Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

PHOTOS: Going back in time with Vintage LA's Alison Martino

by Take Two®

The Luau in Beverly Hills. Steven Crane's Tiki oasis on Rodeo Drive Courtesy Vintage LA

If the names Bullock's, Dino's Lodge, and the Fish Shanty mean anything to you, chances are you grew up in L.A. during a certain era.

You know just how much Southern California has changed in recent decades, and you probably miss the City of Angels that once was.

Alison Martino shares your sense of nostalgia. In fact, she revels in it. She's the founder of a Website and Facebook page called Vintage L.A. It's a repository of photos, films and other artifacts from the Los Angeles of yore. She joins the show to discuss the project.

Interview Highlights:

What about your childhood led you to be interested in historic L.A.?
“I am a native, born in 1970, and I’ve seen four decades of change. My father was an entertainer, so I was exposed to some pretty interesting places growing up. They took me to a lot of the restaurants and didn’t leave me home with baby sitters. My father is Al Martino, who was in the “Godfather,” played Johnny Fontaine. He was also a pretty big super star in the sixties, he had a lot of hits so I grew up around Capital Records, and through those connections I was able to go to restaurants and see Dean Martin and sit with Sammy Davis Jr. and ever since those days I have fallen in love with that era, and since those days I have never really fallen in love with the new times, so I’ve been in a time of nostalgia my whole life.”

Do you have a favorite story from childhood?
“One of my favorites is I miss all of the Polynesian restaurants around, especially one called the Luau which was on Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, which actually had a moat around it. It was great because families could bring their kids and the kids didn’t feel like they were going to grown-up places and they could have fun walking around and looking at the koi fish, and the drinks would come out on fire. Those places are pretty much gone now, and there was another one called the Islander that had tiki torches lit up in flames all year round, and it’s now a Starbucks or something. I also miss Chasen’s a lot, we would see John Wayne and Frank Sinatra in there.”

Can you explain the Chasen’s atmosphere?
“It’s now a Bristol Farms, though they’ve kept some of the booths inside, thank God. It’s very different now. These places weren’t around for fifteen minutes., they weren’t the big hot spots and then they die out a year later. They were institutions for years and years and years, 40, 50, 60 years. I’m surprised so many are gone now. I don’t think that there is another place around, besides Dan Tana’s and maybe Musso & Frank’s that I frequent that are still institutions with red booths and dark lighting and the waiters seem a little older. One of the bartenders at Dan Tana’s has been there since 1963. Some of the new places I’m not so in to going to.”

How did you get into vintage photography?
“I started collecting a lot of photographs through the years, because I worked on a show on E! channel called “Mysteries and Scandals” for five years, about the golden age of Hollywood. Stories on Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jane Mansfield, we did them all. But I needed to fill the programs with photographs not just of them but also of the era. So I started to fall in love with that, even more than finding photos of movie stars I was fascinated with the era, the décor, the clothes, especially what L.A. used to look like.

"So I started collecting photographs from everywhere I could find from magazines, scanning form old books, ten fifteen years ago I could to Hollywood Boulevard and they would have these cinema shops I could just go and collect photos from. I have about 30,000 pictures and they are pretty organized. I started this Facebook page and I thought ‘Oh if I have 500 likes I’ll be pretty lucky.’”

What do you think is behind the success of the site?
“I have a take on it, my demographic is huge, I have 12-year-olds that write to me and a 98-year-old man that is on everyday. I think my generation born in 1970 and before that didn’t have the technology that we have now, we didn’t have cell phones some of us didn’t even have answering machines until late eighties, we had to pay attention to what was going on around us. So when I went out to dinner with my family or had to go watch my father at record a session at Capitol Records, I wasn’t distracted by my cell phone or playing a game. I’m not saying that’s terrible for kids, but it’s a different era, we had to pay attention more.

"People write to me and say it seemed like such a different time without the technology. Many photographs I post up of Hollywood Boulevard of businessmen and actresses, all sorts of people who look the time, you know they are all dressed up, are not looking down when they are walking. They aren’t looking down at their phones. That breaks a lot of people’s hearts to see that being the future.”

Could you talk about some of the changes that have gone on?
“There was an amusement park in the middle of West Hollywood that was called Kiddieland. It's gone, obviously, was torn down around 1974 or 1975. Right next door there was Ponyland, you could actually ride ponies around West Hollywood, and now it’s the Beverly Center. That’s a huge change visually. To see an old amusement park with a Ferris wheel and rollercoaster turn into a big stucco building that looks like a prison to me. And Sunset Boulevard has changed so much. Losing Tower Records was just epically tragic. And losing many more records stores and movie theaters, I could go on and on.”

What are some of the great stories that your followers have shared with you?
“A lot of people have a lot of emotional reactions to these photographs. The "wow" factors are those from the 1920s, when people were not alive to see it. The photos from the '60s and '70s get the most reaction because people will say, 'I got married there!' Just yesterday I went to The Rainbow Bar and Grille which used to be the Villa Nova, an old classic restaurant where Marilyn Monroe had her first date with Joe DiMaggio and also where Judy Garland was proposed to by Vincent Minnelli, and upstairs there is the original artwork, they never painted over it. I went up there and took a photo of it and posted it on Facebook and within an hour, somebody posted that his great-aunt painted that. Those are the things that blow my mind.”

So what would you say is better, L.A. now or then?
“Well, I’m still here in L.A. so obviously I haven’t left, as much as a lot of it is gone. But I don’t like the way old historic buildings are ripped down without a second thought, when they could be restored into something. One of the places that is sitting empty right now is the old Robinson’s in Beverly Hills, it’s such an eye sore but I love driving by it everyday. I heard they were going to tear it down, build a bunch of condos, then I heard they might put a Target there, so I don’t know why they can’t just use the structure and just turn the old building into a Target. It would be great to see that old art deco entrance.

"It’s just a shame because a lot of these buildings could be revamped into something. Another restaurant is Scandia, on Sunset Boulevard and Doheny, been there empty for ten years, and I heard it’s going to become a hotel, and I just wish that someone understood. Maybe this page will help people understand that do have money, that want to buy something or purchase some property, maybe they could do something with what’s still there and not take it away from us.”

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