Armchair Traveler: Hearst Castle

[This column originally appeared Oct. 27, 2002, which explains the presence of a couple of dated references. This summer marks 50 years since Hearst Castle was opened to the public, by the way.]

Hearst Castle: an embarrassment of riches

Midway up the California coast, there’s a celebrated dwelling, built on a hill by a famous eccentric, that today is a tourist draw and an official historic landmark.

Actually, there are two.

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Restaurant of the Week: Joanne’s Cafe

This week’s restaurant: Joanne’s Cafe, 1141 N. Mountain Ave. (at Princeton), Ontario.

Joanne’s is in an A-frame building on Mountain near Fourth Street and was most recently Home Kitchen. Longtime residents will recall it as the Pie Place. *

I ate there months ago, without reviewing it, when it was still Home Kitchen, and on Friday thought I’d give it a try under the new name. The place seems virtually the same.

Inside it’s a moderately-sized open room, somewhat updated from the classic coffee shop — there are chairs at the counter, for instance, not swivel seats, and carpeting rather than tile — and with a lot of pink, green and orange. Cheery and colorful. I didn’t notice the fish tank until on my way out.

The prices seem reasonable to me. You can get a meatloaf dinner (the menu’s come-on: “Mom’s old recipe will find a new friend in you!”) with vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, garlic toast and soup or salad for a mere $6.99. The five “senior breakfast” specials (“value-priced for seniors 55 and up”) are priced under $4.

If you want dinner, you’d better have it for lunch: Hours are 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days.

I had a tuna melt ($5.99), with cole slaw rather than fries or fruit. Big and piled thick, on sourdough with cheddar, the sandwich was pretty good. The slaw, kind of tasteless. The server kept the ice tea coming. Overall, an unexciting but pleasant enough experience.

Disappointing, though, that the onetime Pie Place * is now pie-less. But if you need to indulge, there’s a Baskin Robbins next door.

* By acclimation (see all the comments), this was actually an outpost of the House of Pies chain, not The Pie Place. Thanks for the correction.

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Venturing to Ventura

That’s where I spent a couple of relaxing days earlier this week. Ventura isn’t the most exciting beach town, and that’s what I was looking for — a place that would be much cooler than the Inland Valley, with a beach, and not overrun with tourists. In those respects, Ventura was a winner.

One question: Is the city’s name pronounced Ven-tura or Ven-chura? More on that in a moment.

At a record shop, I finally broke down and bought a used copy of America’s “Greatest Hits.” It’s a CD I’ve eyed warily for years, the ’70s band being a guilty pleasure, one I was cautious of making official. Seeing the disc for $8, and thinking on my drive the day earlier about that ol’ Ventura highway that was the subject of one of their songs, I chuckled and figured the time was right.

“Ventura Highway” came up just as I was entering the freeway to return home. The disc, by the way, was about what I’d expected: Neil Young Lite, plus the uncommonly (for them) exciting “Sister Golden Hair,” plus (ugh) “Muskrat Love.” But on balance I’m glad I have it.

Now, back to the pronunciation. I’d concluded some time ago the correct way was Ven-tura, but I’m not sure why. The name was never said by anyone during my stay and, having assumed the matter was settled, it didn’t occur to me to ask around.

On my way out of town, though, I was shocked to discover that America, as official a band as the city has, pronounced the name Ven-chura.

Since my return, SoCal natives among my colleagues to whom I mentioned my destination have said the name both ways. I dunno. How do you say Ventura?

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Deluxe Diner, Pomona

Marilyn Varney found a vintage (1940s?) postcard on eBay featuring the Deluxe Diner and Motel in Pomona. Click here to see the listing and photo.

The operation was supposedly at 2nd and Valley, which would be way out on the west edge of town. Under the “Fresh Orange Juice” sign, two waitresses pose, waving.

Marilyn adds: “Looks like a friendly little place, don’t you think?”

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Give him the hook instead

In (ahem) news from the Aug. 19 Ontario council meeting:

Fullmer Construction donated a building to Ontario for use in fire-training exercises. In response, at the meeting a Fuller rep was given a large, horizontal plaque with a gold-plated fire ax attached.

Photos were taken, handshakes were exchanged, Councilwoman Sheila Mautz hugged everyone and seats were resumed.

