Total Pageviews

Saturday, December 31, 2011


SAVE THE DATES—As the New Year arrives, North Park lost the now bankrupt Lyric at the Birch but theatregoers will not see a dark house for long. Local troupe San Diego Musical Theatre has booked three shows from 2012 at the 725-seat Birch North Park Theatre.

First up for SDMT is "The Marvelous Wonderettes" February 10-26 and followed by "Rent," June 22 to July 8; and "Footloose," Sept. 28 to Oct. 14.

The Birch is at 2891 University Ave.; for more info and tickets, visit and/or 858-560-5740.
Mark your calendars: “The Marvelous Wonderettes” Feb. 10, 11, 16,17,18, 23, 24, 25, at 8 pm; Feb. 12, 18, 19, 26, at 2 pm.

Image: Courtesy SDMT website

Friday, December 30, 2011


SIX SHOOTERS--Sometimes the professional relationship between magazine photographers and writers is like watching two grown men trying to teach each other the tango.

Overall, the photographer and the writer are the middlemen between the homeowners, whose home is being photographed and the editor and art director. Writers try to please editors and photographers in turn try to please art directors. The tango then becomes a square dance.

The following San Diego photographers are ultimate pros. I’ve learned to step aside and let them do their work. I don’t have a favorite here. Given the photographer and the architect involved, the following are among the most satisfying assignments I’ve participated in.

The purpose here is to have you visit each phototographer’s website to view their extraordinary work.

“Bond House Revived in San Diego,” Architect: Richard Neutra, Cover story of Modernism Magazine, Winter 2003-4; Photography: Gary Payne

“El Pueblo Ribero,” Architect: Rudolf Schindler, San Diego Magazine, August, 2006; Photography: Gary Payne.

“From the Heart: North Park Bungalows,” Master builder: David Owen Dryden, American Bungalow Magazine, Spring 2005; Photography: Alexander Vertikoff

“Lost and Found Modernism,” Architect: Craig Ellwood, San Diego Magazine’s At Home, Winter 2005; Photography James Brady

“Requa Chronicler,” Architect Richard Requa, Old House Interiors, Dec. 2008; Photography; Gary Payne.

“Attention to Detail, Lodge at Torrey Pines Debut: Vision of Hotelier William Evans,” San Diego Magazine, June, 2002; Photographer John Durant

Upcoming: “Atoll House Remodel,” Architect Ken Kellogg, San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles, January 2012; Photography Martin Mann

Upcoming: “Centre Street Lofts,” Architect: Lloyd Russell, San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles, February, 2012; Photography: David Harrison


Top: “Essensia,” Hillside Drive, La Jolla as an example of residential photography by Gary Payne,

Middle: “Chavez Residence,” John Mock, architect, photograph by David Harrison from “Mid Century Magic,” November, 2011 San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles. Click SDHGL advertisement on this blog to view the article.

Lower: Black and White by James Brady, Brady Architectural Photography.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


DIRECT HITS--Historians document a 1754 drawing by Benjamin Franklin as America’s first political cartoon. Today political cartoons have been honed to wrap poignant images with concise punch lines to chronicle our nation’s highs and lows.

Political cartoons have become effective propaganda tools because they can galvanize public opinion over night. Who can ever forget how Pulitzer Prize winner Herblock’s relentless skewers on Richard Nixon during the Watergate Era?

One of my favorite coffee table books is “American Political Cartoons: The Evolution of a National Identity 1754–2010” by Steven Hess (Brookings Institute) and Sandy Northrop (PBS). The year old work points out “most” newspaper cartoonists aim to be fair albeit they are sometimes ruthless. Overall, political cartooning has become a delicious part of American politics and journalism proving once again the pen is mightier than the sword.

If I had a vote for 2011’s Pulitzer Prize in political cartooning it would go to Dana Summers of the Orlando Sentinel for the returning U.S. soldier. Simply, stunning in its bitter sweetness and pathos. The others on this page are remarkable as well in getting to the point with punch and pizazz.

Images: “Iraq:” by Dana Summers, Orlando Sentinel. Others shown in this blog are from the National Archives and Google images and not from Hess and Northrop’s work.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


ICONS R US--There’s public debate afoot on the topic of creating a new civic icon image for San Diego along the lines of the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, and/or The Arch in St. Louis.

Creating a landmark for landmark’s sake reminds me of the Hans Christian Anderson tale “Emperor’s New Clothes.” Point being do we need to create an icon image simply to attract more attention to ourselves? Smacks of a low tide view of our civic self-esteem.

But, do we need it? We are a world class city. We just need to believe that and to support leaders, who understand that. If anything San Diego has too many universal appealing icons. Other cities like Seattle and St. Louis have few.

Why build another icon? We have a huge list of them that we sometimes ignore:

--California Tower that represents our historic Balboa Park.

--Salk Institute by architect Louis Kahn. Considered one of the world’s leading architectural wonders.

--San Diego Zoo.

--Coronado Bridge. Spans one of the planet’s finest natural harbors.

--Hotel Del Coronado. Classic Victorian architecture. What a beautiful job the hotel staff does decorating the feisty Victorian for the holidays.

--USS Midway. By not seeing the aircraft carrier as a world class civic icon worthy of high praise is simply minimizing what the name stands for; the servicemen and women who served about her and the military heritage of our region.

--Sea World Tower. Just as significant as the Space Needle in Seattle, especially during the holidays when Sea World staff lights it up.

--Cliffs at Torrey Pines. Beautiful natural wonder that’s a lot better looking than most shorelines. Used to be an island and so was Point Loma area. That’s why you’ll only see Torrey Pines growing there and Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Isles.

--Old Point Loma Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument.

