Rhino Records’ 33 1/3? No, 35th

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When the Rhino Records store in Westwood closed in early 2006, I wrote a column to explain the history of the Rhino store in Claremont. Briefly, Mark Leviton, a friend of Rhino founder Richard Foos, opened the Claremont store in October 1974 under Foos’ ownership.

Foos sold the Claremont store in 1976 and it continues as an independent operation today, with no connection to the record label of the same name, which was also founded by Foos.

At the time my piece appeared, Rhino’s current proprietors weren’t cognizant of the store’s history. Based on the “about us” section of their website, they quickly forgot. Their motto “Independent since 1976″ continues to appear on their website and on T-shirts. Oops. Since businesses tend to overestimate how long they’ve been around, not underestimate it, maybe Rhino is just being modest.

I recently spent an hour going through 1974 issues of the Claremont Courier on microfilm, hoping to find a feature about the store’s launch.

Well, no such story seems to exist — I went through the issues page by page from August through mid-November — but I did find something: one lone ad for the store on Oct. 19, 1974. Hey, that’s 35 years ago today!

So, while no one seems to know the date the store opened, this is as good a time as any to wish Rhino Records a happy 35th anniversary. Even if they don’t know it.

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Above is that ad at roughly original size, to the right is (why not?) the page it appeared on and at bottom is a current photo of the store’s original location, what was then 269 W. 2nd St., a house between City Hall and the Pizza N Such building; Leviton told me the store occupied half of the space (he didn’t remember which half).

Later it moved to Yale Avenue, first to what is now Viva Madrid and, in 1991, to the former Bentley’s Market location. It remains there today, thriving as the only full-service indie music store in the Inland Valley. Even if it no longer sells cassettes and 8-tracks.

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Restaurant of the Week: Super Chili Burger

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Super Chili Burger, 6090 Riverside Drive (at Magnolia), Chino.

I’d heard about this place from a reader’s tip and decided to head down to Chino for a long lunch hour to check ‘em out. It’s a few blocks east of Central Avenue in a standard fast food building.

The menu has burgers, chili, tacos, burritos, fried chicken and gyros, plus eggs, omelettes and pancakes for breakfast. It’s one of those burger places where you can get almost anything and is popular with students from the nearby junior high and high school. Oh, and I noticed that besides the three standard milkshake flavors, they also have pineapple.

Of course I ordered the namesake chili burger, the quarter-pound size, with onions, lettuce and tomato, in a combo with fries and a Coke ($5.97 with tax). A customer hanging out at the counter, a public defender named Bill, recognized me, as did the counterman, Jimmy. Believe it or not, this generally happens everywhere but restaurants.

Well, courtesy of employees Jimmy Alexandris and his brother, Nick, two cheerful, gregarious guys, I soon had the history of the family-run restaurant, founded circa 1987 by their parents, both Greek emigres. The whole family pitches in to operate the place and has watched the city change.

As for the food, I’m not a chili burger aficionado so I can’t compare the Super Chili Burger version to the competition. I’ve been to Tommy’s twice and got heartburn both times, which never happens to me. I did not get heartburn from Super Chili Burger. To me, that’s a plus, but your personal belief system when it comes to chili may differ. In any event, my lunch wasn’t a knockout, but it was messy, gooey and satisfying.

If nothing else, you might go just to meet the family.

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Archibald and Foothill, Cucamonga

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This undated postcard image, presumably from the 1950s, is in the collection of the Ontario Public Library. This was downtown Cucamonga.

As Frank Zappa wrote in his autobiography:

“Cucamonga was a blotch on a map, represented by the intersection of Route 66 and Archibald Avenue. On those four corners we had an Italian restaurant, an Irish pub, a malt shop and a gas station.

“North, up Archibald, were an electrician’s shop, a hardware store and the recording studio. Across the street was a Holy Roller church, and up the block from that was the grammar school.”

His memory was pretty sharp. In 1965, the year Zappa left, this would be what you’d have found at or around this intersection, according to research by Kelly Zackmann of the Ontario City Library into phone books and criss-cross directories:

NW corner: Caf Italiano (9690 Foothill), the Zappa-mentioned “Italian restaurant.” Ancil Morris’ Cucamonga Service Station was next door to the west and still stands, albeit closed and fenced off.

SW corner: Cucamonga Caf (9671 Foothill), which is listed under ice cream in the phone book. Must be Zappa’s “malt shop.” Now it’s The Deli and Carl’s Liquor.

NE corner: Cucamonga Hardware (9710 Foothill) must be the “hardware shop.”

SE corner: Ray Ford’s Texaco station (9705 Foothill) was there, if apparently not operating by 1965. Nearby was The Tavern (9741 Foothill), which may be the “Irish pub” Zappa mentions. Was this the same pub known as Shanty Devlin’s?

