Debra Prinzing

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Field trip: New York’s High Line Park

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

The High Line is NYC's newest public space.

I spent about 48 hours in New York City last week, staying at my favorite bed and breakfast at West 81st Street and Columbus Avenue on the Upper West side.

I mistakenly scheduled the visit to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, one of the many days when people in Manhattan go crazy, whether they are Irish or not.

Yet, the weather was “pure spring” – certainly milder than we have had in Seattle lately – and my spirits were lifted just getting off the subway from JFK to the city.

My objective for stopping through NYC on my way to speak in Toronto was to meet some editors face-to-face and to spend time with some very dear friends. I had a half-day “free” and unscheduled, so last Thursday morning I hopped the downtown C Train across the street from Central Park and rode it to West 23rd Street. My destination: the nearly two-year-old public park called The High Line.

You’ve probably read about this amazing public-private endeavor – an elevated park that runs along 10 to 12 blocks on a former 1930s freight track high above Tenth Avenue between Chelsea and the Meat Packing District. I’ve read lots about it, too. But for a landscape design and horticulture observer like me, nothing compares to the first-person tour.

A true sign of spring: Viburnum x bodnantense 'Pink Dawn'

Wonderful witch hazel in bloom.

When I had dinner the night before with my talented NYC go-to-gals, Ellen Spector-Platt and Ellen Zachos, co-creators of the popular NYC gardening blog Gardenbytes, they gave me some tips on where to disembark from the subway (23rd Street Stop) and warned me that not much would be in bloom.

Blooms were not essential, yet I did enjoy spotting crocuses, witch hazel and a couple beautiful flowering ‘Pink Dawn’ viburnum shrubs showing off in the warm, spring sun.

The edgy, industrial setting was just as delightful to my eyes. The rails of this RR-in-the-sky last carried a train of frozen turkeys in 1980.

Over the ensuing decades nature has had her way with the long-abandoned site. According to the High Line web site, its designers selected plants to “echo the wild, self-seeded landscape that grew up on the structure after the trains stopped running.” The landscape was designed by James Corner Field Operations in partnership with Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

A beautiful grove of trees, planted between the rails.

The origins of this reimagined public space can be traced to 1999, when community residents founded Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit public conservancy that today operates under a license agreement with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

The forward-thinking citizen group fought for preservation and transformation at a time when the historic structure was under threat of demolition. Friends of the High Line now provides approximately 70 percent of its annual operating budget and is responsible for both stewardship of the park and its public programs.

Beginning my tour at the northernmost entrance on West 20th Street, I climbed the steps and arrived to see a new view of the Hudson River and surrounding buildings. Light and airy, the park’s design has retained original crisscrossing steel tracks where groves of trees, shrubs and grasses are planted. The main walkway, which is wheelchair and stroller-friendly, appears to be formed by staggered bands of granite that emulate railroad tracks and also accommodate soft vegetation.

Even parks in major metropolises can be "QUIET"

Look up: it's a park!

Plenty of seating encourages people to rest, admire the scenery or eat a sandwich.

I happened upon a group of schoolchildren on a class tour near the bleacher-style amphitheatre where public performances often take place. A docent held a sign that read QUIET, and I smiled as I overheard her telling the children that the designers wanted to create a place where the noise of the city streets wasn’t so powerful. You know, quiet is one of the strongest sensations I experienced on my visit.

The juxtaposition of a park-in-the-sky with a city’s hustle-and-bustle down below seemed to amplify the silence. And I envy those folks in Manhattan who can visit The High Line whenever they want.

A garden pottery field trip

Saturday, September 12th, 2009
Bauer Pottery Company, Los Angeles

Bauer Pottery Company, Los Angeles

Thanks to my friend Cristi Walden and her “Merry Band of L.A. Archivists,” Wednesday added up to a very big Design Adventure. It meant putting a few hundred miles on the Volvo, but that’s part of life here. And anyway, I have NPR and my catch-up calls to friends in Seattle (with a head-set – I’m safe) to keep me company.

We arrived at 11 a.m. in a dusty town waaaaay east of me. Down a vintage lane called Main Street, where stood an ancient wood-and-galvanized metal warehouse. I later learned it was once a citrus fruit-packing plant when communities like Redlands and Highland grew oranges for the rest of the U.S. (we’re talking late 19th century).

This is the worldwide headquarters of Bauer Pottery, the colorful, joy-inducing collection of dishes, bowls, platters and all kinds of awesome outdoor pottery pieces for the landscape (flowerpots, urns, orbs, bowls and much, much more). It was very hard not to hyperventilate.

Janek Boniecki, president of Bauer Pottery California, greeted us. He was incredibly gracious and spent two hours showing our group of five all that he has accomplished since purchasing the factory and reissueing hundreds of Bauer pieces for grateful folks like me.  Manufactured in California since 1910, the highly-collectible vintage Bauer pieces are hard to find and all but the most serious aficionados are starting to feel priced out of the market. Unless you’re a seasoned collector, it’s really hard to discern the difference between an original Bauer piece and one of Janek’s reissues unless you flip it over and look on the back. The words “Bauer California 2000” are stencilled on the bottom of each new piece.

