Column: Plaque brings stamp of approval for former post office

I wrote a column last month on a Paul R. Williams-designed home in Ontario. Then an opportunity arose to write about the architect’s only other Inland Valley structure, a former post office from 1926, also in Ontario. Local historians installed a plaque on the building last week to highlight its history. I attended and learned not only about the building but about the arts district downtown that has never really taken off, and why. That story is in Sunday’s column. (Also, I give someone the needle. It doesn’t really advance the story, but it felt good.)

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Restaurant of the Week: 85 Degrees C Bakery Cafe, Claremont

85 Degrees C Bakery Cafe, 428 Auto Center Drive (at Indian Hill), Claremont; open daily

I’ve been to the Chinese bakery chain 85 Degrees (Celsius) in Chino Hills a few times, which will tell you I like it. One opened up in Claremont last fall, in the Super King center.

Even though I live in Claremont, my lone visit so far was not on my way to work or on a weekend but rather for a workday meal. I was headed to an interview in Claremont at 4 p.m. one day from our Rancho Cucamonga office and needed a quick lunch. It occurred to me that 85 Degrees was right off the freeway and wouldn’t take long.

It’s in a space in the middle of the center that previously housed a couple of Mediterranean restaurants in succession. I was skeptical of how this would work, given that the Chino Hills space is probably four times larger, and with a patio. But the selection of serve-yourself items is about the same size as in Chino Hills. There’s no cake display and far less seating.

I grabbed a tray and tongs and picked up, in clockwise order below, a wheat mushroom roll ($1.65), apple danish ($1.80), pork sung bun ($1.80) and spinach danish ($2), plus a sea salt jasmine tea ($3, not pictured because it arrived after I started eating), paid and took the lone table available. I felt bad taking a table for four, but it was that or eat standing up, and besides, I wasn’t there long.

As always, I liked my items, with the wheat mushroom roll my favorite and the pork sung bun the least. If there were more seating, I would visit more often.

An 85 Degrees opened in December in Rancho Cucamonga. Suddenly, they’re everywhere!

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Books read, 2017

I made my way through 45 books in 2017. As always, it’s never enough — but I was glad to have read most of these, with only a couple of clunkers. They’re listed below in the order in which I read them, as pulled from my monthly Reading Log posts on this blog.

  1. “Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters,” Anne K. Mellor
  2. “A Tramp Abroad,” Mark Twain
  3. “Wanted Man: In Search of Bob Dylan,” John Bauldie, ed.
  4. “A Working Man’s Apocrypha,” William Luvaas
  5. “The Variable Man,” Philip K. Dick
  6. “The Invisible Man,” H.G. Wells
  7. “Behold the Man,” Michael Moorcock
  8. “The Female Man,” Joanna Russ
  9. “Funny in Farsi,” Firoozeh Dumas
  10. “Wolf in White Van,” John Darnielle
  11. “Reading Comics,” Douglas Wolk
  12. “Bloodhounds on Broadway and Other Stories,” Damon Runyon
  13. “Reporters: Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman,” Will Fowler
  14. “The World of Jimmy Breslin,” Jimmy Breslin
  15. “You Know Me Al,” Ring Lardner
  16. “The Island of Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer
  17. “Treasure Island,” Robert Louis Stevenson
  18. “Treasure Island!!!,” Sara Levine
  19. “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” H.G. Wells
  20. “On Chesil Beach,” Ian McEwan
  21. “The Slide,” Kyle Beachy
  22. “Galactic Pot-Healer,” Philip K. Dick
  23. “Jose Clemente Orozco: Prometheus,” Pomona College Museum of Art, eds.
  24. “Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything,” Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
  25. “Julius Caesar,” William Shakespeare
  26. “Antony and Cleopatra,” William Shakespeare
  27. “From Bill, With Love,” Bill McClellan
  28. “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” Michael Chabon
  29. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip,” Robert Landau
  30. “Slaughterhouse-Five,” Kurt Vonnegut
  31. “The Transmigration of Timothy Archer,” Philip K. Dick
  32. “Prometheus 2017: Four Artists From Mexico Revisit Orozco,” Rebecca McGrew and Terri Geis, eds.
  33. “How to Win a Pullet Surprise: The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Our Language,” Jack Smith
  34. “The Puppet Masters,” Robert Heinlein
  35. “The Toynbee Convector,” Ray Bradbury
  36. “One Hundred and Two H-Bombs,” Thomas M. Disch
  37. “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” H.P. Lovecraft
  38. “Love Conquers All,” Robert Benchley
  39. “Hillbilly Elegy,” J.D. Vance
  40. “It Can’t Happen Here,” Sinclair Lewis
  41. “The Woody Allen Companion,” Stephen Spignesi
  42. “True Stories of Claremont, CA,” Hal Durian
  43. “Readings,” Michael Dirda
  44. “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen
  45. “Happiness is Warm Color in the Shade: a Biography of Artist Milford Zornes,” Hal Baker

As usual I read more fiction than nonfiction, a couple of recent books, a few things for work and a lot of older books, both in when they were published or in when I acquired them. Any year in which you read two Shakespeare plays is going to be a pretty good year. How was your own year in reading?