This small essay undoubtedly will appear as a negative to those who wish to place a civic icon image representing the sailing legacy of San Diego. Instead why not use the energy to create a huge sailing event that justifies the proposed 500-foot sailing icon. For example, why not create another America’s Cup event that will always be part of San Diego. There are 30 plus teams in the National Football League. Certainly there is room in the world of big league sailing for more than one America’s Cup style event. Why not name the mega sailing competition the Cabrillo Cup? We could market the heck out of that and we would gain the eyes of the sailing and sporting universe every two years when the Whatever Cup is hosted. Make that 500-foot proposed sailing icon earn its keep first. The first Cabrillo Cup or San Diego Cup or Horton Cup or Burnham Cup or Snapdragon Cup could be part of the 100th anniversary of the California Panama Exposition in 2015.

Civic icons are earned not manufactured.

Icon architecture images via Google Images and National Park Service: Cabrillo Light House, 1855; Salk Institute, 1965 by Louis Kahn; California Tower, 1915 by Bertrand Goodhue; Hotel Del Coronado, 1888 by James and Merritt Reid.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


RETRO IN CARLSBAD--Everytime we attend live theatre we swear to return more often. So was the case Saturday as we caught the holiday season ending performance of “Santaland Diaries,” a tour de force performance by Equity actor Daren Scott. Based on the book, “Holiday on Ice,” by David Sedaris, America’s best selling humorist, the one-man performance at Carlsbad’s New Village Arts Theatre mirrored the collective insanity of the holiday season. It was small theatre (99-seats) at its very best. Scott’s solo as Crumpet the Macy’s elf was—well, let’s say he nailed it! Judging by matinee’s full house, it was the right choice to stage this holiday season.

Bravo to the entire company for creating such a fresh and creative venue. Founded in 2001 by grads of NYC’s Actors Studio Drama School, the NVA is sited next door to the Carlsbad Amtrak station in a 1922-converted lumber warehouse.

The company’s enthusiasm and love of what they do as professionals will certainly make a hit of their next effort, which is “New Year’s Eve Vintage Prom.” Guests are invited to dust off retro prom attire and dance to the icon tunes of the last 60 years. Tickets are $75 each and include, food, drink, desserts, photos, dancing and door prizes. If the enthusiasm of “Santaland…” carries over to the “…Vintage Prom”, the evening will be remembered for a long time.

Next stage performance for the troupe will be a partnership with Playwrights Project featuring
two new plays by San Diego-based emerging playwrights. L.A. (Lost Apollonia) (Jan. 13-15) and M (Jan. 20-22).

New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State Street, Carlsbad, CA 92008, 760-433-3245,

Image: Via Google images, Daren Scott as Crumpet, the Macy’s elf in “Santaland Diaries,” written by David Sedaris at the New Village Arts Theatre, Carlsbad CA.

Monday, December 26, 2011


GUEST BLOG— Check the skies, TONIGHT for a spectacular conjunction in the Western sky between Venus and the slender crescent in the western sky, according to NASA.Gov’s Dr. Tony Phillips, who produces a first rate news page called

“…The action began Dec. 26 shortly before sunset. Around 4:30 pm to 5 pm local time, just as the sky is assuming its evening hue, Venus will pop into view, glistening bright in the deepening twilight. No more than 6 degrees to the right lies the crescent Moon, exquisitely slender, grinning like the Cheshire cat with his head cocked at humorous attention. This was a wonderful time to look; there were very few sights in the heavens as splendid as Venus and the Moon gathered close and surrounded by twilight blue.

"As the sky faded to black, a ghostly image of the full Moon materialized within the horns of the lunar crescent. This is caused by Earthshine, a delicate veil of sunlight reflected from our own blue planet onto the dusty-dark lunar terrain. Also known as "the Da Vinci glow," after Leonardo da Vinci who first understood it 500 years ago, Earthshine pushes the beauty of the conjunction over the top.

“Meanwhile, Jupiter will be looking down on it all from a perch overhead in the constellation Pisces. In ascending order, Jupiter, Venus and the Moon are the three brightest objects in the night sky, able to pierce city lights and even thin clouds. Almost everyone, everywhere will be able to see them.

“Although no telescope is required to enjoy the show, if one happens to be under your Christmas tree, take it outside. With a simple triangular sweep, you can see the clouds and moons of Jupiter, mountains and craters on the Moon, and the fat gibbous form of Venus. (Like the Moon, Venus has phases, and at the moment she is 83% illuminated.) Rarely can so much amateur astronomy be done with so little effort. Some people find the night after Christmas to be a bit of a letdown. This year, it's not so bad.” --By Dr. Tony Phillis,

Images: A crescent moon with Earthshine over Yosemite National Park in October 2004. Photo credit:’s Andy Skinner.

Leonardo made this sketch of a crescent moon with Earthshine. It appears in the Codex Leicester circa 1510, where there is a page entitled "Of the Moon: No Solid Body is Lighter than Air." He explains the "ghostly glow" is due to sunlight bouncing off Earth's oceans and, in turn, hitting the Moon. Not bad for an earthling, who lived when most folks were still believing the earth was still flat.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


WHITE HOUSE TRADITION—There are two official national Christmas trees. One tree is inside the White House and the other is outdoors in the Ellipse not far away.

Recently, President Barack Obama shows military officials the White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room following a meeting in early December. The 18-foot-plus balsam fir is decorated with holiday cards created by military children and ornaments featuring medals, badges and patches from all the military branches. Christmas trees have been decorated in the Executive mansion since its construction in 1801.

The outdoor National Christmas Tree tradition began in the winter of 1923 when the District of Columbia Public Schools in coordination with First Lady Grace Coolidge erected the 48-foot balsam fir in the Ellipse south of the White House.

Cut trees were used annually from different states until the mid-70s when a Colorado blue spruce from York, PA was planted on the Ellipse Oct, 20 1978. Fully decorated today, the living National spruce stands as a daily reminder of the holiday spirit. Each succeeding President has participated in its official lighting since 1923.

Images: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Exterior National Christmas Tree by Google Images.


SACRE BLEU! —The Holidays are the time of year when you can be eight years old and celebrate Bastile Day, too.

Merry Christmas, fellow eight year olds!