Zappa’s studio was at 8040 Archibald, on the west side above Estacia Street and next to Citrus Electric (“electrician’s shop”) at 8036. South of them, below Estacia but above Foothill, were the Cucamonga Justice Court at 8076 and Cafe Italiano.

The “grammar school” Zappa mentions was Central Elementary, which is still there (7955 Archibald). Zackmann couldn’t locate a Holy Roller-type church across the street from the studio via phone records. But then, why have a phone if you’re going to speak in tongues?

If you’ve never been to The Deli, by the way, not only is the place worth it for the food, but one wall boasts a series of B&W and color photos of the intersection from various eras. Well worth a look.

Zappa maintained that when Archibald was widened in the mid-’60s, his studio was among the casualties. I think there’s a drive-through dairy there now. Is the courthouse building still there? I don’t know. There is some disagreement among old-timers as to whether the row of older buidlings on the west side above Foothill is original or not.

Feel free to add to or correct any of the information and suppositions above.

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21 candles for Dr. Strange Records

Or 21 piercings? Alta Loma’s punk record shop marks its 21st anniversary with a 21 percent off sale Saturday and Sunday. Dr. Strange, which is now old enough to drink, is at 7136 Amethyst Ave. in the old part of town.

The store probably appropriated its name from everyone’s favorite master of the mystic arts, the Marvel Comics character Dr. Strange.

The store is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. I anticipate Dr. Strange’s 100th anniversary sale, when everything in the store is free.

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Reader hunts for garlic fries locally

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Photo of Weiland Brewery’s cheeseburger and garlic fries by Jeff Aragaki

Upland reader Jeff Aragaki writes:

“In your jaunts to downtown LA, have you eaten at a place called Weiland Brewery? There’s two locations: one in JTown and one underground on Flower St. at 5th. If you have, did you try the garlic fries? They’re actually garlic, parmesan cheese and parsley fries. To die for.”

Good choice of words. Jeff continues:

“What I’m looking for is anywhere near us that has similar french fries. Any ideas?”

As I told Jeff, I haven’t been to Weiland Brewery nor do I know of any garlic fry opportunities in the Inland Valley, other than the Gordon Biersch stand at Epicenter Stadium. There’s a Biersch in Old Town Pasadena if you’re willing to travel that far.

Angel’s Place in La Verne serves “Greek fries” with oregano, parmesan and feta — interesting, but no garlic.

Readers, can any of you help out Jeff with some local garlic fries?

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Inland Valley Photo Quiz No. 3

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Welcome to another mystery photo, this one from, well, you tell me. That’s the whole point, to test your knowledge of your environs. Where can one find this chess-lovin’ scene?

Leave a guess. To preserve the mystery, no comments, or at least no correct guesses, will be posted until after the contest ends Tuesday morning, when the answer will also be revealed. Wild guesses are encouraged. After all, they’re fun.

Here’s a link to the two previous quizzes.

* UPDATE: The photo was taken on the lawn outside Claremont City Hall, which virtually everyone who guessed got correctly. One guessed outside the Claremont Library, which is almost correct — the library, which is across the street from City Hall, also has a couple of these tables, but I don’t believe there’s grass around them. Another reader points out similar tables in Fontana — same maker, perhaps?

Unanswered question: Has anyone ever seen chess or checkers being played at these Claremont tables? I haven’t.

Thanks for participating, everyone.

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Restaurant of the Week: Viva Madrid

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Viva Madrid, 225 Yale Ave. (at 2nd), Claremont

One of the 909′s most unique restaurants, Viva Madrid is the only Spanish tapas bar in this corner of the Empire. It’s been operating since the late 1990s in a small arcade of shops near a bagel shop and Rhino Records.

A bunch of us went there to celebrate a birthday last week. The restaurant is cozy, seating under 50, all squeezed in, plus another dozen at the bar. Even on a Thursday night the place is full, with a half-hour to 45-minute wait, a testament to its popularity. It’s a prime place for dates and celebrations. The close quarters add to the room’s energy level.

The single room is heavy on ambiance with rustic wooden tables and chairs, Spanish tchothkes on the walls, a large chandelier and dim lighting. A flamenco guitarist played on a small platform near the ceiling. Three friends toasted a 60th birthday at the bar. The restaurant attracts a wide age range, from college students to seniors.

The heart of the menu is the tapas, 40 small plates from $1 to $9. Each has a few bites, good for sharing, but not with many people. While they could be considered appetizers, most diners make a meal of them.

The six of us shared 11 tapas: yellowfin tuna on toast, an empanada, salmon-wrapped asparagus, chicken croquettes, chorizo-stuffed mushrooms, bacon-wrapped dates, barbacoa chicken, cheese and olives, beef with garlic and white wine, mussels and a basket of bread. We also had a seafood paella, which is a rice dish (double portion $32), and a creme brulee for dessert. Some had sangria ($15 per liter). The bill worked out to $27 per person, with the birthday honoree’s money not accepted.

