5 million.

Days Inn it is not!

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The St. Francis Chapel has 4 four huge Tiffany stained-glass windows and two original mosaics. The “Rayas Altar” is 25′ by 16′ across, carved from cedar and completely covered in gold leaf. And in the  “Garden of Bells,” Miller collected 800 bells, including one from the year 1247 described as the “oldest bell in Christendom.”

There are so many artisan touches it’s an instagram blowout: spanish tiles, iron gates, chandeliers, windows, art and antiques.

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To drop in is to experience a truly unique historic hotel.

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Ignore the valet parking and park just down the street.This re energized downtown is full of historic Californian architecture and it’s shaded streets and businesses are the cultural, urban hub of the Inland Empire.

With temperatures well above a hundred in summer, the cool, dark lobby and umbrellared courtyards are a perfect respite ….. the cafes are lovely.

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It’s worth bypassing the outlets or leaving just a little earlier to allocate a gracious hour on your way home from the desert especially if you can’t bring yourself to pull over enroute to Palm Springs!

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ps: Richard and Pat Nixon married at the Mission Inn and Nancy and Ronnie honeymooned there.

Manitoga

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My first encounter with the industrial designer , Russell Wright came in the form of American Modern dinner ware …covered in dust and grime at an estate sale.

Stylish and organic in shape, the design was inspired by the colors and forms of nature.
Mass produced and affordable , they outsold every other dinnerware and when new colors or shipments arrived the Macy’s stores were mobbed!
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With best selling dinnerware, home goods and textiles, Russell Wright became the first american, celebrity industrial designer.

His 1950’s book ” Guide to Easier Living”, co written with his wife Mary, espoused a simpler, more casual approach to living well: Design as a humanizing and democratic element.

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Decades later Terrence Conran quipped that “everyone can have a great salad bowl”, echoing Wright’s belief that anyone can create an aesthetically pleasing home and life.

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In 1942, Mary and Russell purchased 75 acres of damaged and logged land high above the Hudson River to use as a summer retreat.
For the next decade, they lived in the existing bungalow, studied the seasons and vegetation, and embarked on a 30 year transformation of the site.

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Wright thinned old trees to create views, planted meadows and new forests, created miles of paths, dammed a small creek to create a large pool and waterfall and built a modernist home and studio.

Mary and Russell named it Manitoga, Algonquin for “place of great spirit.”

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The house is modern and geometric, a 2 story of glass and rock. It sits snug into the slope, above the pond with roofs covered in greenery, a tree trunk in the living room and boulders as steps and walls.
It’s harmonious relationship with the ecology and landscape ahead of it’s time.

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Russell Wright died in 1976, and sadly the buildings and landscapes have deteriorated.
It’s now owned by The Russell Wright Design Center, but restoration is slow with most effort focused on the home and studio.
Thankfully now on the World Monument Fund Watchlist, the landscape needs detailed restoration and the visitor experience can be unsettling.
Given the rock star status of Wright, the re-issue of his famous dinnerware and the esteem in which he is held one can only hope that the Design Center can mobilize funding and energy to restore this magical place.

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Just an hour north from New York City in the sublime Hudson River Valley , add it to your must see list.

Sweet Lucie’s

When Mike and Geri Czako first founded Sweet Lucie’s, their organic ice-cream company, they were renting the Nosh kitchen after hours to create and perfect their signature flavors and premium product, seemingly years into a painstaking restoration of their 1959 vintage ice cream truck and juggling full time careers in advertising and business…

and parents of a very sweet little one year old girl called Lucie.

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Fast forward to 2014: hundreds of appearances and events under their belt, products on the shelves at WholeFoods and speciality retailers, collaborations with artisan bakers and a whisky producer, and a new addition to the Czako family, a baby boy, Jack.

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From a craving for ice-cream when she was pregnant with Lucie and a desire to eat well and organically, Geri is justifiably proud of the company she and Mike have created and their USDA certified organic product.

They now produce over 28 flavors and 18 fresh fruit sorbets (plus toppings and sauces)
at their immaculate manufacturing facility in San Pedro. All made from scratch in small batches using locally sourced ingredients. Banana, Black Sesame, Blueberry Pie, Butter Pecan…and that’s just the B’s!

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Their yummy ice cream and iconic truck are much in demand for celebrity and media events, and both the truck and the very cute gelato carts have been featured in magazines (Sunset and C to name a couple), pop videos (Katy Perry!) and catalog shoots (the adorable Pottery Barn Kids).

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The company is now full time for Mike and Geri, with leaps forward almost every week: a brick and mortar store to open soon on the Westside, Sweet Lucie’s now scooped on the USC Campus, and even more flavors and ice cream treats being added to the mix.

http://www.ilovelucies.com

Road Trips Rule

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There is nothing so awful that can’t be improved by a road trip..( and not to trivialize truly tragic, awful things).

Give me that moment, the heightened sense of expectation as the car is loaded and the house is locked.

Time for an adventure!

The best place for a road trip is my adopted home, the US of A.

Along with great good roads, cheap gas ( and my baby Prius) , you can’t help but stumble upon mythic otherworldly landscapes, folk art extravaganza and weirdly quaint, niche businesses, cultural icons of every sort: the place where the movie was filmed, the star was born, the songwriter died, the poet or the president lived, the novel described.

