Showcase Home Revealed at Huge Party

Originally published in “A Stone’s Throw” column in the South Pasadena Review  1.28.16

Showcase-House-1
2016 Pasadena Showcase Home, Illustration by Lynn Van Dam Cooper

On Friday night, blueprints of design, swatches of fabric, and bare rooms with delectable food filled the “Empty House Party” and the newly revealed 2016 Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts (PSHA.) This year, the non-profit organization will showcase a 1918-built mission revival, found on a 2-acre property in La Canada Flintridge.

The Empty House Party is a very exciting night for us. We have been working diligently to get the House to this point,” said former South Pasadena resident Marilyn Campbell Anderson, this year’s Benefit Chair.

The event kicked-off the designers’ dream-making spree, as ideas are fleshed out and the creativity revealed to the public April 17-May 15. Landscape and interior design artists vie for a spot to strut their stuff and help raise money for the arts around Los Angeles County.

The process is straightforward. The owners of the property, in this case the nearly 100-year-old gem, move out for 6 months while the place is gutted of furniture and belongings while preparations are made for a design renovation inside and out.

Professionals submit their proposals for the space they desire to transform. The selection committee then decides which ideas shows the most promise and entrusts the designer with the task.

This year’s sprawling property has a three-story, 16,000 square foot main residence with six bedrooms, five bathrooms, a variety of open spaces, balconies, an elevator, and even a rumored speakeasy on the lowest floor. There is also a 2,100 square foot stand alone guest home in the back. In the main house, the master suite alone is 1,500 square feet and includes separate his and hers bathrooms and a changing room the size of a large living room in your average home. Samantha Williams of Ederra Design Studio is one of two designers who will take charge of this space.

Though a great deal of work lie ahead for the 20 interior design firms, 8 exterior design firms and hundreds of volunteer members associated with the PSHA, all agree that it’s fully worth the effort. Anderson said, “Showcase is a huge undertaking. Our volunteers are the backbone of the organization and through their efforts, year after year, we are able to produce Showcase and raise funds to support music education programs throughout the community.”

The goal is for 30,000 people to walk through the home in 25 days. $630,000 was donated last year alone for gifts and grants and more given to other artsy endeavors. A cumulative $20+ million has been donated since the start of the organization in 1948.

The funds go toward music and art education in and around Los Angeles County: gifts and grants for outstanding community programs, the “Music Mobile” bringing a hands-on music experience to hundreds of 3rd graders, a concert at the Walt Disney Hall by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for an audience filled with 4th-grade students, competitions for promising young musicians (16-24 years of age) who receive monetary awards to assist in furthering their music education and more!

But truly, this is a win-win for all. Not only does the philanthropic owner enjoy some improvements to the house, but many have the opportunity to give directly to their community by supporting children in the arts. The public can experience a historic home with modern ideas to accentuate and celebrate the past; and designers benefit by showcasing their talent to thousands.

When asked why he’s done this for the past seven years, Jason Lai, owner and principal designer of L2 Interiors said that it was simply “good advertisement and all worth it.” Lai will be showcasing a “young adult” bedroom and bath. He is proud to be debuting a textured porcelain that looks like stone and a custom faucet for the bath that “mix metals” in a tasteful manner.

The cost for the redesign are incurred by each design firm. Designers also work with a variety of businesses who advertise alongside them, donating materials and ultimately add to the cause.

When the home opens to the public in April, it will be the 52nd showcase, “one of the oldest, largest and most successful house and garden tour in the U.S.” according to PSHA.

Tickets go on sale February 3 and are $35-$45/person, depending on the day and hour of a scheduled tour. (A $60 golden ticket that allows a visit during any open hours is currently on sale online.) Parking will be in Lot I at the Rose Bowl, shuttling people to and from the home.

For tickets and information, go online to pasadenashowcase.org.

List of Designers & their Design Space

Entry, Staircase and Second Floor Hall: Saxony Design Build Inc., Joshua Cain & Jeff Godbold (Interior Advisors)

Grand Salon: Designs of the Interior, Karen Shoener, Genaro Lagdameo & Carla Padour

Music Room: Parker West Interiors, Greg Parker & Paul Heinz

Dining Room: Kelly Ferm Inc., Kelly Ferm

Cloakroom and Lavatory: EMI Interior Design, Inc., Erica Islas

Master Suite: Ederra Design Studio, Samantha Williams & Cynthia Lambakis

Morning Room and Lady’s Office: Tocco Finale, Dona Dockendorf

Grandparent’s Suite and Sitting Room: Lemmon Hill, Cathy Arkley

Grandparents’ Suite Bath: Foothill Tile and Stone Co., Vincent Chow & Carmel Chow

