Buddhist temple coming

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A Buddhist temple on the southeast corner of Central Avenue and Francis Street has been under construction for at least five years, reader Helen Cosner points out in asking me when it might be done (if ever).

City spokeswoman Monica Gutierrez said construction has come in stops and starts as the temple’s financing allows. Public improvements and the burying of utility lines are the last pieces and the temple is expected to be complete this summer.

I remember this complex from visits to the barbecue restaurant across the street, which closed in 2011. I thought it was a stalled office park. In Chino last week, I pulled over to take a fresh look. It looks pretty complete from the street, so sprawling that it’s hard to get it all into one photograph, and with an impressive entry gate. If your view is right, you can see the top of a Buddha statue. Makes me want to see inside.

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Column: Ontario’s Grinder Haven briefly grinds to a halt

A local favorite since 1958, Grinder Haven was closed last month by the Health Department and hasn’t reopened, although that may happen within days after some paperwork gets ironed out. Also: two Culture Corner items about classical concerts, and a recap of my screening of “The Sting,” with a plug for Thursday’s “Unforgiven.” All of this is in Sunday’s column.

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Column: Lakers fan supreme abandons Ontario, not team

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A home in Ontario has long been decked out in Los Angeles Lakers style, inside and out: banners, flags, mobiles, murals, messages in the grass and on the roof, etc. Just when I finally catch up with the homeowner, he’s moving. But that added a news element to Friday’s column.

Above is Martin Espinoza in some team gear outside his garage-door mural; below are views of his home and garage; at bottom, Espinoza points to a key motto on his purple and gold vehicle.

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Restaurant of the Week: Panda Inn

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Panda Inn, 3223 E. Centrelake Drive (at Guasti), Ontario

Panda Inn, an outpost of the small Pasadena-based chain that also owns Panda Express, opened in 1992 in Ontario in what was then the hinterlands. But we had an airport. The location, only yards from the 10 Freeway, was renovated in 2013, the subject of one of my columns. I’ve dined at this Panda several times over the years with groups of friends. I had dinner there last month with a friend and figured I might as well memorialize it here.

Panda is a little more modern inside now. They knocked down a wall to the bar, making it more accessible, and it has more TVs. And the dining rooms are more stylish and colorful with elements like decorative bird cages.

The menus are updated too, although I don’t remember enough about the old menus to gauge how much it’s changed. Panda is still Americanized, as perhaps you must be to fill an enormous restaurant in Ontario, and orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, and fried egg rolls remain on the menu.

But they do a good job. My friend got kon pao chicken ($14), pork fried rice ($10) and braised string beans ($7.75). A creature of habit, she orders those same dishes at any Chinese restaurant she visits. She likes Panda’s versions best, though. I got steamed pork dumplings ($6.25) and wok-fried scallops on a bed of spinach ($19.25). Pretty good.

All the food came out quickly, except my dumplings, which arrived 10 minutes after everything else.

The waiter was exceptionally friendly. Celebrating mutual March birthdays, we got birthday ice cream and a song from three servers. And of course, Panda’s signature foil-wrapped fortune cookies dipped in white chocolate.

Overall, it was a pleasant meal in nice surroundings. Leaving our dining room for the men’s room, my way was momentarily blocked by a party of four taking a selfie. “The arches,” one explained apologetically. Ah, yes, the arches: The long hallway got five arches as part of the renovation, and it does make for a neat, almost science fictional sight.

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Firehouse Inn forlorn, but cleaner

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The Firehouse Inn was a popular Pomona restaurant of the 1970s in a unique location: a former Fire Department station built in 1924. Shades of Engine Co. 28 in downtown LA!

The Italianate-style station was Pomona’s second. According to Gloria Ricci Lathrop’s 1976 “Pomona: A Centennial History,” from which the above photo and caption were taken: “Located at Garey Avenue and Alvarado, its purpose was to handle fires in the north part of Pomona, especially if freight trains blocking the crossings prevented the main station’s crews from traveling to answer the calls.”

After some alterations, the restaurant opened in 1970, according to a Progress-Bulletin story from that April. The restaurant lasted until about 1988, based on phonebook listings; it’s unclear if anything took its place. It’s been vacant for years.

Incidentally, can that be the same street light today from whenever the historic photo was taken?

With a new Starbucks having opened across Alvarado, on a previously dead corner that had a long-vacant gas station, there’s more traffic and renewed attention. On an April 8 Starbucks visit, I walked across the street to look at the Firehouse Inn building. On the door was a Notice of Abatement, dated two days earlier and signed by a judge. (I can’t even try to relax without bumping into news, evidently.)

According to Community Development Director Mark Lazzaretto: “The weeds at the Firehouse Inn were unbearably high and there was trash and debris throughout the site. We sent notices to the owner, but the owner failed to comply. In these situations, we go to court for an abatement order, which allows the City to clean up the site so that the neighborhood isn’t burdened with the blight. We then lien the property and recoup our costs when the property is sold.”

For now, the Firehouse Inn sits, boarded up, waiting for progress. Would anyone like to comment about the current condition, the recent past or memories of having dined there?

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Column: Claudia Rankine’s poetry a window into race

Sunday’s column is a profile of Claudia Rankine, a Claremont poet whose book “Citizen” is receiving national attention and acclaim. She’ll be reading from her work at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Little Bridges (Bridges Hall of Music) in Claremont.

Let me say, there are few subjects more nerve-wracking for me to write about than a writer, especially knowing they’ve been written about by national publications. She may not care one way or the other, or even read what I wrote, but I always put extra pressure on myself to do a good job (or at least not embarrass myself)!

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Column: Penny Lane Records now giving Upland a spin

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Remember Penny Lane Records? I do: I used to visit its Colorado Boulevard store back when Old Town Pasadena was interesting, and it had a bunch of other stores around L.A. I thought it was out of business until a couple of years ago, when a reader alerted me Penny Lane had a small store and Internet business in, of all places, an Upland industrial park. It took me until now to visit, but that’s okay, as Saturday, Penny Lane is participating in its first Record Store Day.

Steve Bicksler, pictured above and below, founded the store in 1985 and, three decades later, is still hanging in there, now as the sole employee. The tenacious store’s new and old lives are explored in Friday’s column.

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Restaurant of the Week: California Pizza Kitchen, Victoria Gardens

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California Pizza Kitchen, 12517 N. Mainstreet (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

CPK was one of the original tenants at Victoria Gardens upon the center’s 2004 opening and more than a decade later, it’s still serving up barbecued chicken pizzas and more.

I’ve eaten there a few times, in part because it’s one of the most affordable sit-down restaurant at the VG. Recently I had dinner there and figured, well, why not take photos and write a Restaurant of the Week? CPK is pretty much the same everywhere, but we’ve only got two of them (the other one is at the Shoppes at Chino Hills) and the VG is a popular spot. Besides, I like CPK.

The menu has small plates, salads, soups, pastas and various pizzas, both usual and unusual, with gluten-free crust an option. And they have alcohol.

I got the wild mushroom pizza (price forgotten, but about $14), which has four types of mushrooms and two types of cheese, and I got it on whole wheat crust, which I’m not sure I’ve done before. That was a good move and made for a heartier crust. If you like mushrooms, this is a pretty good pie. Feeling flush, I spent $1.50 on a few drops of truffle oil; to be honest, any difference in taste to the pizza was negligible.

Service was friendly. It was a Monday evening, early, and the quiet was welcome. The faux rock wall, broad booths, focused lighting and open kitchen with a counter for solo diners add up to an ambience that could almost be described as swank.

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