Janek shows us the reissued Rebekah vase in Bauer crimson

Janek shows us the reissued Rebekah vase in Bauer crimson

Here’s a bit of history that Janek shared with us:

The Bauer Pottery Company of Los Angeles (1882-1962) started in Louisville, Kentucky, and then moved to LA, where it flourished. J.A. Bauer created simple, yet beautiful stoneware from the late 1880s to the early 1960s, with lines ranging from redware flowerpots to brilliantly colored dinnerware. Bauer Pottery was a staple in American homes for many decades.

Inspired by the weather and the lifestylesof Southern California, Bauer Pottery created many different lines for the home and garden. These new styles and rich colors were introduced soon after the Depression, and it wasn’t long before all the major pottery companies in the United States began to follow with their own interpretation of Bauer’s vision.

Today the work of J.A. Bauer has been reintroduced to the home by a ceramics studio based again in Los Angeles. Just minutes away from the site of the original plant, the new Bauer line is being reproduced using some of the original pieces and models, with an emphasis on items that were manufactured by Bauer during the 1930s and ’40s.

The broken rim and top portion of an original Bauer urn

The broken rim and top portion of an original Bauer urn

"Ali Baba" jar, in satin white, inspired by Terry's broken urn

"Ali Baba" jar, in satin white, inspired by Terry's broken urn

The story of how Janek saved Bauer begins in 1996 when he had a candle-making business. He was working in the film industry and wanted to start a business of his own.

“I started making candles in my basement – in a tiny, little 200-square-foot space,” he explains. Janek used colorful, inexpensive flowerpots to contain his candles. He ordered the pots from California Design Works in Highland, housed in the 36,000-square-foot fruit factory on historic Main Street, where Bauer now resides. 

According to Cristi’s friend Terry Freed (who was part of our group), he urged Janek to stop making pottery in Bauer colors and instead reissue the original designs. Terry used to own an L.A. shop called Fiesta Specialties. “Janek brought me a ceramic planter with a candle in it and I said, ‘forget the candle,’ make the pottery,” Terry says.

Janek shows how the stackable bowls can mix-and-match

Janek shows how the stackable bowls can mix-and-match

Two years ago, the owners, Debbie and Marty, sold their factory – building, machines, kiln and operations – to Janek. They worked with him for several years to develop the Bauer reissues and stills show up three days a week at the factory, which is a pretty cool business transition model. 

Cristi and Terry have befriended and supported Janek by lending him some of their original Bauer pieces as the basis for reissues. We saw the broken shard from a once-gorgeous Bauer oil jar that inspired a wonderful new pot (Terry’s partner Michael broke it accidentally, so they made lemonade out of that lemon and let Janek study and copy it).  The original pots might sell for $800-$1,000, but the reissued ones are $300-$600, depending on the size. Similarly, collector Linda Roberts, another one of our Merry Band, lent Janek a tall, slender Rebekah vase as the model for his new ones. The 22-inch reissued vase is $250.

It’s pretty mind-boggling what this tiny company is doing. Janek says there are 110 styles made in 15 different colors (classic Bauer colors, including Bauer Orange, Bauer Yellow, Turquoise, Federal Blue, Lime Green, Midnight Blue, Mango, Crimson, Teal Blue and Chocolate Brown – and all content to mingle, mix, and match with one another, plus a few new ones that I’m sure I’ve forgotten to list here).

We followed Janek downstairs to see where much of the ceramic casting and molding takes place. To get there, he led us into a freight elevator original to the century-old building. The lift is powered by water, making it the oldest water-operated elevator in California. It wasn’t fast, but it was a smooth ride.

The bottom of every piece has Bauer 2000 on it

The bottom of every piece has Bauer 2000 on it

Downstairs, we saw shelves and tables and stacked with the unfired pieces. When you observe the “blanks,” without color added, you really can appreciate the graceful shapes and lines of Bauer’s original designs.

Terry showed me one large planter that he remembers seeing in Desi Arnaz’s nightclub on old “I Love Lucy” television programs. Actually, there were two of them because on the set, one planter was turned upside down as a base for the one containing a plant. That reference to “I Love Lucy” gives me a perfect mental picture of the Bauer pottery vibe – then, and now.

My little Bauer-and-Mosaic installation

My little Bauer-and-Mosaic installation

For those of you in the Los Angeles area, here is the best news. Janek holds occasional sales of factory seconds and samples. He started them last year and when news got out, there were 500 people lined up to buy the cheerful pottery. If you’re wondering whether I got my Bauer fix, the answer is YES. I didn’t leave empty-handed. In fact, I came home with a trio of garden orbs in Bauer colors. These orbs are new from Janek. They were never part of the original Bauer line, but are fired in several colors from the Bauer palette. So the large, 15-inch orb is lime green; the medium, 12-inch is pale blue; and the small, 8-inch is turquoise. I have them grouped in the garden with my lovely mosaic orb by Vashon Island, Wash.-based artist Clare Dohna. The effect is quite pleasing to my eyes!