The Artist’s Veranda and The Aviary Elevator: Shari Tipich, Decorative Artist

The Writer’s Retreat: Mark and Bleue Design, Inc., Savannah Bleue & Ally Marks

Little Girl’s Bedroom: Salutations Home, Scott Moore & Jonna Carls

Young Adult Bedroom and Jack & Jill Bath: L2 Interiors, Stephanie Leese & Jason Lai

Family Room, Main Hallway and Powder Room: Robert Frank Design, Robert Frank

Guest Suite: Julia Wong Designs, Julia Wong

Smoking Lounge: Michael Wrusch Design, Michael Wrusch

Kitchen, Butler’s Pantry, Breakfast Room, Laundry Room and Caterer’s Kitchen: GH Wood Design, Amin Khademi, Kaleena Khademi & Jack Carino

Basement Hallway/Art Gallery: Roula’s Decor, Roula Dardari

Guest House Bedroom, Bath, Living Room and Dining Room: The Art of Room Design, Maria Videla

Guest House Kitchen, Breakfast Room and Laundry: D Christjan, Phil Vonk

Exterior Design Spaces

Exterior Advisor: Land Re: Vision, Larry Pastre

Entry Gardens and Rose Garden: RA Designs, Mouna Stewart

Sculpture Garden: Gad Garden Architecture & Design, Leo Cruz

Tidellii of Fountain Valley, Tatiana Mendelli & Ginger Evans

Entry Veranda: Interior Devine, Paul Devine

The Pond: Mystic Water Garden, Steve Sandalis

Sacred Space Garden: Design Inc., Karen Miller

Guest House Gardens: Outdoor Elegance, Inc., Douglas Sanicola & Roxanne Spear

The Pool: Pacific Outdoor Living, Terry Morrill and John Durco

The Sports Court and Putting Green: TD Sports Inc./Sportcourla, Dale Hendrickson

A Very Special Olympics

Originally published in “A Stone’s Throw” Column, South Pasadena Review 8.6.15

By Ann Suk Wang

The Special Olympics: Volleyball at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion
The Special Olympics: Volleyball at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion

After the last note of the floor exercise played and the final pose held, a gymnast sprinted off, into an excited embrace with her coach. Together they almost fell over, twirling with joy as the athlete’s legs and arms wound around the coach’s torso. It looked like an octopus clinging to a pillar. The pillar stood strong.

I waited in line for 45 minutes with two whining boys to get into the John Wooden Center at UCLA and experienced this glorious moment. It was worth it for all of us.

Last week, Los Angeles was graced with a special event: the Special Olympics. And I say graced because it was a gift to L.A. to participate in the celebration of diversity and be inspired by the determination and courage of those around the world with an intellectual disability.

My family also attended volleyball games, the first ever “dance challenge” and the closing ceremony; all were tear-jerkingly inspirational. We had witnessed the thrill of victory, not only for a medal, but personal victories to overcome with disabilities that, truth be told, melted into the background.

South Pasadena had the privilege of being a “Host Town” to athletes from Morocco and Paraguay. More than 100 communities from San Louis Obispo to San Diego participated by being matched with delegations from different countries. Volunteers welcomed guest before the games through parades and activities, spread the word around town about events to come and cheered during competitions for their matched athletes.

The Special Olympics are held every two years, alternating summer and winter games (and should not to be confused with Paralympics, held the week after The Olympics for those with physical disabilities.) Their motto: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt” was coined by Special Olympics founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver at the first games in 1968, held in her backyard.

Since then, the Special Olympics has promoted awareness and been a champion for equality, inclusion, and acceptance. During the 9 days of the 2015 summer games, there were about 7,000 athletes, 177 countries represented, 30,000 volunteers, 3,000 coaches, and 500,000 spectators (millions more watched on TV).

Volunteer healthcare professionals gave free exams and met the health care needs of the athletes. Michael Wang, a physician at USC and my husband, cared for a football coach with malaria and an athlete with a foot infection, requiring surgery.

“Fans in the Stands” gathered groups of 10 or more to attend sporting events to cheer for the athletes at dozens of venues around L.A. (like UCLA, USC, Long Beach, Griffith Park, Lucky Strikes in Downtown and more.)

Special Olympics Inaugural Dance Challenge: me with Cody Carlson, made popular in So You Think You Can Dance
Special Olympics Inaugural Dance Challenge: me with Cody Carlson, made popular in So You Think You Can Dance

The “Inaugural Dance Challenge,” launched at the Wallis Annenberg Center, was hosted by Nigel Lythgoe, producer of “So You Think You Can Dance” and judged by famous names like Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Abdul and Twitch, to name a few. Apolo Ohno, Gold Medalist in speed skating at the 2006 Winter Olympics, said it well, “This night is about being unified on the field and in life.” Ben Vereen, the “preacher” of the night said, “The dance heals us. [It’s] not only for the people dancing, but for us.”

The dancers were magical, whether from Panama or Pakistan. I almost lost my voice in collective shouts of excitement as soloists leapt in a lyrically graceful jeté, couples glided across the stage in beautiful ballroom gowns and crews hit it hard while onlookers bounced to the beat and hooted their approval. One soloist even got there late, due to a bus problem, but was given the opportunity to perform anyway, his hard work rewarded with cheers and tears.

“The world comes together to see our athletes in action and celebrate their victories over huge odds. The Special Olympics World Game embraces unity, achievement and dignity,” states the la2015.org website.

This last week, my own chest swelled with pride for the courageous athletes and all the supportive people around them, holding them up and giving the rest of us a snap shot of a hopeful future.

Olympic Freeway Murals Come Alive Again

Originally published in Fall 2014 Quarterly Magazine

John Wehrle's "Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo" - 101 Freeway at Spring St.
John Wehrle’s “Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo” – 101 Freeway at Spring St.

Larger-than-life faces, a child frozen in a handstand, flying mythical columns, and colorful cartoon cars stream by on concrete walls as commuters and visitors from around the world speed or crawl by restored murals.

This is Los Angeles, “mural capital of the world,” and home to the 10 Olympic Freeway Murals from 1984.

Angelinos are fortunate to live and work in a metropolis surrounded by public art created by esteemed muralists. But it is easy to take the beauty of the artwork for granted as drivers sit behind the wheel.

Yet these murals beckon and bend to the rushing nature of traffic. They were created to be experienced in motion – an inspiring backdrop during a hectic day.

According to Isabel Rojas-Williams, Executive Director of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA), “Although we were all excited to host the Olympics in Los Angeles thirty years ago, in my memory the excitement occurred as I opened the Olympic Arts Festival calendar and saw the opportunities to enjoy world-class art along with world-class sports!”

Unfortunately, mural art is more susceptible to not only highway expansion and the elements, but also taggers who illegally vie for the public’s attention with their own message, placed directly on top of the commissioned works. Because of this, Caltrans painted over the walls. And supporters of the original art have called for restoration.

On August 24 of this year, MCLA held a 30th anniversary celebration fundraiser to help the effort.

The original 10 muralists were honored at the historic Pico House: Glenna Avila, Judith F. Baca, Alonzo Davis, Willie Herrón III, Frank Romero, Terry Schoonhoven, Roderick Sykes, Kent Twitchell, John Wehrle, and Richard Wyatt.

According to Wehrle, “It was wonderful to see people … who went through the same fairly harrowing experience” of making art on the shoulders of some of the busiest freeways in the world (the 101 and 110.)

It was also an honor, Wehrle said, to be counted among the reputable muralists chosen “to represent a vision of LA and the chance to work with other visionary artists of the highest caliber.”

Wehrle’s 24’ x 207’, Keim silicate paint Olympic mural, Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo is an homage to the ancient Greek games and man’s reach into space as a Babel-like tower becomes the rings of Jupiter.

Rojas-Williams said, “As an art historian and scholar of murals, I’m inspired by the history conveyed by the murals in our city. The 1984 Olympic Freeway Murals were painted by some of LA’s most iconic muralists.”

The painstaking restoration is well worth the effort. Avila’s L.A. Freeway Kids took six months for preliminary drawings and another six months to prepare and paint acrylic onto the wall. The mural stands 20 feet high and 225 feet long, and some eight additional artists were hired to help complete the painting.

The mural depicted real children in Avila’s life, playing and running while wearing t-shirts of iconic, kid-friendly places around town: the Los Angeles Zoo, the former Children’s Museum of Los Angeles, Disneyland, and UCLA.

At the forefront of the restorations is Herrón III, artist of the Olympic mural Struggles of the World. Lauded by both Avila and Wehrle, Avila stated of him, “He’s my hero.” And though Herrón III has helped to restore multiple Olympic Freeway Murals, he has yet to work on his own.

Of the 10 original murals, five murals have been restored, one is in the process, two are candidates to be restored in the future, and two have been destroyed in a freeway expansion project.

Rojas-Williams adds, “Murals are important because they convey the voice of the masses, the disenfranchised, the voiceless. Murals serve as an education tool; they empower. They are like open-air books, which educate communities about their history … The 1984 Olympic Freeway Murals brought tremendous pride to Los Angeles.”

The 10 Olympic Freeway Murals:

Glenna Avila’s “L.A. Freeway Kids,” — 101 Freeway near Los Angeles St.

Judith Baca’s “Hitting the Wall” — 110 Freeway at 4th St.

Frank Romero’s “Going to the Olympics” — 101 Freeway between Alameda and San Pedro
 St.