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Restaurant of the Week: Taco King

Taco King, 1317 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Alta), Upland; open Monday to Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed Sundays

If I understand the history properly, this location was once Taka Taco (take a taco) and became Taco King in 1975. It’s a square standalone building in east Upland with a marvelous image in neon of a guy in a sombrero and serape leaning against a cactus and, elsewhere on the sign, an uninspiring motto, “Home of the Bean Special.”

I have never been tempted to order the bean special, whatever it is, but I have eaten at Taco King a few times over the years. It never struck me as exceptional. But I had a surprisingly good burrito there in October. I didn’t take any photographs except of the exterior because I was sure I’d written about Taco King here before.

Wrong! A search of this blog revealed that I hadn’t. So the next chance I had, I went back and ordered the same thing, pictured above, a combination burrito with carne asada ($6.05). It was light on the beef, which would bother some, but the stew-like filling was, dare I say it, more traditional. The first time I got it as a combo (a combination burrito combo?) with chips and a drink ($9.20).

You order and pick up from a window, where they’ll place squeeze bottles of red and green salsa on your tray. (It’d be great if they also handed out copies of the Sinclair Lewis novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” but no, I brought that with me.)

The small dining room is done in pastels. the wall art includes Mexican currency mounted inside a frame, and a few photos show the place as Taka Taco and then Taco King, labeled with the year.

Was anything here prior to Taka Taco, or was it the original occupant? Inquiring minds want to know.

Taco King has tacos, of course, for $1.90, soft or hard, with carnitas, pastor, asada, chicken, beef and cabeza (head meat), plus burritos, taquitos, burgers, nachos, menudo and breakfast items. It currently has a middle of the road 3 stars on Yelp, the usual split-the-difference rating between those who love it and those who say they threw their food away.

Three stars is about right, though: solidly good. But I have newfound respect for the place. While there’s nothing hip or trendy about Taco King, and the overall look and style may veer closer to Del Taco than Tacos Mexico, when was the last time you had cabeza or menudo at Del Taco?

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Favorite films of 2017

Consider this the How Did We Stand the Suspense Edition, coming as it does 10 days into the new year. I had planned to wait on this list a few days into 2018 to buy myself time to see an extra movie or two. But then I came down with a cold, which meant I couldn’t get out to any movies OR produce the list, the pen-and-ink draft of which was on my desk at the office. Sheesh.

At least I got to two movies in the final days of the year, and they filled my No. 1 and 2 slots.

  1. The Shape of Water
  2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  3. Lady Bird
  4. Get Out
  5. The Big Sick
  6. Wonder Woman
  7. The Trip to Spain
  8. War for the Planet of the Apes
  9. My Cousin Rachel
  10. Blade Runner 2049

It was hard to know where or if to place Arrival, which was a 2016 release when I saw it last January. Fences was another holdover, but I liked it less. Arrival would have come in around No. 8. From No. 11 down, the rest of my 2017 movies would run like this: Thor: Ragnarok, The Beguiled, Dunkirk, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island, Beatriz at Dinner, Rat Film.

Obviously I missed or haven’t yet had a chance to see lots of good movies, among them The Post, Phantom Thread, Darkest Hour, Molly’s Game, Call Me By Your Name, Novitiate, All the Money in the World, The Florida Project, Mudbound and I, Tonya. Oh well.

What did you see in 2017 that you liked — or hated?

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Column: New year cleaning leads to treasure — and trash

In an annual ritual, I clean my desk and get a column out of what I find. In this case, that meant finally dealing with a small bag of crumpled, dirty newspaper pages from 1935 that a reader had “helpfully” donated and which had been put on my desk. Read all about it in Wednesday’s column.

As an addendum, a few items were written or half-written but didn’t make the cut for the column, and most of the notes, etc., were simply tossed because nothing of interest came to mind to say about them. And I didn’t get my desk cleared before the column was due either. So there’s still a slight mess. But things look much better, and there’s a psychological and organizational boost from that. Onward to 2018!

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