Uber Americana as far as the eye can see!!

road 1 Note: The best trips start here in the West. (Sorry, but explorations of the green East are never as epic.)

From LA there’s a first long day of driving to get anywhere. Brutal moonscapes, big dry mountains, stretches of interstate, desolate and dissolute…life slows and one becomes introspective. Alone, I talk to myself- animated arguments or rants, poetic and witty observation or sing at the top of my lungs, favorite songs over and over. ..and over and over again.

Bliss.

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With a friend or husband, it’s hours of chat, sometimes a nap, but definitely a stop at the In & Out in Barstow, or at the bottom of the Grapevine. Opens at 11am, perfect timing to get that fast food monkey off your back AND in a social justice, sorta healthy way. From now on, it’s picnics,fruit and nuts and margarita dinners.

roadiburger Depending on the direction, the first night can be Grand Canyon or Chinle, Winslow or St George, Utah , maybe San Francisco or Tuscon. The West rules!!

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When it comes to beds on the road the trick is to alternate .Cheap as chips ( but clean, not scary) OR ultra splurgy .  The more remote and less traveled, the more meaningful the historic hotel/motel becomes.

Often the mainstay of what’s left in main street, they hold the stories, the economy, the history and the community within their walls. Think La Posada, Winslow or Hotel Capitan, Van Horn Texas, Price Tower, Bartlesville OK, Hotel Paisano , Marfa …cool architecture and public spaces .

They are the historic beating hearts of their town.   hotel2The other useful rule of thumb:the further you are from a city, the better the Motel 6 ! Chatting to the chic woman in black at the concrete Motel 6 pool in Utah as we watched  kids swimming (yes,an editor of German VOGUE) I was reminded of how the Euros travel in the Southwest: clean cheap beds, bespoke tours and helicopters at sunrise.

road666 My necessities. A cooler on the back set with picnic stuff (fruit, salad and water), tea kettle and caffeine supplies ( hot, black tea w non fat milk & sugar for when I open my eyes), wine (not always available ), lots of paper maps to spread out and see the possibilities, story books to read and whatever device to photograph.

Sunglasses, swimmers, hat and sneakers. A phone.

An excuse to get in the car ( destination, baby) and at least a week or more… mmmmmmmm

Rock Anthem Power Ballad

journey-unauthorized Hard to believe I had missed a whole school of music, and one amazing song in particular… Lots of Oz Rock (and that’s an Encyclopedia of Greatness), West Coast sound, Dance and Trance, hearing the Sex Pistols and knowing, in that moment, everything had changed .

So I moved to London.Hung out in clubs and pubs, danced and devoured everything the UK music scene could offer.

Saw The Clash, The Specials, UB40, Siouxsie and the Banshees, XTC, Black Uhuru, The Pretenders,Elvis C, Graham P, U2 ( when Bono was plump) and pilgrimaged wherever The Jam went. Epic nights of music .

A decade later, a marriage and move to LA, it took freeways, interstates and local radio to beat me into submission….

YOU WILL LOVE BIG AMERICAN STADIUM ROCK

YOU WILL SING POWER BALLADS AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS ..

YOU WILL THINK DON’T STOP BELEIVIN’ IS THE GREATEST SONG EVER WRITTEN.

In spite of a preference for West Coast road trips it’s hard to argue with the big and loud and wide and deep of commercial radio in the midwest. An the incredible power ballad gorge-a-thon when you drive from Milwaukee to St Louis, to Detroit and Cleveland and Chicago.

The genre kills: inescapable, emotional, ubiquitous .Journey with skinny Steve Perry screaming “Don’t Stop Believin” is the rallying, pump-up song for the White Sox, the Dodgers and nearly every second high school football team.

It’s the best selling song in digital download history ( until Imagine Dragons”Radioactive”…yuk)

Released in 1981, I missed it first time around.Apparently it reached only 100 on the Aussie charts, just a little better in the UK.

Described somewhat sourly by music critics as a “Kareoke Pop Ballad” .You’ve got to be kidding!?! Who can sing it like Steve Perry? I like the Jezebels Triple J version , but it’s a little knowingly hipsterish and twee, love the Glee cast rendition ( you tube people) and can’t believe I found a thumpy amped up dance version downloaded in my library ( tequila?)

I forget how much I love it when I”m just living my regular,day to day SoCal life .

Steve, Journey and The Song fade into a mushy background like books I read long ago or old boyfriends.

However, I’m reminded of Al Gore’s wry comment describing “winners, losers and that lesser known, third category”.

Song as Olympic Games opener anyone?

Season 2 finale of Lillehammer and Trond Fausa Avrag’s heartbreakingly vulnerable Torgei tries out for the local production of Glee…

“Just a small town girl

Livin’ in a lonely world

She took the midnight train

Goin’ any where

Just a city boy

Born and raised in South Detroit

He took the midnight train

Goin’ any where

A singer in a smokey room

The smell of wine and cheap perfume

For a smile they can share the night

It goes on and on and on and on

Don’t stop believin”