There were some mild complaints: The size of the tapas varies too much (why are some two pieces and others five?), the bread didn’t taste fresh, the asparagus tasted canned, none of the dishes were especially complex or inventive.

Those cavils out of the way, most of the food was delicious. We all enjoyed our meal quite a bit, for the food, atmosphere and conviviality. Most of us are irregular but repeat customers, hitting the place for special occasions. There’s no place in the region quite like Viva Madrid.

I say, viva Viva Madrid!

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Steve Lopez for school board?

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Front lawn at 7th and Indian Hill, Claremont.

A community reading program in Claremont centers on Steve Lopez’s book “The Soloist” and is being promoted via yard signs around town — although you could be forgiven for thinking the signs are promoting the author and L.A. Times columnist’s electoral ambitions, given their front-lawn company.

“Is there a school board election going on in Claremont?” Lopez asked Sunday during an appearance at Claremont’s Little Bridges Hall of Music, which was attended by more than 300 people.

A colleague at the Times lives in Claremont and, Lopez said, informed him: “Your name is on signs in lawns all over Claremont. There’s an election going on. It looks like you’re running for mayor or school board.”

Lopez, who lives in L.A., said he asked about his electoral prospects and got no response.

Well! As a Claremont resident and fellow columnist, I would be pleased to welcome Lopez to town and even help usher him into office with my vote.

Is there a dogcatcher position available?

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Reading log: September 2009

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Books bought this month: “Keaton,” Tom Dardis; “The Short Novels of John Steinbeck”; “The First Men in the Moon,” H.G. Wells; “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Robert Louis Stevenson; “Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure,” Richard A. Lupoff; “The Iliad,” “The Odyssey,” Homer; “Local Knowledge,” B.H. Fairchild.

Books read this month: “Carson of Venus,” Edgar Rice Burroughs; “One for the Road,” Ray Bradbury; “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit and Other Plays,” Ray Bradbury; “Ray Bradbury, An Illustrated Life,” Jerry Weist; “Yestermorrow,” Ray Bradbury; “Escape on Venus,” Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I said last month that this month’s reading list would be even more arcane and I wasn’t kidding. Six books read, two by Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan) and four by or about Ray Bradbury. Feel free to stop reading this entry immediately.

As I may have mentioned before, I’ve been plowing through everything by Bradbury published since 1989, as well as assorted ephemera from previous years that had escaped my notice. Loved him as a boy, gave up reading him (but kept buying him) as an adult. In the past year I’ve gone through about 20 (!) books, with another 10 (groan) left. Can’t finish ‘em all in 2009, but I hope to finish another five.

Such is the price of fandom. Catching up on his output feels like something I should do in honor of his impact on my childhood, as well as because he’s the writer I’m most likely to identify as my “favorite.” He’s 89 and can’t have a lot of years left, and I would like to be able to say, if only to myself, that I’ve read all his work rather than that I gave up on him two decades ago.

This month I read a 2002 collection of stories (just okay), a 1975 collection of three plays (good), a 1991 collection of essays (good) and a 2002 coffee table book of photos, book jackets, paintings, drawings, etc., from his career (diverting, if you’re a fan). In other words, I can’t honestly recommend any of them. That said, some of the essays, the ones about urban planning (especially in L.A.) and what makes a compelling, walkable shopping district — a public plaza, lots of chairs, late hours, certain types of shops — were pretty interesting. Did you know he helped conceptualize Horton Plaza in San Diego?

The two Burroughs novels were numbers 3 and 4 in his five-book Venus series, the one starring Carson Napier, the pride of Pomona College. The plots wear a bit thin by the fourth book, in which Carson and his mate, Duare, keep blundering into new hostile tribes (three or four of ‘em), are enslaved and separated but manage by coincidence and million-to-one chances to reunite. Still, the stories are breezy and ERB’s dry humor comes to the rescue again and again.

A favorite passage from “Carson,” when our hero approaches a palace door and a sentry gives him attitude: “I guess putting a man in front of a door anywhere in the universe must do something to him. The tremendous responsibility implicit in such a cosmic assignment seems to remove all responsibility for good manners. I have seldom known it to fail. When it does, they must immediately transfer the man to some other form of activity.”

Next month: more Bradbury, more Burroughs, and at least one curveball.

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And Fontana said: Let there be style!

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I made a rare drive on Fontana’s Foothill Boulevard one evening recently and noticed these new light poles on the south side of the street for several blocks along the western portion of the city. Snazzy, eh? I couldn’t resist pulling over to snap a photo.

Yes, apparently I am a light pole geek. These may be the most ornate I’ve seen locally.

Amy Colbrunn of Fontana City Hall says the poles cost $5,000 apiece and were installed to improve the aesthetics of the old Route 66, similar to efforts in Rancho Cucamonga and Upland.

And by the way, if any local city has development potential, it’s Fontana. Foothill has surprisingly vast swaths of open land and derelict buildings. So did Rancho Cucamonga, once upon a time…

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