Kent Twitchell’s “ Lita Albuquerque Monument” — 101 Freeway, Temple St. underpass
 and “Jim Morphesis Monument” — 101 Freeway, Temple St. underpass

John Wehrle’s “Galileo, Jupiter, Apollo” — 101 Freeway at Spring St.

Alonzo Davis’ “Eye on ‘84” — 110 Freeway, 3rd St. onramp (currently painted over and waiting to be restored)

Willie Herrón III’s “Struggles of the World” — 101 Freeway at Alameda St. (currently painted over and waiting to be restored)

Terry Schoonhoven’s “Cityscape” — 110 Freeway, 6th St. off-ramp (currently painted over and waiting to be restored)

Roderick Sykes’ “Unity” — 110 Freeway, Figueroa St. exit (destroyed)

Richard Wyatt’s, “James and Spectators” –110 Freeway at Adams Blvd. and Flower St. (destroyed)

To find local murals and learn more about MCLA, go to muralconservancy.org

Extraordinary Child Chefs

Final 6: Gavin, Sarah, Troy, Dara, Jack and Alexander Photo credit: Mercury News
Final 6: Gavin, Sarah, Troy, Dara (final 2), Jack and Alexander (final 2)
Photo credit: Mercury News

I have always believed you can learn something new from anybody. This could not be more true than in “MasterChef Junior,” where 8-13 year-olds create restaurant-quality dishes in a competition judged by popular professionals: Chef Gordon Ramsay, restaurateur/winemaker Joe Bastianich and Chef Graham Elliot.

The entertainment value is high and heartwarming, while the ability of these kids never cease to amaze and inspire me.

A nationwide search found 25 young home cooks to compete on the MasterChef stage. And now there are two!

This Friday, November 8, on Fox at 8/7c, the first-ever Junior MasterChef will be crowned, along with a prize of $100,000.

What makes this show so special? Simply, the kids. They are really just kids… with fantastically mature abilities to create culinary works of art.

During a mystery box challenge with less than kid-friendly ingredients like snail, kidneys, sardines and brussel sprouts, to name a few, 9-year-old Sarah from Culver City, CA said with a scrunched face, “This is so not gummy bears!”

I fell in love with this adorable and passionate Sarah who made a perfect lava cake in one show, a winning Mediterranean dish of fried sardines and an olive salad in another show, and in yet another episode, eagerly yelled “Whip it like a man” to whip into shape fellow contestant, Gavin, during a competition to turn cream into “soft peaks” by hand. (As an adult, I am still unable to do this.)

When Judge Bastianich tried to make Sarah feel better for dropping a pan on the floor with a cut of beef still on top and sharing that he believes in the 5-second rule, she whispered, “You do know you’re being recorded.” And when she didn’t move on to the top 4, I admittedly cried with a tearful Sarah.

However, other favorites did move on, like lovable Hawaiian-shirt wearing 10-year-old Jack from East Rockaway, New York and hard-core 12-year-old Troy from Thousand Oaks, CA.

Dara, 12, from Culver City, CA, made her mother’s wedding cake, wears a huge Hello Kitty-like bow on her head and has a smile to match. In the last episode, according to the judges, she made soy and ginger wings with pickled vegetables that not only should be on a restaurant’s menu, but was worthy of being a restaurant’s “signature dish.”

But the one to beat is the composed 13-year-old Alexander from New York, NY. One of the judges noted about him, that he has a special relationship with food. He made liver (something he has never liked or worked with) into a beautifully rustic and savory masterpiece, moving him onto “another level” of culinary excellence. After trying Alexander’s creation, Ramsay jokingly offered him a job as assistant sous-chef at his restaurant in London. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some truth to his offer; Alexander’s creativity knows no bounds.

Whether taking over the kitchen of an upscale restaurant in LA, making aioli and macaroons by heart, or cooking with spaetzle or branzino (what is that?), these kids teach me and my own kids, the possibilities when passions are pursued.

Yes, it is fascinating to watch children turn various ingredients into artful creations, but it is also motivating for our family to be inspired together. After each episode, my boys (11 and 6) are encouraged to try new foods and cook with me more often. (Maybe I can groom them to become contestants in the future? Okay, if you knew my boys, you would know that’s a long shot, but if they could cook even one meal a month that would be tremendous progress!)

Even more, watching these kids’ accomplishments, opens a discussion about excellence in whatever my children do, the hard work needed and the perseverance to keep on pressing on.

If you know any amazing child chefs, sign them up here for the next season http://www.fox.com/masterchef-junior/ — then let me know you did!

Warmer and messier side of judges: Chef Gordon Ramsay, Chef Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich Photo credit: TV Guide

Warmer and messier side of judges: Chef Gordon Ramsay, Chef Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich
Photo credit: TV Guide