And finally, a gallery of our visit:

LA Field Trip: Hollywood opulence gets a facelift

Saturday, August 8th, 2009
A 1926 pool built by William Randolph Hearst now has a new community pool house. The modern columns emulate original ornate ones

A 1926 pool built by William Randolph Hearst now has a new community pool house. The modern columns emulate original ornate ones

My friend Cristi Walden invited me to join her on an excursion earlier this week, one that introduced me to a chapter of Hollywood’s glamorous history. Cristi, a native Californian, is plugged into the architectural-decorative arts world around here. But she’s not just into the luxury, high-end stuff. She’s been known to cruise around LA after dark on tours of vintage neon signs with her pal Eric Evavold, who also accompanied her on our field trip.

The visit gave me a great excuse to spend a morning with Cristi and to learn something new about my own backyard. We met up at the new Annenberg Community Beach House at Santa Monica State Beach, which opened in late April at 415 Pacific Coast Hwy.

Located on Santa Monica’s “Gold Coast,” this is the site where publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst built a $7 million mansion for his starlet-girlfriend Marion Davies. A very informative docent shared the fascinating story. Hearst, who had been married since 1902, became smitten with Marion Davies when she was a teenager performing in the Ziegfeld Follies. He waited until she was 20 and then began to court her (he was 54). Hearst even built a film studio in Manhattan as a vehicle to turn Davies into a classical actress. He never divorced his wife, Millicent, but remained with Davies, who was his companion for over 30 years. She was in 48 movies during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The Marion Davies Guesthouse has an impressive scale, even for a so-called smaller residence

The Marion Davies Guesthouse has an impressive scale, even for a so-called smaller residence

Hearst visited friend Louis B. Mayer at his “Gold Coast” mansion and in 1926 decided to build his own beachfront estate. Photographs portray the 110-room Hearst mansion as an edifice that looked more like Monticello than anything you’d expect to see on the Pacific Ocean. The five-acre estate also encompassed an ornate marble-edged swimming pool, several guest houses and gardens. Famed architect Julia Morgan, who designed many homes for Hearst (including San Simeon) designed the interiors and also the guest house, which is now restored.

The parties they threw were legendary, including huge theme galas and costume balls whose guests included Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Louise Brooks. The power couple resided here until 1942, when they retreated to another of Hearst’s estates during WWII.

In the late 1940’s, the property was sold, becoming Oceanhouse, a hotel owned by Joseph Drown who eventually demolished the large mansion but preserved an original guest house and pool as well as cabanas and a locker building. Subsequently it was sold to the State of California and leased for thirty years to the popular Sand and Sea Club until the City of Santa Monica assumed responsibility for the site in 1989. After a brief period as a seasonal public beach facility, it was severely damaged during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.


Recently restored to its former elegance, here's the foyer

Recently restored to its former elegance, here's the foyer

Cristi, Eric and Debra, in front of the Marion Davies Guesthouse

Cristi, Eric and Debra, in front of the Marion Davies Guesthouse

According to Cristi, for years Marion’s pool and guesthouse were closed off from public view, hidden and neglected behind a fence. Even though the property was smack in the middle of a city beach, it wasn’t maintained. Cristi recalls that friends (other California tile enthusiasts like her) snuck onto the property about 10 years ago just to photograph vintage pool tile-work that they feared would be destroyed.

In 2005, philanthropist Wallis Annenberg donated a boatload of money – $27 million – to save the property. I feel a special affinity for the Annenbergs, having once met her father, publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg, when I worked for Triangle Communications. Annenberg owned three magazine titles: TV Guide, the Daily Racing Form, and Seventeen Magazine, where I worked from 1980-1982. Once several of us flew on Annenberg’s private jet from NYC to LA to work at a Seventeen Magazine Tennis Tournament at Mission Viejo. Can you imagine me, a 22-year-old junior editor, getting to do that!? I still have the Triangle Corp. deck of playing cards as a memento from that trip.

Designed by Frederick Fisher and Partners, Architects, a new community pool house has 16 sleek “columns” across its facade, a symbolic echo of the 16 ornate columns that used to stand in that exact spot when the mansion faced a pool filled with frolicking Hollywood stars. Isn’t that totally amazing?

Fanciful original tile exists at the bottom of the famous swimming pool

Fanciful original tile exists at the bottom of the famous swimming pool

The refreshing and colorful new property also include a children’s play and splash area; beach volleyball and beach tennis courts; a beach cafe and new pool house. The historic Marion Davies Guesthouse has been restored and landscaped. It is available for rental events, but you can also take a guided tour like we did. I’m still not sure how this gracious residence avoided the wrecking ball; “she” must have many, many secrets in her walls!

The tile-lover in Cristi was super excited to see the beautiful and intact tile designs in three original bathrooms (one docent told us the tile had been painted over in white, requiring careful restoration to strip it away). Other noteworthy details include several original lights and chandeliers, as well as intricate crown molding and fretwork detailing. See those details below.

And for just $10, you can go swim in the pool where Hollywood’s beautiful people once bathed, or sun yourself on a chaise next to its black-and-white marble border. Only in L.A.

Here are some more images to enjoy: