Stu-Han stairs, ULV

While in the University of La Verne’s storage facility last week to see the salvaged pew from the Interfaith Chapel, I eyeballed this stair to nowhere. It was taken from a former residence hall, Studebaker-Hanawalt, popularly known as Stu-Han, built in 1957 and demolished in 2018.

Anne Collier, the university’s curator, told me the philosophy of historical salvage: “If progress has to happen, save an iconic element.” Especially one that can be seen in period photographs, she said, because it’s no longer just an object: “people connect.”

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Column: Spirited effort salvaged items from ULV’s 1960s chapel

Photo by Anne Collier

I wrote in May 2018 about the Little Chapel at University of La Verne, which was due to be torn down this summer. And that happened on schedule, only no one told me. But eventually I noticed, and a bit later someone approached us to let us know the positive part of the demolition, which was how much of the chapel was preserved. I tell that story in Sunday’s column. Above, an unnamed columnist and the pew that ULV kept.

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Column: Drive-in to stay open through summer 2020

Some good news for fans of drive-ins: Montclair’s Mission Tiki Drive-In won’t close near Christmas after all but will remain open through next summer. The developer doesn’t need the property right away, so the drive-in will keep showing movies and hosting a swap meet through winter, spring and summer. I write about that in Friday’s column, along with sharing some of the reaction to its closing.

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Restaurant of the Week: Portillo’s Hot Dogs

Portillo’s Hot Dogs, 12480 Day St. (at Gateway), Moreno Valley; open daily, 10:30 a.m. to midnight

I’d never heard of Portillo’s until a reader, and then my editor, both brought it up to me as a place that sells Chicago-style hot dogs. They were referring to the Portillo’s in Riverside County; there’s another in SoCal in Buena Park. Buena Park is slightly closer to my home, but showing a little Inland Empire pride, I ventured to the one in Moreno Valley.

The exterior looks like an old brick building on three sides and like a chrome diner on the fourth. Those are Chicago-ish scenes in the murals. An employee at the door greeted me, asked if I’d been there before, explained where to order and handed me a menu. That’s unusual in my experience, but welcome.

The interior is pretty large and has lots of Chicago-ish tin signs, maps, photos, etc. Jazz and pop from the prewar period played. Apparently only old Chicago is iconic.

The menu has hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, beef and sausage sandwiches, salads and baby back ribs. There were promotional signs for an apple walnut salad. Fine if you’re a regular, but not what you’d order as a first-timer.

Faced with a choice of two iconic items, the Chicago hot dog and the Italian beef sandwich, I decided to go big and get both. After all, I’d made a 45-minute drive, and who knew if I would ever return.

So: hot dog ($3), Italian beef sandwich ($6), fries ($2.09) and chocolate cake shake ($4.19), small size. That’s about 2,000 calories, by the way.

Frankly, haha, Chicago dogs have never been my thing, laden as they are with a veritable salad of pickle slice, tomato slices, onions, relish and sport peppers, but this was a good version of something I’m not a fan of.

I’ve had Italian beef only once or twice, at the former Nancy’s Pizza in La Verne, which was served on garlic bread. The Portillo’s version, on french bread, is probably more traditional. You can get mozzarella and sweet or hot peppers, or get it dipped, but I just got it as it comes. The roast beef was very soft, as gravy is involved, and so was the bread. It was like a softer version of a Philippe french dip. I liked it, although I could see how mozzarella and/or peppers could spice it up. (The photo on the website looks good.)

The crinkle cut fries, an afterthought (I’d decided not to order them, but found myself ordering them) were crispy and very good. Portillo’s sells chocolate cake, but seeing chocolate cake shake on the menu was intriguing. At first, as I was eating it with a spoon, it was simply a chocolate cake with flecks. Then, suddenly, here was a chunk of cake. And there were more where that came from. That was fun.

This Illinois (but not Chicago) expat enjoyed the experience. And having gone big, I went home. And napped.

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Reading Log: October 2019

Books acquired: none

Books read: “Alive in La La Land,” Jack Smith; “How the World Was: A California Childhood,” Emmanuel Guibert; “Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018,” David Kipen, editor; “Panorama: A Picture History of Southern California,” W.W. Robinson; “The Library Book,” Susan Orlean; “Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies,” Reyner Banham

I know a bit about California history, perhaps more than the man on the street, yet I’m not scholar of the subject. I haven’t read Kevin Starr or Carey McWilliams or any number of other writers (see, I can’t even think of them) (although at least I know the names Starr and McWilliams).

But in October, I caught up a bit. I’d been reading Kipen’s book a bit every day since March (!) and Smith’s off and on since May or so. When I realized I might finish them the same month, I decided to make an LA month out of it.

“Alive in La La Land” (1989): Smith’s ninth and penultimate collection of columns was the last published in his lifetime. The most startling, and affecting, are the pieces about his collapse at home, triple bypass surgery and recovery. The remainder is the usual gentle, lightly humorous stuff. But as a man of 70, give or take, with heart trouble, he wasn’t getting out much, making this his least interesting book. You’d barely know he was living through the 1980s based on his reference points to classic movies and World War II-era pop. But he does cite Cyndi Lauper.