Then one worry was belatedly expressed.

Mayor Paul Leon said, “Councilman Bowman is concerned we just gave Fullmer the ax.”

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County Fair sign returns

14594-Fair sign 2.JPG

I took a drive on Arrow Highway the other day to check out the new/old L.A. County Fair sign. It stands a few yards west of White Avenue in La Verne at Fairplex Gate 15.

The sign originally stood at Foothill and White near the Mount Baldy Drive-In sign, which featured three images of a skier on the slopes; when the neon blinked, the skier appeared to be in motion.

The drive-in was in existence from about 1960 to 1984, when it was replaced by a Target store, according to Charles Phoenix’s “Cruising the Pomona Valley” guidebook. The fair sign was there in approximately the same span and, after being taken down, was preserved in a Fairplex warehouse until its recent restoration.

“That was a little miracle they found it,” Phoenix told me. He was pleased to know it was restored, and by the same company that made it originally, Pomona-based Williams Sign Co.

It looks pretty sharp, and I’m looking forward to driving past there at night to see the neon.

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I’m taking a couple of days off, returning to work Wednesday. Attending four meetings over three nights last week* made me itch for a quick out-of-town getaway.

Keep checking back here, though, because blog posts will continue appearing, as will a column in Wednesday’s paper.

* Chino Hills and Ontario councils on Tuesday, Rancho Cucamonga council on Wednesday and Ontario-Montclair school board on Thursday. What was I thinking?

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Armchair Traveler: Boston, Mass.

[For this entry in my Armchair Traveler series, here’s my June 1, 2005 piece about visiting Boston. I still have fond memories of the trip, but not fond memories of the freak storm. Concerning the missing glove mentioned below, I found it a month later while cleaning the backseat of my car.]

Boston: Come for the history, stay for the accents

Trying to decide on a vacation spot? Consider Boston, the picturesque city from which yours truly just returned.

Hey, you could do a lot worse than Boston. But you might not do worse than I did, which was to arrive in Boston during a “nor’easter.”
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Restaurant of the Week: Mel’s Drive-In


This week’s restaurant: Mel’s Drive-In, 11550 4th St. (at Richmond Place), Rancho Cucamonga.

After an incredibly long gestation of more than a year, Mel’s finally opened recently in the Signature Center across from Ontario Mills. (The north side of 4th is in Rancho.) There’s nothing “drive-in” about it. Forget car hops; Mel’s is in a pleasant but corporate-looking shopping center.

It’s part of a chain. The original Mel’s was used in “American Graffiti” and was later razed. The restaurant name and style were revived in the 1980s on San Francisco’s Lombard Street; I’ve been to that one a couple of times. You can read the history at the chain’s website.

Inside the Rancho Cucamonga location, Mel’s has rather successfully updated the diner motif for 2008. High ceilings and a somewhat industrial look, yes, but a chrome-edged counter, mini-jukeboxes at some tables and employees in white paper hats and bow ties.

I’ve now been to this Mel’s twice. Last week I had the half-sandwich, half-salad combo ($6.95) with a meatloaf sandwich and spring salad. The salad was better than average and I wasn’t disappointed with the meatloaf. On Friday I returned for a 1/3-pound Mel Burger and fries (also $6.95). They came on a real plate and passed the taste test. There seems to be an attention to quality ingredients here.

They have a long, varied menu of American comfort food staples, some in healthier style than the originals. I suspect Mel’s will become part of my lunchtime circuit.

The only obvious flaw: The awning over the entrance reads “Where the Local’s Meet to Eat.” Ditch the apostrophe and you’re golden, Mel’s.

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‘Roman Holiday,’ for free

No, Pomona still doesn’t have a single movie theater. Nevertheless, its Fresh Air Flicks series this month on an inflatable outdoor screen in downtown’s Thomas Street Plaza is filling in the gaps in my cinematic knowledge.

The past two Fridays introduced me to “Back to the Future” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” neither of which I’d seen, having felt a bit old for them when they were released.

Tonight brings “Roman Holiday,” the William Holden-Audrey Hepburn movie, and I’m not sure what my excuse is for never having seen that one.

Perhaps I’ll come up with one before the movie’s 8:30 p.m. start. Bring a lawn chair and enjoy.

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