Image: Jackson “Pierre” Shess photo by Debbie Shess

Saturday, December 24, 2011


HOTEL HOPPING—My earliest childhood holiday memories outside our home in Golden Hill were our annual trip to the Hotel Del Coronado to see the Christmas lights. We always went on the most crowded days because my dad like yours had to be related to the Darren McGavin father/character in “A Christmas Story.” We see a lot of familiar dad-like traits in that timeless movie.

As an adult, my family set roots in North Park. We now live in a 1915 Craftsman bungalow. While we still visit the Hotel Del on Christmas, our visits during the holidays now include a must-see visit to the Lodge at Torrey Pines and the Grand Del Mar.

Hotel Del Coronado. Since it was built in 1888, the Hotel Del has been a holiday icon as well. The hotel does a wonderful public service in dolling up the venerable Victorian. The lobby tree is still the biggest one any six, sixteen, 26, 36, 46, 56, or 66-year-old has ever seen.

Lodge at Torrey Pines. Built in 2003, The Lodge is one of the most remarkable retro Arts & Crafts hotels in the world. It’s museum quality now. It is special because it represents the Arts & Crafts era architectural period still popular in San Diego. So many of us enamored with bungalow living continue to thank the Evans Family for creating such an enduring work of architectural art both indoors and out.

Grand Del Mar. Up the road from the Lodge is the Grand Hotel Del Mar created by the Manchester Family. The Christmas decoration is traditional and has set the standard for holiday decorating as well as world class lodging and special events hospitality.

An arm and arm stroll through these hotels is a holiday tradition worth keeping or beginning, whether you’re a guest, just looking, dining, noggin’ or having tea.

These hotels are special places that have become architectural icons intertwined with excellence in decor and traditional family values. Special events just seem more special here.

Images: Hotel Del Coronado, one of the grand internationally recognized images of San Diego, is shown decked out for the holidays.

Lodge at Torrey Pines getting ready for the holidays. Tree is a nice touch atop a beautifully restored 1937 DeLuxe Ford woody wagon.

Entrance to the Grand Del Mar during the holidays

Friday, December 23, 2011


GUEST BLOG-- Amanda Benson’s following history of gingerbread has been making the rounds the holidays for good reason. It’s a delicious piece of writing. This year, it was forwarded to us by the team at Fixtures Living, who posted it from Smithsonian Magazine’s blog.

Tis the season to be gingerbread! The sweet-and-spicy treat flavored by a lumpy little root is a ubiquitous celebrity in fall and winter, starring in everything from cute cookies and overpriced lattes to edible construction projects. According to “The Gingerbread Book,” by Steven Stellingwerf (I want his job!), gingerbread may have been introduced to Western Europe by 11th-century crusaders returning from the eastern Mediterranean. Its precise origin is murky, although it is clear that ginger itself originates in Asia.

Gingerbread was a favorite treat at festivals and fairs in medieval Europe—often shaped and decorated to look like flowers, birds, animals or even armor—and several cities in France and England hosted regular “gingerbread fairs” for centuries. Ladies often gave their favorite knights a piece of gingerbread for good luck in a tournament, or superstitiously ate a “gingerbread husband” to improve their chances of landing the real thing.

By 1598, it was popular enough to merit a mention in a Shakespeare play (“An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy ginger-bread…”). Some even considered it medicine: 16th-century writer John Baret described gingerbread as “A Kinde of cake or paste made to comfort the stomacke.”

Stellingwerf notes that the meaning of the word “gingerbread” has been reshaped over the centuries. In medieval England, it referred to any kind of preserved ginger (borrowing from the Old French termgingebras, which in turn came from the spice’s Latin name, zingebar.) The term became associated with ginger-flavored cakes sometime in the 15th century.

In Germany, gingerbread cookies called Lebkuchen have long been a fixture at street festivals, often in the shape of hearts frosted with sugary messages like “Alles was ich brauch bist du” (All I need is you) or “Du bist einfach super” (You’re really super). As far as I can tell, Germans also invented the concept of making gingerbread houses, probably inspired by the witch’s candy cottage in the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.

North Americans have been baking gingerbread for more than 200 years—even George Washington’s mother gets credit for one recipe—in shapes that ranged from miniature kings (pre-revolution) to eagles (after independence).

These days, as The New Food Lover’s Companion (a lovely early Christmas present from my inlaws-to-be) explains it, “gingerbread generally refers to one of two desserts. It can be a dense, ginger-spiced cookie flavored with molasses or honey and cut into fanciful shapes (such as the popular gingerbread man). Or, particularly in the United States, it can describe a dark, moist cake flavored with molasses, ginger and other spices.”

Of course, when gingerbread cookies are shaped like everything from popular politicians to baby animals, polite consumption can be tricky. Is it barbaric to bite off the head first? Or worse to start by amputating an extremity? If you nibble on decorations first, does the plaintive voice of that character from Shrek echo in your imagination (“Not my gumdrop buttons! “) ?

Quick, Order Your Yule Log—Here’s a bit of urgent local foodie news for Yule log lovers. North Park Main Street’s blog reminds us Heaven Sent, 3001 University Ave., will only be selling its popular Yule log until closing on Saturday. All baked goods from Heaven Sent are made in house with love and only the finest and freshest ingredients are used.

The Yule Logs are Chocolate sponge filled with a delicious chocolate mousse and covered in chocolate whipped cream and decorated with meringue mushrooms, a chocolate almond bird's nest and chocolate leaves.

Each pie is 9" in size and prices range from $21.95 - $23.95;
Or choose from a 6", a 10" or a full 20" log with prices starting at only $29.95.


Heaven Sent Desserts
3001 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 793-4758

Images: Heaven Sent Yule Log, courtesy of North Park Main Street weekly blog; Sign up for blog at

Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Gingerbread House was photographed by Mark McKinnon while visiting Gingerbread City Show. Mark knows this blog has a sweet tooth and he couldn’t resist sending this over because this gingerbread house was created in the shape of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Fallingwater residence in Pennsylvania. And, kudos go to the creative bunch at the Epilepsy Foundation/San Diego for putting on the fun gingerbread event.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


GUEST BLOG—In time for the holidays, we share a delicious recipe for Persimmon Bread Pudding from a tasty new blog www.kitchenetteblog. The young lady blogger and photographer is Brittany Everett. Josh Everett mentioned in the blog is her husband. They are former San Diegans now living in Mountain View, CA.

Persimmons. Where have you been all my life? These unsung heroes of the fruit stand were only introduced to me a few years ago at a farmers market. One of the vendors was giving out samples and, as is always the case with food, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try something I’d never seen before. I fell in love instantly, and bought a few to see what else I could concoct with these tomatoey-looking fruit things. Persimmons have a delicate sweetness, and they lend themselves well to savory dishes as well as desserts.

Although I have gone the majority of my life without persimmons, I probably came close to making up for all that lost time just in the past week. It all started with a trip to the farmers market, where I bought way more persimmons than I knew what to do with and a loaf of bread, among other things.

When I excitedly proclaimed that the bread was nearly stale, Josh looked confused. I explained that stale bread = bread pudding. Then I thought of the last bread pudding I had eaten at Local Habit in San Diego. What kind was it, you ask? Why it was persimmon bread pudding, and oh yes, it was amazing. Boom! I’d make persimmon bread pudding, using up the stale bread and solving the persimmon problem all in one dish! I found a recipe that looked perfect, but to my dismay, it would use less than half of the looming mound of persimmons I had purchased. Before I could resign to just snacking on them or throwing them in a salad, Josh asked if I could make persimmon ice cream to put on top. Oh. Snap.

It’s a good thing I always have my ice cream attachment stashed in the freezer, ready to churn at the drop of a hat! I whipped up the Cardamom Spiced Persimmon Ice Cream from Kristina of Former Chef, and my Persimmon Week had begun. I’m actually eating some of the ice cream as I type this. The combination of cardamom and persimmon is out of this world, but it also makes me curious what kinds of savory dishes I could combine the two in.

The bread pudding recipe is from Martha Stewart, which was really the only reason I didn’t run away screaming when I saw that it contained white chocolate. I’m really not a fan of the stuff, but I thought Martha wouldn’t use it unless it somehow worked in the recipe. Surprise, surprise: she was right again! I probably wouldn’t have guessed there was white chocolate in it if I hadn’t known already. Thankfully, it only adds another level of subtle sweetness without competing with the persimmon.

For a recipe of Persimmon Bread Pudding go to

Images: Photography and text by Brittany Everett.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


SUDS TSUNAMI — Look in the mirror. Be happy if that face staring back at you is ready to join the fun by transitioning from beer consumer to beer brewer. There are many helping hands available to launch your new hobby/career. First off, go the Brewers Association website ( The Brewers Assn. has a handy dictionary of beer terms that will make your journey into beer nirvana a lot easier.

Closer to home, there are many San Diego area home brew shops ready to sell you everything you need and they love to bring newbies into the fold.

And launching someone into beer brewing at home makes a terrific Christmas present.

The following locations are courtesy of San Diego’s own beer publication
--Home Brew Mart/Ballast Point,, 5401 Linda Vista Rd, 619-295-2337.
--Best Damn Brew Mart, 1036 7th Ave, 619-232-6367.
--All About Brewing,, 700 N. Johnson, #G, El Cajon, 619-447-BREW.
--Mother Earth Brew Co.,, 2055 Thibodo Rd., Vista, 760-599-4225.
--Home Brews & Gardens,, 3176 Thorn, North Park, 619-630-2739.
--American Homebrewing Supply,, 9295 Chesapeake Dr. #E, 858-268-3024.
--Hydrobrew,, 1319 S. Coast Hiway, Encinitas, 760-966-1885.
--HomeBrew 4 Less,, 9181 Mission Gorge Rd, 619-448-3773.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011


RETAIL REGULARITY—Each year a mysterious shopping list appears pasted to my forehead from Mrs. S. Claus. It’s strictly a “stocking stuffer hint list” but I take the suggestions only slightly less seriously than Moses did on Mt. Sinai. One cannot be too careful when dealing with a higher power.

This year, eyeliner products were high on the list, including directions to Fashion Valley’s It’s the Napa Auto Parts of feminine grooming. If you can’t find it there—it probably doesn’t exist.

But that doesn’t mean I was looking forward to the experience. Up against seasoned holiday shoppers, I feared a two or three-hour experience was ahead of me.

I took two steps inside Sephora (10 am on Saturday) and a smiling salesperson greeted me before I had a chance to groan at the sight of such a crowded shop. The well-groomed 20-something was dressed in black and stepped out of the fashion pages of GQ. I showed him my list. “I need help.”

Yes, you do, he replied. I assumed he was talking about the list.

He handed me a small shopping basket and we navigated the aisles. The first item was found easily enough, but the next two demanded help from two other manager types. Within ten minutes of my arrival, my basket was filled. I handed over my credit card and he handed it back. I was forwarded to a long line in the back of the store.

I should have known. Twenty women in line were ahead of me, including several tots in baby strollers. But, here’s why this retailer succeeds where others fail. Yes, the line was long, but there were six frenzied cash registers working. This was no bank line, where five out of six tellers are on break. At, Sephora, I was done before I had to finish several small talk conversations with fellow shoppers. A bond was created and we all swore to meet back here in a year.

Since then, this blog’s ace researchers have unearthed Sephora is an international conglomerate owned by the Louis Vuitton/Moet Hennessey group. Sephora was founded in Paris in 1970 by Dominique Mandonnaud, who reportedly fashioned the name from Zipporah (Moses’ beautiful wife) and the ancient Greek word sephos, which means pretty.

Note: This is part of an ongoing series in this blog on retail businesses that “get it” and why they succeed where others put up going out of business signs.

Image: Courtesy of Sephora.