“Dear Los Angeles” (2018): Letters, diary entries and more from or about L.A., many by famous people, some by the obscure, arranged by date. Feb. 20, for example, has contributions dated 1861, 1928, 1934 and 1960. Some people find the organization confusing and would prefer strict chronology, but I don’t even understand what that book would look like, and anyway, that’s like taking the fizz out of soda. A fun, enlightening kaleidoscope of a book. I read this day by day starting in March, while going back to January to catch up and later skipping ahead to November and December so I wouldn’t spend the entire year on it.

“The Library Book” (2018): A paean to the LA Central Library, which survived a disastrous fire in 1986 whose cause was never definitively proven, and to libraries in general in a changing world. There are intriguing branches into the future of libraries, LA Central’s history and unexpected collections (maps, sheet music), and the story of the hapless dreamer and habitual liar who may or may not have set the fire. That a tremendous amount of research was done is evident, but each detail appears carefully chosen.

“Panorama” (1953): Charming overview history of Southern California, with all the omissions and boosterism you’d expect of a book published in 1953 by the white staff of a title insurance behemoth, but laden with 19th and early 20th century photos, drawings and lithographs. Many are surprising, as in, “there’s a photo of that from 1857??”

“Four Ecologies” (1971): “This sense of possibilities still ahead is part of the basic life-style of Los Angeles,” concludes Banham, perhaps the first outsider to have positive, and original, things to say about L.A. Were the Brit here in 2019 he might find less to like about the freeways he extolled and more to like about the downtown he dismissed. But he understood L.A., predicted the future desirability of Venice and was open-minded enough to see Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” as a perfect SoCal allegory.

“How the World Was” (2014): I may never have listed a graphic novel here, even though I read ’em, because I put them in a separate mental category. But I’m making an exception for this, since it fits our theme. A French illustrator renders an oral history by his friend Alan Cope, who was born in the 1920s and grew up mostly in Alhambra. Cope relates descriptions and incidents from his childhood and about his family. It’s closely observed, low-key and ordinary, but in the best way possible, and set in a California that is almost unrecognizable.

I’d say “How the World Was” and “The Library Book” are the real winners this month. “Dear Los Angeles” and “Architecture of Four Ecologies” are certainly worth reading, if a bit more for the devotee. “Panorama” is vintage fun. “La La Land” has its merits, but you’d be better off with literally any of Smith’s other books.

Where did I get these books? Orlean and Kipen’s came to me as birthday gifts this year. “World” was bought at Powell’s in Portland in August. “Panorama” was a gift in 2017 from reader Roger Recupero from his own collection. “Ecologies” was bought at L.A.’s Last Bookstore in 2012. And Smith’s book was bought somewhere now forgotten in the mid-’00s.

What did you read in October? And have you read much L.A./SoCal history, and if so, what books would you recommend?

Next month: silent films and science fiction.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tasty Pot, Rancho Cucamonga

Tasty Pot, 11540 4th St. (at Richmond Place), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

The influx of Asian Americans into Rancho Cucamonga continues to pay benefits, probably in somewhat invisible cultural ways, but visibly in more dining choices. A friend and I tried out the fairly new (open since May) Tasty Pot, a Taiwanese hot pot restaurant across from Ontario Mills.

Tasty Pot is a national chain, sort of, with 15 locations, most in California but with a few random states, like Ohio, having one lone locale. (Trivia note: There’s one in Ontario, Canada.) Ours is in the Signature Center, a few steps from a Panera and in what I believe used to be a bridal shop.

Inside, there’s a wall-length photo mural of what is presumably the Taipei skyline. The place was about two-thirds full when we arrived. We were the only white people, a good sign.

Soup is the thing to get. Each soup had around a dozen ingredients listed, many of them duplicated from one to the next. You could probably spend a lunch hour reading them all and trying to differentiate one from the next. They all appeared to have at least one type of seafood, if not several.

We just went with ones with appealing main ingredients: kimchi dumpling ($13, above) and lamb with noodle ($13, below), sharing them. We got the small size and mild spice level.

The pots arrived and were placed on a portable stovetop, burners turned on to keep the soup hot. A pitcher of broth would be brought by now and then for a refill.

We liked our soups, with the dumplings being a nice addition. The kitchen was generous with the ingredients, whether noodles, tofu, shrimp, cabbage, mussels, mushrooms or more.

One welcome touch was that our lunches came with complimentary iced tea. When have you ever seen that? We also got milk tea ($5-$5.50).

Neither of us is really a hot pot enthusiast, but sharing two made for a light, filling lunch.

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Column: Stones rocked SB student journalist’s world

As promised — or threatened? — I return to the subject of the Rolling Stones in San Bernardino on the anniversary of their second concert at Swing Auditorium, Oct. 31, 1964. This has an interesting angle, as a teen who covered the concert, and interviewed the band, for the San Bernardino Sun went on to become a well-regarded rock journalist. I tell that story in Wednesday’s column.

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