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April 19, 2010

Mission San Buenaventura: Taking a closer look

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It's cool and dark in the sanctuary of Mission San Buenaventura; I stand in the back near the confessionals, the murmuring of the sinners muffled within. The late-afternoon sun pierces the velvety shadows, spotlighting pews for a moment. It's easy to ignore the subtle signs of modernity; the past coexists with the present in places like this, layer upon layer, tantalizingly close, yet forever out of reach.

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The afternoon sun streams through the windows high on the Mission's western wall, cobwebs hanging motionless in the still, cool air of the sanctuary, the gossamer threads seeming to spring from the brush strokes in the centuries-old plaster.

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The doorknob leading into the Mission's sanctuary was polished to a mirror finish along its periphery by the hands of countless parishioners.

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The doorknob on the inside of the main door was flashy, but my eye wandered to the ancient lock below and behind it's gaudy finish.

Posted by Mike Lief at 10:57 PM | Comments (2)


Chosin from GI Film Festival on Vimeo.

There have been many movies made and books written about the heroism of America's World War II vets, but the Korean War -- the Forgotten War -- has gotten short shrift over the last six decades. As the veterans of that war begin leaving us to rejoin their comrades who fell in battle, two Iraq War vets decided to hit the road and capture on film the battlefield memories of the Marines who participated in perhaps the most incredible, hard-fought triumph in the history of the Corps: Chosin.

Check out this trailer for the upcoming documentary, part of the GI Film Festival, running May 11-16 in Washington, D.C.

Semper Fi, Mac!

Posted by Mike Lief at 06:51 PM | Comments (1)

April 11, 2010

Library of Congress: Mission San Buenaventura

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I spent some time (okay, hours and hours) recently poking around the on-line archives of the Library of Congress. Amongst the hundreds of thousands of images available are a few of Ventura County landmarks, first and foremost the Old Mission, built in 1809 and still standing 201 years later. In this shot, part of a series taken in 1936 for the Historic American Buildings Survey, a man in a suit sits with his back to us on the edge of the fountain. Visible across Main Street is the Mission Market, with a sign on the side of the building for Square Deal Auto Parts.

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The high-resolution version of this photo, available at the Library of Congress site, features some interesting details, including the fact that the curb was numbered, indicating there was some sort of scheme in place before parking meters to regulate who parked where and for how long. There's a Santa Claus decoration mounted on the city-owned streetlamp (with additional lights rigged to bathe Saint Nick with a cheery glow!); clearly the ACLU hadn't yet turned its rancid gaze on Christmas in 1936.

I decided to try and replicate the photos taken 74 years ago, getting as close as possible to the position from which the original shots were taken, so I headed downtown on a sunny Saturday afternoon with my camera and proof sheets of the 1936 pics.

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This shot was taken looking north from Figueroa Street, across Main Street. In the picture from 1936 you can see a car parked to the right, facing the Mission. In the picture on the right, taken last week, Figueroa Street is no longer open to automobiles; it's a pedestrian walkway, with a large, Moorish-style fountain running down the center. The bush partially blocking the view is growing along the patio of a restaurant.

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In these shots we're looking northwest, from the south side of Main Street. I had to stand almost in traffic to achieve the same position the photographer was in back in 1936; the street has been widened over the years, and the sidewalk is considerably further to the south. The palm trees were planted some time after '36; I'm guessing no earlier than the '80s, based on their size. During the past seven decades a wall was built enclosing the Mission's courtyard, and the stairs were moved away from the sanctuary. Did you notice the Volkswagen New Beetle? The original, commissioned by Adolf Hitler as an affordable car for German workers, was announced by the Fuhrer in February 1936 at the Berlin Auto Show, a little more than six months before these photos were taken.

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Looking across Main Street to the northeast, we can see some of the additions made to the western side of the Mission over the years. It looks like the cross on the roof was moved back away from Main Street for some reason, and the ornate, two-globe street lamps have been replaced by a vintage-looking, single lamp. For you vintage car fans, there's a pickup truck parked on the right -- is it a Ford or a Chevy?

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Quite a few changes can be seen in the courtyard, beginning with the fence and landscaping now blocking the view south across Main Street. An additional entrance has been added into the sanctuary at the base of the bell tower, and the large, stained glass windows visible in the 1936 shot have been covered up, only a small square window left high up near the roof. The fountain, where a fellow with a hat sits with his back to the camera in '36, has been moved away from the church, much of the lawn covered with paving stones.

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The back of the Mission used to have a sand box, presumably for the schoolchildren, as well as a basketball hoop and backboard (it must have been hard to work on dribbling the ball). There's a lunchbox on one of the benches, and some sort of a teeter-totter barely visible on the right. By 2010, the play area was gone, and a roof has been added to the top of the Mission's original settling tank, built around 1829 to supply the reservoir.

Posted by Mike Lief at 11:00 PM | Comments (2)

April 05, 2010

Library of Congress: FDR

I spent some time (okay, hours and hours!) exploring the on-line archives of the Library of Congress -- perhaps the only useful thing Congress has done in my lifetime, but I digress.

There are a variety of collections available for you to search or browse, as the mood may move you, and I started paging through them, 100 images at a time, looking for whatever caught my eye.

Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was almost never photographed in his wheelchair, thanks to the efforts of a compliant press corps, eager to curry favor with the White House. Consequently, it's always passing strange when one encounters photos of a young, healthy (and ambulatory) Roosevelt. Here are a few images of the young Franklin Delano Roosevelt, before he lost the use of his legs in the summer of 1924.

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Assistant Sec. of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt (center) exercises with other members of Pres. Wilson's Cabinet on the White House Lawn in 1917.

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FDR strides purposefully towards the camera, sometime during his service in the Wilson Administration, 1913-1917.

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The patrician Roosevelt was, to the best of my knowledge, never caught on camera revealing his inner feelings of class-related superiority. Whether he intended it or not, this may be the most perfect depiction of smug, supercilious, better-than-thou arrogance I may have ever seen, caught in 1913 near the beginning of his service as an extremely young member of the Wilson cabinet.

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FDR stands next to his horse during a break from a hunt during 1920.

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It's easy to forget that FDR was a fairly tall man, given that Americans almost never saw him standing up. Here he's with the Ohio Gov. Cox, who was visiting Washington, D.C., in 1920.

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The assistant secretary of the Navy greets some of the officers serving aboard "his" ships in 1920. In four years, he'd be paralyzed from the waist down, in twelve years he'd be in the White House, this time as boss.

Posted by Mike Lief at 07:07 AM