Monday, December 19, 2011


SLICK IDEA--There is a place for everyone and everything on this planet, including magazines. I work for a family oriented design/garden/food & drink publication that reports on creative lifestyles in the San Diego area. Of course, I’m biased but when you’re seeking to gift an office buddy, neighbor or anyone extra special you wish to thank, then a 12-issue subscription is an ideal quick gift that shows up every month.

Magazine subscriptions are one of those affordable luxuries that won’t increase your holiday caloric input or trim your wallet. $9 a year—that’s a deal.

Call the young ladies in the photo above for a subscription. That’s Kasey (left) and Annie (right): 858-571-1818.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


WRONG ABOUT WRIGHT-- As a young editor, I knew everything there was to know about the world. But for the past 25 years I’ve been picking up the pieces of that silly notion. For example, I dismissed Frank Lloyd Wright as more marketing genius than architectural guru. I confused the rake with the artist.

Then last summer, I visited Wright’s Fallingwater residence for the first time. I wanted to see for myself if the collective wisdom of the American Institute of Architecture was correct in naming Fallingwater the single most outstanding work of American architecture. I checked to see if National Geographic Traveler magazine had it right in designating Fallingwater, a residence designed for the Edgar Kaufmann, Sr. family, as a “place of a lifetime.”

Standing at that photo op spot, where most of us take that photo of Fallingwater, I came away with the realization that divorced from the woodsy locale, I’ve seen homes in San Diego that were on par with what Wright designed there in the Laurel Highlands section of south and west Pennsylvania. I pondered if San Diego architect icons like Robert Mosher (who reportedly studied with Wright at Fallingwater), or Jonathan Segal, Norm Applebaum, Homer Delawie, Lou and Jon Dominy, Rob Quigley, Kevin deFrietas or designer Wallace Cunningham had the waterfalls of Bear Run to work with ... could they have pulled of what Wright accomplished back in 1936? I’m curious what our local architects would have proposed for the Kaufmans, given the chance.

But then I realized what so many have known all along, the genius of Fallingwater is the fusion of man and nature, or as poet William Butler Yeats penned, “how can we know the dancer from the dance?” Fallingwater is beyond remarkable but only in the sense that Wright had to pull off the work of his lifetime to match the serene beauty of the woods, the boulders and the waterfall. Choosing precisely where to site that elegant simplicity of a home saved the day because anything less grand would have ruined such a magnificent wilderness. Architecture 101.
So, who gets top billing? Wright or nature? Is the genius of Fallingwater a who or a what? I’d say Wright was lucky to get a draw, but I can’t wait to return to Pennsylvania to catch the rematch.

When You Go:
From San Diego I like Southwest Airlines to Pittsburgh (or Baltimore). Rent a car. From Pittsburgh its a 90 minute drive; go southeast on I-76 (a.k.a. “The Turnpike’) to Donegal exit; follow signs on 381 south to Fallingwater Visitors Center.
Reservations ( are a must; it’s always closed on Wednesdays. It is so green and shady a tour on the hottest day is still A-OK.

Cost is $20 per person. There’s a cafeteria-style café on site. The tour is guided by staff. No touching rare Wright furnishings. No photos inside, but exterior snaps are allowed.

One can overnight at Duncan House, a Wright designed Usonian-style home at nearby Polymath Park ( but we stayed in nearby Uniontown at the Inne at Watson’s Choice one of the better scenic and managed B&Bs in Pennsylvania. Proprietor’s Bill and Nancy Ross are native to the area and know all the secrets ( They’ll hold your hand in sympathy if you showed up to Fallingwater on a closed Wednesday or didn’t make a tour reservation.

Originally published by San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles, Summer, 2011.

Images: Living room of Kaufman’s home at Fallingwater via Wikipedia. Exterior image of Fallingwater by Phyllis Shess.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


KENTUCK KNOB--Frank Lloyd Wright’s other South Central Pennsylvania residential masterpiece hails from the icon architect’s Usonian period in his career. Called Kentuck Knob, the home was designed when Wright was in his 80s for I.N. and Bernadine Hagan in the mid-1950s. The couple (Hagen’s Ice Cream) was influenced by Wright’s other work in nearby Fallingwater (see 12-18-11).

By definition, Usonian Wright invented acronym from United States of North America), was Wright’s oxymoron singular version of tract housing for the masses. He built many during his career using that style. Wikipedia has a complete list of his work in chronological order. Yesterday’s blog gives the Wiki URL.

Earliest Usonian designs appeared in the 1930s when the great depression called for inexpensive housing. Of course, Wright could not create cookie cutter design and today the supposedly common man Usonians are now museum quality and appropriately pricey. A great collection of these homes appears in Diane Maddex’s book : “Frank Lloyd Wright, Inside and Out,” [Barnes & Noble Books].

The Usonian Kentuck Knob is far different from internationally acclaimed Fallingwater, which is eight miles away via idyllic tree-lined two-lane roads. This is good or bad depending on your perspective. It’s akin to comparing siblings—some things are similar but more often the differences prevail. It’s inevitable to compare but don’t: just enjoy.

Kentuck Knob (] also comes to life in architectural critic Donald Hoffmann’s excellent work:“Frank Lloyd Wright’s House on Kentuck Knob.” [Barnes & Noble Books].

Over the years, I’ve observed architects come in two garden varieties irregardless of fame. Outside-in architects like Wright focus on exterior grandeur. Inside out architects like local contemporary genius Bill Heyer create their magic indoors while espousing a “less is more” attitudes toward the exterior. At Kentuck Knob Wright was in love with great room design meaning the entire home is served by a huge living room dwarfing bedroom, kitchen, bath, hallways and closet spaces. Heaven help you if you wished to move a Morris chair through a Wright Usonian hallway. But if we discuss Wright as a so-so space planner, we are missing his genius for site selection and working with natural materials. [for a huge selection of Usonia go to Google and type in Usonian House and dozens of images will appear].

By the 1950’s many of Wright’s Usonian architectural principles were influencing post-WWII architects, especially those post and beam mid-century modernists. So, in that respect Wright did accomplish is goal to provide more affordable housing for the middle class in America.

Current homeowners have turned the grounds of this early 1950s home into an outdoor sculpture garden featuring works by renowned contemporary artists such as Anthony Caro, Andy Goldsworthy and Claes Oldenburg.

Adding to the architectural tourism adventure is being able to find interesting lodging. Thanks to a tip from Julia Donovan, the marketing director for Laurel Highlands (a successful three-county tourism promotion consortium in SW Pennsylvania), we stayed at a well-run bed & breakfast inn.

Day 1
A late afternoon check in will give you time to explore the rustic grounds of the Inne at Watson’s Choice Bed & Breakfast near Uniontown, PA. The Inne, whose original buildings date back to the early 1800s, is owned by area natives Bill and Nancy Ross. Later in the evening, wander into Uniontown to dine in the historic Caileigh’s restaurant, a converted Federalist architecture brick home that serves excellent regional cuisine. A summer night back at the Inne will find you swinging on an old fashioned swing or chasing fireflies. From this pastoral B&B, trips to Wright’s two amazing homes: Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob are only minutes away.

Day 2
The Inne combines its historic heritage with modern times (hello, wifi). It’s both comfortable and practical. Having lingered too long with the genial innkeepers, we visited Kentuck Knob, Ohiopyle State Park and Fallingwater in one day given (must) advance reservations at both Wright sites and an early start. Kentuck Knob is open year-around, but Fallingwater isn’t and the latter is closed one day during the week, which has been to the chagrin of Wednesday arrivals. But, if you do yourself a big favor and make advance reservations for Fallingwater you will miss the closed day.

Other Side Trips:
Ft. Necessity National Park & Battlefield—
Built as a small outpost by British troops commanded by a young George Washington, this 1754 compound was the site of the first shot fired in the French and Indian War. Nearby Mount Washington Tavern is an example of an 18th century roadhouse.

Ohiopyle State Park—
On highway 381 between Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob is Ohiopyle, a beautiful state park. Its name derived from a local Indian word for river rapids. The source of the whitewater is the Youghiogheny River gorge, which is a prime source for waterfalls, camping, hiking and whitewater rafting.

Inne at Watson’s Choice—
Located in the village of Balsinger on Rte. 21 outside of Uniontown, this 11 room B&B (suggest the Laurel suite) is a functional combo of quaint and modern. But let’s get to the important matters: breakfast. For starters we were served a fruit cup with juice and homemade pastries and local baked bread. Our blueberry pancakes were served with local maple syrup and Fayette County made sausage.

When to visit:
This hilly region is splendid in spring and in fall when the leaves begin to turn. Summers can be hot and humid. Make a vacation out of it by flying into Baltimore or Philadelphia for the historic sights and sites. Rent a car travel West to Gettysburg (150th anniversary year); continue west to Fallingwater (75th anniversary year) and Kentuck Knob then wrap it up and fly home from amazing Pittsburgh. The ‘Burgh hasn’t been the smoke choked Dickensian nightmare it once was for decades. Now, it’s foody, friendly and sports fan based.

Tomorrow we’re off to Fallingwater.

Images: Exteriors of Kentuck Knob by Phyllis Shess. Blog author (above) was wild-eyed to discover the flag stone pattern used by Wright at this Usonian is the same “we chose for our North Park bungalow’s landscaping.”
Federalist style mid-1800’s brickwork is evident at Inne at Watson’s Choice main house. And, what was Watson’s choice? Named for an early settler, who “chose” the particular parcel of land to build what became the Inne.

Friday, December 16, 2011


WRIGHT WEEKEND—Today, tomorrow and Sunday this blog travels to Southern Pennsylvania to visit two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s remarkable residences. Built almost a generation apart, Fallingwater and nearby Kentuck Knob are not only breathtaking as works of residential architecture but also as scenic attractions.

Fallingwater is built over that famous stream that few can recall its name (Bear Run) and Kentuck Knob is a dozen or less miles away adjacent to a stunning sculpture garden.
I would suggest afternoon visits Kentuck Knob first followed by Fallingwater. Doing both in one day takes a bit of planning and frankly takes away from the experience. You need reservations for Fallingwater touring. No walk ups. You are warned.

For you Wright purists, I add nothing new, but if you are new to FLW's work and want to see Mr. Wright at his residential best—these two stops are worth adding to your architectural tourism collection.

And, what would a getaway weekend be without staying at the nearby B&B named Inne at Watson’s Choice. For this particular trip we flew Southwest Airlines into Baltimore and rented a car there. Between Baltimore and Fallingwater, we stopped in Gettysburg, Kutztown, Hershey’s Chocolate University, Harrisburg, Amish Country and hit the Canonsburg, 4th of July parade. We dropped our car off in Pittsburgh even though we didn’t want to leave.

So, for a warm up to Weekend with Wright, our friends at Wikipedia have been working overtime compiling a year-by-year list of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural portfolio. Glancing over the list I didn’t see any projects out of order. Wikipedia rocks on this piece of consumer convenient research.

Images by Phyllis Shess, July 5, 2011. Gift store at Fallingwater. Bring comfortable shoes because the house is about a mile from the visitor center (check in area).

Blog author, who didn’t wear comfortable shoes, relaxes at Inne at Watson’s Choice Bed & Breakfast after touring Fallingwater.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


No clue who removed the images?

TASTY MARKETING—The road to success in any economy is usually achieved following a few simple business tenants. In the case of Fixtures Living, a multi-brand, home products showroom in San Diego’s Miramar Design District, they’ve created a better mousetrap and then marketed the heck out of it.

What I admire about this company is they’ve also focused on being genuinely nice to customers and providing them with a level of service that is unparalleled in the appliance and bath products industry. CEO Jeffrey Sears, who is ably assisted by Marketing Director Maria Swanson, are the most visible to customers in San Diego as well as Fixtures Living’s sister operations in Costa Mesa and Rancho Mirage.

What Fixtures Living has done is simply grasp the obvious. They understand women make the vast majority of big appliance and bath purchases decisions, period. Women also dominate the interior design industry. Fixtures living has taken appliance bath, outdoor home products shopping out of dank warehouses and created a professional stylized design center, where women and men feel comfortable shopping in any attire, especially business dress during the week and casual on weekends.

It’s a Restoration Hardware of the appliance set. It’s filled with nooks and crannies of top-of-the-line products set up in kitchen, bath and outdoor vignettes that show how that product actually looks in a home environment. And, it is staffed by design pros, who speak simply or can slip easily into the jargon of interior designees. In a nutshell, they’ve created an environment filled with workspaces for designers to bring in customers to sit and comparison shop.

Fixtures Living (9340 Dowdy Drive, north of Miramar Road) is a place where browsing is encouraged. Management has created an outdoor garden, where a full time executive chef can grow veggies that are used to create tasty snacks to go along with a daily full espresso bar. In the cafe area, contractors, designers and customers sit at banquettes sipping on lattes and working on plans.

On Fridays at noon, Fixtures Friday turns into bistro, ace chef Bridget Bueche invites celebrity chefs to assist her prepare weekly Friday lunches and to assist customers with hands on advise on the different appliances she uses.

“Fixtures Friday is our free, weekly foray into food and fun,” says CEO Jeffrey Sears, “ It’s also an excellent way to mix and mingle with colleagues and friends, and to meet new people. But most of all, it’s a great excuse to eat incredibly delicious, freshly prepared food. We encourage everyone to come each week, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.” If Friday lunch isn’t possible the place is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., mon.-Sat., with flexibility to work outside of those hours by appointment.

Don’t Miss: Sam, the Cooking Guy’s livecasts often featuring Fixtures Living:

Images: Photography: Maria Swanson from Fixtures Living website: Chef Bridget Bueche at Fixtures Friday event; Customers with Fixtures saleswoman; Bath segment of new Costa Mesa Fixtures showroom and Café area of San Diego location.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


BEERY XMAS—With San Diego County being America’s nirvana of craft beer breweries (60-plus), we didn’t have far to go to learn what tasty brewery craft beers would be cool to put under the tree; bring to an office party or take to a home pot luck gathering. We asked the editors of West Coaster, the region’s leading craft beer publication that’s dedicated to all things craft beer to suggest a few craft beers that are just right.

Here’s what Ryan Lamb and Mike Shess, editor and publisher respectively of West Coaster believe make excellent xmas gifts.

Office Gift: Good idea here is to mix and match breweries and types of beers. For the office party buy the following three beers put them in a recycled coffee carry bag, slip a card in and add a big bow for under $20: Coronado Brewing Co.’s Orange Avenue Wit; Karl Strauss Brewing Co.’s Red Trolley Ale and Ballast Point Brewing Co.’s Big Eye India Pale Ale.

Buy the Case: Making a stop at the store before that holiday party? Grab a case of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s Celebration Ale, a “fresh hop” winter seasonal beer that has for many years been a benchmark of the American IPA style.

Growler Affection: Gift a growler, that’s a hefty half gallon or full gallon of craft beer, available from a majority of the local brewing companies including Alpine, Hess, Green Flash, Ballast Point, Karl Strauss, and Pizza Port. The initial purchase is the most expensive, around $25, as you buy the reusable growler glassware along with the beer.

Seasonal Selections: AleSmith Brewing's Winter Yulesmith and Port Brewing's Santa's Little Helper are both “big” (read high alcohol) beers that are acclaimed worldwide for their craftsmanship and quality year after year.

For the Dinner Table: Grab a “bomber” (22oz bottle of beer) or two from Poway's Lightning Brewery. The Electrostatic Ale in particular pairs quite well with big, hearty holiday meals.

Where to buy: For updates on all San Diego area craft beer brewers, retailers and brew pubs go to and download the latest edition of West Coaster or pick up a hard copy and leading craft beer outlets county-wide.

Image: Vista’s Iron Fist Brewing Co. Growler.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


TIMELESS CALENDARS—Who would of thought the old fashioned printed photo calendar would have survived all the advances in our digital age? Calendars remain cool. They don’t bug anyone and they stand by us day-by-day. For the past three years, I’ve been using a free Jackson Design & Remodeling company calendar as a day-timer. It works fine.

But, I’m still a rebel and yearn for the day Santa brings me a 2012 Pirelli Calendar. Never had one of own. Always had to share one with photographers and art directors I’ve worked with over the years. First issued in 1964, the Pirelli calendars have become legendary…leaving Sports Illustrated and Playboy calendars on the shelves.

Each year, the venerable Italian tire maker hires a world-class photographer to shoot 12 great looking women to create a single work of calendar art. Problem is Pirelli doesn’t sell the calendars. You have to know someone, who knows someone to get on the distribution list. Yes, one could e-bay one, or buy a set of Pirelli tires, but that’s not the point. Having your very own Pirelli arrive in the mail free is a fantasy akin to sleeping in on Saturday morning.

Back to the real world: Calendars have always been good neighbors. They’re tireless fundraisers for every cause. For example, I suggest the following:

--North Park Historical Society 2012 Calendar, $14.99, full color and measures 11” x 17” when hung on a wall. or call 1-877-809-1659 and use the following reference number when ordering by phone: 83545562.

--The Ephraim Faience Pottery Collector’s Calendar, $4.95, full color and measures 18” x “12” fully opened. or call: 1-888-704-POTS.

--From Family Crafts, free, Create your own calendar on downloadable template and use your images. Kids love this.

Images: Model Kate Moss in Pirelli’s 2012 Calendar courtesy of Pirelli marketing Copyright c 2012 Pirelli & Co., S.p.A.
North Park 2012 History Calendar courtesy North Park Historical Society.

Monday, December 12, 2011


SKIT-SO--It’s one of those Mondays and you’re looking around for restaurant that’s open. Problem is you’re feeling like Sushi but the other side kissy face wants Mexican. Enter Juan Chou, a Juniper Street restaurant that many can’t decide if it’s in North Park or South Park. Call it Burlingame and be done with it. Juan and Chou (combo of names of the owners heritages) have opened (since September) a restaurant, where you can dine off of a terrific Japanese and Mexican menu. Early reviews have been mixed. But taste buds are different. Your review is equal to mine.

I loved the concept and the food. Loved the sushi. Mexican side (carnitas) is better than most. Would I leave my ‘hood to find better Mexican cuisine? Honestly no, but, need to ask here why burritos from take out stands taste soooo much better than sit-down restaurants? Juan Chou comes close but doesn’t beat out Saguaro’s on 30th in North Park. I digress. Juan Chou is a fun and tasty dining spot well worth staying in or visiting the neighborhood. I’m coming back.

The only downside of our visit was from four historians, who were overheard how much they miss El Camino Restaurant (extinct tenant before Juan Chou). Get over it. “Gee, Holden I liked your other girl friend better.” Cool, I liked you better before you opened your yap.

Juan Chou, 3023 Juniper St, (just east of 30th), (619) 487-0455.
Hours: Mon-Thu, Sun 4 pm - 9:30 pm; Fri-Sat 4 pm - 11 pm

Image by Drive-by-shooter, Mike Shess at

Sunday, December 11, 2011


OGLING ORIGEN--I like going to model homes. Touring other people’s homes has been a career move I haven’t regretted in the least. Recently, I toured Civita in San Diego and a few years ago Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy. Civita in Italian means city or little city but Civita alone doesn’t help tourists. Rick Steves the venerable PBS travel expert, pointed out in his blog that when you ask an Italian “where is Civita?” Most will shrug, “Quale Civita?”

Civita in San Diego is a new master planned community. Quale? It’s north of Friars Road. Take Mission Center Road north to Civita Blvd. Right now only “Origen” by Shea Homes is open for viewing. Shea Homes Origen is the first for-sale community coming out of the ground at Tom Sudberry’s Civita, in what used to be the Grant family’s commercial gravel quarry since the 1920s. There will be five residential phases in the overall Civita Sudberry Properties master plan, including nearly 80 acres of green space plus business and retail along Friars Road.

The phases will be completed in domino style and eventually run from Mission Center Road to I-805. Buying talk at Shea’s Origen starts at $411,000 but for style, green/smart living these units will hold their value for location and functionality. Of course, I haven’t had breakfast there or checked out my neighbors.

The eight model homes in Origen I visited all look delicious. Designers from Design Line, Creative Design Consultants and Ami Samuel did all the heavy design lifting. I’ll take two, thank you. If you have to ask, my fav is unit 3-A within Origen’s social Garden complex. Bedroom design in 3-A was a total surprise. There designer Ami Samuel makes traditional headboards a thing of the past. See Origen on YouTube:

Stay tuned for a quick tour of another Civita. Quale? Italy, this time. Go to Rick Steves You Tube video on Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy. Steves is the master chef of travel writers. His appetizer on Civita di Bagnoregio is worth the 3-minute visit. Drop the following URL into your Google launch and see you in Italy.

After my afternoon model home gazing, we ended up at Gordon Biersch, a mile south at 5010 Mission Center Rd., for fine craft beer, food and clean living architecture. Nice day all around.

Images: Shea Homes Origen community in Mission Valley. Civita di Bagnoregio courtesy of Wikipedia.

Note: Youtube links are not live and need to be copied and pasted in search areas, i.e. Google etc.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


MOUTHS OF BABES--When our youngest grandson, the ever-inquisitive Jackson Shess, asked me what my Poppa’s name was. I diverted the conversation. “How about those Padres,” I remember saying. But that night, I took stock of my family tree and realized I did not know the names of three of my grandparents. And, all had since passed on.

My father was orphaned at 3 years and times were tough for him growing up. As an adult, he didn’t talk about the family he didn’t know and he certainly didn’t speak of the horrors of being a U.S. infantryman in WWII. He didn’t talk and no one pushed him to do so.

Twenty years after his passing, I decided it was time to defy dad and start asking the questions he wouldn't answer. A neighbor once told me how much fun he was having using on the Internet to search his family tree. He said all I had to do was sign up for the site and enter name and birthday info. The site’s computer searches through its reported five billion files to report back the data. But I had no birth info either.

Now, feeling frustrated, I went on to the site and discovered if I signed up right now I’d get 14 days free. I bit on the offer.
Next thing I remember was my wife coming into my home office wondering what in the world I was doing at 4 a.m.

She told me the next day I had tears in my eyes when I told her “…I found my grandparents!” within minutes led me to a 1910 census report for my dad’s hometown, Canonsburg, PA. The Thess family was recorded all five boys (5 more would be born later) and my grandparents. The computers have been programmed to account for misspellings. I later learned that census takers often made mistakes orally translating names through thick non-native accents. Thess was indeed Shess. And, because the census listed birth years, I had enough info to find grand dad and through him I found grandmother.

Weeks later, I had become a bit more sophisticated in my search. I found my way’s huge Internet chalkboard where members log in and post notes like “Descendants of Felix Shess contact me I have wedding pictures.” Felix was my dad’s older brother. And, the poster spelled the name right!

I replied immediately. Could this be? The person at the other end of the site took three days to reply. But the wait was worth it. Now, not only did I have my grandparents names but I found their wedding pictures. I had faces with names. And I discovered a new cousin, Amy, who to this day sends me cookies each Xmas and photos when she finds them.

I’ve become an ancestry buff ever since. I’m finding cousins right and left. Now, I have to find site that answers the question from grandsons “…how come you look so skinny in that old picture of you? What happened?”

More smiles, more tears.

Images: World, may I introduce you to Anna and Joseph Shess on their wedding day in 1900. And, thank you, new cousin Saint Amy Rybacki for posting that note on the website. OK, she’s not perfect, she’s a Pittsburgh Steeler fan.